Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Time in Your Pocket

I recently inherited a pocket watch from my grandfather.  It has an ornate gold case and seems to keep fairly good time. Is it worth keeping, perhaps as the start of a collection.

ANSWER:  There was a time back in the Good Ole Days when grandpa kept his watch in his pocket. The wristwatch, as we know it today, didn’t come into common use until after World War I. Nearly every working man up to that time kept his watch in his pocket.

First known as portable clocks, pocket watches were large and cumbersome. The typical 17th-century timepiece was four inches wide and nearly three inches thick. Since they were a bit too big and because people didn’t have pockets, most owners wore them around their necks on chains.

By the 18th century, men’s waistcoats and vests had pockets. In the meantime Peter Henlein and other watchmakers had discovered spring technology and soon began to miniaturize personal timepieces. Because the watches didn’t have any cover to protect the crystal, watchmakers fashioned small slip cases from silver or gold to protect their watches.

Today, pocket watches are one of the most collectible items. Not only do they look great, but they take up little room and hold their value, making them a great long-term investment. While pocket watches made before 1865 are available, their cost can be prohibitive to the beginning collector. Those made in the late 19th and early 20th centuries come in a wide variety of styles and prices. Some collectors specialize in collecting only railroad pocket watches. From the beginning of railroading in the United States, keeping accurate time has been a requirement for efficient operation.

A number of reference guides provide a way to look up a pocket watch manufacturer’s serial number.  Some collectors have even turned to the Internet to find information on their watches. To find the serial number on a pocket watch, very carefully remove the back of the watch and look for the number on the movement inside.

For more information on pocket watches go to Bowers Watch & Clock Repair and The Antique Pocket Watch

Monday, February 15, 2010

What to Do With Old Cameras

QUESTION: I just purchased a good digital camera, and I love it. Besides my 35mm camera, I have several other older cameras. What can I do with them? Are they collectable?

ANSWER: Now that digital photography has become firmly a part of people’s lives, what should everyone do with their old cameras? Even though photography has been around for well over a century, it’s taken a long time for photographic gear–cameras in particular–to become part of the collectible scene.

Last summer, as I was browsing a local church flea market, I saw an entire table full of cameras of every type and description. Most were 35mm castoffs, but a few were older. With the ease of taking photos with a digital camera, let alone not having to buy film, it’s no wonder the dealer had so many cameras and lenses on hand. But are these recent castoffs worth anything in the collectible market? That’s the big question.

Unfortunately, in the world of photographic memorabilia, recent 35mm cameras aren’t worth much unless they’re classic cameras or rare or unique models. Sure, in perhaps 20 years or so, their value will climb, but for right now their only value remains as used cameras.

So what types of cameras can you collect without breaking the bank? There are lots of modern cameras that have long ago outlasted their usefulness that can create an interesting camera collection. You can pick up a decent 100-year-old Kodak box camera for about $25 to $35 at flea markets. Folding cameras go for a bit more. There are also lots of other cameras, like Kodak’s Brownie that you can buy to start a modest collection.

The biggest problem with collecting cameras, however, is where to put them. Ideally, you should display them in a glass-doored cabinet to keep them from getting dusty. If you can’t display them, buy one of those large plastic storage bins at your local discount store and wrap each camera in bubble wrap. Be sure to put some drying agent in the bin to keep moisture from building up.

For more information on collecting cameras, read Collectors Snap Up Old Cameras.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

The Often Confusing World of Antiques

QUESTION: Every time I go into an antique mall or visit a show, I become overwhelmed by all the items.  How can I make sense of it all?

ANSWER: If you’re like this person, perhaps you’re mind and senses have gone into antiques overload. So many items–furniture, ceramics, pictures, jewelry, old Coca-Cola signs and things that look like the cat dragged them in. So where’s the good stuff?

It all seems so confusing. And the prices for some products seem ridiculous , especially if you’re a beginning collector. But don’t despair. There’s a method to all that antique madness. Believe it or not, there are some main categories.
When most people think of antiques, they think of furniture. And though it makes up a good percentage of antiques out there, smaller items, known as “smalls” in the antiques business--ceramics, glassware, silverware, toys, and commemorative items–all play important roles.
All in all, there are about 15 major categories and 75 sub-categories. Within these there are other, more specialized areas, such as antique maps and posters, two very specialized categories.

Even though antiques can be categorized generally, dealers and serious collectors use historical periods–Victorian, Roman, Gothic, Civil War, Western and even the1950s–to sort things out.
Often, these terms also indicate different styles.

For instance, in the world of furniture, you’ll probably see examples of English, French, American, and Chinese styles at most antique malls, shows, or auctions. Most English furniture falls into the pre-Victorian or Victorian category while American furniture tends to fall into different types: Pennsylvania, Shaker, New York, etc..

Porcelain or pottery pieces fall into categories associated with the country in which they were made–England, Germany, France, American, Chinese and Japanese are just a few. The four you’ll see most are English, German and Japanese, and American. You’ll soon become familiar with names such as Royal Doulton, Staffordshire, and Meissen, Blue Willow, Limoge, Belleek and Sevres, especially if you frequent the better antiques venues.

Glassware is the third most popular category. You’ll see all types, including Depression, Venetian, English, and Czech glass. Most glassware collectors specialize in a particular produce line–bowls, tumblers, decanters, etc. There’s also a refined category known as art glass in which you’ll find all those pretty vases blown in amberina, peach blow, and ruby.

These are just some of the many categories of antiques that you can begin to collect. While some tend to be higher priced, you’ll find plenty of small pieces of furniture, ceramic, and glassware to get you on your way.

Monday, February 1, 2010

Reviving the Essence of Colonial Furniture

QUESTION: I was wondering if you could tell me anything about this desk. My grandmother told me it was a Chippendale, but I can't find any desk that lookS like it for a reference. There are no desks that have the scallop pattern on the pull down. or brass hardware railing on the top.

ANSWER: What this person has is a fine example of what's called Colonial Revival furniture. Her grandmother wasn't too far off. Her desk was made in the style of Chippendale, but it's not a Chippendale. That's why she couldn't find it anywhere.

But let's look at what it is. Colonial Revival was a style period that lasted from about 1880 to 1910. Everyone who went to the Centennial Exposition in Philadelphia in 1876 got excited by the exhibits on Colonial America and wanted to have interiors that reflected that period. Unfortunately, not many of the designers did much research into what Colonial furniture–18th century furniture looked like. So what resulted was a hodge-podge of decoration that resembled a little of one 18th-century designer and a little of that one.

Chippendale was a biggie. They loved his style. Sheraton and Hepplewhite were also popular. Think of the development houses of today. Each has a hodge-podge of decorative elements, but no house exactly reproduces a particular style of architecture. You see Colonial, French Provincial, Tudor, etc. elements in each house–and it seems every house has a palladium window.

After the Colonial Revival Period came to an end, furniture manufacturers continued to employ these pseudo-Colonial styles in what came to be commonly known as “Period” furniture. This was all the rage in upper middle class households in the 1930s and 1940s. By the 1950s, “Period” furniture had trickled down to the middle class, who wanted their interiors to look as elegant as those of the rich folks but at a much lower price. Manufacturers used mostly dark mahogany finishes or veneers to give their pieces an elegant Colonial look much like the pieces at venerated historic houses like Mount Vernon. The giveaway on this desk are the drawer pulls and the feet. Both are too highly decorative to have been on a true Colonial piece.

If you have a piece of furniture like this that dates to the beginning of the 20th century, you have a fine piece which has value in its own right, but not the value of an 18th-century antique. However, if you have a “Period” piece from the 1930s-1940s onward, it’s only value lies in its being a piece of used furniture.

To learn more about authentic Chippendale furniture, go to Chippendale--The Royalty of Antique Furniture.
To learn more about the revival styles of the Victorian Era, go to THE VICTORIAN ERA--An Age of Revivals.