Tuesday, March 30, 2010

A Picture is Worth a Thousand Words–and Sometimes Much More

QUESTION: My grandfather collected all types of circus posters, programs, tickets and much more. When he died in 1969, they were all given to my Father, and now I have them. Most of the items are from the 30's, 40's and 50's.  Can you give me some insight as to where I can find out their value?

ANSWER: Circus ephemera, those tickets, programs, and posters that this person mentions above, seem to be surfacing everywhere. Perhaps, it’s because people who held on to them stuffed them in drawers and closets. When they die, their family finds them and not knowing much about them, have no idea whether they’re worth anything.

Circus posters, in particular, can be worth more than just something. But like with most collectibles, condition is of prime importance.

Weeks ahead of its show date, a circus would send advance men into town to plaster posters, called “bills,” all over town. These bright-colored graphics enticed men, women, and especially children within a 50-mile radius of town to come to the show. No color was too bright, no word too big for the circus–greatest, bravest, most stupendous, world famous, exotic. These posters  promised showgoers beasts from the Far East and Africa, dare-devil aerialists, and luscious lady equestrians in glittering tights riding

Circus posters were crucial for drawing crowds to what were only one or two performances per location. Many early ads were simple woodblock prints mentioning the name of the circus, the price of admission, and a few acts.

Along with circus posters, the circus created such common concepts as marketing campaigns and the tools that go with them–junk mail and free coupons–plus the idea of “newer, bigger, and better.” Advance men saturated the show location with 15,000 to 20,000 poster sheets, or the equivalent of 626- 833 standard billboards.

Because the poster was the most important element of a circus’ promotion, they constituted one of the principle products of the commercial printers in the 19th century. Printing houses created these posters using the team approach with many artists working on any one design. One artist might specialize in lettering while another specialized in portraits of performers, and another in animals.

Circus posters fall into two categories–stock posters and specialty posters. Stock posters were generic designs that each show printer produced, but that could be used by any circus. These posters featured images of clowns, wild animals, and performers. It wasn’t uncommon for more than one circus to use the same poster designs in the same season, the only difference being the show title on the posters. Show printers produced thousands of these and sold them to any circus promoter that needed them. They designed specialty posters, on the other hand, with life-like portraits of featured performers or depictions of specific acts for particular circuses.

The value of circus posters depends on their condition. Since they’re made of paper, time and humidity can cause them to deteriorate over time. Creases, caused by folding for storage, can actually add to their value. Unfortunately, since so many artists worked on a particular poster, most aren’t signed. The best way to get a ballpark estimate of what a poster is worth is to check what a poster has sold for either through a dealer or at auction–then take half.

For more information on circus posters, read Step Right Up!

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Locating Antique Furniture Parts

QUESTION: I have a Chippendale/Mahogany bookcase/secretary that is missing a finial. Do you have any idea where I can locate one?

ANSWER: Finding parts for pieces of antique furniture can be a quest in itself. But before you decide to restore a piece, you first have to know how old it is. A piece of furniture dating before 1830 is considered a fine antique. As such, it has special rules for restoration. First, you cannot replace more than 60 percent of it without it being declassified as an antique. Replacing anything on it will definitely lower the value. In fact, doing any sort of restoration usually hurts the value, unless it’s to restore the integrity of the piece.

Restoring furniture made after 1830 is another matter. As time goes on, even pieces dating from the mid-19th century will be scrutinized closer when it comes to restoration. However, generally the fine antique crowd tends to avoid anything Victorian, looking upon it as used furniture. Replacing parts and restoring a piece of Victorian furniture can actually enhance its value. But the replacement has to be of the finest quality and the restoration done right.

The person who asked the question above didn’t signify when her bookcase/secretary was made. If it were an authentic 18th-century Chippendale piece, replacing that finial would have to be done by a professional cabinetmaker and restorer. This could cost several thousand dollars, but when the piece may be worth half a million in the first place, that’s a drop in the antique bucket. The cabinetmaker or joiner would have to hand-carve the missing finial to create an exact match to the original.

If–and that’s a BIG if–a replacement could be found from an identical bookcase/secretary, that would also work. But since 18th-century cabinetmakers all customized details like finials on their pieces, the chance of finding one is a million to one. The only way to make sure is to find a bookcase/secretary from the same cabinetmaker that’s beyond restoration and use it for parts.

On the other hand, if the piece were from a later period, and I’m guessing it is, it may be possible to find a finial floating around in a antique or junk shop. But you can’t just go to a home center and pick one off the shelf.

The first place to start looking is in antique shops that specialize in selling furniture. This could take years of browsing. But parts have been known to service in the least possible places.

You can also turn to a cabinetmaker who specializes in making replacement parts for furniture. This, again, could cost a bit since each part has to be handcrafted and that takes time.

Finally, there area a number of places on the Internet to find replacement parts. A lot of them sell mostly replacement hardware, but some, like Don’s Furniture Clinic and Antique Furniture Repair and Refinishing, do make parts to order. McLean’s Refinishing, of Bogart, Georgia,
stocks old furniture parts and has access to reproduction and replacement parts.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

What’s All the Confusion About American Parian?

QUESTION: Can you tell me if the cream pitcher and sugar bowl I have are authentic pieces of Parian ware? Someone told me they might be American.

ANSWER: Parian ware is a type of salt-glazed pottery made in England beginning in the 1840s. The English pottery that originally developed it, W.T. Copeland, named it after Greek Parian marble since they intended to duplicate expensive marble sculptures for the growing merchant class who wanted to emulate decorative pieces owned by the wealthy. While it has the same ingredients as porcelain–white clay and feldspar–the proportions are two of clay to one of feldspar, instead of equal ones as in porcelain.

Victorians who were climbing up the social and economic ladder loved the statues of classical figures and such, made to resemble those of ancient Greece and Rome. After Copeland, the most famous maker of Parian, perfected the process, other English potters, including Boote, Minton, and even Wedgewood began producing it.

British potters, who immigrated to America in the 19th century, brought with them the skills to make Parian and established potteries from Vermont to South Carolina where they made Parian ware using English techniques. Just as their British counterparts, American women loved it because it resembled expensive marble at a fraction of the price. Most pieces are a dull, gray-white and unglazed.

Parian really took off in the United States after the 1876 Centennial Exhibition in Philadelphia where several American potteries set up exhibits of their works. Potteries such as Ott & Brewer of Trenton, New Jersey and Union Porcelain Works of Brooklyn, New York created Parian statuary with truly American themes. Since the Civil War had ended a little over 10 years before, many of them celebrated the heros of it. The game of baseball had also gained national popularity, so Ott & Brewer produced a statue called “The Baseball Pitcher,” sculpted by Isaac Isaac Broome for their exhibit at the Centennial Exhibition.

What gets many collectors confused is that the Bennington Pottery, founded by Christopher W. Fenton, operated under the name Fenton’s Works from 1847 to 1849, and then as the United States Pottery Company from 1849 until 1858. It produced not only Parian statuary but also 16 different styles of pitchers to hold everything from water to ice tea and milk.

While the potters back in England marked their pieces, many in America did not. The United States Pottery in Bennington, Vermont, one of the most noted American Parian makers, marked only about 20 percent of their pieces and then mostly pitchers with either “Fenton's Works,” “U.S.P.,” or “UNITED STATES/ POTTERY CO."

So the creamer and pitcher above would most likely have come from one of the American Parian makers rather than one in England.

For more information on Parian ware, read Parian Ware–Affordable Art for the Masses.