Tuesday, December 17, 2013

All That Glitters Isn't Always Tiffany

QUESTION: I recently bought what I thought was a Tiffany lamp. I paid several hundred dollars for it and thought it was a steal. Now I'm not so sure. I cannot find a signature on it anywhere. Can you tell me if you think it's a Tiffany?

ANSWER: Unfortunately, as the old saying goes, "You got robbed." Well, not exactly. No, your lamp isn't a Tiffany. It's not even close. But what you paid for it probably is what it's worth. And as long as you like it, that's what counts.
The sight of what looks like a Tiffany lamp sends some people into a dream-like state. Others begin to see dollar signs at the mere mention of the name. Tiffany lamps have become the Holy Grail of antique collecting for many people. To find one—to own one—is paramount to winning the MegaMillions jackpot. And there lies the rub.

Because lamps made by Tiffany Studios command such a high price, people tend to lump all stained glass lamps into this one category. They think that any stained glass lamp is a Tiffany and that they’ll be set for life. In a million-to-one shot, they just might be, but more than likely, their lamp had been made by another company. While its not a fake, neither is it a Tiffany.

Between 1895 and 1915, small factories in New York and Chicago produced a huge variety of mosaic stained glass lamps to satisfy a growing demand for stylish lighting designs to complement the new electric lamps. While Tiffany Studios set the industry standard, other companies produced excellent designs as well.

Companies such as Duffner & Kimberly and Gorham, made lamps of a quality equal to Tiffany Studios and created styles that appealed more to the Victorian taste, although on its way out, that the American middle and upper middle class preferred. Some companies, like Wilkinson, made high quality bases, and took short cuts with their shades. Others, like Unique, focused on creating complex shades and paired them with simpler bases. Many copied Tiffany’s Art Nouveau designs—in many instances almost exactly—and many copied each other.

Tiffany lamps are about the most flamboyant art objects ever produced in America. They attract celebrities, speculators, and decorators, whose buying whims have driven the Tiffany market into a frenzy and then leave it a shambles when the next fad comes along. For the last few years, the market for these wonderful leaded-glass lamps, most produced during the first two decades of this century, has been recuperating from a decade-long manic-depressive binge.
During the 1950's, a few pioneer collectors began looking at the sensuous floral lamps made by Louis Comfort Tiffany and his Tiffany Studios. Louis was the son of the founder of the famous New York jewelry firm, but for most of his life he preferred painting, the  decorative arts, and interior design.

During the 1960s, interest in the lamps grew rapidly because their restless, fragmented, colorful designs fit nicely into eclectic, psychedelic decorating schemes of that time. Inflation in the 1970's drew investors, speculators, and celebrities into a market where prices sometimes doubled from year to year. Recession in the early 1980's drove those buyers from the market, and prices collapsed. Since then, prices for  some lamps have moved back to, or even above, their former highs; but the market is still very selective one.
The current record price for a Tiffany lamp is the $528,000 paid in December, 1984, at  Christie's in New York City for a large floor lamp with a shade in the Magnolia pattern.  The lamp was one of several being sold by record producer David Geffen, who had been a major Tiffany buyer during the era of hectic growth. Although it was set long after those halcyon days, the record was more a last gasp than a portent of things to come. Today, authentic lamps made by Tiffany Studios and signed either “Louis Comfort Tiffany” or “Tiffany Studios” on the rim of the shade go for as high as $30,000. No wonder there are so many “Tiffphonies” out there. Neither of the lamps pictured here are Tiffanys.

Monday, December 9, 2013

Shining Like a Jewel

QUESTION: My mother had a collection of ruby glass that she left to me. She would always display it around the Christmas holidays. To this day, I still take out select pieces to dress up my holiday table. What can you tell me out this beautiful glass?

ANSWER: Ruby glass is the dark red color of the precious gemstone ruby. This popular Victorian color never went out of style and it’s still cherished today as it was then.

Ruby glass has been around since Roman times. But the secret of making red glass, lost for many centuries, wasn’t rediscovered until the 17th Century in Brandenburg, Bohemia. Johann Kunckel, a chemist from a glass-making family, re-discovered how to make gold ruby glass around 1670.

To make gold ruby glass, include gold chloride, a colloidal gold solution produced by dissolving gold metal in Aqua Regia (nitric acid and hydrochloric acid) in the glass mixture. Tin (stannic chloride) is sometimes added in tiny amounts, making the process both difficult and expensive. The tin has to be present in the two chloride forms because the stannous chloride acts as a reducing agent to bring about the formation of the metallic gold. Depending on the composition of the base glass, the ruby color can develop during cooling, or the glass may have to be reheated to ‘strike’ the color.” Today, glassmakers use selenium to make ruby glass.

Over the years, the number of companies making ruby glass has diminished. Since the EPA has come down hard on these manufacturers, it became too costly to make ruby glass.

Other than its inherent color and possible shape, ruby glass pieces aren’t easily identified. Most Royal Ruby glass wasn’t marked or signed. The glass usually came from the factory with a sticker identifying the ruby color. During the 1940s, ruby glass manufacturers began using stickers which eventually got washed off or pulled off.

Major glass companies such as Sandwich, Cambridge, Mount Vernon, Gadroon, Blenko, Paden City, Hostmaster, Glades, Fenton, and Fostoria all made ruby glass in all the popular Depression glass patterns—Old Cafe, Coronation, Sandwich, Oyster and Pearl, Queen Mary, Manhattan. 

One company, Anchor Hocking, became synonymous with the manufacture of ruby glass. They initially began making and promoting it in 1938. Anchor Hocking's glass, which the company called Royal Ruby, unlike most handmade ruby, used a formula in which the principal colorant was copper. The result, an evenly colored, dark red glass. The amount of Royal Ruby in existence today is tremendous, far more than the amount of red glass from other manufacturers.

Anchor Hocking’s first made Royal Ruby in 1939 in round plates in dinner sets. Since this color became so popular, the company produced pieces of other patterns in this ruby color, including Oysters and Pearls, Old Cafe, Coronation, Bubble, Classic, Manhattan, Queen Mary, and Sandwich. However, difficulty in obtaining copper during World War II, halted production until 1949, after which Anchor Hocking began making an assortment of novelty items— apothecary jars, cigarette boxes, powder boxes, and such—sometimes combining it with crystal.

Footed and unfooted sugar and creamer sets, jam jars with crystal bottoms and ruby lids, plus assorted glasses--ribbed, old café, gold rimmed tumblers, and footed wine goblets—were among the myriad of pieces made in the late 1940s and early 1950s. Ice tea sets with large ice-lipped pitchers and six to eight tumblers were especially popular.

Overall, ruby glass has appreciated in value because, like most glass items, breakage causes scarcity. But many items still sell in the affordable range of $15-65.

Monday, December 2, 2013

Rocking Into Butter

QUESTION: I recently purchased an odd sort of butter churn at a local antique show. It’s a horizontal container suspended by straps to a truncated wooden frame. The only type of butter churn I’ve heard of is the vertical cylindrical type. It has the name and location of the company that made it—"Davis Swing Churn, No. 2, Vermont Farm Machine Co., Bellows Falls, Vt."—painted on both sides. Can you tell me something about it?

ANSWER: What you have is what’s commonly called a “rocking churn.” It seems women used to hook the churn to a rocker using a hook and a length of rope and as they rocked, they pulled the churn from side to side, agitating the cream inside.

To better understand how this type of churn works, it’s important to know how the churning process works. Women used a variety of churns to turn cream into butter. The most common type of churn is the vertical churn into which a person inserted a pole inserted through the lid.

The agitation of the cream, caused by the mechanical motion of the device, disrupts the milk fat. This movement breaks down the membranes that surround the fats in the cream, forming clumps known as butter grains. These butter grains, during the process of churning, fuse with each other and form larger fat globules. The mechanical action introduces air bubbles into these fat globules. The butter grains become more dense as fat globules attach to them while action forces the air out of the mixture. This process creates buttermilk. With constant churning, the fat globules eventually form solid butter and separate from the buttermilk. The butter maker then drains off the buttermilk and squeezes the butter to eliminate excess liquid, forming it into a solid mass.

Historians believe the word “butter” came from the Greek word boutyron, meaning “cow cheese.” That’s because goat’s milk doesn’t work well to produce butter because of its lower fat content.  Evidence for the use of butter dates back as early as 2000 B.C.E.. And the butter churn, itself, may have existed as early as the 6th century A.D. Historians also believe that early nomads may have discovered butter by accident after having filled skin bags with milk and loading them onto pack animals. The movement of the animals shook the bags, creating butter.

Before commercial dairies began producing butter, every home had tools to make its own. Butter churns came in a variety of styles. The most common is a container, made of stoneware in the mid-19th century and later of wood, where the person making the butter creates it by moving a pole, inserted into the lid, in a vertical motion. This type of churn is also known as an “up-and-down”’ churn, plunger churn, plumping churn, or knocker churn.  The staff used in the churn is called a dash, dasher-staff, churn-staff, churning-stick, or plunger.

Another common type of butter churn is the paddle churn. The butter maker turned a handle that operated a paddle inside a container, causing the cream to become butter. Yet another type is the barrel churn. This consists of a barrel turned onto its side with a crank attached. The crank either turns a paddle device inside the churn, as in the paddle churn, or turns the whole barrel, whose action converts the milk to butter.

Finally, there the rocking chair butter churn, invented by Alfred Clark. This device, invented by Alfred Clark, consisted of a barrel attached to a rocking chair. While the rocking chair moved, the barrel moved and churned the milk within into butter. Today, a rocking butter churn in good condition sells for over $500.

Monday, November 25, 2013

Taming Your Collecting Passion

QUESTION: I love to collect things. But my passion for collecting seems to be getting out of hand. How can I control this? And how can I judge whether certain items are worth collecting?

ANSWER: You’ve obviously been bitten hard by the collecting bug. With the advent of eBay and the Antiques Roadshow, everyone has the idea that everything is worth something. And if something is old, it must certainly be worth a lot. If you believe this, then you’re wrong on both counts.

The first question you need to ask yourself is “Why do you collect things?” Is it for their intrinsic or monetary value, is it for the pleasure they give you, or is it for some vague idea of self-worth?

Asking avid collectors why they do what they do is like asking, "Why do you breathe?" They might reply that something about human behavior wants—or is fated—to gather and accumulate, to crave and classify, to seek out and hoard. Passion plays a part in many serious collectors' pursuits, as does, many admit, the thrill of the hunt.

This can be true even, or perhaps especially, when time is long between looking, finding and acquiring. The rarer an object of desire, the less frequent or instant the gratification of its discovery; for some determined collectors, though, pleasure resides in the long, unpredictable search for a coveted item. Inexplicably, it may also dissolve when it leads to a find.

For many people, collecting is a way of getting in touch with a past era, even if they didn't live through that particular period themselves. Some enjoy owning objects from what they may imagine was a simpler, less stressful age. Or they may have a strong nostalgic or family connection to a certain period and place.

Some people collect with investment value in mind, others to develop an informed knowledge of a our material  culture. Either way, passion plays a part in many serious collectors' pursuits, as does the thrill of the hunt. Identifying personally with the objects one admires can also feed the collecting impulse.

Some collectors embrace—and celebrate—their magnificent obsessions; like entertainers, they enjoy displaying what they have amassed and sharing their enthusiasm with friends. Conversely, to be sure, many a treasured collection is a private, secretive affair.

Collecting has broaden in scope over the decades. It used to be that antiques included only decorative objects and furnishings. Today, anything 100 years old or older is considered an antique. Anything newer a collectible. And while some antiques may be considered collectibles, not all collectibles are antiques. Take typewriters, for instance. The oldest ones are antiques but newer ones from the late 20th century are technically collectibles.

What's old is new in the evermore-diverse collectibles market, and as long as someone, somewhere values something enough to acquire it and stimulate trading in its field, it can become a common practice to do so. Thus, along with such old favorites as stamps and coins, items like Barbie dolls, tea tins, and buttons, in fact, just about everything can be deemed a collectible.

So where do you draw the line.  The first rule of collecting is collect what you like.  The second rule is to be knowledgeable about your collection. The third rule is buy low and sell high.

Understand why you’re collecting what you do. What got you started? Have you kept up with your collection or has it run its course? If your collection is languishing, then perhaps you’ve lost interest. Life changes. You change.

Do you know a lot about what you collect? Have you studied up on the history of the objects? Do you know the makers and the marks? Do you know the last word on the subject? Have you kept up with the market value?

Too many people get caught up in the entertainment value of auction sites like eBay. For some it’s like playing poker. They even get to “win.” Many pay far more than an object is worth just because they want to be the winner. If you’re a true collector, you’ll not even bid on an item unless you know you can get it for a good deal below market value. And that means you have to know what it’s worth before you bid.

Do you just collect things or do you keep an inventory of your collection? To understand the true value of your collection, you need to know when and where you purchased each piece, how much you paid and how much it’s worth now. You may even want to photograph each item as a record for insurance purposes.

Of course, as any collector knows, there’s a price to pay. Thus, beginners and seasoned veterans alike usually pursue their collecting passion at some cost. No matter what your field is, there's something all of us inevitably collect and unless you pick the pieces off the junk pile, you’ll have to pay for them.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

A, B, C, D, E, F, G...

QUESTION: My grandfather gave my parents a wooden child’s chair, covered with letters, that he had when he was a kid for me to use. I remember singing the alphabet song while sitting in the chair, and that’s pretty much how I learned my ABC’s. My grandfather is gone now, but I still have the chair. Can you tell me anything about this chair?

ANSWER: What you have is a wooden alphabet chair with lithographed letters of the alphabet decorating it. If your chair is in really good condition—many of these are not—then you have something of some value.

Lithographed toys range from dollhouses to acrobat figures to nests of blocks to an array of boats, horse-drawn carriages, and trains. Collectors value for their often substantial size, handsome graphics, and careful attention to precise details.

Of the three types of lithographed toys—tin, wood, and cardboard—the latter two have vibrant, two-dimensional details printed on paper that’s combined with a three-dimensional shape. Collectors appreciate the intimacy and color of these hand-drawn but mechanically printed designs.

Before the development of chromolithography—the process of printing a color picture from a series of lithographic plates—by German printers in the 1840s, toys had to be handmade. So most toys were too expensive for all but wealthier people. Less affluent families had to make do with homemade toys.

By the 1870s, French, English, and American firms had patented chromolithography production methods, which offset designs from inked sheets or rollers onto toy surfaces. By the 1890s, they had standardized the process, and both the American and European toy industries were able to mass-produce colorful toys inexpensively. In time, American toymakers, such as Rufus Bliss, John McLoughlin, and Parker Brothers, refined the technique and became world-leading toy manufacturers.

Production of all three types of lithographed toys ran from the late 19th century into the early 20th. But just as horse and steam power gave way to the internal combustion engine, production of wood and cardboard lithographed toys waned as technology developed. By the 1920s, after ore became available for cast-iron toys, manufacturers found metal better suited for mass production and that lightweight tin could more easily house clockworks and springs than wood.

The mass production of toys came at a time when parents were beginning to view their children less as miniature adults to be instructed and more as children to be entertained as well as taught.

Numerous wood lithographed replicas of horse-drawn fire engines, prairie schooners, steamboats, and luxury side-wheeler river steamers paralleled a strong interest in the rapidly changing modes of transportation at the turn-fo-the-20th-century.

Today wooden lithographed toys are available at auctions; estate sales, and flea markets. Because of their fragility, however, it’s difficult to find examples in excellent condition. Those that have survived the years are worth from $50 to $4,000, depending on size, condition, and rarity. Since your alphabet chair is of the larger variety, it’s worth more, depending on its condition.

Monday, November 11, 2013

The Sweet Smell of Sweet Grass

QUESTION: My grandmother just gave me a flat basket that smells as sweet as new-mown hay. She said it belonged to her mother but isn’t sure where she got it or when. Can you tell me something about it?

ANSWER: As the fragrance implies, what you have is what’s known as a sweet-grass basket.

The story of South Carolina's Low Country sweet-grass baskets begins centuries ago on the rice farms of  West Africa. During the 15th and 16th centuries, black men brought over to America as slaves made strong, sturdy baskets out of bulrush, a coarse marsh grass that grew along the tidal rivers of what’s today South Carolina. The baskets winnowed rice, stored grain, and held vegetables collected from the garden.

Eventually buckets and crates replaced the baskets, but families still used them to store bread, fruit, clothing, and other household staples.

After the Civil War, former slaves continued to make baskets on their own family farms, but now the women made them while the men gathered and harvested the sweet grass and taught their sons to do the same. The women chose sweet grass as their medium because it is softer and more pliable than bulrush and retains the scent of fresh-mown hay for years.

Although coiled sweet-grass basketmaking has died out in many South Carolina communities, the 300-year-old tradition continues to flourish in the coastal town of Mount Pleasant, north of Charleston. Today, it’s the only place where this type of basketmaking is done. For years, individual artists have made them at home using age-old techniques passed down from generation to generation. Ancestors of many of today's basketmakers got a boost back in 1916 when a local Charleston bookseller began buying Mt. Pleasant baskets in quantity. He sold them first in his store and later by mail for more than 30 years.

In the 1930's, basketmakers saw a new surge of interest from gift shop owners, museums, and handicraft collectors. The paving of Highway 17 North and the construction of the Cooper River Bridge made the route through Mt. Pleasant a major north-south artery. Basketmakers then started marketing their wares from roadside basket stands in their front yards, which were directly accessible to tourists.

Some basketmakers would also make the trip to Charleston to sell their homegrown farm produce and their baskets at the open market there. Old photographs capture these merchants with baskets on their heads, bearing their wares.

Though traditional basket shapes are still popular, many creative shapes have been added over the years. There are bread trays, sifting baskets, magazine baskets, place mats, clothes hampers, and baskets to hold firewood, hats, and cakes.

The time, care, and skill that goes into each basket can never be recouped by the price. Basketmakers spend long hours making these baskets. Even for the most experienced basketmaker, a simple design can take as long as 12 hours.

The grasses must be gathered, hauled, cleaned, dried, and stored. The artist starts each basket from the bottom up, beginning with a knot of sage-green sweet grass. The grasses are coiled round and round and are sometimes mixed with rush. Coils are then bound with white strips of palmetto, using a tool called a "bone." The bone is generally fashioned from an old teaspoon handle that's been hammered and filed, but some craftspeople use half a scissors or a pocketknife as their tool. Whatever the choice, each basketmaker usually has a favorite bone and works with it exclusively. The bone works like a shuttle between the rows of coiled grass to make space for the binding strips of palmetto.

Once the basketmaker forms the bottom, she builds up the sides, and may add a handle or cover. Some makers decorate their baskets with pine needles.

Today, South Carolina Low Country baskets have become part of the collections at the Smithsonian Institution and the American Museum of Natural History, as well as many individuals. While older ones can sell for three figures, newer ones from the latter 20th century can be had for $10-25.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

19th Century Tupperware

QUESTION: I recently won a box lot at a local auction. Inside the box I found what looks like a cup with an attached saucer. It’s heavy and a bit crude. Can you tell me what it is?

ANSWER: What you have is a 19th-century grease lamp made of stoneware. Farmers used these lamps, fueled by animal fat, in their homes. They often threw away early, less refined versions, as better ones appeared on the market. 

Stoneware is one of the hardy perennials of the American antiques trade. Each year, auction houses, antiques shops, and flea markets sell thousands of pieces at prices from $25 to several thousand dollars. The record price stands at $15,000 for a rare 1773 stoneware inkstand. Only a handful of pieces fetch prices in that stratospheric range.

Stoneware is a heavy, hard pottery that resists odors and tastes and won’t absorb water. The first American stoneware appeared in the last half of the 18th century, and for more than 100 years people used stoneware vessels to store and transport foods and liquids. It was essentially the 19th-century version of Tupperware. When glass and metal containers came into common use, people stopped using it.

Generally, it’s difficult to date stoneware unless a piece has the name and town of the maker or the name of the company that used the vessel to hold its product stamped on the bottom. For this reason, many collectors like to buy pieces made in their areas. But stoneware that can be identified as the work of an early potter may be worth several hundred dollars. For example, a double-handled crock inscribed "Commeraw" sold for $800 because it was made by Thomas Commeraw, a New York City potter active from 1795 to 1820. At a Massachusetts auction, a jug with the initials J. F. sold for $600—it’s attributed to a 1790's Boston potter named Jonathan Fenton. Sometimes the initials on a piece belong not to the maker but to the original owner, which makes the piece attractive to collectors interested in genealogy.

As with many other antiques, age isn’t the main reason in determining the price of an object—its decorative qualities are far more important. An attractive late-19th-century jug will fetch more at auction than a homely Revolutionary-era piece. Most stoneware forms, such as jugs, crocks, jars, churns, and pitchers, are very simple and vary only slightly in shape and design. Decoration, if any, tends to be sparse. When a potter decorated his pieces, he often used simple floral, bird, or scroll motifs painted on the stoneware in three basic colors—blue, brown, or black. The most common stoneware style has a gray-glazed background with blue decoration. Such run-of-the-mill pieces, which represent about 90 percent of the stoneware available today, are generally worth less than $50.

Because many stoneware items look alike, the most valuable pieces are those with unusual or imaginative decoration. A rare form, such as your stoneware grease lamp, or an odd-sized piece, an exceptionally large crock, for example, can be worth several hundred to several thousand dollars.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

More on Organizing Your Collections

You’ve figured out a numbering system and assigned numbers to the items in your collection. The next step is to apply them to your objects. Whichever technique you used depends on the surface of the object. The labels must be removable in case you sell an item from the collection, but they must also be durable and long-lasting. Choose a place for the label on the bottom or back of objects, being careful not to obliterate any trademarks, serial numbers, patent dates, or maker's signatures. Use a thin pointed Sharpie marker to print the numbers on the labels. Removable labels work the best.

Paper items can be labeled with a soft pencil, never with ink or a rubber stamp. Apply the label in an inconspicuous place, preferably on the back, always keeping in mind that it may have to be removed. Place the label on a sturdy portion of the paper, not so close to the edge that the paper will tear if the number is erased.

For such textiles as rugs, quilts, samplers, wall hangings, and clothing, use small fabric labels numbered with a laundry pen or fine ballpoint pen. Always test the pen first on a piece of scrap label to make sure that the ink does not bleed or smear. Attach the label to the fabric with only one or two stitches at each corner so that the label can easily be removed without damaging the fabric. Although self-adhesive labels or iron-on tape may seem quick and easy, they are not recommended because they fall off in time. They sometimes permanently discolor the object or leave a residue that can damage it.

If you recorded your collection on cards or in a looseleaf notebook, you can break it down into individual classifications for filing purposes. You may wish to even break down those classifications further.  Some specialties may not require such complete listings, and some individual headings may need to be expanded. For example, if the specialty is Eastlake-inspired furniture, subheadings can be added in the furniture category to identify makers or types of furniture. In the case of bottles, for example, specify the type of glass, blown or molded, the color and shape, and the type of bottle—whiskey bottle, flask, bitters bottle, or house-hold bottle. The contents of your collection and your planned future acquisitions will determine the headings you choose.

Using a digital camera or camera-equipped smartphone, you may wish to add photos of the items in your collection to your listings or database. Photograph the items individually. If you’re working with small objects, consider buying or making a lightbox—a box with white paper on three sides and bottom—in which you can photograph them. Save the originals as is, but make copies of all the photos first and rename them using the catalog number you’ve assigned to that object.

Most growing collections represent substantial investments of time and effort as well as money. Besides its obvious uses for insurance claims, a carefully kept catalog is valuable to those who may buy or inherit your collection. Cataloging is also a way of becoming intimately acquainted with all the objects in your collection, identifying the collection's strengths and weaknesses, and  taking the time to enjoy it thoroughly.

Monday, October 7, 2013

Organizing Your Collections

QUESTIONS: I love collecting things and have been doing it a long time. But I now find I really don’t know exactly what I have. Can you give me some advice on how to organize my collections?

ANSWERS: Collecting things can be addictive. And over time your collections may become so large that you lose sight of what you actually have. Organizing your collections is important if you’re to truly enjoy them.

Private collections often start with one or two items—perhaps a striking old photograph or an old vase. You treasure a few objects and know their every feature by heart. As the objects multiply, however, you’ll  forget where you found an object or what its history was. Cataloging of your collection can record those details, document the artifacts for insurance, and form a framework to keep similar objects together.

Collectors have a common need to know what they have and where they got it.

There are three ways to catalog your collections. All of them are rather simple. The first uses
standard 3 x 5 or 5 x 8-inch cards and a notebook, or logbook. Another uses a three-ring binder with dividers if you prefer to keep all the information under one cover. In either case, no special materials are needed; cards, notebooks, and binders are available at any office-supply or stationery store.

The third way is to create a computer database. You can begin by using the cards you prepared above, then transferring the information to a database later.

The first step in any classification system is a catalog number, which will appear on the artifact, in the logbook, and on every receipt, canceled check, photograph, or card that relates to it. The number is the essential link between your records and the item.

The objects in your collection should be numbered in sequence in the order in which you acquired them. Although simple numbers will serve, a three-part number is more useful because it includes the year the object was acquired and the source. Individual items purchased at the same time from the same source will thus each have this number.

It’s a good idea to record the numbers consecutively in the logbook as soon as you assign them. Include in the entry basic information about the source, a brief description of the object, and the price paid for it. That information, along with the receipt or canceled check, can be used to document a claim if a part or all of the collection should be damaged or destroyed. The log should be stored in a safe place and updated regularly.

Next Week: More on organizing your collections.

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Collecting Boxes

QUESTION: I love old boxes and want to start a box collection. But where do I begin? What sort of boxes are highly collectible?

ANSWER: Collecting old boxes is a great introduction into collecting antiques. Boxes are small enough so as not to take up too much room, yet intriguing enough to keep you interested as your collection grows.

Boxes are popular with collectors. The shape of a box reveals clues as to what it once held while the quality and type of workmanship are a key to the type of individual that owned and used it. And when you life the lid of an antique box, you’ll smell exotic aromas of times gone by—the scent of peppery clove, the fruity wood smell of tobacco, the delicate odor of beeswax or bayberry.

With the passing of time, the styles and functions of boxes have changed . Early settlers used rustic wooden and tin boxes to hold necessities like salt, flour, and candles. Colonials in Ben Franklin's day toted their snuff in convenient pocket-size boxes, the elaborateness of which indicated a gentleman's social standing. Elegant Victorian ladies who indulged in the luxury of lace gloves and cloth beauty patches kept them in ornate silk- and velvet-covered boxes. Today,  boxes like these bring a bit of history to any room and can be used to hold keepsakes or simply enjoyed for their own unique charms. So you want to start a box collection? What’s involved?

Before you buy any antique box, research it carefully. If you're looking for boxes made in the late 19th century, for example, read books on the subject, view historical displays of that period in museums, and browse antique shops and shows.  Once you decide on the type of boxes you want to collect, go to auctions, estate sales, and quality flea markets to see what's available.

Once you begin finding boxes to add to your collection , select on the best ones and avoid those that show more than normal wear. Bypass wooden boxes with warped veneers, cracks, and damaged hinges. Check porcelain, pottery, and glass boxes for chips and cracks, and avoid metal boxes that have bad dents. Always buy the best your budget will allow. Quality boxes do appreciate in value with time. Plan to keep any box you purchase at least 10 years to realize this appreciation.

Box collectors particularly favor those handmade by American craftsmen in the 19th century. Many of these are rustic and were designed to hold everyday possessions, such as salt and seasonings or grooming aids. The contents of a box usually determined its shape. A box made for a three-cornered hat, for instance, was triangular, while a candle box was long and narrow. Craftsmen decorated some boxes with carving or delicate hand-painted designs while they left others plain.

Brightly colored boxes made by Pennsylvania Germans, and boxes with finger-style joinings made by Shakers are excellent examples of folk art, and command high prices today. Fortunately, most antique shops and shows have many other types of primitive boxes at reasonable prices.

Boxes made during the early 20th century are also gaining popularity with collectors. Victorian women used some of the most common ones, made of cardboard covered with silk, velvet, paper, or shells, to store gloves, handkerchiefs, sewing items, and trinkets. You’ll find these boxes for $15-20 and up. Other early 20th-century examples include assorted sizes of Japanese lacquered  boxes, selling for $20 or more, small brass Oriental ones with metal appliques, and porcelain "fairing boxes," originally sold at English country fairs. You’ll usually find these “fairings” in antiques shops or at shows, starting at around $125.

Collecting boxes can be addictive because there are so many different kinds out there. The more focused your collection is, the better.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

A Tiskit, a Tasket, a Strong Shaker Basket

QUESTION: My great grandmother passed down a rectangular basket that, according to family legend, she purchased up country from a Shaker woman. The basket is in good condition and has been in our family for years. How can I tell it’s a Shaker basket?

ANSWER: Shaker baskets were one of the first American "signature"baskets—from a known maker or  group of basketmakers—to come onto the antique market. A combination of style, materials, weaving technique, rims and handles alert collectors to authentic Shaker baskets. But it takes a trained eye to separate a $10,000 Shaker basket from similar styles of Native American and country baskets valued in the $300–500 range. What isn’t widely known is that the Shakers sometimes bought locally made baskets for utilitarian use which has led to the misidentification of many Shaker baskets.

The Shakers designed each of their baskets for a particular task. For those meant to be used indoors, they labeled them for their use or where they intended to store them. For example, rectangular baskets stored efficiently on shelves without wasted space, so the Shakers created them to use to store folded laundry. They often labeled the basket for the room and shelf on which they placed it. The material used to construct this type of basket would be of the same pounded ash wood but lighter in weight, again pointing to the efficiency of the Shaker design. They places wet laundry, however, in stronger round baskets made with heavier pounded ash to support the extra weight. The style they chose for this basket was fluted rather than cylindrical, making it easier to stack the empty baskets after they finished with the laundry.

Despite the variety of utility baskets, the Shakers were most famous for baskets that they made to be sold. They referred to these baskets, made mostly for aesthetic appeal, as "fancy" baskets, which they sold as souvenirs to wealthy travelers at railroad stops and in the gift shops of grand hotels throughout the United States and England during the late 19th century. The Shakers named these fancy baskets for their style rather than their intended use. For example, when a person turns over a "cat-head" basket, the bottom resembles the shape of a cat's head.

Since the Shakers produced many of their baskets at their more numerous communities  in New York and New England, they used local materials. They preferred pounded splint from black ash trees for the horizontal material because it had stronger fibers and was more pliable to work with, as well as for uprights supports. Shaker craftsmen bent and drawknifed local hardwoods for handles and rims. Weavers wove the baskets with a continuous pattern that required an odd number of uprights. But the Shaker's need for uniformity and precision in design of their fancy baskets made it impossible for them to consider using an odd number. So Shaker fancy baskets have an even number of uprights.

Once a particular type of basket had been properly designed, it would always remain the same. Although styles varied from community to community, there was always uniformity within any one community. To achieve this, the Shakers used identical molds, allowing for basket components to be made by different hands and still fit together precisely. One person never made an entire basket. Instead, they used an assembly line approach.

Fancy basket styles can be found in various conditions for $1,500 to more than $10,000 on the open market, and the working styles are sometimes seen, although rarely, for less than $3,000 if in fair condition. Collectors will pay well over $10,000 for a documented good-condition working basket. So it pays to have a potentially Shaker basket appraised by someone who is an expert in them.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

The German Influence in American Furniture

QUESTION: My husband and I recently discovered an antique wardrobe at a house sale and fell in love with it. We purchased it but have no idea what style it is. The wardrobe is about six feet tall and has large raised diamond shapes on its doors. There’s an additional diamond panel across the top. Can you tell me what this might be?

ANSWER: It looks like you just bought yourself a fine example of American Biedermeier furniture.

The Biedermeier style, itself, was a neoclassic style that originated in Germany in 1815. Popular until about 1850, it was a potpourri of classic features taken from French Empire, Sheraton, Regency, and Directoire styles.

The style’s name derived from Ludwig Eichrodt and Adolf Kussmaul, who depicted the typical bourgeois of the period in the caricature of a well-to-do man without culture under the name “Gottfried Biedermeier.”—“Gott” meaning “God”;  fried” meaning “peace”; “Bieder” meaning “commonplace”:_meier” meaning “steward”—in their Fliegende Blatter  Pamphlets,  a Viennese journal of the day. Critics adopted this name to describe furniture that represented the unimaginative taste of the average person.

However, the style wasn’t called Biedermeier until 1886, when Georg Hirth wrote a book about 19th-century interior design, and used the word "Biedermeier" to describe domestic German furniture of the 1820s and 1830s.

A simpler version of the French Empire and Directoire styles, Biedermeier furniture was comfortable, unpretentious, and spare and was especially suited to the rising European middle class.

By  the 1840s Biedermeier gradually gave way to the curves and flourishes of the neo-Rococo revival in Vienna. Early pieces were generally rectilinear, undecorated, and simple. Towards the middle of period, craftsmen employed curves more in chair backs, legs, etc. Scroll forms became popular after 1840 on bases and legs often with upper terminal animal heads which were sometimes gilded.

When German immigrants came to America in the mid-19th century, many headed for the middle of the country around Missouri.

In the Missouri settlements, the German cabinetmakers modified the sophisticated Biedermeier motifs to fit the simple tastes of their customers. The style's characteristic decorative veneers, curved legs and chair backs, and geometric shapes on flat surfaces were maintained, but the features were simplified. Countrified versions of Biedermeier chairs typically had outsweeping saber front legs and backs made of two horizontal rails.

Simple examples have wooden seats while more elaborate ones are upholstered. Biedermeier influences in wardrobes include raised-panel doors enhanced by diamond motifs and deep cornices. They would have called these chifferobes.

Monday, September 9, 2013

Keeping Track of Days

QUESTION: I recently came across an old Coca Cola wall calendar from 1913. It’s in reasonably good shape. Can you tell me anything about how wall calendars got their start?

ANSWER: You may have a prize collectible. Coca Cola memorabilia always sells for good prices if the items are in good condition. In 1913, the Coca Cola Company printed a million of these calendars. Unfortunately, most people threw them away since they had only one picture on them.

During the latter part of the 19th-century, trade cards, the forerunners of business cards, often included a small printed calendar. In 1869, the detachable calendar pad appeared. The pad made it possible to use a calendar picture for more than one year. To most residents of farmhouses, country cottages, and log cabins, these beautifully printed calendars were the only art they knew.

Insurance companies were the biggest producers of early calendars, giving them away to every premium holder. Some of the big insurance firms made use of their company logo for their calendar's artwork, but most chose pictures of dogs, children, or elegant ladies.

Other businesses soon capitalized on the booming demand for wall-art calendars. The Coca-Cola Company, which began distributing calendars in 1891, had printed one million by 1913 and more than two million by 1924. In the 1890s, the Grand Union Tea Company, the Singer Company, and Armour Meat Company had their calendars hanging in shops and markets from coast to coast.

Soon, small business owners began to have their names and addresses printed on stock calendars. Printers of stock calendars offered voluminous catalogs of artwork from which the customer could choose, and the demand for calendar artwork kept many an illustrator from finding another line of business. So many feed mills, lumberyards, grocery stores, and other small businesses distributed calendars in the early 20th century that it is possible to assemble a fairly complete inventory of retailers from that era by listing the sponsors of old calendars.

New techniques in the printing industry called for intricate embossing and die-cutting, and the calendar became a lavish palette of complex colors and textures.

Printers employed many famous illustrators, including Palmer Cox, Edward Penfield, and Louis Rhead, to produce artwork for their calendars. Cox, a noted magazine illustrator of the time, created a community of impish cartoon elves he called the Brownies in 1883. His mischievous little Brownies were a favorite subject for calendars prior to the turn of the century.

The Minnesota-based firm of Brown and Bigelow, the world's biggest manufacturer of calendars, commissioned Maxfield Parrish and later Norman Rockwell. From 1925 through 1975the Boys Scouts of America authorized Brown and Bigelow to reproduce Rockwell illustrations for the official Boy Scout calendar.

By the 1930s, calendar advertising had become less effective than radio and mass circulation magazine ads. But the tradition lived on with calendars from automobile service stations and garages—important new features of family life. However, the calendars they commissioned were often less elaborate. In the 1940s and 1950s, neighborhood drug stores and heating oil companies continued to print wall-art calendars that featured detachable monthly date pads and simple illustrations.

Although calendars from well-known firms cost up to $100, you can purchase ones from the less famous names for $35-$65. You can often find calendars printed after 1920 for less than $30.

Today, calendars appear everywhere. You may still get a calendar annually from your insurance agent, but many people now use their cell phones to keep track of what day it is. If you still want to hang a calendar on the wall, you can get some nifty ones at dollar stores across the country.

Monday, August 26, 2013

Let the Sun Shine In

QUESTION: I recently purchased a very thin summer quilt with a sunburst pattern. It really brightens up my day to see the sun spread out on my bed. How did women come up with patterns like this? Do you have any idea of how old it might be?

ANSWER: Patterned quilts have been around for a long time. While some appeared in Colonial times, the peak time for pattern quilts was the latter half of the 19th century. Amish women still meticulously hand-sew them, both for home use and for sale to tourists. Most quilts take hundreds of hours of work, so they’re priced rather high. Although some individuals did make the older ones, the most intricate ones were the result of a group of women sewing together in what became known as a “quilting bee.” This not only produced a quilt but provided a time for socializing and exchanging news and gossip. Yours looks to have been made by an individual, perhaps in the early 20th century.

During the years between the American Revolution and the beginning of the westward migration, bedcovers blossomed with cotton cutouts salvaged from leftover bits of expensive European chintz. Women carefully snipped around the bird and floral motifs of the imported chintzes and appliquéd them on fields of plain domestic cloth to make the most of the patterned fabric available to them. Known as patchwork quilts, these served a practical purpose—to keep people warm in bed at night.

But it was during the years of the westward journey, from 1840 to 1870, that women stitched the majority of patchwork quilts. As families moved west, fabric became scarce, so women creatively used what they had. While their Colonial forebearers used bits of leftover fabric, pioneer women also used pieces of old clothing and household linens. They stitched these scraps together in designated patterns with some pretty folksy names—the Hole in the Barn Door, Rocky Mountain Puzzle, Log Cabin, Galaxy of Stars, and hundreds of others that reflected the joys and sorrows of pioneer women’s lives. Only rarely did quilters use new pieces of cloth.

Another type of quilt popular at the time was the crazy quilt, a seemingly wild pattern made more coherent by a series of straight seams. Because of a lack of space and quilting supplies, individual pioneer women often assembled lap-sized quilts suitable for throwing over the legs when riding in a wagon or carriage in cold weather.

The dust on the westward movement slowly settled as howling locomotives took the place of the swaying Conestoga. Hastily thrown up shanties made way for gingerbread mansions filled to the rafters with sumptuous furnishings and awash with a rainbow of brilliant colors. The quilts of the late 1800s illustrate the extravagance of the Victorian age. In fact, the quilts that most typify those years when Victoria last reigned in England aren’t really quilts at all, but thin parlor throws meant to thrill the eye—not warm the body. At home on the tabletops, sofa arms, and piano backs of overstuffed parlors, these throws had neither quilting nor batting. Yet, in their own splashy way, they are as much masterworks of American stitchery as their pioneer predecessors.

Pieced from the best silks, satins, and velvets—materials newly available to the growing middle class—the patchwork throws of this era are rich mosaics of color and texture, emphasizing proficiency in embroidery and the mastering of different types of stitches. Women's magazines of the day printed detailed embroidery instructions for anyone to follow.

In an unprecedented outpouring of sentimentality, Victorian quilters filled their work with bits and pieces of their personal past: Father's vest pocket, lace from a wedding veil, ribbons commemorating political events or visits to faraway lands.

Monday, August 19, 2013


QUESTION: We’ve been using an old R.C. Allen cash register in our clock and watch repair shop for at least three generations. It still works fine, but I’d like to find out more about it. What can you tell me about my machine?

Yours isn’t the only R.C. Allen cash register to be found in shops across the country. These work horses have tallied many a sales for shop owners
since the company came into existence in 1932. It became one of the leading manufacturers of business machines. And although your model isn’t technically an antique—yours dates from the 1960s—it, nevertheless, stands out as one of the best the company made.

But the story of the cash register didn’t begin with R.C. Allen. It was saloon owner James Ritty who actually invented the cash register in the years following the Civil War as a way of preventing his employees from dipping into his profits. He invented the Ritty Model I in 1879 after seeing a tool that counted the revolutions of the propeller on a steamship. With the help of John Ritty, his brother, he patented it in 1883.

His first cash register was a mechanical device that produced no receipts. Employees had to ring up every transaction on the register. When they pushed the total key, the drawer opened and a bell rang with the familiar “ka-ching” sound that told the manager that a sale had been made. Those early cash registers were nothing more than simple adding machines.

In most cases, a cash register’s drawer, or till, can only be opened only after a sale, or when an owner or manager uses special keys. This reduces the risk of employees stealing from the shop owner by pocketing the money without recording a sale, when a customer doesn’t need a receipt but has to be given change.

Since shop and restaurant workers earned very little, employee theft was a major problem. Some believe that odd pricing came about because by charging odd amounts like 49 or 99 cents, the cashier had to open the till for the penny change and thus announce the sale.

Shortly after receiving his patent, Ritty became overwhelmed with the responsibilities of running two businesses, so he sold all of his interests in the cash register business to Jacob H. Eckert of Cincinnati, a china and glassware salesman, who formed the National Manufacturing Company. In 1884 Eckert sold the company to John H. Patterson, who renamed the company the National Cash Register Company and improved the cash register by adding a paper roll to record sales transactions, thus creating a receipt which the business owner could read to ensure that cashiers charged customers the correct amount for each transaction.

In 1906, inventor Charles F. Kettering, who worked at the National Cash Register Company, designed a cash register with an electric motor. Cash registers also got increasingly heavy, often weighing over 100 pounds, making it difficult for thieves to take the whole machine. The R.C. Allen cash register with its drawer weighs in at about 60 pounds.

Today’s cash registers include a key labeled "NS", which stands for "No Sale," and opens the drawer, printing a receipt stating "No Sale" and recording it in the register log that the register drawer had been  opened.

Many of today’s machines also include a barcode scanner that can retrieve the price from a database, calculate deductions for items on sale, calculate the sales tax, calculate differential rates for preferred customers, actualize inventory, time and date stamp the transaction, record the transaction in detail including each item purchased, record the method of payment, keep totals for each product or type of product sold as well as total sales for specified periods, and do other tasks as well. Known as Point of Sale (POS) terminals, they also identify the cashier on the receipt, and carry additional information or sales offers.

The sophisticated machine found in shops, restaurants, supermarkets, department stores, etc. are a far cry from Ritty’s original invention and even more complex than the relatively simple R.C. Allen cash register you asked about.

Monday, August 12, 2013

A Victorian Necessity

QUESTION: I have several old cast-iron doorstops that I’ve picked up here and there over the years. I wouldn’t go so far as say that I have a collection, but I have maybe a half dozen. Can you tell me anything about these doorstops?

ANSWER: Your doorstops are most likely from the late 19th century or the early 20th. The British made what they called “door porters,” after door attendants, around 1770, after the invention of the butt-hinged door, which closed automatically. To prevent the door from closing by itself, people began to prop heavy items in front of it, thus the name “doorstop.”

Makers of early doorstops made them not of cast iron but of molded earthenware and fitted with an upright rod, or handle, about 18 inches long, which eliminated the need for bending down to move the stop from place to place. In succeeding years, doorstops might be fashioned from earthenware, wood, marble, or glass—several New England glass companies created glass doorstops shaped like turtles  during the 19th century. All were heavy enough or sufficiently weighted to work well.

However, makers created doorstops mainly from bronze, brass, and iron. Brass ones—usually with a weighted base—often resembled a solid bell sliced in half and fitted with a long handle. Around 1810, handles generally disappeared from doorstops. Newer, knobbier shapes—some with built-in handles that permitted easy grasping came into vogue. Yet the Victorian brass doorstops with rod-like handles can still be found today.

The early 1800s heralded brass doorstops in a broad variety of classical and traditional designs. A bit later—in response to improved techniques in the casting of iron—a long and fanciful parade of cast-iron doorstops began their prolonged march from English iron factories. Some were full figured while others were flat backed and similar to the popular Staffordshire-pottery images of cottages and animals that captivated English hearts during the 1800s. Figures of Punch and Judy, Shakespearean characters, and such historical persons as Benjamin Disraeli and the Duke of Wellington emerged.

Though iron became an building material, cast-iron doorstops didn’t appear until after the Civil War. These doorstops varied greatly in size. A frog-shaped doorstop might measure little more than three inches high while a cat might be as tall as 19 inches. Others ranged from 6 to10 inches high. Those issued from the 1850s until about 1900 were heavier than later ones, as they appeared when brass and iron were less costly and more freely used.

The majority of metal doorstops found nowadays at antiques shows and shops originated during the late 1800s and early 1900s, and their design is often the key to determining their vintage. A figure of a Scottie dog, for instance, points to the 1920s and 1930s, when this breed of dog was popular and appeared on everything from jewelry to playing cards. Similarly, a painted, stylized vase of bright-blooming flowers corresponds to the 1920s–30s Art Deco period.

Thayer & Chandler of Chicago, maker of artists' supplies, and Hubley, a toy-maker, both issued doorstops. In the early 1900s, Thayer & Chandler helped popularize the baskets or vases of flowers that collectors now favor.

During the past 10 years, prices of doorstops have risen markedly. It's not uncommon to find an unusual or rare figural—two kittens in colorful painted attire or an American Indian—selling for hundreds of dollars. However, an aware buyer can find antique doorstops for under $100—some for even as little as $50. Most sell in the $75-90 range. Rare ones can go for as high as $300. It’s important to look for old doorstops that still have a amount of their original paint since repainting decreases the value of an old piece.

Many collectors acquire doorstops to those with a specific motif, such as those with a nautical flavor—lighthouses, clipper ships, mariners---or others with a Western theme---Indians, cowboys, stagecoaches. There are also collectors who seek monkeys, ducks, clowns, gnomes, and so on.

Monday, August 5, 2013

Blowin' in the Wind

QUESTION: We just purchased an old farm house and barn. The barn has an old weather vane mounted on top of a cupola on the roof. My husband and I aren’t sure if we should restore it or leave it as is. What can you tell me about weather vanes in general and whether we should have it restored?

ANSWER: It doesn’t really matter how old your weather vane is, as long as it’s not new. Old weather vanes atop old barns are an American tradition and today are worth some bucks, even if they’re weathered.

Weather vanes have been blowing into the wind for as long as farmers and sailors needed to know the direction of the breeze, but they have traditionally performed another function as well. Silhouetted against the sky for all to see, a weather vane was often an emblem that declared to the world the profession of the person who mounted it: a quill for a lawyer, a dory for a fisherman, a prize Holstein for a dairy farmer.

The earliest known weather vane, dating to 48 B.C., was an image of Triton—a Greek god with the head and torso of a man and the tail of a fish—mounted on The Tower of the Winds in Athens.

Weather vanes didn’t gain popularity until nobles in medieval England flew banners from their castle walls emblazoned with their coats of arms. After the Normans conquered England, these "fanes,” as the banners came to be known, were made of iron with designs cut into them. Since what wouldn't bend might break, makers soon rigged them to turn with the breeze. By the English Renaissance, the fane had become a vane, a simpler and more functional device affixed atop a merchant's shop as often as on a knight's battlement.

The colonists who settled America brought their traditions with them, including the weather vane. While it's likely that the first colonial vanes were crudely cut from wood, by the late 1600s several Puritan meeting houses were topped by iron vanes. Boston's Old State House, erected in 1713, sported a swallow-tailed banner with an arrow, and by 1740, America's first craftsman of weather vanes, Shem Drowne, had begun fashioning copper vanes for Boston's public buildings.

Prior to the 1850s, blacksmiths created most vanes. And though they devoted considerable skill and imagination to them, forging iron vanes or beating them out of copper was largely a sideline, something a blacksmith did on request.

Blacksmiths in coastal New England towns, where watching the wind has always been vital, made vanes in the shape of ships for sea captains, cod and flounder vanes for fishermen, and leviathans for the whale hunters on Nantucket and at New Bedford. In-land, farmers sawed crude wooden vanes in the shapes of plows and farm animals, or found a blacksmith who could fashion more sophisticated vanes for their barns.

After the 1850s, metalworkers like Alvin Jewell, of Waltham, Massachusetts, began manufacturing copper vanes using templates and molds, a process that was faster than the ancient repousse method, in which they pounded copper into the desired shape. Speedier manufacturing processes meant lower costs, and Jewell found that his patterns sold quite well through mail-order catalogs.

L.W. Cushing, perhaps the best-known weather vane manufacturer of the 19th century. He added them to a collection of over 100 silhouette and full-bodied vanes in his catalog. Other weather vane companies soon opened for business, including J.W. Fiske and E.G. Washburneboth of New York City, and Harris &Co. of Boston.

It was during the height of the Victorian Era when weather vanes were one of the most sought after items. They began appearing on everything from stables to gazebos. Prices ranged from $15 to $400 for the  vane, its brass turning rod, a copper ball, and a set of brass cardinals indicating the points of the compass.

The boom in weather vanes didn't last long, only 50 years or so, but during that period hundreds of designs were sold throughout America: banners, locomotives, fire engines, Statues of Liberty, clipper ships, river steamers, cannons, even sea monsters and dragons. Still, the traditional designs—roosters, horses, and other animals—remained the most popular.

By the early 20th century, changing tastes and simpler home design—particularly the decline of the cupola—caused a decline in vane popularity.
People began to be collect weather vanes as folk art about 40 years ago. Many sought vanes made by factories that originally sold them through catelogues, so handmade vanes weren’t even an issue. The highest amount ever paid for a weather vane was for a factory-made, copper Indian chief vane from 1900 that sold for $5.8 million at Sotheby’s in October 2006. Others have sold for prices from four figures on up.

Scarce and unusual weathervane forms, such as mermaids, cars, trains, and firemen, are very popular with collectors. The most common ones, however, are horses, roosters, and cows which tend to fetch lower prices.

The majority of collectors like old copper vanes that have a green or verdigris patina which helps to date it.  But the biggest problem are the vanes made now from original molds from defunct factories.
Though manufacturers generally don’t conceal the replicas’ origins, subsequent sellers often do.

The weathervanes that command the highest prices have not been restored. They have a patina—often noticeably different on one side thanks in part to prevailing winds and decades of exposure to sun, sleet, rain, snow and birds.

Monday, July 29, 2013

The Master of Inks

QUESTION: I recently began to collect old bottles. I found and bought an old blue glass bottle with what looks like a spout at a flea market. Do you happen to know what this might have been used for?

ANSWER: It sounds like you discovered a master ink bottle. Master inks could be found everywhere—at universities, in town halls, in schools, and even at Civil War campsites, to record the horrific events and write letters home to loved ones.  Without masters, much of history wouldn’t have been recorded.

People used master inks to fill smaller ink wells. Many survived because they could be reused. People often threw smaller ink containers away after use. Unfortunately, there’s little information about them available.

Prior to the 18th century, ink came in the form of a cake or powder, which the user would mix with water. It was only in the late 18th century that liquid ink in wide-bottomed bottles became widely available. This was a black or blue-black writing fluid that the user dipped a pen made from a goose quill into a small container. Different makers used a variety of recipes, but the most common types were Gall ink, deep black Indian ink  and blue-black ink. P& J Arnold of London was one of the pioneering companies in the ink industry in Great Britain. Other well known English ink companies included Stephens, Price and Hyde, and Cochrane. In the U.S., Sanford and S.S. Stafford were two of the earlier companies. As the ink industry grew, so did the need for ink containers.

Ink bottles differ from inkwells in that makers designed the bottles to serve a purely utilitarian purpose—to hold ink. Inkwells, on the other hand, were often more decorative, the sort of thing you’d want people to notice on your desk. Consequently, inkwells were more expensive than ink bottles.

No single manufacturer had the monopoly on ink bottles. Indeed, just about any company that produced glass dabbled in ink bottles at one point or another. Generally, manufacturers made master inks of glass, ceramic, or pottery. They came in several varieties , including “pourer” inks, used to top off ink wells, and the bulk type used for filling the inkwells.

Master inks are highly collectible. Their larger size allows collectors to display them more prominently than the smaller inks. They also came in a wide variety of colors, and as with all glassware, color is paramount to collectors. The most valuable colors are unusual ones like yellow and purple, while colors like aqua and clear are more common. Embossed bottles or ones with intact labels also increase an ink bottle’s value.
Signs of wear and color variants affect the quality. Some examples carry the residue of stains that still remain. Collectors usually categorize master inks by makers, countries of origin, and age.

Prices for master inks vary greatly from a few dollars for the more common ones and to hundreds of dollars for some of the rarer ones. Great examples from different ink makers can be found from $50-100.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Protecting Your Investment

QUESTION: I’ve been collecting antiques and such for a number of years. Do I need extra insurance or will my homeowner’s policy cover what I have?

ANSWER: As a collector, you’ll want to take care to see that your treasures are adequately insured. And even if you have coverage, you may find that coverage you purchased several years ago leaves you financially vulnerable today.

Most collectors use one of three types of insurance—that found in a standard homeowner's policy, special endorsements to that policy, or a "floater" policy for valuables such as art and antiques.

The policy that covers your home includes insurance for your personal property as well as the structure it's housed in, usually at 50 percent of the amount of coverage for the dwelling. This means that if you have insured your house for $150,000, your belongings are protected for up to $75,000.

Is this amount sufficient for your collection as well as all your other belongings? That all depends on what your collection contains. If you have a small collection of "collectibles" or less expensive items, the coverage in your homeowner's policy is probably enough. But keep in mind that standard policies usually fix limits on certain types of items such as currency, documents, silver, and jewelry. You should read your policy carefully to see if these limitations affect your collection.

The coverage in homeowner's policies is "unscheduled," that is, it groups all of your goods together rather than listing and valuing them separately. Should a theft or fire occur, it’s your responsibility to prove ownership and the value of the items in your collection. The insurance company will then calculate your losses on the "actual cash value" of those items, figuring in depreciation. If you collect anything other than certifiable antiques, complications can arise over the settlement.

Your insurance company may deem "old and worthless" items you consider “vintage.” So you should keep receipts and other records, especially for less expensive "collectibles" and offbeat items—be sure to print out receipts for anything you purchase at online auction sites. Though claims adjusters are usually on target, any documentation will help —the more the better.

Even if you decide to work within the limits of your standard homeowner policy, you may find that increased coverage is necessary. While that $75,000 may sound like a lot of insurance, you’d be surprised how quickly the normal, everyday contents of a house add up, leaving only partial coverage of your losses.

To remedy this problem, most policies offer the option of a special "endorsement" which allows for a higher percentage of personal property coverage for an additional fee. If you have a collection of any size or value, you’ll probably want to take inventory of your home's entire contents to see whether you should purchase such an endorsement.

Finally, you can also purchase a separate policy to cover valuables such as art, antiques, silver, and the like. And in this case, silver means Sterling, not plate. These policies, known generally as "floaters," cover "scheduled," or listed, items. Each item is listed separately with its own value, usually by means of a written professional appraisal. Those cheap or free online appraisals just won’t do. The benefits of floaters are that each items is covered for its full replacement value because ownership and value are  pre-established, In addition, most floaters will protect the collection against loss as well as theft, a benefit not available through most homeowner's policies.

The cost of such a floater will of course depend on where you live and what you’re insuring. Very portable items of recognizable value command the highest rates. For instance, the amount for jewelry is always higher than for artwork. Prices may also be lower if you store your collection—or part of it—in a safe or safety deposit box, or if your home has a security alarm system. If your collection is worth more than $50,000, your insurance company will probably insist that you install such a system.

Monday, July 1, 2013

A True Premium Collectible

QUESTION: My mother died recently and left me, among other things, her set of Autumn Leaf china. When I was a kid, I remember her setting our dining room table with this colorful china on holidays like Thanksgiving and Christmas, but especially Thanksgiving because the pattern seemed to complement the occasion. The set is still in pretty good condition since she only used it on special occasions. Do you know if this has any value today? While I like it and it does bring back memories, it seems a bit old-fashioned for today’s use.

ANSWER: Your Autumn Leaf china definitely has value today. In fact, it’s held its value over the last 20 years. However, it all depends which types of pieces you have and on their condition.

The Hall China Co. began producing this decal pattern and offering it exclusively through the Jewel Tea Co. of Barrington, Illinois, in 1936, during the Great Depression. This door-to-door sales firm offered Autumn Leaf pieces as premiums for the purchase of other items, such as teas, coffee, grocery items, and laundry products.

During that time, this china was popular with housewives, who literally had to watch every penny. And the only way for them to obtain pieces were as premiums from Jewel Tea. Since the china was of good quality and had a somewhat elegant and colorful design, many housewives considered Hall’s Autumn Leaf Dinnerware as their good dishes, to be used primarily for company. Most pieces stayed in excellent condition because they washed them and put them away immediately after each use.

Determining the value of this dinnerware can be tricky. Prices vary from coast to coast and in different parts of the country. Since most pieces of this pattern would have been used, even as good dishes, they’re usually not sold in mint condition. This means that your mother’s dishes would only sell for half of the mint price. Also, Hall produced many of the more common pieces from 1936 all the way to 1976, a span of 40 years.

Generally, it seems the more odd a piece of Autumn Leaf is, the more it’s worth. Age doesn’t seem to enter into the equation. So this china is a pure collectible.

For instance, a dozen cups and saucers, labeled as “Breakfast cups and saucers” in Jewel Tea advertisements, brings about $120, or $10 each. An Irish coffee mug, on the other hand, sells for around $40. Four berry bowls also sell for $10 apiece while an oval meat platter brings only about $10.

The big money is in some of the more unusual pieces. Since Autumn Leaf sold as a premium, housewives bought a piece or two at a time—a cup and saucer, a dinner plate, a water pitcher, etc. They bought what they needed in quantities they needed. Jewel Tea never sold this china in complete sets. So the number of the more unique pieces sold—coffee and teapots, mixing bowls, salad bowls, cake plates, and such—was smaller in comparison to ordinary place settings.

One of the hottest items is the cookie jar. Introduced in 1957, the "modern-style" cookie jar has two big handles which Jewel liked to call "easy grip." The original selling price of the cookie jar was only $3.That price has since soared to nearly $200. An earlier cookie jar, introduced for Christmas 1936, sold for $1.50 and Jewel Tea offered it for only three years. Ironically, it sells for about the same price as the other jar.

Another item that’s at the top of most Autumn Leaf collectors’ wish lists is the butter dish. These came in several styles, sized to fit either a quarter pound or a whole pound of butter. The first one to be offered by Jewel Tea was a one-pound model with a long handle on the top. Introduced in 1959, it sold for $3.25. But its style proved to be inconvenient, so the company discontinued it after only one season. As with any item offered by Jewel Tea, those which housewives disapproved of were quickly discontinued. Hall produced improved versions of its butter dish with easier-to-grip bud or "bud ray" knobs. Today, collectors can’t buy a butter dish for less than $150. Those with special “wings” handles sell for over $2,000.

The Autumn Leaf pattern includes many types of accessories, including several clocks. One style, made from a regular Autumn Leaf cake plate, produced from 1956-1959, now sells for $400 to $550.

Monday, June 24, 2013

Smokey the Bear is Still Smokin’

QUESTION: As I was cleaning out my attic recently, I came across my old Smokey the Bear Jr. Forest Ranger Kit. Do you know if this is collectible today?

ANSWER: Your "Smokey the Bear Jr. Forest Ranger Kit," was popular with kids since its introduction in 1957. Today, it’s also a popular collectible. It came complete with a bookmark, letter from Smokey, membership car blotter, four poster stamps and a Junior Forest Ranger Certificate, all profusely illustrated, inside of a beautiful envelope. The Forest Service even included a brass-relief badge from time to time. .

Created by a Madison Avenue advertising campaign in 1944, Smokey the Bear quickly became a beloved national symbol. His plea, "Only you can prevent forest fires," first coined in 1947, is familiar to all.

While Walt Disney’s Bambi had been previously used as a symbol for forest fire prevention, the ad men for the Forest Service decided a bear would be better and gave the job of designing him to illustrator Albert Staehle.

The mid-20th century artist is best remembered for his Saturday Evening Post and American Weekly magazine covers featuring a black and white cocker spaniel. Staehle created the Smokey character with the ranger hat and carrying a water bucket. He did four original posters of Smokey for the United States Department of Agriculture's Forest Service.

After Staehle created Smokey the Bear, Rudy Wendelin took on the job his artist. For 30 years, until
his retirement from the Forest Service in 1975. Wendelin endlessly drew Smokey. Later, he even designed the commemorative postage stamp released in 1984 in honor of Smokey’s 40th anniversary.

The cartoon bear was supposedly named after Smokey Joe Martin, New York City's assistant firechief in the 1920's. He began appearing on fire prevention posters and billboards and in countless television public service advertisements pleading with viewers to be fire-safe in the forests.

In 1950, a badly burned cub was rescued in the aftermath of a fire in New Mexico's Lincoln National Forest. He was chosen to be the living symbol of forest fire prevention by the national government. For the next 25 years the bear, now named Smokey after the department's famous cartoon character, was used as a living reminder to Americans of the need to be careful with matches and fire in the forests. In May of 1975 he was retired to the National Zoo in Washington, D.C., and there he died in November of 1976. His remains were transported back to New Mexico and today, Smokey is buried in his original forest. Another orphan cub was chosen to succeed him.

The Smokey the Bear campaign produced an enormous amount of collectibles. This treasure trove includes everything from stuffed bears and banks to bumper stickers and books of every size and type.

Early recognizing the growing popularity of its fire fighting bear, the United States government trademarked him in 1952. This was done to insure that he would not be used in any way detrimental to his goal. It also brought in royalties, which fluctuated between $40,000 and $200,000 or more each year—money used to supplement the fire prevention budget.

Smokey the Bear can be found in cloth, metal, plastic, and porcelain. Most popular are the stuffed bears. Ideal Toy Company manufactured the first one in 1952. Knickerbocker and Dakin soon followed. Teddy bears of Smokey, wearing jeans and a ranger hat, have been made in all sizes. Some were often talking toys, games, records, and drinking cups and mugs flooded the marketplace in the 1950's, 1960's, and 1970's.

The first appearance of Smokey the Bear in a comic book came in a 1950 release, entitled Forest Fire, by the American Forestry Association. Rudy Wendelin did the artwork. The Dell Publishing Company produced a series of eight comic books from October 1955 to August 1961. Then came Smokey the Bear in 1962 by K.K. Publications for a 13-year run as part of their "March of Comics" series. And from February 1970 to March 1973, Gold Key issued 13 comic books.

In 1959, the United State Forest Service had Western Printing Company create a comic book, “The True Story of Smokey the Bear,” for use as an educational giveaway to youngsters. It became a popular premium for the next 10 years.

The Forest Service also handed out other premiums since the 1950's that today are quite collectible. These include the Junior Forest Ranger' badges. The agency also gave away pinback buttons with Smokey's face and the slogan, "I'm Helping Smokey Prevent Forest Fires," as well as a free coloring book, "The Blazing Forest," also printed by Western Publishing Company, as part of its "Prevent Forest Fires" campaign.