Sunday, December 28, 2014
ANSWER: You have indeed discovered a little Christmas gem. What you have is a Santa candy container made in Germany around the turn-of-the-20th-century. Called a springhead, this little novelty features a Santa wearing a red-flocked coat and a cone-shaped hat. He also carries a small Christmas tree decorated with colored beads.
Of all the holiday decorations produced since the mid-19th century, few remain as cherished as early German Santa Claus candy containers. These handmade characterizations of Father Christmas remain a popular collectible.
The manufacture of Santa candy containers began in the 1880s. Makers sold them to an eager American market. By the end of the decade, U.S. retailers offered their customers German-made Santas in a variety of sizes and styles.
Selling for a mere five cents, these Santas represented old Kris Kringle in snow-covered garb. Sometimes makers added gold tinsel to represent sparkling snow. Santa containers came in a variety of sizes, from five to seven-and-a-half inches tall. Santa, himself, had a finely painted red face and white beard and wore a heavy coat. Other Santas wore felt robes trimmed with lamb's wool or felt. Purple crepe paper sometimes lined the inside of the outfit. Some of the Santas carry a tiny wicker basket at their waist or on their back.
The Germans couldn't make them fast enough. The making of these early candy containers involved eight to ten families, each responsible for different areas of production. One family might fashion the boots, another would create Santa's clothing, while another would add Santa's rabbit-fur beard. But the most important step involved painting the face.
Over the years the details of Santa’s face changed. One of the biggest influences was the poem “A Visit from St. Nicholas,” that portrayed Santa as a jolly old elf with a thick, flowing white beard and a white fur-trimmed suit. The public's impression of Father Christmas as a stern, thin old man changed dramatically in the late 19th century when Thomas Nast began illustrating St. Nick as a fat, jolly elf-like character for Harper's Weekly.
People originally saw St. Nicholas, the patron saint of children, as a gift-giving old man who rode a white horse and gave goodies to children. Father Christmas took the initial image of St. Nicholas and gave it a twist, making him an old bearded man who doled out punishments as well as rewards.
Residents of certain parts of Germany saw Christkindchen, the German Christ child, as a gift giver. The English butchered the pronunciation of the name, so that today he’s popularly known as Kris Kringle. This figure traditionally wore a white robe and a white jeweled crown, traveling the countryside on a mule. He was said to have been accompanied by Pelze Nicol, a boy with a blackened face. Yet even Pelze Nicol developed into his own personality, becoming Belsnickle, a sinister-looking Santa who punished bad children.
Important scientific discoveries have also been incorporated into these Christmas figures, the most notable being the invention of the light bulb. Between1907 and 1910, the Germans made Santa candy containers featuring an electric lantern strapped to Santa's chest. The figure also held a feather tree decorated with three electric bulbs. A battery operated all four lights.
Likewise, Santa's means of transportation hasn't remained static over the years. Some candy containers show Santa on a sheep, donkey or mule, while others had him riding a sleigh made of moss. The Germans crafted log sleighs with the bed of the sleigh large enough to hold both candy and small wooden toys known as Ergebirge.
Where makers placed the candy and dried fruit and how they made them accessible varied from one container to another. Santas also carried different types of baskets. Some simply had a cloth or felt bag for goodies. Some candy containers came in two pieces, having removable heads or a cardboard tube that separated when Santa's legs and torso, enabling them to be pulled apart. Other examples, such as those showing Santa on a chimney, had a plug on the bottom or a paper seal.
Regardless of the type, people gave Santa candy containers mostly as gifts. After the receiver ate the candy, they used the container as a holiday decoration. Even though people brought out these Santas for the holidays each year, they could be easily damaged not only by overzealous children allowed to play with the Santas, but also by prolonged exposure to sunlight. While children might physically destroy the candy container, the sun did consider-able harm by fading bright-red coats to a light-brown or turning the interior of the garment from purple to blue.
What destroyed the great artistry of German candy containers, however, was competition from foreign countries. By the 1920s the public was more willing to accept plainer-looking Santas, and the Japanese provided them. Although the Japanese based their candy containers on German examples, the fine details soon became too expensive to produce. The public accepted cheaper imitations, trading savings for a loss in quality.
It's that loss of true artistry over the years that makes vintage German-made Santa candy containers so collectible today. Prices begin at about $375 but rarer ones often sell for several thousand dollars.
Tuesday, December 2, 2014
QUESTION: Recently I discovered a well-worn copy of the Bible dated 1861 while going through an old trunk left to me by my father. He said it belonged to his father and his father before that. What’s intriguing about this Bible is the inscription inside: “Presented to John C. Gillespie of Carlisle, Pennsylvania, to take with him to the field of battle, June 1, 1861.” Can you tell me why my great grandfather would have had such a Bible and why it has been handed down all these years?
ANSWER: Bibles are often what bind families together, even today. This occurred even more during the 19th century, when each person may have had their own personal copy. But this Bible, I suspect, was special, for it belonged to a Union soldier who fought in the Civil War. It’s something he carried with him into battle and which he kept his entire life, passing it down to future generations, after one of the most traumatic experiences of his life.
The Civil War continues to fascinate generation after generation. And with this fascination comes a desire to own a piece of the war, to hold on to a bit of its history.
A collection of Civil War memorabilia often begins with the purchase of a 25-cent minie ball, picked up as an inexpensive souvenir after touring a battlefield. Other people become collectors after participating in re-enactments, as they replace reproduction articles with the real thing. Still others, perhaps like yourself, become collectors because descendants have passed down items that they carried into battle.
Collections of Civil War memorabilia can be broken into three general categories. Most collectors focus on weapons. Others specialize in collecting military uniforms, as well as associated items such as buttons, patches, badges, buckles, and hats.
And some collect the personal effects of those who left their homes and fought their neighbors on the battlefields of their own country. It’s often these homely objects that intensify the romantic appeal of this horrific war. Collecting what soldiers carried with them to war provides an intimate glimpse into their lives.
Volunteers, assembled in a short period of time, comprised most of the armies of both of the Union and the Confederacy. Men—or more often boys in their teens—reported for duty with hastily gathered supplies, and there was little uniformity about what they brought from home. Although each state was expected to supply its fighting forces with necessities, it was often the mothers, wives, sisters, a and girlfriends who were responsible for the materials that the soldiers actually brought with them when they reported for duty. As a result, there was a great variety of items included in the soldiers' personal effects.
With little idea of how the war would eventually be fought, new recruits generally overpacked, and soon found it necessary to shed their excess personal belongings as the war stretched on. These early recruits often reported with items intended to create a home away from home. Consequently, silver knives and forks, pincushions, and even embroidered booties found their way into camp. The soldiers didn’t anticipate years of war—early recruits signed up for only a few months—and the ensuing movements resulted in the abandonment of these niceties.
Identifying Civil War personal effects has been made easier because most of the soldiers marked their belongings with their names and regiments.
In addition to the items which soldiers brought from home, camp visitors gave soldiers gifts of food, towels and soap, blankets, hammocks, tobacco and pipes, and pills. Soldiers traded their watches for some of these items. And even though the typical soldier would have appreciated more useful items, god-fearing visitors often distributed religious tracts. Some gave soldiers sewing kits called "housewives," with which they spent idle hours mending and repairing their clothing. The soldiers played various games, including a primitive form of baseball, as well as poker and cribbage, chess and checkers, dominoes and marbles, and even bet on dice.
As the war stretched on and soldiers found themselves depleting their personal supplies brought from home, they turned to sutlers to replenish their need. Both Union and Confederate governors granted special permits to these civilian merchants. They accompanied the armies with horse-drawn wagons and sold, often at a great profit, the personal items a soldier would find in his pockets or haversack.
Articles owned by soldiers on either side differed little. Instead, social class and military rank are what determined the kinds of items the men carried,, Wealthier men, especially those with higher military ranks, were more likely to carry finer things, more things, and things not absolutely essential to day-to-day existence. On the other hand, many of the ordinary soldiers were poor men, often farmers, or recent immigrants from Ireland or Germany. Their possessions were far more modest.
One accessory common to most soldiers was a wallet, usually of folded leather, lined in linen and held together with a leather strap. Soldiers carried their money—generally not much, as a private's pay was typically $9 a month—and photographs of those at home in their wallets. Leather wallets in very good condition sell for about $65.
Another item that most soldiers carried into battle was a copy of the Bible. These pocket-sized books are often found in poor condition today because of the amount of use they received. Inscriptions increase their value. A typical Civil War Bible sells for about $75.
And they wrote. Soldiers of the Civil War kept extensive diaries, and maintained regular correspondence with friends and loved ones at home. Many of the envelopes they used are of particular note with patriotic scenes depicted on them, as are the many writing implements and accessories. Ordinary soldiers wrote on paper with wooden lead pencils, which they purchased from sutlers for a few cents or received as gifts.
Officers, however, often included writing sets in their holdings. Many carried bottles of ink—glass bottles covered in materials like leather to prevent breakage—and pens which, being made of a breakable material, rested in brass tube-like protective cases. Today, uncut Civil War-issued pencils can be had for $5 to $10, and fancy pens in brass cases bring $45.
Pens weren’t the only things transported in protective cases. Whiskey flasks were often covered in leather and encased in silver or pewter. Collapsible tin or pewter cups rested in little tin cases with snap-on lids. Other personally-supplied mess pieces commonly found include combination knife-fork-spoon utensils and plates.
On a more personal level were the items that soldiers carried in leather toilet kits tucked inside their haversacks. Toiletry items such as toothbrushes, tooth-cleaning powder (little more than baking soda), hand soap and shaving soap, brushes, and mirrors were often packed in these kits. In many a soldier's pack was at least one straight razor with a bone or ivory handle, even though beards were in style.
Each article tells a story, has a message, is worthwhile keeping. The Civil War is about people. Those who fought it are no longer here to tell us about it. So the next best thing is to collect the items they carried.
Wednesday, November 26, 2014
QUESTION: As the holidays approach, I get out my Oneida silver flatware and polish it up for another joyous season. Beginning with Thanksgiving dinner, I use a setting for 12 that’s been in our family for four generations. Except for the classic beauty of this tableware, I know very little about it. Can you please tell me more about Oneida?
ANSWER: The holidays, especially Thanksgiving, are all about traditions in many families. Your use of your Oneida family heirloom is no exception. But Oneida didn’t always make silver flatware. In fact, at one point early in the company’s existence, it made grizzly bear traps.
Oneida, Ltd. actually began as a utopian religious commune in 1848. At that time, there were several such communities that existed in the northeastern United States. Oneida was one of them.
John Humphrey Noyes and his followers founded the Oneida Community in Oneida, New York. Members of this Protestant, religious sect referred to themselves as Perfectionists because they believed that spiritual perfection could be achieved by them in this world. This was a common concept among 19th-century utopian communities. Much like the Shakers, members contributed all their worldly goods to the community when they joined it. The community held all possessions in common, and it provided for everyone's needs. They called this practice "Bible communism.''
But the Oneida Community is best known for its unconventional family arrangements. Members practiced what Noyes called complex marriage—every man was married to every woman, just as every woman was married to every man. Although neighbors surrounding the community saw this as "free love,” the Perfectionists defended complex marriage as noble and unselfish, since all were expected to be loving to each other. It discouraged individual relationships. During its early years, the community also discouraged child bearing, but by 1869 when the community had become more prosperous, its elders selected couples with desirable qualities and encouraged them to bear children. John Humphrey Noyes himself fathered several, including sons who were later very active in the affairs of the future company. Oneida, Ltd.
At first the Perfectionists tried to support themselves by farming and by preserving and selling fruits and vegetables. But this didn’t provide sufficient income, so they branched out into several industrial activities. An 1890s ad offered a booklet which told how the community came to make such interesting and incongruous things as delicious preserved fruits and traps for catching grizzly bears, fine sewing and embroidery silk, d steel chains, and beautiful flatware. Let’s face it, not many silver companies started out making traps for grizzly bears.
By 1877, when the Wallingford, Connecticut, branch of the community started making tin-plated spoons, the original Oneida Community was beginning to break up. In 1879, Noyes moved to Canada and members abandoned the concept of complex marriage. In 1880, the assets of the community were distributed to its members in the form of stock in the newly formed corporation, Oneida Community, Limited, making it one of the earliest joint-stock companies in the United States.
The new company, under the leadership of P.B. Noyes, one of the sons of the founder, first moved its silverplate production to Niagara Falls, New York, and later to Sherill, New York, within walking distance of the original Oneida Community property. It began production of silver-plated flatware and hollow-ware in 1899 using the "Community Plate" mark.
When the community became a corporation, some members found it difficult to adjust to the new business practices and divided into factions, each competing to control the board of directors. But the younger Noyes remained in control and moved the company into manufacturing higher quality wares in sterling silver, including a flatware line called Avalon in 1901. In 1929, it purchased the William A. Rogers Company began producing a lower-quality line of products using that company’s mark. In 1935, the firm changed its name to Oneida, Ltd.
By 1961, Oneida, Ltd. began producing stainless steel flatware. And by the 1980s, Oneida made at least half of all flatware purchased in the United States. At the end of the 20th century, Oneida fell upon tough economic times, becoming the last remaining U.S.-based manufacturer of flatware, knives, forks, and spoons. The resulting economic troubles resulting from 9/11 forced it to close or sell off most of its factories.
It filled for bankruptcy in 2006, and after finally stabilizing, Monomoy Capital Partners, an equity fund based in New York City, acquired it. Today, it services much of the food service industry with both china and flatware.
Tuesday, November 18, 2014
ANSWER: That’s a very good question. Many people enjoy the fun of collecting antiques but don’t take the time to manage their collections. Before you can successfully manage your collections, you have to gather some information on the items in them. And with today’s technology, that’s easier than ever.
Today, more people collect antiques than ever before: Collecting is a personal thing and most people do it for sheer enjoyment. They choose some objects carefully to build or enhance their collections, acquire others to use everyday, and inherit still others. Each collector treasures each item in their collections, yet many other people don’t understand the appeal or the value of it. But the value of some antiques has been rising steadily over the last decade, so collecting can represent an investment as well. What many collectors lack is a comprehensive record, with supporting documents, of objects they own. As antiques increase in value, it’s important to know about what you own. Even if you don’t think of your prized objects as part of your tangible financial assets, be assured that the IRS, insurance companies, banks, and courts do.
"To document" means to create a record that thoroughly describes an object and which also contains related documents about it, and keep together this record and supporting information on each object.
Some types of documents you already have, or can easily acquire, such as a bill of sale, a note accompanying a gift, a snapshot, a printed description, a program from an exhibit, biographical information on the artist or maker, a description and picture of a similar object perhaps from a newspaper, magazine, or the Internet, a copy of a mark on the object, and others. You can also record the family history related to the object. The objects in specialized collections— furniture, dolls, quilts, kitchen utensils, guns, tools, even sports and music memorabilia—are prime candidates for documentation. Museums document each object in their collections. So it’s only natural that you should do the same for reasons of insurance, family heritage, preparing for appraisal, certain types of tax benefits, and connoisseurship.
At the very least, you should know what you paid for each object. Some insurance companies require you to put certain valuables, such as jewelry and fine art, on a special schedule. Often they also require an appraisal for the most valuable pieces.
In case of theft, loss or damage by fire, flood or national disasters, you need to prove ownership of any object claimed, and provide descriptions with supporting information in order to be compensated or to help the police identify and recover your stolen valuables. If you cannot do so, you risk loss of compensation in addition to being permanently separated from your treasured object. The more adequate your proof is, the greater the chances that you’ll be satisfied with the compensation you receive. You can spare yourself some of the anguish that comes from experiencing the loss itself, or with an inadequately compensated loss by documenting your objects before the loss occurs. It’s more difficult to document after a loss occurs, and perhaps it cannot be done at all then. You would also be dealing with all the emotions associated with loss of objects, and perhaps your entire home. In your lifetime, expect a possible loss sometime, and prepare for it. Documenting is a great help because it gives you control over the objects in your collections.
Every home has objects of value—whether monetary, sentimental or family-related. Documenting can help you decide which objects you want to give to certain heirs. Recording the provenance and capturing the family history associated with a particular object provides a a more complete picture for yourself and your heirs. Don't neglect to pass on the family stories associated with an object. Don’t depend on those stories being passed down verbally. Write them down. Additionally, family pieces are often carelessly sold or given away because succeeding generations are unaware of their actual or sentimental value. This is often done in the haste to clear a house after a loved one’s death. By documenting, you can assure to some extent that pieces will remain in the family, or at least that someone will make an educated decision before selling or giving away an special object.
If you insure valuable antiques, your insurance company will usually require you to provide them with a professional appraisal. However, not every object in your household needs to be appraised. Documenting can help you decide which objects to have appraised, plus it can also provide the appraiser with valuable information, thus saving time and reducing the cost of the appraisal. The appraisal then becomes part of the documentation on your object.
If you sell an object or give it to a museum or other institution, your documentation can provide detailed information from acquisition to sale or gift, thereby providing you with a factual basis for tax benefits. Museums look upon documentation as a benefit, as it provides valuable family and cultural history about your object for its visitors.
Documenting is a part of connoisseurship, or caring for your collection, thus enhancing your and others' enjoyment of it. You care for your objects by learning how to clean, store, display, or use them, by assuring certain temperatures, or keeping certain objects from direct sunlight. By continuing to learn more about the objects you like to collect, you’ll enhance your enjoyment of your collections.
Wednesday, November 12, 2014
QUESTION: My mother loved cut glass. She once had an extensive collection, but sold much of it later in life. One piece, however, did manage to survive and now I have it. It’s a six-inch round, shallow dish, with a flat bottom and sloping sides and a circular handle. Etched on the bottom is the name J. Hoare & Co. 1853. What can you tell me about this piece?
ANSWER: You have what’s commonly referred to as a nappy, a small serving dish usually made of glass. In this case, it’s one that originated during what’s known as the American Brilliant Period at the J. Hoare and Company glass cutting factory in Corning, New York. The date of 1853 refers to the company’s founding, not the date of manufacture, which was probably around 1900. Your piece carries the etched signature thought to have been used in 1901 and 1902. The company affixed paper labels to pieces produced prior to this time.
American Brilliant Period cut glass was a symbol of elegance. Pieces like this were often given as wedding and anniversary presents in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. American Brilliant refers to cut glass made from the time of the Philadelphia American Centennial celebration in 1876 to the beginning of World War I. J. Hoare & Company was one of the first companies to produce fine cut glass in the United States.
John Hoare, known as Captain Hoare to his business associates, was born in the city of Cork, Ireland on April 12th, 1822, the oldest of a large family of children of James and Mary Hoare. He learned the glass trade with his father in Belfast, and afterwards at the age of 20, left Ireland for England, where, in Birmingham, he worked as a journeyman for Rice Harris at Five Ways Glass Company and for Thomas Webb at the Wordsley Glass Works. Following his journeymanship, he became a foreman and traveling salesman for the firm of Edward Lacey & Son, of Birmingham. He was also foreman for Lloyd & Summerfield, one of the oldest glass houses in England.
In 1848, Hoare went into business for himself. Five years later, he and his family set sail for New York. When he landed, he had just a single half sovereign in his pocket. But being a skilled and experienced glass cutter, he had no difficulty in finding a good position. He soon began work E. V. Haughwout & Company on Broadway, and after a year, with five other men, formed a glass cutting partnership.
After two years Mr. Hoare bought the interests of two of his partners, then organized under the name of Hoare & Burns. This partnership continued until 1855, when he purchased and became proprietor of the glass cutting department of the Brooklyn Flint Glass Company, State Street, Brooklyn.
In 1868, John Hoare moved to Corning, New York, where he, together with Joseph Dailey, one of his original partners from Brooklyn, opened the glass cutting firm of Hoare & Dailey on the premises of the Corning Glass Company, from which it purchased its blanks, or uncut pieces of glass.
When people think of fine crystal today, names like Waterford and Baccarat immediately come to mind. But both of these firms are European. Today, buyers have few choices if they want to purchase fine quality cut glass crystal. But at the end of the 19th century names like John Hoare were at the top of the list because it was American firms like his that produced lead crystal that was far superior to anything made in Europe.
John Hoare became well known for his use of sharp geometric patterns. The light reflects off of these patterns beautifully creating prisms of color, exhibiting what Hoare became known for and what was then considered relatively new, the use of flared cuts rather than straight ones. Pieces produced prior to 1900 are often decorated with single motifs such as strawberry diamond or hobnail while those produced after 1900 are usually more complex. Combinations of three or more motifs are common. The company also created innovative celestial designs, inspired by the arrival of Halley's Comet. Pieces cut after 1910 often incorporate engraved floral and natural motifs. However, Hoare is best known for his earlier work.
John Hoare's experience in England undoubtedly provided the basis for some of the cut-glass designs he produced in this country. Hoare's Wheat pattern, thought to be characteristic of the American Brilliant Period, is a close relative of mid-19th-century cut-glass designs produced in the English Midlands.
After Captain John’s death in 1896, his sons carried on the family business. The firm prospered until World War I, when a shortage of lead crippled the entire cut glass industry. By 1920, the firm had declared bankruptcy.
Although J. Hoare & Company produced cut glass of fine quality during the company's last two decades, the average cut glass from much of this period was often inferior. Final polishing was often neglected or carelessly done, resulting in glass with an "acidy" appearance. Hoare cut glass that had been acid-etched with the company's trademark isn’t necessarily cut glass of fine quality. Your piece fits into this category. The best pieces originated in the late 19th century.
Wednesday, November 5, 2014
QUESTION: I inherited this chair from my mom but have no information on it. The only markings on the chair are “AT2-232” written with a marker on the bottom of the seat and “678” stamped into the wood on the bottom of the seat. Can you provide any information on the chair?
ANSWER: Your chair is made in the Art Nouveau style. It would have been a dining or desk chair in its day since it doesn’t have a padded seat. The number 678 on the bottom is probably the manufacturer’s model number. Many pieces of Art Nouveau furniture were mass-produced even though your chair looks as if it was handmade.
Art Nouveau or Jugendstil is an international philosophy and style of art and applied art—especially the decorative arts—that was popular from about 1890 to 1910. Art nouveau literally means "new art" in French.
Those two names came Gallerie Maison de l'Art Nouveau in Paris and the magazine Jugend in Munich, both of which popularized the style. Maison de l'Art Nouveau, or the House of New Art, was the name of the gallery opened in 1895 by German art dealer Siegfried Bing that featured exclusively modern art. In 1900, Bing produced an exhibition of color-coordinated modern furniture, tapestries, and objets d’art at the Exposition Universelle. Because his decorative displays became so strongly associated with this style, the style, itself, took on the name of his gallery, "Art Nouveau."
Inspired by natural forms, such as flowers and plants, Art Nouveau was a reaction to academic art of the 19th century and artists used lots of curved lines in their designs.
Though the Art Nouveau movement was innovative, it didn’t last long. It was important in American furniture history, however, because it heralded the end of the dismal darkness that was the close of the Victorian era. Rebelling against the overembellished furniture that flooded the furniture marketplace of the late 1890s, some European designers developed new ideas that found immediate approval with wealthy collectors. They began designing furniture and accessories with simple, flowing, fluid lines, taking their cues from nature, with its motion, curves, and endless cycling. Fairylike tendrils wove in, out, and around the leaves and stems of flowers, fruit, and nuts. The entire effect was one of delicate sensuality and naturalness, with faint overtones of sentimental decadence.
The Art Nouveau years found their greatest expression in accessories, not furniture. This was the era that fostered the whirlwind careers of Louis Comfort Tiffany and others who worked in glass, china, pottery, and metal. Those substances were far easier to shape into the undulating styles of the time than was wood. Most wooden furniture during this period was custom-made and therefore usually of good quality and fine woods, featuring asymmetrical lines, as well as stylized animal and plant forms.
Art Nouveau is a "total" art style, embracing architecture, graphic art, interior design, and most of the decorative arts including jewelery, furniture, textiles, household silver and other utensils and lighting, as well as the fine arts. Artists desired to combine the fine arts and applied arts, even for utilitarian objects, such as tableware, cigarette cases, and silverware. Art historians consider it an important transition between the eclectic historic revival styles of the 19th-century and Modernism.
Three international art exhibitions—the Barcelona Universal Exposition of 1888, the Exposition Universelle of 1900 in Paris, and the Esposizione Internazionale d'Arte Decorativa Moderna of 1902 in Turin, Italy— showcased an overview of this modern style in every medium.
Like most design styles, Art Nouveau sought to harmonize and modernize forms of the Rococo style, such as flame and shell textures. Artists and designers also advocated the use of stylized organic forms as a source of inspiration, and expanded their use of natural forms with seaweed, grasses, and insects.
But unlike the craftsman-oriented Arts and Crafts Movement, the artists of the Art Nouveau Movement used new materials, machined surfaces, and abstraction in their designs. The stylized nature of Art Nouveau design made it expensive to produce, therefore, only the wealthy could afford it. Unlike furniture handmade by the craftsmen of the Arts and Crafts Movement, that of the Art Nouveau Movement was produced in factories by normal manufacturing techniques. Finishes were highly polished or varnished, and designs in general were usually complex, with curving shapes.
Several notable designers of Art Nouveau furniture were also architects who designed furniture for specific buildings they had also designed, a way of working inherited from the Arts and Crafts Movement. One such designer is Antoni Gaudí, who produced many notable buildings in and around Barcelona, Spain.
Tuesday, October 28, 2014
ANSWER: You were very lucky indeed, for you got to experience the ultimate in Danish design, the Egg Chair, designed by Arne Jacobsen in 1957. But before we explore this chair further, it’s important to know how this design style came into existence.
In 1924,. Danish architect Kaare Klint was asked to teach a newly class in furniture design at the Royal Academy's School of Architecture in Copenhagen. Considered the originator of the modern Scandinavian style of furnishing and furniture design which thrived from the 1940s to the 60s, Klint’s influence on even today’s designs is great.
Using teak, which was plentiful in Denmark, the Danish Modern style began to emerge in the 1920s and soon gained popularity with cabinetmakers in Copenhagen. After 1945, this unique style achieved worldwide recognition and by the mid-20th century, Danish modern had officially arrived.
The son of Peder Vilhelp Jensen-Klint, the leading Danish architect of the early 20th century, Kaare Klint studied painting and apprenticed to several architects, including his father, before opening an independent furniture design studio in 1917.
He became the first Danish designer to combine function with Danish hand-craftsmanship. His drawings revealed an attention to the needs of the human body, long before the science of ergonomics came into being.
For instance, in order that his sideboards would be the most efficient, he determined the average dimensions of the cutlery and crockery used in a Danish home. Klint then created a case containing the smallest space required for the maximum amount of cutlery needed by a household. Aesthetically, he allowed the unvarnished teak to speak for itself, maximizing its clean beauty by waxing and polishing. And so Danish designers began using natural finishes for their pieces.
Klint is known as the grandfather of modern Danish design. He, more than any other Danish furniture designer, felt that it was important to understand the craftsmanship of the furniture of the past.
He pioneered in anthropometrics, which correlates measurements of the human body to make furniture better suited to man’s physical characteristics, essentially the essence of today’s ergonomics. In 1933, he created a deck lounge chair, which he outfitted with a removable upholstered mat and pillow.
America's initial fascination with Danish modern furniture was largely the result of Edgar Kaufmann Jr. of the Museum of Modern Art in New York. He returned from Europe in 1948 with photographs of chairs designed by another Danish architect, Finn Juhl. The interest in Juhl's furniture led to a collection designed by him for the Barker Co.
Presented in 1951, the collection introduced American designers to the structural and decorative combining of woods of various colors and grains. Highlights included a teak armchair.
Fruitful collaboration between designers and cabinetmakers led to more industrialized production. By 1950, a few factories in Denmark began producing furniture using purely industrialized methods. The new generation of designers included Arne Jacobsen, whose creations, while organic in nature, used materials such as light metals, synthetic resins, plywood, and upholstered plastics.
Graduating from the Royal Academy in 1924, Jacobsen soon demonstrated his mastery of both architecture and furniture design. With the completion of his Royal Hotel in Copenhagen with all its fittings and furniture in 1960, his talents became widely recognized.
Jacobsen's most commercial success was the Ant chair, which was available in a number of materials, including natural oak, teak and rosewood veneers, colored finishes or upholstery. Inspired by American legends Charles and Ray Eames, this unique chair was considered revolutionary in 1952, having only three spindly legs, no arms, and a one-piece plywood seat and back. The design of this chair became the basis for the stackable chairs used in hotels and conference centers today. Jacobsen followed the Ant with Series 7, a chair that had four legs and optional arms. Initially designed in 1955, and still being produced today.
Most of Jacobsen’s designs were the direct result of his belief that architecture and furnishings should be totally integrated. Two of his commissions—the Scandinavian Airlines Terminal and the Royal Hotel in Copenhagen—resulted from the creation of the uniquely shaped chairs, the “Egg” and the “Swan.” Designed in 1957, these modernistic chairs featured hi-density, rigid polyurethane foam, upholstered on single-seat shell construction. Both are extremely comfortable while being ergonomically sound and pleasing to look at.
There was a period of time in the middle of the 20th century when Danish designers were the world's most admired. Some of the most talented earned prizes at major competitions, and their works were quickly acquired by top European interior designers and collectors. Today, American designers see them suited to many different kinds of interiors.
Monday, October 13, 2014
QUESTION: When I was a kid, I loved going to the circus with my parents each Spring. There was something exciting and foreign about it—the unusual animals and the performers who seemed to come from all over the world. A while back, I purchased an old circus poster from the Barnum and Bailey Circus and have it hanging on the wall in my den. But I know nothing about it. A friend told me the U.S. Post Office recently issued a new set of stamps featuring circus posters. My interest has been rekindled all over again. What can you tell me about them?
ANSWER: Circus promoters referred to circus posters as "bills" from the early use of handbills, paper, or later, "lithos", whether printers produced them using lithography or not.
Circus owners recognized the notion that "a picture is worth a thousand words." So they incorporated illustrations, which early on took the form of wood engravings, or in some cases cruder woodcuts. Engravings from mahogany blocks, however, were difficult to make and expensive, so printers used them sparingly and repeatedly. The same images would be used over and over again, often for different shows, thus originating the concept of "stock" posters. Circuses produced early show posters in mass, using a single design, often with only a printed title. Other information, such as dates and locations would be handwritten or stamped with ink by circus advance men.
By the 1860's more circus owners embraced the poster as their main means of promotion. And by 1880, the Golden Age of the circus poster had begun.
The actual production of circus posters from idea to finished product was a team effort. Some of the most talented artists of the day designed circus posters, but most didn't sign their work. In fact, most printing companies created circus posters as production art--much like the "original oil paintings" available at Airport Hotel Sales. Any number of artists might work on the overall design of a poster. Often, specific artists specialized in certain subjects. For example, a single artist might specialize in lettering while another specialized in horses, and yet another in performer portraits.
Circus posters can be divided into two categories—stock or specialty. Stock posters, generic designs that could be used by any circus, included images of clowns, wild animals, performers, etc.. Show printers would print large runs of stock designs and store them, making them the most inexpensive. Circus owners could pick these out of catalogs and have their show's title printed on them. It wasn't uncommon for more than one circus to use the same poster designs in the same season. Printed stock posters might remain in storage for years until a printer sold them to a circus to be used. Often posters used during a specific year had actually been printed decades before.
The dimensions of circus posters are important in dating them. Originally, printers based the sizes of posters on the size of their printing press beds, which varied widely. Eventually, printers standardized a unit of measure called a "sheet"at 28" by 42", basing these dimensions on the dimensions of a lithographic stone a single man could handle or carry.
The most common were "one-sheets," followed by "half-sheets" measuring 28"x 21". "Flats" had a horizontal format, while "uprights" had a vertical orientation. Printers also produced various multiple sheets, with corresponding multiple dimensions. They produced larger multiples in rare instances, including 100-sheet posters and larger. Printers determined the kind of bill by the combinations of sheets.
Even though printers produced circus posters cheaply by the thousands, they used high quality medium weight woven paper, usually bleached to a bright white color, even though posters were printed in volume and used briefly. Also, printers used oil-based inks for printing circus posters because they were often hung outside.
In the mid-1970's, Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey adopted a policy of using only a single poster design for each edition of their circus, often incorporating a variety of featured acts or attractions in the design. By the late 1970's, few circuses even used posters, and many shows opted to use window cards only, which could be placed indoors or simply be stapled to telephone poles outside.
Probably the greatest image ever produced for a circus poster design was that of a leaping tiger, designed by the noted illustrator Charles Livingston Bull in 1914. This particular image may well be the most recognizable circus image in history, and it’s still in use today, often appearing in set and costume designs in current productions of the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus. Bull's original poster image, however, doesn’t bear his signature.
Generally speaking, circus posters can sell anywhere from $30 to $375. With such a broad range, collectors must take the specific circus, date, and condition into consideration. At the low end might be a mint Famous Cole 3 Ring Circus poster with black type on yellow stock for $30. At the high end might be a rare Cole Bros. Circus from the Erie Litho. & Ptg Co., of Erie, Pennsylvania, bearing the title, “Cole Bros. Circus Presents Quarter- Million Pound Act of Performing Elephants–The Most Colossal Train Animals Display Ever Presented” for $375.
Although circuses continue to thrill youngsters, much of the promotion is now done using T.V. and radio ads and discount coupons handed out in supermarkets. The days of posters plastered on the sides of buildings are long gone.
Wednesday, October 1, 2014
QUESTION: At a number of Americana antique shows I’ve attended, I’ve seen pineapples used as decoration, especially on pieces of furniture from the 18th century. Can you tell me why cabinetmakers used them so much?
ANSWER: Pineapples have long been associated with Southern hospitality. Many people associate pineapples with Colonial Williamsburg. Perhaps that’s because it began decorating with them in the 1930s. But the idea didn’t start there.
Christopher Columbus discovered pineapples in 1493 on the Caribbean island of Guadeloupe. Since the fresh sweet fruit wasn’t available back home, his crew looked on it with awe and wonder. In Renaissance Europe, fresh fruit was seldom available. Common sweets were also rare. Sugar derived from cane was expensive and had to be imported from the Middle East and Asia.
In the West Indies, however, pineapples were a plentiful native fruit. So much so that the locals used it to both warn away intruders and welcome guests. They planted barriers of pineapple around their village because they believed their sharp, spiky leaves deterred unwelcome visitors. But they also hung the fruit on their gates as a symbol of hospitality and abundance.
Columbus and his men brought these sweet, succulent fruits back to Europe where they became instantly popular. But not everyone embraced the spiky fruit. When Charles V, King of Spain and Holy Roman Emperor had an early opportunity to taste the pineapple, he refused, fearing that it might poison him.
In 1657, Captain Richard Ligon published A True and Exact Story of Barbados, an account of his travels from London to the West Indies. In his journal, he devoted entire pages to the pineapple.
Diaries of the time often recorded gifts of pineapples presented to the king, and late 17th century ship manifests listed pineapples making their way from Barbados and Bermuda to England.
European gardeners perfected a hothouse method for growing pineapples, and in 1675, John Rose presented King Charles II of England with the first pineapple grown in England. The king later posed for an official portrait of him receiving the pineapple as a gift. The act was symbolic of royal privilege.
During the 18th century in England, greenhouse gardening became a popular hobby for the nobility, who coveted pineapples. The fruits often served double duty at dinner parties, first as an elaborate table decoration, and then as dessert.
The Spanish were probably the first to adopt the pineapple as a symbol of hospitality, carving pineapple designs into much of their woodwork: The custom soon spread throughout Europe, where it became fashionable to incorporate pineapple motifs into furnishings. Eventually, cabinetmakers adorned tall case clocks with pineapple finials. This custom continued into the early 20th century.
Sea captains, who sailed to the Caribbean Islands and returned to the New England Colonies with cargoes of fruit, spices and rum, first introduced the pineapple as a symbol of hospitality in America. Upon their return, the captains would spear a pineapple on the fence post outside their home, where it would serve as an invitation for friends to visit and share their food, drink, and tales of adventure.
Before long, American innkeepers adopted the pineapple as a means of welcoming guests. Inns would feature pineapple motifs on their signs and advertising literature, while pineapple-related items within their establishment included carvings on bedposts, vanities and dressers along with furniture, brasses, doorknobs, lamps and candleholders.
American architects also embraced the pineapple. Early estates and public buildings often have carved wooden or stone pineapple gate posts and copper or brass pineapple weather vanes. One such example is the home of Virginia's William Byrd. In 1730, Byrd ordered a carved door surround from London for his Westover plantation mansion on the James River. The door featured a broken-scroll pediment with a pineapple in the center.
The pineapple continued to find its way into home decor. Carpets, draperies, napkins and tablecloths often had pineapple designs woven into them. And women stitched pineapples into their quilts and needlework.
Monday, September 22, 2014
ANSWER: Not only will I try to tell you something about your desk, I’d like to give you and others some tips on what to look for when trying to identify antique furniture.
First and foremost, you need to determine if the piece you have is really an authentic antique or whether it’s a reproduction, a revival piece, a fake, or just a piece of junk. The key to the history of valuable antiques is whether they have a provenance—a history of ownership. This document lists the maker, all the owners to the present, and whether any repairs have been done to it. If you were spending five or six figures for a piece of furniture, you certainly would want to know everything you can about it.
But what about everyday pieces that don’t come with a provenance. Identifying them is a bit more difficult. Follow these steps and you should be able to determine quite a bit about any older piece of furniture that you have.
1. Determine the style. Using photographs in antiques books and photos online, try to determine the style of your piece. Certain styles, such as Chippendale, have telltale features, such as ball-and-claw feet, that help to identify them.
2. If it’s not authentic, determine if your piece is a revival or a reproduction. The difference between a revival and a reproduction is quite simple. The first is stylized version of the original style. So Colonial Revival furniture represents stylized versions of true 18th-century American Colonial pieces. A reproduction, on the other hand, is an exact replica of the original, often made of the same type of wood, using the same woodworking techniques.
3. Determine its age. Check to see if it has any nails or screws. An original Chippendale desk would have been assembled with pegs and mortar and tenon joints. Does it have any manufacturers labels anywhere? If so, then it’s definitely a Colonial Revival piece or even a fine reproduction from the mid-20th century.
4. Check any drawers for dovetailing. You can usually tell if the dovetails are handmade or done by machine. Those done by machine are very regular and even and can usually be found on pieces after about 1870.
5. Look inside the drawers or pullouts and see if the maker used the same wood—for example, mahogany. Later versions will have used some sort of fruitwood---pear, apple, or even poplar---for the drawer backs and sides. If its an older piece, the drawer bottoms will be made of a thinner version of the same wood.
6. Does the piece have decoration that isn’t in keeping with its style? Look at the detailing on your piece of furniture. Does it have added knobs or edging that doesn’t seem to go with the style of the piece. Often one of the owners of the piece may have added these to make it more up to date. The opposite also applies. Can you tell if any details have been removed for the sake of updating?.
7. Have any repairs been made to the piece? Look for signs of glue, nails, or screws that seem newer than the piece, itself. Also look for replaced wood panels, veneer, or detailing, such as finials.
8. Has the hardware been replaced or is it original? You can usually tell if hardware has been replaced. For instance, you’ll often see chests of drawers sporting glass or brass knobs. Originally, these chests usually had wooden knobs, but antique dealers, in an effort to make them more attractive to decorators, replace the original knobs with glass or brass ones. It’s actually better to replace missing original knob with a reproduction rather than replace the entire set with hardware that wouldn’t have been originally on the piece.
9. Were you told anything it about it? Did the seller or the person who gave you the piece tell you anything about its past? Did you ask them?
By studying the closeup photos that accompany this blog, you’ll notice the following about this desk.
First, your desk is definitely from the late 19th century---I’d say probably the 1880s, based on the 1886 mark you found. Second, the dovetails are definitely 19th century. But the real signs are the nails or screws that appear in one of the photos and the rather poor craftsmanship of the carving and joining. In an authentic Chippendale, the wood would be perfectly matched---the top of the leg where it joins the desk is a good example. Also, the stain would be even. I believe this piece had been refinished at some point, and not very well. I can tell that from the molding closeup from the front rim of the desk. And the last sign is the carving, itself. The little stars were stamped in. No 18th-century craftsman would have ever done that.
When asking someone to help you identify a piece, it helps if you take closeup photos of certain parts of the piece—hardware, dovetails, inside of drawers, carving, repairs, even the back.
Tuesday, September 16, 2014
QUESTION: While helping a friend clean out his attic, I discovered he had an old television set. Though it was covered in dust, it looked like it may have been from the 1950s. When I asked him if I could have it, he said “Sure, I don’t want that piece of junk.” But now that I have it, I’m not sure what to do with it. The screen seems to be suspended in a U-shaped ring which sits atop a box with control knobs. It bears the name Philco Predicta.
ANSWER: You have one of the prime post-war television sets, dating from 1959. This famous set had a rather bad reputation. Although collectors love them for their sleek modern look, they couldn't overcome their performance problems. In fact, they often caught on fire. So you probably shouldn’t think about restoring it to working order.
But to truly understand the evolution of television sets, you need to understand a bit about their early history. In 1908 Alan Archibald Campbell-Swinton, fellow of the Royal Society (UK), published a letter in the scientific journal Nature in which he described how "distant electric vision" could be achieved by using a cathode ray tube as both a transmitting and receiving device.
Originally, televisions were mechanical and simpler, consisting of a motor turning a spinning disk and a neon lamp. Scotsman John Logie Baird and American Charles Jenkins perfected the mechanical system in the mid-1920s. The projected image was only business-card size, but a magnifier enlarged the image.
Though Philo Farnsworth was working on an electronic television system in San Francisco during the late 1920s, it was engineer Vladimir Zworykin, a Russian immigrant working for RCA, who claimed the invention. However, the U.S. Patent Office gave the nod to Farnsworth in 1934 and RCA agreed to pay Farnsworth $1 million over the next 10 years to use his patents.
It's generally accepted that the 1938 DuMont Model 180 with a14-inch picture tube was the first commercially available electronic TV set in the United States. The 12-inch 1939 RCA Victor TRK-12 followed soon after, launching it at the 1939 New York World’s Fair. In the set’s brochure, RCA claimed the receiver would allow an average family to see a program simultaneously at a cost for electricity of about one cent per hour. Viewers actually watched the image on a mirror because the long picture tube was mounted vertically in the cabinet.
RCA dominated the pre-war U.S. television set production, as well as the postwar technology, until about 1948.
Color T.V. sets appeared in the mid-1950s. RCA began to manufacture the first "mass-produced" color TV in 1954, the CT-100, called "The Merrill,"and also licensed its technology to 70 competing manufacturers. However, Westinghouse beat it to market with its H840CK15, a 15-inch set priced at $1,250. The company produced only 500 and only a few of those sold.
The CT-100 debuted at $1,000, about $7,400 in today's dollars, a bit pricey for the average American household. Within months, RCA reduced its price to $495, then the company recalled most of them and swapped them out for a 21-inch model. Fewer than 5,000 CT-100s made it to retail stores and fewer sold. Only about 75 exist today, perhaps 25 in working condition. If you can find a CT-100, you'll pay about $5,000 for it.
Even so, by the end of 1957, only 150,000 color sets had sold. That’s because there wasn’t much to watch in color at the time. The first national color broadcast was of the 1954 Tournament of Roses Parade from Pasadena, California. But only a handful of TV studios were capable of color broadcasting, with the transition to color by local TV stations done slowly on a market-by-market basis. By 1960, only RCA remained producing color sets.
Things changed dramatically with the premiere of NBC's Sunday night Walt Disney's Wonderful World of Color in September 1961. Other major shows followed in the 1960s and color sales began to surge and competition roared again. CBS began regular colorcasts in the fall of 1965, and NBC became the first 100 percent color network in 1966. In 1967, sales of color TVs surpassed sales of black-and-white sets.
After a lengthy duel to the death over which color technology would rule in the United States, CBS's partially mechanical color system or RCA's all electronic one—RCA emerged victorious. The broadcasting industry adopted the National Television System Committee's electronic color TV system, which was compatible with existing black-and-white T.V. broadcasting in the early 1950s and is still used today.
Though T.V. sets in the 1960s used vacuum tube electronics, that all changed by the early 1970s when solid-state electronics appeared on the market. This allowed for significantly more reliable televisions with better picture quality.
Most collectors want TVs from the 1930s and 1940s just the way they are. However, non-collectors want sets from the 1950s and 1960s that have been color converted to go with their 1950s or 1960s retro decor and in working condition.
There are millions and millions of discarded sets out there, so not all will be worth collecting. But there are key sets throughout each decade that collectors want to own, including newer ones from the 1970s and 1980s. You can pick up an early postwar set on eBay for $100 to $300. With newly made replacement parts and a good supply of new old-stock vacuum tubes available, you might take a stab at restoring one yourself.
Wednesday, September 10, 2014
QUESTION: Some time ago, I purchased two wall pockets decorated with a matte green glaze in an antique shop while on a routine antiquing foray. Each has the word “Teco” stamped on the bottom along with a number. I have these hanging in my kitchen, but know little about them. Can you tell me anything?
ANSWER: You’ve stumbled on a real find. What you have are good examples of what’s known as Teco Ware, a type of art pottery produced in the beginning of the 20th century. While pieces originally sold for $2 to $5, none sold for more than $30 because the maker’s goal was to produce something of beauty that the average person could afford.
The Teco Pottery began in 1879 when attorney William Day Gates started the Spring Valley Tile Works in Terra Cotta, Illinois, to make drain pipe. But his goal changed after visiting the World's Columbian Exposition in nearby Chicago where he viewed exhibits of new matte glazes, produced by French potters. After his factory was nearly destroyed in 1887, he decided to rebuild, naming it the American Terra Cotta and Ceramic Company. When it reopened, he began working on an art pottery line after conducting experiments using local clays. In 1895, Gates registered the Teco trademark, deriving the name from the first two letters of his company's name, the Terra Cotta & Ceramic Company. He introduced a line of art pottery in 1899.
He derived his pottery shapes from line and color rather than elaborate decoration. While he created most of the 500 shapes he offered by 1911, many of the remaining Teco designs came from several Chicago architects that practiced the Prairie School style, including Frank Lloyd Wright. They had rejected the revival styles of American architecture of the 19th century in favor of using wood, stone and clay in simplicity of design. Ornamentation merged gracefully with the form. By 1923, the number of shapes had increased to more than 10,000.
Gates’ son, Major Gates, a ceramic engineer, invented a pressing machine and tunnel kiln, and also a glaze spraying apparatus called a pulischrometer to make production more efficient. In 1918, they acquired Indianapolis Terra Cotta Company. And the following year, opened a branch in Minneapolis.
Teco started making their green architectural vases in 1901, well before other art potters in the country produced similar wares. That’s why Teco vases are so valuable today. Gates produced his pottery from clays in Illinois and Indiana, and forms ranged from organic to architectural to geometric.
Teco pottery comes in hundreds of shapes, all cast from molds. Even exotic shapes that look handformed aren’t unique. The type of shape directly affects the value, with scarcer taller shapes more valuable. Gates marked the bottom of each of his pieces with a large “T” followed by the letters “ECO” and incised or stamped the shape number below it.
Gates’ goal was that every American home should have at least one piece of Teco ware. He believed that good design was as critical as the quality of materials and workmanship. So while some of Teco's more interesting pieces had at least some hand finishing, all of the pieces started with modern production techniques, including molds and power glaze sprayers.
Although Gates commercially introduced his line of Teco art pottery to the public in 1902, mass marketing of his products didn't really take effect until 1904. The event was the St. Louis World's Fair, where he exhibited vases, planters and other wares.
Gates exhibited art pottery with a green microcrystalline glaze which received many awards. It would also be the only glaze he used for several years. And although he introduced glazes in other colors–-including shades of yellow and gold, brown, cream, gray, orange, maroon, blue, gray, blue and purple—in 1909, none were as popular as those in various shades of green.
The most desirable pieces have been enhanced with a charcoal overglaze. Decorators used this secondary charcoal glaze to emphasize the negative space in embossed decoration or to highlight the detail found. in pieces with attached handles. Pieces with lowlights, or those that are mostly charcoal black are particularly striking.
Teco's organic pieces, an aesthetic blend of Art Nouveau and Prairie School featuring leaf and floral motifs, are more interesting, and as such, command higher prices than the geometric ones. The finest examples feature details such as swirling tendril and whiplash handles and/or embossed designs.
The typical Teco vase sold for $2-$5, while larger cost $7-$20. Today, that $2-$5 vase sells for a few hundred dollars, with fine examples commanding several thousand dollars. Major pieces that feature considerable hand finishing fetch anywhere from $20,000 to$100,000. But the majority of Teco vases and bowls sell for $500 to $2,000. However, there are plenty of rarer forms that can go for $10,000 or more. And even though the company produced pieces in other colors, collectors favor those in green.
Your modest wall pockets sell for about $1,500 a pair—a real find.