Tuesday, May 27, 2014

In Memory of Comrades in Arms

QUESTION: Recently, I purchased an interesting medal and ribbon at an antique show that the dealer  told me was from the late 19th century. The medal, made of what seems to be white metal, hangs from a fairly well worn red, white, and blue silk ribbon and says G.A.R. 24th Encampment,  Boston, Massachusetts, 1890. Can you tell me anything about this? What was the G.A.R.?

ANSWER: You have a Grand Army of the Republic (GAR) Badge from one of the organization’s annual conventions, known as encampments. These encampments took place in different cities beginning in 1866 and ending in 1949. The First National Encampment convened in Indianapolis, Indiana, on November 20, 1866 while the last or 83rd National Encampment took place in Indianapolis, Indiana on August 28, 1949. Sixteen members attended.

Dr. B.F. Stephenson founded the GAR in 1866 in Decatur, Illinois, to advocate and care for Union Civil War veterans, widows and orphans. Brothers, fathers and sons had marched off from towns and cities in July 1861, proud, excited, and dedicated—most without a clue as to what they were getting themselves into. Over one million of them died—more than in all the other wars the U.S. engaged in up to that time. And those who did return were often maimed for life.

The GAR was a fraternal organization composed of veterans of the Union Army, US Navy, Marines and Revenue Cutter Service who served in the Civil War. Linking men through their experience of the war, the GAR became one of the first organized advocacy groups in American politics, supporting voting rights for black veterans, lobbying the US Congress to establish veterans' pensions, and supporting Republican political candidates. It dissolved in 1956 when its last member died.

Veterans had developed a unique bond during the Civil War that they wished to maintain, a trusting companionship and a sentimental connection they kept by joining veterans' organizations. At the end of the Civil War the individual was inconsequential, and the U.S. Congress needed some prodding to enact legislation to take care of veterans. These veterans' groups were instrumental in getting appropriate legislation passed.

Though many veterans groups organized after the Civil War, the GAR became the most powerful. By 1890, it had 490,000 active members. Five U.S. presidents came from its ranks as well as many senators and representatives. At one time, no doubt due to the political pressure of GAR constituents, one-fifth of the national budget went to soldiers pensions. The GAR founded soldiers' homes for the permanently disabled and was active in relief work.

According to chroniclers of the 24th National Encampment in Boston, in 1890—from which this badge originated—the GAR had, by then, established orphans homes in seven states, preserved Gettysburg as a national battleground and given more than $2 million in charity to veterans and their families whether or not they were members of the GAR. For a time, it was impossible to be nominated on the Republican ticket without the endorsement of the GAR.

Civil War veterans controlled a lot in this country and had a strong political voice. Among other things, they used their political influence to see that Congress adopted May 30 as Memorial Day.

To honor the deceased, veterans would decorate graves of their fallen comrades with flowers, flags and wreaths, so people referred to it as Decoration Day. Although Memorial Day became its official title in the 1880s, the holiday didn’t legally become Memorial Day until 1967. In 1977, Congress moved Memorial Day to the last Monday of May to conform with the Uniform Monday Holiday Act. In December 2000, Congress passed a law requiring Americans to pause at 3 P.M. local time on Memorial Day to remember and honor the fallen.

The tradition of having picnics on Memorial Day actually began on May 1, 1865 in Charleston, South Carolina. The Confederates had used the horseracing course there as a Union prisoner-of-war prison. When the war ended and the Confederates evacuated the grounds, a large group of former slaves re-interred the Union soldiers’ bodies who had died there and erected a white fence with a large arched gate, above which they mounted a sign, “Martyrs of the Racecourse.” When they finished, they broke up and moved to the infield to hold picnics. And thus began this national tradition.

Delegate badges from the GAR’s National Encampments have long been a collectible. First created after the 1883 encampment in Denver, Colorado, and handed out annually until the last Encampment in 1949 in Indianapolis—except in 1884 when there wasn’t any badge—these “ribbons of honor” were created and furnished by the city that hosted the event. They reflected the city itself, including local history and state symbols as well as an image of the current Commander-in-chief.

Badges came in several varieties. There were the official ones, commissioned by the host city and given to all delegates, past delegates and members of allied organizations, such as the Sons of Union Veterans of the Civil War, the Women's Relief Corps and the Ladies of the Grand Army of the Republic, as well as later, the Daughters of Union Veterans, and there were the semiofficial staff badges and souvenir badges. There were also testimonial badges, given to past Post officers at the end of their service period. These had horizontal rank straps with one or more stars on them and were often made of 14 or 18K gold and studded with diamonds.

In addition to the National Encampment badges, there were two-sided Post badges, with one side red, white and blue and the other in black with the words "In Memoriam," to be used when a member died. There were other unique Post badges as well, including those with a detachable metal top piece from which hung a large metal star or disk. And since Posts ordered new ones every few years, there are many variations in badges from each Post. Veterans wore Post badges to funerals, Memorial Day programs, and Fourth of July parades, among other events.

Some collectors specialize just in Department or state badges. Each state incorporated its flower, animal, or symbol into its badge design. So the Massachusetts badge featured a pot of beans, New Hampshire had a piece of granite on it, and Ohio badges had a picture of a buckeye. Each Department also had special delegate badges arid ribbons. The colors of ribbons, usually made from silk, varied, also. Department badges had red ribbons, Post badges had blue ribbons; and National badges always had a yellow/buff ribbon.

The Stevens Company of England produced the finest GAR ribbon badges, often referred to as Stevensgraphs. These portrait silks have extremely fine detail. Other companies, such as the B.B. Tilt Co.,. the United States Badge Co. and the Son of Paterson (N.J.) all made badges, but these aren’t as easily identified or as finely made.

Thursday, May 15, 2014

The Quest for Polar Knowledge

QUESTION: I’m a watch repair person. Recently, a rather unique 24-hour watch came across my counter for a new band. I’ve never seen one like it before and wandered if you could tell me more about it. The dial has what looks like a map of Antarctica on it and all the lettering seems to be in the Russian Cyrillic alphabet. Also, the dial has some writing in red on it.

ANSWER: What you have is what’s known as 24-hour Russian Raketa Polar Watch.  They’re often described as Raketa watches.

The Petrodvorets Watch Factory, the one that produces Raketa watches, is the oldest in Russia, founded by Peter the Great in 1721. The Nazis destroyed it during the Siege of Leningrad, but the Soviets rebuilt it in 1944. Since 1961, the factory has been producing watches under the brand “Raketa,” meaning “rocket,” in honor of Yuri Gagarin, Russia’s first astronaut and the first person in Space.

Today, the Petrodvorets Watch Factory, still located in its historic building in St. Petersburg, Russia, is one of the rare watch factories in the world that makes its own movements, including the hair spring, balance wheel, and escapement. In 2009, the company modernized its production with equipment purchased from the Swatch Group in Switzerland.

Often these watches don’t look like Petrodvorets produced them. However, they were often assembled from Raketa parts—probably everything except the dial. Most of the online auction listings say they were "handmade" in Russia. And, for the most part, that’s true. But being part of "Old stock" refers more to the parts than to the complete watch.

In the 1950s and 1960s, it was common for smaller workshops in the Soviet Union to produce these watches using Raketa parts. Different Polar, Arctic, and Antarctic models originated from this time. These “fakes” were essentially assembled from whatever parts the makers could find. Supposedly Petrodvorets’ workers during the Soviet Era would produce Raketa watches with modified dials on their own after hours. This continued until 2009, when new owners took over the company.

The majority of Raketa watches were actually produced in the original Petrodvorets factory by original Raketa masters using original Raketa parts. What they modified, if needed, was the dial. These Raketa masters had the tools and knowledge to produce special dial watches.

This watch is one of those special dial watches. It commemorates the first Soviet research expedition to Antarctica in 1956. But must have been produced after the fact since Yuri Gagarin didn’t go into space until April 12, 1961, if in fact it is a Raketa watch.

Russian explorers Fabian Gottlieb von Bellingshausen and Mikhail Lazarev, sailing on the ships Vostok and Mirny, first sighted a continental ice shelf in Antarctica in 1820. The continent, however, remained largely neglected for the rest of the 19th century because of its hostile environment, lack of resources, and isolation.

The first Soviet contact with Antarctica came in January 1947 when the Slava whaling flotilla began whaling in Antarctic waters. But it wasn’t until The Soviet Antarctic Expedition, or Sovyetskaya Antarkticheskaya Ekspeditziya, part of the Arctic and Antarctic Research Institute of the Soviet Committee on Antarctic Research of the Academy of Sciences of the USSR, that the Russians explored the interior of the continent to the South Pole.

The Soviets established their first Antarctic research station, Mirny, near the coast on February 13, 1956. In December 1957, they built another station, Vostok (also the name of Gagarin's space capsule), inland near the south geomagnetic pole. The Fourth Soviet Antarctic Expedition used three large tractors and four sledges on the journey from Vostok to the South Pole, and it’s this expedition that this watch commemorates. The words in red on the dial state “The Soviet Antarctic Expedition,” or “Sovyetskaya Antarkticheskaya Ekspeditziya” in Russian.

In 1959, twelve countries signed the Antarctic Treaty, prohibiting military activities and mineral mining, prohibits nuclear explosions and nuclear waste disposal, supports scientific research, and protects the continent's ecozone. As of today, forty-nine nations have signed the treaty. More than 4,000 scientists from many nations now conduct ongoing experiments in Antarctic life and climate change.

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Linking the Past With the Present

QUESTION:  I purchased a pair of antique finger pronged cufflinks stamped, "Pat. 2 Dec. 1884" a while back on eBay. Can you tell me more about these cuff links?  The cuff links are finger pronged and clearly marked on the back, "Pat. 2nd Dec 84" although there’s no brand name. I did some research and found out that finger prongs first came into style in 1885, so I presume the date is 1884. I also wonder about the carnelian. If it’s not stone, could it be molded glass?

ANSWER:  Cufflinks are one of the few accepted items in a limited line of men’s jewelry. No other collectible causes such an array of reactions. And this is precisely why so many people collect cuff links. Other reasons are their relatively inexpensive cost, easy storage, and availability. A search through virtually any antiquing site attests to the seemingly endless styles, shapes and designs produced in the last 200 years.

Cufflinks, which are small, and spend most of their lives under coat sleeves or in drawers, are  pieces of adornment which have much to say about society and about the individual who wears them. They mirror the fashions, the economy, the manufacturing and the art of their era, usually  larger and more colorful in good times, smaller and more conservative in bad times.

Cuff links originated long ago as removable buttons for shirts and jackets. When buttons became mass-produced and cheap enough to sew onto the material itself, men used these little studs only at the cuffs. The variety of cufflinks increased dramatically with mass production techniques. Of course, the need for cufflinks increased, too. Every member of the peerage, as well as every business man who wanted to socialize in high society, had to wear "tails" at every dinner party and evening activity. And tails required a shirt with French cuffs.

The earliest cuff links date from the same period as the cuff-fastening slit. Handmade of various metals, usually gold and silver, and set with gemstones, they became a luxury for the wealthy.

Hand-casting and other manual jewelry-making techniques continued until 1840 to 1870 when three mechanical developments—the tour a’guilloche machine, the steam driven stamping machine, and electro metallurgy—opened up men’s jewelry to a much wider clientele. The French or double-cuff shirt sleeve also became a popular fashion accessory in the 1840s.

After 1840, cufflinks were affordable. Victorian lucky charms, hearts, flowers, love birds, ivy, love knots, angels, snakes, even babies found their way to cufflinks of the era. As did the horseshoe. Horse racing was a passion of Edward, Prince of Wales and many commoners apparently liked the idea of linking themselves and their shirt sleeves to royalty through this symbol.  Cufflink makers employed free-flowing whiplash lines, organic motifs and stunning, romantic feminine figures and faces during the Art Nouveau period.

The publication of Alexander Dumas’ novel The Three Musketeers in 1844 stimulated this new elegant touch in fashion, as detailed descriptions of the turned-back sleeves of the men guarding King Louis XIII inspired European designers to modify the single cuffed, link-holed shirtsleeve that had been the mainstay of English fashion since 1824.

The English middle class adopted cuff links during the reign of George IV, toward the end of the Industrial Revolution. Unable to afford gemstones, they turned to replicas of the real thing. Designers used “rhinestones” and pastes to represent diamonds, pinchbeck, a copper and zinc alloy, as a substitute for gold, and cut steel and marcasite as a substitute for silver.

Late Georgian and Victorian jewelers favored a rose or flat cut for real or fake gemstones. They typically used foil or paste, a type of leaded glass, for backings.

Reverse intaglio was also a popular way of embellishing 19th century cuff links. After carving a figure or scene in great detail into the back of a cabochon crystal, an artisan would carefully fill in the work with paint and apply a mother of pearl backing. Manufacturers used this elegant process almost exclusively for jewelry worn by men.

Cuff link makers used this same process to carve designs, often of classical gods, into carnelian, a brownish-red mineral, which gets its deep rust color from impurities of iron oxide in the silica mineral chalcedony, commonly found in Brazil, India, Siberia, and Germany. Used as a semi-precious gemstone, its color can vary greatly, ranging from pale orange to an intense dark rust.

Men favored enameled cuff links during the late Georgian period, but it was during the Art Deco period that enamels reached their peak of popularity. Metal decorated with baked enamel— colored lumps of glass ground into a powder with a mortar and pestle—has been an art form since the 13th century.

Manufacturers of the 1950s arid 60's frequently marketed cuff links in a series, for example pairs featuring cars, sports themes, and so on. Various caricature cuff links, images of sports, political and theatrical celebrities were also popular during that time. One interesting category of cuff link is the "do-ers" category. As. the name implies, cuff links in this category do something in addition to fastening. Nail clippers, thermometers, music boxes, and watches have all been built into the links.

But the front design on cuff links is only have of the story. Fasteners on the backs have their own intriguing history. Late Georgian fastening devices featured wire loops, curb chains and string. Makers introduced the dumbbell form earlier in the mid-Georgian period in the late 18th century. Small and in one solid piece, craftsmen carved the dumbbell from ivory in the early part of the 19th century and by mid-century, from pearl. Carved dumbbells had a slightly curved shank. They looked like exercise weights whose ends were too heavy for the bar. Dumbbells of glass, coral, gold, gold plate and various hard stones became fashionable by the 1890s.

A metal button fastener, circa 1880, looked like an oversized shirt stud. Another, the "one-piece link" from the 1890s, continues to be produced today. It has a metal face, slightly curved fastening device and a metal oval to hold it fast to the inside of the cuff.

The patent, dated 1884 on the back of these cuff links, most likely refers to the closing mechanism. By that time celluloid collars and cuffs were popular. And since they were stiff, cufflinks with that mechanism would have been very compatible.

Generally, cuff links backs can be classified into the following groups: Flipbacks are turn-of-the-20th-century on English and Scandinavian ones; chain-backs are 18th, 19th, and 20th century until the 1920s and usually look like a big “S” or a figure; spring-backs date from the 1930s, 1940s, and later. All Swank cufflinks feature this sort of clasp.

As far as brands go, cuff link manufacturers didn’t begin to mark there products until somewhat into the 20th century.

Many collectors tend to specialize in cuff links from a particular era such as Art Deco, Victorian, or contemporary. Some prefer to concentrate on a theme like animals, sports or automobiles, while others look for novelty pairs incorporating watches, music boxes or other devices. With so many styles to choose from, most collectors concentrate on one particular type. Some look for a particular material, like silver, Bakelite, wood or brass, while others look for military issue, fraternal emblems or a particular era. Still others search for unique fastening devices like snaps or springs.

For more information, go to Button Down a Collection of Antique Cuff Links .