Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Setting the Thanksgiving Table

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

Documenting Your Collections

QUESTION: I’ve been collecting older items for the last 20 years or so. I’ve got several collections of moderately valued antiques, but I have little information on them except my own knowledge. What is the best way to document my collections?

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

The Gleam of Brilliant Glass

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

The Quest for Artistic Furniture

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.