Monday, March 30, 2015

Beauty in the Glass

QUESTION: I have always loved paperweights. I don’t mean the kind with advertising on them but the ones with floral designs that seem embedded in them. I started buying them here and there, but I want to give some direction to my collection. How and when did these beauties originate? And can you give me some suggestions on building a collection?

ANSWER: From the beginning, people treated paperweights like works of art and not just as something to hold down paper. Early collectors included Queen Victoria, Oscar Wilde, Truman Capote, Eva Peron and King Farouk of Egypt. Today, there are over 20,000 paperweight collectors worldwide. But not all of them are famous celebrities. Some of them are ordinary people like you.

So what got them into collecting paperweights? People purchase paperweights for several reasons. Some just enjoy their beauty and may buy several as accent pieces for their home. Others purchase them because they remind them of one that a loved one had when they were a child. And still others buy them to collect as an object of beauty and value. And though collectors today still purchase paperweights in antique shops and at auctions, many more use the Internet as their primary source.

To begin with, the Paperweight Collectors Association divides paperweights into several periods: Classic, from 1840 to 1880, Folk Art and Advertising, from the 1880s to World War II, and Contemporary, after World War II.

While several hundred glass factories operated in France during the Classic period, the factories of Baccarat, Clichy, and St. Louis produced the highest quality paperweights. In the latter half of the 19th century, British glassmakers George Bacchus and Sons, Walsh-Walsh and Islington Glass Works also made paperweights. Although they’re considered to be of lesser quality, the factories in Belgium, Bohemia, Germany and Venice all made paperweights during this time.

Venetians glassblowers on the island of Murano made some of the earliest paperweights in the 1840s. They gathered scraps of leftover glass, as well as chunks of aventurine quartz, which they picked up from the floor with a ball of hot glass at the end of their blowpipe. They then covered this with an additional layer of clear glass and fashioned the mass into a smooth cylinder. The glass was of poor quality and the scraps it contained looked like a jumble.

Around the same time in Bohemia, in today’s Czech Republic, glassworkers improved on the Venetians’ techniques. Instead of a jumble, the Bohemians used the scraps to produce millefiori (multiple floral) effects, in which they organized the ends of the pieces of scrap glass with their cross sections facing out so that viewers could see patterns in the paperweight.

To this, the Bohemians added the artistry of the French, who really brought the art of the paperweight into full flower—no pun intended. In fact, it was these floral paperweights from the mid 19th-century that began to attract collectors. The flowers seem to be suspended within these paperweights and were like nothing else produced at the time.

Baccarat, the most famous paperweight maker, also used millefiori, whose cross-sections revealed stars, spirals, and shamrocks. The company produced both "plain" millefiori paperweights and those organized in concentric circles, with their ends interwoven like garlands.

The firm also produced mushrooms, in which a bundle of glass canes seems to sprout like a mushroom from within the weight, and carpets, whose wall-to-wall patterns look like those in antique Persian rugs.

The French added three-dimensional flowers encased in glass. At Baccarat, flower choices included pansies, primroses, wheatflowers, clematis, buttercups, and, of course, roses. The artisans also froze fruits, such as strawberries and pears, in glass.

Numerous other paperweight makers, such as Clichy, whose trademark rose appears in some 30 percent of all the paperweights produced by the company, and St. Louis, whose crown paperweights were its trademark, existed in France during the 19th century.

In England, the George Bacchus & Sons Glass Company, located in Birmingham, made paperweights with interiors that resembled stars and ruffles. Collectors hold its concentric paperweights in high regard, as well as those whose interiors appear to be blanketed with drifts of snow.

The New England Glass Company, the forerunner of the Libbey Glass Company, produced the first American paperweight for the Great Exhibition in London. This pictorial weight, dated 1851, featured Victoria and Albert. Both the New England Glass Company and the Boston and Sandwich Glass Works were key paperweight producers from the 1860s until they closed in 1888.

The 1920s saw a boom in paperweight technologies in the Czech Republic, where faceted, flower-filled paperweights had become popular. Baccarat revived its millefiori output shortly after World War II.

Today, the tradition continues. Because the techniques used in creating paperweights have been unaffected by technology, collectors are drawn to them today more than ever.

Building a paperweight collection is all a matter of personal taste. Buy what you like, old or newer. Some people collect only milleflori designs while others collect only paperweights made by one company or within a certain time period. One thing is for certain, paperweights make a great collectible for people who live in apartments or condos as they don’t take up much room.

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Music From the Past That Captures Your Heart

QUESTION: I’m now the proud owner of a beautiful 19th-century music box that has been handed down for generations ever since my great-grandfather owned it. It’s a real beauty and still plays. I can tell it needs service, but I have no idea where to take it. The type of box I have has a metal cylinder inside with little pins stuck into it. As it turns, the mechanism plucks the pins to produce the music. I also have several different cylinders for it. On the inside of the lid is a label that says “Made by Nicole Freres of Geneva, Switzerland.” What can you tell me about my music box? Also, can you tell me where I should take it to be serviced?

ANSWER: You have a unique cylinder music box made by the prestigious Geneva company of Nicole Freres in 1862. This particular music box reproduces the sound of a piano forte using a two-comb movement, combined with a two-per-turn format on its larger cylinder that enables it to play a dozen operatic tunes with elegant sound. The musical mechanism sits in a beautiful rosewood case with intricate inlays.

When people think of mechanical music, most think of music boxes. The early ones like the one you have appeared at the beginning of the 19th century and lasted until about the time of World War I. However, people tend to lump all types of mechanical music devices into the general music box category. What you have is far beyond the type used in jewelry boxes and other novelties. It’s the forerunner of the phonograph and of all the other music players on the market today.

Mechanical music is a live performance of music, played by a machine, without any human intervention, except for winding it up, plugging it in, or turning it off. The invention of mechanical music devices allowed people to enjoy music before electricity, when the only option was to attend a live performance or to create their own music.

Mechanical music goes back to the 14th century, with the invention of the carillon, which automatically played music on tuned bells actuated by hammers on levers by way of a pinned drum. Primarily used in churches to play hymns, the drum could be programmed to play different song selections by moving the pins from one location to another.

The mechanical pipe organ appeared in the 15th century. This instrument, through valves actuated by pins on the drum, allowed selected pipes to play organ music mechanically. During the 16th century, the mechanical pipe organ gained widespread popularity in Europe, and soon expanded beyond churches and public buildings. It became a must-have novelty for aristocratic society. Eventually, cabinetmakers built   desks and cabinets to encase carillons or pipe organs. These mechanical devices became so trendy for the well-to-do that heeled that famous musicians of the day, including Beethoven, Handel and Mozart, actually wrote pieces specifically for them.

It wasn’t until the late 18th century that mechanical music experienced any change. In 1796, Antoine Favre, a Geneva clockmaker, patented a device to make carillons play without bells or hammers. His invention paved the way for cylinder boxes, which had a comb of hard steel with a series of teeth or tiny  tuning forks, which graduated from long and thick to short and thin. Pins placed on a rotating cylinder, which when moved laterally, plucked these teeth and produced different tunes.

Clockmakers began constructing cylinder boxes in the late 18th century and continued making them well into the late 19th century. Over time, the mechanical music industry saw many advances in technology. Eventually, they developed over 20 different musical effects by changing the size, placement, tuning, and arrangement of the pins on the cylinder. Most cylinder boxes reproduce music of either a mandolin or a piano forte. The first produces a softer more folksy sound while the second produces a louder bolder sound simulating an early piano. Most mandolin cylinder music boxes played only 4 to 6 tunes while the piano forte version played 12.

And although the cylinder music box revolutionized the mechanical music industry, it had its limitations.  While interchangeable cylinders allowed for the playing of different tunes, it was a cumbersome process to change them. In the late 1880s, all that changed with the introduction in Germany of the disc musical box. This revolutionized the industry because instead of the slow and delicate process of inserting pins in cylinders, the discs could be stamped out by machine. Also, it was easy for people to change the discs on the machines, making it possible for them to hear the latest tunes.

While the 19th century also saw the development of many other forms of mechanical music, none could hold their own against the evolution of the phonographic record player and by the 1920s, interest in music boxes had subsided.

What makes mechanical music devices unique is their blend of art, history, music, and mechanics. Although they can’t be compared to other collectibles, condition, rarity and market demand still affect the price. They also take a good deal of maintenance to keep them running well and, thus, enabling them to hold their value. Only a professional music box restoration expert can make sure that a box is kept in good condition. However, finding one may be a challenge but worth it since a cylinder box in excellent condition can sell for four figures.

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

The First Home Improvement Companion

QUESTION: At a community book sale recently, I was going through a box of old magazines and discovered a copy of The Craftsman, a magazine from the early 1900s. It looked interesting, so I put it with the rest of the items I intended to purchase and bought it. As I was going through the books and such I bought a few days later, I noticed that the publisher was Gustav Stickley. Is this the same person who made Mission furniture? Also, what can you tell me about The Craftsman?

ANSWER: It is indeed the one and the same person. And The Craftsman magazine was Stickley’s pride and joy and the first of its kind to discuss home improvement and design.

Gustav Stickley was one of the most important figures in the Arts and Crafts Movement in the United States. He was a furniture maker who became a leader in the philosophy of the Arts and Crafts Movement as well as in the production of objects suitable for use that followed its principles. And although he wasn’t a craftsman himself, he successfully inspired craftsmen to carry out his concepts.

Also, he knew the value of publicity in selling his products and his ideas. He used his magazine, entitled The Craftsman, which he edited and published during the 15 years he was active in the Movement, as his main means of promotion.  At its peak, The Craftsman reached 60,000 subscribers and featured articles and essays on Stickley's many interests and concerns.

Gustav Stickley often referred to himself as "the craftsman" and used the term "craftsman" in many ways. The furniture he sold was Craftsman—not "mission"—furniture, his version of the Arts and Crafts movement was the Craftsman Movement, and his monthly magazine was The Craftsman.

He published the first issue of his magazine in October 1901 in  Eastwood, New.York, where he had located his furniture factory. Later he moved The Craftsman to Syracuse and finally to New York City. The premier issue emphasized the work and ideas of William Morris through an article entitled “William Morris, Some Thoughts Upon His Life.”

Irene Sargent, professor of art history at the University of Syracuse, served as Stickley's principal editor. She wrote many of the articles in the magazine’s early years. A very persuasive person, Stickley was able to obtain contributions from such notables as Louis Sullivan, Jacob Riis, Leopold Stokowski, John Burroughs, and Jane Addams. They covered a wide variety of subject matter, from architecture to art and nature, as well as the concepts of social reform prevalent at the time.

Though he was an idealist, Gustav Stickley had to eat. The Craftsman offered him lots of advertising  space for his growing furniture business. Thirteen pictures of furniture made by Stickley's company, United Crafts, included a round table, an armchair, and a settle, followed an article entitled “An Argument for Simplicity in Household Furnishings” in the first issue. The Craftsman also showed readers how to use the furniture in its many illustrations of room settings. Over the years, Stickley added metalwork, lighting fixtures, textiles and other items to his product line, and also to The Craftsman.

He often commented on the Craftsman ideal. Stickley believed an ideal kind of life encompassed beauty, economy, reason, comfort, and progress. It didn’t satisfy him to merely achieve this ideal in furniture but he felt that consumers must also have the right kind of houses in which to place the furniture. He no sooner began  designing Craftsman houses than he realized that people wanted Craftsman fabrics and accessories of all kinds. In other words, he believed in the concept of total interior design.

While early issues had somewhat smaller covers, ones beginning in 1913 had larger ones measuring 8 by 11 inches. Stickley printed all of them on brown or tan stock and usually featured a wood block decoration in two or more colors, initialed by the artist. Each issue consisted of 100-140 white and glossy pages, and later ones had as many as 175 pages.

Plans for Craftsman houses, some small and simple, others more elaborate, attributed to Stickley as the architect, although he had no architectural training. People built many of these houses using Stickley’s plans.  The Craftsman also featured short fiction and poetry, as well as the work of famous photographers.

Besides articles about Stickley’s products, The Craftsman often included ones about other makers of Arts and Crafts objects. For example, a 1903 article, “An Art Industry of the Bayous: The Pottery of Newcomb College” by Irene Sargent, documents the early history of Newcomb pottery. Photographs of the pottery school and examples of early high glaze pieces accompanied it. There were also essays devoted to philosophical, political and social commentary, usually promoting the simple life

The magazine also offered all kinds of practical and how-to advice, from gardening to leather tooling to embroidery to purchasing household appliances.

It also included advertisements by manufacturers whose products are now greatly valued by collectors, for example, Rookwood pottery, Heisey glassware, Handel lamps, and Homer Laughlin china.

Unfortunately, Stickley overextended himself and in 1915 had to file for bankruptcy. But The Craftsman was the first periodical to emphasize the importance of harmony in a home’s interior, harmony which was to be created through attention paid to walls, floors, windows, textiles, small objects and furniture.

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Ashes to China, Bones to Beauty

QUESTION: I have a beautiful vase that’s been in my family for years. It seems to be made of delicate porcelain and is decorated with a fish-net type of design that’s raised off its surface. The vase has a green circle with a crown on top and Lotus Ware printed around the outside. Inside are the initials K.T.K. Co. with a crescent and star. Can you tell me more about this piece?

ANSWER: What you have is a piece of Lotus Ware, a short-lived but highly prized type of bone china made by Knowles, Taylor & Knowles of East Liverpool, Ohio. Produced for only a few years in the 1890s, many collectors consider it to be the finest bone china ever made in the United States. The term "Lotus" comes from the translucent pearliness of the glaze, which Isaac Knowles had once observed resembled the glowing sheen of a lotus blossom.

Lotus Ware was a dream of Isaac Knowles. His firm, founded in the 1850s and lasting until the 1930s, consisted of Isaac Knowles, Col. John Taylor, his son-in-law, and his son, Homer Knowles. Isaac Knowles wanted to produce fine bone china that would rival the best imported from England. He had been a longtime producer of Rockingham pottery, yellow Queensware, and ceramic canning jars. So in 1870 he decided it was time for a change and brought his son and son-in-law into the firm. Within 10 years, Knowles, Taylor, & Knowles was not only the largest pottery in East Liverpool, but did all its decorating in-house. .

What is bone china? Literally, it’s fine china ware made from bone ash, which results from burning animal bones that are crushed into a fine white powder. English porcelain makers discovered this combination of ingredients about 1750. Strong hard porcelain chips fairly easily and unless specially treated, is usually tinged with blue or gray. Bone china, on the other hand, is strong, doesn’t chip easily and has an ivory-white appearance, perfect for fine china. The bone ash greatly increases the translucence and whiteness of the porcelain. And though it costs less to make it than porcelain, makers charge a premium for it.

Fortunately, East Liverpool had a stockyard that could supply the needed bones to make the ash. This probably had a lot to do with the decision of Knowles, Taylor, and Knowles to make bone china. And even though the company did well, Isaac Knowles had a vision to create something rare and beautiful—art in porcelain.

Trucks hauled in large quantities of bones from the slaughterhouses and dumped into them into large vats to boil away any meat. Workers dried the remains in kilns, which burned the bones to a powdery ash. They then mixed the powdery ash and the porcelain formula together to form the porcelain composition.

After first casting bases, bowls and other items in the casting shop, workers took the bisque ware to the kilns to be fired for the first time.

After the firing took place, workers transferred the pieces to the decorating shop to be decorated partially or totally by hand. There skilled artists gilded the ware or applied hand-painted designs. Once decorated, workers transported the ware to the kiln room to be fired again to make the design permanent. After cooling, they finally transferred the pieces to the warehouse for shipment.

Knowles employed a type of decorating unique to Lotus Ware which placed flowers, leaves, stems and filigree—open works of elaborate designs—on the pieces of china. The person responsible for this was Heinrich Schmidt, a German artist who had previously worked at the Meissen factory in German. He was a bit of an eccentric and saw himself as an artist, keeping the recipe to make the clay slip he used in his head. He also insisted on working in a room without windows in order to foil pottery industry spies.

Schmidt originated his own floral decorations and open work designs. When he was ready to put his clay flowers on a Lotus bowl, he would first center the bowl on a whirler and then trace out his particular pattern on the bowl with a undulating movement, much like one would trace an imaginary lead pencil around the bowl. His instruments were a rubber bag and copper tube similar to that used in cake decorating. He produced the stems, leaves and flowers of his patterns with remarkable skill, using a small piece of plaster of Paris, a little bit thicker than a lead pencil and shaped like a petal, to give a more realistic impression to his flowers. This was always done after the petals had reached the proper hardness. He sometimes indented the stems of his floral designs, and attached leaves to them, using a sharp tool to give a roughened and more natural effect.

Schmidt first worked out his patterns on a small plaster mold. He would do a quick penciling of his design on the mold and then etch it out slowly with his cornucopia bag. These minute indentations served to support the moist clay while the clay was drying. When the drying process was complete, the open work would be removed from the mold by a slight jolt on the plaster form fro the hand.

He would next take the open work designs into his hand and apply a little fresh slip to its outer edges. Then he would attach the design to the vase or bowl he was working on. If too much pressure was applied, the pattern would be crushed and rendered useless.

Another method Schmidt used, called `jeweling," featured a jewel and swag type decorative chain placed on the item of Lotus Ware making it appear as if the jewel and chain had been hung on the piece. The "fishnet" design was also commonly used on many pieces of Lotus Ware along with the molded patterns of shells and lily pads.

The bodies of Lotus Ware pieces are translucent and fragile with a gloss or matt finish in white or in a light and deep olive green color Most of the Lotus Ware decorating reflects the Art Nouveau influence of the era, with its flowing styles and applied decorations.

Discovering who decorated a piece of Lotus Ware has always been a challenge, even for the most knowledgeable collector. Unless a piece has been signed and the artist is known to have worked at the firm at that time of the decorating and signing, it’s mostly speculation as to who did the decorating. Since the company paid artists by the piece and not by the hour, it’s probably certain that they didn’t mark the pieces they decorated.

Only two marks are known to exist on Lotus Ware. The first shows a circle with a crown on top and the words “Lotus Ware” printed around the outside. The initials K.T.K. Co. with a crescent and star are inside the circle. The second is similar but with the words Knowles, Taylor & Knowles spelled out.

Today, only about 5,000 pieces of Lotus Ware survive.

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

First and Foremost

QUESTION: My grandfather left me a first edition of Robert Louis Stevenson's Treasure Island, illustrated by N.C. Wyeth. I’m just an average reader and not a book collector. What makes a first edition special and is it worth anything?

ANSWER: First editions of books are special because they’re the first printing. If they’re signed by the author, they’re worth even more. But not all old books are first editions and not all first editions are old books.

Books have had a tremendous influence on shaping our civilization and culture for over a thousand years. People love to hold and own an original or older copy of a classic and feel a part of its influence by preserving it. And apart from the content, many books are antique objects as beautiful as furniture or pottery or any other collectible. Such is the case with your grandfather’s book.

The quest for exploration and adventure Is what attracts collectors to old books— reading first-hand accounts of those that were there, plus the craft and art of older books is dramatically lacking from those of today. Antiquarian books, as rare books are called, remind people of how well the past has been preserved. They kept books for generations because they contained the kind of information or story that inspired their view of life. As they got older and settle into a life of reflection, the books that influenced them or their ancestors became objects they’d like to own.

Today, fewer people are collecting rare books. Instead, they’re focusing on modern ones, mainly first editions of literature—those printed after 1929. Modern book collectors believe their collections will gain in value, like any good investment, plus they enjoy having the first editions.

The exposure of collectors to the Internet and television shows like Antiques Roadshow has had an impact on the market, and that impact hasn’t always been positive. After watching the rising prices of the first edition market, people believe that antiquarian books are all about money. They’re not—antiquarian books are important objects of the past, like arrowheads, and should be collected in at effort to understand what and how people read in another time.

Important American writers, such as Ernest Hemingway, Walt Whitman, and Edgar Allen Poe have a strong collector base. Unfortunately, most of these authors have been heavily reprinted, and the beginning collector often assumes that old editions are first editions, when in almost every case they aren’t. Being old doesn’t necessarily make a book valuable.

Today’s book collectors lean heavily towards modern American first editions, such as The Great Gatsby, The Sun Also Rises, A Farewell to Arms, The Grapes of Wrath, To Kill a Mockingbird, and Catcher in the Rye—books they read in high school or college, which helped shaped how they think and who they are. Fine copies of these books in their original dust jackets fetch astronomical prices in today’s market. For instance, a first edition of The Great Gatsby went for $130,000 at auction, due largely to the personal connection that people feel for these classics. Books by Charles Dickens, Mark Twain, Zane Grey, and Jack London are popular, also. A first edition of To Kill a Mockingbird, which sold for around $1,000 in the 1990s, today commands between $10,000 and $15,000, especially after the announcement by the author of an upcoming second novel, the first in 40 years..

The same goes for beautifully illustrated books by Maxfield Parrish, Edmund Dulac, and N.C. Wyeth. 

A first edition of Charles Darwin's The Origin of the Species has doubled to about $50,000 in recent years. John Steinbeck's novels have been going up steeply, at least for The Grapes of Wrath, which has tripled to $6,000 in the past few years.

So why do first editions sell so briskly?. That’s easy to understand, since they’re well-identified and have only a few factors that affect their value, such as dust jacket condition and signatures of the author.

A book in a nicely-preserved jacket is worth many times that of one without a jacket. For example, a first edition of Gone With the Wind with a dust jacket is worth approximately five times more than a first edition without the jacket.

But how about the availability of old and antiquarian books? Are they still accessible? The availability of old and antique books has never been greater. The Internet overflows with old books, and for modern books there are multiple copies of collectible books. Unusual old books in fine condition suddenly become collectible, despite being overlooked by past generations. And while people continue to find old books in attics and at estate sales, the best discoveries usually can be found in antiquarian bookstores.

But while accessibility to rare books is increasing, their availability is decreasing. A book’s exposure to the elements and casualty—fire, smoke and water damage, rodent and pest damage, cannibalism and discard—adversely affect its availability. For instance, the Internet has improved access to rare books, but also to cannibals—those who extract the prints, maps and signatures from books to sell separately as ephemera.
Today, it’s virtually impossible to find an existing copy of Elliott's 1884 History of the Arizona Territory because the value of the individual illustrations far exceeds the value of the complete book. As a result, very few complete copies remain.