Monday, March 28, 2016

Beauty in a Little Box

QUESTION: My favorite aunt left me a beautiful metal jewelry box that looks like tarnished silver. It’s got daisies on it and on the bottom it’s marked “N.B. Rogers.” I know that Rogers Brothers is famous for its silver flatware, but did they also make jewelry boxes? Also, what can you tell me about the design of this box?

ANSWER: Sorry to burst your bubble, but your jewelry box isn’t made of silver. It’s actually white metal, also known as “Britannia” or art metal and dates from the first decade of the 20th century. And the flower on it is a lotus flower, not a daisy.

The creation of mail order catalogs by Marshall Field, Montgomery Ward, Sears, Roebuck and Company, and Macy's in the late 19th century made it possible for the average middle class woman to purchase lovely fashions and accessories at affordable prices.

One of these accessories was the jewelry box—more popularly called the jewel box—a repository for her most precious jewelry and keepsakes. The growth in popularity of these "art metal" jewel boxes, also called jewel caskets or jewel cases, paralleled the growth of catalog shopping which promoted them as ' dainty gifts for Milady." Jewel boxes came in sizes ranging from the smallest ring box to large handkerchief and glove boxes.

Between 1900 and 1910, Art Nouveau, a French term meaning "new art" coined by Maison de 1'Art Nouveau, a Paris gallery which opened in 1895, was the predominant design style in the United States. A romantic style influenced by the art forms of Japan, it used many motifs borrowed from nature, including flowers, leaves, vines, and birds. It also became known for its curves and asymmetrical elements. Of the Art Nouveau jewel boxes produced in the United States, those with the floral motifs were the most popular.

The two most prevalent flowers used on jewel boxes were roses and poppies. Daisies, four-leaf-clovers, lily of the valley, pond lilies, violets, carnations, and a myriad of other flowers also decorated jewel boxes. This maybe due, in part, to the important role flowers played during the Victorian era.

The jewelry trade promoted the “Flower of the Month” concept during the early 1900s. Fueled by consumers’ desire for more decorative objects, the jewelry industry improved production, distribution and marketing methods. Little by little, the role of flowers as a decorative motif became the central theme. Manufacturers assigned specific flowers to birth months, decorating jewel boxes with roses of love for June, carnations for admiration for February, and holly for foresight for December.

The interiors of these jewel boxes were as beautiful as their exteriors. Linings of fine silk, faille, jacquard, and satin gave them a luxurious appearance. Because silk could be easily dyed, it came in a rainbow of colors, although jewel box linings used the pale hues of pink, green, and blue. Manufacturers trimmed trimmed the linings with a fine twisted-silk cording.

During the early part of the 20th century, many American manufacturers produced art metal wares, with jewel boxes being one of their most popular items. Many of these manufacturers have long passed into history but one, Rogers Brothers, still exists today. There were several "Rogers" brothers in business at the turn of the century, and the name gained national recognition due, in large' part, to the wide distribution of mail order catalogs. The name became so popular that other companies tried to adopt it, results in many lawsuits. Though the original Rogers family became known for its flatware, one brother, N. Burton Rogers; founded his own art metal company and produced many Art Nouveau jewel boxes marked “N.B. Rogers.”.

By 1915, the popularity of art metal jewel boxes had reached its peak: With the coming of World War I, production slowed. The earlier naturalistic, yet interpretive Art Nouveau flowers, leaves, and vines, had become "conventional" floral decoration. By 1925, the production of art metal jewel boxes had ceased altogether.

Monday, March 21, 2016

Asleep in Luxury

QUESTION: My mother-in-law, who is 97, has just moved into a retirement home. Her Aunt Margaret was married to Charles Tuckett, the son of Charles Elias Tuckett, founder of Tuckett Tobacco and one time mayor of Hamilton, Ontario. Charles inherited the original Tuckett Estate and when he passed away Margaret was left owning it. Charles and Margaret had one child but the child died. When Margaret died her family inherited the estate. My mother-in-law inherited a lot of the furniture, but I haven’t found  much help regarding the manufacturer and value. Can you help me?

ANSWER: Your mother-in-law now owns two fine pieces of
furniture. Not only are they of massive scale, but the carving on them looks to be made by hand, something that wasn’t common in the late 19th century when most factories made manufactured most furniture.

These two pieces together make up a ‘bedchamber suite,” a more formal version of bedroom suite. Earlier suites consisted of just two pieces—a bed, commonly referred to as a “bedstead” and a dressing case, what most people call a dresser. Both came in all shapes and sizes and in one of seven different major revival styles. This suite is a fine example of the massive Renaissance Revival style, preferred by wealthy Americans. Later on, a second type of suite appeared, one with a bedstead, washstand, and bureau. These were smaller in scale—ideal for middle class homes and Victorian cottages—and less ornate and expensive than their bigger cousins. The concept of selling furniture “en suite” was novel in the 1880s and 1890s. Today, we this for granted.

Not only did the size show off the wealth of the suite’s owners, it also fit the enormous rooms with 12-foot high ceilings common in Victorian Italianate mansions of the time.

Suites with dressing cases from the Victorian period were more expensive than the bureau type, and more elegant as well. Sometimes their tall mirrors seemed to extend from floor to ceiling and had ornately carved frames that featured small bracket shelves for candle-holders or small lamps. Drawers varied in number and size. What people now describe as a well or step-down generally separated the parallel series of drawers. Cabinetmakers treated all three levels alike, topping them with either wood or marble. Some pieces had full-width drawers at the bottom of the well. Sometimes, the mid-section below the looking glass reached down to the floor, but this wasn’t common. To achieve individuality, customers could order their own mirror frame, and select from 16 different carved drawer pulls.

In the 19th century, the word "toilet" referred to personal grooming, thus a mirror became a  toilet or plate. An oval "plate" is now called a wishbone mirror, since the frame in which it is suspended is shaped roughly like a fowl's wishbone.

During the 1870s, people referred to the two small drawers that sit across from each other on the top of a bureau as decks. Today, they’ve become known as handkerchief boxes. Much less common were the petite boxes with hinged lift lids that sat on top of the dresser.

A projection front refers to the part of a dresser that hangs out over the base. A drawer or two may project or overhang the others. Slipper drawers had no handles and appeared to be the apron on a dresser. Not surprisingly, owners stored their slippers in them. Some dressers even had hidden compartments for jewelry.

This particular dressing case has all the features of the American Renaissance Revival style and then some. Not only does it have the small drawers, but also smaller cabinets with carved fronts with what look to be magnolia flowers. How magnolia flowers got to be on a piece of furniture made in Canada is a mystery. Burl walnut veneer decorates the fronts of the larger panels. And both the dresser case and the bedstead feature a large carved medallion with a dove of peace.

It’s believed that this bedchamber suite was originally in The Towers, an Italianate mansion built by George Elias in the 1870s, the second manion on his property. Today, renamed The Scottish Rite, it’s the home of a Masonic Lodge. When George Elias had The Towers built, he commissioned a local cabinetmaker, Joseph Hoodless, to not only create the mansion’s fine woodwork, but also some custom pieces of furniture, including this bedchamber suite. At the time, Hoodless had the reputation of being the finest furniture maker of his time. One of his bedchamber suites won gold metal at the Toronto Exhibition.

Because this is so customized a piece, value is hard to determine. Similar bedchamber suites have sold for upwards of $10,000 or more.

To learn more about Victorian Revival furniture, read "The Victorian Era---An Age of Revivals."

Monday, March 14, 2016

The Luck 'O the Irish

QUESTION: I have two chairs that I’ve been told are Irish Chippendale. Both feature lion mask carvings on the knees of the front legs. Are these lion mask carvings rare on Irish furniture?

ANSWER: Before tackling whether your chairs are rare or not because of their lion mask motifs, let’s first define exactly what “Irish” Chippendale furniture is?

Most people think Thomas Chippendale designed and built his famous furniture. He definitely designed it and built some for wealthy clients, but mostly he’s known for his famous Gentleman and Cabinet-Maker’s Director, a catalog of furniture patterns which included detailed drawings of all of his furniture design ideas, plus variations. Cabinetmakers all over the world bought the book and created their own versions of his designs based on the materials available in their locale and on the wishes of their wealthier customers.

Although Irish Chippendale is somewhat of a misnomer, the name which attaches to that peculiar style as well as its general contour comes from Thomas Chippendale It was the work of cabinetmakers in Ireland, and of those who made furniture for the Irish market at a time when Chippendale was influencing the furniture produced by his contemporaries. It was, however, apparently formulated to some extent independently, and even earlier than it was possible for the influence of Chippendale to have spread so far afield.

Chippendale based his designs on those of Queen Anne pieces, especially the cabriole leg. Since Ireland was under British rule in the 18th century, it’s possible that some of the wealthier Irish families imported pieces made by Chippendale in England. The evolution of the Irish Chippendale style was a gradual one. It didn’t just happen overnight. Eighteenth-century cabinetmakers all looked to each other for ideas, incorporating many of them into their designs. In addition, their clients often asked for particular features and motifs on the furniture they commissioned. The wealthy traveled and most likely experienced Chippendale’s designs where they visited, creating a demand for a Chippendale-related style in Ireland sooner than the popularity of the English cabinetmaker’s work would otherwise have done.

Whatever may have been the origin of the Irish Chippendale style, whether made in Dublin or in Irish provincial towns, such furniture had a sufficiently characteristic style running through it which gave it an individuality all its own. Some decorative arts historians believe that the Irish Chippendale style had a Dutch influence which shows in the somewhat heavy foliated carving of the rail, chiefly shown on the edge of tabletops.

Irish cabinetmakers captured the "spirit " of Chippendale in their designs, but for the most part they wrongly interpreted it. Also, many of the pieces show the features of the earlier Queen Ann and Jacobean styles. This indicates that many of the Irish cabinetmakers were unfamiliar with the Chippendale style as such and just added the features requested by their clients to their existing furniture designs.

The lion mask, a motif used from antiquity as an emblem of strength, courage, and majesty, is one such feature. The lion mask holding a ring in its mouth for a handle derives from ancient Roman furniture and continues to be popular as doorknocker even today. From the early to mid-18th century, the lion mask enjoyed popularity as a favored motif for furniture ornament, used as an arm rest support or to decorate the knee of a cabriole leg. Occasionally, a lion's paw or pelt appears alongside the mask. Thus the lion mask was a common facet of Irish Chippendale design.

Unlike other examples of furniture made in the Chippendale style, those pieces made in Ireland feature lion masks prominently in their design. Because much of Irish Chippendale furniture dates a bit before Thomas Chippendale published his catalog of furniture patterns, your chairs are most likely slightly older than furniture made in the traditional Chippendale style during the last half of the 18th century and not a rarity as you originally asked.

To learn more about Thomas Chippendale and his style of furniture, read "Chippendale---The Royalty of Antique Furniture" and "Chippendale Changed the Way Furniture Looked."

Wednesday, March 9, 2016

Beauty Is in the Eyes of the Beholder

QUESTION: Recently, I purchased a pressed glass plate that seems to be painted red and gold on one side. The paint is in pretty good condition, although some of it has flaked off. Did someone purposely paint this plate. I don’t want to scrape off the remaining paint until I know for sure. What can you tell me about this plate? And was the paint applied at the time of its manufacture?

ANSWER: As the old saying goes, “beauty is in the eyes of the beholder.” You bought the plate because you liked it, but the paint on it does make it look like someone was doing a bit of their own decorating. Fortunately for you, you asked about it before scraping away the paint. Your plate is what’s known as “Goofus” Glass. Sounds goofy, doesn’t it. In fact, some people call it tacky, some call it ordinary, and, yes, some call it beautiful.

Manufacturers didn’t originally call it "Goofus" glass. They had no designation of Goofus glass in their  salesmen's catalogs. They didn’t even recognize it as a specific classification of glass. Goofus glass, at its inception, was just a variety of pressed glass.

The term "Goofus" refers more to the use of unfired “cold” painted decoration to a piece of pressed glass, rather than to the glass itself. Many people believe the first users of Goofus noticed how easily the painted decoration on this glass wore away and felt that it was "goofy" or that someone had tried to "goof us."

Pressed, or pattern glass was, by the end of the 19th century, a substitute cut glass by the middle class. So the demand for pressed glass rose tremendously. To keep up with the demand, a number of new factories appeared, mostly in Pennsylvania, Ohio, West Virginia, and Indiana due to the availability of natural gas to fire their furnaces. The most prominent of these was the Northwood Glass Company, founded in 1887 in Martin's Ferry, Ohio.

One of Northwood’s original owners, Harry Northwood, later founded his own company, H. Northwood and Company in Wheeling, West Virginia in 1901. Within five years, his company had developed a reputation as America's finest glassware manufacturer.

Always innovative, Harry Northwood was probably the first to make what has come to be known as Goofus glass and, a few years later in 1908, Carnival glass.

Other companies, such as The Imperial Glass Co. of Bellaire, Ohio, focused immediately on Goofus glass. Soon others joined them, including the Crescent Glass Co. of Wellsburg, West Virginia, Lancaster Glass Company in Lancaster, Ohio, Westmoreland Glass of Grapeville, Pennsylvania, Dugan Glass Company. of Indiana, Pennsylvania,; McKee Glass Company of Jeannette, Pennsylvania, and Indiana Glass Company of Dunkirk, Indiana, which produced more Goofus glass than any other manufacturer.

Somewhere along the line, the idea to paint pressed glassware with bright colors— usually red, but sometimes green, pink, brown, orange, silver, and always some gold—gained popularity with the buying public, who scooped it up in large quantities. This popularity glass peaked between 1908 and 1918.

Manufacturers marketed Goofus glass with names evoking faraway exotic places and   wealth. Some of these included Egyptian Intaglio, Egyptian Art, Khedive (meaning "viceroys of Egypt"), Golden Oriental, Artistic Decorated, and Intaglio Art.

Because it was mass-produced and relatively cheap, retail shop owners bought it to give as a premium for buying their goods. Goofus glass was given away by every sort of business—furniture stores, car dealers, even at WW1 Bond drives. A person could buy a house and get a complete set of dishes. Or buy a new suit and get an intaglio fruit bowl. Or buy an engagement ring and get a vase or a set of dishes. Fair owners even awarded it as prizes for winning games. It was the first Carnival glass, preceding the iridized glass known as Carnival glass today.

Glass companies produced plates, bowls, vases, oil lamps, dresser sets, salt and pepper shakers and candle holders. Many of the Goofus patterns feature flowers and fruit, especially grapes, among other motifs, raised out of the surrounding glass as seen in vases, powder boxes and lamps. The pattern could also be pressed into the glass from beneath the surface providing an intaglio effect as found in Goofus plates, baskets and candy dishes.

Because of the extensive use of red, green, and gold paint, Goofus glass became known as “Mexican ware” because the colors reminded buyers of the colors in the Mexican flag.

Workers decorated the glass in one of two ways: They either covered one side or the other of the piece completely with paint, known as “All Over Decoration” or “AOD,” or they painted just the distinguishing pattern on the glass, leaving the remainder of the glass  untouched, known as "Pattern Decorated" or "PD." The more frequently seen surface textures are various "basket weave,” "fish net," and "stippled."  

By the beginning of the Great Depression, Goofus glass production had come to an end.

It’s difficult to find a piece of Goofus glass in perfect condition whether the paint was applied to the outside or the inside of a piece. The worn paint became so unsightly it was washed away by the original or subsequent owners.

Collectors pay more to own pieces made for special occasions or to commemorate a World’s Fair or another event than other nondescript pieces. They also look for complete sets such as a large berry bowl with matching smaller bowls. Goofus collectors seek out rare oil lamps complete with glass shade and matching base. Of course, Goofus glass in all shapes and forms in great condition with very little paint wear will bring a much better price than a piece with considerable paint loss.

Wednesday, March 2, 2016

Portrait of a Songbird

QUESTION:  I have this bust of a woman and was wondering if you can tell me anything about it. It's approximately ten inches high and appears to be made of marble. The name “Patti” appears under the bust.

Your bust isn’t made of marble but is a fine example of Parian Ware, a bisque-type porcelain invented to simulate marble so that upper middle class 19th-century homeowners could decorate their homes with beautiful things much like the wealthy.  The woman depicted in this late 19th-century bust is the renowned opera singer Adelina Patti.

First, let’s take a look at the bust’s material. Unlike marble, which is a stone, Parian is actually a form of ceramics made of white clay and feldspar. Minton, one of England’s leading ceramics makers, named it in 1845 for the Greek island of Paros, renowned for its fine-textured, white marble of the same name. Copeland, another leading ceramics manufacturer, called their version Statuary Porcelian. Parian’s advantage over marble was that it could be prepared as a liquid and poured into molds, cutting production costs and making it cheaper to buy.

Used mostly for figurines and busts, Parian at first simulated famous classic sculptures from ancient Greece and Rome. But later on, after it caught on, artists sculpted busts of famous persons of the times. This bust of Adelina Patti is one of hundreds produced during the peak of Parian’s popularity.

Although eight primary English manufacturers produced Parian, Minton and Copeland were the largest and produced some of the finest examples.

Born on February 10, 1843 in Madrid, Spain, the last child of Italian tenor Salvatore Patti and soprano Caterina Barilli, Adelina Juana Maria Patti was a famous 19th-century opera singer. She first sang in public as a child in 1851, and gave her last performance before an audience in 1914. Along with two other songbirds, Jenny Lind and Thérèse Tietjens, Patti remains one of the most famous sopranos in history because of the purity of her lyrical voice. The composer Giuseppe Verdi, writing in 1877, described her as being the finest singer who had ever lived.

She made her operatic debut at age 16 on November 24, 1859 in the title role of Donizetti's Lucia di Lammermoor at the Academy of Music in New York. When she was   18, she appeared at London’s Covent Garden Opera House in the role of Amina in Bellini's La sonnambula. She had such success at Covent Garden that she purchased  a house in Clapham and, using London as a base, went on to conquer the famous opera houses of Europe.

In 1862, during an American tour, she sang John Howard Payne's “Home, Sweet Home” at the White House for President Abraham Lincoln and his wife, Mary Lincoln. Moved to tears, the Lincolns requested an encore of the song in honor of their dead son Willie. Patti later performed it many times as a encore at the end of her concerts.

Patti had a tremendously successful career. She sang not only in England and the United States, but also in Europe, Russia, and South America, receiving critical acclaim wherever she went.

Patti was a true diva. She demanded to be paid $5000 a night in gold, before the performance. Her contracts stipulated that she receive top billing and that her name be  printed larger than anyone else in the cast.

She last sang in public in October 1914, taking part in a Red Cross concert at London's Royal Albert Hall that had been organized to aid victims of World War I. She lived long enough to see the war end, dying on September 27, 1919 of natural causes at Craig-y-Nos Castle, her private residence in Wales. In her will, she requested that she be buried in Père Lachaise Cemetery in Paris to be close to her father and favorite composer Rossini.

When she was a child, her parents moved the family to New York City where Patti grew up in the Wakefield section of the Bronx. Patti sang professionally from childhood, and developed into a coloratura soprano with perfectly equalized vocal registers and a surprisingly warm, satiny tone. Patti learned how to sing and gained understanding of voice technique from her brother-in-law Maurice Strakosch, who was a musician and impresario.

For more information on Parian Ware, read my article in The Antiques Almanac.