Monday, June 27, 2016

Art on a Plate

QUESTION: Recently, I purchased a beautiful large plate with what looks like a hand-painted picture on it. The mark on the back says “Limoges, France.” I don’t know how old the plate is or anything about this company. Can you help me?

ANSWER: What you purchased is called a charger. It’s actually the large plate used as the base plate for elegant French dining service. In this type of service, the space in front of each person is never supposed to be without a plate. In the beginning and in between courses, a servant would place a charger—a large ornately decorated plate—in front of each guest. Factories in the town of Limoges, France made chargers like the one you bought, marked as yours is, from 1891 to 1914.

Limoges is the center of hard paste porcelain. It is to France as Stoke-on-Trent is to England—the center of the ceramic industry. The town of Limoges is about 200 miles southwest of Paris and owes its prominence in the field of hard paste porcelain production to the abundance of natural resources. The soil in the area is rich in deposits of kaolin and feldspar, the essential ingredients for hard paste porcelain. The region also has forests to supply necessary fuel for the kilns and rivers to provide transportation for the finished goods.

Limoges’ golden age extended from the mid to the late 19th century. Production became industrialized, and manufacturers introduced mass-production techniques and new methods of decoration. Makers exported about 75 percent of their wares, the largest percentage to the U.S. In 1900, 10,000 barrels of decorated and blank porcelain were shipped from the Limoges factories to the U.S. The number of companies making it increased from 32 in the late 19th century to 48 in the 1920s.

Paintings on porcelains have been popular from the middle of the 18th century to the present. Chargers present an excellent background for ceramic painters to off their skills. Porcelain is more difficult to work on than canvas with oils because ceramic paints, which are basically oxides of various metals, don’t attain their final color until they’re fired at the correct temperature. Many ceramic colors have to be fired at different temperatures and will fuse out if heated above that temperature. It’s necessary for ceramic artists to apply and then fire the high-temperature colors first and then work down in stages to the low-fire ones.

The advantages of painting on a porcelain charger is the surface is so flat and smooth that artists can achieve extremely detailed results. Once fired, the colors are permanent. A porcelain charger painted in 1854 will look exactly the same today. Oil painting tends to darken with age, and watercolors fade.

While exquisite examples of paintings on porcelain have been made by top European porcelain companies, such as Berlin, Vienna, Meissen and Sevres, and many are quite expensive, Limoges chargers are affordable and readily available.

With the tremendous amount of porcelain produced, the market couldn't absorb all the wares. World War I and the economic depressions of the 1920s and 1930s forced many older companies out of business. With revitalization after World War II, many of the factories in Limoges continued to produce decorated chargers and do so even today.

Figural themes, both portrait and allegorical, as well as scenic decor are less common subjects on Limoges porcelain and are favorites of collectors. Portrait ware was popular during the mid 19"' century. Male subjects included important historical figures, such as Napoleons and Louis KW. Most portraits featured beautiful women, however, ranging from the French Empress Josephine to unknown Victorian women. Some of the most highly prized Limoges decorated chargers` are those having Art Nouveau-style ladies with grape clusters in their flowing heir and elaborate gowns. Sometimes a sleek tiger or greyhound dog completed the portrait. Each one was truly a work of art.

A Limoges charger that carries a decorator's mark and additionally an artist's signature is the most desirable. Next in demand are those hand painted but without an artist’s signature.

NOTE: I'm taking a week off from my blog for July 4. Have a patriotic Fourth of July! My blog will be back the week after next.

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Batter Up!

QUESTION: My grandfather loved baseball. Somewhere—no one seems to know where or how—my grandfather obtained a special bat on which is the image of Mickey Mantle, as well as his signature. I’m not really into baseball and have no idea if this bat is worth anything. I’m not sure the signature is real. Can you help me?

ANSWER: From the photo you sent, it looks as if you have what’s known as a decal bat. These were specially made bats onto which the manufacturer affixed a decal of a famous player. There are also lots of other varieties.

A decal bat is a bat in which a bat manufacturer has applied a decal showing the image of a famous player and perhaps his signature. They come in large and small sizes, with vibrant colors and model names appearing on both the barrels as well as in the center of the bat. Hillerich & Bradsby, (H&B) Stahl & Dean, Spalding, and A.J. Reach were some of the top makers.

H&B came out with a player series of decal bats in 1905 after signing Pirates slugger star Holm Wagner as a Louisville endorsee. The beautiful images on the barrels of these bats resemble the portraits on early baseball cards. Manufacturers offered them  on several full-size player bats as well as on smaller souvenir varieties.

The most desirable of these bats pre-date World War I. The likenesses of players such as Hank Gowdy, Ty Cobb, Joe Jackson, Rogers Hornsby, and Harry Davis adorn these bats. But finding one is another story—and finding one that’s in good condition is very hard indeed. A Joe Jackson bat from that time period is currently up for auction at $3,750.

With decal bats, as with many collectibles, condition is everything. A full-size Joe Jackson in 90 percent or better condition sold in the past for $3,500. Any Wagner, Cobb, or Lajoie in top condition should be worth about as much. Near-mint examples of the other Hall of Famers would be in the $2,000 range. Non-Hall-of-Famers, although rarer than their Hail of Fame counterparts, would sell in the $1,200-$1,800 range.

In addition to these early decal bats, H&B revived the decal player model bats in the mid-1950s with a series of bats that included Babe Ruth, Mickey Mantle, Ferris Fain, Jackie Robinson, and Joe DiMaggio. The Mantle and Fain have turned up in lengths of 34 inches while the others have all  been Little League bats 'at least to date. Each has a head portrait of the player set against a contrasting background. The Robinson, Ruth, DiMaggio, and Mantle bats are all very desirable if in like-new condition with prices in the $400 range; Others might sell in the $200 range.

Values for full-size bats are always greater than their small souvenir counterparts or bats shorter than 32 inches, the shortest offered as a full-size decal bat. Generally, the smaller souvenir bats sell for anywhere between 30 percent to 50 percent of their full-size counterparts in like condition. Decal bats picturing Hall of Fame players are worth a premium over their non-Hall of Fame competition, but not as much because the decal bats of these players are sometimes scarcer than the Hall of Famers. And while Joe Jackson is still not a member of the Hall of Fame, his bat will bring as much or more than any other.

Restoring an old decal bat may add to its value, but it could also subtract from it, depending on the quality of the work done. Cleaning an old decal bat isn’t classified as restoration. If an artist restores missing portions of a decal by painting them in, that’s restoration.

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Is a Man Without a Mustache Truly a Man

QUESTION: I’ve seen several mustache cups at recent antiques shows. I’d like to start collecting them, but the ones I saw were a little pricey. Before I invest in any, I’d like to know more about them. Can you help me?

ANSWER: That’s only understandable. Too many people start collections on impulse and then things get out of hand. Before they know it, they’ve spent way more money than they had expected.

Mustache cups, which featured a raised guard attached to a cup’s rim to prevent the mustache from touching the liquid, resulted from a need of mustache wearers to protect their mustaches. During Victorian times, mustaches became a form of male pride, with some men going to extreme lengths to grow a perfect one. Some curled, waxed, and touched up their mustaches with dye while others used rollers and nets to hold the curl at night. To maintain and shape these manly growths, men had to use a special wax.

The wax created a problem for men wearing mustaches because any cup of hot tea or coffee melted the wax and dripped it right into the cup and leaving the mustache a drooping mess, and the drink far from tasty. The solution was the invention of the mustache cup by Harvey Adams in 1830 at a pottery in Longton, Stoke-on-Trent, England.

Victorians began referring to mustaches as "Napoleons," named after the French soldiers who wore small beards and mustaches called "Napoleons" after the Franco-Prussian War. Among the aristocracy, each gentleman had his own china maker, whose identity was carefully shielded. The guard across the top was designed from a mold in the exact shape and size of the nobleman's mustache.

During the early years, manufacturers sold mustache cups and matching saucers as individual items, but as the 19th century progressed, makers included them in complete sets of porcelain dinnerware, such as Haviland. Those belonging to the sets were usually small and dainty while those for everyday use were large and heavy. Men used them to drink coffee, tea, and even hot chocolate.

Mustache cups became popular in the U.S. during the mid 19th century. German potters produced vast quantities of mustache cups for export to the U.S. By the 1880s and well into the 1890s, potteries all over the world had begun producing elaborately decorated sets.

Potters used their imagination to create unique and fascinating mustache cups and saucers from earthenware; porcelain, and stoneware in many shapes and sizes, ranging from tiny demitasse cups to large farmer's cups holding up to a quart of liquid. Tinsmiths and silversmiths also made them.

Early cups were bowl-shaped, cylindrical, six or eight-sided, ribbed, melon-shaped and kettle-shaped. Handles came in many different forms, ranging from snakes, insects, birds, twisted ropes, fans, and cherubs. The saucers matched or harmonized with the cups in both shape and decoration. Early saucers were deep, while later examples became shallower, like regular saucers.

German manufacturers used luster grounds, which were Victorian favorites, on their mustache cups. Pink luster was the most popular. Other ground colors frequently used included pale green, yellow, sky blue, lavender, coral, cobalt and gold. In addition, German potters encrusted their cups with ornate forms of applied decoration.

Mustache cups can be found decorated with landscapes, hunting scenes, animals and birds, flowers and interesting geometric designs. Portrait mustache cups are rare and therefore highly sought after by collectors.

During in the late 19th century, mottoes or expressions on mustache cups, written in enamel, gold, or molded in relief, became a fad. Some examples include “Remember Me,” “Love the Giver,” “Forget Me Not,” “A Present,” and “Birthday Greetings.” Others had the words “Father” or “Papa” written on them.Victorians loved to travel, so the mustache cup came a favorite  souvenir. Cups, often with a pink luster ground, could be found in shops near tourist spots. Manufacturers also made mustache cups to commemorate historical events and royal coronations.

Potteries in Staffordshire, England, decorated some of these souvenir mustache cups  with transfer printed designs, but today, these are scarce and command high prices. Matched cups and saucers made by Limoges, Rosenthal, Royal Worcester and Royal Bayreuth are also becoming hard to find. Silver-plated mustache cups and saucers in good condition are also rare. Prices for these rarer cups can reach as high as $400 to $500.

Tuesday, June 7, 2016

Mementos of Places Visited

QUESTION: My grandad traveled a lot for business, and from everywhere he went, he brought back a miniature replica of a famous building. By the time he died, he had amassed over 100 of these tacky souvenirs. And now I have them. To me, they’re just that, tacky souvenirs, but to him I’m sure they brought back memories of the places he had visited. What can you tell me about such replicas? How did they get started? Are they worth anything?

ANSWER: Replicas of souvenir buildings have been around since Victorian times. They fill the shelves of tourist-trap souvenir shops all over the world, lined up like soldiers waiting for a command to go to war. I’m sure you’ve asked yourself who would buy such tacky items? The answer, believe it or not, is lots of people. And their popularity seems to be on the upswing.

Like the lost city of Atlantis rising slowly from beneath the sea, long-forgotten souvenir buildings are now emerging from cellars, closets and attics. Souvenir buildings have attracted a diverse following among designers, architects, history buffs, lawyers, and ordinary collectors. These little structures, singly or in groups, provide a rich treasure-trove of memories. And this, after all, is one of the basic functions of a souvenir.

A souvenir serves as a reminder of an experience, place, or culture. In French, the word means “to remember.” Whatever the object—whether a building, a plate with a picture on it, an ashtray, or a fan—it evokes a memory that’s often supplemented by a personal story or recollection.

Building replicas are just one of thousands of souvenir items which travelers have brought back home over the years. They rage in size from one to ten inches high and  include famous structures such as the Colosseum in Rome and obscure ones like the Buffalo Savings and Loan in upstate New York. Although metal is the preferred medium for most collectors, souvenir buildings have been produced in almost every conceivable material, including cast iron, pot metal, sterling silver, silver gilt, pottery, pewter, brass, plastic, and cast resin. The last is sometimes painted and sometimes “metalized” in brass, silver, or copper.

The tradition of collecting miniature buildings goes back to Victorian times when travelers on the European Grand Tour would purchase models as mementos of their journeys. These were usually recognizable landmarks such as the Eiffel Tower in Paris or the Leaning Tower in Pisa. Such a replica made a nice ornament or present and served as a reminder that the traveler had "been abroad.”

Ever since, travelers to Europe have been returning with small churches, castles, Roman gates, triumphal arches, commemorative columns, basilicas, bullfight arenas, and so on. Because of Europe's bloody history, war monuments to the fallen or to the victorious make up an entire subcategory of historic interest.

In fact, it’s possible to collect souvenir buildings and monuments that trace Napoleon’s march across Europe, beginning with a replica of Napoleon’s Column in the Place Vendome in Paris, which commemorates his victory over the Austrians and Russians at the Battle of Austerlitz in 1805.

But most people are more familiar with the little replicas of the Empire State Building and the Statue of Liberty that marked many a family’s first trip to New York City. Other grander structures include cathedrals and basilicas all across Europe. Pilgrims to these religious centers have purchased tiny replicas ever since they first became available.

Another category would include buildings from World's Fairs and Expositions: the Christopher Columbus monument from the International Exposition of 1888 in Barcelona, the Atomium from the Brussel’s World’s Fair in 1958, and the Eiffel Tower from the Paris World's Fair of 1889—perhaps the third most popular replica after the Empire State Building and the Statue of Liberty.

Collectors have created many categories to help them sort through the thousands of souvenir buildings and monuments on the market. Most acquire a jumble of all sorts of buildings, monuments, and "does-this-really-count-as-architecture" replicas, such as a metal miniature of Mt. Rushmore.

The beginning of souvenir building popularity began in the U.S. at the Philadelphia Centennial in 1876. Three versions of Independence Hall, each one a different size, were available at the fair. Today, these command prices of several thousand dollars each. Independence Hall has also been reproduced in red and white plastic, in an aluminum-like alloy, and, most recently, in pewter.

The next big date was 1888 and the unveiling of the Statue of Liberty in New York Harbor. Replicas of the statue were made and sold to help-raise money for the funding of the base. The elegant bronze castings known as The "Bertholdi model," named after Miss Liberty's sculptor„ became available at that time and have since become both scarce and pricey. For the rest of us, millions of Statues of Liberty have been churned out since then, making Miss Liberty one of the most popular miniature monuments ever produced.

Because there are so many souvenir buildings on the market, both old and new, collectors don’t usually have to pay too much for them. This makes these tacky souvenirs an ideal collectible for anyone who’s on a budget. But even if a person overpays for a replica of the Parthenon, it will still cost less than round-trip airfare to Athens.