Wednesday, October 4, 2017

The Rarity of Napoli

QUESTION: Recently, I discovered a glass biscuit jar at a regional antiques show. I collect art glass but have never seen anything like it before. What’s so unusual about this piece is that it seems to be painted on both the inside and outside. Can you tell me anything about it?

ANSWER: The only type of art glass that’s painted on both the inside and outside is Napoli glass, produced by the Mount Washington/Pairpoint Glass Company of New Bedford, Massachusetts.

Albert Steffin, the head of the Mount Washington decorating department, patented Napoli glass on May 22, 1894. He had found a way to decorate clear glassware on both the inside and outside. In a way he used another method of glass decoration called “reverse painting,” which originated in Antioch around 200 A.D., as his inspiration. During the 18th and early 19th centuries, American and European mirror and clock makers used this type of decoration to ornament the tops of mirrors and the glass doors of wall clocks.

Steffin’s method began by first outlining the basic form on the outside of the glass in silver or gold metallic paint. This outline then served as a guide for producing the design on the inside using colored enamels. This decoration process produced a novel and almost three-dimensional effect unlike the decoration on any other type of glass.

But Steffin didn’t invent this type of decoration solely as a way to produce a unique type of glass. He actually was more concerned about the savings it would give him because with two different types of paint, each on a different side of the glass, he would only have to fire his pieces once, thus offering him a big savings on fuel. If he applied the two different types of paint on the outside, he’d have to apply and fire one, then do the same for other and firing again. Firing both types of paint separately also resulted in a brighter finish and correct coloration.

Workers at the Mount Washington factory produced the majority of Napoli glass pieces using the same forms as the firm’s other art glass lines—Verona, Royal Flemish, and Crown Milano.  But the Napoli pieces have an interconnected network of lines that looks like a spider web which makes them stand out from other kinds of art glass.

One unusual decoration on Mt. Washington glass depicts Brownie figures, created by author/illustrator Palmer Cox. Brownies were extremely popular within a few years after Cox published his first children’s book in 1887.

Of all the art glass on the market, Napoli is the hardest to find. At first glance, it doesn’t look like it would be particularly valuable, but its rarity drives the prices of pieces upward. Many pieces have gilt lines painted on the outside which makes them especially appealing to collectors.

Each piece bears a mark on the bottom in gold enamel. with the word “Napoli,” followed by the shape number.  If the mark is in silver, then the piece may also bear another mark of “MW” for Mount Washington. Common shapes include vases, punch cups, marmalade and cracker jars. Salt and pepper shakers are the rarest.

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Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Gotta Light?

QUESTION: I used to be a smoker, so I’ve owned my share of cigarette lighters. Most of the recent ones were of the disposable variety, but I had some earlier ones that were sort of unique. My favorite was one shaped like a little pistol.  Recently, I started seeing some of the earlier lighters for sale on eBay. I think I’d like to start a collection, but I’m not sure where to begin. Can you help me?

ANSWER: As with any collectible, the more you know about it before you start collecting, the better.

First invented in 1823 and improved in the 1880s, pocket cigarette lighters were as common as wallets by the beginning of the 20th century. Basic vintage lighters were mechanical, in which a spark from a flint striking a wheel ignited a wick or created a flame above a gas valve. Semi-automatic ones had a wheel which also opened the fuel-source cover while automatic ones had a push-button that did everything.

The first manual lighters, called strike lighters, worked like matches. Users would scratch a flint using a wand with a hard metal tip and an attached wick. The flint would create sparks to ignite a wick, soaked with flammable fluid. Lighters had become functional as well as artistic with the invention of the semiautomatic lighter in the 1920s, in which the user flipped open the lid and a flint wheel simultaneously spun and ignited the wick.

Louis Aronson, the founder of Ronson lighters, invented the automatic lighter in 1926.  It requires only the push of a button to create the flame, which stays lit as long as the user holds down the button. Early electric lighters, which were simple to use, worked like the lighters in classic cars: The lighter had a metal coil at its tip and plugged into a larger housing, which would heat the bottom enough to ignite a cigarette.

Through World War II, most lighters ran on Naptha, a petroleum mixture—after the war, compressed butane replaced it.

Vintage lighters vary from expensive, elegant objects made from precious metals to cheap novelty items, such as lighters that look like lipstick cases or little T.V. sets.

Cigarette lighters come in a vast variety of shapes and sizes, from tiny pocket-sized to huge table lighters. Most of the unusual-shaped lighters are Japanese models. They made some interesting shapes, mostly from 1950 through the 1970s. Lighters took the shapes of revolvers, pistols, derringers, and even machine guns.

Lighters came in lots of other shapes, such as animals and forms of transportation. Sports cars, train locomotives, motorcycles, yachts, submarines, helicopters, and airplanes are just some of the few.  But they also took the shapes of shoes, fire extinguishers, lighthousses, cameras, and even grenades.

Name an object and somebody probably designed a lighter that looks like it. One took the form of a working slot machine—by pulling the handle, it would light. Ronson even made a Kewpie doll lighter in 1916. And then there’s one shaped like a pool table with an attached pool cue. There was also a jukebox that played a tune while the user lit up.

The craze for vintage lighters has heated up in recent years. With the invention of disposable lighters and the drop in the market for more ornate models, plus fewer people smoking, vintage cigarette lighters have become an art form that will probably never be duplicated. As a beginning collector, you can spend as little or as much as you want. But more important is the story behind the lighter and the history that goes with it.

Collecting vintage lighters is affordable and they don’t take up much room, so they’re perfect for those living in smaller spaces.

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Monday, September 18, 2017

Thanks for the Memories

QUESTION: When I was a kid, my parents used to take me to Atlantic City every summer. As I get older, my memories of those summer vacations are but vague recollections. Recently, I was browsing a local antique cooperative and came across a small, red and white cream pitcher with “From Atlantic City 1897" scratched into what looks like a red coating. Immediately, memories from those vacations from my early childhood came flooding back, so I bought it. What can you tell me about my little pitcher?

ANSWER: Obviously, your little cream pitcher dates from before your birth, but like other souvenirs of summer destinations, it’s no less important. In fact, with the coming of the railroads in the early part of the 19th century and the Industrial Revolution, middle-class Victorians took to the road, rail, and sea in great numbers. Most of them wanted to take home a souvenir of their trip, and your little cream pitcher is one of them.

One of the most popular of these were ruby-stained glass toothpick holders, tumblers, goblets, creamers and pitchers inscribed with their name or the name of the destination and the date.

Glass souvenirs did not first appear at the Philadelphia Centennial in 1876, as many believe, but much earlier. Little keepsakes had always been made in blown glass. After less expensive pressed glass appeared in 1825, owners of fairs and expositions sought out these more profitable items. Manufacturers pressed plates and tumblers with pictures of an event. But it was the smaller items, such as match and toothpick holders and little creamers and mugs that became popular. Makers often stained these pieces red or amber and engraved them with an inscription. Glass makers created thousands of these small articles for the large expositions, such as the Chicago Fair in 1893, as well as the popular county fairs.

Staining a piece of glass involved painting an already-pressed piece of clear pattern glass with a ruby-colored stain and reheating it to 1000 degrees in a kiln which turned the coating bright red. Sometimes, makers used an amber stain to decorate their pressed pieces. Pieces stained in this fashion could then be engraved with flower or leaf bands or souvenir inscriptions.

Produced in the United States from 1880 to 1920, there were eventually thousands of patterns of pressed glass that flooded the market. Makers produced many of the more popular patterns in a variety of forms. They combined different colors of glass and different decorating techniques to produce hundreds of thousands of pieces of glass. People would purchase a piece of blank stained glass at an event or travel destination and could then have it personalized with their name and date.

One of the more popular ruby stained patterns, Button Arches, introduced originally around 1898, continued in production until the 1960s and 1970s. The design consisted of slightly overlapping pointed arches around the bottom edges and covers of pieces, each arch containing tightly packed "buttons."  Made in clear, clear with ruby staining and gold-stained bands, collectors can find this pattern highlighted with souvenir inscriptions.

In the late 1890s, the U.S. Glass Co., a consortium of smaller companies, came up with the idea of marketing a series of glass patterns named after the various states. Though a few of these patterns were new to the series, some were reissues of earlier lines reintroduced as part of this line. The state series continued through the turn-of-the-century. Most of the state patterns featured geometric or imitation cut-glass designs, but a few had a plant and flower motif that added to their appeal.  Obviously, state patterned glass was popular as a souvenir from the state for which the pattern was named.
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Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Harmonica Memories

QUESTION: When I was about six years old, my dad gave me a harmonica. It was just a basic one, nothing special, but to me, it was very special. This was back in the mid-1950s and westerns were big on T.V. I watched several of them in which the cowboys would be sitting around the campfire and one of them would invariably be playing a harmonica. I loved that harmonica. What can you tell me about the history of the harmonica? I’m considering starting a collection of them and would like to know what types to collect.

ANSWER: Most harmonica collectors can trace their interest in them to their childhood. Fathers would often give their sons a harmonica—it was definitely a boy thing—when they were five or six years old.

The modern harmonica was invented in Germany. However, the distinctive element that makes a harmonica play—the "free reed" that vibrates to produce a tone as wind passes over it—dates to a Chinese instrument called the sheng, supposedly invented by an empress named Nuwa around 3000 BC.

This deceptively simple, portable instrument—also known. as the mouth organ, mouth harp, pocket piano and tin sandwich—does span a surprisingly broad range of American culture. It has been said there are as many harmonicas in the United States as other kinds of musical instruments combined, although they aren’t as visible today as they once were.

Besides the standard versions, harmonicas have featured such entertainment icons as Mickey Mouse, Popeye, Roy Rogers, the Lone Ranger, to name a few, as well as sports figures such as Stan Musial, an avid harmonica player who published a song book. Novelty harmonicas come in a variety of shapes, including crabs, alligators, a cob of corn, even guns.

A basic Hohner Marine Band 10-hole diatonic harmonica can often be found for around $20-$25. One could collect just Marine Band models, in fact, for this name has been applied to at least 30 different models over more than 100 years, each available in a variety of keys and packaged in an array of boxes. Some collectors specialize in particular models.

Most collectible harmonicas sell for $45 to $200. A small number go for $200 to $400, and there are just a few higher than that. As with all collectibles, their rarity, age and condition are important.

The Holy Grail of harmonica collecting is the Pipeolion by the C. Weiss Company, a 10-hole, 7-inch model with sounding pipes that fan out from the body.  About eight are known to exist.

Beginning harmonica collectors often have difficulty determining the age of a particular model.  In fact, they may be fooled into thinking a harmonica is older than it is because some companies, especially Hohner, stamped  a variety of 19th and 20th-century dates on the cover plates of most of their harmonicas. These don't indicate when the harmonica was made, but rather important dates in company history, such as the founding of the Hohner factories, or in some cases when the company won a prize, such as the Grand Prix Paris of 1917.

But reasonably accurate dating is possible by carefully examining both the external and internal structure of a harmonica. Some manufacturers stamped their instruments with registration numbers that can be tracked. Early harmonicas had reed plates made of lead, with nickel-plated covers of stamped steel or tin. Reeds and covers became brass in the late 1800s or early 1900s. Celluloid cover plates became common on some harmonicas in the early 1900s, and both bright metallic colors and a streamlined look clearly mark harmonicas made in the Art Deco 1920s and 1930s.

The material of the central body, or comb, of a harmonica evolved, as well. Early on, pear wood was the standard, but swelled and become rough with moisture over time. Very old instruments sometimes show the marks of whittling or trimming to alleviate this problem. Mahogany and other hardwoods proved more durable. And synthetic bodies, sometimes translucent, took over on less expensive models beginning in the 1950s.

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Tuesday, August 29, 2017

The Shimmer of Marble Glass

QUESTION: I was browsing at a flea market recently and discovered a beautiful green glass vase that looked like marble. The dealer didn’t know anything about it and said she had picked it up at a garage sale. I’ve never seen anything like it. It had veins like marble and shimmered in the sunlight. I had to have it. And now that I do, I’d love to know more about it. Can you tell my anything about this marble glass? How old is it and where was it made?

ANSWER: It’s seems that you’ve purchased what’s commonly known as “malachite” glass. The mineral malachite is a green copper carbonate stone which occurs naturally and has concentric layers. It’s especially prevalent in Russia and was a favorite of the czars. The inventors of malachite glass intended it to simulate marble. Many 19th-century glassworks used the term and each created their own variation on this theme. Those items made of this type of glass from the former Czechoslovakia go by another name—Ingrid.

Ingrid is the name of a series of artistic pressed glass items created by Henry Schlevogt and named for his daughter. Henry was the son of Curt Schlevogt, who around 1900 founded a firm in Jablonec, Bohemia, to produce glass beads and buttons. His wife, Charlotte, was the daughter of Heinrich Hoffmann, the owner of a glass company that made and exported sculptures, beads and hollowware.

But Henry knew that the "beads and buttons" business was a difficult one because of the tough competition from so many companies in the area and from other countries. He wrote to his daughter, Ingrid, that knowledge he gained in other countries had led him to create items that were so beautiful that the price wouldn’t matter.

At the Spring Trade Fair in Leipzig in 1934, Schlevogt introduced a line of ornamental crystal sculptures, and the same year presented the line at the Chicago World's Fair. The Ingrid brand was born. And while it was Curt Schlevogt who designed most of the molds used to make the glass, it was Henry who knew how to promote their new line of glass. Ingrid was so well received at the Fair that the firm began producing it on a large scale.

Schlevogt reached out to designers working with the Wiener Werkstatte, including Franz Hagenauer, Ena Rottenberg, and Vally Wieselthier, and also to designers who worked for other major glass firms, such as Bruno Mauder, Eleon von Rommel, and Alexander Pfohl. The result was a complete line of ornamental sculptures, perfumes with figural daubers and/or impressed stoppers, liquor sets, toilet sets, devotional items, figurines, table ware, and vases.

Henry Schlevogt utilized the technology at the Riedel glassworks in Polubny, Czechoslovakia, to make this artistic, marbled, pressed glass. But just because his firm pressed the glass into molds, didn’t mean that it was of inferior quality. The glass, itself, was pure. Workers ground out the mold marks and frosted or polished the surfaces. They even engraved some of the details.

The most common items are those made of jade green and lapis blue marbled glass. The company’s 1939 catalog shows more than 200 crystal and another 80 jade/lapis items.

Schlevogt's crystal perfumes aren’t as easily identified. Some appear in the firm's catalogs, but the vast majority have been included in the broad category of Czechoslovakian glass in most listings. The designs for perfumes included bottles in various Art Deco shapes, and stoppers with relief-pressed nudes, couples, flowers, and butterflies.

By 1936, Schlevogt had business representatives in several European cities. When the Czechoslovak pavilion won a Grand Prize at the 1937 Paris World's Fair, Schlevogt's ornamental sculptures by Ena Rottenberg and Josef Bernhard were part of the reason. By 1940, the Schlevogt firm owned more than 1,300 glass molds, coin molds, and hand presses. It had its own cutting, sandblasting, and acid-etching workshops, but continued to have the glass shapes pressed at the Riedel firm.

The Czechoslovak government nationalized the glass industry after World War II and sentenced Henry Schlevogt to prison in Siberia. After his release in 1948, the Communist government in Czechoslovakia t banished him. He first went to Austria, then accepted an offer to manage the glassworks in Romilly-sur-Andelle, France. He sold this firm in 1972 and died in Paris in 1984.

Collectors need to be cautious, however, since the Ingrid molds have been used continuously. In addition, unauthorized versions of Ingrid items have been made from reverse-engineered molds.

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Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Tea for Two or More

QUESTION: I recently started going to antique shows. I’m new to antique collecting and find the whole thing fascinating. On a trip to a recent local show, I saw several unusual boxes. The dealers told me they were tea caddies. All of them had locks. Can you tell me a little about these unique boxes? I’d love to collect them, but they seemed rather pricey.

ANSWER: Tea caddies are one of the more unique items available to antique collectors. They’re good to collect because they don’t take up too much room, but their age and quality can make them prohibitively expensive, especially for the beginning collector. Before discussing tea caddies, themselves, it’s important to know how the tea trade began and why each of the caddies had locks.

People have been drinking tea since 2737 BC, when, according to legend, a few leaves from a nearby tree blew into Chinese Emperor Shen Nung's pot of boiling water. Apparently, the Emperor took a sip of the  brew, only to discover that it was both delicious and refreshing.

Tea brewing and drinking evolved into a ritualistic exercise. During the Ming Dynasty from 1368 to 1644, people brewed the delicate leaves in vessels with lids in which they steeped them in boiled water. Early 17th-century Dutch and Portuguese silk and spice traders tried to introduce Chinese tea to Europe, but it took time to catch on. Even the English, known for their love of a "cuppa," waited until the mid-17th century before trying it. Since tea was expensive, only the aristocracy could afford to drink it.

People believed it was therapeutic as well as delicious. Asians had known the health benefits of tea for thousands of years. And even though Portugal and Holland imported tea 50 years ahead of England, tea remained a precious commodity, so people used it sparingly.

The first recorded sale of tea in England occurred in 1657. At first it was available only in apothecaries, coffee houses, snuff shops and through shops catering for ladies needs. However by the second half of the 18th century smuggled tea was so widely available, that even respectable people bought it illegally for less money.

William Pitt tried to address this problem in his Commutation Act of 1784, which reduced taxes on tea and halved its price. The legitimate imports quadrupled making tea more accessible to a wider section of society.

It wasn’t until the 1750s that tea caddies became a home style accessory. The word caddy derives from the Malay word "kati," meaning a measure of weight about 3/5 of a kilo. The 17th century tea containers were bottle shaped tea jars in china, glass, silver, enamel and straw-work covered metal.

Cabinetmakers began to make tea caddies out of wood in box form beginning in the late 1820s. The made the first ones of mahogany in the shape of small chests which contained three metal canisters. They generally came in two styles—simple and ornate.

Both styles shared certain characteristics. Both had handles on top and stood on either bracket feet or a plinth-style base. They had stepped lids and molding of some sort along the edges. Usually, these caddies had straight sides. The fancier tea caddies often had gilded brass mounts and feet. As time went on, cabinetmakers introduced new designs, woods and shapes to their caddies.

Tea caddies came in three sizes—single, double, and triple.

Single caddies could be square, polygonal, oval, or elliptical and sometimes  urn-shaped. Tops were mostly flat with sometimes a small loop handle or finial in the center. Escutcheons of inlaid ivory, bone or boxwood surrounded the keyhole. Inside they had a free standing lid. Sometimes, the tops were shaped like pyramids, continuing the proportions of the side panels.

Double caddies were usually oblong sometimes octagonal or oval. They had two lids, or two removable canisters with hinged tops. Some had one lid and a space for a glass bowl that people usually used for storing sugar. Others had a second bowl for mixing the blend of tea.

Triple caddies had either two lids, three lids, two canisters, three canisters or two lids or canisters flanking a space in the center for a glass bowl. They had rectangular shapes and rarely contained two glass jars and a bowl.

Cabinetmakers covered the more elaborate tea caddies in luxurious veneers. Cutting veneers by hand was a highly skilled job. The veneers were much thicker than those used today. This created a problem because moisture could be absorbed into the veneer’s edge. To solve this problem, cabinetmakers edged their caddies with strips of contrasting plain wood, usually holly or boxwood or in herringbone designs.

Caddies made of plainer mahogany often had marquetry decoration. Makers inserted per-made panels, mostly of oval shape, of marquetry or penwork enhanced marquetry, onto the box by cutting the veneer to the required shape. The most common designs were in the Neoclassical style of flora, urns, garlands, paterae, lyres, stylized baskets, birds and mythical beings.

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Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Shaken Not Stirred

QUESTION: A couple of years ago, I happened to be browsing in my local Goodwill Store and noticed an elegant cocktail shaker. Its chrome exterior glistened in the light of the florescent bulbs overhead. The price tag said $3. How could I resist? I couldn’t and didn’t. Now I have a small collection of this elegant barware. Since I’m not really a drinker, I don’t know much as mixed drinks, especially martinis. I’d like to know who made the first martini and how the cocktail shaker came into being. What can you tell me about these elegant items?

ANSWER: Cocktail shakers weren’t always this elegant. The first shakers were hollowed out gourds. Back in ancient Egypt and Mesopotamia they served to mix liquids together and as such were a practical accessory for books back then. But they lacked the style of 20th-century shakers.

Collectible cocktail shakers arrived just after the invention of the martini. However, there seems to be some controversy as to just when that happened.

It isn’t known for certain who first mixed and served the first martini. The best guess places this great event in late 19th-century America. There are several theories as to its origin. One  credits a bartender named Jerry Thomas at San Francisco's Occidental Hotel in the 1860s with mixing a special drink for a traveler bound for the nearby town of Martinez. But for some reason, Thomas didn’t include the recipe for a martini in America's first cocktail book, How to Mix Drinks, or The Bon Vivant's Companion, that he first published in 1862, until the 1887 edition.

There are those, however, who insist that the martini, consisting of equal parts of gin and dry vermouth, was a New York invention, probably first mixed at the Knickerbocker Hotel by bartender Martini di Arma di Taggia. But if both sweet and dry vermouth were used, then the honor could belong to William F. Mulhall, who served drinks of this sort at Hoffman House, also  in New York City, in the 1880s.

Ever since those first concoctions, martinis have been a stylish drink, appreciated not only for the kick they deliver, but also for the accessories used in their preparation and enjoyment. The first recipe calling for an accompanying olive can be traced to 1888, with the v-shaped martini cocktail glass appearing early in the 20th century. Bartenders who made early martinis  either stirred the liquors together or poured them from one glass to another to mingle them together.

By the time that Prohibition came to an end in 1933, people throughout the nation enjoyed drinking martinis. Often viewed as the drink of trendsetters and glamour seekers, martinis became associated with movie stars, including William Powell and Myrna Loy. People at the time saw martinis as very American, urbane, high-status, masculine, optimistic, and adult— a drink for the wealthy and the powerful, or those aiming for that status. 

Wealthy bon vivants of the 1920s shook theirs up in silver, while their less affluent counterparts turned to glass or nickel-plated models. By the following decade, mass- production made shakers a reality for those with fewer means, manufacturing the shakers in chrome-plated stainless steel.

Every maker of decorative home furnishings made cocktail shakers in the 1920s and 1930s, from Tiffany to aluminum manufacturers. While the Chase Chrome Company, Revere Brass and Copper, and Farber Brothers were leaders in the production of metal shakers, Hazel Atlas, Imperial, Duncan Miller, and Cambridge Glass made them of glass.

As the demand for barware grew in the 1930s, the designs became more varied. Makers produced sleek shakers from silver and silver-plate. Some even sported Bakelite handles and trim. The shakers themselves featured Art Deco designs, from airplanes to dirigibles, dumbbells to golf bags. Some even took on the shapes of modern buildings.

The golden age of cocktail shaker design came to an abrupt end with the beginning of World War II. Metals were earmarked for the production of armaments, and cocktail shakers no longer seemed a priority to a country at war.

While cocktail shakers can be found at garage sales, flea markets, and thrift shops for under $10, the better designed ones can sell for four or five figures.

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Monday, August 7, 2017

Periodicals of the Times

QUESTION: I have some old almanacs dating from the late 1700s and early 1800s. Can you tell me if these have any value, and if so, where might I sell them?

ANSWER: Unfortunately, just because something is old doesn’t make it valuable. This especially applies to old books and periodicals. Of course, different people have varied reasons for purchasing old periodicals such as these. Before we talk about their possible value, let’s take a look at how this type of printed matter got started.

During the Colonial period of the United States, people got their news from small one-sheet flyers and four-page newspapers. During the 1750s and 1760s, these often appeared only once a week, but as the population grew and towns developed, the daily newspaper came into existence. Printing technology also improved, allowing small publishers to print larger numbers of their papers.  Some of these early almanacs had a political bent. Such was the case for Porcupine’s Political Sensor, a short-lived monthly periodical succeeded by the daily newspaper The Porcupline’s Gazette, both published in Philadelphia by William Cobbett.

The Porcupine’s Gazette ran for 770 issues. Cobbett, the prolific, controversial and often contradictory, and anti-authoritarian writer, wrote under the pen-name of "Peter Porcupine." In 1796, a few years after he arrived in the United States, he began a monthly periodical called the Porcupine’s Political Censor, which he used to poke fun at his political opponents, usually those supporting a pro-French or Jeffersonian- Republican sentiment. Cobbett published his Censor until March 1797, when he replaced it with the Porcupine's Gazette. The first issue appeared on March 4, 1797, the day of John Adams’ inauguration. It had a subscription base of about 1,000 readers, which more than doubled within a few months. By November 1797, Cobbett was printing 3,000 copies a day.

Cobbett used the newspaper to support the Federalist party and to strike out against the French and their American supporters during the period of increased tensions between the United States and France. His contentious articles thrived in the politically charged atmosphere, though Cobbett often found himself on the receiving end of libel suits. He filled his newspaper with articles on national and local politics, foreign policy, news from Europe, and economics. Today, issues of the Gazette provide a rich source of information on daily life in Federal Philadelphia, with each issue containing commercial ads and notices, reports of arrivals in the port of Philadelphia, local prices for goods, advertisements for schools and doctors, and much more.

Another form of printed matter was the almanac. These were smaller in size and usually had a number of pages. They were the first periodicals and usually appeared less frequently, often just once a year. They contained articles of interest to the rural society, including information about the weather and farming techniques, plus some local stories.  A good example of this type of periodical was The Burlington Almanack, published by Isaac Collins.

Collins was a printer, publisher, bookseller and merchant in Colonial New Jersey. He’s most noted for this New Jersey Gazette and New Jersey Almanack, which followed his original one, The Burlington Almanack, a periodical for west-central New Jersey that ran from 1770 to 1777.

He was a firm believer in the freedom of the press and had even refused to reveal his source of a pseudonymous article even though the New Jersey legislative council demanded it.  He stood on his grounds as a faithful guardian of the liberty of the press and would not reveal his source unless the source gave him permission. He wrote many persuasive articles on the principle of freedom of the press

The Port Folio was another political periodical, published by Joseph Dennie,  an American author and journalist who was one of the foremost men of letters of the Federalist Era. He originally wrote for various periodicals in Massachusetts but in 1800 moved to Philadelphia to found the Port Folio, along with Philadelphia bookseller Asbury Dickens. Writing under the pseudonym Oliver Oldschool, Esq., Dennie composed and published in 1803 a scathing attack on Jeffersonian democracy, for which he was brought up on charges of seditious libel.

The last of your periodicals is The American Magazine, first published in the fall of 1757 and only running for 12 issues and a supplement.

While all of these periodicals are historically important, their condition is rather poor. Even more so than with other antiques, the condition of books and other printed matter is very important. Collectors seek out those in the very best condition. But that doesn’t say that no one would be interested in your items. All of them contain a wealth of information about life and culture, as well as the political climate, of the time. Historians and writers working on historical novels and history books would find their contents invaluable.

Selling your periodicals will be challenge, however. It will take a very special person to buy them and finding that person may be difficult.

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Tuesday, August 1, 2017

Mementos of Faith

QUESTION: I was browsing at a local flea market this past weekend and came upon a strange object. It seems to be some sort of wand. It has a turned wooden handle at the end of which is a round metal ball with tiny holes in it. The dealer said she picked it up at a church sale, so I bought it out of curiosity. Can you please tell me what this is and how it might have been used?

ANSWER: You are now the proud owner of an aspergillum or holy water wand, used by priests in Catholic and Anglican churches.

The priest uses an aspergillum to sprinkle holy water. It comes in two common forms—a brush that the priest dips in an aspersorium or bucket of holy water and shakes, and a silver ball with tiny holes attached to a stick.

Priests use an aspergillum for the Rite of Baptism and during the Easter Season. In addition, priests use an aspergillum to bless the candles during candlemas services and the palms during Palm Sunday Mass. At a requiem, if a coffin is present, the priest will sprinkle holy water on it. The aspergillum can also be used when blessing other things like houses, pets, crops, and such. The name derives from the Latin verb aspergere “to sprinkle.”

Ecclesiastical collectors search antique shops, flea markets and church rummage sales in the hopes of finding objects and furniture used in mostly Christian religious practices. Examples of monastic art, the delicate needlework of cloistered nuns, painted icons, carved candleholders, prayer beads and baptismal fonts originally intended for Christian houses of prayer often command astronomic prices from knowledgeable antique dealers. Cups, bowls, dishes, altar linens and the ceremonial vestments provided the finest examples of craftsmanship and art work.

But, what became of the thousands of beautifully wrought religious utensils, garments and symbols made obsolete by the sweeping changes in Catholic Church policies and the closures of Catholic churches beginning in the 1960s?

Back then, no one wanted the larger-than-life statues, banners appliqued with obscure religious symbols, heavy marble holy water fonts, old-fashioned altar pieces and paintings that graphically depicted the tortured deaths of religious martyrs? Since these weren’t quick moving commodities or even investment items for antique dealers, church basements, rectory attics, and parochial school storage areas began to bulge with hand-turned altar railings, huge sanctuary lamps, ornate metal reliquaries and the delicately carved doors of closet-sized confessionals.

Gradually, these outmoded, unwanted and useless items trickled away. Well-intentioned volunteer groups hauled much of this detritus back into the light of day and offered it at fund-raising events such as church rummage sales. When it became necessary to raze a church, the church hierarchy offered old stained glass windows and exquisite, glass door inserts to local antique dealers on a "make-an-offer" basis. Salvage companies carted off the carved lions, fancy wooden fretwork and the masonry arches from above church doors.

Starting in the late 1980s, interior decorators began to incorporate religious artifacts into the interiors of up-scale homes. This trend propelled discarded church surplus into the realm of high style. Pieces now command huge prices at architectural warehouses. Consider the wild popularity of angel items, for example.

Candleholders for weddings and christenings, long pine pews, processional crosses mounted on oak poles and even altars are showing up at large flea markets. Since most churches use flowers during the year for religious services, collectors can find all types of large altar containers and floor vases. Bibles, candleholders, altar linens and crosses of every size and material, as well as religious utensils, such as cut crystal cruets, used by altar servers to present the water and unconsecrated wine to the priest and easily identified by the incised crosses, wheat sheaves and grape cluster motif.

People buy religious items for three reasons. First, they might purchase a chalice because of its artistic beauty. Second, they want it because it evokes an emotional response from their childhood, a time when the family attended Sunday services. And third, some people collect Christian religious items with much the same interest that African cultural memorabilia collectors buy tribal masks. They don’t use the masks, but enjoy displaying them, researching them, and using them as unique decorations.

And don’t think religious objects appear for sale only in the U.S. Flea market vendors, especially in Mexico City, often have beautiful old vestments on display, as well as santos, carved wooden figures of saints. A small but unique item is the nicho, a three dimensional, recessed shadow box, dating back to the Spanish colonial period. Traditionally, people used nichos as portable shrines for patron saints or pictures of loved ones. The faithful often carry these with them when going door to door in their village asking for donations for the church.

Another item, often found hanging on the wall of a side chapel in a Mexican church, is the retablo. These paintings on tin depict a loved one who is sick or dying. Hanging their image in the church is a way of asking people to pray for them. Other retablos are beautifully handpainted testimonies of faith of the people of a particular Mexican village.

Religious objects mean different things to different people. Many mundane religious items retain value because many ceremonial practices have been eliminated from worship and therefore the elaborate trappings and religious utensils won’t be produced in the future.

tin plate frames, or nichos. These 3-d, recessed shadow boxes date back to the Spanish colonial period. Traditionally nichos were used as portable shrines for patron saints or pictures of loved ones. Frescos on tin depicting the 12 apostles, most likely from an altarpiece.

For more on collecting religious objects, read my previous blog on collecting old Bibles, "The Most Printed Book of All Time."

To read more articles on antiques, please visit my Web site.  And to stay up to the minute on antiques and collectibles, please join the other 17,000 readers by following my free online magazine, #TheAntiquesAlmanac.

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

It's a Small, Small World

QUESTION: I love old jewelry. Recently, I attended an antique show and one of the dealers had a case of old jewelry that got my attention. I was drawn to a beautiful old handpainted brooche. When I asked about it, the dealer said that it wasn’t painted at all but was made of hundreds of tiny glass pieces assembled in a mosaic scene. He said this method was called “micromosaic.” I wanted to buy the brooche on the spot, but it’s price was out of my range. Can you tell me what “micromosaic” is and a little about its history?

ANSWER: Sir Arthur Gilbert, a wealthy 20th-century collector, came up with the term “micromosaic” to describe Roman mosaics composed of little glass bricks called tesserae. Roman jewelers sold this type of miniature mosaic, made up of 1,500 to 5,000 pieces per square inch, to Victorian ladies on the Grand Tour in the early and mid-19th century.

While the most common forms were brooches and pendants, Roman jewelers also sold micromosaics in combinations called a parure, consisting of a matching necklace, earrings, brooch, bracelet and often a diadem or tiara. A variation on this is the demiparure which consists of as few as two matching pieces, such as earrings and a necklace or brooch. They also sold the pieces individually. Cemented to a glass, stone, or metal background and framed, the glass tesserae were originally so small that these pieces appeared to have been painted or enameled—that is until examined under a microscope.

The Victorians developed a passionate interest in the Classical Period of antiquities. They could purchase a brooche or other piece of jewelry containing an image of the Colosseum, the ancient ruins of Pompeii, or the beautiful scenery of the Italian countryside. To them, the jewelry acted as a wearable souvenir of their travels. Other popular motifs included miniature versions of ancient architectural mosaics, ancient wall paintings like those found at Herculean, King Charles spaniels, and mythological and religious figures.

Micro mosaic jewelry originated at the Vatican, which had its own secret formula for making glass-like enamel tesserae. During the mid-1770s, a few of the Vatican artists began making miniature mosaic art using tiny tessarae, creating the first micromosaics. They crafted miniature boxes, crosses, and jewelry to sell to visitors using typical Roman ruins and other familiar scenes of Italy.

The excavations at Pompeii, which had been completely covered by the volcanic eruption in A.D.79, uncovered a city that provided a glimpse of an ancient civilization almost beyond belief to the Victorian travelers. The mosaic columns, garden fountains and stone floors, some dating as early as the second century B.C.,were breathtakingly beautiful and found their way into the art of micromosaics.

Soon, commercial mosaic studios began opening in Rome, offering the rapidly growing tourist market micromosaic mementos of ancient Roman ruins. In the early days, the average European traveler could only afford micro mosaics set into pill boxes and paperweights, but wealthier travelers could afford elaborate pictures, tabletops, and jewelry.

Perhaps the most important designer of micromosiac jewelry was Castellani, an Italian workshop founded in 1814 and run by artisan Fortunato Pio Castellani and craftsman and Dante scholar Michelangelo Caetani. They took much of their inspiration from archaeological digs in ancient Rome and Egypt. Castellani’s artisans set their unusually fine micromosaic work  in gold frames, adorned with Etruscan filigree and granulation. Often, they would incorporate Latin sayings in their mosaic designs, using Roman capitals surrounded by geometric designs.

The work of the Castellani family greatly influenced another famous Italian jeweler, Carlo Guiuliano. During the 1860s, he set up shop in London. His work concentrated more on the reproduction of Italian Renaissance jewelry than Roman and Etruscan designs, fashioning his pieces to Victorian taste. After his death, his two sons, Frederico and Ferdinando, continued the business until it closed in 1914. A signed Guiuliano gold necklace, matching brooch and earrings, with Roman mosaic of putti, muses and flowers, is worth about $5,000 to $6,000 in today's market.

Crafstmen made their micromosaic jewelry similar to larger pieces. They glued small sections of fine rods of colored glass into patterns or pictures within a frame of hardstone or colored glass. They then set the whole piece in an outer gold or silver frame that gave added protection to the fragile center.

Besides ancient ruins, subjects included flowers, such as delicately shaded roses, lilies, violets and carnations which were symbols of love and friendship in Victorian times. Birds and insects were also popular. Many micromosaics portray the dove—a common symbol of purity and peace.

As the 19th century came to an end and more and more middle class tourists visited Italy, jewelers began to cut corners with their micromosaic pieces. They began using larger pieces of glass and shoddy workmanship in order to keep up with the demand for less expensive pieces. Many of the pieces available today come from the 1890s to the 1920s.

To read more articles on antiques, please visit my Web site.  And to stay up to the minute on antiques and collectibles, please join the other 17,000 readers by following my free online magazine, #TheAntiquesAlmanac.