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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Yippy, Hi, O

QUESTION: I moved to New Mexico about a year ago. Items from the Old West fill many of the antique shops, and I often see things like spurs and branding irons at flea markets. I’d love to start a collection of cowboy memorabilia, but I don’t have a clue as to where to begin.  How should I go about starting my collection.

ANSWER: As with any antique or collectible, a collection begins with one item. Most people don’t know they’re beginning a collection—it just happens. At first, your collection will grow randomly as you discover items here and there that attract your interest. First and foremost, that’s the key to starting a collection—collect what you like and can afford. But collecting cowboy memorabilia can be tricky.

Western relics from the frontier up to the time of the early rodeos hold a fascination for many collectors. The Old West came to an end around 1900. In the time after the Civil War, the West exploded with growth as hundreds of soldiers, drawn to the promise of a new start, traveled along the great trails leading to fields of gold and rich farming land. Many of them became cowboys.

Eventually, those who migrated to the West needed tools and gadgets to make their lives more comfortable. And cowboys needed equipment to help them in their work. Enough tools, gadgets, and conveniences had been invented or adapted to settlers respite from constant labor. Tools wore out and had to be replaced by better models.

Now these items are trendy collectibles for those with an interest in Western Americana. Included are spurs, branding irons, saddles, ropes, chaps, kitchenware, furniture, horse tack, cowboy hats and anything used on a ranch.

You don't want items that have been repaired. New stirrup leathers, for example, and cobbled-up, relaced or relined things are all negatives. Instead of polished spurs, look for that nice old patina.

Don't overdo and try to make an antique saddle like new. Some people think they do good jobs but, instead of springing for real sheepskin lining, they use synthetic, or they don't even attempt to match the saddle color, decoration or leather thickness.

Use common sense when shopping for cowboy items. A glaring repair is one that wasn't done well. You shouldn't see a well-done repair. It's that simple. The more invisible the repair, the better the job, which helps the piece hold its value. Find somebody who actually repairs old  saddles and riding gear. Many do a great job. Unfortunately, it may not be your shoemaker.

Cowboy gear has been highly influenced by Spanish riding gear since Spain controlled what’s now the Southwest and California. While the average working cowboy can’t afford to spend hundreds to thousands of dollars on his equipment, ranch owners and western riding afficionados can. Horse shows and rodeos all over the U.S. and Canada feature western riding events. The fancier the gear, the better.

Antique spurs come in all styles, from extremely ornate ones made of silver to going for over $2,000 a pair to plainer ones selling for just over $200.  Chaps aren’t as pricey, although a pair from 1900 can sell for over $800. Most people don’t realize how dangerous the work of a cowboy was and still is. Most wore leather cuffs to protect their forearms from rope burns. Simply tooled or leather ones go for around $100 while beautifully hand-tooled ones can sell as high as $850 and a early pair of studded cuffs can reach as high as $1,150.

Saddles are a cowboy’s stock in trade, his most prized possession. An early one from J.S. Collins & Company of Cheyenne, Wyoming, dating from before 1886, sells for $4,000 while an unmarked saddle sells for only $250. As with all antiques and collectibles, provenance means a lot.  Saddlebags are a necessary accessory for cowboys. Ones in good condition start at around $160 and climb to over $600.

Western horse tack includes bits and headstalls. Fancy bits are usually made of silver. Headstalls, or the set of straps that fit over a horse’s head, usually include bits attached to them. Prices range from around $160 to over $800 while bits alone can sell for as low as $95 to well over $1,200.

So you see, collecting cowboy memorabilia isn’t cheap. To create a good collection, you’ll have to spend a lot of money. Of course, living in New Mexico helps. Unlike collectors in other parts of the country, you’re in a location with a potential inventory of lots of items. But don’t hesitate to look online. However, because cowboy collectibles are pricey for the most part, there are a lot of fakes out there just waiting for unknowing novice collectors.

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 12, 2017

A Question of Value

QUESTION: I recently purchased a beautiful old armchair from a consignment shop. It looks a lot like a Philadelphia Chippendale chair but I can’t be sure. Also, how do I determine the value? Can you help me?

ANSWER: This is a common question. Since the Antiques Roadshow first appeared on the air on PBS, people have been obsessed with knowing the value of their belongings. In fact, that’s the first question most people ask, not what is it or how old is it?

In the case of this chair, knowing what it is and how old it is makes all the difference in its value. Looking closely, you’ll notice that the carving on the knees of the chair is rather shallow. That tells you that this chair was made in a factory and not by hand in a cabinetmaker’s workshop the way authentic 18th-century Chippendale chairs would have been made. Also, the wood is dark-stained to look like mahogany. In Colonial times, cabinetmakers would have used real mahogany wood and then given it several coats of varnish to bring out the smooth surface shine.

This chair is most likely from the early part of the 20th century and not even 100 years old, so technically it isn’t an antique. As a used pieced of furniture, its value will depend on what the buyer wants to pay for it.

While the answer to the question of value may seem simple, in fact, it’s far from it. What type of value–retail value, insurance replacement value, fair-market value, auction value, or cash value? In the end, each of these values will be a different amount. Other factors determining value are age and condition. So where to begin.

Let’s start with retail value. This is the price for which an antiques dealer expects to sell an item after marking it up from the price the dealer paid for it in order to make a profit. This amount can be anywhere from 20 to100 percent of the dealer’s purchase price.

The amount of money it would take to replace an item from a antiques shop or online if it were lost, stolen, or damaged is called the insurance replacement value.

The price that an item would sell for on the open market between a willing buyer and a willing seller is known as the fair-market value. This is also the value that’s used when an item is donated to a charity or is part of someone’s estate.

And when someone puts an item up for auction, the price that an appraiser feels the item should bring at auction, based on comparison of like items and recent other auction sales, is known as the auction value, but has nothing do with the actual value of the item.

However, being told something is worth a specific value is meaningless if the appraiser doing the appraisal has no knowledge of the item itself or the market for it. And auction prices, such as those eBay are not an indicator of true "worth," since many of these sales prices are inflated many times over in the heat of bidding up an item. And a verbal appraisal is worth nothing without a written appraisal to back it up, especially in the case of settling an estate. Only a written appraisal is legally binding in case of damage or loss.

To learn more about how to value your antiques and collectibles, read my article, What’s It Worth?,” in The Antiques Almanac

Tuesday, July 4, 2017

An American Grocery Tradition

QUESTION: I live in a small apartment and don’t have the room or means to collect a lot of antiques, especially furniture. But recently I became fascinated with the little tins that contained spices and other things that used to be sold in supermarkets. I’ve acquired some, like those from A&P and National. While I’ve heard of some of these brands, I’ve never seen or heard of the National brand. Can you tell me anything about it?

ANSWER: The use of little tins to hold spices goes back to the late 19th century. McCormick spices are widely known as a national brand, but each market and eventually supermarket had its own store brands, as just about all do today. So first let’s look at how these store brands got started.

It all began back in 1859 when John Huntingdon Hartford founded the Great Atlantic and Pacific Tea Company, commonly known as A&P. He peddled coffees and teas out of gold and vermillion horse-drawn wagons and tiny, yet opulent, Oriental-themed retail shops before gradually adding a few kitchen staples like flour, sugar, baking powder and spices to its product mix. He packaged the items he sold with the name of his company, A&P.

Clarence Saunder started the modern self-service supermarket concept in 1916 with his Memphis-based Piggly Wiggly brand. One of the earliest tea companies to break from tradition and cash in on this concept was Danish immigrant George S. Rasmussen's National Tea Company, founded in 1899. Others like Jewel Tea followed. In the beginning, each sold their own brand of goods, but as the small stores grew into supermarkets, each needed to fill their shelves, so they began selling private brands as well.

Early in its history, Chicago-based National built itself into an upper Midwest chain supermarket powerhouse across Illinois, Wisconsin and Minnesota by hitching its future on adopting Saunder's novel supermarket concept. By the end of World War II, National had grown into America's sixth largest grocery chain, comprising 880 small, neighborhood supermarkets sprinkled across Iowa, the Dakotas, Michigan and Indiana, but primarily concentrated around principal strongholds in Chicago, Rockford, Illinois, Milwaukee and Minneapolis/St. Paul.

But following founder Rasmussen's [936 death during the Great Depression, National lost its direction and floundered. Chicago millionaire printer John F. Cunco, who controlled a 26 percent block of stock in what he publicly noted was the worst chain-store property in the country, forced a March 1945 reorganization of the company's management to shake up the laggard, star-crossed chain. Cunco installed fifth-grade dropout-turned-grocery-whiz Harley V. McNamara as National's executive vice-president and Robert V. Rasmussen, son of the founder, as president. In 1947 McNamara was promoted to president, with Rasmussen becoming chairman.

Within a decade of his 1945 appointment at National, McNamara built the industry also-ran into the nation's fifth largest supermarket chain and 10th largest retailer, boosting sales from $107 million to $520 million and profits from $913,000 to $6.5 million by increasing per-store volume some 500 percent. He did this by closing its low-volume, low-profit traditional city neighborhood stores  in favor of the postwar shift to larger, modern stand-alone and shopping center supermarkets surrounded by acres of free parking.

But by far the biggest single reason for National's explosive growth during the postwar boom was McNamara's strategy of buying instant market saturation in new geographic areas though the acquisition of local chains in major markets. Still the chain continued to sell its National store brand and placed its items in these acquired stores. Sound familiar?

Eventually, the economy and over-expansion caught up to National while other, newer chains created competition it just couldn’t match. Today, even the trendiest supermarkets offer their own brand of many of the products they sell. And as supermarket chains get bought and sold, the store brands of the survivors endure. It’s an American tradition.

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

The Real McCoy

QUESTION: I love to collect cookie jars. I don’t have too many unusual ones in my collection, so you can imagine my joy when I came across this Mission Apollo cookie jar, made by the McCoy Pottery Company.  It’s one of the most unique ones I’ve seen. What can you tell me about this cookie jar and about the company that made it?

ANSWER: Cookie jars are a very popular collectible and have been since the 1960s when figural cookie jars reached their peak. You found one of the more unusual ones because not only is it one of McCoy’s best, it also commemorates the Apollo mission to the Moon in 1969. But the McCoy company in all its forms has been around for a very long time.

In 1848 William Nelson McCoy started a modest pottery business in Putnam, Ohio, producing simple, sturdy, utilitarian stoneware items for both local consumers and folks located further downriver from the plant. This began a four-generations family potting venture that would continue for over 40 years. As decades passed, the factory site shifted from Putnam to Roseville, Ohio, and the product lines evolved from utilitarian stoneware to useful earthenware table and artware. At its height in the 1950s, the Nelson McCoy Pottery Company employed 500 people whose combined efforts produced 500,000 pieces every month. The design department created up 50 new designs every year. Then potters produced them in three or more glaze colors.

Early on, the company produced mostly stoneware,  decorated with a variety of glazes. Glaze decoration on stoneware ranged from solid colors to blended and matt glazes. Common matt glazes included a brown and green combination, a dark green, and a white glaze color.

In 1886, J.W. McCoy, the son of W.N. McCoy, opened the McCoy Pottery Company, which over the next 12 years would merge with another company and sold to yet another.

J. W. McCoy, assisted his son, William Nelson McCoy, to form the Nelson McCoy Sanitary Stoneware Company on a site north of Roseville, Ohio, on April 25, 1910. The company employed a combination of local and English immigrant potters. Among the company's early wares were butter crocks, churns, jars, jugs, meat tubs, mixing bowls and storage containers. Other practical early products included foot warmers  and poultry fountains. Workers labeled early churns, jars and jugs on the side with the company's stenciled “M,” double shield and clover mark. By the 1920s, the company began putting its mark on the bottom of its pieces.

In 1926, the firm expanded its range of wares, producing earthenware specialties and artware for the first time. Among the new wares, glinting with the bright glazes popular during the period, were cuspidors, umbrella stands and jardinieres with pedestals, for which McCoy became widely known.

The 1930's brought a lot of changes at the company, including a change in name to "The Nelson McCoy Pottery Company." They also shed their old image of the producer of crocks and jugs and ushered in the new techniques, designs and products. In 1934, Nelson McCoy hired an English designer named Sidney Cope, whose designs were very distinctive.

By the end of the 1930s, the demand for jardinieres and large vases was decreasing. The Nelson McCoy Pottery Company turned its attention to the production of artwares, along with novelties like figural cookie jars, an idea that came from Duncan Curtiss, from the firm’s New York sales department. Curtisss felt that cookie jars shaped in the forms of fruit, flowers and characterizations would be well received by the public. And he was right.

By 1967, McCoy Pottery had begun to have financial problems because it couldn’t compete on the international import market. The Mount Clemens Pottery Company bought the company, and in 1974 , they sold it to the Lancaster Colony Corporation. In 1990 the McCoy Pottery ceased operation after a number of declining years of sales and profit. Today the company is best remembered for it's many collectible cookie jar.

Though McCoy marked most of their cookie jars with an incised “McCoy” on the bottom, there  are some exceptions. Over the years they used a variety of styles for their logo and a jar can often be dated by knowing which styles where used during each era. But be careful, as the McCoy mark is one of the most copied marks out there. Just because a jar or seller says it’s a "real McCoy" doesn't mean it is. Caution is always advised when it comes to the higher priced cookie jars.

Because of the prolific production of the company, collectors of McCoy pottery will be able to find pieces in a variety of designs and colors for a long time. This Mission Apollo or “Astronauts” cookie jar, produced in 1970, is one of the harder ones to find.

For more information on collecting cookie jars, read “Cookie Jars—Good as Gold” in The Antiques Almanac.

Monday, June 19, 2017

Memorabilia From the Golden Age of Flight

QUESTION:  This watch belonged to my father-in- law. I've looked and looked for a similar one, so I would know how to insure it or even if its worth insuring, but I couldn’t find anything. What can you tell me about this wristwatch and is it collectible?

ANSWER: Your father-in-law evidently was a pilot for American Airlines. As the captain of the plane, he would have logged more flying hours than his co-pilots. Back in 1939, flights over long distances took many hours compared to those of today, so he could have easily amassed a million miles or more.

It seems that American Airlines chose to award its loyal, long-time pilots with something to commemorate their years of service. In this case, they gave your father-in-law a Bulova Montgomery watch from 1938, inscribed on the back “American Airlines, Million Miler,1939,” along with his name.

American Airlines had contracted with the Bulova Watch Company to be their official timekeeping company. This particular model was a popular one in the Art Deco style, however, it originally had a leather band with three horizontal groves running its length which accentuated the design of the watch case, itself.

This watch belongs in the category of aviation collectibles which includes anything used by employees of the airline, that never gets into the hands of passengers. It’s these unique items---awards, plaques, objects from the boardroom, luggage tags, models, uniforms, etc.—that make up aviation memorabilia collectibles. Most collectors prefer older objects, though some focus on specific carriers to narrow their field.

The Golden Age of Flight might be defined as the period extending from the first flight by the Wright Brothers to about 1950 or so. Items in this category are more out of the mainstream than those in the airline collectibles category—and naturally are harder to come by.

From the start of regular U.S. passenger service in 1914, travelers have saved a wide variety of airline memorabilia. Generally, these items have to do directly with passengers. But there’s a lot of items,

When the early airmail routes began offering seats for traveling passengers, they often included free meals or refreshments to tempt big-spenders away from traditional rail transport. Full meals were first served during the 1930s on china made by well-known companies like Wedgwood, Hall, Syracuse, Royal Doulton, and Homer Laughlin. These sets, designed to be lighter than household dinnerware, often included the airline’s logo or name in their graphics.

Besides these china place-settings, airlines required a variety of glassware, flatware, napkins, menus, and other food service items. But passenger travel also necessitated the use of more disposable pieces, like safety-direction cards, amenities kits, swizzle sticks with the airline’s logo, blankets, headrest covers, and baggage labels, all of which people collect today.

Aviation collectibles also include any equipment used by airline personnel or ground staff, much of which is linked to certain carriers. Crew uniforms and badges or “wings” have been used since the earliest days of air travel, with specific designs to indicate employee positions from flight attendants to pilots. Early figural metal badges, like a Transcontinental Air Transport (TAT) pin with its Native American headdress logo, are sought for their rarity and their aesthetic appeal.

Many aviation collectors are former employees of the airlines. They would have had easy access to some of the materials, especially when things like maps and timetables needed to be updated. Old ones would have been thrown in the trash. Uniforms also needed to be updated from time to time, so older ones would again have had no use.

Collectors also favor certain defunct airlines, like Eastern, People, Braniff, and especially TWA and Pan Am. Pan Am was the trendsetter for the first half of the history of the airline industry. It was the first to offer long-distance, trans-Pacific travel on its Clippers and set the standard for design and style throughout the industry.

For more information on airline collectibles, read "Up, Up, and Away" in The Antiques Almanac and "Eating Above the Clouds" from the October 5, 2011 post of this blog.

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Ring the Bells for Bell Pottery

QUESTION: While out antiquing at a cooperative this past weekend, I came across a beautiful hand-painted, porcelain water pitcher decorated with flowers jammed on a shelf full of junk. The price was $10, so I figured for that price I could afford to buy it. It stands about 11 inches tall and has “BBC/CHINA” stamped on the bottom in black. I’ve never saw a mark like this before and the vase looked like a copy of more expensive Haviland china.

ANSWER: It seems that you’ve stumbled upon a rare piece of china made by the Bell Pottery Company of Findlay, Ohio. The firm only produced fine china rivaling French Haviland and Limoges porcelain for five years, from 1899 to 1904. And for that reason, the pieces are scarce. The dealer in that coop probably also thought it was a copy.

Located in northwestern Ohio, Findlay is better known for its glass. Bell located there because of cheap natural gas which it used to fire its kilns. The pottery began as a partnership between three East Liverpool, Ohio, men—brothers William M. and Edward F. Bell and Henry W. Flentke—who named their new company the Bell Brothers & Co. Pottery. Unfortunately, a series of disasters befell the young company, so it’s life was short lived.

Bell Pottery fired its first wares in July 1889, and by the following month 150 workers kept the dinnerware, toilet ware and hotel china rolling out. By March 1890, the pottery was running night and day and unable to keep up with orders. The partners added three new kilns to increase production.

The first problem occurred in January, 1891, when all the employees struck because of an attempt by the owners to reduce wages. By July, the Bells and Flentke settled the labor dispute and most of the old hands went back to work. But in March 1892, a shortage of natural gas became a problem, and the pottery had to rely on purchased gas from the city. In January 1893, the pottery converted to coal, which meant that all of their raw materials now had to be imported, and in May 893, a rumor that the plant would be leaving Findlay surfaced. That same month, a severe windstorm blew the roof off the decorating room on the third floor of the south building and destroyed six kilns north of the decorating room, causing over $8,000 damage.

In April 1894, the partners began to disagree and with the dissolution of the partnership, the court ordered the property to be sold. Flentke, then living in Evansville, Indiana, stopped the sale of the pottery. He resolved the differences between himself and the Bell brothers before the sale date, enabling the pottery to resume operations in August 1894, after a year of standing idle. But the peace lasted only two years, and in January of 1896, the court once again ordered the property sold for not less than $30,000. The  Bell brothers purchased the pottery for 36,450 and paid Flentke $7,295 for his share. By that time, the pottery hadn’t been in full operation for four years, and foreign imports had reduced the demand for its wares.

In 1898, the Bell brothers incorporated the firm as the Bell Pottery Company. A sherd from one of the early wares, marked “BBC/CHINA,” was discovered at an Ohio farmhouse site.

In August 1899, the Bell Pottery announced that it would begin producing hand-decorated white china, employing about 25 decorators. Common decorative motifs included currants, roses, blackberries, chestnuts and hops. By December, improvements included the installation of an oval dish jigger to enable the production of footed dishes for use as nut bowls or candy dishes.

Following a serious fire in April 1900, and more storm damage in June 1900, which knocked down both smokestacks for the decorating kilns, the Bell brothers erected a new brick building, and in 1901, issued additional stock with the intention of doubling the pottery’s capacity, employing 400. Their intention was to produce fine china that rivaled Haviland.

As often happens with small, young companies, they expanded too much and too fast. The Bell brothers planned on building a second factory in Columbus, Ohio, but William Bell died suddenly in 1902. His brother Edward took over management of the pottery, which soon became a union shop.

Edward had grand plans for the Columbus operation. He planned on 17 buildings with 12 kilns, to be doubled as the need arose. Lack of equipment caused more delays. By November 1904, he announced that he would move the Findlay operation to Columbus. The new pottery produced wares for about a year but by September of 1906, it was in the hands of a receiver.

Today, Bell vases and pitchers sell for $150 to $200 while smaller mugs and nut bowls sell for $50 to $75 each.

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

Blue Chip Beatles

QUESTION: I loved the Beatles when I was a kid. I had all their albums and even got to see them in concert where I purchased a signed photo of them. I was digging around in some old boxes yesterday and came across it. After they became superstars, I imagine any kind of memorabilia would be worth a good bit. Do you think I have an authentic autographed photo?

ANSWER: The fact that you have a photo is definite—in the early years, photos of the Beatles were a dime a dozen, as the old saying goes. But whether you have one with authentic signatures from all four of the Beatles is another matter altogether.

It’s been 53 years since the Beatles invaded our shores and turned the music world upside down. They seemed the prim and proper teenagers, dressed in black suits and ties, until they opened their mouths and hit their guitars and such.

In 1964, the Beatles became the rage of American popular culture, seemingly overnight. Due to a combination of timing, luck and the expertise of their manager Brian Epstein, they were able to take their music and communicate it to an audience of teens that wanted something different—and they got it.

In the beginning, John Lennon, Paul McCartney and George Harrison performed with Pete Best and Stu Sutcliffe in clubs in Liverpool and Hamburg. Though they were accessible to their fans, they weren’t pursued for autographs as they would be in the years to follow. As a result, finding authentic autographs of the original five Beatles together on a single item is the Holy Grail of Beatles memorabilia collecting.

After Sutcliffe's sudden death from a cerebral hemorrhage, music store owner Brian Epstein, who had a desire to manage a pop group, took over the group’s management. From late 1961 through 1962, John, Paul, George and Pete played gigs every night, often in clubs, meeting fans and signing autographs freely. Mostly, they signed on autograph book pages for girls. who carried them around in their purses. Fans went into shock when Epstein replaced Pete with drummer Richard "Ringo Starr" Starkey. The new Beatles began performing in large concerts, usually sharing the bill with several other acts, and their music and their lives changed forever. In fact, Epstein was only their manager for a little over a year.

The reality is that most Beatles autographs available today are probably not authentic and those that are sell for stratospheric prices.

So how would you know if you have a real autograph signed by one or more of the Beatles? The best advice is to speak to an expert.

There are several hundred authentic autographs that came from signing sessions in England. The first event was at Dawson's Music Shop in Liverpool on October 6, 1962, one day after the release of their first Parlophone single,“Lone Me Do.” The Beatles reportedly signed their autographs directly onto the records' labels. The second signing session took place on January 24, 1963, at Brian Epstein's music store in central Liverpool, coinciding with the release of their second single, “Please, Please Me.”

Again, the band applied their signatures to the records' labels. The third event, organized by the band's British fan club, took place December 14, 1963, in London. It was a signing session organized by the band's British fan club, and this time the Beatles signed some copies of the albums “Please, Please Me” and “With The Beatles.” Experts believes there are numerous authentic autographed records from these sessions that remain unaccounted for.

Many people may not know this, but "Beatles” signatures have been signed by many people over the years, sometimes on the Beatles' behalf. The group authorized many of the people working for them to sign the band members' signatures. Their roadies, Mal Evans, Neil Aspinall and Alf Bicknell, were all "signers." Aspinall, who became the Beatles' road manager in 1963, signed hundreds of items for the group. Fan club presidents and secretaries also signed many requests for signatures sent through the mail.

Most important with Beatles’ autographs is the item on which the autograph occurs. A signed record album cover from the 1960s, for example, is the most desirable, selling for between $20,000 and $60,000, based on a series of important criteria. But because signed record covers are so valuable, they’re usually what the most forged. “Sgt. Peppers Lonely Hearts Club Band” and “Meet The Beatles” are the most commonly forged LPs.

Original photographs are very rare and particularly prone to forgery. An authentic signed 8 by 11-inch photograph sells for $15,000 to $25,000, depending on the condition of the photo, the boldness and completeness of the signatures, the time period, and even the identity of the photographer.

Signed tour programs are also very desirable. Most examples from British concerts in 1963, when the Beatles were still accessible – especially from the Beatles with Roy Orbison tour—sell in the vicinity of $15,000-20,000. Autograph album pages are the most commonly encountered examples, selling for $8,000-10,000, depending on size, condition, whether they include drummer Pete Best or Ringo Starr, and whether or not one or more of the members has added "Beatles," "Love" or "xxx" to the autograph. When the word "Beatles" appeared, Paul McCartney was the one who penned it..