Monday, April 16, 2018

Restoring an Old Rocker

QUESTION:  This rocking chair was left at our house by one of the previous residents. We live in a very old home (built around 1910) which makes me think the chair might be old too. Can you tell me it’s age?

ANSWER: Your chair probably dates to sometime in the early 20th century. I'm sorry I can't be more exact. It looks like it had been painted and someone tried to strip off the paint. They probably found it too much of a job, so they just abandoned it.

You’ve probably heard on the Antiques Roadshow that refinishing antique furniture can diminish its value. But in a case like yours, it can only improve it.

Before you do anything, take time to inspect your chair for any identifying labels or marks that may help you research its origin. Check the overall condition of the wood. If a piece looks to be valuable, leave it alone, or have a professional do the work. In this case, you can do the work yourself.

I would suggest fixing the chair. The part that seems to be apart on the left side of the seat can probably be pressed down and reglued. Use a generous amount of Elmer's wood glue and several C clamps. Let it set for several days.

Wash the chair using a sponge with a scrubby side and a mixture of anti-grease dishwashing detergent and water. You can use this on your chair because it’s been fairly stripped down, but you wouldn’t use the scrubby sponge on a piece with a varnished or painted surface, no matter how bad it looks. Don’t get the chair too wet. Do one part at a time and wipe immediately.

After the chair dries, you'll want to sand it---first with a 150-grit sandpaper wrapped around a block of wood or one of those sanding blocks. Follow this with a finer grade.

Finally, you'll want to select a good paint. Although Home Depot has some great
one-coat paints, in this instance you probably should use an undercoat and a final coat. The wood is dry and has been through a lot, so you'll want to seal it. Frankly, you can paint it whatever color you like. If you can see the color of the old paint, you could use that as a guide. Choose a semi-gloss finish. And give the seat at least two coats.

Even if a piece isn’t a rare antique, it’s best to take the path of least resistance. Sometimes, all a piece will need is a good cleaning. Murphy’s Oil Soap will do a good job while giving the wood back some of its much-needed oil.

The joints of older pieces of furniture tend to dry out over time. This causes them to loosen. Using a little wood glue and a special glue applicator syringe, it’s possible to leave the piece intact while re-gluing them. You’ll also need some C clamps and perhaps one of those fabric clamps to hold everything in place while the glue sets.

If you have a piece of furniture with parts missing, you can try to replace them. However, this may take more woodworking skills than you possess. The best advice is not to try gerry-rigging a part if you can’t find a replacement and just leave the piece as is. Finer pieces may indeed be worth the cost of professional restoration.

If you can fix up this old rocking chair, it will make a fine addition to your porch and give you pleasure for years to come.

To read more articles on antiques, please visit the Antiques Article section of my site.  And to stay up to the minute on antiques and collectibles, please join the other 18,000 readers by following my free online magazine, #TheAntiquesAlmanac. Learn more about the Victorians in the Winter 2018 Edition, "All Things Victorian," online now.  

Tuesday, April 10, 2018

The Colorful Elegance of Murano Glass

QUESTION: Last year to went on vacation to Italy. While there, I visited Venice. One day, I took a boat over to Murano, a group of islands where they make glass. I saw a lot of tacky souvenirs, but then I happened on the studio of one of the glass artists. His work was beautiful. I think I’d like to start collecting Murao glass, but I have no idea where to start. What can you tell me about it? How collectible is it?

ANSWER: While Murano glass has been made for several centuries, collecting those antique pieces may be out of your league. But you could start a collection of pieces from the 1950s or sooner.

Murano glass objects have gone up in price in recent years. Those items made in the 1950s are especially popular because of their reasonable prices. Typically, Murano pieces are low bowls and ashtrays with abstract shapes. Some are rounded or blobbed, kind of like an amoeba. Others have pointed "fingers" in the design which reach outward or up in many directions. A few stand higher, with fingers reaching upward to form a handle for a basket. There are also bud vases. All are have deep, vibrant colors, and all are heavy and have polished smooth bottoms.

Murano is a series of islands linked by bridges in the Veneto, or Venetian Lagoon, less than a mile north of Venice. Today, it has a population of over 5,000 and is famous for its glassmaking. This reputation as a center for glassmaking came about when the Venetian Republic, fearing fire and destruction of the city's mostly wooden buildings, ordered glassmakers to move their foundries to Murano in 1291. The glassmakers of Murano have specialized in fancy glasswares ever since.

They developed or refined many glassmaking technologies, including crystalline glass, smalto or enameled glass, goldstone or golden glass, mullefiori or multicolored filement glass, or milk glass, and imitation gemstones made of glass. Today, the artisans of Murano still use these centuries-old techniques, crafting everything from contemporary art glass and glass figurines to Murano glass chandeliers, as well as tourist souvenirs..

Murano's glassmakers eventually became the island’s most prominent citizens. By the 14th century, glassmakers could wear swords, enjoyed immunity from prosecution by the Venetian state, and had permission for their daughters to marry into Venice’s most affluent families. But there was a downside. Glassmakers weren’t allowed to leave the Republic. Anyone caught exporting professional glasmaking secrets was put to death. Many craftsmen took this risk and set up glass furnaces in surrounding cities and as far afield as England and the Netherlands. By the end of the 16th century, three thousand of Murano island's seven thousand inhabitants were involved in some way in the glassmaking industry.

The late 19th century saw a resurgence in the art of glassmaking on Murano. By the turn of the 20th century, they only produced special pieces for La Biennale di Venezia, the Venice Biennale, an international art exhibition that began in 1895.

Following World War I, the glassmaking factories began normal production of non-traditional pieces. By the 1930s, they began producing pieces in the Art Deco style. This continued until the Biennale of 1942, at which the Murano glassmakers outdid themselves by exhibiting pieces in exciting shapes and colors that brought a lift to war-weary Venice.

Some of Murano's historical glass factories, including De Biasi, Gabbiani, Venini, Salviati, Barovier & Toso, Pauly, Berengo Studio, Seguso, Formia International, Murno Gladst, Simone Cenedese, Alessandro Mandruzzato, Vetreria Ducale, Estevan Rossetto 1950, remain well known brands today,. The oldest glass factory is Antica Vetreria Fratelli Toso, founded in 1854.

Overall, the Murano glass industry has been shrinking as demand has waned. Imitation works from Asia and Eastern Europe have stolen an estimated 40-45 percent of the market for Murano glass, and public tastes have changed while the designs in Murano have largely stayed the same. The difficult and low-paying nature of the work has decreased  the number of professional glassmakers in Murano from about 6000 in 1990 to fewer than 1000 today.

Today, about 50 companies use the Artistic Glass Murano® trademark of origin. Regionale di Veneto Law Numero.70, passed in 1994, introduced this trademark and continues to regulate it. While glass factories on Murano aren’t required to apply for the trademark and many choose not to, works that bear it have their authenticity guaranteed.

One of the main characteristics of Murano glass is its bubble-free quality. By adding fluxes and stabilizers such as soda and lime to silica sand, glassmakers can melt the glass at a lower temperature, making the glass homogeneous and bubble free. While basic Murano glass is colorless, the addition of small amounts of minerals, oxides, and chemical derivatives to the base composition of the glass powder gives it its brilliant colors.

Today, the island of Murano is synonymous with glass. Everything imaginable is made from Murano glass: wine goblets, vases, candlestick holders, miniature animals, paperweights, chandeliers, lampshades, dinner services, tiny pieces of glass candy, beads, and every kind of jewelry you can imagine. There’s tremendous variety in quality, price, and style. When it’s quickly turned out for a cheap profit among the tourist trade, it can look hideous. When it’s well done, Murano glass is exquisitely beautiful.

Learn more about Venice by reading "Venice Sets the Stage for Magical Moments" in the Travel Article section of my Web site.

To read more articles on antiques, please visit the Antiques Article section of my site.  And to stay up to the minute on antiques and collectibles, please join the other 18,000 readers by following my free online magazine, #TheAntiquesAlmanac. Learn more about the Victorians in the Winter 2018 Edition, "All Things Victorian," online now.  


Thursday, April 5, 2018

Idealized Scenes from Life

QUESTION: I’ve grown to love the scenes on English transferware. I’ve got a small collection that I add to from time to time. How did the makers of these wares know what sort of scenes to use to decorate their wares? Were they trying to illustrate stories or myths? Nearly all of the scenes on my pieces are rural. Is there a reason for that?

These are all good questions. The Victorians had a method to their madness, as the old saying goes. As it turns out, the scenes on your Staffordshire transferware pieces were a direct result of historic events and the lifestyles that people led at the time.

During the 19th century, Victorians began exploring the world around them.  Technological advances enabled them to make more ambitious voyages of discovery. And as they journeyed farther from home, their views of the natural world changed. This changing perspective reflected in the decorations of 19th-century ceramics ranging from early historical and romantic Staffordshire transfer printed wares to late 19th-century majolica. Idealized wilderness and pastoral scenes could be found on all types of vessels and dishes.

By this time Americans had begun to develop a different view of the land. To the Puritans, wilderness had been considered a land of devils and demons, a domain to be feared. But the Victorians reveled in the beauty of nature.

The American frontier had been pushed westward. Following this trend, Staffordshire potteries began producing transfer printed landscapes illustrating the popular, romantic ideal of nature. Favorite spots such as Niagara Falls and Newport, Rhode Island, began to accommodate sightseers. And the Romantic Movement of the first half of the 19th century influenced the images on ceramics, from country scenes to floral motifs.

The Victorians developed a passion for natural history. They chronicled what they found in journals--the world's flora, fauna, and sea life—and created museums for their discoveries, erecting home conservatories, and published illustrated volumes on the natural sciences. Staffordshire artists thumbed through botany texts and visited botanical gardens and zoos, sketch-pads in hand, for inspiration. Some of this fascination may be seen in the border designs created by several of the potters of  Staffordshire wares and the floral motifs seen in Flow Blue.

Another reason for the popularity of a romanticized image of woodlands, mountains, sandy shores, and even idyllically situated American towns may be traced to the actual dirtiness and difficulty of life in both rural and urban landscapes.

Scenes on dinnerware were pristine by comparison. Several of the city views do show cattle and sheep in the foreground, but the cleanliness even of those scenes provided at least temporary escape from the dirtiness of the real world.

Another result of the Victorians’ fascination with nature, plus the Victorians’ obsession with death, was the Garden Cemetery Movement, born in Boston. In 1832, a group created the Auburn Cemetery, a large rural cemetery in rolling countryside with plenty of room for adequate burials. The site was also far enough away from the city to make grave robbery difficult. They adorned the  garden cemetery landscape with sculptures and artful groupings of trees and flowers to combine a necessity for more burial land with a desire to revel in nature.

The sylvan burial plots brought families to the large, rural cemeteries on picnics. Young couples took long strolls and individuals wandered among sepulchers and statuary to seek out moral lessons and inspiration. In essence, the new cemeteries became the first American public parks—places to commune both with nature and the dearly departed.

This combination of movements explains several unusual historical Staffordshire prints. Neither George Washington nor Benjamin Franklin would have ever expected anyone to spend time ruminating over his grave. Yet Enoch Wood & Son in both the illustrations of “Franklin's Tomb” and `Washington's Tomb” depict General Lafayette reclining by urn-capped tombs drawing inspiration from the resting places of his departed allies. Edward and George Phillips, two other noted artists of the time, show a young couple gazing at a tomb in an open glade in their print “Franklin.” This example appeared on a handless tea cup. Enoch Wood & Sons produced the most unusual print and the one that illustrates romantic death, titled “Washington Standing by His Own Tomb With a Scroll in His Hand.”

So the illustrations on pieces of Staffordshire aren’t random but related to the everyday lives of the people who used those dishes and other ceramic vessels.

Learn more about the Victorian obsession with death by reading "When Death Came A-Calling" in The Antiques Almanac.

Monday, March 26, 2018

A Clock for Everyone's Mantel

QUESTION: I fix up old houses. While cleaning up a house to resell recently, I discovered a heavy clock with pillars on the front that looks as if it had seen better days. At first I was going to toss it in the trash, but when I told my wife, she said to bring it home. When she saw it, she gasped, for it looked like one her grandfather had when she was a child. She loved hearing it chime when she went to visit. The clock needs some restoration, but generally the case is sound. I took it to a clockmaker friend of mine who told me that he could probably get it running and would restore it for several hundred dollars. I’d like to know what kind of clock this is, who made it, and how old it is. Also, would it be worth restoring or should I just look for another one for my wife?

ANSWER: From the photograph you sent, it looks like you have an Ansonia cast-iron clock from about 1904. The company, based first in Derby, Connecticut, then in New York, produced thousands of clocks, but their cast-iron models were some of their best sellers.

The Ansonia Clock Company was one of the major 19th century American clock manufacturers. It produced thousands of clocks between 1850, its year of incorporation, and 1929, the year the company went into receivership and sold its remaining assets to   the Amtorg Trading Corporation in Soviet Russia.

In 1850, Anson Greene Phelps formed the Ansonia Clock Company as a subsidiary of the Ansonia Brass Company with two noted Bristol, Connecticut, clockmakers, Theodore Terry and Franklin C. Andrews. Phelps had been operating a brass rolling mill, the Phelps, Dodge, & Company, which he formed with two of his son-in-laws. To help build up his brass business, Phelps decided to get into the clockmaking business as a way to expand the market for his brass products. It was a shrewd business move, for it allowed him to profit from the manufacture of a clock’s raw components and the finished product as well.

Terry and Andrews thought it was a good business decision for them as well, giving them ready access to large quantities of brass for use in clock movements. They agreed to sell Phelps a 50 percent interest in their clockmaking business in exchange for cheaper brass clock parts and moved their entire operation to Derby, Connecticut— a portion of which was later named Ansonia after Anson Phelps—where Phelps had his brass mill.

By 1853, the firm had begun to produce cast-iron clocks to meet the needs of middle class families for clocks that looked elegant but were affordable. That same year, Ansonia exhibited their cast iron cased clocks, painted and decorated with mother-of-pearl, at the New York World's Fair in Bryant Park. Only two other American clock companies exhibited at the fair, which opened on July 4, 1853—the Jerome Manufacturing Company of New Haven, Connecticut, and the Litchfield Manufacturing Company of Litchfield, Connecticut, known for its papier-mache clock cases. (Learn more about papier-mache products by reading “Beauty and Strength from Paper” in The Antiques Almanac). Unfortunately, Phelps died a rich man a month after the Fair closed.

Ansonia created their cast-iron clocks to imitate elegant ones being made in France. Their clocks, however, because they made them of cast-iron, were less costly to produce, thus less expensive to buy, making them affordable to middle class homeowners. The paper dial used on this type of clock gave the impression of more expensive enamel ones very convincingly. While some bases were left sold black, others had the look of faux marble, simulating the French ones. Ormulu figures and mounts, on those clocks that had them, had a Japanese Bronze finish. The clocks had an eight-day movement, meaning they only had to be wound every eight days.

An antique cast iron mantle clock with gold gilt accents, manufactured by the Ansonia Clock Company of New York, circa 1904. This elegant mantle clock features a frame inspired by Greek architecture with a top cornice that has a gold bow and ribbon motif in the middle and two reeded columns on each side of the clock face, also with gold gilt details to the top and bottom. The central clock face is white with black roman numerals and hands, which is marked with the maker’s mark near the bottom and is then surrounded by a gilded border with an egg and dart design. The entire clock sits on a solid rectangular base.

This clock is what Ansonia named the “Boston Extra.” Made in 1904, it was a mantel clock with a visible escape movement, enabling the owner to watch the clock ticking, and chimes on the hour and the half hour. It features a pie-crust bezel, four green, full rounded pillars on the front and is very heavy, weighing in at 24 pounds. In 1904, the Boston Extra sold for $11.15 to $14.25. Today, one of these in good condition can sell for over $600. So, yes, it would be good to have it restored.

Learn more about clocks by reading #TheAntiquesAlmanac's Glossary of Antique Clock Styles.

 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 18,000 readers by following my free online magazine, #TheAntiquesAlmanac. Learn more about the Victorians in the Winter 2018 Edition, "All Things Victorian," online now. 

Wednesday, March 21, 2018

Who Will be Mother?

QUESTION: I love to drink tea. In fact, I began drinking it when I was about 10 years old. I love the aroma and the steam that comes from the cup as I put it to my lips. Of course, as a tea afficionado, I always brew loose tea. But what I can’t stand are the bits of leaves that always seem to end up in the bottom of my cup. A tea strainer is a necessity if brewing tea from leaves. I always had a simple one that fit over the top of my cup and let me pour the tea through it, collecting the dregs in the strainer as it went. Last year, I attended an antique show and treated myself to a beautiful sterling silver tea strainer. I love it. So much so that now I’d like to begin collecting them.                        

ANSWER: People have used tea strainers for centuries. During the 18th and 19th century, when having tea was an important social event, silversmiths made tea strainers for wealthy tea drinkers. Since no one liked fishing loose tea leaves out of their teacup, strainers became a popular tea accessory. Tea strainers enabled hostesses to filter the leaves out while pouring tea in each person’s cup.

After it’s introduction to Europe, tea drinking began to inspire elaborate serving conditions. Unlike in China or Japan where tea drinking had a religious significance, tea drinking rituals in the West emphasized tea’s exotic origins and the server's wealth. Over time, an assortment of locked storage containers, special serving vessels, measuring spoons and other implements became part of any tea service. And, unlike the Chinese, who simply dumped tea into the pot and poured carefully, Europeans devised strainers to remove not only the leaves but also stems, grit, and other debris often found floating in the tea.
By the 17th century, strainer spoons to remove the "motes" or tea debris with perforated bowls and pointed ends for clearing teapot spouts became common.

Toward the end of the 18th century, the silver cup strainer, adapted from wine strainers and from larger two-handled silver punch strainers used to extract lemon and orange juice used in other beverages, appeared. For tea, the cup strainer had one or two handles of silver or other material and fit over the cup to filter tea as it was poured.

By the 19th century silver craftsmen experimented with various designs to secure the cup strainers to the teacup. Some had two handles that straddled the cup while others were made with clasps to clip onto the edge. They also developed stands to support the strainer when it wasn’t in use and to catch the drippings.

Teapot spout strainers, featuring a pierced basket or bucket-shaped strainer with long pins to be inserted in the spout, were another tea trapping device developed in the late 18th century. As a person poured the tea, it flowed through the strainer and into the cup. Although they dripped tea on tablecloths, their dainty appearance and intricate piercings made them a highly desirable tea accessory. Spout strainers were more fashionable in Europe than in America and silver manufacturers created many novelty forms such as helmets, buckets and shells.

In the mid 19th century a new development in brewing came in the form of the tea infuser, also known as a tea ball. Tea balls are perforated, spherical containers made in two parts and connected either by a hinge and clasp or by screw threading.

Tea balls not only trapped tea leaves, but contained them within the pot for the brewing. Tea balls weren’t made in America until after 1880, but they quickly became the most popular tea strainer form used in America. More than 60 prominent American companies, Gorham, produced them in quantity and in whimsical shapes, such as grapes, walnuts, lanterns, faces, teapots, shells, cauldrons, fish, Earth, and the Liberty Bell.

There have also been square tea balls, both an oxymoron and a rarity. A particular favorite is a curled-up dormouse, recalling the unfortunate creature dunked into the teapot during the Mad Hatter's tea party in the children's classic, Alice in Wonderland.

The last form of tea strainer to be invented appeared in England in the 1890's and quickly found its way to the United States. The stick infuser or spoon infuser, consists of a covered spoon-like bowl perforated on both lid and bowl. Like tea balls, tea drinkers filled the stick infusers with tea leaves, but unlike the tea balls, people used them to brew one or two cups of tea. Like the tea ball, the stick infuser gained popularity in the United States. Again. manufacturers presented numerous design variations, replacing the spoon bowl with a ball or heart shape and using different handle forms made of bone, porcelain  and wood. Some stick infusers with upright handles resemble pipes, while others resemble a pair of tongs or an egg on a stick.

The development of the tea bag signaled the end of mass production of silver tea strainers. Today, the tea strainers of the 18th through the early 20th century stand as valuable reminders of the importance of aesthetic pleasure in a social ritual—the serving of tea.

Learn more about the tea experience by reading "The Origin of Afternoon Tea" in #TheAntiquesAlmanac and also about sterling silver tea sets in my Google+ Collection, Antiques and More.

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 18,000 readers by following my free online magazine, #TheAntiquesAlmanac. Learn more about the Victorians in the Winter 2018 Edition, "All Things Victorian," online now.  

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

Glassware for the Rich and Famous

QUESTION: My mother was extremely proud of her good glassware and china, which originally belonged to her mother. She would lovingly take it out of her china closet for each special holiday dinner. Boy, how those glasses did shine. I’ve always wondered about what type of glassware this was. My grandmother particularly liked cut glass, and these glasses—water goblets, wine, champagne, etc—had delicate floral designs cut into them. Some told me that they may have been made by the Seneca Glass Company, but I’m not sure. What can you tell me about this company and the glassware that they produced?

ANSWER: From the photo you sent, I can definitely tell you that your grandmother had fine taste, for these pieces are definitely by Seneca Glass. By the early 1920s, the company offered a new line of deep-etched glassware. Your grandmother’s pieces most likely were in this group.

In 1891, a group of immigrant glass artisans and businessmen from Germany's Black Forest region settled in Seneca, Ohio. Seeking to take advantage of the opportunities available in the American glass market, they purchased the former Fostoria Glass Company factory and established the Seneca Glass Company, named after the county where the factory stood and the local Indian tribe of the same name.

But the lure of cheap natural gas, free land, abundant quality glass sand within easy reach, and a city subsidy was too much to resist, so the owners moved the company to Morgantown, West Viriginia. in 1896. They kept the name and over time, the firm
developed a reputation for creating some of the finest lead crystal glassware available anywhere.

Embassies used it, Eleanor Roosevelt bought it, and Americans with finer taste and a pocketbook to match loved it. Seneca produced quality, delicate, mold-blown glassware in a wide variety of forms for the next 86 years. It became known for its striking cut glass patterns. Some of the patterns were so complex, they took an experienced cutter 12 hours to complete. Later years, company owners boasted that Seneca had more than1,000 cut glass patterns available.

Popularity grew quickly as the word got out in social circles. Large-scale retail stores all over the country began ordering Seneca products. Over the years, Seneca Glass received orders from B. Altman's and Tiffany's in New York, Marshall Fields and Company in Chicago, Neiman-Marcus in Dallas, the Ritz Carlton Hotel in Boston, and the Sheraton Palace Hotel in San Francisco. Philadelphia's highly regarded John Wanamaker Department Store, placed an order for 218 dozen glassware items, all cut with the crest of the president of Liberia which the company planed to sell him for his executive mansion.

Not to be outdone by private organizations and foreign powers, the U.S. State Department ordered Seneca crystal for 30 American embassies and consulates in 1944 and 1945.

While searching for glassware for a special occasion, Eleanor Roosevelt chose stems in an obsolete Seneca pattern, being sold at the reduced price of 25 cents each. These she chose over patterns offered by the store's staff from famous firms, expensive glassware items priced in excess of $50 a dozen. Mrs. Roosevelt used her bargain Seneca glassware at a State dinner held in honor of England's King George VI.

Mrs. Roosevelt wasn’t the last person associated with the White House to order Seneca glass. Ladybird Johnson purchased peach champagne glasses in Seneca’s Epicure pattern for Vice President Lyndon Johnson. Each glass had the vice president's initials, LBJ, and an Open Road Stetson hat, her husband's trademark headgear, etched on it.  Jacqueline Kennedy also used Seneca glassware in the White House.
Today, Seneca glassware is highly prized and actively sought by an ever-growing group of collectors with impeccable taste.

Seneca’s glassware was handmade and mold blown. Glass blowers produced such glassware by first gathering a small, molten blob of glass on the end of a hollow pipe or rod. By plowing through the pipe and manipulating it in certain ways, a glass worker would pre-shape the slowly cooling, glowing mass. The blower then inserted the pre-shaped "gather" into an iron mold—a mold that a skilled Seneca artisan had produced. Blowing into the pipe forced the hot glass to conform to the shape of the inside of the mold.

Depending on the specific object being produced, several operations could follow. For example, on stemware, the molding of the stem and foot might be done with forms and paddles or an intricate stem might be produced using a mold. Once the glass worker formed an item, he annealed or reheated it and allowed it to cool gradually and uniformly to avoid uneven cooling that would shatter the glass in an oven called a lehr. Other workers would then send the cooled object on for finishing, including the removal of excess glass, grinding and polishing.

One glass decorating technique, the “optic,” directly involved the shape of the interior of the mold itself. The interior of the mold could be shaped in panels, pillars, spirals, swags, and other interesting shapes. These shapes become part of the shape of the body of the glass formed in the optic mold. Seneca used this technique to create a variety of pleasing optics.

Seneca also produced wares decorated with needle and plate etchings and sandblasted decorations. Artisans also used other decorative techniques, including banding and metallic decorations. While elegantly cut lead crystal would be what came to consumers' minds first when they thought of Seneca glass, the company did offer a variety of colored glassware. The quantities of colorful glasses and tablewares available fluctuated over the decades, reflecting changes in public taste. Colored glassware would be offered in larger amounts during the later years, beginning around the 1960s.
Some of Seneca's specific glassware forms included goblets, sherbets or champagnes, cocktails, oyster cocktails, sherries, wine glasses, clarets, and cordial glasses classified as "stemware;" ice teas, hi-balls, old fashioneds, juices, and water glasses grouped as "tumblers;" along with a variety of decorative glassware" or "artware," including bowls, candle-holders, and vases.

 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 18,000 readers by following my free online magazine, #TheAntiquesAlmanac. Learn more about the Victorians in the Winter 2018 Edition, "All Things Victorian," online now. 

Wednesday, March 7, 2018

Souvenir of a Loved One

QUESTION: I recently attended an antiques show at which one of the dealers had a beautiful display of antique hair mourning jewelry. What can you tell me about this unique art form? Is it still practiced today?

ANSWER:  Mourning jewelry was a souvenir to remember a loved one, a reminder to the living of the inevitability of death, and a status symbol, especially during the Victorian Era.

The earliest examples of mourning jewelry originated in Europe in the 15th and 16th centuries. People often set black-and-white enameled heads or skulls into rings and brooches. In the 17th' and 18th centuries hair became a status symbol to present mourning rings to friends and families of the bereaved.

Mourning jewelry reached its peak popularity in England after the death of Prince Albert in December 1861. Queen Victoria went into deep mourning, which her subjects imitated when faced with their own bereavement:.

Hair, a symbol of life, has been associated with death and funerals in many cultures Egyptian tomb paintings portray scenes showing pharaohs and queens exchanging hair balls as tokens of enduring love.

But it was in Sweden that commercial hairwork began centuries later. The craft of hairwork spread throughout Europe. Jewelers made beautifully detailed landscapes and floral designs using human hair. In England in the late 18th century they bordered early neo-classical style pieces with seed pearls surrounding the words "In Memorium" and a panel of simple, twisted hair. During the 19th century, Queen Victoria presented Empress Eugene with a bracelet of her own hair, and the Queen recorded in her diary that the Empress was "touched to tears."

The 1853 Crystal Palace Exposition featured a full line of hair jewelry, as well as a full tea set made entirely of hair. By the 1850s hair was an expensive commodity with a variety of commercial uses. Every spring hair merchants visited fairs and markets throughout Europe where they offered young girls ribbons, combs and trinkets in exchange for their hair.

Hair jewelry caught on in the United States by the 1860s. During the Civil War, soldiers would leave a lock of their hair with their families as they left home to join the fight. Upon the soldier's death, the family would often have the hair made into a piece of mourning jewelry or placed in a locket. These were gold or black, and were sometimes engraved with "In Memory Of" and the initials or names of the deceased.

Beginning in the 1850s through the 1900s, hairwork became a drawing room pastime. Godey's Lady's Book and Peterson's Magazine gave instructions and patterns for making brooches, cuff links and bracelets at home. To further the craze for the home-based craft, Godey's reminded readers that while mourning etiquette said that women should only wear jet jewelry for first mourning, for the second mourning, a woman could wear a brooch and bracelet made of hair with a gold and black enamel clasp. Even a watch chain or plain gold belt buckle was permissible for widowers to wear if made of hair or if it enclosed hair.

Women did hairwork on a round table. Depending on the height of the table, it could be done sitting or standing. Women's work tables were usually 32 or 33 inches high, and men's tables stood 4 feet. Preparation was important. The hair had to be boiled in soda water for 15 minutes. It was then sorted into lengths and divided into strands of 20 to 30 hairs. Most pieces of jewelry required long hair. For example, a full-size bracelet called for hair 20 to 24 inches long. Sometimes horse hair was used because it was coarser than human hair, and thus easier for beginners.

Women made almost all hairwork around a old or firm material. Snake bracelets and brooches, spiral earrings and other fancy hair forms required special molds which local wood turners made for them. The women attached the mold to the center hole in the worktable. Then they wound the hair on a series of bobbins. They  attached weights to the braid work to maintain the correct level and to keep the hair straight. When they finished and while the work was still around the mold, they removed the hair and the mold, boiled it for 15 minutes, then dried and removed the hair from the mold. It was then ready to be sent to a jewelers for mounting.

The use of mourning jewelry slowly died out at the beginning of the 20th century. Hair jewelry and other forms of hairwork were particularly popular during the 19th century but are still practiced today as a home craft.

 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 18,000 readers by following my free online magazine, #TheAntiquesAlmanac. Learn more about the Victorians in the Winter 2018 Edition, "All Things Victorian," online now. 

Wednesday, February 28, 2018

Giving New Life Through Restoration

QUESTION: For years I also collected antiquities. Now I have a particular passion of writing boxes or old English boxes. I enjoy to restore by myself. I beg to ask for an opinion. I attach here two photos. On the lid, at the corners, something is missing! Do you think the angles were made of brass? Or in wood ... or mother of pearl? I doubt it because the thickness is a lot (about 3 mm.) Then I had never seen the brass corners that did not go vertically.

ANSWER: The corners on your box would have been brass, so if you can find someone to make these for you, they should be easy to replace. Be sure to glue them with a strong glue. Box makers usually used brass on the corners of better boxes to protect them while traveling. Victorians took writing and other types of boxes along on long trips so that they could communicate to their friends and family back home. It’s not unusual to find boxes from this time period in poor condition. Restoring them is not as difficult as doing furniture but can be challenging.

Antique boxes acted as portable storage workhorses for past generations. They served a variety of purposes from document boxes in which to keep valuable papers to writing boxes for correspondence to dressing boxes for grooming while traveling to tea caddies for storing precious tea. Victorians, in particular, loved boxes and people from all classes used them.

Unfortunately, people handled boxes a lot, so most antique ones aren’t in the greatest shape. Some boxes may have sat on a table in front of a window in the sunlight and became faded over time while others suffered from neglect.

A good example is an Indian sadeli mosaic-covered writing box that outlived its usefulness. Someone decided that instead of tossing it out, they would give it to their children to play with. The children drew all over the beautiful mosaic with crayons and someone did a bad job of pasting a piece of chartreuse felt over the writing surface on the inside. Needless to say, this restoration wasn’t a walk in the park.

Unlike antique furniture made before 1830, many antique boxes will benefit greatly with even modest restoration. And since they’re not large, it doesn’t take a lot of materials or time to restore them.

Antique boxes are valuable because they’re antique and looking old isn’t bad. And while restoring a box may make it look better, it may reduce its historical value. Boxes from the 18th century should only be restored by a professional restoration expert. In most cases, they need to be conserved, that is the deterioration of the box should be halted. Restoration is a more radical solution and often includes refinishing the wood and replacing metal parts. So the question to be asked is whether the box is in bad enough shape to render it less valuable than its being restored?

While restoration usually begins with reviving the wood of the box’s body, it also takes in exterior decorations made of ivory, tortoiseshell, and mother-of-pearl. These materials are all fragile and should be checked for cracks, abrasions, and chips. Metal ornamentation may be missing, dented or creased, or it may just need polishing. Veneers and inlay are much more difficult to repair and may require professional assistance.

Antique boxes also contain small and sometimes specialized hinges and locks that must also be examined for repair, restoration, or replacement. Finding replacements can be a real challenge since many of these may have been made for a particular box.

But minor conservation can do wonders for an antique box. First, tighten any loose screws and gently tap in any loose nails. Repair loose joints with wood glue. Finally, clean the box with a soft lint-free cloth dampened with Murphy’s Oil Soap solution. Do a small area at a time and use another lint-free cloth to dry it. After letting the box dry thoroughly for 24 hours, give it two coats of Minwax past wax to protect the exterior. Follow the directions on the can.

Dust the interior of the box with a soft shaving brush. If the wood is bare, as with some inner areas of the box, switch to a solvent-based cleaner. Use a toothbrush or toothpick to clean out any crevices. If this has markedly improved the box’s appearance then it may be a good time to stop.

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 18,000 readers by following my free online magazine, #TheAntiquesAlmanac. Learn more about the Victorians in the Winter 2018 Edition, "All Things Victorian," online now. 

Monday, February 19, 2018

Give Me Your Tired and Your Poor, Yearning to be Free

QUESTION: My mother collected Statue of Liberty memorabilia for a long time. She began when she was only a teenager with a little statue she bought on a class trip to New York. Seeing Lady Liberty up close inspired her to buy the statue. After that, she couldn’t get enough of her.  Her collection began with canceled stamps showing the Statue of Liberty which she tore off of envelopes. She added a postcard of the statue that a friend sent to her. Over the years, she amassed a collection of over 100 items, all depicting the Statue of Liberty.  My mother is gone now, but her collection lives on. I’d really like to know more about these collectibles and the Statue of Liberty, itself. Can you help me?

ANSWER: Statue of Liberty memorabilia is probably one of the more popular collecting categories. While some items are worth just a few dollars, others can reach four figures.

Although the French Government conceived the Statue of Liberty as a symbolic gesture, no one had any idea at the time just how important a symbol she would become. Frederic Auguste Bartholdi, her creator, envisioned her as a monument to the mutual love of the French and Americans for liberty, and as propaganda against the then conservative leaders of the French government. It was thought that building a huge monument for the United States would forever link that powerful democratic country, with France, and cement that country's new Third Republic. But not everyone shared Bartholdi's vision.

Fundraising, especially in the United States, proved difficult. The Statue of Liberty Committee had planned to unveil that the statue would be unveiled in 1876 for the Centennial of American Independence. But sluggish fundraising delayed the gift for at least 10 years. This resulted in a variety of wonderful memorabilia. Most souvenirs sold for pennies to dollars each to raise money to complete the big statue and bring her to America. The French, on the other hand,  raised money to complete the building of the statue piece by piece while the Americans raised  funds to complete the gigantic base. By 1884, The French had completed Miss Liberty an d were ready to ship her. But the American Committee was short the $100,000 needed to complete her pedestal. To raise additional monies, the Committee commissioned more than 100,000 models which it sold by subscription, and at Macy's and other department stores. Each $1 purchase added to the Liberty coffers. It sold some 12-inch models for $5. Today, the small metal models sell for $250 to $300 and the large ones from $500 to $1,000.

Meanwhile, the French disassembled the statue into over 300 pieces and shipped it in more than 200 wooden crates. The arm bearing the torch filled 21 boxes alone. On June 17, 1886, she arrived. Workers placed the statue on the immense supporting monument designed by Richard Morris Hunt. On Oct. 28, 1886, the Committee officially installed and dedicated the Statue of Liberty. There was a huge inaugural parade and President Grover Cleveland delivered a dedication address. Collectors covet the programs, tickets, and invitations from this gala occasion.
During the earliest Liberty years, many souvenirs appeared. During the 10 years before Liberty arrived, many publishers printed lithographs, including early pieces of sheet music. There are stereopticon photos from the 1876 Centennial Exhibition in Philadelphia of Liberty’s right arm, which appeared at the fair, showing visitors standing on her torch. These souvenirs now sell for $125. Visitors to the fair could purchase large, finely detailed bronze medals, crafted in Paris.

In 1878, Liberty had no body, but when Europeans gathered in Paris for the 1878 Expeditions, the head had been completed and was displayed on the banks of the Seine. Visitors filled her crown and for several francs, could take home a lovely 4-inch Liberty bust, a few of which found their way to America and today sell for upwards of $500. Other French souvenirs included tasseled, silks and ribbons made for the fair by B.B. Tilt & Son in Paterson, New Jersey.

For a substantial contribution to aid French fundraising, up to 100 zinc statuettes went on sale, including a small edition, finely detailed statuette in terra cotta, hand-finished by Bartholdi, himself. During the 1986 Liberty Centennial, several of these reached more than $100,000 at auction. In the United States, a New Jersey furniture maker named Follmer, cast a few detailed zinc statuettes carrying 1883 and 1885 patent dates. These are quite rare, much more so than the American Committee Models. Follmer's statuettes feature the original Hunt pedestal design that the Committee ultimately abandoned for the one actually under Liberty's feet. Today, these statues sell for over $5,000.

The 20th century witnessed many more souvenirs—some as works of art, some as advertising, some as satirical commentaries, some as cheap souvenirs for the hordes of tourists who visited her. Practically everything had the image of Miss Liberty reproduced on it, including clocks, lamps, statuettes, compacts, cigarette cases and boxes, cookie tins, pitchers, spoons, china and even trade cards satirizing Liberty in order to sell a product. Though some of objects were beautifully done, others appear cheap with muddied facial features and poor workmanship. But even the cheap ones are collectible.

During the Liberty Centennial in 1986, there was a rush of interest in Liberty collecting. At that time, there were thousands of souvenirs and "limited editions" sold, including watches, medals, limited-edition plates, rugs, cookie jars, mugs, and jewelry.

Most collectors agree that, although items are becoming more scarce, there are still plenty of them out there. Statue of Liberty items usually appear at flea markets. Since many aren’t that large, collectors often find them in glass cases with other small items.

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 18,000 readers by following my free online magazine, #TheAntiquesAlmanac. Learn more about the Victorians in the Winter 2018 Edition, "All Things Victorian," online now. 

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

Ways to Say I Love You

QUESTION: I’ve loved Valentine’s Day ever since I was in the first grade and my new best friend gave me a valentine card at our class’s party. Every year I would go out of my way to give really different cards. I became so inspired that I began looking for valentines all year round. I’ve amassed quite a collection of old valentine cards, but I really have no idea how the tradition of giving valentine greetings began. Can you help me put this in perspective?

ANSWER: Sending valentine greetings actually began during Roman times. Legend says that Valentinus, a Roman priest who encouraged young couples to many, sent the first valentine in 270 A.D.  Unfortunately , the reigning Emperor, Claudius II, disapproved of Christianity, and of marriage, in general. It was the Emperor's belief that married soldiers would soon forget that their primary allegiance should be to their Emperor, rather than to their wives.

The Emperor ordered Valentinus beheaded for disregarding his orders to cease his actions. Legend also says Valentinus befriended the blind daughter of the jailer, and apparently restoring her sight. In turn, the young woman brought food and delivered messages to him during his incarceration. On February 14, the eve of his execution, he wrote her a note of appreciation, signing it "From your Valentine."

A forerunner of the valentine greeting began in the 16th century with religious mementos of the Sacred Heart created in convents in France, Germany and Holland. Carefully crafted on parchment or vellum, the designs emulating the hand-tatted lace of the period.

The custom of Valentine's Day as an occasion developed gradually as the techniques of making paper advanced.  In 1834, the English made improvements to lace paper, originally  made in Germany and Austria in the early 19th century. The openwork, cameo-embossed lace paper allowed English publishers to publish elegant love letters, romantic stationery and valentines for an increasing number of customers.

These were miniature works of art which incorporated the use of ribbons and scraps, pearls and Dresden die-cuts. Some were movable or perfumed, while others had tiny mirrors attached to them to reflect the image of the beloved.

People made most early American valentines by hand. The influence of the immigrant German cultures resulted in folk-art paper items known as scherenschnitte, meaning paper cutting, and fraktur, or paper designs incorporating German calligraphy and imagery.

By the early 20th century, several publishers of lithographs and wood engravings began making  valentines in New York City. But it was Esther Howland who many consider the mother of the American valentine.

The Howland family operated the largest book and stationery store in Worcester, Massachusetts. As a student at the Mount Holyoke Female Seminary, Class of 1847, she had been exposed to annual Valentine's Day festivities, which were later banned by the college for being too frivolous.

After graduation, Howland received an elaborate English valentine from one of her father's business associates. She convinced her father to order lace paper and other sup-plies from England and New York City. With these she made a dozen samples, which her brother added to his inventory for his next sales trip. When her brother returned with more than $5,000 in advance sales, she established a cottage industry where ladies would have materials and samples delivered and picked up at their homes, thus allowing them to mass-produce valentines.

While Esther Howland was not the first to create valentines in America, she did popularize the lace valentine, enabling her to earn $100.000 a year. In 1881, she sold her valentine business to an associate, George Whitney, whose company patterned many of their cards on the Howland model.

Another Victorian passion was the postcard. Publishers produced popular designs in huge quantities, since Valentine's Day was a big card-sending holiday at the time. But despite the availability of a wide variety of valentine cards, the demand for beautiful and unusual images has driven up the price for collectors. Ordinary postcard valentines can sell for $5 or less, but quality valentine postcards tend to sell for $8 to $10 each.

Production of valentine postcards ceased by World War I. It wasn’t until the 1930s that folded cards were became popular. The 1960s produced cards with red satin hearts, sachet centers, and simulated jewels and lace.

Today, Valentine's Day is the second largest holiday for giving a greeting card, with approximately 180 million cards exchanged. About 30 percent of all modern valentines are for meant for romantic love relationships. Valentinus would be proud.

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 18,000 readers by following my free online magazine, #TheAntiquesAlmanac. Learn more about the Victorians in the Winter 2018 Edition, "All Things Victorian," online now.