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. 

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