Tuesday, September 17, 2019

The Great Padlock Mystery

QUESTION: I’ve found a Victorian padlock that I’d like to buy. Does it go back to the mid- 1800's during Queen Victoria's reign? It’s quite large, measuring 6 inches high x 4 inches wide x 1.5 inches deep. Was that a common size? The seller told me it’s called an "Iron Smoke House Lock," What does that mean?

ANSWER: The lock you’re thinking of purchasing isn’t all that rare. During the Industrial Revolution in England, Midland lock makers produced them by the thousands.

As England moved slowly from an agrarian culture to an industrial one towards the end of the 18th century, locksmiths began designing locks that cost less and had more strength. But burglars kept one step ahead of them. Up to that time, only wealthy merchants could afford strong locks.

The average person had to make do with poorly made penny padlocks to protect his coal storage bin from thieves, and homeowners wanted locks for their doors and windows. With an increase in thievery, people demanded locks for everything from Bibles to carriages to schools and warehouses.

The answer to everyone’s needs was the padlock, a portable, if not somewhat cumbersome, device to protect against forced entry.

Robert Barron invented the double–acting tumbler lock in 1778. The tumbler or lever falls into a slot in the bolt which will yield only if the tumbler is lifted out of the slot to exactly the right height. Barron’s lock had two such levers, each of which had to be lifted to a different height before the bolt could be withdrawn.

Jeremiah Chubb improved on Barron's lock n 1818 . He incorporated a spring into the lock which would catch and hold any lever that had been raised too high by a lock picker. Not only did design add an extra level of security, it showed when someone had tampered with the lock.

Early padlocks offered  convenience since people could carry them and use them where necessary. Historians believe the Romans were the first to use padlocks.  Roman padlocks had a long bent rod attached to the case and a shorter piece which could be inserted into the case. There’s also evidence that merchants traveling the ancient trade routes to Asia and China used them to protect their goods.

Padlocks have been used in China since the late Eastern Han Dynasty, dating from 25–220 AD. Early Chinese padlocks were mainly "key-operated locks with splitting springs and partially keyless letter combination locks. Chinese craftsmen made them from bronze, brass, silver, and other materials.

Padlocks became known as “smokehouse locks” because people commonly used them to lock their meat in their smokehouses to prevent poachers from stealing it. Designed in England and formed from wrought iron sheet and employed simple lever and ward mechanisms, these locks afforded little protection against forced entry. Contemporary with the smokehouse padlocks and originating in the Slavic areas of Europe were "screw key" padlocks. These opened with a helical key threaded into the keyhole. The key pulled the locking bolt open against a strong spring. Improved manufacturing methods allowed the manufacture of better padlocks that put an end to the Smokehouse around 1910.

Around the 1850s, "Scandinavian" style locks, or "Polhem locks", invented by the Swedish inventor Christopher Polhem, became a more secure alternative to the prevailing smokehouse and screw locks. These locks had a cast iron body that was loaded with a stack of rotating disks. Each disk had a central cutout to allow the key to pass through them and two notches cut out on the edge of the disc. When locked, the discs passed through cut-outs on the shackle. The key rotated each disk until the notches, placed along the edge of each tumbler in different places, lined up with the shackle, allowing the shackle to slide out of the body. The McWilliams company received a patent for these locks in 1871. The "Scandinavian" design was so successful that JHW Climax & Co. of Newark, New Jersey continued to make these padlocks until the 1950s.

Contemporary with the Scandinavian padlock, were the "cast heart" locks, so called because of their shape. A significantly stronger lock than the smokehouse and much more resistant to corrosion than the Scandinavian, these locks had a lock body sand cast from brass or bronze and a more secure lever mechanism. Heart locks had two prominent characteristics: one was a spring-loaded cover that pivoted over the keyhole to keep dirt and insects out of the lock that was called a "drop". The other was a point formed at the bottom of the lock so a chain could be attached to the lock body to prevent the lock from getting lost or stolen. Cast heart locks were very popular with railroads for locking switches and cars because of their economical cost and excellent ability to open reliably in dirty, moist, and frozen environments.

Around the 1870s, lock makers realized they could successfully package the same locking mechanism found in cast heart locks into a more economical steel or brass shell instead of having to cast a thick metal body. These lock shells were stamped out of flat metal stock, filled with lever tumblers, and then riveted together. Although more fragile than the cast hearts, these locks were attractive because they cost less. In 1908, Adams & Westlake patented a stamped & riveted switch lock that was so economical that many railroads stopped using the popular cast hearts and went with this new stamped shell lock body design. Many lock manufacturers made this very popular style of lock.

Each lock consisted of a body, shackle, and a locking mechanism. The typical shackle is a “U” shaped loop of metal that encircles whatever is being secured by the padlock. Most padlock shackles either swung away or slid out of the padlock body when in the unlocked position. Improved manufacturing methods allowed the manufacture of better padlocks that put an end to the Smokehouse around 1910.

To read more articles on antiques, please visit the Antiques Article section of 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 western antiques in the special 2019 Spring Edition, "Down to the Sea in Ships," online now. And to read daily posts about unique objects from the past and their histories, like the #Antiques & More Collection on Facebook.

Wednesday, September 11, 2019

Calling Mr. Watson

QUESTION: I have one of those large black rotary telephones. Are those collectible now that we have such advanced technology?

ANSWER: You might want to consider holding on to your black phone for a while as they and many 20th-century models are coming into their own as collectibles.

“Mr. Watson, I need you.” When Alexander Graham Bell, the Scottish-born American inventor, scientist, and teacher of the deaf who’s most noted for his invention of the telephone in 1876,  spoke those now famous words to his colleague during the first telephone call on March 10, 1876, he had no idea where that would lead us. Today, many people have smart phones that do just about everything except make a cup of fresh coffee, although I suspect they’ll soon offer an “app” for that, although national brand coffee shops now have apps to order and pay for coffee right from a smartphone.

But what about all the phones that came before the smart ones. The long-time standard Western Electric 302 black rotary phone, introduced in 1937, is probably the most well known. Some people have game rooms in their homes in which they install a working pay phone. These workhorses, once owned by AT&T, were meant to last a long time.

When people think of old telephones, however, they usually imagine the Western Electric 102 candlestick-type phone, which went into use in 1927. Today, you can purchase an original for a modest $469 at the TelephonyMusuem online.

In the 1930s, Western Electric produced 202 model with an oval base, and later a sleeker handset, now selling for $289. Both the 102 and 202 models required a ringer, which customers had to buy separately. The large rotary 302 phone was the first to house the ringer in the phone. It was made from metal until World War II and sells for $199, then from plastic, selling for $169, until the late 1950s. Western Electric stamped the date of production on the base of its phones, so it’s easy to tell the age of the unit.
One of the big problems in collecting old phones is that many of the more unique ones have been reproduced, in working order, of course. While the originals sell for as much as $500, the reproductions sell for half that. Vintage phones from the 1920s can sell for as much as $2,000. So it’s important to watch for reproductions being sold as originals, especially on auction sites like eBay.

And don’t forget the sleek and colorful Princess phone, introduced in 1959, and the Trimline phone with dial in the handset, dating from 1965. Both replaced the stodgy desk phones of the past. Rotary dials continued to be offered even after touch-tone came out because phone companies charged an extra fee for touch-tone service and many customers didn't want to pay for it. The hotter the color of a Princess phone, the higher its price. The more common colors—pink, red, peach, and black—in touch or rotary sell for about $200 each while green, beige, white, aqua and yellow command prices of $150 and up.. The most common Princess phone in ivory sells for no more than $119. Most of the Princess phones require a $30 transformer to light the dial.

Collecting old phones isn’t difficult, but like clocks, you can have just so many in your house.

To read more articles on antiques, please visit the Antiques Article section of 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 western antiques in the special 2019 Spring Edition, "Down to the Sea in Ships," online now. And to read daily posts about unique objects from the past and their histories, like the #Antiques & More Collection on Facebook.

Thursday, September 5, 2019

Do Old Stock Certificates Have Any Investment Value?

QUESTION: I’ve been unpacking some old boxes of things left to me by my father. In one of them I discovered some old stock certificates. Are they worthless or do they have investment value?

ANSWER: Old stock certificates, especially those from defunct companies, are only worth the paper that they’re printed on. But some, especially those with signatures from famous people, famous companies, or those involved in major scandals, can be worth quite a bit.

What exactly is a stock certificate? A stock certificate is the physical piece of paper representing ownership in a company and includes the number of shares owned, the date, an identification number, usually a corporate seal, and signatures. They’re larger than a standard letter-size piece of paper and many also have elaborate engraved designs to discourage counterfeiting.

Stocks represent partial ownership in a company. Today, most companies keep records of ownership electronically but some allow their shareholders to request a paper version. Each certificate starts out as a standard design to which the company adds the date of issue, identification number, and other information, including the printed signature of the chief executive. Executives on older certificates signed them in ink.

According to financial historians, partnership agreements dividing ownership into shares began to be used in northern Italy during the Middle Ages. However, these early shares were only intended to be in effect for a short time and only included a small group of people. Eventually the idea of shareholding spread to Belgium, and it’s believed the concept caught on in the trading town of Bruges. It was here that the idea of the stock exchange originated.

Eventually, shareholding took its next big step in Amsterdam in the early 17th century when the Dutch East India Company, formed to encourage trade in spices from Indonesia, issued shares that were tradable. The company compensated its shareholders well for their investments. In 1621, the market saw the issuance of shares for the Dutch West India Company, and much financial innovation ensued. Stock exchanges in the New World didn’t appear until 1790 in Philadelphia and then two years later in New York.

Collectors love canceled stock certificates because of their beautiful and elaborate graphics, as well as their connection to the historically significant companies they represent.

Old certificate values vary depending on their rarity, beauty, collector interest, historical importance, and  autographs, and industries for which they’re issued. Like all collectibles, supply and demand determine value.  Interesting pieces create a lot of demand while supplies vary.

What affects the market for stock certificates? Above all, general economic conditions tend to influence the prices of old stock certificates because many collectors of them are also involved in the real stock market. The law of supply and demand, as with other collectibles, governs this market as well. And Internet auctions have increased not only the availability of old stock certificates but their ease of purchase.

What determines the pricing of old stock certificates? Two important price boosters are signatures of important people and newly formed companies. For example, a Standard Oil Company certificate that John D. Rockefeller signed is worth nearly $8,000 today. Prices have leveled off in the last few years and finding rare certificates at reasonable prices has become a real challenge.

As with postage stamps, pricing can be affected by the rarity of a certificate—the rarer it is, the higher the price. An autograph of someone famous of the stock company with which he was involved also raises the price. Whether a stock certificate has ever been issued also influences it value, as does its age and decoration. The location and history of the company don’t affect the price of a certificate as much as, say, its condition and whether its cancelled or not.

However, no one point is always in control of a certificate’s value. For example, a Cody-Dyer Arizona Mining & Milling stock certificate, from a failed gold mine, signed by Buffalo Bill Cody currently is currently valued at approximately$4,000, while a rare unsigned Buffalo Bill's Wild West Co. stock certificate sold for $20,000 at auction in 2008.

As with any collectible, you should always collect stock certificates that are in excellent condition, have been issued, and are uncancelled. You should also collect certificates from industries that you’re familiar with or in which you’re interested. Early companies issued their stocks in small quantities, thus limiting the number of their certificates in today’s market. But there are lots out there for sale at low to reasonable prices.

To read more articles on antiques, please visit the Antiques Article section of 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 western antiques in the special 2019 Spring Edition, "Down to the Sea in Ships," online now. And to read daily posts about unique objects from the past and their histories, like the #Antiques & More Collection on Facebook.

Wednesday, August 28, 2019

So You Want to Sell Antiques

QUESTION: I love antiques and have been collecting them for over 25 years and have so many things that my house is bursting at the seams. I’m ready to retire and have been thinking about opening my own antiques shop. Is this a good idea?

ANSWER: Lots of people dream about going into business for themselves. For some, it seems like a way out of the corporate rat race. For others, something to do in retirement. And while an antique shop may seem like an uncomplicated, quiet business to get into, it’s far from it. Remember, first and foremost, selling antiques is a business—with the emphasis on selling.

Many people think because they’ve been buying up a storm at yard sales and flea markets that they can turn around and sell what they’ve bought. Sure, you can put some items up on eBay to sell, but to be successful at selling on eBay, you first have to know what people are buying. Salesmanship is a skill that needs to be learned. And loving antiques has nothing to do with it. In fact, the worst reason to open an antique shop is that you love antiques and have been collecting them for years.

Most people come to consider opening their own antique shop by chance rather than on purpose. More often than not, their road to becoming their own boss begins at local yard or garage sales where they buy items that they like for their home. Eventually, they find themselves buying similar items and eventually begin a collection. This collection leads to exposure to other items which leads to another collection and, soon, another. By now their house is so full that in order to continue collecting, they must resort to selling some of the pieces that perhaps aren’t as good at their own yard or garage sale.

While yard and garage sales are where many antiques and collectibles enter the market, prices can be limited here because buyers are looking for bargains. So ambitious wannabee dealers seek out flea markets where they cannot only sell their items for higher prices but are also exposed to collectors seeking those items. Thus, begins the route to becoming an antiques dealer.

Unfortunately, that isn’t the best route, and it’s why most new dealers fail in their first year or two. While they may get a better feel for what to buy for their collections, they don’t learn to buy salable items—ones that their customers won’t be able to resist.

Many dealers begin by selling antiques part-time. Some of them use this as a sideline business to supplement their regular job. Others see it as a profitable hobby, a way to have the fun of working with antiques and make a little money on the side. A few dealers started out buying and selling antiques simply because their own collections became too large.

To have a successful antiques business, whether selling in a shop, at shows, flea markets, or online, you need to know what people want to buy and then buy those items. What usually happens is that the items people want to buy aren’t the ones they, as dealers, personally like to buy, so they avoid them. For instance, today, the trend is towards collecting items from the 1930s and 1940s. The wannabee dealer, however, likes Victorian antiques and can’t stand Art Deco.

Remember, selling antiques is a business. That means keeping records, learning how to display things so they sell, and developing a network of sources to buy new inventory. The IRS doesn’t look kindly on people who just play around.

For those who really wants to sell antiques, it’s best to start small. Renting a space at a small flea market is informal enough to provide exposure to customers, yet simple enough that prices remain reasonable. A table and a few boxes of items will go a long way. After selling at several of these small sales, often at church festivals or community days, the novice antiques dealer can move up to larger flea markets. If still successful, then the next step is to perhaps inquire about selling at an antiques coop. Here, a dealer rents a space in an indoor antiques mall and shares the duties of staffing the mall.

What many dealer wannabees don’t understand is that it’s vitally important to rotate their inventory. Antiquers tend to go back to the same flea markets or antique malls over and over. If they see the same items for sale each time they go, they’ll just walk right on by. The trick is to rearrange the items on sale and exchange some for new ones. By rotating items in and out of display, it looks like the dealer has more for sale.

Before attempting to open an antiques shop, a dealer needs to have been in the business for some time. As a shop owner, there are many more responsibilities, as well as higher rent to pay. So it’s imperative that he or she understand the business, have good contacts, and a ready market for their antiques.

The best way to develop an understanding of this business is to talk to dealers. Many will be willing to share their knowledge and expertise of the business.

To read more articles on antiques, please visit the Antiques Article section of 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 western antiques in the special 2019 Spring Edition, "Down to the Sea in Ships," online now. And to read daily posts about unique objects from the past and their histories, like the #Antiques & More Collection on Facebook.

Tuesday, August 20, 2019

Button Up!

QUESTION: I love to linger at the cases of “smalls” at flea markets and antique shows. In fact, that’s where I first spotted an unusual little item made of sterling silver that looked as if it might have been used as a serving utensil on a Victorian table. To my surprise, the dealer said that it was a buttonhook. We don’t see these at all today, but back in the latter part of the 19th century, they were as common as shoelaces are today. Needless to say, I bought it and ever since have been on the lookout for others. So far, I’ve only found two. What can you tell me about buttonhooks and where might I be likely to find them?

ANSWER: Buttonhooks do appear from time to time at garage sales, flea markets, and antique shows. But you have to know what you’re looking for and have the patience to search for them. They’re one of those items that may be best found on the Internet where you can search specifically for them. But before you start your search, why not learn a bit about them?

Although unknown now by most people, back in the 1890s buttonhooks were a common household tool. The earliest known reference to the them dates to 1611.

In a way, buttonhooks resemble crochet hooks with handles that come in various sizes, shapes, colors and designs. They’ve been made from abalone, agate, antler, bone, brass, copper, glass, gold, gold-plate, gutta-percha, hard rubber, horn, ivory, leather, mother-of-pearl, pewter, plastic, porcelain, silver plate, sterling, tortoiseshell, wood, celluloid, bakelite and pot metal.

Buttonhooks became popular in the 1860s for buttoning shoes which commonly had between two and 26 buttons, and by 1875 "buttonhook" was a household word with almost every child having his or her very own.

The button-up shoes of the time were generally constructed of leather or serge with hand-sewn buttonholes. The buttons them-selves were frequently sewn on with heavy twisted thread which offered flexibility when sing the hook to pull them through the holes. The button-up styles lost popularity during World War I when lace-up shoes and boots became available for men and shorter, open-styled shoes for women appeared in stores.

Children's leggins or gaiters as they were often referred to were very popular in the early 1900s. Constructed of leather or cloth, the apparel rose to the child's knee or above and buttoned the full length of the garment. Needless to say, mothers loved  buttonhooks saved them time and effort.

Long gloves were another often seen accessory during this time and the number of buttons varied with the style with some exceeding 20 buttons per glove. Since many styles were designed to fit tightly on the arm, it often took 30 minutes to button them up. Many of the early buttonhooks were actually glove hooks which were often more decorative in design but not as sturdy.

Detachable collars first appeared in 1819 so that instead of changing shirts, one could simply switch collars and use the same shirt for several days. The collars, made of starched linen, rubber or celluloid, had buttonholes in the front and back attached by studs.

 Buttonhooks came in a variety of designs. One common design was a handle similar in shape to a knife handle into which a steel hook on a long slender shaft was inserted. To use the implement on a shoe, a person grasped the handle, then inserted the steel hook through the eyelet, grasping the button and pulling it through. Unfortunately, aggressive use of the buttonhook often did more harm than good as it could tear the buttonhole or pull out the button.

They were about the size of a fork although they ranged in size from less than an inch to around 2 feet long. Many had a small ring on the handle end, so a lady could attach it to her chatelaine at her belt or wear it on a necklace. Some of the folding glove hooks also had rings and could be attached to a watch chain as a fob.

Fine hotels placed plain buttonhooks in their rooms for their guests to use. Dresser sets often included plastic or celluloid hooks.

Generally, buttonhooks were in fashion from around 1880 to 1915. The Victorian love of invention led to numerous buttonhook patents and attempts to combine the buttonhook with other useful objects such as the curling iron, can opener, tobacco cutter, nail file, shoe horn, scissors, and pen knife. Folding and retractable buttonhooks were available. Most inexpensive folding ones were made of steel.

To read more articles on antiques, please visit the Antiques Article section of 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 western antiques in the special 2019 Spring Edition, "Down to the Sea in Ships," online now. And to read daily posts about unique objects from the past and their histories, like the #Antiques & More Collection on Facebook.

Thursday, August 15, 2019

A Question of Time and Age

QUESTION: I have inherited a very plain tall clock supposedly made in Philadelphia. It doesn’t seem to have any markings on it. How can I tell how old it is?

ANSWER: To tell the age of a tall-case clock, or grandfather clock as it’s more commonly known, you need to first look at the dial. The early ones at first showed 24-30 hours. Owners wound them at the end of that time by pulling the driving cord down.

In the earliest clocks—those dating from the 17th to early 18th centuries—the hour circle appears in a silvered ring with a doubled circle appearing within the numeral circle.

Many old clocks have only an hour hand. Some have both an hour and a minute hand. Even though clockmakers had used minute hands since 1670, most clocks, except the most expensive ones, didn’t have them. Early tall-case clockmakers gave their hands a fine finish and often made them the most decorative part of the clock. The hour hand was often the most elaborate and the second hand, if the clock had one, was sometimes long and graceful. Later, when clockmakers introduced white dials, the hour and minute hands became even more ornate and some even had a smaller second hand.

Originally, tall-case clockmakers made their dials of metal with a matt center circle. By the mid-17th century, they added ornamentation around the edge of this matted center, engraving birds or leaves to form a border showing the days of the month. They brightly burnished this date ring as well as the rings surrounding the winding holes. Silvered dials, containing no separate circle for the hours and minutes, appeared in 1750. Instead of a matted center circle, these dials featured an engraved overall pattern in the center circle. Many early tall-case clocks also had a small separate dial showing the days of the week.

Dials remained square until the beginning of the 18th century, at which time clockmakers introduced the arched dial. Dutch clockmakers found good use for this extra space, filling it with decorative figures and animated devices such as a see-saw or a shipping rolling at sea. They also added a moon dial, thereafter common on many tall-case clocks, which displayed the phases of the moon under the dial’s arch. English clockmakers, mostly in Yorkshire, went one step further, creating a globular rotating moon dial.

Clockmakers usually only made the works of tall-case clocks. They subcontracted the making of the cases to coffin makers, who used this as supplemental income when business was slow. During the second half of the 17th century, casemakers employed walnut to build mostly plain cases. The Dutch introduced marquetry to the fronts of the clock cases, using woods of different colors and grains.  Mahogany didn’t come into general use for tall-case clocks until about 1716. At first, casemakers imported it from Spain, then after that supply ran out, from Brazil.

Before 1730, the doors of most tall-case clocks were rectangular, but around that time casemakers included an arch in them to match the arched dials. The earliest clocks didn’t open with a door. Instead, the entire hood–the top part of the clock–slid backwards revealing the works.

To learn more about tall-case clocks, read “Grandfather Time” in #TheAntiquesAlmanac and also visit the Bowers Watch and Clock Repair Web site and read about the works of tall-case clocks in their clock section.

Thursday, August 8, 2019

Birds of a Feather

QUESTION: My mother loved birds. She had a number of birdfeeders in our yard when I was growing up, and I used to sit and watch all the different kinds of birds flock to them. I guess her love of birds transferred to me because I started looking up the birds I saw to learn more about them. Besides encouraging a growing bird population in our yard, she also collected little knick-knacks of birds that she found at yard sales and flea markets. Now I have them. Most of them look pretty cheap, but there are several that look like they’re made of fine porcelain. I know very little about antique porcelain and was wondering if you could point me to some of the better companies pieces to collect.

ANSWER: Birds have been a favorite of many people for thousands of years. They kept them as pets and even worshiped them. Even today, there some Asian cultures that believe certain birds bring good luck.

Birds have been kept as pets for at least 4.000 years. Doves and parrots appear in Egyptian hieroglyphics. Indians have considered the mynah bird sacred for over 2,000 years. During feast days, oxen would carry these birds in processions through the streets. The ancient Greek aristocracy kept the mynah and parakeets as pets. And in wealthy Roman households, one slave had the responsibility of caring for the family bird, which was often a type of parrot. Apparently, watching the parrot talk and perform was an early form of home entertainment.

In 1782 the bald eagle was adopted as the national emblem of the United States. It was chosen because it is such a powerful, noble looking bird. And so it continued throughout history.

Birds have long appealed to Chinese and Japanese potters. A favorite mythological bird which appeared frequently on Chinese ceramics was the elegant ho ho bird or phoenix which was the symbol of happiness. It had the head of a pheasant, tail of a peacock and the legs of a stork or crane and symbolized beauty, rank and longevity.

White cranes in flight are often the subjects painted on Chinese Export items, Japanese Satsuma, Kutani and Banko ware. To the Chinese and Japanese, the crane means good luck and longevity. In Japan peacocks stand for elegance and good fortune and are often found together in design with the peony flower.

In Chinese mythology ducks and drakes denote conjugal bliss and made popular wedding gifts. Early Chinese potters made large soup tureens shaped as swans, ducks and other birds.

The largest category of bird collecting is figures and portraits in porcelain and pottery. And the English stand out in this category.

In l8th century England, the Chelsea and Bow Porcelain Factories copied the Chinese tureens and made them shaped as pheasants, pigeons, and a hen with her chicks. Early duck and partridge tureens are extremely rare and can sell for over $10,000 today. Chelsea teapots modeled as birds were also popular. One exquisite model, representing a guinea hen trapped in a rosebush, had a speckled white glaze and wonderful detail.

At the end of the 19'h century the four Martin Brothers, studio potters in Fulham, England, made some extraordinary pottery birds. They specialized in salt glaze stoneware and made humorously modeled birds with quizzical expressions. Their work was greatly influenced by the 19`" century Gothic Revival. Some of their most desirable pieces are figural tobacco jars with detachable heads. Martin Brothers pieces are clearly marked on the base with the incised signature: "R. W. Martin."

The Royal Worcestor Company also made magnificent bird figures in various colors and glazes. Regarded as one of the most notable sculptors of the era, Dorothy Doughty began her series of models of the Birds of America in the 1930s. From then until 1960, she created 30 different bird sculptures. Doughty, at her studio in Cornwall, worked from living birds. On an American field trip in 1953, she spent three weeks getting close enough to the elusive oven bird to study it. The birds, with their mounts of flowers and branches, were extremely elaborate and difficult to execute, requiring from 20 to 50 molds each. She sculpted them in correct size and color, and even modeled the foliage in which they sat true to nature. Every model, each made in limited edition, bears the artist's signature and marks of the factory. One of Doughty's rarest bird models, the Indigo Bunting on a Plum Tree, was made to be a cheap Christmas present, and its lack of flowers and foliage resulted in a market failure. Only six or seven were made, and today they are valued at $900-$1,200.

Royal Crown Derby produced many fine porcelain bird figures. Arnold Mikelson was a talented modeler who worked from 1939 to 1945. He designed over 60 different lifelike birds that are still popular, such as woodpeckers, pheasants, owls, goldfinch and fairy wrens. Royal Crown Derby artist Donald Birbeck studied bird and animal life in America in the 1930s. He designed many luncheon and dinner services with game subjects during his long stay at Derby.

Collectors get particularly excited about birds made by the Crown Staffordshire Company. J.T. Jones, decorating manager with the company until his death in 1957,  designed some of the finest. Jones carefully researched these bone china birds from nature.

He portrayed the lifelike songbirds in natural settings—perched on a tree branch or base surrounded with the lovely applied flowers for which the Crown Staffordshire Company is known. Today, the tradition continues with a range of wild fowl figures authenticated by Sir Peter Scott and modeled by John Bromley.

Birds in various colors and glazes have always formed an important part of the Royal Doulton collection. In 1902 the company produced its magnificent range of birds, including fledglings, ducklings, and penguins, in flambé glaze, which recreated the blood-red effects achieved by Chinese potters of the Sung Dynasty.

By 1920 Doulton's list of birds included pigeons, pelicans, eagles, kingfishers, ducks, penguins, and chicks. Designers created some in realistic detail and gave others human or comic characteristics, such as Charles Noke's Toucan in Tails.

In 1952, the company added a few large bird figures to its Prestige Series. In the 1970s Robert Jefferson produced some outstanding limited edition sculptures of birds for the U. S. market. An example is a pair of 8-inch white-winged Cross Bills perched on a branch with pine cones. Doulton's line of miniature character birds, including comic owls, puffins, penguins and toucans, are especially popular with collectors.

To read more articles on antiques, please visit the Antiques Article section of 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 western antiques in the special 2019 Spring Edition, "Down to the Sea in Ships," online now. And to read daily posts about unique objects from the past and their histories, like the #Antiques & More Collection on Facebook.  

Wednesday, July 31, 2019

The Sport of Kings

QUESTION: I love horses. When I was about 8 years old, my dad took me to a horse race. Ever since I’ve gone to horse races whenever I can, especially some of the famous ones like those if the Triple Crown. I especially like going to the Kentucky Derby. Over the years, I’ve collected an assortment of memorabilia from these races—tickets, programs, souvenirs. I’ve never seen anything written up about them, so I’m not sure if any of this stuff is even collectible. Can you tell me what might be collectible? I’d love to get serious and start a real collection.

ANSWER: True, there hasn’t been much written about horseracing collectibles. But as with any other sport or event, there’s certainly plenty of memorabilia floating around. While the items you have directly relate to specific races, there are others that relate to specific horses and race tracks. To understand just what treasures are out there, we have to go back to see how this all started.

The history of racing on mounted horses dates back to ancient Greece and Rome. But it was the English in the 12th century that began to selectively breed horses. In 1110, Henry I, King of England, imported an Arabian stallion from Spain, which he mated with English mares to breed horses suitable for warfare. As the breeding continued, the horses evolved into sleek racers.

Informal races between purebred mounts became popular, and in 1174, Smithfield Track, the first public racecourse built since Roman times, was constructed in London. The race horses eventually became bred out or “thoroughly bred.” Breeders realized that they couldn’t make them any better or faster through breeding and thus called them thoroughbreds. Thoroughbred racing subsequently became a favorite pastime of English nobility and was soon dubbed “the sport of kings.”

In 1730, a Virginia plantation owner imported a 21-year-old stallion named Bulle Rock. his arrival marked the beginning of many mares and stallions being imported to the colonies for the purpose of racing and breeding. Major horse centers developed in New York, Pennsylvania, Virginia, Maryland, and the Carolinas, and even presidential candidates caught the fever.

America's interest in horse racing continued unabated, and its passion for the pastime was evidenced by more than 750 lithographic prints produced by the firm of Currier & Ives. One of the most famous horses of the mid-19th century was Lexington, bred by Dr. Elisha Warfield, who historians consider the Father of the Kentucky Turf. Currier & Ives published the print “The Celebrated Horse Lexington by "Boston" out of Alice Carneal, circa 1855.”

During the Civil War, all horseracing stopped because both armies needed many horses for battle. But in 1867, the first running of the Belmont Stakes occurred in New York, and racing gradually spread south and west. The first Kentucky Derby happened in 1875, and in 1894 the Jockey Club, patterned after the British Jockey breeding of thoroughbred horses while maintaining high ethical standards in horse racing, was formed and incorporated in New York State. Although the Jockey Club brought order to the sport, by the turn of the 20th century a reformist sentiment that disapproved of gambling was gaining momentum. Many states made bookmaking illegal, and by 1908 only 25 American and six Canadian racetracks remained open. By 1913, racing had returned to Belmont Park, Elmont, New York, and although World War I diminished the amount of racing activity, the pastime continued.

From 1919 to 1920, a colt named Man o' War dominated the American horse racing scene, setting several American track records. He won by as much as 100 lengths, and lost only once in 21 starts in 1919 to a horse named Upset. After amassing nearly $250,000 in winnings, Man o' War’s owner retired him to stud in 1920. Racing enthusiasts consider Man o' War to be the greatest race horse that ever lived. Other  horses of the 20th century that have great collectiblity include Secretariat, Seabiscuit, Citation, and Kelso.

The book and subsequent film about Seabiscuit catapulted him to the spotlight and his collectibles soared in popularity. Today, the program from his final race at the 1940 Santa Anita Handicap sells for over $1,000.

In fact, racehorses are the primary influencer in the value of a racing program. Due to their age, Man o' War programs seldom turn up, and collectors should expect to pay $3,000 to $12,000 depending on the race and condition of the program. Although Secretariat progras are more common, they stilml. command high prices. His 2-year-old races in 1972 start at $300 and a mint, unused Kentucky Derby program will still fetch $250, even though thousands were printed.

Condition, age, rarity, race, and to a much lesser extent, the actual racecourse. Here, Kentucky Derby programs are winning by a wide margin. Pre-1929 Derby programs are extremely rare, and start at over $2,000. Programs from Triple Crown winning years— the year in which one horse wins the Kentucky Derby, the Preakness, and the Belmont Stakes—go for five times what the same program goes for if there’s no winner.

Unfortunately, betting, itself, is a high-stakes sport, resulting in a number of fake collectibles. One item that’s particularly prevalent in the fake market is the lapel pin, first produced in the 1980s. Each of the major races now has one of these little souvenirs. For instance, fake ones exist for the 1985 and 1986 Breeder’s Cup, but the lapel pins weren’t even made for it until 1988.

There’s an endless variety of authentic items available for those who love the sport. Posters, prints, weather vanes and sculptures depicting racehorses are always of interest, as are race-specific items, such as Kentucky Derby glasses. There are even elaborate board games, such as the Saratoga Sweepstakes Horse Racing Game with coin dispenser, six numbered horses and riders, and three iron gates and a finish line.

To read more articles on antiques, please visit the Antiques Article section of 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 western antiques in the special 2019 Spring Edition, "Down to the Sea in Ships," online now. And to read daily posts about unique objects from the past and their histories, like the #Antiques & More Collection on Facebook.  

Thursday, July 25, 2019

How Much is This?

QUESTION:  I went to a favorite flea market of mine last Saturday. A lot of the same dealers display some of the same things they’ve had for sale for the last several years. While I don’t mind asking the price of an item, I got really annoyed when I heard a dealer quote another customer a lower price after he had quoted me a higher one for the same item a few minutes before. Is this becoming a regular practice or was it just this dealer?                              

ANSWER: While most dealers price their goods beforehand, a few don’t. Take Mr. I-Don’t-Price-Anything—Mr. Idpa for short. This rather smug dealer always seems to offer interesting items, none of which shows a price. So customers are forced to ask, “How much is this?”

There’s usually a slight pause as Mr. Idpa sizes up the customer.  By the way she’s dressed, perhaps he thinks she has a Lexus parked in the lot. If so, he’ll immediately raise his price by as much as 50 percent, even before he says anything.

This same dealer not only makes up prices as he goes along, but also refuses to bargain when asked for his best price. If he had been the only dealer doing this, customers would probably just pass by his space. But, unfortunately, he isn’t.

The following week, a new dealer set up next to Mr. Idpa, and like him, she hadn’t priced her goods. Another dealer she knew stopped by to say hello. “I don’t understand why no one has asked about my chairs,” she said. She had four well-used ladderback rushed chairs arranged out in front of her tables, each nicely draped with colorful silk scarves.

“Perhaps it’s because you don’t have any prices on your items,” her dealer friend replied.

Some dealers think prices might scare customers away. But they don’t. Customers need a place to start—a pricing reference point. When a customer approaches a dealer’s tables and sees something he or she likes, they look at its price to see if it’s within their budget.

Those who are serious collectors come to flea markets looking for items to add to their collections—for the right price, of course. If a dealer overprices an item, they’ll move on because they know more or less how much the item is worth. But if the price is within their range, they can begin a conversation with the dealer about it.

Once in a while, these non-pricing dealers forget to take the previous price tag off an item after they purchased it elsewhere. A customer comes along, immediately sees that price and approaches the dealer asking if he or she can do any better. After a little haggling, the customer walks away with the item, satisfied that they received a good price.

Buying antiques and collectibles is one thing, but selling them is quote another. Let’s see what happens when the shoe is on the other foot. Let’s take a look at the right way to price items, but before we do, let’s take a look at how not to.

Another dealer at a different flea market had a number of U.S. stamps for sale, all packaged in groups by age. Among his collection of stamps for sale was a little “stock” book with four manila pages with overlapping strips into which he had inserted an assortment of U.S. commemorative stamps. Stamp collectors use these little books to transport stamps to shows or to store a particular group for further study. The dealer had placed two stickers on the cover. One said “$3.50 net with book” while the other said “$4 postage.” At first glance, the $4 sticker stood out, so a customer might think that the stock book with stamps was $4.

Noticing the customer’s interest in the stock book, the dealer directs him a plastic bin with other packages of stamps. Not seeing anything that he wanted, the customer began leafing through the plastic pages of stamps in a looseleaf binder. The customer chose four of them, each with a sticker that said “$2 postage.” The dealer told the customer he could have the stock book filled with stamps and the two pages for $10. That seemed like a good price, so the customer said he would take the lot.

“That will be $13.50,” said the dealer.

“How can that be?” said the customer.

“Oh, $10 is the face value of the postage. The stock book is an additional $3.50,” replied the dealer. Needless to say, the customer walked away empty handed. The dealer wasn’t at all pleased. If he had put a definite price on each of his items, there wouldn’t have been a controversy. Instead, his stickers were vague and communicated the wrong message.

So what is the best way to price antiques and collectibles so they do sell? First, price isn’t the same as value—it’s usually about half that. So while many people use an antiques pricing guide to look up their items, what they’re really looking at is a value guide. The authors of these guides research the value of a particular item by checking the most current amounts the item fetched both at auctions and in shops, then they average the different amounts together.

The market value of an antique is what someone is willing to pay for it. And just because an items lists for $25, for example, doesn’t mean that a person will be able to charge the same amount for it, especially if they’re selling their item at a market entry-level venue like a yard sale or flea market. To sell successfully at these places, prices need to be lower than the guide amount.

Some antique and collectibles sellers take a shortcut and go directly to eBay to check prices. While prices are current there, many have been inflated by the “entertainment” factor. Many eBay shoppers look upon “winning” an auction much as they would winning a game of chance at a casino. At a regular auction, the highest bidder “buys’ the item while on eBay, the highest bidder “wins” the item. Generally, this drives final prices up.

However, the number of auctions has decreased on eBay in recent years while the number of “Buy It How” sales have increased. But even beyond using pricing guides and eBay to research prices, a seller should check the prices of similar items in the same sort of selling venues near them—that is at local garage sales and flea markets. This is known as pricing what the market will bear. Sellers can’t charge more than people are willing to pay in a particular area. Items just won’t sell, no matter how valuable they may be.

To read more articles on antiques, please visit the Antiques Article section of 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 western antiques in the special 2019 Spring Edition, "Down to the Sea in Ships," online now. And to read daily posts about unique objects from the past and their histories, like the #Antiques & More Collection on Facebook.