Natural History Books: Exploring Nature From Your Armchair

“If you truly love nature, you will find beauty everywhere.” – Vincent Van Gogh

One does not need to venture far to experience the wonders of nature. They’re as close as a single step outdoors, a glance out a window, or, the nearest bookshelf.

For centuries, natural history books have provided views and explanations of various elements of nature. These books combine remarkable illustrations with thorough details of complex scientific organisms within ornithology, horticulture, botany, and etymology, among other disciplines.

To gain an expert perspective about natural history books and the current collecting market we turned to Bruce MacMakin, Senior Vice President at PBA Galleries in San Francisco.

“A Picture Book of Beasts, British and Foreign: Or, An Introduction to Natural History,” William Darton, 1822, London. Sold for $4,300 in February 2015 through PBA Galleries. PBA Galleries image.

How is the market today for collecting natural history books? How does it compare with the market a few years ago?

The market for collectible natural history books is much the same as the market for books in general. That is to say, that while prices have basically recovered from the recession that began in the fall of 2008, the long-term effects of the Internet on the marketing and availability of books and the information contained in them has had a continued and profound influence on the values of old books. What was once scarce and hard to find in the thousands of bookstores scattered across the country and around the globe, is now available at the click of a mouse. This has depressed the value of more-common books.

At the same time, the ease with which rare books can be searched for and acquired has broadened the collecting base, and made the geographic location of collectors no longer a barrier to participation. A collector or scholar in the middle of Iowa can acquire books as easily as one in New York City. This growth in the number of collectors, coupled with the lack of intrigue in acquiring the more-common works, has driven up the prices of the more rare and significant material, as buyers vie for the few gems at the top.

“A History of the Birds of New Zealand,” Sir Walter Lawry Buller, circa 1887, London. Limited issue, one of 1,000 sets. (Est. $5,000-$7,000 in a June 3, 2017 auction). Image by Arader Galleries.

Is there a genre of natural history book that is most sought after, or is the appeal equal among various topics (botany, ornithology, marine biology, travels of naturalists, etc.)?

Every collector has reasons for collecting what they do, and for every topic there are star items that bring premium prices. This can be based on the importance of a work, its scarcity, condition or beauty. Many natural history books have striking illustrations, including hand-colored engraved plates, color printed mezzotints that were seminal in the development of printing techniques, or simple line cuts that still presented important records of the subjects. But overall, botanical works seem to have held value and interest to a greater degree than others.

 

Are natural history books more available than in years past? What do you think may be contributing to this?

There are, in general, more books available for ready purchase than ever before, due to the global marketplace provided by the Internet, so this is true of natural history books, as well. But it still takes effort to locate the works of highest quality and importance, and in today’s transparent world, where a significant book is less likely to sneak onto a shelf in a bookstore with its true value unrevealed, one will likely have to pay a healthy price.

“Voyage to the South-Sea and Along the Coasts of Chili and Peru in the Years 1712, 1713, 1714, Particularly Describing the Genius and Constitution of the Inhabitants, as well as Indians and Spaniards: Their Customs and Manners, their Natural History, Mines, Commodities, Traffick with Europe &c.,” by Amedee Francois Frezier, Jonah Bowyer, 1717, London. Sold for $1,230 in April 2016 through PBA Galleries. PBA Galleries image.

In addition to condition, what factors weigh in to the value of natural history books?

One should start with the importance of a book in establishing our knowledge of how the natural world works. A prime example would be the works of Charles Darwin – in particular, On the Origin of Species, the appearance of which in 1859 sent shock waves through not only the scientific community, but through society in general. It is an example of a book whose value continues to grow, and premium copies regularly set price records.

Another reason for natural history books to have value is the illustrations. Beginning with simple woodcuts in the 15th century, illustrations kept pace with, and in many cases engendered, advances in printing, engraving and coloring. Not only are the subjects of the illustrations important, whether botanical, ornithological, or geologic, but the techniques used are very significant as well.

“The English Moths and Butterflies,” Benjamin Wilkes, Georg Dionysius, Ehret and Jacob van Huysum, 19th century, London. (Est. $12,000-$16,000 in a June 3, 2017 auction). Image by Arader Galleries.

What are two essential tips you would offer someone interested in collecting natural history books?

As with any collecting field, concentrate on what interests you. That will make it a pleasant task to acquire the knowledge necessary to form a meaningful collection. Do not collect for value, but for significance (value will follow). And when faced with the choice of purchasing a lesser copy at a bargain price, or a premium copy at a high price, choose the premium copy. Then when you look at the book on your shelf, you will be proud of the acquisition, whereas the lesser book would cause you to regret the money spent. And from a practical point of view, in today’s market, the premium book will become more valuable, while the cheap book will only become cheaper.


Bruce MacMakin is senior vice president of PBA Galleries in San Francisco. The son of a printer, MacMakin began his career in the book-auction trade at California Book Auction Galleries in 1978, fresh out of college. It was an unplanned diversion that has lasted 38 years and counting. In 1992, he became a founding member of Pacific Book Auction Galleries, now PBA Galleries. His areas of expertise range from early incunabula and rare manuscripts to hyper-modern fiction and The Wizard of Oz.

The Basics of Collecting Tribal Art

Tribal art appeals to many people, often for different reasons. Perhaps it is a historic or ancestral interest that fuels one’s fascination. Or perhaps it’s just the aesthetic appeal of tribal artworks that inspires a new collector to enter the field.

With interest in tribal art continuing to grow, and interesting pieces coming to auction regularly, opportunities to discover and acquire meaningful objects are definitely available. To help lay the framework for this fascinating subject, we turn to one of the foremost auction houses specializing in tribal art – Artemis Gallery in Boulder County, Colorado.

Bob Dodge and his wife, Teresa, co-founded and serve as joint executive directors of Artemis Gallery, one of the world’s most respected names in tribal and ethnographic art and antiquities. Bob graciously shared information about what constitutes tribal art and offered authoritative advice on how to start or expand on a collection.

Native American bird effigy bowl carved by the Mound Builder culture of North America from a single piece of stone, circa 500 to 1200 CE. Artemis Gallery image

What is your definition of tribal art?

To us, tribal art is the sum total of the visual arts of indigenous (sometimes referred to as ethnographic) peoples from around the globe.

How are tribal art and antiquities most often categorized? Is it by region or type of item? How can this knowledge aid potential collectors?

Tribal arts, like antiquities, are most commonly categorized according to region, however there are many other ways of categorizing them. Some more common ones can be material, purpose (mask, fetish, votive, offering, ceremonial, etc.), time period, or others. This can certainly aid a potential collector by putting items into meaningful and searchable groups.

Information is perhaps the single most important element of any collecting passion. So, having the ability to find information about legality, availability, value and authenticity can be critical.

What are some of the more common types of tribal art coming to auction, and what are  some of the rarest pieces you’ve handled?

By far the most common form of tribal art on the market would be African wooden masks and figures. By most estimates, I think you could find well over a million examples, with most of them having been created for the tourist trade. Some of the rarest – and at times the most macabre – items we have seen and handled include decorated human skulls created by tribal groups in the South Pacific, Maori jade Tiki figures, and early Australian aboriginal art and artifacts such as throwing sticks and boomerangs.

Circa mid-20th century carved wood figure, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Kuba peoples. Artemis Gallery image

Are certain types of tribal art (bowls, figures, masks, etc.) more specific to a region of the world?

Yes, art by region can be pretty specific and pretty common. Masks from Africa, ancestor figures from Papua New Guinea, large bowls and vessels from the Amazonian tribes, decorated bowls from the American Southwest – all would be examples of regional art.

How has the tribal art market changed during recent years?

The Internet has been a major game-changer for the tribal art market, including the antiquities trade. Dealers in the past were pretty much able to set their own prices depending upon the wealth of their client base. The law of supply and demand was almost irrelevant, because nobody could track either side of the equation.

The Internet has allowed collectors to shop virtually worldwide and see what prices other dealers are asking, as well as easily look at prices realized by major and minor auction houses. The Internet has opened literally hundreds, if not thousands of sources for good material.

Face maskette made of dark greenstone with light green and russet striated inclusions, Pre-Columbian, Mexico, Guerro, Mezcala, circa 500 to 200 BCE. Artemis Gallery image

What would you say to a collector who is interested in acquiring tribal art but wonders about affordability?

A new collector of tribal art has so many options available to them that price should not be a deterrent. I am a collector of ancient art, first and foremost, and a dealer secondarily. I have been able to find wonderful buys at prices even below $100. If someone has a passion for the arts, money should not slow them down in the slightest.

How about potential collectors who may be concerned about legal disputes over rightful ownership of tribal items – what advice might you be able to share?

The laws of cultural patrimony are complicated and confusing. The basics are that if a cultural item has been in the U.S. for more than 20 years, the buyer and seller are safe. Any collector, new or old, should ask for specific information about when an item was acquired, and when it left its country of origin. Then, make sure that information is conveyed in writing on any sales transaction.

Pre-Columbian gilded gold mask, Sican-Chimu culture of North Coast Peru, circa 800-1000 CE. Artemis Gallery image

Can you please describe the TL testing process, and the important role the Artemis testing lab serves?

TL testing (thermoluminescence) is one of many tools available to determine the authenticity of an item that is ceramic or made of terracotta pottery. It takes tiny bits of the pottery, done by drilling very small holes into unobtrusive areas, and subjects the samples to an analysis that ascertains how much stored light radiation is in that object. We can then graph the amount of this stored energy to determine when the pottery item was last subjected to high heat, and therefore created. By developing a commercial lab here in the United States, we are able to help collectors and dealers alike in selling authentic objects with scientific analysis as the proof.

What are three items of advice you have for anyone who wishes to start a collection of tribal art?

  1. Be passionate about your collection. Buy what you love, not what you think makes a good investment.
  2. Be skeptical. Go into every transaction assuming the pieces may not be authentic and requires proof to the contrary. Believe the piece, not the story behind it. Stories can be faked, and often are, but the piece itself will usually lead you to the truth.
  3. Be diligent when amassing your collection. Record every aspect about each piece – especially its history, provenance and details of your purchase. That way you will have a solid record should you ever wish to sell, or should your family pick up the collecting bug.

How would you complete this sentence: Tribal art represents…

A way of connecting to peoples who are or were in many respects just like us, and yet, are or were simultaneously so very different. Tribal art expands our ability to appreciate others as well as ourselves.


About Artemis Gallery:

Since 1993, Bob and Teresa Dodge have headquartered their thriving global business at Artemis Gallery in Boulder, Colorado. They are known for their online auctions of highest-quality antiquities, ancient and ethnographic art, offering a 100% guarantee of authenticity and legality on each and every piece they sell. The company specializes in pottery, stone, metal, wood, glass and textile objects from South America, Central America and Mexico, as well as artifacts from Greece, Italy, Rome, Egypt, the Middle East, China, India, Japan and the South Pacific.

Fraktur: Americana with a German Accent

Fraktur (pronounced frahk-toor), in the simplest terms, is a distinctive letter style with origins in 16th-century Europe.

However, upon viewing examples of fraktur created by Pennsylvania Germans in the 18th and 19th centuries, “simple” is hardly fitting.

To better understand fraktur, which is seen by many as both a resplendent form of folk art and a remarkable record of many German-American colonial families, we turned to Patricia Earnest, owner of Earnest Archives and Library – a private library devoted to researching Pennsylvania German genealogy recorded in the form of fraktur.

What role does fraktur serve in history?

Fraktur is an Americanized “catch-all” term referring to the 18th and 19th-century decorated manuscripts of the Pennsylvania Germans. Taufschein (singular) or Taufscheine (plural) are the birth and baptismal records of the predominately Lutheran and German Reformed denominations. In terms of those that exist, Taufscheine dominate the fraktur field. Bookplates, religious texts, writing exercises, birth and baptismal certificates, confirmation certificates, bible records, and even pictures without writing, all fall under our broad definition of “fraktur.”

In Europe, the term fraktur refers to an archaic style of writing. Birth and baptisms were documented in the local church book so the reigning lord could track his subjects for taxation and conscription. In colonial America, many families purchased their Taufschein, which was usually drawn by a schoolmaster. It was a personal record, not an official document. After Taufscheine started to to be mass-produced on the printing press (after 1780), they became less expensive, which made them available to almost all German-speaking families. The artwork enhanced their appeal, prompting fraktur to be valued for many generations, even after the family could no longer read German. My mother used to say that the earlier fraktur represented the freedom and liberties that had not been available to them in Europe.

Birth fraktur by Jacob Crop(th), circa 1809, Daniel Wiessler, Rockingham Co., watercolor and ink on paper, with imagery featuring two parrots perched on a floral vine with tulips above the inscribed, 7 ¾” x 12 ¼”, commanded $26,950 at Jeffrey S. Evans & Associates, June 18, 2016 auction.

 

Tip: The date shown on fraktur may not necessarily represent when it was made. Many Taufscheine were drawn, or data filled in on printed sheets, years after the child was born.

 

For someone interested in beginning a collection, what themes or similarities among fraktur could someone base a collection?

One of the most important reasons to collect might be the desire to document the history of a particular family. Others collect specific artists, motifs, geographical locations, or scriveners who created fraktur. One collector is known to pursue only fraktur that feature red as the predominant color. The possibilities for collecting extend as far as one’s imagination.

 

What type of clues can people look for to ascertain that a fraktur is authentic?

This advice could apply to anything being collected: Ask yourself, “is it too good to be true?” If so, stay away.

In the case of paper, know your paper. Check the paper type to see if it is consistent with the age of the piece. As an example, if an item is dated prior to 1785 or so, it should be on laid paper (ladders running through). Look at the paper coloring and condition. Sometimes, a faker might draw a picture on a piece of older paper, such as a ledger page. In that case, the paper is old but the artwork is not, so proceed carefully.

Many forgers may not know how to duplicate or read German fraktur lettering or script, so their handwriting looks forced or cramped. For that reason, many fakers recreate pictures, as opposed to forging an illustration with writing.

 

Tip: Winterthur Museum, Garden & Library (Wilmington, Delaware) recently held an exhibition that presented real and fake fraktur side by side. Collectors should take advantage of exhibits such as this one, and any other events where genuine fraktur are shown, to become familiar with the paper, ink, and all aspects of fraktur.

 

What do you appreciate most about fraktur and its presence in German-American history?

Ask three different people and you will get three different answers. I like looking at history through the eyes of our ancestors.

Can you imagine making that journey, saying goodbye to everyone you knew and loved, to set foot onto colonial shores, then experiencing a freedom never before known by Europeans from German-speaking areas? They sometimes faced awful conditions and poverty here, as they often arrived with nothing, but were so proud they bought these certificates as testaments of their family. In my mom’s case, she loved the genealogy on fraktur. Unlike our English counterparts, the mother’s maiden name was usually recorded. In that way, their histories can be followed.

Ink and watercolor on laid paper fraktur birth certificate by Johann Congrad Gilbert, for Eliesabeth Kunkel, dated 1815, Albany Township, Berks County, Pennsylvania. The central script flanked by two trumpeting male angels, 8” x 13 ¼”, sold for $56,182 at Pook & Pook, Inc., Nov. 11, 2011 auction.

Is there an example of fraktur that simply took your breath away when you saw it?

Too many have taken our breath away to be counted, but my particular favorite is one by Christian Mertel (1739-1802). I adore his lions.

 

The work your family has done over the decades to index various examples of fraktur has resulted in an impressive cache. It is from this index that you draw on the information that appear in the many references you and your parents have authored over the years, as well as the newsletter you regularly deploy, correct?

The archive contains over 40,000 fraktur. As each fraktur has approximately four or more surnames (child, parents, witnesses and preacher), the name index would be over 200,000. Additionally, we are trying to catalog examples of Pennsylvania German broadside printing. Yes, we use this archive for book and article ideas.

Shenandoah Valley of Virginia Taufschein fraktur attributed to Jacob Strikler, watercolor and ink on paper, circa 1806, Susanna Rothgeb Rockbridge, Co. Two Federal eagles with heart-shaped breast medallions, tulips, and a characteristic polychrome diamond border frame the central inscribed reserve, 7 5/8” x 12 ¼”. The document realized $31,200 at Jeffrey s. Evans & Associates, June 20, 2015 auction.

What does it mean to continue the valued work your parents began?

Everything. Mom and Dad embraced every aspect of the Pennsylvania German fraktur culture. I am more focused on printing by Pennsylvania Germans, which has largely been ignored by historians; although the German-language printers were an important part of America’s printing history.

I like being able to share these connections with other groups. For example, I just wrote about William Young, a Philadelphia printer and Delaware papermaker, who advertised the loss of a runaway family. The Janney family  had been indentured to work in Young’s Delaware Paper Mill. The Delaware Bibliophiles just published the article in their periodical, Endpapers. I like these connections between American subcultures, which are often made visible via the certificates and papers they left behind.


Patricia Earnest received her undergraduate degree from the University of New Mexico. In 2005 she joined Russell D. Earnest Associates and the Earnest Archives and Library as an archivist, researcher, and writer. She is the lead author of The Hanging of Susanna Cox: The True Story of Pennsylvania’s Most Notorious Infanticide and the Legend That’s Kept It Alive (2010). She also authored Kids and Kin: The Family History Vacation That Involves Kids (1997). Patricia currently serves on the Board of the Children’s Theater in Dover, Delaware.

 

Russell and the late Corinne Earnest spent more than four decades recording and indexing Pennsylvania German genealogical data recorded on fraktur, and the elements that reside within this umbrella. The couple founded the Earnest Archives and Library, and later established the publishing firm Russell D. Earnest Associates. The firm publishes books and articles pertaining to fraktur, Taufscheine, Pennsylvania German broadsides, family registers, Bible records, family histories, and other documents. View the latest book by this firm, The Jungmann Woodblock Fraktur Artist and a Peek At Other Woodblock Artists, published in 2016, as well as many other related references here.

How to Care for Your Fine Watches and Timepieces

As Mick Jagger emoted in a 1964 Rolling Stones tune, “Time is on my side, yes it is.” Anyone with even a passing interest in fine watches can attest not only to the importance of time, but also the instruments that keep track of the minutes and hours with unfailing precision.

As with most things that are functional, especially scientific or technological items, careful use and proper maintenance are often at the center of longevity and quality of service.

The American Watchmakers-Clockmakers Institute (AWCI) offers these basic guidelines to follow in caring for timepieces, which Jordan shared with us:

  • Wind completely once a day, making sure the winding action does not result in the crown reaching the point of being taut.
  • Wear the watch regularly, not only because it gives you the opportunity to enjoy a timepiece in which you have invested, but also because a constant temperature is conducive to accurate timekeeping.

Consistency of temperature leads to one of the first things the AWCI warns watch owners about:

  • Avoid exposing watches to extreme temperatures. This kind of shift in temperatures can compromise the timekeeping device.
  • Make sure watches are not placed within close proximity to perfumes, powders, or chemicals.
  • Don’t let more than five years pass before taking watches to a certified watchmaker (many of whom can be found through the AWCI directory) for maintenance. Just like with an automobile, maintenance is a mainstay in preventing costly negative impact.

Men’s stainless steel, quick set, diamond dial with a diamond and sapphire bezel. Entered in Jasper 52 auction Feb. 12, 2017. Estimate: $9,000-$11,000. Jasper52 image

To learn more about the care of wristwatches, we reached out to Jordan Ficklin, who serves as executive director of the AWCI.

Jasper52: The AWCI recommends tune-ups for timepieces. What is involved in a tune-up of a watch and what is the cost someone could expect to pay for a tune-up?

Jordan Ficklin: Fine timepieces are machines. They have components that can wear out. They require a clean, dry environment with proper lubrication. In order to ensure proper functioning, they need periodic maintenance. For modern mechanical wristwatches, the recommended service interval varies by manufacturer; but typically ranges between three and seven years. During a routine service, the watch is completely disassembled. The case is refurbished, and the gaskets are replaced to ensure continued protection of the movement. The movement (works) of the watch is also disassembled. Each component is checked for damage, cleaned, and reinstalled with fresh lubrication. It is a very delicate and time-consuming process. Prices can vary greatly based on many factors. For a Rolex, you could expect to pay between $500 and $1,000 for a service.

What advice would you offer regarding replacement of batteries?

Replacing batteries is not difficult, but even inexpensive quartz watches are quite fragile. Simply touching the wrong part of the watch can cause permanent damage. It is best to have a trained professional replace the battery in your watch. At the same time they change the battery they should also check and/or replace gaskets and test the water resistance of the watch.

Vermeil ivory dial tank watch, Cartier, circa 1980s. Entered in Jasper52 auction Feb. 12, 2017. Estimate: $1,500-$2,000. Jasper52 image

Since there isn’t a regulatory body for watchmakers, what are some of the considerations when selecting a professional to service a fine timepiece?

You can ask your watchmaker where he learned the art. Thirty years ago there were many watchmaking schools, but today there are fewer than a dozen operating in the United States. Being self-taught or not having apprenticed under a master doesn’t disqualify a potential watchmaker, but you will certainly want to learn more about their skill set.

More important than training or certification is the attitude of your watchmaker toward the profession. If you are able, you should take the time to meet the watchmaker. Don’t take up too much of his/her time, because they are busy – if they aren’t, they’re probably not the best in town. Find out how the watchmaker feels about the job, their attitude toward spare parts, tools, and continuing education. If you want a good watchmaker, you need one who loves what they do.

Insider Tip: Specific brands of watches require special tools to adjust timing, test for water resistance, and open the case back.

Can any watch problem be fixed, such as not keeping time accurately?

Watchmakers aren’t miracle workers. Your grandmother’s Bulova watch that was unadjusted when it left the factory will not keep perfect time unless your watchmaker adjusts it. This requires a lot of work and the watch probably isn’t worth it. But if your watch is a chronometer, you should expect it to keep time within its set specifications. Ask your watchmaker what their expectations are for the timekeeping of your watch and make sure they match your expectations. If your expectations are in line with the factory specifications, there should be no problem. If your expectations are higher than the factory specifications, a good watchmaker might charge you more for the necessary time to make the watch meet your expectations. Or, they may tell you that your expectations are out of line.

Ladies 18K white gold watch, Elgin, 1921. Entered in Jasper52 auction Feb. 12, 2017. Estimate: $550-$800

Watch repair can get expensive. Why is that?

Watchmaking is very labor-intensive and detailed work. You should expect to pay a good price for it. Remember, a watchmaker probably can’t do more than two complete watch services in a day. In terms of a warranty, the major brand service centers are now offering a two-year warranty on their repair work. Your watchmaker should match that warranty. For other watches you should expect six months to a year.

If you were to explain what it is about horology that you find so appealing, what would you say?

From the time I first was exposed to mechanical timepieces I was in love with the artistry and engineering. Starting with the ticking of the timepiece and then the regular motion of the gears, they are beautiful to watch. Trying to figure out how they work and troubleshooting problems adds to my enjoyment. I have found watchmaking to be an extremely rewarding career. I can start my day with a cherished but broken timepiece on my bench, and by the end of the day I have restored it to its former glory. When I return it to the customer, they are overjoyed to have it back in their life.


Jordan Ficklin is the executive director of the American Watchmakers-Clockmakers Institute. He began his watchmaking journey in 2001, working at an independently owned jewelry store in Tucson, Arizona. He attended the Lititz Watch Technicum from 2004-2006 where he graduated with a WOSTEP Diploma and AWCI CW21. From 2006-2013 he worked as a watchmaker in a retail jewelry store in Albuquerque, N.M., and served on various committees at the American Watchmakers-Clockmakers Institute. In 2013, he was hired as the executive director of AWCI, where he now works full time promoting the professions of watchmaking and clockmaking.

How to Care for Japanese Woodblock Prints

The beauty of Japanese woodblock prints seems to transcend time and space. However, without conscientious care, time and the locations where the prints are displayed can be unkind to these exquisite depictions of Japanese culture.

To gain experienced insight about care, display and storage of Japanese woodblock prints, we turned to Roni Neuer, co-founder of Ronin Art Gallery, New York, NY.

Safe and Savvy Approach to Limiting Light Exposure

“Dainan Gate in Mukden,” Hiroshima Yoshida, circa 1937, est. $900-$1,400. Jasper52 image

As with any work of art on paper, prolonged exposure to sunlight can be damaging to Japanese woodblock prints, Neuer explained. In fact, exposure to any type of light over extended periods of time can do more harm than good. The light causes fading, especially with pre-20th-century prints (Edo period) that often were made with vegetable dyes.

Before giving serious consideration to removing prints and opting for mass storage, Neuer is quick to point out the purpose of art, and therefore the importance of conscientious care.

“To me, the function of art is to bring a little enjoyment to life. Because of the nature of art, and our role as its stewards, we must be mindful of how we care for it, how we hang it, and where we place it.”

With that in mind, Neuer recommends the following measures:

  1. Research potential framers and ask questions.
  2. Ensure framing of Japanese woodblock prints includes glass with a UV filter (conservation glass).
  3. Confirm the use of acid-free or archival materials in matting.
  4. If hinges or tape are used, ensure that they are acid-free and used sparingly.

“Emperor Cranes,” Ohara Koson, circa 1930s, est. $750-$1,000. Jasper52 image

Another essential recommendation Neuer shares with clients is to add the date the print was framed, and every five years replace the frame glass.

“The technology and science of archiving changes, with new processes and better materials,” Neuer explained. “You may have had it framed properly 20 years ago, but in that time it’s lost a lot of protective properties.”

An example of the significant impact of extensive exposure to sunlight is shown below. Two examples of the same Hiroshige woodblock print are shown side by side, with the example on the right obviously faded, due to extensive exposure to sunlight.

Side-by-side views of Hiroshige’s “Plum Garden at Kameido,” showing a perfect example of the print and another that has faded due to exposure to sunlight. Courtesy of Ronin Art Gallery

“Fading and the browning process happens gradually,” said Neuer, who often uses the example of a print with green mountains, which due to extensive exposure to light, was suddenly a print with mountains that had turned blue. “You don’t see it happening, until it’s happened.”

Savvy Storage Practices

Just as in displaying and framing prints, acid-free is a term that must be kept in mind when storing Japanese woodblock prints. Archival (acid-free) papers and folders, and archival boxes help create a protective haven for prints. Cotton rag Japanese-style paper is also used. These types of materials are available through reputable frame shops, art supply stores, and online.

Conscientious care is an integral part of an investment in, and long-term enjoyment of, Japanese woodblock prints. When preservation isn’t kept in mind from the very beginning of one’s ownership of a print, a treasured artwork can be irreversibly ruined – and that’s never an option.


Roni Neuer is one of America’s foremost experts on the subject of 17th- through 21st-century Japanese prints. She co-founded the Ronin Gallery in 1975, with Herbert Libertson. She is the author of more than 40 exhibition catalogs and Ukiyo-e: 250 Years of Japanese Art, a 500-page history of Japanese prints.


Click here to view this week’s auction of Japanese woodblock prints.

How To Care For, Store, and Display Oriental Rugs Like a Pro

Do you believe in the magic of Oriental rugs? The idea that magical properties exist within these ornate rugs may seem absurd. However, consider how a rug on a wood floor can transform a simple room in a house into a haven. Or, how a proudly displayed Oriental rug has the ability to generate discussion, inspire dreams, and prompt reflection of the past.

With proper and consistent care and preservation, Oriental wool rugs can and will provide years of enjoyment, and that in itself is a bit of magic. The question then becomes how should rugs be cared for to ensure their longevity and beauty? For expert insight we turned to A.E. “Tad” Runge Jr., owner of A.E. Runge Oriental Rugs, located in Yarmouth, Maine. Runge has more than four decades of experience buying and selling, studying and assessing Oriental rugs, and lecturing about their history and care.

Tad Runge cutting pad for a rug Photo courtesy A.E. Runge Oriental Rugs

Tad Runge cutting pad for a rug. Photo courtesy A.E. Runge Oriental Rugs

The Oriental rug market has undergone changes in the 30 years since Runge began working in the business full time. However, some things remain unchanged, including the practical and proper measures that preserve Oriental rugs, Runge said.

“I’ve loved textile arts for years, and I’ve been blessed to have wonderful customers who also love textile art,” he said.

Celebrate your love of textile art with vigilance

When asked the best approach to caring for Oriental rugs, Runge’s response is clear: “Be vigilant. Give them a little attention.” Without it, a sneaky and damaging group of critters will be more than happy to cozy up to those rugs, notably the dreaded wool moth.

Wool moths are the most likely invaders of rugs, Runge explained. The wool moth, not be confused with the meal moth, is about the size of the fingernail of a pinkie finger and buckwheat in color. “They avoid light at all costs, unlike most moths that are drawn to light,” Runge said. “You can’t catch them by shining a light, they hide. The most likely place an infestation will occur is an underutilized space, like the edges of a rug or the back.”

A rug damaged by wool moths. Photo courtesy A.E. Runge Oriental Rugs

A rug damaged by wool moths. Photo courtesy A.E. Runge Oriental Rugs

Tip #1: Make sure to regularly “disturb” areas that wool moths are most likely to occupy. This means vacuuming the front, or face, of a rug at least monthly, and more often depending on traffic. In addition, taking the vacuum to the back of a rug a couple times a year is highly recommended.

In the event wool moths have taken up residency in a rug, telltale signs include spaces of wool missing on the rug, small holes, and the appearance of small white larvae. At this point, in order to dispose of the intruders, remove the rug from the home or business. Do an in-depth inspection of other rugs and woolen items in the area. Then take the rug and any other affected textiles to someone who washes rugs professionally.

Tip #2: Shampooing an Oriental rug is not the same as washing one. The process of shampooing leaves a soapy residue that not only dulls the rug, but compromises the wool fibers. The proper process for washing an Oriental rug should include significant use of water, Runge said.

Tabriz rug, 1980, wool, 6 feet 8 inches x 9 feet 7 inches. Sold for $460. Image courtesy of LiveAuctioneers/Jasper52

Tabriz rug, 1980, wool, 6 feet 8 inches x 9 feet 7 inches. Sold for $460. Image courtesy of LiveAuctioneers/Jasper52

Beat rugs today for a better tomorrow

When it comes to preserving Oriental rugs, incorporating a regular schedule of “beatings” ranks near the top, according to Runge.

“Oriental rugs are particularly good at trapping dirt,” said Runge, whose great-grandfather was also in the business of buying and selling rugs in the late 19th century. “That trapped dirt is what wears the rug out. The dirt cuts the wool fibers when there is traffic on the rug.”

The act of “beating”an Oriental rug is as simple as 1-2-3, and doesn’t exactly mirror the rug-beating technique of the past. First, take the rug outdoors and lay it on a clean, dry surface, Runge said. Flip it so the back of the rug is facing up, and vacuum multiple times. Then turn the rug over and vacuum the front and, again, repeat the process. This is the modern approach to beating a rug.

Tip #3: When beating the front of a rug, stick to the standard process of vacuuming. While the array of attachments that are standard with many models may be helpful in cleaning wall-to-wall carpeting, they can do more harm than good when used on Oriental rugs.

Vintage Shiraz tribal geometric Oriental rug, 5. 7 x 8.6 feet. Sold for $240

Vintage Shiraz tribal geometric Oriental rug, 5. 7 x 8.6 feet. Sold for $240. Image courtesy of LiveAuctioneers/Jasper52

Protect with padding and casters

Adding padding beneath rugs can serve double duty. In addition to preventing slippage, padding helps create a more structured base for a rug that bears the weight of furniture and regular foot traffic. Placing casters on the bottom of furniture legs and periodically moving furniture helps limit wear, Runge said.

When it comes to selecting the right pad, density and natural fiber are two qualities to keep in mind. “There is a broad range of pads, and in many cases the cheaper the pad, the poorer the pad,” Runge said. “A poor pad often will turn to powder. Good pads should last 10 to 15 years.”

 

Treating Oriental rugs as a respected item of textile art — truly functional art — will help ensure a light-on-dirt and moth-free existence for the rug and years of appreciation for you.

Find exceptional antique rugs in this week’s Jasper52 rug auction.


tad-rungeTad Runge is owner of A.E. Runge Oriental Rugs in Yarmouth, Maine. He’s been buying and selling Oriental rugs since the 1970s, when dealing helped to pay for his college tuition. He lectures on the subject of Oriental rugs and authored the book “One Woman, One Weft.” Tad said if he could speak with his late great-grandfather and fellow rug merchant, Edward Runge, his wish would be to hear all about his rug-buying travels and the people he bought from.

 

5 Artists Every Japanese Woodblock Print Collector Should Know

What influences and inspires greatness? Depending on the modality, it can be genetic, environmental, scientific, and perhaps social. When speaking of the five Japanese woodblock artists capturing significant interest from today’s collectors, many appear to share a few key commonalities. These artists are Haruyo Morita, Katsushika Hokusai, Utagawa (Ando) Hiroshige, Kitagawa Utamaro, and Ohara Koson.

In comparing them, their artistic abilities were identified at a young age, and in most cases, encouraged. They studied with master artists of varying practices early in life. Several of them changed their names during their lifetime, as a means of showing respect for their teachers or indicating their evolution as an artist. Several of the ukiyo-e artists who created prints in the 19th and early 20th centuries also designed illustrations reflective of two conflicts (the Sino-Japanese and Russo-Japanese wars).

Although the influence from conflict of war is a departure from the origins of the ukiyo-e style of art, which largely depicted scenes of kabuki performances, actors, natural vistas, and women, it is representative of ukiyo-e artistry as a reflection of life and culture of Japan’s Edo period (1615-1868).

Let’s take a closer look at these five popular artists.

Geisha with Warrior Holding Samurai Sword, Serigraph. Sold for $275. Image courtesy of LiveAuctioneers

Geisha with Warrior Holding Samurai Sword, Serigraph, by artist Haruyo Morita. Sold for $275. Image courtesy of LiveAuctioneers

Haruyo Morita is the “youngster” of the group. Born in 1945 she is said to bring a “contemporary approach to traditional ukiyo-e woodblock art.” A student of Master Husuki, she received her first award for artwork at the age of 17. Her professional experience included working as a kimino painter and designer, in addition to being a creator of woodblock prints. Currently residing in Korora, Australia, her work is available in various forms including prints, jigsaw puzzles and calendars.

 

The Great Wave Off Kanagawa, 1820s. Sold for $800. Image courtesy of LiveAuctioneers

The Great Wave Off Kanagawa, by artist Katsushika Hokusai. Recut Showa era edition published by Watanabe. Sold for $800. Image courtesy of LiveAuctioneers

Katsushika Hokusai (1760-1849) is said to have began his artistic endeavors at the age of six. By the time he turned 12, his father sent him to work in a bookshop and serve as an apprentice to a wood carver. This piqued an interest that evolved into many artistic forms during his lifetime. By the age of 18, he was studying under master ukiyo-e artist Katsukawa Shunshō, and by the time he was 19, his first prints were published. His earliest work was a series of prints featuring kabuki actors. He published these works under the name Shunshō. This was the first of an estimated 30 names he used during his professional career. Having knowledge of the various names he used, and the time periods, can be very helpful when authenticating and acquiring prints by Hokusai.

Hokusai’s work is also cited as an influence for artists including Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, Mary Cassatt, and Claude Monet, among others. It is said that Monet was introduced to Hokusai’s work during the Exposition Universelle in 1867. Ukiyo-e prints, including examples by Hokusai were part of the display in the Japan Pavilion.
Quickly becoming a fan of Japanese prints, Monet reportedly had at least 20 prints by Hokusai in his personal collection.

 

Kinryuzan Temple, Asakusa (Lantern at Thunder Gate), 19th century. Sold for $190. Image courtesy of LiveAuctioneers

Kinryuzan Temple, Asakusa (Lantern at Thunder Gate), by Utagawa Hiroshige. Recut Showa era edition published by Watanabe. Sold for $190. Image courtesy of LiveAuctioneers

Utagawa (Ando) Hiroshige was born Andō Tokutarō in 1797 in Edo (now Tokyo), Japan. After becoming an orphan at the age of 13, he began studying with revered artist Utagawa Toyohiro, and at the age of 15, he changed his name to Utagawa Hiroshige. He is best known for his impressive series of landscape woodblock prints. Among his most notable works: “Thirty-six Views of Mt. Fuji,” circa 1831; “The 55 Stations of the Tokaido,” circa 1833-34; “Sixty-Nine Stations of the Kiso Road,” circa 1835; and “One Hundred Views of Edo”, circa 1856. He finished “Views of Edo” just two years prior to his death from cholera. Similar to Hokusai, Hiroshige’s artwork appealed to fellow revered artists, including Van Gogh.

 

Women Sewing, Triptych, by Kitagawa Utamaro, late 18th century. Sold for $280. Image courtesy of LiveAuctioneers

Women Sewing, Triptych, by Kitagawa Utamaro. Recut Showa era edition published by Tanseisha. Sold for $280. Image courtesy of LiveAuctioneers

Kitagawa Utamaro (1750-circa 1806) is a bit of a mystery, as fewer facts about his life are known. He, too, began studying under a master painter, Toriyama Seiken, at a young age. It’s believed Utamaro’s first professional work, the cover of a kabuki playbook, was published when he was in his early 20s. He is recognized as one of the first ukiyo-e artists to create woodblock prints featuring sensual figures of women, rather than groups, which was the norm. Another note of achievement was his development of a technique that produced more realistic flesh tones on subjects in prints.

 

Cat Watching a Goldfish, 10½ by 15½ inches. Sold for $440. Image courtesy of LiveAuctioneers

Cat Watching a Goldfish, 10½ by 15½ inches. Posthumous Showa era edition published by Watanabe. Sold for $440. Image courtesy of LiveAuctioneers

Ohara Koson was born Ohara Matao in 1877 in Kanazawa, the capital of what is now Japan’s Honshu Island. He too studied under a noted master artist, Suzuki Koson, whose name he adopted as his professional moniker. He also used the names Shoson and Hoson. Professionally he was most recognized for his printmaking work in the kacho-e style. This refers to prints featuring birds and flowers. He also spent many years teaching at the Tokyo School of Fine Art, before his death in 1945. As was the case with many similar Japanese artists, much of Koson’s woodblock prints were exported to the United States and Europe.

The invention and expanded use of photography largely replaced woodblock prints as a means of illustration. However, Japanese woodblock prints and the artist printmakers who introduced the world to some of the characters and experiences of Japanese culture through their art, continue to resonate with collectors and historians on a global level.


Sources: The Metropolitan Museum of Art;
Minneapolis Institute of Arts;
www.haryomorita.com.au;
www.katsushikahokusai.org;
www.artelino.com;
www.education.asianart.com;
www.mercury.lcs.mit.edu;
www.rijksmuseum.nl

View this week’s Japanese Woodblock Print auction and register to bid here.


A Beginner’s Guide to Collecting Fabergé Pendant Eggs

Fabergé’s miniature pendant eggs are an exceedingly enjoyable area to collect. In what other area can you purchase a Fabergé egg that you can also wear everyday?

Perhaps no country is better known for its Easter eggs than Russia. From the jeweled creations of Fabergé to humble woodcarvings, the holiday could not be celebrated without the decoration and exchange of numerous eggs. With the tradition dating back to the 15th century, by the 1890s wealthy families presented each other with precious miniature eggs each year. Eggs could be decorated with symbols of the season, family professions, or love tokens. Strung on gold necklaces, a lady might have multiple necklaces by her later years.

Jeweled pendant eggs can range from affordable to quite expensive, so where should a novice collector begin? Read on for 5 key tips to beginning your Fabergé pendant egg collection.

1. It’s important to begin with an established and trustworthy seller who is willing to guarantee authenticity.

Fabergé gold-mounted carved purpurine miniature pendant egg, St Petersburg, circa 1908-1917. Lot 109. Estimate: $8,500-12,000

Fabergé gold-mounted carved purpurine miniature pendant egg, St Petersburg, circa 1908-1917

2. Consider the materials you prefer: the translucent guilloché enamels for which Fabergé is famed or a more unusual material like the matte purpurine, a rare and unusual glass that is so opaque it resembles a carved hardstone. Do you want an egg with an elephant or clover, symbols of good luck, or perhaps your birthstone? Eggs are available in every style and color, and designs can be surprisingly modern.

A Fabergé amethyst and gilded silver miniature pendant Easter egg, St. Petersburg, circa 1898-1908. Lot 98. Estimate: $4,000-6,000

A Fabergé amethyst and gilded silver miniature pendant Easter egg, St. Petersburg, circa 1898-1908

3. Examine the egg or photos of the egg carefully. It should show some signs of wear. When strung together on a necklace, the eggs often bumped into one another and tiny chips or bumps can appear on enamel surfaces. Large areas of loss and repair negatively impact price while an important provenance will increase it. The Red Cross egg (featured below) has a small area of discoloration that is fairly common with enameled eggs, and the estimate reflects the tiny bit of wear as well as the desirability of the subject matter.

A Fabergé gold and guilloché enamel miniature pendant Easter egg, workmaster Andrei Adler, St Petersburg, circa 1900. Lot 105. Estimate: $2,500-4,500

A Fabergé gold and guilloché enamel miniature pendant Easter egg, workmaster Andrei Adler, St Petersburg, circa 1900

4. Spend a little time familiarizing yourself with Russian hallmarks. Pendant eggs are mostly constructed on a frame of gold and are marked on the bale, the small suspension ring from which they can be attached to a necklace or bracelet. The bale is a small space for the relatively large maker’s marks and hallmarks, especially if we compare them to the diminutive marks used in France! Russian jewelers stamped items with the numbers 56 (equivalent to 14K) or 72 (equivalent to 18K).

Detail of the 56 mark (equivalent to 14K). Lot 109.

Detail of the 56 mark (equivalent to 14K)

5. If your budget doesn’t extend to a Fabergé pendant Easter egg, consider buying a Russian pendant Easter egg. Prices are significantly cheaper and the pendants can be just as lovely, if a bit less complex.

A Russian gem-set gold pendant egg, circa 1900. Lot 107. Estimate: $1,500-2,500

A Russian gem-set gold pendant egg, circa 1900

This week’s Fine & Decorative Arts Auction features beautiful Fabergé style pendant eggs. Take a look here!


Written by Karen Kettering, Vice President at John Atzbach Antiques in Redmond, Washington.

Collecting Modern Editions – An Expert Guide on Doing It Right

Embarking on an adventure in collecting something new and unfamiliar can be very exciting, but it can also be a bit overwhelming.

Case in point: turning a fascination for books into a passion for collecting them. The beauty of collecting books is that there’s a niche in the marketplace for just about everyone. The increase in modern edition books showing up in auctions – and in some cases fetching tidy sums – speaks to an opportunity that many are seizing as first-time collectors.

To gain a bit of perspective about the modern book market and gain a few tips for bibliophiles at any level of experience, we turned to Rebecca Rego Barry, author of Rare Books Uncovered: True Stories of Fantastic Finds in Unlikely Places, and editor of Fine Books & Collections magazine.

What do you feel are some of the most intriguing aspects of collecting modern editions?

For collectors of modern firsts, there is probably an element of capturing the history one has lived through, or celebrating some part of that history. All collectors are trying to tell a story with their collections, and for collectors of modern firsts, that story is often very personal.

Also, for those who collect firsts—modern or not—part of the draw is to see and experience the book exactly as the author did.

Casino Royale, Ian Fleming, Jonathan Cape 1953, First Edition, Author’s Presentation copy, inscribed on front endpaper, marks the first appearance of the character James Bond, sold for $52,344 at Sotheby’s July 12, 2016 auction.

Casino Royale, Ian Fleming, Jonathan Cape 1953, First Edition, Author’s Presentation copy, inscribed on front endpaper, marks the first appearance of the character James Bond, sold for $52,344 at Sotheby’s July 12, 2016 auction.

How should the beginning collector proceed if they want to focus on modern editions but have a limited budget?

Slowly! Beginning collectors can and will make mistakes, so it’s best to take it slowly as you find your focus and educate yourself about book-collecting basics. I would advise new collectors to attend a few books fairs if they can, get the ‘lay of the land,’ so to speak, and talk to booksellers who specialize in the areas that pique your interest. Affordability doesn’t have to be an issue, unless you’re aiming for a collection of high spots (Hemingway, Fitzgerald, Updike, etc.). If you secretly cherish some quirky or offbeat topic or author, that can be the perfect start for a unique and inexpensive collection.

Why do you think modern editions, like the Harry Potter series, are so attractive to collectors?

I think people are driven to collect books that are meaningful to them, so if the first book that truly appealed to you as a reader was Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone in 1997, maybe that’s the book that will launch your collection of modern firsts, or the works of J.K. Rowling, or every different edition of HP, or high points of children’s literature – who knows?!

Collectible modern firsts are typically in very good (or better) condition, so they also tend to look aesthetically pleasing on a shelf, as opposed to, say, flaking, sheepskin-bound medical books from the mid-nineteenth century. For some, that may be a consideration.

Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, J.K. Rowling, Bloomsbury 1997, First Edition, First Issue (With an error found on page 53 — duplicate listing for ‘1 wand’ in the list of Hogwarts school supplies), sold for $55,628 at a Nov. 9, 2016 auction at Bonhams. The final price was more than double the high estimate.

Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, J.K. Rowling, Bloomsbury 1997, First Edition, First Issue (With an error found on page 53 — duplicate listing for ‘1 wand’ in the list of Hogwarts school supplies), sold for $55,628 at a Nov. 9, 2016 auction at Bonhams. The final price was more than double the high estimate.

What are four things every collector should keep in mind when collecting modern editions?

  1. Can three of them be ‘condition?’ All joking aside, condition is perhaps the most important consideration in modern first editions.
  2. Because modern books are produced in quantity, they are rarely ‘rare,’ so their monetary value is often based on condition, both of the book and, sometimes even more importantly, the dust jacket.
  3. But to back up a little, first you’ll need to determine whether the book actually is a first edition, and that can be tricky, which is why there are guides to help, like McBride’s Pocket Guide to the Identification of First Editions. If you’re working with a bookseller you know and trust, you won’t have to puzzle it out yourself.
  4. While some may like their books pristine and untouched, collectible modern books are occasionally signed or inscribed—so authenticity is obviously an issue, but so is the quality of the inscription. The ‘best’ or most interesting inscribed modern firsts can tell a story about the author and the person he/she inscribed it to: e.g., a friend, a lover, someone involved in the book’s production, a fellow author.
PT 109: John F. Kennedy in World War II, Robert J. Donovan, McGraw-Hill Book Company, inscribed and signed by JFK and all 10 surviving PT 109 crew members, sold for $13,750 at a Dec. 3, 2016 auction conducted by Heritage Auctions.

PT 109: John F. Kennedy in World War II, Robert J. Donovan, McGraw-Hill Book Company, inscribed and signed by JFK and all 10 surviving PT 109 crew members, sold for $13,750 at a Dec. 3, 2016 auction conducted by Heritage Auctions.

What are some of the lesser-known places one can find rare modern issues?

I think church and library book sales are still viable book-hunting venues. Just in the past few years, I’ve found a couple of ‘sleepers’ in this way, one at a church jumble sale in Syracuse, New York, and one at a university library book sale, also in New York. My very best find happened at a church book sale in Massachusetts back in 1999. That was a first edition of Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman, in its jacket, no less.

Several people I interviewed for my book mentioned Goodwill and other charity shops as great places to find modern and ‘hypermodern’ firsts.

What is one of the best quotes you’ve ever come across regarding books?

Well, that one’s easy for me. The quote from Larry McMurtry’s novel, Cadillac Jack, which was the guiding light for my book – ‘Anything can be anywhere.’ And this is borne out almost on a weekly basis when some unknown or ‘missing’ manuscript, book, or piece of art is ‘found.’ It appeals to the treasure hunter in all of us.


Rebecca Rego BarryRebecca Rego Barry is the author of Rare Books Uncovered: True Stories of Fantastic Finds in Unlikely Places (2015) and the editor of Fine Books & Collections magazine. She also writes about books, history and auctions for The AwlSlate, and JSTOR Daily, and her chapter on the Warner sisters will appear in the forthcoming anthology From Page to Place: American Literary Tourism and the Afterlives of Authors (2017).

 

How to Determine the Value of Religious Icons

Antique religious Icons are an increasingly popular and important collector’s item. Regular auctions of these unique and special items engage collectors both new to the items and veteran collectors. To learn more about these items and the category, we turned to Maxwell Easter of Dennis Easter’s Russian Store.


The question I get the most in my field is what makes an Icon more valuable. What are the characteristics that make one Icon, maybe similar in appearance, sometimes cost thousands of dollars more? It’s true there is a big range in pricing, Icons can be priced anywhere from a couple hundred dollars to a couple million dollars but why? To answer this, I have compiled a list of six criteria that influence price. This information will arm you with the knowledge needed to become an educated consumer in the great world of Icons.

Quality

One of the more obvious and most important is the quality of the Icon. How fine is the detail?
How bold are the pigments? How blended are the brush strokes?

Age

The age of the Icon plays an important role in its valuation. Naturally, an Icon from the 15th century will fetch a higher premium in comparison to an Icon from the 19th century, however, there are exceptions.

Rarity

Some scenes, like the classic Christ Pantocrator are more common than others like the Day of Judgement, an Icon I’ve seen only once in my career.

Saint Nicholas, the Wonderworker of Myra, icon painting village of Kholui, Russia, 12 in x 9 in (30 cm x 23 cm). Egg tempera and silvering on gessoed wood. $700. Dennis Easter image

Saint Nicholas, the Wonderworker of Myra, icon painting village of Kholui, Russia, 12 in x 9 in (30 cm x 23 cm). Egg tempera and silvering on gessoed wood. $700. Dennis Easter image

Desirability

Some pieces are just inherently more desirable than others. An image of Saint Nicholas, the patron Saint of Russia, will be more valuable that an Icon of a random Metropolitan or other obscure subjects. Additionally, Icons that have decorative covers called oklads, made of gold and silver with precious and semi-precious stones, are typically worth more.

Condition

Like with anything, condition is important. The better an Icon’s condition the higher the price. This usually holds true but gets complicated based on the personal preference. Some collectors want a piece that has no restoration favoring a more naturally aged look while other collectors would rather have a piece restored to its original condition.

St. Nicholas of Myra with vita, the Evangelists and four border saints - S. Prince Michael, St. Gregory, St, Catherine and St. Justinia, ca. 1870s, icon painting village of Palekh, Russia. 20 1/2 in x 17 in (52 cm x 43 cm). Dennis Easter image

St. Nicholas of Myra with vita, the Evangelists and four border saints – S. Prince Michael, St. Gregory, St, Catherine and St. Justinia, ca. 1870s, icon painting village of Palekh, Russia. 20 1/2 in x 17 in (52 cm x 43 cm). $25,000. Dennis Easter image

Region

The finest Icons were produced by Iconographers from certain communities referred to as “schools.” Often monasteries, these centers for Iconography specialized in their own adopted styles. An Icon from the famous Palekh School will be much more expensive than an Icon from a small rural village.

Provenance

Finally, the history of the piece can play an important role in its valuation. If the Icon was from a particular collection, spent time in a museum and or once belonged to royalty, the piece can skyrocket in value.

For a beginning collector, understanding the value of an Icon can be bewildering. It’s better to start small. One would rather make a $300 mistake than a $30,000 mistake. Allow yourself time to find your own taste, explore the world of Icons, study the history and understand the value of an Icon through the application of these seven criteria listed. Most importantly, if it speaks to you buy it because no Icon is exactly alike and you might never find it again.

 

View this week’s Religious Icons auction and discover your new treasure.


Maxwell Easter is an expert in antique Russian icons and Catholic relics. He manages sales and public relations at Dennis Easter’s Russian Store out of West Palm Beach, Florida.