Schoenhut: From Tiny Pianos To Legendary Toys

German immigrant Albert Schoenhut not only lived the American dream, but he made childhood much more fun for generations of children in his adopted homeland.
Born into a family of toymakers, Schoenhut’s lot in life emerged early on. Even as a child, Albert was already picking up the skills to make toy pianos in the family home located in Göppingen, Germany. As a third-generation toymaker, Schoenhut learned the craft of making wooden dolls, circus figures, complete playsets and games from his father and grandfather. At the age of 17, he had narrowed his focus to toy pianos. His talent resulted in a job offer from America and Schoenhut’s solo immigration to Philadelphia, where he worked for Wanamaker’s department store. His work consisted of repairing German toy pianos imported to the United States, beginning in the 1860s.

Lot featuring all three sizes of jointed-wood Felix the Cat dolls manufactured by Schoenhut, auctioned for $850 in October 2009. LiveAuctioneers and Dan Morphy Auctions image

History Highlight: Composer John Cage put Schoenhut Toy Co.’s toy pianos in the spotlight on the concert stage in 1948 with his Suite for Toy Piano. Enjoy a performance of this special composition:

In 1897, Schoenhut went off on his own, forming A. Schoenhut Company, Manufacturer of Toys and Novelties. He wasn’t alone. It’s reported in the 1900 Census that at least 500 toy manufacturers were operating within the United States. As the 20th century got under way, Albert Schoenhut’s $100 acquisition of a toy clown patent set the course for what would become one of his company’s most prolific toy lines. Schoenhut’s Humpty Dumpty Circus, with its various jointed animal and clown figures, and other circus accessories, opened the door to playset popularity.

Schoenhut Humpty Dumpty Circus playset from the turn of the 20th century, featuring a circus tent, circus ring, original flags, 12 figures: dancer, clowns, animal trainers; and 18 animal figures, sold for 8,000 Euro ($9,425). Provenance: Rothenburg Doll and Toy Museum, Rothenburg ob der Tauber, Germany

History Highlight: The German community where the Schoenhut family of toymakers produced playthings was no stranger to timeless toy production, as toymaking firm Märklin also operated in Göppingen, Germany.

The Humpty Dumpty Circus was a hit with children, parents and teachers alike. The ability to create scenes inspired by the real-life big-top circuses of the day captured the attention of all ages. The retail availability of various figures, which could be purchased individually, created an affordable way for parents to provide their children with toys for creative play.
The Humpty Dumpty Circus toy line was in production from 1903 through 1935. Various museums include or have featured displays/figures of Humpty Dumpty Circus playsets in exhibitions, including:
• The Strong National Museum of Play www.museumofplay.org
• NC Museum of Dolls, Toys & Miniatures www.spencerdollandtoymuseum.com
• New-York Historical Society Museum & Library www.nyhistory.org
• Philadelphia History Museum www.philadelphiahistory.org

Rare, circa 1906 painted-wood toy boat, Schoenhut Co., with cardboard cloth covered canopy and composition figures seated in the bow, keywind mechanism, accompanied by original box, entered in Bertoia’s Nov. 11, 2017 auction. LiveAuctioneers and Bertoia Auctions image

Tip: The Schoenhut Collectors Club is an active organization supporting the practice of collecting, preserving, and researching toys, dolls, and games created by the A. Schoenhut Co., and successor companies. The club hosts an annual fall convention. http://www.schoenhutcollectorsclub.org

Another evolution of the A. Schoenhut Company’s toy production was the “All Wood Perfection Art Doll.” The first model, marketed in 1911, featured steel spring hinges for joints and a basswood head designed by a revered Italian sculptor of the day. The Wood Perfection Art Doll became a top seller during the 1910s, even with the impact of World War I. Before his death in 1912, Albert Schoenhut saw his company progress into various new avenues of toy production and reach its 40th anniversary.
However, the company succumbed to the same fate as many other American businesses impacted by the Great Depression. In 1934, the company entered bankruptcy. Although many of the company’s buildings were sold during liquidating auctions, a few did not sell. In 1935, Albert Schoenhut’s youngest son and one of his grandsons formed the O. Schoenhut Company (after the son, Otto). The company produced Pinn Family Dolls in Philadelphia until the 1970s. In 1984 the company was purchased by Frank Trinca. This iteration of the Schoenhut company was also a family operation, and taking it full circle, brothers Frank and Len Trinca shifted the focus right back to where it began: toy pianos. Now doing business as the Schoenhut Piano Company, the company is revered for the quality of musical instruments it produces.
As they say, everything old is new again.

Roy Lichtenstein: Pop Art with a Comic Book Twist

Oct. 27 marks the 94th anniversary of Roy Fox Lichtenstein’s birth. The pop art trailblazer was born in 1923 and lived to age 73, leaving an immense body of compelling, in-your-face art that appeals to anyone who loves comic-book-style graphics – and isn’t that just about everyone?

Immense, in this instance, means more than 5,000 pieces created over a period of three decades. Often regaled for his prints, Lichtenstein’s creations also included paintings, drawings, murals, and sculptures, among other types of art.

Roy Lichtenstein, Brushstroke Nude, 1993, painted cast aluminum, sold by Phillips in a May 10, 2012 auction for $4.8 million. Image courtesy of LiveAuctioneers.com Archive and Phillips

His appreciation for artistic expression formed early in his childhood in New York. His mother, Beatrice, was a homemaker with training as a pianist, and it is said that she made it a priority to expose her children – Roy and younger sister Rénee – to as much artistic culture as the city could offer. This inspired Lichtenstein during his undergraduate studies at Ohio State University, an education he would complete in two parts: before and after his military service during World War II. Even during his time in Europe, he continued to hone his artistic skills. He had hoped to study at the Sorbonne in Paris but ended up returning to the United States in the mid-1940s upon receiving news of his father’s illness.

After his father’s passing, Lichtenstein remained stateside and resumed his studies at Ohio State. Upon completing his studies, Lichtenstein become a member of the university’s faculty. Academia would become a hallmark of Lichtenstein’s early professional life. In addition to OSU, he taught at the State University of New York at Oswego and Douglass College in New Jersey. Prior to focusing his efforts full time on creating art, his work history included modern interior design, furniture design, and even window dressing.

Roy Lichtenstein, Sweet Dreams, Baby!, silkscreen printed in colors, 1965, 160/200, sold by Bloomsbury auctions on Dec. 6, 2011 for $99,000. Image courtesy of LiveAuctioneers.com Archive and Bloomsbury Auctions

Artist’s Trademark: By including Benday dots, a symbol of mechanical patterns often used in industrial engraving, Lichtenstein incorporated a unique form of texture within his artwork. The dots became synonymous with the artist and a pop-art staple.

The familiarity and popularity of Roy Lichtenstein’s work is due in part to his printmaking. These pieces are considered original art although they are prints of an original surface. Different from commercial prints, fine-art prints are limited in number and often signed by the artist. The printing technique most often used by Lichtenstein during his career was screenprinting (also referred to as silkscreen printing). This technique found a fan in pop-art master Andy Warhol, who used it to develop his own distinctive style. It also influenced the work of Lichtenstein and others active in the early pop-art movement. In the simplest terms, screenprinting involves applying a stencil to a screen through which ink passes, rendering an image on the blank space.

A Lichtenstein print never before offered at auction is among the works featured in Sotheby’s Postwar and Contemporary Evening Sale, Nov. 16, 2017. The print Female Head was created by Lichtenstein in 1977 and carries an auction estimate of $10 million to $15 million.

Roy Lichtenstein, Female Head, 1977, estimate $10M-$15M in Sotheby’s Nov. 16, 2017 auction. Copyright Estate of Roy Lichtenstein. Image courtesy of Sotheby’s

Lichtenstein was very obviously influenced by cartoon and comic art. Like some early comic books, the themes explored and subjects presented in his artwork were not always tranquil. They defined pop art through parody, often in a tongue-in-cheek manner.

Roy Lichtenstein, Nurse, oil and magna on canvas painting, circa 1964, signed and dated rf Lichtenstein ‘64 on verso, realized $95,365,000 in 2015, the most ever paid for a Lichtenstein at auction. Christie’s image

As prolific as he was in creating cartoon-influenced pop art during the second and third quarters of the 20th century, Lichtenstein didn’t shy away from exploring other genres and movements, including cubism, surrealism, and expressionism; as well as other media, such as sculptures and murals. In the late 20th century, he created five murals and significant sculptures in six cities around the world.

The artist continued to work into his 70s, until succumbing unexpectedly to complications of pneumonia in 1997. Although he has been gone for two decades, Lichtenstein’s work continues to captivate and attract new fans, often with “Biff!,” “Pow!” or “Wham!”

In Focus: Linda McCartney

Linda McCartney photo, The Beatles, London 1968, gelatin silver print, 40 x 50 cm, stamped on verso, signed by Mary McCartney from the Linda McCartney Estate. Image obtained from LiveAuctioneers.com Archive and Westlicht Photographica Auction

If it were not for photographer Linda McCartney (American, 1941-1998), the history of rock music would be missing a vital part of its visual record from the 1960s and ’70s. While she had only minimal formal training – once modestly referring to herself as a “punk photographer” – McCartney had a gift for putting performers at ease, then dissolving into the background to snap what are now considered classic photos of music superstars.

Linda McCartney was born Linda Louise Eastman to an upper-crust family from Westchester County, New York. Although some may have presumed it to be so, she was not related to the Eastman family of Eastman Kodak fame, and never made any suggestion that she was. Her father, Lee (Epstein) Eastman was a prominent entertainment lawyer in New York City. Her mother, Louise Lindner Eastman, was the daughter of Max J. Lindner, founder of the Lindner Company department store in Cleveland, Ohio.

After graduating from Scarsdale High School, Linda enrolled at Vermont College, where she earned an Associate of Arts degree. She then moved to Tucson, where she attended the University of Arizona. She started dabbling in equine and nature photography and became an avid hobbyist. Even as a student, she was known to use a high-quality Leica camera.

After her mother died tragically in a 1962 commercial airline crash, Linda moved back to New York and eventually went to work as a receptionist and editorial assistant for the society magazine Town & Country. During that time, she also went along on photo shoots with her then-boyfriend, photographer David Dalton. She closely observed the techniques he used in composition and lighting. Later, as she pursued her own career, Linda became known for her accomplished use of natural light when shooting her subjects.

Linda’s career path took a fortuitous turn in 1966 when an invitation arrived at Town & Country’s offices, inviting the publication to send a representative to a Rolling Stones record promotion party on a yacht. Linda jumped at the chance and ended up being the only photographer allowed on the yacht.

Linda McCartney photo of Mick Jagger, 1966, taken aboard a yacht in New York Harbor, #38/150, signed by the photographer in pencil at lower right. Image courtesy of LiveAuctioneers.com Archive and Sworders Fine Art Auctioneers

“I just kept clicking away with the camera,” Linda is quoted as saying in the Howard Sounes biography Fab: An Intimate Life of Paul McCartney, “and they enjoyed it and I enjoyed it, and suddenly I found that taking pictures was a great way to live and a great way to work.”

A few months after her Stones shoot, Linda was allowed backstage at Shea Stadium, where the Beatles performed. She also became an unofficial house photographer at Bill Graham’s Fillmore East, where she took pictures of scores of artists, including Aretha Franklin, Bob Dylan, Janis Joplin, the Doors, the Who, Grace Slick, and many others. A portrait she took of Eric Clapton became the first by a woman photographer to be chosen for the cover of Rolling Stone magazine. She developed a reputation as not only a fine photographer but also a music industry insider whom recording artists could trust.

Linda McCartney photo, John Lennon, circa-1969 gelatin silver print, printed circa 1974, photographer’s stamps and negative number in red crayon on verso. Image courtesy of LiveAuctioneers.com and Bloomsbury Auctions

Linda McCartney signed lithograph of Grace Slick (Jefferson Airplane/Jefferson Starship). Edition of 150. Image courtesy of LiveAuctioneers.com and Simon Parr’s Auctions

In 1967, while on assignment in London, Linda Eastman met Paul McCartney at the Bag O’ Nails, a club frequented by musicians. They met again four days later at the launch party for Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band at Beatles manager Brian Epstein’s house. In May of 1968, they reconnected at the US launch of Apple Records in Manhattan. Less than a year later, the couple married in a small civil ceremony in London. They would go on to live a normal, non-celebrity-oriented type of life on a farm, far from the insanity of Beatlemania. Throughout their 29 years of marriage, their primary consideration was always their four children: Heather, Mary, Stella and James.

Signed candid photo of Paul and Linda McCartney taken at a sports venue. Their marriage was one of rock music’s most solid, lasting 29 years until Linda’s death in 1998, at age 56. Image courtesy of LiveAuctioneers.com and Heritage Auctions

While she also became a musician, playing keyboards and singing with McCartney’s post-Beatles group Wings, Linda had many other interests. She was a vegetarian and animal activist. She developed a successful line of vegetarian frozen foods that made her independently wealthy, and she both wrote and photographed the images for two bestselling vegetarian cookbooks.

Linda never lost her passion for photographing interesting people, including her own family. Her photographs have appeared on album covers and been exhibited in more than 50 galleries worldwide, including the Victoria and Albert Museum in London. Her experiments with making sun prints – a 19th-century photo-developing process that dates to the early days of photography – earned Linda McCartney an invitation to have her work exhibited at the Royal Photographic Society in Bath, England.

In 1992, a book of Linda’s photos from the earliest decade of her career – titled Linda McCartney’s Sixties: Portrait of an Era – was published by Bulfinch. The photos have been praised for their warmth and ability to capture the essence of each subject at a precise moment in time. A testament to Linda’s talent behind the lens and the respect she garnered from those she photographed, the book remains one of the definitive photo records of rock music legends from that period in time.

Linda McCartney’s Sixties: Portrait of an Era, deluxe signed limited edition book in slipcase, #312/500, Bulfinch, 1992. Image courtesy of LiveAuctioneers.com Archive and Heritage Auctions

Expert Tips on Collecting Old Maps

“Geography helps explain man’s relationship to man’s environment, and maps are visualizations of that relationship.” – Steve Kovacs

It’s a daunting task, providing the visualizations of humankind’s relationship to the environment. However, maps have been doing the job, and very well, for centuries. Just ask any map collector.

Steve Kovacs, owner of an online map gallery and Jasper52’s Maps expert, said there’s a lot to discover from map collecting that isn’t immediately obvious to the beginning collector. We spoke with him to gain insights from his 5+ decade study and appreciation of geography and maps.

How is the collectible map market at present?

The map market has largely rebounded from the slowdown experienced by nearly all antique markets following the financial crisis of nearly a decade ago. There is now a robust interest and demand for a range of antique maps, from rare finds to more common maps.

Engraved map of the inhabited part of Virginia, containing the Province of Maryland and part of Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and North Carolina, original first edition hand-color in outline by state, with the title within a fine rococo cartouche, August 1753, by Joshua Fry and Peter Jefferson. Used by French naval and military commanders to plot strategy during the French and Indian War and the American Revolution. One of only four known examples of a first edition. Provenance: personal collection of esteemed French cartographer Jacques-Nicolas Bellin. Sold for $256,250 during the Spring 2017 auction at Arader Galleries. Arader Galleries image

 

How are maps generally categorized or defined? 

The most common categorization is by the geography depicted, of course — such as US maps, Asia maps, maps of Texas, etc. Another way collectors think about maps is by type, such as pocket or folding maps, wall maps, atlases, books with maps, maps of early exploration of a specific region, railroad maps, and so on. Some collectors separately categorize city maps, bird’s-eye views and pictorial maps, which became more common in the early 20th century.

 

What are some specialities with map collecting?

As with many other collectibles, collectors tend to follow their passion and will stamp their individual interest onto their collection. With that said, there are some more commonly followed themes. For some, maps are works of art, especially pre-19th-century maps full of vignettes and allegorical figures. These collectors will collect maps based on aesthetics and perceived artistic value. Many collectors will focus on specific geography that is relevant to them, such as their residence, heritage and so on. Similarly, some collectors will focus on a particular period of time, e.g., pre-18th-century; or a specific map type or theme, such as maps from the US Revolutionary war. Often collectors grow into being generalists, meaning they’ll collect all types of maps.

1848 Mitchell map of Asia with vivid original hand coloring and an inset of Australia. Estimate $135-$150. Jasper52 image

Which features/elements of maps impact value and prompt collector interest?

As with other forms of art and antiques, there isn’t a rigid formula that helps to define value or potential interest. Value is typically a function of uniqueness, desirability, rarity, age, map size, cartographer, artistic impression, which includes coloration; and condition. The first map to capture a specific geography is likely to be more valuable than a later rendering of the same area. There are maps that just generate lots of interest, and thus are more valued by collectors. Age correlates modestly with value, but there are maps from the 1600s that routinely sell for well under the price of some maps from the 1800s. Condition is very important, especially for maps that are more common. Ultimately, value and interest will be driven by collector demand, which in turn is influenced by the elements previously mentioned.

 

Are there particular types of maps that are more available and/or affordable?

Printing and papermaking technological advancements took a huge leap in the 19th century. As a result, map production became less expensive and the supply of post mid-19th century maps became larger. Many maps of this era are very affordable — such as maps by prolific cartographers including Tallis, Colton and Mitchell. However, there are much older maps that are very attractive, cover virtually all geographies and have sufficient supply to warrant lower prices — Belin’s maps from the mid-1700s are examples of this.

Nouvelle Carte du Royaume de Bengale, engraved map of modern Bangladesh and the Ganges delta, by cartographer Jacques-Nicolas Bellin, 1760, is one of 101 maps featured in the Antiquarian Maps of Asia auction to be presented by Jasper52 on Sept. 2. Estimate $50-$60. Jasper52 image

 

What are some of the places to find maps? What factors should people consider when looking to purchase an antique or vintage map?

Antique maps are generally available at auctions, from map-specific dealers and at some antique book dealers, as well as general antique stores, especially in tourist destinations. As one would expect, prices tend to be lower at auctions, where less business overhead needs to be covered by the price. Dealers have acquired knowledge and expertise, which transfers to credibility for serious collectors. Given the importance of reputation in specialty or niche businesses such as antique maps, most places selling or auctioning maps will give the buyer a fair deal. When looking to purchase an antique map, I would suggest focusing on the item itself first – will it fit your collection? – then on value.

 

What is the price range that beginners should expect to pay as they begin their map collection?

The amount of money a collector is willing to spend is a highly personal decision. With that said, a collector can start with excellent maps under $100 and add to his or her collection as maps of interest are available within their given budget. As the collection grows, many collectors gain confidence in their understanding of antique maps and tend to invest in more expensive, rarer maps, often exceeding $1,000 in price. The key is to have fun and enjoy your collection. Finally, I should add that a collector will also need to determine whether they plan to keep their entire collection or will they rotate their maps, selling some off over time.

 

What are some of the condition factors that can impact the collectability of maps?

As noted previously, condition is very important, as with other antiques. Condition statements typically focus on the map itself and less on the margins. Discolorations, foxing (small spots caused by impurities in the paper stock), mold or water stains/spots, toning (yellow/browning of the paper stock), tears/splits, missing portions, and excessive folds are examples of quality defects or poorer condition. As common sense would dictate, the poorer condition is somewhat ‘forgive’ for rare maps, but more-common maps in poorer condition will have a lower value. Finally, there isn’t a universal condition-grading system; rather, most dealers rely on giving an opinion of the map’s condition, although some will also use their own grading system.

Lot of three maps of Russia in Europe, and Russia in Asia, featured in the book The History of Russia containing Russia in Asia: Part of Russia and Independent Tartary: Russia in Europe Showing the Terretorial Acquisitions Since the Time of Peter the Great, by cartographer John Tallis, 1851. Hand-color in outline map is illustrated with six portraits/scenes that include czars. Estimate $225-$250. Jasper52 image

 

How did your interest in maps develop? What do you enjoy most about maps? Is there a map you’ve come across or have within your collection that is considered a favorite?

I was drawn to geography from an early age, as geography helps explain man’s relationship to man’s environment, and maps are visualizations of that relationship. In many ways, maps tell stories. I most enjoy maps representing early explorations, such as early maps of the Americas or Asia. In those days, cartographers felt compelled to use their imagination to make an educated guess of part of the topography pictured… and they tended to get this only partially right. One of the first maps I received was a Christmas present from my wife and shows the area of the world that my family comes from. Of course, that one won’t be for sale!


About the Expert:

Steve Kovacs has been passionate about geography and maps for five decades. His interest has taken him from studying and collecting maps to opening a boutique online map gallery. He also enjoys putting his knowledge of maps to use for his global travels – he’s visited 55 countries so far. He also has a background in science, engineering, and business. He is a member of the International Map Collectors’ Society and serves as the expert curating Map auctions for Jasper52.

Children’s Books: Investing in Nostalgia

Do you remember the books you loved as a child? It’s a solid bet that at least a couple of your childhood favorites are also the favorites of collectors, and with good reason. We can all relate to the experience of having books read to us at bedtime, and later, taking pride in learning how to read those books ourselves.

Baum, L. Frank, The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, first edition, first state of the text and first state of the plates, octavo, Geo. M. Hill Co., Chicago and New York, 1900. Green morocco slipcase. Auctioned Dec. 16, 2009 for $53,100. LiveAuctioneers / Profiles in History image

We spoke with two experts in the field of collectible books: Helen Younger, founder of Aleph-Bet Books, Inc., and Catherine Payling, MBE, director of Waverly Rare Books, a subsidiary of Quinn’s Auction Galleries, to get their take on the children’s book market. In speaking with them, we learned that juvenile literature is a solid niche within the greater realm of book collecting and has been so for quite some time.

As Payling observed, the market “has been relatively stable during and after recent economic upheavals and broader changes in patterns of collecting.”

Echoing those sentiments, Younger, who has been in the collectible book business since 1977, pointed to the availability and affordability of children’s books as reasons for the continued interest among collectors.

“In the world of collectible books, children’s books, in general, are not among the most expensive – they can be a little more attainable.”

In building a collection of children’s books, keep these points in mind: edition and rarity; condition, desirability, and the potential impact of changing trends.

Lot of three titles signed by Maurice Sendak, illustrated, and authored by Ruth Krauss, “Somebody Else’s Nut Tree And Other Tales From Children,” “A Hole Is to Dig: A First Book of Definitions,” and “Lullabies And Night Songs,” published in 1971, 1952, and 1965, respectively. Sold for $250 at auction June 1, 2017 through Waverly Books. Waverly Books image

For example, Payling said, “If there should be a dust jacket but one isn’t present, then a book without one is [considered] comprised. Is the book signed by the author or the illustrator? Is there interesting provenance?” All are important factors with respect to desirability.

Addressing condition, Younger outlined the standards many reputable dealers use in assessing books:

  • Good: Shows wear, tears, soiling, and perhaps the dust jacket is missing
  • Very Good: The book is in nice condition, although it may show age to some extent. It is clean and presents nicely.
  • Fine: Although it may not look as it did when brand new, it has no defects, it is clean, and nothing is missing.
  • Mint: The book is flawless.

Not only is understanding differences in condition helpful when considering the purchase of a book, it is often the key factor in determining price when selling a book.

For example, as Younger pointed out, Aleph-Bet might list a copy of Dr. Seuss’ The Cat in the Hat with a high price tag, but that might be because it’s a first edition, first printing, in mint condition.

Wells, Carolyn, illustrations by Jessie Wilcox Smith, “Seven Ages of Childhood,” first edition, NY: Moffat Yard 1909, tan gilt cloth, round pictorial paste-on, 56 pages. Cloth slightly darkened on edges from inoffensive cover stain, occasional foxing, VG. $400 through Aleph-Bet Books. Aleph-Bet Books image

As with most collecting interests, experience and time are the best teachers, according to Payling and Younger. Learning how publishers denoted first editions is an important practice, Younger added.

“It truly takes time to learn the aspects of children’s books, and to complicate things further, publishers were not consistent with how they denoted first editions,” she explains. “Some may say ‘first edition,’ some may have a number code or a combination, and some may have the date of publication on the title page and the copyright page, while some may not.”

Payling, who recently purchased a copy of Miskoo the Lucky by Mary Fairclough – one of her favorite books from childhood – recommends the following measures to gain valuable knowledge about children’s books:

  • Acquire some good-quality reference books on your specific area of collecting interest, whether it is by country, century, author and so on, and use them to help make buying decisions.
  • Learn to identify variations in condition.
  • Learn about current market prices from online resources, especially recent auction results, whose price database is free of charge.
  • Check out auction houses and their auction catalogs.

Also, attending book fairs and visiting the shops and sites of businesses specializing in rare and collectible books are all methods for amassing knowledge that will prove helpful in efforts to acquire children’s books, Younger advised.

Beginners may find it advisable to define the focus of their collection.

“Blue-chip authors, such as L. Frank Baum, Dr. Seuss, J.R.R. Tolkien, Lewis Carroll, J.M. Barrie, Maurice Sendak, and Roald Dahl are always sought after,” said Payling. “People are often motivated by childhood memories, so we see buyers looking for children’s titles popular when they were young.” Illustrated books are also highly desirable.

Younger points to children’s books published in the mid-20th century as being the current “sweet spot” in collecting. However, some lesser-known interests are gaining attention.

Milne, A.A., “Winnie the Pooh (And) The House at Pooh Corner,” Russian first edition, NY: Dutton 1967, cloth, 221 pages. Top edge rubbed, otherwise VG+ in frayed dust wrapper with a few mends on verso. $125 through Aleph-Bet Books. Aleph-Bet Books image

“Right now, we’re seeing the popularity of Russian children’s books growing,” she said. Early 20th-century Russian children’s books are distinguished by their consistently high quality of printing, illustration, and presentation. Plus, they reflect the characteristics of an evolving society.

Before the Russian Revolution of 1917, many of the books displayed lush treatment and robust illustration – a “frills and fantasy” presentation – said Younger, who formerly worked as a librarian and fosters a life-long appreciation for books. After the Revolution, children’s books, much like Russian society of that period, were stark, direct, and more focused on being utilitarian.

Another aspect of collecting to bear in mind is changing trends, Payling said. For example, values of Harry Potter books are not as high today as they were at the peak of Potter-mania.

Collecting children’s books can be rewarding, but like any type of book collecting, it requires a time investment. It pays to learn as much as possible, study market activity, and over and above all, to allow one’s own sense of nostalgia to serve as the primary guide to purchases.


About the experts:

Catherine Payling, MBE, M.A. Oxford University, was born and raised in the United Kingdom. She spent 10 years working in prestigious executive roles in London, and 15 years in Rome, Italy, where she served as curator/director of the Keats House Museum. Catherine has resided in the United States since 2011. She was an adjunct professor at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C., and is married to Duncan Wu, the Raymond Wagner Professor of Literary Studies at Georgetown. Catherine has a personal collection of books, and she and her husband are lifelong collectors of fine and decorative art.

Helen Younger co-owns Aleph-Bet Books in Pound Ridge, New York, together with her husband, Marc. Her love of books began when she was a child and continued to grow as she traveled through Europe following her high school graduation. She became a professional librarian and, in the mid-1970s, established a book-selling business upon the suggestion of her mother-in-law, who organized estate sales. Helen has been a member of the Antiquarian Booksellers Association of America since 1982.

Expert Tips for Buying Jewelry Online

Whether you’re seeking wearable accessories to enhance a wardrobe, looking to add new pieces to an established collection, or searching for beautiful treasures to give as gifts, you’ll find that antique and contemporary jewelry is plentiful online.

Once regarded as items that required in-person inspection prior to purchase, contemporary, vintage and antique jewelry items are all part of a growing segment within the e-commerce realm. Global jewelry sales are expected to achieve $250 billion by the end of the year, with online purchases accounting for 4-5%, according to Forbes. While that may not seem like an overly impressive statistic, just wait. Within the next three years, it’s anticipated that purchases of jewelry via online platforms will account for 15% of total sales.

A current fashion-jewelry trend, according to an article in the Robb Report, is chunky vintage jewelry. A few of the 65 lots featured in Jasper52’s July 16, 2017 Loose Stones, Sterling & Silver Jewelry Auction fit this bill. This circa-1970s Italian silver bracelet by UnoAErre measures 9/23 cm when locked and has an affordable estimate of $70-$90. Jasper52 image

A significant factor behind the anticipated spike is increased consumer confidence. “If you’re buying from a trusted seller, it should make no difference how the transaction is accomplished. Buying online is just a more convenient way to acquire the same merchandise that ordinarily would be purchased from a traditional venue,” said LiveAuctioneers Senior VP Product and Marketing Phil Michaelson.

As the jewelry market continues to evolve, the opportunity to obtain jewelry from sellers around the world, regardless of one’s locale, is greater than ever. With that being the case, to paraphrase a quote from Marvel Comics’ Spider-Man, “With great opportunity comes great responsibility.” Research and ask questions before you make any online jewelry purchase, not afterward.

Scully & Scully 18K white and yellow gold owl brooch with ruby eyes and criss-cross design of diamonds, handmade in England, with original box. Entered in Alex Cooper’s July 20, 2017 auction. Estimate $1,000-$2,000. Image courtesy of LiveAuctioneers and Alex Cooper

Buying Tip: Look for diamonds that have been graded by the GIA (Gemological Institute of America). This world-renowned nonprofit institute issues laboratory reports with their opinion of a gemstone’s color and clarity.

Robert Kadet, a member of the jewelry industry for more than four decades and a graduate gemologist, says the credibility of the company offering jewelry should be a foremost consideration. “Find out how long the company selling the piece has been in business and make sure they have an upstanding reputation,” he advises.

Art Deco Burma sapphire, Colombian emerald and diamond brooch, estimated total diamond weight 1 carat. Offered in Fellows’ July 13, 2017 auction. Estimate £5,000-£7,000. Image courtesy of LiveAuctioneers and Fellows

The Better Business Bureau and sites like Yelp are among the sources where consumers can obtain information on a business, but when it comes to online auctions, it is important to bid through a platform where quality jewelry sellers conduct their sales. Check how many auctions they have run in the past, what sort of merchandise they carry, how long they’ve been in business, and most certainly, what their Terms and Conditions are.

Buying Tip: Pay close attention to the auction-catalog details for any item of jewelry you’re considering to bid on. When buying a piece of jewelry, you want to know what karat gold it is, the carat weight or total weight of diamonds or colored stones, and whether it contains precious or semi-precious stones.

A cushion-shape diamond in a claw-set mount, 26.29 carats, with a clarity grade of VVS2 sold for $847,667 at auction on June 7, 2017. It had been purchased for only 10 British pounds sterling ($13) in the 1980s. Image courtesy of Sotheby’s image

Nothing does more to inspire buyers to add a new sparkler to their jewelry chest than a high-profile sale of a dazzling gemstone, especially if it has a good story behind it. There was quite a buzz in jewelry circles recently when Sotheby’s held its Fine Jewelry auction. Leading the lots in their sale was a recently discovered diamond ring referred to as the “Tenner” diamond. The ring features a cushion-shape diamond weighing 26.29 carats in a claw-set mount reportedly dating to the 19th century. It was originally purchased by the consignor in the 1980s for just 10 British pounds sterling (US $13), hence the name “Tenner” – British slang for a 10-pound note. The ring had been misidentified as costume jewelry and was sold at a car boot sale, a market where individuals gather to sell household and flea market goods from the “boot,” or trunk, of their cars.

Buying Tip: Pay attention to the presence of photos, or lack thereof, within online jewelry listings. Photos of jewelry should be clear and represent all angles. Take the time to inspect each photo. If you aren’t satisfied with the photographic representations provided in an auction listing, contact the seller or auctioneer and ask for additional images of a specific angle. — Gemological Institute of America

Jewelry listings with photos of multiple views provide the possibility to inspect a piece closely, which can reveal important elements, including makers’ marks, as shown in this photo. This sterling silver ring with an oval-shape cabochon green agate, created by Georg Jensen circa 1910-1925, is included in Jasper52’s July 16, 2017 American, European & Mexican Silver Auction. Estimate: $650-$750. Jasper52 image

Discovering a wonderful piece of jewelry online, bidding on it, and winning it, is an exciting way to add to a collection. When the package containing your purchase arrives at your door and you discover that the piece is even nicer than you had initially thought, you’ll be glad you took the time to do your research before buying.


Rodger Kadet grew up working many aspects of his family’s jewelry business, Rogers and Hollands Jewelers, which has been in operation for more than a century. In 2009, he began doing business as Roger Kadet Ltd., operating as a private jeweler specializing in custom-made jewelry, as well as watches and other types of jewelry. He is a buyer of gold, diamonds, silver and coins. He currently serves as the president of the Chicago Jewelers Association (CJA), which was founded in 1874. In addition to serving as a resource and a forum platform for retailers, wholesalers/manufacturers, and sales representatives serving the jewelry market, the organization provides educational seminars, and operates a scholarship fund for college-bound students.

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.