Storytelling Through Quilts

Quilting and storytelling go hand in hand, or perhaps it’s more like stitch by stitch. Whatever the illustration, the fact remains that for as long as people have been quilting, they’ve been infusing bits of themselves and their experiences into their creations.

Sometimes the infusion of first-person stories or family lore is strikingly apparent from the image or scene serving as the central focus of the quilt. In other examples the message may be more subtle but just as integral to the quilt’s overall tale. It could be the pattern, the material or type of stitch used that conveys a special meaning.

Lone Star quilt, 1900, Berks County, Pennsylvania, featured in an exhibition at the Guggenheim Museum, sold for $3,318 at auction. Photo courtesy Pook & Pook Inc.

The beauty of storytelling through quilting is that every piece and stitch matter, and every quilt is indeed a sum of its parts, not unlike life itself. Each person’s life is a collection of stories based on the experiences and emotions shaping the journey. It’s those stories that also speak to collectors of these textiles that “talk.”

Marla Jackson, founder of the African American Quilt Museum and Textile Academy in Lawrence, Kansas, refers to quilts as examples of visual literacy.

“I believe that when our ancestors or we make quilts, they speak for us. It’s a language and a form of communication,” said Jackson, who began quilting in the late 1990s and opened the museum in 2012.

“Ms. Marla” as she’s known, uses quilts and their stories to educate and inspire youth living in northeast Kansas. Through her “Beyond the Book” program, she strives to impart details and understanding of the African American heritage from the time of slavery through the Civil War era, the Civil Rights movement and to the present. The group has turned to quilts to survey the history of the African American community in their region of the Sunflower State.

Baltimore album quilt, mid-19th century, 25 applique and trapunto squares depicting images including the U.S. Capitol, an American sailing ship, and monument with flags. Auction price: $28,440. Photo courtesy Pook & Pook Inc.

Among the historical accounts Jackson and the children have explored by studying and making quilts is that of Maria Rodgers Martin. Martin was among the slaves abducted by Union troops during a raid of the Tennessee home where she worked. She was taken to Lawrence, Kansas, where she worked as a servant for Senator James Lane. It’s believed she created a variety of quilts during the Civil War years while living in Lawrence. One of the most notable is a Feathered Star pattern quilt, which was assessed by the authors of the book Stories in Stitches as being “a stunning example of fine workmanship and quality. Today the Feathered Star is considered an advanced pattern [and the example believed to have been done by Martin] done with flawless execution.”

As part of their research of Martin, Jackson and the students worked together in 2014 to create a quilt that told her story through textile. Jackson took the same approach to create narrative quilts that profiled people who endured discrimination in the 1930s. The quilts in this series feature iconic singers and musicians including Billie Holiday, Nina Simone, Louis Armstrong and Ma Rainey, among others.

Modern narrative profile quilt of musician Ma Rainey, created by celebrated quilter and historian Marla Jackson, founder of the African American Quilt Museum and Textile Academy and the National African American Quilt Conference. Photo courtesy of Marla Jackson

For Jackson, whose quilt art has appeared in more than 40 venues across the country – including the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture, and the American Folk Art Museum – all of this is about fulfilling her calling.

“It feels like I’m doing what I was born to do,” she said. “I’m sharing the stories told by centuries of people by helping others ‘hear’ the quilts…”

Echoing Jackson’s sentiments about quilts of the past and present is Laura Hendrickson, registrar at the National Quilt Museum in Paducah, Kentucky, where contemporary quilts are showcased, quilting is taught, and its tradition, celebrated.

Contemporary quilt titled “… and Our Flag Was Still There,” from the National Quilt Museum collection. Melinda Bula designed and quilted it after her son joined the Marine Corps. Photo courtesy of the National Quilt Museum

“I think it would be important to consider that quilts and other forms of textile art, which historically have fallen under the category of women’s work, provided a type of voice for people who might not have otherwise had ways to express themselves,” Hendrickson said. “Although we have the choice to speak out today in many ways, quilts, just like any other art form, can be a powerful form of personal expression. I’m not a quilt historian, but my impression would be that while many older quilts ‘spoke’ through symbolism and visual metaphor, today’s quilts are more blunt, even using text in the piecing and appliqué.”

An example of how storytelling and collecting intersect is Stuart Ansell’s 1934 Tiger Pennant Baseball quilt. It sold for $16,000 at a January 2018 Pook & Pook auction.

According to archival information at quiltindex.org, the story of Ansell’s quilt appeared in The Detroit News in 1935. As the story goes, Ansell showed up with a quilt he designed and quilted. The Detroit police officer was a life-long quilter and diehard baseball fan. He had reached out to each player on the 1934 Detroit Tigers team, as well as the groundskeeper and the team’s trainer, to obtain their signatures for inclusion on the quilt. Each embroidered name appears on tan baseballs pictured throughout the body of the quilt. In addition, he embroidered the names of each team in the American League as well as the Tigers’ record, onto the quilt. Also appearing on the quilt are four images of Bengal tiger heads, the team’s trademark Old English ‘D’ and a miniature baseball diamond at the center.

One-of-a-kind 1934 Tigers Pennant Baseball quilt, auctioned for $16,000 in January 2018. Photo courtesy Pook & Pook Inc.

This quilt reflects the story of one man’s appreciation for the game of baseball and his hometown team that took the American League pennant before falling to the St. Louis Cardinals during the 1934 World Series.

Although it’s been more than 80 years since Ansell created the storied Tigers quilt, the history and practice of quilts designed and made by men is more extensive than one might believe.

The appreciation for contemporary quilts like those displayed at the African American Quilt Museum and the National Quilt Museum is why modern quilts have little difficulty being categorized as future collectibles.

“For me personally, I am often struck by the anonymity of so many of the antique or vintage quilts I see. I want to know who made them, and why,” Laura Hendrickson said. “On the other side of that, my work here at the museum ensures that some of the world’s quilts will be cared for and remembered long into the future.”

On The Civil War Memorabilia Trail

By Dr. Anthony J. Cavo

I parked in front of the late Victorian A-frame home in response to a phone call I received from the friend of a friend who said she was interested in disposing of her uncle’s possessions, which included some Civil War items. While every house call (as we’ve come to call them) brings its own unique sense of anticipation, those with items described as “Civil War” instill a strange mixture of anticipation, excitement, worry, doubt and even anxiety. From the time you make the appointment to the appointment itself, your mind works overtime. “What could there be? Is it really Civil War related? Will we be able to come to an agreement or will I walk out empty handed?” After a lifetime in the business, few things cause me to shiver – old photographs, paintings, and Civil War-related items are some of those things.

These two hat insignia were included in Josiah Hammond’s box of medals. There was no accompanying information to indicate how the insignia were obtained or why Josiah had them. Photo courtesy of Dr. Anthony J. Cavo

Frequently the items encountered during these calls are antiques and collectibles that are readily available in the marketplace. There are other times, however, when you are surprised in ways you hadn’t expected. I have been called to homes to buy “Civil War” items only to find World War I real-photo postcards, helmets, canteens and other equipment – not that these are bad finds, but they are not Civil War.

Conversely, I have walked into a home to look at grandma’s rocking chair and walked out with a Colt Special Model 1861 rifle-musket dated 1862 and a World War II Nazi dagger from a soldier who served with Patton, both items with complete provenance. That is precisely why, with every house call, the excitement reaches a crescendo as you approach the home and ring the bell, thinking, ‘What will I find behind this door?’

The woman invited me to sit at her dining room table onto which she placed a few boxes. Was I a contestant on a game show? No, but all of the boxes could be mine if “The Price Was Right.” She removed photographs from the first box, and my heart sank. I immediately recognized as being of World War II era, not Civil War. They were photographs of her uncle, Richard Hammond.

Following the glossy paper photographs were Hammond’s WWII medals, and finally about 12 long, clear cylinders loaded with Indian head pennies. The woman explained that the pennies were tips her uncle received on his paper route during the early 20th century, which he never spent. There was a WWII photo album, and documents as well. Not a bad find but not Civil War.

Josiah Hammond’s Grand Army of the Republic Medal with insignia for the infantry, cavalry and navy, with images of 24 corps badges on verso. The partial letterhead from the District of Boton dates to 1859 and confirms that Josiah P. Hammond is an American seaman. Photo courtesy of Dr. Anthony J. Cavo

The next thing she pulled from the box was a 19th-century tobacco tin whose rattle informed me there was something inside other than tobacco. I pried it open to find a few Civil War-related medals, and immediately my adrenaline was on the rise. There was hope after all.

Things only got better from there. Letters appeared from a sailor named M. C. Philbrick from the U.S.S. Monongahela. His private papers and sketch of the U.S.S. Albatross off Mobile, Alabama, September 25, 1863, are in a collection at the U. S. Naval Historical Center.

The Massachusetts Minuteman Medal awarded to troops who answered Lincoln’s “first call” for volunteers. The rim of each medal is personally inscribed with the service member’s name, rank, and unit. This medal is inscribed, “Josiah P. Hammond, PRVT. H. 3rd. REG.”

Then out came a couple of hat insignia and uniform buttons along with a “Massachusetts Minute Men 1861” medal, inscribed on the edge, Josiah P. Hammond, PRVT. H. 3rd. Reg., and other Civil War-related medals. Josiah’s 10-page, official military record came next, accompanied by a Seaman’s Passport from the “Collector of Boston, Arthur W. Austin” verifying Josiah P. Hammond’s status as a sailor, dated March 31, 1858; as well as a sailor’s certificate from 1859 and a four-page letter from Josiah’s uncle, J. Parker, from the Armory Square Hospital in Washington, D.C., dated June 24, 1864. There was an ambrotype of Josiah P. Hammond and another of his father, Doctor Josiah S. Hammond, an 1834 graduate of Williams College.

The Massachusetts Minuteman Medal was awarded to troops who answered Lincoln’s “first call” for volunteers. The initial enlistment was for a period of three months in the belief that the war would be over before three months passed. The rim of each medal is personally inscribed with the service member’s name, rank, and unit.

It is estimated that about 3,800 such medals were struck by the U.S. Mint in 1902, by which time many of the recipients had either died or otherwise were unable to collect their medals. The medal alone brings $400 to $500, but it might be worth twice that amount if it is part of a collection of items belonging to the same recipient.

Ambrotype of Josiah P. Hammond that had been stored in a 19th-century tobacco tin. Photo courtesy of Dr. Anthony J. Cavo

Josiah P. Hammond, born November 24, 1839, answered Lincoln’s call for volunteers on April 16, 1861 – four days after the outbreak of the Civil War. He enlisted in Plympton, Massachusetts, for a period of three months as one of the “Minutemen of ’61.” Josiah was in the Massachusetts 3rd Regiment, Company H, Infantry. He re-enlisted in October 1861 in Boston for a period of three years and served as a seaman aboard the USS North Carolina, USS Bienville, USS Monongahela, and USS Pensacola. He was later promoted to Quartermaster for “meritorious service” and also took part in many historic battles from the Carolinas to Florida, into the Gulf and finally at Port Hudson, Louisiana, where he took part in the longest siege in American history.

The Hammond family has an interesting history. Josiah Hammond’s great, great grandfather, William Hammond, married Elizabeth Penn, the sister of William Penn, the founder of Philadelphia. William died in London, and Elizabeth Penn Hammond immigrated to America with her four children in 1634.

Included with the papers was a two-page letter on parchment, which is not related to the Civil War but very interesting nonetheless. It is a 1743 note written by a member of the Hammond family to “The North Precinct in the Town of Plymouth (Mass.) General Court” concerning the building of a meetinghouse. Also include in the historical trove were other Civil War-related documents, pension papers, 18th- and 19th-century land deeds, and last wills and testaments.

The most interesting item, however, was an 1863 blueprint of the Confederate fort at Port Hudson, Louisiana, on the Mississippi River. The blueprint originated with Charles H. Taylor, who was injured at the age of 16 during the battle of Port Hudson. As a photograph collector, I am familiar with cyanotypes (a type of blue-tinted photograph) and until now had never made the connection between the cyanotype process and blueprints. An Englishman named John Herschel, the son of astronomer William Herschel, invented the cyanotype and thus the blueprint process in 1842 in an attempt to copy his notes. Paper coated in iron salts was used to make a contact print (direct print by placing the original or a negative onto sensitized paper and exposing it to light). This resulted in a white image on a blue background.

Port Hudson was the Confederate stronghold on the Mississippi River and a major obstacle to Union forces. The fort was vital in the flow of supplies from Texas and Europe to the Confederate states. If Union forces could capture Port Hudson, they would be in control of navigation on the Mississippi River from the Gulf of Mexico throughout the Deep South. The Confederates repelled a number of Union assaults by Farragut’s forces during 1862 and 1863 until the 48-day siege from May 22 to July 8, 1863. At its peak, Port Hudson was 16,000 strong; however, during the 48-day siege it housed only around 3,500 men. This battle was the longest siege in American history and the first place where African-Americans fought under African-American leadership.

Portions of the Port Hudson blueprint showing the positions of the 1st Alabama, General Gardner’s Headquarters, a depot, Nims Battery, Lady Davis, 15th Arkansas Battery, rifle pits, the spot where Lieutenant Glover was killed, and the spot where General Paine was wounded. Photo courtesy of Dr. Anthony J. Cavo

The blueprint of Port Hudson is unique in that it identifies the position of almost everything in the fort – information that has otherwise been lost to time. Places and positions identified by the blueprint are: rifle pits, depots, mortars, 18-gun battery, Nim’s Batteries (Capt. Ormand F. Nims 2nd Massachusetts), Confederate General Gardner’s Headquarters, the positions of “Native Infantry,” the Indiana battery, Arkansas divisions 9th, 11th, 12th, 15th, 16th, 18th, 19th, and 23rd, as well as the 53rd Massachusetts and 1st and 43rd Alabama. Also shown is Clinton Road, Baton Rouge Road, roads leading to landings, the road to Confederate General Bank’s headquarters, Lamely Creek, Chimpson Creek, and a variety of SAP. SAPs are zig-zag trenches.

Along the Mississippi River, it indicates a “Mortar Fleet,” the place where the Gunboat Mississippi was destroyed and the positions of the USS Hartford and USS Alabama. There are also X’s indicating spots where Union Lt. Glover of the 53rd Mass. Infantry was killed and Union General Paine wounded.

One of the more interesting things shown on the map is a location identified as Lady Davis. Lady Davis was a rather large gun – a 10-inch columbiad – that fired 128-pound shells for a distance of two miles. This gun was a curse to Union camps and so named by the Confederates for the “First Lady of the Confederacy” Varina Anne Banks Howell Davis, the second wife of Confederate President Jefferson Davis.

The collection, never seen by more than a few people, will be on loan for five years to the museum at the Port Hudson State Historic site.

It’s pleasurable to collect and own such treasures, but sharing a collection with the public is not only beneficial to others but may serve to inspire young people who are interested in history, preservation and collecting. It is especially exciting to know that this blueprint could help reconstruct a map or model of Port Hudson. It is also gratifying to know that letters to and from sailors, as well as a photograph of a sailor who took part in the siege of Port Hudson, will be displayed at the Port Hudson State Historic Site. It is kind of like sending them home.

Our thanks to Antique Trader for sharing Dr. Anthony J. Cavo’s article with us. Visit Antique Trader online at www.antiquetrader.com.

A History of U.S. Paper Money

Liza Minnelli famously sang about the role of money in the award-winning Broadway play Cabaret, saying “Money makes the world go round.” Oscar Wilde cleverly wrote about it, as well, stating “When I was young, I used to think that money was the most important thing in life. Now that I am old, I know it is.”

Whether or not you wholeheartedly agree with these theories about money, at some level there is an element of truth to them. While the American monetary system was by no means the first, it’s an interesting and compact case study because the United States is such a relatively young nation.

The first forms of paper currency used by British colonials in the New World were issued by the province of Massachusetts, beginning in 1690, explained Peter Treglia, Director of Currency at Stack’s Bowers. At the time, the colonies issued their own paper money as a matter of convenience when paying for goods and services..

“(It was) essentially a form of fiat money, as it was not backed by any precious metals,” explained Treglia. That would change over time, with the decision to print a federal form of paper currency.

Fewer than 10 examples of the 1861 $20 Demand Note are recorded in the census, and most are in the Very Good to Fine range. This example’s grade is PCGS Very Fine 25. At the center of the specimen is a vignette of Liberty, with sword and shield in hand. It sold for $93,000 during Stack’s Bower’s March 2018 auction of the John R. Anderson Collection of United States Paper Money. The 64-lot auction realized more than $8 million. Image courtesy Stack’s Bowers

“The first form of paper currency, in 1861, was demand notes. They were designed to help finance the Civil War,” Treglia explained. “It did so by Congress authorizing demand notes; because the cost of the war exceeded the government’s limited income from tariffs and excises, and it was the only way to fund it.”

The forms of federally-issued paper currency quickly expanded beyond demand notes to include many different types including Silver Certificates, Gold Certificates, Legal Tender Notes, and Federal Reserve Notes. Both Silver Certificates and Gold Certificates were backed by gold, beginning in 1863.

“It was the most secure form of currency in the eyes of the government and the people of the United States,” added Treglia. “It allowed one to deposit physical gold and silver for paper currency. It was easier to carry as it was much lighter than say $50 worth of gold or silver.”

The last Gold Certificates were printed in 1928, and on June 5, 1933 President Roosevelt suspended the gold standard. The first Federal Reserve Note issue was the series of 1914, and it remains the sole form of paper currency in the U.S. today.

Example of the first federally-issued $2 note. This 1862 $2 Legal Tender Note appears in grade PCGS Gem New 65 PPQ and was part of the “greenback” currency issue that began in 1862. Alexander Hamilton appears at the center of the note, which sold for $20,400 during the March 2018 auction of the John R. Anderson Collection through Stack’s Bowers. Image courtesy of Stacks’ Bowers

“Because of the Great Depression, the government found it could do little to stimulate the economy, and in order to deter people from depleting the gold supply, President Roosevelt decided to remove the nation away from the gold standard,” said Treglia. “By doing this, it allowed for lower interest rates and for the government to pump money into the economy via fiat currency…This proved to be successful.”

As explained in detail on Wikipedia, “Federal Reserve Notes are authorized by Section 16 of the Federal Reserve Act of 1913 and are issued to the Federal Reserve Banks at the discretion of the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System. The notes are then put into circulation by the Federal Reserve Banks, at which point they become liabilities of the Federal Reserve Banks and obligations of the United States.”

Federal Reserve Notes are printed at the United States Bureau of Printing and Engraving, located in Washington, D.C. Tours of the BPE are offered to the public during specific months of the year. Admission is free, but anyone interested in taking the 40-minute tour is required to obtain tickets. If you are considering a tour of the BPE while visiting Washington, be sure to check the  HYPERLINK “https://www.moneyfactory.gov/washingtondctours.html” BEP site, as renovations to the area are slated for the latter part of 2018.

With such an involved history, selecting one particularly significant moment in the evolution of U.S. paper currency may seem like a tall order. However, Treglia offers his take without hesitation.

“Hands down, the National Banking Act,” he said. “Prior to the Civil War, state banks could issue their own currency backed by financial securities held by the bank. Because it was so lax, many of these private banks went bankrupt rather quickly, and it encouraged lots of fraudulent institutions to issue worthless bank notes.”

Treglia further explained, “In 1863, President Lincoln created the National Banking Act, which allowed National Bank Notes to be issued by private banks with the government’s oversight and backing. The act allowed banks to issue local currency with standard government-provided designs. This prompted great confidence in the currency and allowed tremendous growth in the economy, and security in business and commerce. That was arguably the most important time in United States paper-money history.”

One of only four known examples of the 1862 and 1863-dated $1,000 Legal Tender Note, with this being the finest graded (PCGS Choice About New 58) in private hands. At the center is a portrait of founding father and Superintendent of Finance Robert Morris. Notes of this denomination were typically used in bank-to-bank transactions and were not used by the public. It sold for $960,000 during a March 2018 auction through Stack’s Bowers. Image courtesy Stack’s Bowers.

Regarding who and what has appeared and continues to appear on U.S. currency, there’s been a lot of change within a framework of consistency.

“It was common early on to use powerful figures on currency, not just presidents,

Treglia said. “Female allegorical designs, important historical individual such as Lewis and Clark, and Ben Franklin have appeared on currency.”

Furthermore, the Eye of Providence was decided upon by a design committee and was first used in 1776.

Adding to the excitement of its rich history, the current market for collecting U.S. paper currency is robust.

“Today’s paper money-collecting market is very strong, especially in very rare material,” said Treglia. “(Stack’s Bowers) is currently selling one of the greatest pre-1923 U.S paper money collections of all time. It consists of only 240 notes and will sell over two years with a total estimated value of $30,000,000.”

How To Collect Comic Art Like a Pro

The reign of comics-infused and comics-generated forms of entertainment not only continues, it’s also growing. A visit to your local movie theater will confirm this fact. So far this year, the three top moneymakers at the boxoffice are: “Black Panther,” “Avengers: Infinity War,” and “Deadpool 2.” All are based on comic-book heroes.

Similar events are happening in the auction universe as well, as original comic art continues to create excitement with bidders around the world. One of the peripheral benefits is that fans are becoming more familiar with the artists and writers who’ve developed comic-book culture for more than seven decades. Of course, for those who’ve been enamored with comic books and comic art for a long time, there’s a bit of, “What took you so long,” and also, “We told you so.”

Thin artboard with pen-and-ink art by Jack “King” Kirby for the February 1970 issue of the Fantastic Four #95, which was published by Marvel Comics. Kirby and Joe Sinnott created the art for the issue and Stan Lee handled the writing. It measures 11⅜ in. x 17½ in. and it sold for $95,156 at auction in March 2013, after four decades of being off the market. Actual finished cover shown at right. Hake’s Americana & Collectibles image

To help gain a better understanding aspects of collecting original comic art we turned to Comic Art Specialist Sean Rutan with Hake’s Americana & Collectibles. In the discussion that follows, you’ll learn at least five things you should know about collecting comic art.

Tip 1: Become familiar with the work of various comic artists. Many of them produced vast volumes of work appearing in the evolution of comic books.

Who are a couple of artists from the Golden, Silver, and  Bronze eras that are most sought after by collectors today?

The big names in the early days of the collecting hobby were the comic-strip masters and/or the creators who bridged the gap from strips to comic format. (George) Herriman, (Hal) Foster, (Alex) Raymond, (Winsor) McKay, (Milton) Caniff, and (Walt) Kelly, among others, were the big names in early strip art. From there, the bridge moved into comics with the contributions of (Will) Eisner, (Mac) Raboy, (Jack) Cole, (Alex) Schomburg, (Dick) Sprang, and a slew of others. All of these names are giants in the medium, and their art (when you can find it) is valued accordingly. The unfortunate reality is that most of the Golden Age art seems to have been lost to history, with a large percentage of it destroyed by the publishing houses who valued the copy value but not the originals themselves.

In between the transition from the superhero-dominated Golden Age and the similarly-themed Silver Age, many of the great horror-comic artists (especially “Pre-Code”) made an impact that is still coveted by collectors to this day. So, too, did the crew over at Mad Magazine. The team at Mad included artists (Jack) Davis, (Reed) Crandall, and (Graham) Ingels, among others.

Mixed-media original Mad Magazine cover art for issue #121 (Sept. 1968) by Norman Mingo, featuring Mad’s Alfred E. Neuman as a spiritual guru perched above The Beatles, actress Mia Farrow and Maharishi Mahesh Yogi. Measures 25¾ in x 31¾ in. and sold at auction for $52,242 in March of 2017. Actual finished cover shown at right. Hake’s Americana & Collectibles image

Several artists who earned their stripes in the Golden Age continued their greatness into the Silver Age. Jack Kirby was the creative dynamo behind much of Marvel’s “House of Ideas” era, and his art from the ‘60s is definitely in the emerging “fine-art” level seen in today’s market. Carmine Infantino’s cover layout skills defined the look of DCs books for a decade as well, while Curt Swan was the artist who defined the face of Superman for a generation. Original artworks by both Steve Ditko and Wallace Wood are coveted for both their unique style and relative scarcity, especially in the superhero genre. The latter part of the era saw the emergence of John Romita Sr, John Buscema, Gene Colan, Neal Adams, and Jim Steranko. Their Silver Age art commands top dollar whenever it hits the market.

The Bronze Age market is arguably the current “hot era” in original art collecting, largely due to the fans of this era being at the perfect point in life where they’re still actively building their collections (versus the liquidation you see from older collectors) while also being right in their prime earning years. Big names from this era include Frank Miller, Bernie Wrightson, John Byrne, Jim Starlin, and many others who were in the forefront as the Bronze Age turned to the Copper Age and then into the Modern Era.

One of two examples of original comic cover art for Blazing Combat created by Frank Franzetta and featured in Hake’s Americana & Collectibles upcoming Auction #224. Hake’s Americana & Collectibles image

The reality is that there are so many great comic artists and creators from these past eras that it would require an entire book to give them the due they deserve. In my response alone I’ve missed two of the highest-priced recorded sales in the entire hobby with Frank Frazetta and Todd McFarlane, whose cover art has sold in the seven-digit and six-digit range respectively. There are too many greats to list and too many pieces of art that have sold for substantial dollar amounts.

Tip 2: Know why you collect and always be observant and willing to learn.

What are five essential tips you would give anyone buying original comic art?

1. Find a mentor who is already a successful collector and knows the game.

2. Know your “why.” Take some time to understand WHY you collect so you can identify the art that fits your real goals.

3. Observe and learn before leaping into the hobby, but also learn to recognize when to strike if a great deal presents itself.

4. Join the support structure that already exists, with things like ComicArtFans.com and the various Facebook groups and Internet forums.

5. Buy what you love.

Tip #3: Keep an eye on work by emerging artists as well. 

What are a couple of contemporary comic artists whose work appear to be poised for popularity in the collectible market?

This is the area of speculation that drives the modern wing of the hobby. I’m not personally great at this end of the spectrum, as I’m more of a “nostalgic” collector and similarly a bigger fan of history in general. That said, I really like the work of Chris Samnee, Jenny Frison, Rafael Albuquerque, Andrew Robinson, and many others.  I really enjoy Lee Bermejo’s work, too, though he already poised himself into popularity a few years ago

Framed pen-and-ink with inkwash recreation of the 1940 concept sketch of The Joker’s calling card by co-creator Jerry Robinson. It was initially designed with the classic playing-card image with Conrad Veidt’s depiction of the titular character in the 1928 silent film “The Man Who Laughs.” Drawing dates to 2006 and is inscribed “For Dan-” and contains Robinson’s signature. Measuring 15¾ x 18 x 2¼ in., it sold for $6,490 at auction in November of 2017. Hake’s Americana & Collectibles image.

Tip #4: Keep in mind that various factors drive value.

When looking at the difference in the value of cover and interior-page art, what factors impact that difference?

This is a very nuanced question with a bunch of layers, so it’ll be tough to give a great answer in a short format like this. Historically speaking, covers have generated the highest prices on the market. Value-wise, the covers are then followed by splash pages (often the title page but can also be full-page, single-panel drawings), and then the interior sequential art.

There are caveats to this, such as an instance where the title splash is weak or dull, or a story as a whole is so highly regarded and coveted that the supply-and-demand factor throws some of these “rules” out the window, etc. You can also expect to pay much more for an interior page by a legendary creator than you would for a lesser-known cover. And keep in mind that certain inkers or penciler/inker teams will always command a premium.

In other words, the factors involved are the type of art (cover, splash, interior, prelim, etc.), the importance of the story from a historical standpoint, the artist(s) involved, the availability of comparable art, and the quality or visual appeal of the art itself.

Framed and double-matted pencil, pen, ink and inkwash original art by Wayne Boring, features Silver Age image of Superman along with Boring’s ‘hands’ flanking the superhero. It includes handwritten instruction text “Friend Dan – Here is Your ‘Drawing Lesson….First Get a Piece of Paper!” Measures 7-¾ in. x 10-½ in. and sold for $6,089 at auction in March of 2018. Hake’s Americana & Collectibles image

    

Tip #5: The comic book auction market is creating a new level of interest and excitement. Which leads to opportunity.

How would you describe the auction market for comic books today?

In a word: aggressive. At literally every show or convention, I find myself having an “I can’t believe the prices. It can’t keep climbing. There has to be a top end!” conversation, and yet, the end hasn’t shown itself. I did get the feeling that the top end of the comic book market was possibly plateauing for a bit (Detective Comics #27 and Action Comics #1 sold for high-dollar amounts but were still below quite a few early estimates that I’d seen in collector groups, for example) but when we’re talking about funny books being sold for more than half-a-million dollars it starts to feel like splitting hairs. Many collectors have speculated that once a piece of comic art surpasses the million-dollar mark, we would see a whole new level of interest and an influx of new, serious buyers flood the market. I guess now we shall see!   

The aggressiveness of the current market is also one of the main reasons behind Hake’s approach to auctioning original comic art. We put a cap on the amount of art that we’ll list for each event so our consignors’ pieces stand out and don’t get buried in an avalanche of competing sellers. It is a somewhat slow and methodical approach, but our sellers appreciate it, as each and every piece gets maximum effort and marketing exposure. Beyond that, many of our bidders are aggressive collectors in OTHER genres and don’t normally follow comic art auctions, but they WILL bid on an interesting piece of comic art in our auctions if it somehow draws their interest. This cross-bidding is becoming more and more prevalent as comic art expands into higher levels of recognition. I’ve attached a few links to some pieces that I believe directly benefited from our unique approach.

Recapture Childhood Triumphs in Colorful Board Games

Caressing the dice in his right hand, the player surveyed the board at a recent game night gathering. After a couple seconds he hoped for the best and released white cubes, which tumbled onto the multicolored game surface and soon froze in place, a trio of dots topped one, a quintet on another.

Seconds later the player nodded, smiled and moved his top hat game piece to the corner square sporting the red arrow with the welcoming words: “Collect $200 salary as you pass GO.”

And for the likely the multi-billionth time since its mass-market introduction in 1935, someone enjoyed another moment in the classic board game Monopoly.

When it comes to board games of note, new or older versions of Monopoly, made for the U.S. and abroad, help keep the game in the upper tier of a pastime that enjoys decent interest, but once, for some, represented a much bigger slice of their social pie chart.

Parker Brothers ‘Monopoly,’ early version, 1936. Continental Hobby House and LiveAuctioneers image

The popularity of vintage board games, defined as those made before 1990 for this article, sometimes relates to their 21st-century counterparts, many of which have a solid following, too.

“The success of a modern title can certainly garner more interest in earlier games of the same genre,” said Anton Bogdanov, a senior collectibles specialist with Everything But the House (EBTH), an estate sales auction company. “Nearly every week we have board games for sale,” Bogdanov said. “And I see a growing interest in games from the 1960s to the 1980s.”

Pure nostalgia motivates some vintage game collectors. “Others may be driven by game design and historical context,” Bogdanov noted. “The market relies on a community of collectors. A growing presence of gaming forums and clubs on the Internet can surely be credited.” BoardGameGeek.com, for instance, reportedly has over 1 million users, although much of them focus on newer titles.

“There are quite a few people that collect vintage board games,” Eric Mortensen said. Mortensen, the co-creator of geekyhobbies.com, owns “a little over a thousand (games) myself,” a few hundred of the older variety. “Most people buying vintage board games are people trying to relive (childhood) memories.”

Board games go way back, as in thousands of years, when you include the likes of backgammon, checkers and chess, to name a trio with lasting power.

“We’ve had custom chess sets do really well,” EBTH’s Bogdanov said. “And a 19th-century board with Parcheesi on one side and checkers on the other sold for $1,400” in 2015.

Vintage double-sided folk art game board, late 19th century, showing the Parcheesi game, with a checkerboard on the reverse. It sold for $1,400 in August 2015. Photo courtesy Everything But the House

American-made board games gained initial traction in the 1840s with Mansion of Happiness, the first main title. Milton Bradley began making games in the 1860s, many geared toward Civil War soldiers, with Checkered Game of Life as his maiden venture. The 1880s brought the Parker Brothers to the table and with Milton Bradley ultimately represented the two companies “with the greatest impact on the American game industry,” according to Bruce Whitehill.

Whitehill has also enjoyed a lasting impact on the board game landscape. He owns an extensive collection of games – about 1,500 from before 1980; has written and spoken on the topic for decades; he even worked for Milton Bradley in the 1980s as a game inventor. Like a full box of Trivial Pursuit question and answer cards, Whitehill’s website, thebiggamehunter.com, represents a fun thicket of information.

Think box, inside and out

The overall look and design of a game, demand and rarity can all play key roles in a vintage board game’s value. Of course, so does condition. When considering the price for buying or selling a game, condition can often mean the difference between Easy Money and Sorry!  “Warping, tears, scrapes, scratches and holes in the box” topped Whitehill’s condition checklist of items to avoid, or at least minimize. Next, the game guru emphasized seeing how the game’s contents are holding up.

Mortensen agreed that box condition can be significant, but it is not his priority. “The most important thing for me is that the game has all the original pieces. If a game is missing pieces, it will drastically reduce its value.”

‘The Elvis Presley Game’ from 1957 is at the top of many post-1950 want lists and commands $2,000 to $3,000 in strong condition. Courtesy of Desi Scarpone

Bogdanov said average collectors need to keep any tape and/or price stickers on a box, since that removing them, especially poorly, “will permanently alter the graphics” and devalue the game. “I would encourage anyone with a rare board game to consult a trained paper conservationist before attempting to remove any of that (tape/stickers … ) themselves.” Then again, some collectors like the look of the original price sticker on the box.

The first edition mass-marketed copy of Monopoly (1935) was affordably priced. The 1937 Sears Christmas catalog shows “the game of the century” selling for $1.69 and the deluxe version for $2.89, therefore the original 1935 Monopoly game was comparably priced.

Bogdanov said surviving 1935 examples in decent shape sell for $200 to $300.

“But if it’s in really nice condition and all the pieces are there, maybe two or three times that.” Sometimes more. Those numbers might even make Milburn Pennybags proud. Milburn who? The mustachioed Monopoly mascot.

This rare game featuring The Man of Steel dates back to 1940. ‘The Adventures of Superman Game’ was produced by Milton Bradley.

Whitehill said a game’s theme can also play a big part in its demand strength.

Television, music, movies, modes of transportation, those “motifs” are just some of the most popular.

A few communications-related games that are a big hit with collectors include: Superman Speed (1940), Captain Video (1952), The Beatles’ “Flip Your Wig” (1964), James Bond, Secret Agent 007 (1964), The Twilight Zone (1964), The Green Hornet Quick Switch (1966), and Lost in Space 3D (1966).

Keep your eye on the ball

Bogdanov said older tin lithograph games have strong potential moving forward, too. “And, anything sports related from the mid-20th century is also good to keep an eye on.”

Two games that fit that last description are baseball based. The first is the 1957 Swift Meats Major League Baseball Game. In this case the players came in “pieces,” (arms, legs, the torso, the head) that could be “punched out” of their original packaging and then put together to form a full athlete.

One site said the 18 cards alone from the 1957 game sold at $400, while the board brought $900.

Another homerun: Be a Manager, (1967, BAMCO), with a box featuring Hank Bauer, then-manager of the 1966 World Series Champion Baltimore Orioles. It is a scarce game; mid-level versions easily sell around $500, while top-end samples can go for about triple that.

For 1980s games, the newest in our vintage arena, both Mortensen and Bogdanov recommended Fireball Island (1986). “Basically, you are looking for games that developed a cult following and have only been printed once or twice and haven’t been in stock for years,” Mortensen said. Both Fireball Island and Dark Tower (1981) match that profile. “They regularly sell for hundreds of dollars each.”

Feel lucky?

Collecting vintage board games started to take a more broad-based hold in the mid-1980s, so finding “a deal” might have been easier in one sense, but locating particular titles presented more of a logistical chore. Even so, many collectors enjoy the hunt.

With the accessibility of the Internet since the 1990s, however, finding these games of yesteryear is often just a few computer clicks away. Whitehill said eBay and Amazon are two of the best places to track down vintage board games. “But the real finds are at the flea markets.” Some things rarely change.

‘The Beatles Flip Your Wig Game,’ originally manufactured by Milton Bradley in 1964. Photo courtesy Everything But the House

True, vintage board games currently enjoy a certain level of popularity, but like any collectible, some wonder if the interest will greatly run out in the coming years. Whitehill is optimistic that the spinner, so to speak, will once again point to a winner on a more regular basis, even though some prices have sagged as of late. “These things go in cycles.”

Bogdanov, meantime, thinks the upward trend will be brighter than certain glow-in-the-dark pieces from Green Ghost, a 1960s board game made-to-be-played with the lights out. “I think we will see slow and steady growth over the next decade or so.”

One thing is for sure: Whether one collects a thousand or more board games of yore, like Mortensen, Scarpone and Whitehill, and creates their own Mansion of Happiness, or puts together a mere handful of these parlor pastimes, more of a Duplex of delight, if you will, these vintage games guarantee enjoyment on several levels for many people, and you can bank on that much more than just a wishful roll of the dice.

Charming: Bracelets with Timeless Appeal

As much as a society and its tastes may change, some things remain the same and seem never to lose their appeal. Such is the case with charm bracelets.

These beautiful wrist adornments with talismans that represent facets of the wearers’ character are not a new phenomenon. The earliest examples date back to the Neolithic period, with Egyptian pharaohs being among the first to don wrist jewelry with precious stones and metals fashioned as unique shapes and figures.

In Ancient Egypt, charm bracelets were not merely a stylish choice; they were part of the people’s efforts to protect themselves, indicate their social status, and as an extra measure, to help position them in the proper societal status in the afterlife. That’s a lot to ask of a piece of jewelry, but the Egyptians were not the only ones who thought charm bracelets were up to the task.

14K yellow gold bracelet, stamped ‘Made in France,’ features seven charms including a cat, dog with ruby eyes, horse head with ruby eye, letter ‘E’ with single cut diamonds and rubies, pail with gemstones and hen bell with diamonds and ruby cabochons, 7-1/4 in., 96.2g. Sold for $24,000 during a May 2018 auction. Brunk Auctions and LiveAuctioneers image.

During the period of the Roman Empire, early Christians wore a hidden charm depicting a fish that would be revealed to fellow Christians as a sign of acknowledgment of the faith. Even during the Middle Ages, a time of great upheaval and societal change, knights and royalty would regularly wear charms and amulets for additional protection. They weren’t only seen as superstitious tokens to ward off evil; the charms and amulets also served an important purpose of identifying one’s family origin, profession and even political affiliation.

Not surprisingly, during the reign of Queen Victoria of England, charm bracelets transitioned from practical, utilitarian objects to a fashionable accessory. Just before the start of the 20th century, luxury goods icon Tiffany and Co., unveiled its first charm bracelet. The link bracelet featured a single heart suspended from the chain. Despite the challenges of the Great Depression, jewelers began adding platinum and diamond elements to charm bracelets in the 1920s and 1930s.

Military gold charm bracelet with five different medals, 5½ in. long, 16.1 dwt. Sold for $600 during an April 2018 auction. David Killen Gallery and LiveAuctioneers image

The trend of charm bracelets continued as the world recovered from World War II. For the first time, a large segment of the U.S. population was introduced to trinkets, products and garments made by artisans in foreign lands, courtesy of returning soldiers. Charms were one example, and they became a tangible record of the wearers’ travels or dream destinations. It also sparked an increase in the number of jewelers opting to get into the business of charm creation.

Charm bracelets, like other articles of fashion, were also indicators of the changing interests and societal advancements. They were featured as prizes in coin-operated machines in the mid-20th century, owing to their popularity with the younger set.

Early 20th century platinum and 14K gold charm cuff bangle bracelet, surmounted with 30 gold and platinum whimsical charms set with old European, single and baguette cut diamonds, rubies, star sapphire and emeralds among others. 97.8g, 6½ in. diameter. Sold for $8,500 during an April 2015 auction. Dallas Auction Gallery and LiveAuctioneers image

Throughout the latter half of the 20th century, charm bracelets appeared and reappeared a bit like the ocean tide. As they say, everything old is new again, and maybe yet again. Current interest in charm bracelets appears to span all age ranges, cultures, interests and economic levels. The charm bracelet is also considered a crossover collectible. You don’t have to be a collector of jewelry to appreciate a bracelet featuring charms representing elements of astronomy, pop-culture characters, sports, music, flowers or animals.

The subjects depicted in the charms have never been as diverse as they are now. With national jewelers such as Pandora, Zales and Kay Jewelers; noted designers including Alex & Ani, Juicy Couture, Betsey Johnson and Michael Kors; and legends of luxury like Cartier and Tiffany and Co., producing them, there seem to be charms available for nearly every interest and occasion.

New charm bracelets, depending on material, jeweled accents and intricacy of charms, range in price from $30 to upward of $1,000. On the secondary auction market, the prices vary, but online prices realized show a range of $10 to $200,000. Also, as of this writing, at least 100 lots featuring charm bracelets are set to sell in auctions listed on LiveAuctioneers.

Solid 14K white and yellow gold handbag bracelet charm with diamond accents on the front of the charm, finished with a pierced heart and filigree details on back, 2.1g. Sold for $120 during an April 2018 auction. GWS Auctions Inc. and Live Auctioneers image

With present-day wearers of charm bracelets combining vintage charms rich in sentimental value or a classic look with contemporary designs and elements, today’s most appealing charm bracelets seem to include mementos of past generations. For some wearers, charm bracelets may represent the opportunity to pay homage and draw on the strength and character of ancestors. For others it may signify a sense of belonging to a particular group or mindset, or indicate their stops along life’s journey and the places they long to see. Whatever the reason may be, wearing a charm bracelet is always a stylish statement.

# # #

When you think of celebrities who wear charm bracelets, your first thought probably isn’t of legendary American sharpshooter Annie Oakley. But one of the gifts Oakley received from her husband, Frank E. Butler, was a charm bracelet consisting of small gold pipes, with a spring-blade clasp and safety chain. Like most owners of charm bracelets, Oakley reported added to her bracelet while keeping with a singular theme – gold coins. Each charm on her bracelet was a British or American coin, including an 1873 half sovereign and an 1873 half eagle.

Annie Oakley’s gold coin charm bracelet sold for $200,000 (hammer price) in 2013. Heritage Auctions and LiveAuctioneers image

The first coin charm on Oakley’s bracelet was given to her in 1885 by the U.S. Cartridge Co. The rest were gifts from friends and family, including fellow competitive shooters, the secretary general of France, and W.F. “Buffalo Bill” Cody. The coin given to Oakley by Cody bears his engraved initials. While the bracelet wasn’t something she wore daily, there is photographic evidence of her wearing it on various occasions.

Not unlike her fellow wearers of charm bracelets, Annie Oakley held a special place in her heart and wardrobe for her bracelet. It was reported that in a show of support for the war effort she had nearly all of her silver and gold medals and trophies melted down to buy Liberty Bonds. However, the sentimental attachment Oakley had to her charm bracelet (which had a weight of about 1.35 troy ounces) made it something she chose to keep in her possession.

In 2013, during a Heritage Auctions’ sale, Annie Oakley’s gold coin charm bracelet sold for $200,000.

Judith Leiber Handbags: Art on the Red Carpet

NEW YORK – Chronicling the career of Hungarian-American accessory creator Judith Leiber, who died on May 28 at the age of 97, the Thames and Hudson Dictionary of Fashion and Fashion Designers wrote, “…it is her whimsical rhinestone-studded evening bags, often crafted in the form of minaudieres, which have brought her lasting fame. Brightly colored, small-scale and delicate yet sturdily engineered, they are covered with handset Austrian crystal and semiprecious stones, duplicating flora and fauna.”

Movie stars flash them on the red carpet, president’s wives carry them to the inauguration ball, and collectors snap them up at vintage couture and jewelry auctions across the country. While the head might argue that you can get by with just one, the heart knows that you can never have too many of these glittering minibags in a hundred clever forms; one leads to another and a collection grows. The whimsical designs of the minaudieres are far too charming to keep in a drawer.

The form seems to have been developed by jewelers; Charles Arpels made one for socialite Florence Gould in the 1930s. The lip-smacking name “minaudiere” comes from a French term for silly little trifle, and the small size of the Leiber examples – dimensions under 6 inches – means only a few necessary items can be carried within. The artist designed elegant leather handbags for daywear, but the evening bags completely covered with handset crystals and semiprecious stones attract the most attention.

Judith Leiber bags from a 300-piece collection assembled by Louisiana philanthropist Bernice Norman were sold in a landmark 1999 charity auction to benefit the New Orleans Museum of Art.

Judith Leiber was present for the sale, hosted by New Orleans Auction Galleries, and even purchased some of the purses back to put in her personal museum. The minaudieres, as opposed to the also very desirable “day” bags, brought the most money. Those featured in the book Judith Leiber: The Artful Handbag (1995) by Edith Nemy sold for even more.

Judith Leiber’s interest in Asian art is reflected in this crystal-studded Buddha design sold at a Bruce Kodner auction in Lake Worth, Florida. It is 5 1/2 inches high.

Judith Leiber, nee Peto, was born in Budapest in 1921. Her hopes of studying chemistry in London were thwarted when war broke out in 1939. She joined the Hungarian handbag guild and worked her way up to master status, learning every aspect of construction. Her family survived the war, and at its conclusion she met and married American G.I. Gerson Leiber. After moving back to New York, she exercised her expertise at several accessories firms before founding her own in 1963.

Her designs received a number of prestigious awards. Fashionable stores carried the bags, and the New York Times did a lengthy story on Leiber in May 1996 after she opened her own boutique on Madison Avenue. Christine Cavanaugh, the actress providing a voice for the central character in the movie Babe, had carried a jeweled pink pig minaudiere on the Oscar red carpet that year. Judith Leiber is now retired from active designing, but the firm bearing her name continues to produce both old and new shapes, which are carried in stores such as Saks Fifth Avenue, Neiman Marcus and Bergdorf Goodman.

Leiber drew inspiration from many sources; the dragonfly on this 1992 minaudiere in the Leiber Collection Museum is similar to the winged creatures on classic Tiffany lampshades. Courtesy the Leiber Collection; photo credit Gary Mamay.

Judith Leiber evening bags were always luxury items intended for wealthy partygoers who wanted their outfits to be noticed; new creations with the brand name easily bring $5,000 or more. So vintage examples can be viewed as an opportunity to acquire something marvelous at a reasonable price.

Minaudieres are equipped with a concealed shoulder chain, which can be used to carry the evening bag. This rare Venetian mask design was auctioned by Bruce Kodner Galleries.

Most Judith Leiber evening bags have been well cared for and retain their original accessories – a coin purse, standing mirror, tasseled comb, and soft storage bag.

This violin-form minaudiere covered in Swarovski crystals came complete with original coin purse, comb, and mirror. The evening bag sold at New Orleans Auction Galleries.

Some Judith Leiber evening bags still have the store’s price tag and the designer’s certificate of authenticity. Restoration services are available if stones are missing from their settings.

The Museum at FIT, the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York City, has around 45 Judith Leiber bags in their permanent collection, including this bright 1994 tomato minaudiere design.

There, students can examine how the bags are constructed. Colleen Hill, associate curator of accessories, said in a recent interview, “There are a lot of whimsical handbag styles throughout the 20th century. Although Leiber did do many different styles of bags, these jeweled minaudieres were what she was especially well known for – they’re conversation pieces. The craftsmanship is absolutely the thing that I like to point out. Everything is really perfect, everything lines up exactly.

“For true luxury items like these Judith Leiber bags, you have to look closely at them,” Hill continued. “You have no visible glue, everything is fitting together perfectly, they’re almost objects of art in their own way. You can imagine how they’ve become collectors’ items – they’re more than just something to carry to a fancy party, they’re really something that can be admired as an object as well as an accessory. It’s very apparent that these are not things that are machine-produced and just replicated exactly time after time, which adds to their one-of-a-kind appeal.”

In one of its past sales, Dallas Auction Gallery offered this 6-inch “Sleeping Lion” minaudiere covered with tawny crystals and multicolored cabochon hardstones.

The form of Japanese inro, a container for small objects hung from a sash, inspired this tripartite beaded minaudiere with red silk cord and a gold leather lining. The colorful purse starred in a DuMouchelles auction in Detroit.

In 2005, Leiber and her husband Gerson, who was a Modernist artist, opened their own museum and sculpture garden in the East Hampton village of Springs, New York, near the tip of Long Island. (www.leibermuseum.org). Works by both artists – including many handbag designs – are on view in the galleries and a history of their entwined careers can be found in No Mere Bagatelles: Telling the Story of Handbag Genius Judith Leiber & Modernist Artist Gerson Leiber by Jeffrey Sussman (2009).

This article, written by Karla Klein Albertson, originally appeared in Style Century Magazine, now part of Auction Central News (www.auctioncentralnews.com).

How to Preserve Antique Maps

“Maps are a universal medium for communication, easily understood and appreciated by most people, regardless of language or culture,” said revered American geologist Daniel F. Merriam.

Throughout the history of humanity people have been going to or coming from some place. It’s a shared experience, if not physically, certainly intellectually. In some cases, that shared experience has contributed to maps. Most often today, it’s a digital map of some type that guides people in their travels. However, not so long ago printed maps were a daily part of life, and a folded paper map could be found in the glove compartment of nearly every vehicle on the road. Schoolchildren could expect to see a map of the world in their classrooms.

Map with a view of various sections of Alabama and West Florida, created by John L Tourette in the fourth quarter of the 18th century. It features various sections of the area in map in separate segments. Sold for $35,000 in February of 2017. Image by Neal Auction Company and LiveAuctioneers.

Today, antique and vintage maps are objects appreciated by collectors, historians, artists and academics, among others. To learn the ins and outs of collecting maps, see the archived article Collecting Old Maps, featuring expertise from Jasper52’s resident map expert Steve Kovacs.

Once again we turn to Steve for insight on the correct way to conserve old maps so they can remain intact and beautiful for future generations to enjoy.

Does the type of materials the map is printed on make a difference in whether or how quickly a map may deteriorate? Is it true some of the earlier maps, made of a paper with a fiber core, fare better over time than some made from more modern elements? 

The nature and quality of the paper substrate (n.b. – underlying layer of material) on which the map is printed are among the most important factors impacting the long-term condition of the map. Interestingly, older maps, primarily pre-1800, are more likely to maintain their condition, given that they were usually made of linen rags or flax with longer fibers and were low in acid-producing lignin content. With the ever-growing demand for paper to make maps, books and newspapers, by the early to mid-1800s the industry increasingly turned to a much cheaper paper source, wood pulp. Wood-based paper unfortunately has shorter fibers and much more lignin, which is a natural part of the wood structure. In turn, lignin will give off organic acids upon exposure to air and light, and these acids cause yellowing, browning and brittleness to the paper over time.

What are some of the most common issues impacting the condition of a map, and what are some specific steps one can take to avoid each?

As with paper in general, moist or wet conditions, large temperature fluctuations, UV light, oxygen in the air, and pests (worms, insects, rodents) can all contribute to the degradation of the paper itself or the pigment or dye in colored maps. Aside from handling abuses or crayon or ink markings, most condition issues are caused by these environmental factors. Moisture in combination with higher temperatures often causes mildew to develop. UV light and oxygen can cause foxing (reddish-brown spots), yellowing, browning and brittleness, especially in paper made of wood pulp, and degrade some pigments and dyes, thus changing or fading the colors.

To mitigate these potential issues, some common-sense steps in storage or display should be exercised, as outlined in the next section. Also, if the map is dear to you, consider cleaning and professional de-acidification – a simple washing process – to minimize any further yellowing, browning or brittleness that might otherwise occur.

The Museum of Old Maps is located in Bucharest, Romania. Here are several antique maps from the museum’s collection on public display. Image courtesy www.muzeulhartilor.ro

View a presentation of conservation techniques involving the treatment of an 1808 map of Milledgeville, Georgia. Note: The video is visual only; no sound:

What are some options for storing maps properly and safely?

Maps should be kept in typical room-temperature and humidity conditions, so not in hot attics, not in damp basements, and not next to heat sources. Preferably keep the maps laid flat in boxes or shallow drawers and, less ideally, gently rolled in a tube that is at least three inches in diameter. Very importantly, longer-term direct physical contact with the map should be only by archival, acid-free materials, an excellent option among these being polyester (e.g., Mylar) sleeves or acid-free paper. Avoid direct sun exposure and handling with dirty hands.

How would you recommend someone display an antique map, if that is their intention, so it isn’t compromised by light and moisture?

Many of us elect to display some of our favorite maps, and usually in frames. Before framing, it’s best to restore the map if there are any defects. As noted earlier, all physical contact with the map should be with archival, acid-free material, including the matting, the support board behind the map, etc. Do not glue the map to a board or backing; rather, use mounting corners or possibly acid-free hinging tapes to hold the map in place. If the map is fragile, backing with Japanese paper might be warranted. Avoid direct contact between map and glass. UV glass should be used, and do keep the framed map away from direct sunlight and heat sources. A professional framer who is familiar with maps should be considered.

What are some signs that a map is damaged? Some are more obvious than others I suspect, so how can you tell?

Most damage is readily visible on a map: 1) discoloration due to mildew, soiling, foxing, yellowing, browning, color fading; 2) voids caused by pests or mishandling, 3) tears, splits; 4) water stains, 5) uneven surfaces, etc. Needless to say, both sides should be evaluated. Brittleness is often not visible but can be devastating to a map.

If a map is damaged is finding a conservator the best next step? What kind of things should one look for or check on to determine the conservator you are looking to work with is reputable?

Nothing lasts forever, but if a map is damaged, short of a minor issue (unclean surface, small tear, slight and age appropriate discoloration), it is typically best to engage a professional conservator or restoration expert, or your map might suffer considerably over time. Cleaning dirt off the surface, closing a small tear with archival material on the back or minor flattening under weights are about as far most of us ought to take do it yourself conservation, and only if one is confident doing so after reading how to perform the task properly.

Engraved map of British and French Dominions in North America, published February 13, 1755, created by Thomas Kitchen after John Mitchell. Seldom-seen first edition, and first issue. Twenty-one editions and impressions of this map appeared between 1755 and 1781. This map was part of a noted moment of cartographic warfare when tension over territory and dominance within the new country was shaping up, just ahead of the French and Indian war. Sold for $400,000 during a June 2017 auction. Rader Galleries and LiveAuctioneers image.

The process of finding a conservator or restoration expert is like finding any other good professional. Most people would rely on information such as: a) personal recommendations by trusted antique map or book dealers or fellow map collectors; b) inquiring about length of time in the conservation and restoration business; c) learning about their experience base suggested by their client list (see if they have serviced antique map and book dealers and institutions) and viewing before-and-after restoration images of items; d) considering their professional accreditations (i.e., AIC – American Institute of Conservation) and the like.

While having the conservator nearby is good, shipping to a conservator is a good option as well. Do get an estimate up front, though (pictures of the problems to be resolved do help), as restoration service pricing can vary significantly. There are numerous individuals or companies offering restoration and conservation of works on paper – maps, books, letters, paintings – and some also deal with other forms, such as paintings on canvas, photographs, etc.

What are your four best pieces of advice when it comes to preserving and caring for an antique map?

When it comes to preservation and care of maps I’d offer the following thoughts:

  • Enjoy your maps. Chances are, most of them are many multiples of your age and have survived. But don’t add stress to their lives through abuse or neglect. Be knowledgeable what heals them and what prolongs their lives.    
  • The most important and likely easiest step is to help mitigate any future deterioration through appropriately storing or displaying your maps, as was discussed earlier.
  • Decide what role each map plays in your life. Is it dear to your heart? Will you or do you already prominently display it? Will you keep it in your collection long term? Or, is it just a nice-to-have map? The more important the map is to you, the more important it is that you proactively consider any restoration that might be needed.   
  • When it comes to active conservation and restoration, aside from minor steps, it is typically best to use the services of a professional conservator or restoration expert. With that said, balance the cost of restoration with the monetary and sentimental value of the map.

If you are looking for a new subject on which to focus your collecting efforts, you might want to consider antique and vintage maps, which are a fusion of several interests in one fascinating topic.

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.

Navajo Rugs: Be Dazzled!

From big-city auction houses to remote trading posts, collectors have been searching for textiles of the American Southwest for more than 100 years.

The most highly collected and recognized form, the Navajo blanket, has shifted from an outer garment wrapped around the shoulders to a decoration on floors and walls. Hanging a traditional blanket vertically duplicates how it would have looked covering the doorway of a Navajo hogan.

Legend says Spider Woman, the creative deity from the underworld, taught the Navajo how to weave. Historians believe weaving in the Southwest originated with the ancestors of the Pueblo people. They were already using looms when Spanish explorers arrived. The colonization of New Mexico beginning in 1598 initiated trade between the Spanish and the Pueblo. Increasingly oppressive Spanish rule sparked a deadly revolt in 1680. When the Spanish reconquered the territory in 1692, many Pueblos took refuge in the Navajo lands.

Navajo Chinle pattern wool rug

Navajo Chinle pattern wool rug, circa 1900-1925, a small stain and slight edge fray noted, 47½ x 31 in. Hammer price: $850. North American Auction Co. and LiveAuctioneers image

The Pueblos taught Navajo women loom weaving, a technical art that takes years of practice to learn. Having acquired sheep from the Pueblo and Spanish, the Navajo traditionally used wool for their textiles. Finely woven Navajo blankets were famous for their ability to shed water. While Pueblo weaving has always been for Indian use, the Navajo traded their textiles with other Indians and Anglos. A central diamond surrounded by eight triangular elements at the edges creates a distinctive image that has made the Third Phase blankets the best-known Navajo weavings.

The opening of the Santa Fe Trail in 1822 and acquisition of the territory by the United States in 1848 resulted in increased recognition of Navajo weaving. Walk in Beauty: The Navajo and Their Blankets by Anthony Berlant and Mary Hunt Kahlenberg (1977, Little Brown & Co.) states that in 1849, when Lt. James Simpson led the first official U.S. expedition into Navajo country, he noted in his journal that the Navajo people made what were “probably the best blankets in the world.”

While economic conditions and changing lifestyles of the Navajo people have affected the progression of their art form, demand for it has grown. Auctioneers regularly schedule sales highlighting woven textiles within the greater category of American-Indian art.

The Cincinnati auction house Cowan’s made a big impact on the future market for American Indian weavings in 2002 when they sold a collection deaccessioned by the Western Reserve Historical Society. Among the items sold at that auction was a Classic Period Navajo child’s wearing blanket (46 by 31½ inches) that sold for $48,300. A Navajo Third Phase chief blanket (67 by 55 inches) sold for $26,450. Both textiles had once belonged to a U.S. Army cavalry officer who was stationed in the West in the late 1860s.

Navajo Storm pattern weaving/rug

Navajo Storm pattern weaving/rug, hand-spun wool woven in natural colors with a red stepped border, 85 x 50 in., second quarter 20th century. Hammer price: $950. Cowan’s Auctions and LiveAuctioneers

While museum-quality pieces from the 19th century like these are scarce, later weavings are readily available and more affordable to collectors and decorators.

For all the work and craftsmanship, Navajo blankets are beautiful decorating pieces that never go out of style.

Americans have long held an appreciation for Indian art, which became widely accessible in the first half of the 20th century. The railroads opened the Southwest to travelers during the 1920s, ’30s and ’40s and during that period people could bring these weavings home because they were easy to transport. There are many blankets from that time frame, and people continue to use them for decorating.

The 1920s marked the first heyday of the popularizing of Navajo textiles. Wealthy people often collected them. It was not uncommon to see Persian carpets on the floor of a home mixed with several Navajo rugs. People bought them for their aesthetic beauty as well as the fact that they are an important part of American culture.

While Classic period (1850-1875) and Transitional (1875-1890) weavings are the realm of serious collectors, nice 1920s-vintage rugs are still available.

Collectors evaluating a weaving will look for the caliber of the weave, the visual impact of the design and the technical difficulty behind its creation. A good example is the Teec Nos Pos style developed by weavers from the Four Corners area where Utah, Colorado, New Mexico and Arizona meet. Teec Nos Pos is a multicolored weaving with almost all of the design elements outlined in a different color. The technical expertise to weave a Teec Nos Pos rug is great, and they are in high demand.

Circa-1950 Navajo pictorial Teec Nos Pos rug

Circa-1950 Navajo pictorial Teec Nos Pos rug with floating crosses, diamonds, arrows and four American Flags. Image courtesy of High Noon Western Americana and LiveAuctioneers.

Another important factor in evaluating post-Classic period Navajo textiles is whether the weaving is done using native handspun wool, which is generally more desirable than a comparable piece woven with commercial machine-spun yarn.

Many 1950s weavings that are made of commercial yarn, which drastically affects the value downward.

There are, however, Classic Period Navajo blankets that are made of machine-spun yarn.

Following their surrender to Kit Carson in January 1864, more than 8,000 Navajo men, women and children were forced from their homeland and made to endure internment near Bosque Redondo, New Mexico. Deprived of their flocks, Navajo weavers were introduced to machine-spun yarn produced in Germantown (Philadelphia), Pennsylvania. Blankets made from these yarns are called Germantowns. Over the years the term “Germantown” has come to mean any three- or four-ply machine-spun yarns from any Eastern mill.

After signing a peace treaty, the Navajo were allowed to return to their homeland in 1868, but their way of life was forever changed.

Navajo Crystal pictorial rug

Navajo Crystal pictorial rug, with red, natural white and light brown showing Valero stars, tadpole four-directionals, arrows, feathers and eagles, 127 x 66 in., early 20th century. Hammer price: $2,200. Leslie Hindman Auctioneers and LiveAuctioneers image.

Another factor in evaluating American Indian textiles is the color: natural wool, vegetal or factory-made aniline dyes, or a combination of these. While tastes change in this regard, buyers currently prefer a brighter palette, even though it takes a weaver twice as long to make an all vegetal-dyed homespun rug.

The cryptic names that have been given to styles of Navajo weavings often denote the town or trading post where they originated. Examples are Crystal, New Mexico, and Ganado, Arizona. Weavings whose place of origin cannot be pinpointed are often identified by region, such as Western Reservation in Arizona.

Because modern reproductions are being made on mechanical looms in Mexico and other foreign countries, it is advisable for novice collectors to buy from knowledgeable dealers and auctioneers who guarantee what they sell.

Ganado-style Navajo rug

Ganado-style Navajo rugs generally have a design consisting of one or more stepped diamonds or stepped and embellished triangles. Red, gray, black and ivory are dominant colors in the designs. This mid-20th century all-wool rug shows the stepped diamonds and triangles. It measures 71 x 45 in. Hammer price: $475. North American Auction Co. and LiveAuctioneers image

Collectors also should learn as much as possible about the many styles, weaving techniques and materials.

 

REGIONAL STYLES

—BURNTWATER: Weavers around Burnt Water, Ariz., developed this new style in the late 1960s. Building on design elements from Ganado and Two Grey Hills styles, Burntwater type weavings often feature bordered geometric designs with central, terraced diamonds. The distinguishing characteristic is the use of yarns whose pastel colors are achieved from the use of local vegetal dyes.

—CHINLE: Developed in the 1930s in the Canyon de Chelly region of northeastern Arizona and named after the town nearby, this modern classic style is now woven across the Navajo reservation. Chinle weavings are typically borderless and characterized by alternating plain stripes with horizontal bands of geometric designs. Colors most often are pastel or earth tones, but they can also be bright colors.

—CRYSTAL: Navajos on the western side of the Chuska Mountains near Crystal, New Mexico, began supplying textiles for John B. Moore’s mail-order catalogs in the early 1900s. These old-style Crystal weavings featuring bordered designs with geometric patterns later influenced the work of the Two Grey Hills weavers on the other side of the mountains. Since the late 1930s Crystal textiles have been known for having golden tones and horizontal bands that include “wavy” lines. Colors are usually muted earth tones but may include pastels and pinks.

—GANADO: This famous style originated at the trading post near Ganado, Arizona, where owner Juan Lorenzo Hubbell began trading with Navajo in the late 1870s. He was influential in the development of the weaving style in that area and encouraged the weavers to improve the quality of their textiles. He preferred natural wool colors and deep aniline dyed red. The National Park Service has run the Hubbell Trading Post National Historic Site since 1967.

—KLAGETOH: meaning “Hidden Springs,” Klagetoh is a community south of Ganado on the Navajo Reservation in northeast Arizona. Though Ganado and Klagetoh weavings typically have similar central diamond motifs, those from the latter have a predominantly gray background.

—TEEC NOS POS: Named for a settlement in northeast Arizona, Teec Nos Pos textiles traditionally have been produced by Navajo people living around the Four Corners area. Since the turn of the 20th century, these boldly colored textiles have exhibited Persian rug design influences elements including a central design element and a wide border.

—TWO GREY HILLS: Named for a former trading post near U.S. Route 666 in northwest New Mexico, Two Grey Hills textiles are typically fine quality weavings of undyed handspun wool in white, brown, black and gray, and feature strong geometric designs. Designs are strong, crisp geometric patterns. Later textiles may contain commercially prepared wool.

—WIDE RUINS: This style is named for the former Wide Ruins Trading Post, where it originated about 1940. Located along U.S. Route 191 south of Ganado, Arizona., the trading post burned in 1986. The Wide Ruins-style rug is borderless and characterized by horizontal bands with stepped diamonds. Vegetable-dyed wool produces the pastel earth tones seen in these finely woven textiles, which evolved from the Chinle style.

Pearl Wisdom: Natural and Man-Made

At first glance, pearls may seem simple and uncomplicated, but there’s much more to their story than meets the eye.

There are two general classes of pearls: natural or man-made. Natural pearls are created by a living organism as a result of irritation. It occurs when a foreign object like a piece of shell or bone, or even another living thing, becomes stuck within an invertebrate with a soft shell, such as an oyster or mussel. In an act of protecting itself, the host organism begins to cover the foreign element in nacre, a crystalline material secreted by the organism. Over time, built-up layers of nacre cover the irritant. Because the process is not tied to any particular time schedule, the result is a product whose pattern, sheen, color, and dimensions are unique. Each natural pearl has its own individual identity.

Bulgari two-strand choker necklace with ruby rondelle beads and cultured pearls, 18K yellow gold clasp. Auctioned by Clars Auction Gallery for $70,000 + buyer’s premium on Feb. 19, 2012. Clars and LiveAuctioneers image

Man-made pearls, which do not rely on nature to take its course, are far more common than their natural counterparts. Also, pearl harvesting has been an ongoing pursuit for generations, so discoveries of old pearls are far less common than in the past.

Jewelry dealer and pearl appraiser Deborah Boskin, owner of db Designs, explained the effect that diminished supply has had on the pearl market. “The increase in interest and resale value for natural pearls has steadily grown over the past two decades,” she said.

This makes it an opportune time to sell natural pearls or turn one’s focus toward cultured pearls, which are available and affordable.   

Pearl Fact: Fewer than one in every 10,000 oysters produces a natural pearl of significant value.

To meet the growing demand for pearls, the practice of culturing pearls began in the late 19th century. It was the innovation of Kokichi Mikimoto that led to production of the first cultured pearls. After witnessing the depletion of oysters due to overharvesting in the waters near his homeland of Japan, Mikimoto sought to devise a process that would produce man-made, or cultured, pearls. Mikimoto achieved his goal in July of 1893 when he was able to culture a semi-spherical pearl, according to information from the Mikimoto website.

As explained on mikimotoamerica.com, cultured pearls transformed the opportunity of acquiring a pearl “from a chance to a certainty.” Not unlike nature’s process of creating a pearl, cultured pearls begin with a foreign object invading the tissue of an oyster. However, the object is placed inside the oyster by a technician, thus forcing the living organism to begin the process of coating the foreign element with nacre, according to information found at PurePearls.com. The process of creating cultured pearls may take place in either fresh or saltwater.

Opening oysters, extracting and cleaning pearls found inside, near the seaside town of Xiamen, China. Photo by Gauthier Delecroix, Creative Commons image.

Cultivating pearls in saltwater may take anywhere from 18 months to three years, while cultured pearls formed in freshwater settings, including lakes, rivers, and ponds, may be harvested as soon as two years after the process has commenced, says PurePearls.com.

Cultured seawater pearls generally come from one of three locations, which is also a definition of the type of pearl. Akoya cultured pearls are the most common and best known. These pearls are produced in Japan and China; while South Sea cultured pearls are produced in the waters off Australia, Indonesia, and the Philippines. Tahitian cultured pearls are cultivated around the islands of French Polynesia, most specifically Tahiti.

Pearl Fact: Archeological records reveal Mesopotamia was where natural pearls were discovered and first viewed as collectible gems. This took place around 2300 B.C., according to information obtained at the National Geographic website.

As fashion and cultural standards have changed, so, too, has the position of importance held by pearls.

Diamond and seed pearl necklace with central saltwater pearl measuring 60 centimeters. Auctioned for £1,300 ($1,600) in November 2017. Fellows and LiveAuctioneers image.

“For quite a while, every young woman owned and wore her cultured pearl strand as one of her primary pieces of jewelry. Japanese Akoya cultured pearls, both in graduated and uniform bead necklaces, were the status quo. Think of outfits in the 1950s and you can picture it,” Boskin said. “In the ’60s, styles began to change, and in the ’80s, South Sea cultured pearls came on strong. In the past few decades, people were inheriting cultured pearls necklaces from their grandmothers, aunts and mothers, but no one was wearing them, or buying them. On the secondary market, their value went down. There were too many sellers and too few buyers.”

She went on to say, “For South Sea pearls, the market was incredibly strong in both retail and secondary markets. The larger the pearl, the better, and people could own so many varieties – white, black, golden, bronze, pistachio colors in round, baroque and mixed strands,” Boskin continued. “Then in the 2000’s, the Chinese freshwater pearls being created began to be larger, rounder and with higher luster. Because they looked similar enough to South Sea pearls but were far less expensive, the South Sea market became quite soft. Today, the secondary market for cultured pearls overall seems to be slowly building back up.”

Although seawater cultured pearls are represented by a variety of types, these types are far less common than freshwater cultured pearls. Cultured pearls produced in seawater make up less than 10 percent of the global cultured pearl production, according to information found on the National Geographic website. In addition, seawater cultured pearls often have a higher value than freshwater pearls. Pearl farmers cultivating pearls in freshwater sources use mussels rather than oysters as the host, and they are able to insert a greater number of irritants into a single mussel, resulting in some 50 pearls at a time.

Baroque pearl and silver-inlay necklace. Jasper52 and LiveAuctioneers image

Pearl Facts: Pearl shapes and colors continue to evolve with technological advancements. Despite what may seem to be the case, the majority of cultured pearls are baroque, which simply means they are not round traditional pearls, but unique in shape.

If all this talk about pearls, natural and cultured, is igniting an interest in you to learn more, Boskin offers a few words of advice, starting with “buy what you love.” While jewelry does hold value, it is a relative value. It may not sell later for as much as its purchase price or insured “value.” Everything is continent on the whims of the market at any given point in time.

A final gem of wisdom about collecting pearls, natural or cultured, is to look for the best luster possible, Boskin said. Not only does luster enhance the beauty of a pearl, it tends to make the pearl more valuable.

Contact Deborah Boskin at http://www.deborahboskin.com.