Italian designers rule in mid-century modern auction June 5

Everything needed to decorate a room in mid-century modern décor is offered in an online auction that will be conducted by Jasper52 on Wednesday, June 5. Seating, cabinetry and lighting, many by renowned Italian designers of the era, are featured in this sale.

Art Deco bar cabinet attributed to Osvaldo Borsani, 55¾in. high x 40in. wide x 18in. deep. Estimate: $2,500-$3,000. Jasper52 image

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Colored diamonds add radiance to Jasper52 gemstones sale June 4

Four hundred lots of colorful loose gemstones, highlighted by fancy colored diamonds, are offered in a Jasper52 online auction taking place Tuesday, June 4. Certified natural emeralds, sapphires, opals and topaz are also featured in the auction.

Natural diamond, fancy deep yellow-orange cushion shape, 1.51 carats, GIA certification no. 5243311705, 4.44 x 4.22 x 3.16 mm. Estimate: $16,000-$18,000. Jasper52 image

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Sioux beadwork brightened buckskin apparel

NEW YORK – Traditionally, Native Americans have no concept of art for art’s sake. They simply reveal the innate beauty of everyday objects.

Historically, each tribe expressed itself in its own way. Members of the Great Sioux Nation, nomadic hunter-warriors who roamed the northern Great Plains, believed that beaded belongings were not only beautiful, but brought them honor.

Creating each decorative item began with a hunt. Transforming elk, buffalo or deerskin into attractive, pliable hides, however, was women’s work. Only after soaking, cleaning and rendering them satin-soft (sometimes using cooked deer or buffalo brains), did they sinew-sew them into garments or functional items.

Pair of Sioux Quilled and Beaded Hide Moccasins with natural, purple and red-dyed porcupine quills and sinew sewn red and white glass seed beads, each with narrow horizontal bands, enclosing cross motifs, across the vamp, a beaded band, enclosing interlocking triangles encircling the foot, rawhide soles, c. 1890. Length: 11¼in. each. Provenance: Valentine Pasvolsky Collection, realized $2,200 in 2013. Image courtesy of Heritage Auctions and LiveAuctioneers

For 200 years or more, Sioux women adorned these creations with materials at hand, like shells, seeds, animal teeth, talons or naturally dyed quills, their specialty. Quillwork, the forerunner of beadwork, required cleaning stiff, hollow porcupine or bird quills, softening them in saliva, trimming their barbs, then flattening them – oft by pulling them between their teeth. When woven, plaited or twisted into embroidery-like patterns, they enhanced everything from quivers and war shirts to pipe bags and pouches. These rare, early pieces are exceedingly collectible.

Sioux girl’s beaded hide dress, sinew sewn and lane-stitched in numerous shades of opaque and translucent beads, each side decorated on the bodice and skirt with intricate geometric devices, trimmed with fine fringe, silk ribbons and tubular bead pendants terminating in hawk bells. Length: 31. overall in overall very good condition, c. 1880, realized $24,000 in 2009. Image courtesy of Heritage Auctions and LiveAuctioneers

In the 1840s, white traders , arriving on horseback, introduced large, European powder-blue and chalk-white glass “pony beads.” Other shades, including black, red, and semi-transparent “greasy” yellow (think rancid butter), followed. Initially, these crude beads, worked with bone awls, home-tanned hides and sinew-thread, bordered Sioux natural or brighter aniline-dyed quillwork. Over time, however, they became integral parts of quill designs or appeared entirely alone.

Sioux beaded hide tobacco bag, sinew-sewn using bead colors of pony trader blue, greasy yellow, translucent blue and russet; shorter quilled slats in blue, orange and red; finished with long fringe; inked accession number inside throat, total length 30in., fourth quarter 19th century, realized $2,700 in 2010. Image courtesy of Cowan’s Auctions and LiveAuctioneers

A decade later, traders introduced far tinier, brighter “seed beads,” largely imported from the Austro-Hungarian Empire and Italy. Early arrivals, hand-cut from long glass tubes, were typically narrow, irregularly shaped  and sharp-edged. Later ones, produced through more advanced methods tended to be uniformly sized with rounded edges. These miniatures not only offered attractive coverage of large areas. Their numerous shades and sizes also inspired far more imaginative creations.

These designs, which typically feature thousands of beads, were usually worked in slightly arched lazy (lane) stitchery. This involved threading identical-size beads on identical-length strings, tying them off, then, with simple running stitches, attaching them in parallel rows. Though looser than traditional one-by-one, overlay beading, this method proved a real time-saver.

Sioux buckskin possible Tipi bag with rows of sinew sewn and lazy stitch beaded bands, side and top symbols and with tin cone suspensions, very good condition, 12in. x 19in., c. early 1900s, realized $2,000 in 2011. Image courtesy of Allard Auctions Inc. and LiveAuctioneers

All pre-1880s Sioux beadwork is extremely desirable – especially items featuring strips of machine-made, yellow trade cloth, once a Native American status symbol. Bead loss, quill damage, or hide stiffness, discoloration or mold, however, may affect their value.

By the 1890s, the Reservation Period, various subcultures of the Great Sioux Nation, speaking different dialects and following differing lifestyles, developed distinctive, more elaborate beading styles of their own. The Dakota Sioux, for example, favored freestanding star, flower and leaf motifs against unadorned grounds. The warlike Lakotas preferred triangle-based geometric motifs like stepped or serrated “tipis,” diamonds and hourglass forms. Eventually, through tribal trade, intermarriage and conflict, these styles merged.

Sioux beaded awl case with bone awl, 8in. plus drop, realized $425 in 2018. Image courtesy of Old Barn Auction LLC and LiveAuctioneers

Sioux design elements, when symmetrically doubled, form elaborate patterns against light grounds, with open areas featuring decorative lines or crosses. More intricate motifs, like dragonflies, horse-tracks, three-pronged forks, turtles or feathers, actually combinations of basic lines and geometrics, may embellish areas where denser patterns were desired.

Sioux designs typically feature white, periwinkle, blue, yellow, mauve and green beadwork. Because red symbolizes lifespans, virtue and good luck, this favorite often enlivens women’s saddles, moccasins and cradleboards. Bead color variations abound, however, because they were produced through diverse technologies.

Lakota Sioux beaded hide purse, early 20th century, the circular form having decorative bead work depicting a radial medicine wheel motif, executed in red, yellow, white and black beads, in a display case, display case: 12½in. high, realized $150 in 2016. Image courtesy of Clars Auction Gallery and LiveAuctioneers

Despite forceful government efforts to eradicate Indian culture at the turn of the century, Native American bead working flourished. In time, the Sioux, like other tribes, supplemented their incomes by marketing heavily beaded pieces, like men’s vests, purses and girls’ dresses, to tourists. Serious collectors, however, may prefer items that the Sioux themselves used and wore.

Native American culture remains dynamic, reflects veteran beader Kelly Murdock-Billy. “It’s uncanny how the styles of  Native American regalia and beadwork change. Every five to ten years,  powwow fancy-shawl dancers and jingle-dress dancers wear all-new beaded designs, the treasures of tomorrow.”

Individual style key to luxury fashion online auction June 2

Fashion fades, style is eternal,” declared French designer Yves Saint Laurent, as evidenced by an online auction of vintage haute couture and luxury accessories to be conducted by Jasper52 Sunday, June 2. Few collections mirror the top-tier quality and breadth of this sale.

2003 Christian Dior haute-couture red beaded silk evening gown in excellent condition; no stains. Estimate: $3,000-$3,500. Jasper52 image

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Fine jewelry, watches highlight Jasper52 auction May 29

More than 600 lots of fine jewelry, watches and decorative art are offered in an online auction taking place Wednesday, May 29, through Jasper52. Names synonymous with the highest quality design and craftsmanship are presented: Tiffany & Co., Buccellati, Rolex and Jaeger-Lecoultre, to name a few.

Jean Schlumberger for Tiffany & Co., 18K ring with 2.06 heart-shaped diamond and 14 round diamonds weighing approximately 0.28 carats, 1960s. Estimate: $34,000-$41,000. Jasper52 image

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Lacquered wares cross many cultures

What started as a utilitarian need for watertight objects eventually became its own art form known as lacquerware. To keep wood, pottery tin and other metal objects watertight, layers of natural lacquer were brushed onto boxes, buckets, trays and other household items. Once dried, though, lacquer turns a distinctly dark black which is not always a designer choice of color. That’s why, over time, artistic designs were added to help make the item more decorative as well as useful.

Carved lacquer, known as diaoqi, is a buildup of many layers of different color lacquer and carved with small knives. Image courtesy Bally Auction and LiveAuctioneers

Lacquerware:  5000 BCE China, Japan, Korea

Around 7,000 years ago, sap from Toxicodendron vernicifluum, a tree grown and cultivated only in East Asia, was refined into a useable waterproof compound used to coat household items such as tableware, boxes, furniture, trays, bowls, screens and even coffins.

Known in China as a varnish tree, the sap is tapped by cutting into the bark and collected. Smaller branches are soaked in water and its sap is collected, all of which contains urushiol, the skin irritant in poison oak. Once exposed to air, the sap slowly turns black. After being strained and heated to remove moisture, the final product, lacquer, is stored in airtight containers ready to be brushed onto wood, tin or another metallic object.

A 17th century Chinese lacquerware dish in the collection of the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

The process of applying lacquer is a time-consuming process, usually over several days. Each successive layer, 20 or more at times, is left to dry and harden before another layer can be applied. Curiously, in order for lacquer to dry it must be placed in a moist atmosphere such as caves, according to early Chinese accounts. This process can take as long as 18 days before a design can be introduced. This process was eventually spread to Japan and the Korean peninsula by the sixth century.

Decoration can include gold, silver, charcoal, white lead, and mother of pearl surrounding decorative plants, animals and intricately carved domestic scenes. Carved lacquer, known as diaoqi, started with a buildup of many layers of different color lacquer (red, known as cinnabar, green, brown and even purple) until it was quite thick. Once dried, an intricate design was carved by hand into the object.

Chinese lacquerware was prominent throughout each dynastic period with its process a closely guarded state secret. Exports of generally mundane consumer items began in the 17th century to Europe but by the middle of the 19th century Chinese lacquerware was no longer a stable export.

An example of a 19th century European ‘japanned’ tea tray on display at the Birmingham History Galleries, UK. This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license.

Japanning: 17th Europe

Chinese exported its lacquerware to Europe by the early 17th century, mostly to the Netherlands, Italy, France and Great Britain by the East India Company, but it was mostly utilitarian items, not its most noted artwork. Yet, Chinese lacquerware became popular at all levels of society. The process of lacquer production as practiced in East Asia for thousands of years was limited to the sap from the varnish tree which grew only there. And China wasn’t sharing its secret. An alternative needed to be developed.

A viable lacquer was finally discovered from the secretions of the female lac bug known as Kerria lacca. Mixed with ethyl alcohol, these secretions became known as shellac, which dries into a high-gloss finish.

Black lacquer as a base with Japanese motifs such as this 18th century pocket watch was made in the UK and is on display at the Walkers Art Museum in Baltimore, Md. Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

With this discovery, Italian craftsmen saw an opportunity to expand a market for the popular East Asian lacquerware, particularly from Japan, by creating their own Asian-themed designs that they felt represented daily life there usually on heavily lacquered tin and ironware in stark black or red with gold painted decoration. Because Asian societies were generally closed to outsiders, particularly to Europeans, scenes depicted by Italian craftsmen were more imaginary than realistic.

Still, japanning, as the art form was known in Europe, became popular from the early 18th century until the late 19th century. Once its popularity declined by 1920, the focus moved away from japanning metal items to japanning bicycles. In fact, by 1887, the Sunbeam bicycle company was formed to create the ubiquitous black japanned bicycle with gold stenciled markings.

A painted toleware coffeepot that sold for $1,200. Image courtesy Conestoga Auction Co. and LiveAuctioneers

Toleware: 18th century Americas

By the time lacquerware was introduced in 18th century America, rolling mills were being perfected in Pontypool, England. Pressing bars of steel and iron between rotating wheels allowed for the cost-effective formation of plates, coated with tin, then stamped into household goods like trays, candle holders, breadboxes, plates and utensils for export and commercial trade.

Once formed, the goods were coated against corrosion with a special blend of linseed oil, an asphalt compound, turpentine and other industrial compounds. The final dark varnish (a version of lacquer) is called “japan black.” Henry Ford’s Model T was painted with “japan black” giving rise to his quote that “Any customer can have a car painted any color that he wants so long as it is black.” Once the varnish is applied to iron, steel or tin-plated items and cooled, the item is decorated similar to the Japanese lacquerware, known as japanning.

An example of a hand lamp that is varnished with basic ‘japan black’ without the added decoration that sold for $50. Image courtesy Conestoga Auction Co. and LiveAuctioneers

Rather than import these items from England and France, communities in North and South America, particularly in 18th century New England (mostly Boston and Hartford, Conn.) and the Pennsylvania Dutch, manufactured, hand-painted and later stenciled their own tin, pewter and metal goods for trade and home use. It was called toleware from the French term tôle peinte or painted sheet and practiced as tole painting.

The production of hand-painted toleware lasted from early 18th century to late 19th century when its popularity declined. There has been a resurgence of tole painting from the late 20th century within communities as an individual art project with classes, workshops and even organized groups such as the Society of Decorative Painters or the National Society of Tole and Decorative Painters.


Acrylic paints have replaced the variations of natural and industrial lacquers common before 1950 or so. Their use is simply more efficient, cost effective to produce and is more conducive to innovation where the early lacquer was easily more time consuming and toxic to create.

Lacquers aside, in the end it is difficult to distinguish vintage lacquerware in any of its forms. The use of different lacquers might just help on an atomic level (which is why this article focuses on types of lacquer) but the decorations applied, styles used or even what colors are predominant simply don’t lend itself to specific periods, which can be easily categorized without knowing each local style. Even the carved lacquer of early China is faithfully reproduced today.

Varnishing with lacquer wasn’t limited to just household items. Furniture was also ‘japanned’ such as this chest of drawers that sold for $375. Image courtesy Dumouchelles and LiveAuctioneers

Still, certain characteristics do stand out. Japanned items from France in the 17th and early 18th century, for example, have a rougher surface and more rust from peeling varnish because they hand stamped their iron or steel plate which produced more uneven surfaces.

What do collectors like? Collectors like bright colors, intact inlays like mother of pearl or gold leaf, regional styles such as “thumb work” of the Pennsylvania Dutch, flowers, Japanese or Chinese motifs, or any number of combinations. Decorators love the blend of colors that stand out. Most examples after 1950 are widely available for under $100.

Since variation is the main theme of lacquerware, whatever its name, the first rule of collecting applies: Collect what you like first.

GCADA auction May 23 features star-spangled Americana

Successful antique dealers have a knack for scouring the American landscape for interesting if not unique items that appeal to collectors. An attractive selection of Americana and folk art has been hand-picked by members of the Genesee Country Antique Dealers Association to be sold in an online auction through Jasper52 on Thursday, May 23. The 127-lot auction has a patriotic theme, from a folk art Great Seal of the United States to a bicycle flag holder with original 48-star U.S. flags.

Set of bicycle flags and mount, about 11in. tall, circa 1940s-1950s, 48-star flags. Estimate: $110-$150. Jasper52 image

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Jasper52 introduces famous portrait miniaturists May 22

An auction devoted to 18th and 19th century portrait miniatures, small hand-painted masterpieces, will be conducted by Jasper52 on Wednesday, May 22. The online auction represents a who’s who of the rich subjects and famous miniature portraitists of their eras.

Horace Hone portrait miniature, circa 1782, painted on natural wafer, signed and dated ‘HH 1782,’ framed in a gold bracelet case (2in. x 1 5/8in.) which is in excellent condition, as is the painting itself. Estimate: $4,500-$5,500. Jasper52 image

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Lifting the lid on sarcophagus relics

Sarcophagi (that’s the plural of sarcophagus, for all you wordsmiths out there) are the box-like burial receptacles, most commonly carved from stone and either displayed above ground or buried below ground. They’re most commonly associated with the ancient Greeks, and in fact the word sarcophagus is Greek for “flesh-eating stone,” as it was believed the chemical properties of the limestone used to make them rapidly facilitated the decomposition of the corpses.

Egyptian sarcophagus of Djeserkare Amenhotep, circa 1069-945 B.C. Upper half of the lid to an inner coffin. Clenched hands, striped wig, member of the priesthood. Three cartouches by the hands read: ‘Osiris, Ruler; Djeserkare; Amenhotem (Ruler of) Thebes.’ 36in. tall x 19in. wide. Estimate: $3,000-$5,000, sold for $27,000 at Cottone Auctions in Geneseo, N.Y., on March 23, 2013.

It’s rare that a complete and intact sarcophagus is seen at auction, although it does happen from time to time (more on that later). Understandably, sarcophagi mostly reside in museums around the world, most notably in their countries of origin (Greece, of course, but also Italy, Spain, India and other areas of Asia like Vietnam and Indonesia). Even so, eager collectors actively seek out any piece of a sarcophagus they can find, usually in the form of a fragment, lid, mask or panel.

Complete, life-size ancient Egyptian sarcophagus, Late Period, circa 712-332 B.C. Life-sized gesso and painted wood, pharaonic burial sarcophagus with overall black ground, 67½in. tall, complete with upper and lower sections. Estimate: $75,000-$100,000, sold for $52,500 at Artemis Gallery in suburban Boulder, Colorado on June 13, 2014.

“Perhaps there is nothing more representative of the ancient world than the proverbial Egyptian sarcophagus,” said Bob Dodge, founder and executive director of Artemis Gallery in suburban Boulder, Colorado. “They’ve been the feature of literally hundreds of movies and boast the elite of Hollywood like Boris Karloff, Lon Chaney, Tom Cruise, Brendan Fraser, Harrison Ford and countless others.”

Dodge added, “Man has always had a fascination with death and rebirth, and the Egyptian sarcophagus is the ‘vessel’ that carried the body to the afterlife – and on occasion was the container that, when opened, unleashed the mummy back into the world of the living. Sarcophagi are mysterious, beautiful, historically significant and something that can inspire awe in people of all ages and all backgrounds. The fascination of King Tut and the beauty of his golden sarcophagus is as alluring today as it was in 1922 when Carter unveiled him to the world.”

Egyptian polychrome decorated sarcophagus cover, Late to Ptolemaic Period (circa 664-30 B.C.), mounted in a plexiglass case, with restorations, 44in. tall by 17in. wide. From the collection of the late actor Larry Hagman. Estimate: $600-$800, sold for $4,600 at Andrew Jones Auctions in Los Angeles on March 3, 2019.

Aileen Ward, vice president and senior specialist with Andrew Jones Auctions in Los Angeles, said that with specific regard to aesthetics, “there’s a lot of crossover between the style of decoration on sarcophagi and modern and contemporary art. The distillation and abstraction of features and form have been inspiring artists since the 19th century and even before. The appeal to some is the mysticism inherent in a sarcophagus. The connection with the ancient Egyptian belief in the underworld and afterlife and how best to secure safe passage and an agreeable eternity resonates with some fundamental human facet.”

Deric Torres of Clars Auction Gallery in Oakland, California, said the deeper element that accounts for the appeal of the sarcophagus “is the historical aspect, compounded by the importance in human and cultural history. One needs to research the provenance of pieces being considered for purchase, as that can add a tremendous amount of value. For pieces with concrete provenance, prices remain steady, with growth projected for important pieces. By contrast, Ethnic, African and Pre-Columbian pieces have hit a slowdown in growth in auctions globally.”

Lot of two Egyptian mummified hands, New Kingdom, the larger extending to wrist and lower forearm with partial wrapping intact and two fingernails exposed, the underside with skin exposed, and retains a well-defined scarab ring, 12in. long by 4in. wide. Estimate: $8,000-$12,000, sold for $8,500 at Clars Auction Gallery in Oakland, Calif., on Sept. 9, 2012.

Bob Dodge remarked, “The market for Egyptian sarcophagi is and always has been robust. Back in the golden age of travel – before cultural patrimony laws put a huge damper in the export of antiquities – travelers to Egypt loved to bring sarcophagi masks back from their travels to Egypt. An interesting antidote – one reason that so many sarcophagi in western collections are only the upper half of the box – if you cut a sarcophagus in half, you could fit it in your luggage. In too many cases, the lower half was simply discarded.”

Egyptian carved wood sarcophagus mummy mask showing remnants of polychrome, 10in. x 9½in, x 2in. Estimate: $200-$300, sold for $475 at Material Culture in Philadelphia on Dec. 17, 2017.

Dodge pointed out that cultural patrimony laws have had a negative impact on the sale of complete boxes, but less so on masks and sections of sarcophagi. “Before his fall from grace, Zahi Hawass, the former Egyptian Minister of State for Antiquities, went on a worldwide crusade to repatriate all sarcophagi back to Egypt – regardless of when they originally left,” Dodge said. “Collectors and even institutions became concerned that if they purchased a ‘sarc,’ Hawass might file a lawsuit and attempt to repatriate it.”

Going forward, Dodge says, “the price and demand for well-provenanced sarcophagi will only increase. I will say, like in most areas of the antiquity market, better quality items outperform lower quality goods and we see this trend continuing for the near term in all things Egyptian, sarcophagi included.”

Ancient Egyptian wood sarcophagus with mummified bird with blue faience Ushabti and Eye of Horus, in perfect condition, circa 700 B.C., 7in. x 2¾in. Estimate: $800-$1,200, sold for $8,503 at Palmyra Heritage Gallery in New York City on March 11, 2018.

Aileen Ward said the high-end works with long established provenance will always be in demand for top tier collectors. “The mid-range pieces have been flat but there seems to be something of an uptick in interest as collectors see that these artifacts with so much history, so much of a story to tell have been undervalued,” she said. “In light of recent world events, pieces with inveterate provenance will likely increase in value.”

As stated, occasionally a complete and intact sarcophagus comes to market, almost always with a steep estimate. Case in point: in December 2013, Artemis Gallery offered an Egyptian painted wood funerary ensemble from the Third Intermediate Period, 21st Dynasty (1070-945 B.C.). The grouping included a coffin lid, trough and mummy-board, all brightly painted with an iconographic representations and texts, the lid anthropoid, depicting the deceased, wearing a striped tripartite headcloth crowned with a fillet centered by lilies, the arms crossed and covered by an immense floral broad collar, exposing the separately made hands extending outward, two seated animal-headed deities below. The ensemble sold within estimate, for $221,000.

Far corners of the globe found in antiquarian map sale May 15

Collectors can find their place in the world and even the solar system by viewing the Premium Antiquarian Maps auction that will be held by Jasper52 on Wednesday, May 15. More than 100 antique illustrated maps and views by some of the most significant cartographers of their times will cross the auction block.

Cellarius celestial map from the Southern Hemisphere, Valk & Schenk edition, 1708, Amsterdam, 16.8in. x 19.1in. Estimate: $2,000-$2,500. Jasper52 image

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