NEW YORK – Nothing is more personal than a handwritten autograph. There are literally no two alike, even from the same person. It’s why so many ask for one from a VIP they admire from afar. Having an autograph is a personal connection that will forever have its own story to tell.
The earliest known autograph, according to different sources, is that of a “signed” list on a Sumerian clay tablet verified by a scribe named Gar Ama around 3100 B.C. Curiously, no other autograph of the ancient world has survived, except copies of Greek manuscripts created around the 15th century.
Collecting autographs of the famous for its own sake only began around 1700 in Europe and the early 19th century in the United States. “In the Victorian era, autograph collecting became a mania and demand was insatiable,” according to Steven Raab of raabcollecting.com. By 1887, Walter R. Benjamin opened the first retail outlet specifically for autographs in New York City.
Today, in the era of “celebrity,” autographs are still earnestly sought and traded, both contemporary and historical. Just as we know that facsimile signatures appear on copies of original manuscripts, collectors specialize in identifying five different autograph types.
The best way to know if an autograph is authentic is to actually see it being written by the person whose name it is. Apart from that, there are certain ways to recognize a handwritten original autograph.
Sign your own name. The writing is not all one shade, but lightens and darkens as you go up on letters and down on others. Notice the space in between your first and last names, but more importantly notice any personal flourishes you may add such as underlining letters or how you cross your t’s and dot your i’s. These flourishes are tell-tale signs that autograph collectors and dealers compare against ones that have already been authenticated.
Naturally, once a hand-signed autograph is authenticated, scarcity and provenance determine its value. An authentic autograph of Queen Elizabeth II, for example, has a current value of about $5,800, while former President Barack Obama’s autograph is worth about $450. Both are heads of state, but Queen Elizabeth II doesn’t sign anything in public other than official documents and family holiday cards, unlike President Obama. It also depends on what is signed. A personal handwritten letter offers more at auction than a generic typed business card, for example.
Presidents, prime ministers, royalty, sports figures, movie stars and any prominent author, politician, astronaut or celebrity of the day are inundated with requests for autographs. Fans and admirers want that personal connection that an autographed photo, for example, provides. However, there isn’t anyone that can satisfy this relentless demand and do the things they are well known for. Therefore, they have help.
It is well known that the personal staff of President John F. Kennedy, for example, routinely signed the president’s name on photos, unofficial correspondence, appointments and other routine items. Movie stars of Hollywood’s golden age had staff sign photos by the handful.
Collectors can easily compare a hand-signed autograph against an authenticated one to determine if it is original or staff-signed, based mostly on the most obvious tell-tale signs. Once it is known as a staff-signed autograph, the value will be about one-third that of an authentic handwritten original autograph.
Thomas Jefferson famously wrote letters two at a time. As he wrote the original, a wooden machine (a polygraph) attached to his pen wrote the second. The duplicate was his “carbon copy” for his files. The autopen, as it eventually became known, has been upgraded since and used by other presidents as a matter of routine.
The first president to have used the autopen is reportedly Harry Truman, although it is known that Dwight D. Eisenhower had used it extensively as commander of Allied Forces during World War II and as president. Other celebrities such as astronauts, businessmen and sports figures also routinely sign general correspondence, photos, first day covers and other ephemera with an autopen.
In short, an autopen works by attaching a pen to a holder and an engraved type of large metal piece moves the pen along ridges that simulate a signature. Because the pen does not pick up from the paper while it’s in motion, the signature is one long uninterrupted signature, unlike your own handwritten signature where your pen is picked up and brought down as you sign leaving dark and light impressions.
During the autopen process, sometimes the engraving skips, like a worn record, and squiggles appear when it happens, sometimes noticeable ones and sometimes minor ones, but it is a tell-tale sign of an autopen.
At auction, autopen autographs aren’t usually collectible and are considered as having little value on their own. However, presidential appointments or royal patents with autopen autographs may have more of an historical collectible value. A signed autopen photo made out to an individual will have less of an interest at auction, but it does add color to a family history.
Printed or stamped autograph
If you place an autopen autograph next to a printed autograph, they would look almost alike. Both would have an unbroken line throughout. The difference is that the autopen autograph would still have the rough feel of a pen or marker as if it were signed by hand while the printed autograph is flat like a photocopy. An autographed photo of a president sent from the White House on request routinely features a printed or even a stamped signature.
The use of a rubber stamp to sign autographs is not unusual. Many heads of state and high-profile personalities have long used stamped signatures. Like the printed autograph, a hand-stamped autograph is more cost effective and less time-consuming than hand-signing. One can sometimes tell a stamped autograph from the smudged ink throughout the autograph and the tell-tale block of ink usually at the ends.
While it is a cost-effective way to meet the demands of admirers and collectors, a printed or stamped autograph has little value. However, it does depend on the photo or item it is printed on. For example, an oversized photograph of Lyndon B. Johnson will have a higher auction value despite its printed autograph because he was a U.S. president, but it won’t have nearly the same value as a hand-signed original.
As in any collectible category, fake autographs are common. The family of Babe Ruth, for example, routinely signed baseballs for him. President John F. Kennedy seldom signed his own name throughout his life, relying on the autopen or staff secretaries to sign for him. In fact, any handwritten autograph of JFK has to be authenticated since it is automatically considered to be signed by his personal staff. Others that are routinely faked are Elvis Presley, the Beatles, Michael Jackson and Walt Disney.
How do you authenticate an autograph? The Universal Autograph Collectors Club (uacc.org), for example, is a trade association listing members and dealers in good standing. “Always use a reputable dealer with a long and proven track record and certificates of authentication. If you are buying online, make sure the dealer lists their full address and contact details,” says Daniel Wade of Paul Fraser Collectibles. Always check online sources, too.
It’s the story
Collecting autographs tells a story. Sometimes it is part of a historical record and sometimes it’s just personal. To enhance your personal story, have an autograph signed on something unusual such as a poster, ticket or newspaper of a special event in order for it to stand out at auction. After all, the story of how you got the autograph is quite collectible, too.
NEW YORK – Jean Puiforcat (1897-1945), the French silversmith, sculptor and designer with the quirky, adorable last name (it’s pronounced “pwee-for-KAH”), was once described by Miller’s Antiques Encyclopedia as “the most important French Art Deco silversmith.” His name, in fact, has become synonymous with Art Deco glamor. Even in his day, Puiforcat was renowned for the elegant, often mathematical simplicity of his geometric forms and the unexpected combination of flawless metalwork executed with brilliantly polished hardstones, semiprecious stones or glass.
Puiforcat didn’t simply emerge from obscurity to become the legendary silversmith that his legacy commands. He was born into the prominent silversmith family of Puiforcat and his brother-in-law was the modernist architect Luis Estevez. Puiforcat complemented his hereditary links to design by actively engaging with prominent designers, sculptors and architects of his era.
After serving in World War I, he apprenticed in Paris as a silversmith and designer under the Ecole des Beaux-Arts-educated sculptor Louis-Aime Lejeune. His silver work had fine smooth surfaces and was based on the geometric series. Ivory, onyx, lapis lazuli and rosewood were used to decorate pieces. He also used gilding.
Following his contribution to the 1925 Exposition Internationale des Arts Décoratifs et Industriels Modernes in Paris, Puiforcat’s status as a leading silversmith of 20th century design began to grow. In 1926, a tea service he designed was purchased for the Metropolitan Museum in New York. Puiforcat left Paris and moved to Saint-Jean-de-Luz around 1927 and he worked briefly in Havana, Cuba from 1928 through 1930. He started designing tableware and by 1934 also had designed liturgical silver. After he moved to Mexico in 1941, he started exhibiting in the United States. Puiforcat was a member of the Société des Artistes Decorateurs, which he left to become a founding member of the Union des Artistes Modernes.
Puiforcat’s work has appeared in countless periodicals and magazines, touting the designer’s bold creations and praising him as the preeminent silversmith of his day. His enduring legacy can be evidenced by a retrospective that took place in Paris in 1947, only two years after his death. Important artists of the 20th century like Andy Warhol were fervent collectors of his work. The Warhol collection is especially noteworthy because it was sold in its entirety at auction through Sotheby’s in 1988 for the staggering sum of $451,000. A single tureen brought $55,000. Warhol first began collecting Puiforcat silverware after acquiring some pieces in Paris in the 1970s.
“Jean Puiforcat’s designs were so striking because his pieces broke away from the complicated, naturalistic, and fussy patterns of the past and instead embraced sleek and simplified contemporary forms,” said Charlotte Taylor, director of Fine & Decorative Arts at Quinn’s Auction Galleries in Falls Church, Va. “He successfully married fine craftsmanship with modernism, exemplifying the faith in social and technological progress that dominated culture between the two world wars. His legacy still continues today as he is still widely considered to be one of the pillars upon which the European Art Deco movement and modern silversmithing were built.”
Nick Coombs, a specialist in the Fine Furniture, Decorative Arts & Silver department at Hindman in Chicago, said Jean Puiforcat emerged as the standard-bearer for Art Deco silversmiths, not through a strict adherence to the movement’s aesthetic, but rather by interpreting timeless questions about proportion, ornament and beauty through his work. “In doing so,” Coombs said, “Puiforcat’s work captivated his contemporaries and continues to command reverence among silver collectors in the 21st century.”
Coombs continued, “Puiforcat’s work is firmly grounded as a response to earlier movements’ reliance on ornamentation, relying on the belief that mathematical formulae could be the source of beauty in design. A proponent of the ‘golden ratio,’ Puiforcat sought methods of design that had been pioneered during the Renaissance in the 16th century to answer questions of style and beauty in the 20th century. His works, while speaking for the aesthetic of the age, still respond to questions that are timeless, thus allowing his work to remain relevant despite changes of taste.”
Many museums hold Puiforcat’s works in their collections, including the Victoria and Albert Museum in London and the Cooper-Hewitt Smithsonian Design Museum in New York. “Today his pieces are still collected and can sell well above their estimates,” Charlotte Taylor said. She pointed to his “Bayonne” flatware set, which hammered for $65,000 on an estimate of $30,000 – $40,000 at Phillips Auction house in 2018; and last year, when Rago Auction House sold a “Biarritz” patented flatware set for $42,500 on an estimate of $25,000-$35,000. “These numbers reflect a trend in the sale of his works that has gone on for decades,” she said.
Nick Coombs said that, despite a slight downturn in the market for Art Deco furniture and decorative arts in the auction community over the past decade, the works of Jean Puiforcat continue to be actively sought after for collectors of both silver and decorative arts. “This is likely because of the timeless quality of his design,” he said. “Puiforcat is not responding to a singular aesthetic movement in his works; rather, he is trying to answer fundamental questions regarding proportion, balance and design. This allows his work to communicate and harmonize with other aesthetic movements because it does not focus on the surface of the work alone.”
Coombs concluded, “Collectors and buyers of Puiforcat encompass a larger collecting category than strictly ‘silver collectors.’ People interested in modernism and design are also active buyers as well as prominent decorators who are always looking for a highlight work to anchor any room. They will always be able to find that in the works of Jean Puiforcat.”
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A Jasper52 online auction of Exquisite Decorative Arts on July 22 will enhance homes and gardens with a diverse array of antique and contemporary objects. Exquisite vases, impressive dinnerware and lovely sculptures are among the unique treasures in this sale.
View the auction here.
Learn more about the auction on Auction Central News.
NEW YORK – When it came to making stoneware, the Kirkpatrick brothers did not shy away from mixing politics with their art. Cornwall and Wallace Kirkpatrick, who founded and ran Anna Pottery, in Anna, Illinois, 1859-1896, reportedly likened politicians to a “den of vipers” and often espoused their political beliefs on the snake jugs they made. Wallace Kirkpatrick was said to have been long fascinated with snakes and had quite a few of his own. It’s also been speculated that the snake imagery here is biblically inspired and symbolizes evil and mankind’s falling from grace.
A striking form among American stoneware, Anna Pottery’s snake jugs are highly desirable today. In general, the more ornate the jug, the more valuable. Pinched forms are also highly sought after. Some jugs have one or two snakes while the best examples will have multiple intertwined snakes. Occasionally, figures and other animals also appear. These sinuous jugs have huge crossover appeal, especially among stoneware collectors and folk art collectors.
“Among 19th century potters, Wallace and Cornwall Kirkpatrick took the utilitarian stoneware medium to its upper limit of artistic expression and their snake jugs represent their most imaginative and visually appealing creations,” said Luke Zipp of Crocker Farm in Sparks, Maryland. “Collectors and museums, far beyond typical stoneware enthusiasts, have recently become captivated by the form, which is reflected in the rising prices at our auctions.”
Taking the traditional glazing and firing techniques they mastered in making stoneware to the next level by adding a sophistical level of artistry – adding both whimsical and macabre elements, the Kirkpatricks transcended the utilitarian nature of stoneware.
Setting a world auction record in November 2018 that still stands as of this writing nearly two years later, Crocker Farm sold an important Anna Pottery stoneware snake jug for $120,000 + the buyer’s premium that was one of three jugs inscribed “8 to 7,” an obscure reference to the presidential election of 1876, that the company made in 1877. Profusely decorated in Albany slip decoration, the ovoid jug had a handle in the form of a coiled snake with another 12 snakes (modeled and applied by hand) on the body.
“A pattern emerges when the jug is studied closely, as the potter has applied five snakes emerging around the midsection of the jug, each with a loop-shaped form, and then applied a second group of snakes that entwine their bodies through the first group of snakes,” according to the catalog description for this jug. Early Anna Pottery jugs often had thin snakes that almost seemed harmless but by the 1870s, the snakes were more well-formed and menacing.
Both private and museum collectors seek these jugs out. The Krannert Art Museum in Champaign, Ill. has an Anna snake jug in its collection, one of only about two dozen examples known. Its example features 12 well-defined intertwined timber rattlesnakes and three men. Understanding of the Kirkpatricks’ designs has changed a bit over the years, according to the museum. “In the 20th century, scholars saw the Kirkpatrick snake jugs as temperance warnings against the evils of drink. More recent interpreters, however, draw attention to the jugs’ grotesque, macabre, sexual and scatological aspects, their humor and their self-consciously extravagant style, and argue that they are an ironic debunking of Victorian values.”
Zipp echoed this assessment: “Judging by their large body of work, the Kirkpatricks were keenly aware of the current political climate and very willing to engage in political dialogue through their clay creations. There is no evidence that they supported the temperance movement. In fact, most of their best works, for instance their pig flasks, were made to hold alcohol. Most scholars agree that the Kirkpatrick snake jugs poke fun at temperance ideology.”
Another fine jug in a museum collection is this circa 1865 example at the Minneapolis Institute of Art that depicts a Civil War vignette of Union soldiers trying to catch Jefferson Davis, president of the Confederacy, who escapes them clothed as a woman. “The dark spots on the snakes’ heads identify them as copperheads – a moniker for Northerners sympathetic to the Confederate cause,” according to the museum website. The likely inspiration for this scene was probably in cartoons found in period newspapers that were ideologically in support of the North.
Besides political themes seen in only a few jugs, alcohol is a dominant motif. Several pieces have applied figures of men (often partial torsos) with pained facial expressions. Often there are inscriptions on the side of the jugs referencing the men “going in.” This can be presumed to mean the men are going into the (whiskey) jug to be trapped under the spell of alcohol.
The essence of the appeal of these pieces lies in their exuberant decoration and the layered symbolism and messaging. Along with crosshatching and witty written inscriptions, the snakes –be they copperheads or rattlers – and figures are well molded in exacting detail. Several figures on this jug are molded in fine detail from a Union soldier to an African-American face to what appears to be Abraham Lincoln. A slavery motif present on that jug is a set of stoneware chain links.
“The more elaborate they are, the more valuable they are,” said Wes Cowan, founder of Cowan’s Auctions in Cincinnati, Ohio. “Whether one is looking at the larger jugs that might stand about 10 inches from base to the top of the stopper and having multiple snakes to smaller examples about 5 inches tall, with just one snake, all are desirable. “The market is very strong still for Anna.”
A Jasper52 auction that will be conducted on Wednesday, July 15, showcases the beauty, versatility and history of fine Southwestern and Native American jewelry. Sterling silver and turquoise stand out in this 102-lot auction, from concho belts to squash blossom necklaces.
View the auction here.
Learn more about the auction on Auction Central News.
Images from the early years of commercial photography are the focus of an online auction that will be conducted by Jasper52 on Wednesday, July 15. Thirty-two of the 51 lots are daguerreotypes, the first successful form of photography, named for Louis-Jacques-Mandé Daguerre of France, who invented the technique in collaboration with Nicéphore Niépce in the 1830s. Also offered are ambrotypes and tintypes, which were photographic processes developed later in the 19th century.
View the auction here.
Learn more about the auction on Auction Central News.