EGYPTIAN FAIENCE: PROTECTION FOR THIS LIFE AND THE NEXT

An Egyptian faience female figure, standing more than five inches tall and dating to the 12th dynasty of the Middle Kingdom (1938-1756 B.C.), achieved $86,000 plus the buyer’s premium in May 2022. Image courtesy of Hindman and LiveAuctioneers

Ancient Egyptians believed that the color blue, which they associated with water, the heavens and rebirth, offered protective powers both in life and the afterlife. For thousands of years, elite classes wore or carried amulets carved from highly prized imported blue stones such as turquoise or lapis lazuli. They also tucked gemstone amulets, scarabs and figurines within the tombs of the prestigious. 

A Late Period (664-525 B.C.) faience wedjat eye amulet realized £2,000 (about $2,100) plus the buyer’s premium in January 2022. Image courtesy of Apollo Art Auctions and LiveAuctioneers

Members of the Egyptian lower classes came up with a clever substitution for the unaffordable stones. They favored small handmade or molded pieces fashioned from a combination of crushed quartz, alkaline salts, lime and mineral-based pigments – the recipe for what we now know as Egyptian faience. 

Items made from faience typically featured translucent, gleaming turquoise blue or blue-green glazes magically linked with life, fertility and immortality. Other examples featured alluring black, brown, yellow, white or marbled lusters, depending on their mineral content. These were applied by brush, through dips in faience slurries, or by submerging the piece in glazing powder before firing. By the Middle Kingdom (2055-1650 B.C.), efflorescence, the technique of adding glaze to faience forms before firing, emerged. 

An Egyptian faience bottle from the 18th Dynasty (1550-1292 B.C.) earned £1,700 (about $1,800) plus the buyer’s premium in May 2021. Image courtesy of Lyon & Turnbull and LiveAuctioneers

Faience’s ease of manufacture triggered mass production of amulets, rings, tiles and figurines of common creatures such as fish, frogs, hedgehogs and crocodiles. Hippopotami faience, ranging from seal-amulets to statuettes, were also wildly popular. Yet their inspiration – unpredictable, aggressive territorial behemoths – were not only feared but revered. Because they wallowed in the plentiful, rich mud of the Nile River, the ancient Egyptians associated hippopotami with fertility. Andrew Williamson, manager of the research and writing department at Artemis Gallery, explained that because many believed these immense creatures “roared” at dusk and dawn, they also reflected the daily cycles of life and the afterlife. 

This Middle Kingdom (2061-1690 B.C.) faience hippopotamus, each side featuring lotus flowers and leaves, attained $10,000 plus the buyer’s premium in December 2016. Image courtesy of Ancient Resource Auctions and LiveAuctioneers

Hippopotamus-form faience that reach the auction market today usually portray standing compound deities such as Taweret, a fertility goddess who, in addition to a hippo head, bears lionine and crocodilian features. Yet recumbent models such as the plump, realistic blue-glazed beast that earned $10,000 plus the buyer’s premium at Ancient Resource Auctions in December 2016, are far more collectible. 

A mold-formed faience scarab pendant featuring hieroglyphics and a cartouche of Pharaoh Amenhotep II (reigned 1427-1401 B.C.) sold for $1,750 plus the buyer’s premium in June 2021. Image courtesy of Artemis Gallery and LiveAuctioneers

Numerous high-quality faience pieces, including jewelry, amulets, shabti funeral servant statues and scarabs, were produced during the New Kingdom (1570-1070 B.C.). Artemis Gallery auctioned a mold-formed, green-tinged faience scarab pendant featuring insectile features, hieroglyphics and a cartouche of Pharaoh Amenhotep II for $1,750 plus the buyer’s premium in June 2021. 

Shiny faience mummy necklaces, which substituted for strands of costly lapis lazuli, carnelian or malachite beads, were long thought to accompany ancient Egyptians into the afterlife. A magnificent restrung turquoise and gold-bead strand, traced to the New Kingdom’s Amarna workshops, earned $1,957 plus the buyer’s premium at auction in July 2022. 

This restrung faience and gold-bead amulet necklace, dating to the New Kingdom, Amarna Period (1353-1336 B.C.), brought £1,700 (about $1,957) plus the buyer’s premium in July 2022. Image courtesy of Apollo Art Auctions and LiveAuctioneers

Ancient Egyptians revered cats for their formidable vermin-catching abilities. Yet only toward the end of the New Kingdom did Bastet, their fierce lioness goddess, evolve into kindlier cat deities such as those gracing the faience figural ring Alex Cooper auctioned for $4,250 plus the buyer’s premium in February 2015. 

A New Kingdom (1570-1544 B.C.) faience figural ring featuring a large seated cat goddess, Bastet, surrounded by smaller cats, earned $4,250 plus the buyer’s premium in February 2015. Image courtesy of Alex Cooper and LiveAuctioneers

Scores of ushabtis – small mummiform male and female faience figurines found scattered among grave goods – date from the Late Dynasty Period (664-525 B.C.). Because these figures were meant to serve as laborers in the afterlife, many bore agricultural accouterments including picks, hoes and baskets. Most were mass-produced from standardized molds; others, such as the miniature example Artemis Gallery auctioned for $3,500 plus the buyer’s premium in May 2022, were highly personalized. In addition to an inscribed ushabtispell from the Book of the Dead, it bears a hieroglyphic text identifying its master as Psamtek, overseer of the Egyptian treasury. 

A Late Period (664-525 B.C.) ushabti made for Psamtek, overseer of the treasury, its abdomen and legs inscribed with hieroglyphic text and a spell from the Book of the Dead, went for $3,500 plus the buyer’s premium in May 2022. Image courtesy of Artemis Gallery and LiveAuctioneers

“Like ushabtis, eyes were also incredibly symbolic to the ancient Egyptians, since they represented a window to a mummy’s soul for eternity,” said Artemis Gallery’s Andrew Williamson. Faience eye and brow sets, typically made by funerary priests or sarcophagus artists, reflected the social status of the deceased as well as their family’s wealth. In August 2018, Artemis Gallery auctioned a pair of life-like, wide-eyed orbs for $11,000 plus the buyer’s premium.

A pair of glass and faience sarcophagus eyes from the Late Period (662-315 B.C.) realized $11,000 plus the buyer’s premium in August 2018. Image courtesy of Artemis Gallery and LiveAuctioneers

Although ancient Egyptian faience works may be tiny objects of shimmering beauty, they embody important human concerns that transcend the ages.

ELIZABETH II: THE MONARCH WHOSE IMAGE GRACED SEVEN DECADES OF MEMORABILIA

A pink-dominated Andy Warhol screenprint portrait of Queen Elizabeth II from 1985, signed in pencil and from an edition of 40, achieved £35,000 plus the buyer’s premium in December 2014. Image courtesy of Bloomsbury Auctions and LiveAuctioneers

Queen Elizabeth II died on September 8, 2022, at the age of 96. The world’s longest-serving female monarch, she reigned for 70 years and was the second-longest-serving monarch in history, surpassed only by King Louis XVI of France. Elizabeth II was the only British sovereign most of us have ever known. The head of state and queen to as many as 32 countries and states in North America, Africa, East Asia and the South Pacific, she was unquestionably the most recognizable woman in the world.

This printer proof Bank of Gibraltar 10-pound note featuring a portrait of Queen Elizabeth II sold for $150 plus the buyer’s premium in February 2020. Image courtesy of Indo Auction and LiveAuctioneers

On her 21st birthday, then-Princess Elizabeth famously said, “I declare before you all that my whole life, whether it be long or short, shall be devoted to your service and the service of our great imperial family to which we all belong.” She would dutifully fulfill that pledge to the very end. Two days before her passing, Elizabeth was still attending to business and received Liz Truss, the prime minister she had just appointed, at Balmoral Castle.

A diamond presentation brooch by Garrard & Co Ltd, created to resemble how the newly-crowned Queen Elizabeth II signed her initials, one of six she commissioned as gifts for the Maids of Honor who attended her at her 1953 coronation, earned £180,000 in June 2022. Image courtesy of Noonans and Liveauctioneers

At her three-hour long coronation on June 2, 1953, then-Princess Elizabeth – a mere 25 years old – became Queen Elizabeth II. It was the first time a coronation was televised in its entirety. 

Today, programs, tickets and other ephemera from the coronation are highly prized by collectors. Even more so, collectors dream of owning one of the specially-made light blue velvet chairs used by the peers who formed the audience inside Westminster Abbey at that momentous occasion. 

Perhaps the ultimate coronation-related prize is a diamond brooch The Queen commissioned from the first and most notably important Crown Jeweller of the United Kingdom, Garrard & Co Ltd, in the form of her own initials. She gave one to each of the six Maids of Honor who attended her coronation. One of the six brooches was auctioned by Noonans in June 2022 and realized a staggering £180,000 (approximately $205,200). 

Also highly desirable to collectors are Cecil Beaton’s official photographic portraits commissioned for Elizabeth II’s coronation or taken during the early years of her reign. Beaton’s images remind us of just how young The Queen was when she assumed the weighty responsibilities of her position.

A Cecil Beaton portrait of Princess Elizabeth, inscribed by her with the words “Elizabeth, Colonel 1942,” sold for £6,500 against an estimate of £600-£800 in June 2014. Image courtesy of Fraser’s Autographs and LiveAuctioneers

As time passed, Elizabeth’s subjects rejoiced in the milestones of her reign: the Silver, Golden, Diamond, Sapphire and Platinum Jubilees that marked the 25th (1977), the 50th (2002), the 60th (2012), the 65th (2017) and the 70th (2022) anniversaries, respectively, of the queen’s coronation, respectively. Each jubilee was a national event, with the United Kingdom and British Commonwealth nations participating with parades, ceremonies and celebrations At those times in particular, The Queen was eager to personally greet well-wishers during her spirited and friendly walkabouts.

This black-and-white Christmas card from 1947 featuring the wedding photo of Princess Elizabeth and Philip, the Duke of Edinburgh, and signed by both, realized $870 plus the buyer’s premium in November 2021.
Image courtesy of Chiswick Auctions and LiveAuctioneers

While The Queen seemed approachable, it was always on her terms. “You don’t get matey with The Queen,” former British Prime Minister Tony Blair wrote in his 2010 memoir, A Journey: My Political Life. “Occasionally she can be matey with you, but don’t try to reciprocate or you get ‘The Look.’” Protocol and the dignity of office had their place after all for this hardworking queen.

A color portrait photograph of Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Phillip, signed by both and dated 2004 by her, earned £2,200 against an estimate of £400-£600 in June 2022. Image courtesy of Sworders Fine Art Auctioneers and LiveAuctioneers.

Unlike most other heads of state, who routinely provide autographs to those who ask, Queen Elizabeth II rarely did, if ever. When greeting cordoned queues of admirers, she was never seen doing anything more than smiling, shaking hands and speaking one-on-one to those who came to see her. In her later years, she invariably wore cheerfully-colored clothing and hats (“The better for them to see me,” she is reported to have said). 

There was never a pen in her hand; she limited her signature to matters of state, personal family photos or a letter to a special guest, even if was only signed “Elizabeth R,” for Elizabeth Regina (Latin for “Queen”). Such spare handwritings and signatures rarely appear at auction, especially those that predate her coronation. Handwritten letters, early photogravures or other memorabilia from her time as a young princess or during her active military service during World War II are particularly hard to find. She had yet to enter the immediate line of royal succession, thus the spotlight was not on her and few “collectibles” were retained.

To mark the first Jubilee of Queen Elizabeth II in 1977, Royal Doulton created this loving cup, a one-of-a-kind market sample that attained $5,250 plus the buyer’s premium in January 2021. Image courtesy of Lion and Unicorn and LiveAuctioneers

Each public occasion involving The Queen, as well as those which were private, such as a birth or a wedding, were memorialized in gold, in works of art, in photos, in pottery and ceramics, and in issues of stamps and coins. Some were created in strictly limited numbers and would warrant pride of place in any collection of royal items.

“Value is also determined by quality and rarity, experts say. A china tea set commemorating one of the queen’s jubilees that was mass-produced won’t be worth much. But limited-edition items — where maybe only 100 were produced — will eventually sell for more,” wrote Jaclyn Peiser, a retail reporter for the Washington Post, in an article published soon after The Queen’s death. Of course, if advertisements label a commemorative as a limited edition, it’s important to determine just how “limited” its production run really was. The lower the number, the better.

A 1-oz silver proof coin issued by Tokelau, a dependent territory of New Zealand, shows the evolution of the royal portraits of Queen Elizabeth II through the year 2020. It sold for $275 plus the buyer’s premium in November 2021. Image courtesy of 3 Kings Auction and LiveAuctioneers

Limited-edition commemoratives made from precious metals retain long-term value both for their intrinsic value and for their provenance. A 1-ounce silver coin issued in 2020 by Tokelau, a dependent territory of New Zealand, featured royal portraits of Queen Elizabeth II through the years. It sold for a hammer price of $275, about 10 times its intrinsic value, thanks not only to its pleasing design but also for the remote place where it was issued. 

Postage stamps issued early in the queen’s reign by far-flung areas of the British Empire should also hold their value in the decades to come, especially those from countries that no longer recognize the Monarch of the United Kingdom as its head of state. 

Error stamps – those that are not complete or were produced incorrectly – are almost always more valuable. A marginal block of four 1963 3D Red Cross Centenary stamps that pictured the young Queen Elizabeth II but lacked the organization’s distinctive Red Cross symbol once sold for about £40,000 (about $45,000). 

“We are expecting to see the value of rare stamps climb dramatically and possibly by 300-400% as philatelists clamber to add to their collections in the coming months,” said James Constantinou, founder of prestigepawnbrokers.co.uk in an interview with the London-based Mirror newspaper. 

For Queen Elizabeth II’s Diamond Jubilee in 2012, Visconti created a platinum-plated fountain pen with a 23K palladium nib in royal purple and a facsimile of the Imperial Crown. It brought $550 plus the buyer’s premium in August 2021. Image courtesy of Donley Auctions and LiveAuctioneers

A platinum-trimmed fountain pen by Visconti in royal purple, made exclusively for the 60th Jubilee, is another example of an exclusive commemorative that should see its value only increase as time passes; in April 2021, one such pen sold for $550 plus the buyer’s premium. 

Nothing says “icon” like being the subject of a multi-colored print by pop artist Andy Warhol. In his 1985 series titled “Reigning Queens,” Warhol based his image of Elizabeth II on a portrait created by Peter Grugeon in 1977 for the Silver Jubilee and created four prints “…fragmenting the image with various overlayed shapes and patches of colour,” according to a review in artlyst.com. One such print sold at Bonhams in June 2022 for about $255,000, a further confirmation of Queen Elizabeth II’s status as an icon of the art world.

An early official photograph of the young Queen Elizabeth II, pictured with The Crown Jewels shortly after her June 1953 coronation and signed and dated by her, achieved $8,000 plus the buyer’s premium in February 2021. Image courtesy of RR Auctions and LiveAuctioneers

Queen Elizabeth II successfully bridged Britain’s colonial past and the technological present to become “…the rock on which modern Britain was built,” as British Prime Minister Liz Truss said following the sovereign’s passing. Commemorative items graced with The Queen’s image are comforting reminders of a noble woman who embraced a life of duty, family and service to her country for seven decades, never once putting a foot wrong. 

SANDALWOOD: MANY GIFTS FROM A GIVING TREE

A Qianlong-period sandalwood carving of Sakyamuni, founder of the Buddhist religion, achieved NT$950,000 (about $30,500) plus the buyer’s premium in March 2016. Image courtesy of Phoebus Auction Taipei and LiveAuctioneers

Sandalwood ranks among the most valuable hardwoods in the world, as well as the most adaptable. Since ancient times it has been converted into medicine, incense, oil, food, a base for perfume, and raw materials for jewelry, furniture and sculpture. While some varieties of sandalwood are endangered, the tree persists and remains cherished today. 

This large Qing Dynasty sandalwood seal carved in the shape of a mythical beast earned $140,000 plus the buyer’s premium in December 2017. Image courtesy of California Asian Art Auction Gallery USA and LiveAuctioneers

Sandalwood appears in different varieties. White sandalwood is harvested in southern India, Malaysia, Indonesia, Australia and the Hawaiian Islands, mostly for its essence as an aromatic oil. Known scientifically in the genus santalum, it is a hemiparasitic tree, which means it needs to feed off the roots of other trees in order to survive. A mature sandalwood tree can grow to about 50 feet (15 meters) and nearly a foot in diameter (30 cm). When it is harvested, and especially if it is harvested for its oil, the entire tree is uprooted and all of its parts – root, bark and branches – are put to use.

A detailed 17th- or 18th-century Tibetan sandalwood carving of Avalokiteshvara, a Buddhist deity who embodies the compassion of all Buddhas, realized $1,505 plus the buyer’s premium in September 2020.
Image courtesy of Veilinghuis Loeckx and LiveAuctioneers

Most people know of sandalwood as a soft, woodsy scent in perfumes, soaps and incense, but far fewer know that sandalwood oil forms the base for several perfumes because it helps fragrances to last longer – sometimes decades longer. Sandalwood’s essence is contained in its heartwood, the reddish interior of its trunk. To reach it, workers cut away the surrounding bark and white sapwood so the heartwood can be reduced to a powder and distilled into sandalwood essence. Any leftover powder is turned into incense for religious rituals and meditation. 

This complete set of Indian sandalwood chess pieces, featuring the kings on elephants, the knights on horses, and the rooks on camels, sold for $170 plus the buyer’s premium in April 2022. Image courtesy of Neely Auction and LiveAuctioneers

Sandalwood from India has the highest concentration of oil essence and is therefore the most prized of all species. However, because of recent overproduction, the Indian government has passed laws to control its production, making it scarcer. Western Australia grows sandalwood for export, but its oil essence isn’t as potent as that of its Indian counterpart. Australian sandalwood counters this disadvantage through volume. Because its production is less regulated, it is more abundant. About 80% of all sandalwood destined for use as an essential oil, incense or aromatherapy comes from Western Australia.

An elaborate Qing Dynasty Buddha carved from red sandalwood rose to $5,500 plus the buyer’s premium in August 2022. Image courtesy of Asian Antique Group and LiveAuctioneers

Sandalwood’s status as a hardwood renders it ideal for carvings, statues and furniture. The very first statue of Buddha, which dates to the 6th century, is believed to have been carved from sandalwood. Throughout India, sandalwood is still preferred for sculpting intricate figures of Buddha and the other deities seen in the country’s religious shrines. Necklaces, bracelets and other jewelry can be fashioned from sandalwood, providing its wearer a calming, comforting presence throughout the day.

This pair of sandalwood bracelets earned $4,250 plus the buyer’s premium in May 2022. Image courtesy of Southern California Auction Gallery Inc. and LiveAuctioneers

Historically, Indian sandalwood has only occasionally been turned into furniture. You might see vintage sandalwood pieces at auction, but contemporary examples are hard to find. Australia began exporting sandalwood in the 1990s, but usually in the form of logs, branches and roots, not finished products.

A 19th-century Indian sandalwood table sold for $800 plus the buyer’s premium in February 2022. Image courtesy of Hindman and LiveAuctioneers

Apart from Indian sandalwood, the other major form of the hardwood is red sandalwood, which is also known as zitan. Favored by China during the Qing Dynasty period (1644-1911), it was transformed by artisans into furniture, boxes, musical instruments and all manner of decorative objects. The royal throne of the Chinese emperors in the Forbidden City is carved from brilliant red sandalwood. Today, red sandalwood is classified as an endangered species on the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s (IUCN) Red List. Therefore, the only responsible way to own objects crafted from red sandalwood, or zitan, is to acquire antique or vintage productions from reputable sellers.

A Chinese sandalwood bowed, two-stringed vertical fiddle known as an erhu attained $1,900 plus the buyer’s premium in November 2020. Image courtesy of New York Auction House Inc. and LiveAuctioneers

Most sandalwood objects offered at auction feature an Indian, Japanese or Chinese theme, as the hardwood plays an integral part in most Asian religions and their ceremonies. It has earned it the moniker the Tree of Life. In fact, Tipu Sultan, who ruled the region of Mysore in South India from 1782 to 1799, gave Indian sandalwood royal status for its healing properties, economic benefits, and otherworldly connections.

A Qing Dynasty red sandalwood master chair, a three-piece set, achieved ¥26,000,000 (about $180,000) plus the buyer’s premium in August 2022. Image courtesy of Ancient Art Tokyo and LiveAuctioneers

Whether white or red, sandalwood delivers delight in more than a dozen forms. Every part of the tree is used and every part contributes to its everlasting service to everyone. Truly, it is a giving tree.

Hats off to Stetson, an American classic

A Stetson hat that John Wayne gave to Joe Franklin before appearing on the latter’s namesake television show in 1963 earned $9,800 in April 2016. Image courtesy of Saco River Auction and LiveAuctioneers.

A comfortable hat provides more than just warmth and protection, it can make a statement, too. No one knows that better than the legendary American hat company Stetson.

The iconic headgear evolved directly from the Gold Rush of 1848. Young men seeking to strike it rich endured frigid temperatures, snow, rain and constant flooding while trying to find a chunk of the shiny yellow metal that would make all the discomfort worth it. 

A 1942 Edward McKnight Kauffer poster shows the pop-culture ubiquity of the Stetson brand. The phrase ‘Keep it under your Stetson’ was as popular during World War II as the phrase ‘Loose lips sink ships.’ This example of the poster achieved $1,500 plus the buyer’s premium in May 2021. Image courtesy of Swann Auction Galleries and LiveAuctioneers

Like his fellow miner Levi Strauss, John Batterson Stetson (American, 1830-1906) made his fortune by inventing a product that made miners’ lives easier. He created a water-resistant long-brimmed felt hat that provided some protection from the elements and shade from the sun. Beaver pelts yielded a strong felt that Stetson pressed with other animal felts to form into a hat with a tall crown. He introduced it in 1865 as the “Boss of the Plains.” A story associated with the hatmaker claims a miner on horseback paid $5 – about $90 in modern dollars – for the hat perched on Stetson’s own head. Having passed this unorthodox test of market appeal, Stetson founded the John B. Stetson Hat Company in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. “Within a decade the name John B Stetson became synonymous with the word ‘hat’ in every corner and culture west of the Mississippi River,” said Texas Bix Bender, author of Hats & the Cowboys Who Wear Them. 

A lot consisting of various LBJ material, led by a Stetson with a sweatband marked ‘Made by Stetson Especially For Lyndon Baines Johnson’ earned $12,000 plus the buyer’s premium in July 2022. Image courtesy of A&S Antique Auction Co. and LiveAuctioneers

Making a felt hat is a challenging process, that hasn’t changed much since the time of John Stetson, who learned the trade from his father. Finding the right animal fur or combination of animal furs for the felt is still labor intensive and costly. The Stetson company website states its felt hats contain beaver, mink, chinchilla and other animal furs. Stetson describes the amount of beaver fur used for each felt hat as the X quality: “The higher the X’s, the higher percentage of beaver fur is mixed in the hat … the exact percentages are a manufacturing secret formula that we choose not to share.”

Stetson made more than cowboy hats. A beaver top hat with its original hat box, bearing inside its brim a stamp saying it was made ‘especially for Ulysses S. Grant,’ sold for $600 plus the buyer’s premium in April 2020. Image courtesy of Rentzel’s Auction Service Inc and LiveAuctioneers

Converting fur to felt involves hot water, steam and lots of pressing into shape – a Stetson hat typically requires two days to go from raw materials to finished product. The wearer determines its final shape. For example, a center crease for the crown, a pinch on either side and a rolled brim forms the cowboy-hat style called the Carlsbad (so named because its unique creases were first created in Carlsbad, New Mexico). Once the desired shape is chosen, the Stetson is heavily steamed and “blocked,” or formed against a hat-shape wooden block, to fix and confirm it. Individual styling details may include feathers, leather straps and even precious metals or jewelry. Once purely utilitarian, the cowboy hat has transformed into an independent fashion statement.

An early Montana Peak Stetson with a marked satin liner and a wide ribbon hatband sold for $600 plus the buyer’s premium in August 2022. Image courtesy of New Frontier Western Show & Auction and LiveAuctioneers

Stetson’s genius extended beyond millinery to marketing. After he formalized the production process to make hats in quantity, he launched the brand by giving the product away to small retailers and general stores in mining communities. As the new hat proved itself worthy among miners, as Stetson knew it would, demand soared.

An undated Stetson Hat Co/ window card featuring art by Edward Borein achieved $7,250 against an estimate of $250-$300 in September 2017. Image courtesy of Showtime Auction Services and LiveAuctioneers

It should be mentioned that Stetson lived in a world where everyone wore hats, all day, every day. Hats were, of course, useful. They kept the sun out of the wearer’s eyes before the invention of sunglasses. They served as briefcases for those who liked to tuck important documents inside them. And, of course, they warmed and protected the head. But they also signaled the wearer’s profession, and, by extension, their rank and status.

Tom Mix, the first star of silent film Westerns, wore an authentic Stetson Boss of the Plains 10-gallon cowboy hat specifically because the high crown and single crease looked great on camera.
His Stetson and his Colt SAA together realized $32,000 plus buyer’s premium in August 2022. Image courtesy of Burley Auction Group and LiveAuctioneers

Universal hat-wearing began a slow decline in the early 20th century, coincidentally at the same time when silent films were on the rise. By the mid-1920s, 50 million people – roughly half the country’s population – went to the movies every week. Tom Mix, the first famous cinematic cowboy, appeared on screen in a 10-gallon hat (which really only held three-quarters of a gallon). Gene Autry and Will Rogers sported cowboy hats early in the era of the talkies, aka movies with sound. John Wayne owned the role of the silver screen cowboy like no one before or since, and he virtually never stepped before the camera without the requisite headgear. The Stetson he wore in the 1948 classic Red River is almost as iconic as the film itself.

Another John Wayne-owned Stetson has a great story behind it – the lot notes that Wayne used it to pay an overdue dinner check, yelling, “Take my xxx-damned hat, it ought to be worth at least that much!” Stetson graded it XXXXX, meaning that it was one of the highest-quality felt hats the company produced. It achieved $6,000 plus the buyer’s premium in November 2021. Image courtesy of Heritage Auctions and LiveAuctioneers

Ever adept in the realm of marketing, Stetson supplied cowboy hats to movie stars, and in turn, featured the hat-wearing actors in its advertisements. The company understood that if you liked the actor, you’d buy the hat. 

A Stetson hat owned by President Harry S Truman, which survived with its original Stetson case bearing an H.S.T monogram, sold for $1,400 plus the buyer’s premium in April 2019. Image courtesy of Dan Morphy Auctions and LiveAuctioneers

President John F. Kennedy is broadly (and incorrectly) blamed for the demise of hat-wearing, a societal shift that actually began decades earlier. Over time, Stetson, like all other hat makers, was affected by changing tastes. By 1968, the company no longer made its own hats. Instead, it became a licensor, granting other companies the right to manufacture all Stetson hats under strict standards of quality. Hatco of Garland, Texas, is the current licensee for the entire Stetson catalog and employs about 200 people.

A circa-1920s Art Deco neon sign touting Stetson hats realized $3,400 against an estimate of $550-$600 in June 2016. Image courtesy of Heritage Auctions and LiveAuctioneers

It’s not easy to determine when a Stetson hat was made simply by looking at it, although most bear some clues that help to narrow down their vintage.

  • Hats from the 1920s to the late 1930s had a round gold sticker attached to the inside sweatband with the size of the hat printed on it. A ¾-inch round black size tag made of paper, with a gold outline and a number, was in use from the 1940s through the 1960s, while a square black tag with the size listed in gold was employed from the 1970s to the present day.
  • You can check for a union label, which is located in the hat band. The United Hatters Cap and Millinery Workers label was used from 1934 until 1983 when a merger changed the union label to Amalgamated Clothing and Textile Workers Union. No union labels appeared on Stetsons prior to 1934.
  • Under the hat’s crown inside, you may see a colored printed liner of a cowboy giving his horse water from his cowboy hat. It’s an image known as “The Last Drop” which has been used from the 1970s to the present day. Prior to the advent of this liner, variations of a coat-of-arms design were in use as far back as the 1920s.

To better identify Stetson hats by design, era and type, you may wish to consult Jeffrey B. Snyder’s book Stetson Hats and the John B. Stetson Hat Company. You can also seek assistance from online groups dedicated to the history and legacy of the Stetson hat.

A Stetson hat, whether vintage or contemporary, is wearable history. Those who donned Stetsons made under the founder’s watch wore them because they needed to, but in the 21st century, you don a Stetson because you want to, and that makes all the difference. 

SNAKES ON A CHAIN, AND OTHER JEWELRY FORMS

A 1985 Tiffany & Co. and Elsa Peretti 18K gold necklace with a snake head clasp earned $15,000 plus the buyer’s premium in October 2020. Image courtesy of Freeman’s and LiveAuctioneers

Snakes, which have slithered through lore and ritual since time immemorial, traditionally symbolize both good and evil. In many Abrahamic cultures, they represent seduction and sexual desire, while in others they represent health, fertility, growth, transformation and rebirth. In Egypt, Nile cobras, regal symbols of sovereignty, adorned pharaohs’ crowns. In Greek mythology, Asclepius, the god of medicine, carried a snake-entwined staff. In contrast, Medusa, a monstrous winged gorgon, had live snakes in place of hair. 

A circa-1970s Bulgari enamel and 18K gold snake bracelet-watch with a Jaeger Le Coultre movement achieved $132,500 plus the buyer’s premium in May 2021. Image courtesy of Bidhaus and LiveAuctioneers

The snake’s alluring duality, combined with its sinuous, fluid lines, has inspired jewelry designs ranging from wrap-around rings to coiled earrings. Greeks favored gold circlets whose snake-head terminals devoured their tails – an age-old motif symbolizing spiritual transformation as well as the eternal cycle of life, death and rebirth. Others wound wondrously worked gold bangles sporting double-snakes, symbols of wisdom, beauty, and protection from evil, around their wrists or arms. 

This Roman-Egyptian gold snake bracelet dating to the 1st Century BC to 1st Century AD sold for $4,750 plus the buyer’s premium in May 2022. Image courtesy of Hindman and LiveAuctioneers

Slender, spiraling, snake-themed Roman gold hair rings, earrings, armlets and bracelets have survived to the present to reach the auction block. In May 2022, Hindman sold a gold scaly-skinned Roman-Egyptian snake bangle, its double-heads poised to strike and its tongues flicking, for $4,750 plus the buyer’s premium.

A Gucci 18K gold hinged cuff bracelet in the form of a fang-bearing snake with an amethyst set in its head realized $36,000 plus the buyer’s premium in May 2022. Image courtesy of Joshua Kodner and LiveAuctioneers

Snake-themed jewelry spread through Europe from the mid-1800s, after Prince Albert marked his engagement to Queen Victoria by designing an ornate coiled-snake engagement ring as a symbol of everlasting love. Other pieces linking snakes with love soon appeared. Snake-head pendants suspended on slinky gold chains dangled plump, tender hearts from their reptilian mouths. Elegantly enameled snake-shaped bracelets shimmered with gemstones. Brooches coiled coyly into snaky figure-eight infinity symbols or, as with a radiant garden snake (lazing-at-his-leisure) pendant-pin that realized $1,000 plus the buyer’s premium at Reverie auction house in September 2020, looped into remarkably realistic replicas. 

A Victorian silver snake pendant-pin set featuring blue-green turquoise sold for $1,000 plus the buyer’s premium in September 2020. Image courtesy of Reverie and LiveAuctioneers

Still other pieces, such as an exceptional gold and silver amethyst, emerald and diamond snake necklace featuring an articulated coiling body in adjustable lengths and dating from the same era, earned £26,000 (about $31,390) plus the buyer’s premium at Elmwood’s in August 2021. 

A 19th-century gold, silver, amethyst, emerald and diamond snake necklace, sporting an articulated coiling body in adjustable lengths, earned £26,000 (about $31,390) plus the buyer’s premium in August 2021. Image courtesy of Elmwood’s and LiveAuctioneers

Asymmetrical snake motif brooches, stick pins, pendants, cufflinks, rings and earrings also cunningly curled though the Art Nouveau Era. Beginning in the 20th century, prestigious jewelry houses offered interpretations all their own. Cartier introduced its famed undulating platinum snake necklace in 1919 and its spectacular, fully flexible life-size snake necklace, scaled with 2,473 brilliant and baguette-cut diamonds, followed decades later. In addition, the company produced a series of vibrant 18K gold snake rings set with small round-cut pave set diamonds and gleaming ruby eyes. 

This Cartier 18K gold snake ring with round-cut, pave-set diamonds and round-cut ruby eyes attained $7,500 plus the buyer’s premium in September 2020. Image courtesy Leonard Auction, Inc. and LiveAuctioneers

In the 1940s, the Italian luxury fashion house Bulgari, inspired by ancient Roman armlets, introduced its popular and powerful Serpenti collection. Although some of its watch-bracelets reflected the hues of actual snakes, the majority were produced in more striking scaly palettes. A circa-1970s multi-colored enamel bracelet-watch featuring two pear-shape diamond eyes and a Jaeger Le Coultre movement achieved $132,500 plus the buyer’s premium at Bidhaus in May 2021.

A multi-coil circa-1970 Bulgari Vacheron Constantin gold and diamond Tubogas cuff watch realized $46,250 plus the buyer’s premium in January 2022. Image courtesy of Pacific Global Auction and LiveAuctioneers

Bulgari also gained fame for its sensational snake-like Tubogas timepieces, rings, bracelets and necklaces. These supple treasures, created by interlocking coiled bands of steel or gold horizontally around long flexible tubes, seemingly brought reptilian forms to life. 

A pair of 18K gold, ruby and emerald Boucheron Kaa snake cocktail earrings sold for $5,000 plus the buyer’s premium in November 2020. Image courtesy of Hampton Estate Auction and LiveAuctioneers

Maison Boucheron, a jewelry house based in Paris, distinguished itself with its Serpent Boheme Collection. The line’s delicate, subtle designs employ slim, chased, scale-like strands of gold enfolding elegant, teardrop-shape diamond, lapis lazuli, coral, citrine or garnet “snake heads.” But Boucheron’s Kaa collection, inspired by a massive rock python indigenous to Pakistan, India and Southeast Asia, is far more fearsome. Kaa clip-on cocktail earrings, glinting with rubies and emeralds, rival Kaa crossover rings, fashioned with mouths agape and fangs flashing, for imbuing a superlative jewelry design with a hint of malevolence.

A double-spiral 18K white gold and black enamel snake bracelet by Zendrini realized €9,500 (also $9,500) in December 2021. Image courtesy of Colasanti Casa D’Aste and LiveAuctioneers

Snake motifs are timeless, uniting primal beauty with long-established cultural allusions. When worn as jewelry, these mysterious curving shapes can project personal strength, self-confidence and power. 

An Armenian Bible with a silver repousse cover and silver mesh spine sold for $40,000 plus the buyer’s premium in January 2020. Image courtesy of Fontaine’s Auction Gallery and LiveAuctioneers.

What makes a Bible a collector’s Holy Grail?

An Armenian Bible with a silver repousse cover and silver mesh spine sold for $40,000 plus the buyer’s premium in January 2020. Image courtesy of Fontaine’s Auction Gallery and LiveAuctioneers.

An Armenian Bible with a silver repousse cover and silver mesh spine sold for $40,000 plus the buyer’s premium in January 2020. Image courtesy of Fontaine’s Auction Gallery and LiveAuctioneers.

Your family Bible might be generations old and deeply beloved. Unfortunately, that doesn’t necessarily mean its priceless nature will translate into actual dollars. Bibles that garner healthy sums at auction are always exceptional in some way, be it obvious or obscure. Here are some examples of Bibles that did well, and why.

A Latin Bible printed in 1477 in Nuremberg, Germany realized $5,500 plus the buyer’s premium in March 2016. Image courtesy of Kedem Auctions and LiveAuctioneers.

A Latin Bible printed in 1477 in Nuremberg, Germany realized $5,500 plus the buyer’s premium in March 2016. Image courtesy of Kedem Auctions and LiveAuctioneers.

Is it really old?

When the printing press arrived, the Bible was among the earliest works created with the revelatory machine. Bibles that qualify as incunabula — those that predate the year 1501 — can realize strong prices, such as a copy published in Latin in Nuremberg, Germany in 1477. It lacked 18 of its pages and suffered other flaws as well, but nevertheless, it sold for $5,500 plus the buyer’s premium at Kedem Auctions in Jerusalem in March 2016.

A late 17th-century miniature Bible, measuring roughly three inches by two inches, sold in January 2021 for £12,000 (about $16,000) plus the buyer’s premium. Image courtesy of Forum Auctions and LiveAuctioneers.

A late 17th-century miniature Bible, measuring roughly three inches by two inches, sold in January 2021 for £12,000 (about $16,000) plus the buyer’s premium. Image courtesy of Forum Auctions and LiveAuctioneers.

Is it really small?

Miniature books have been around almost as long as the printing press. A tiny tome offered at Forum Auctions in London in January 2021 was especially curious. It offered the Bible ‘Done into verse for the Benefit of weak Memories, The whole containing above One Thousand Lines, with Cuts.’ Its creator also found room for a woodcut or two to enliven the judiciously shortened text. Seemingly dating to the early 18th century, the book measured almost three inches by two inches, and it appears to be the only one of its type. It sold for £12,000, or about $16,000, plus the buyer’s premium, a sum that doubled its high estimate.

A Lunar Bible that flew to the moon twice, on Apollo 13 and again on Apollo 14, achieved $60,000 plus the buyer’s premium in May 2014. Image courtesy of Heritage Auctions and LiveAuctioneers.

A Lunar Bible that flew to the moon twice, on Apollo 13 and again on Apollo 14, achieved $60,000 plus the buyer’s premium in May 2014. Image courtesy of Heritage Auctions and LiveAuctioneers.

Did it fly in space?

When NASA planned the Apollo missions, it took care to provide for the astronauts’ needs, including their spiritual needs. It allowed those who wished to do so to place a Bible in their personal preference kit (PKK), a small bag in which they could stash items they wanted to carry into space. Because a full-size Bible would have been too heavy to make the cut, a special edition was made that measured 1.5 by 1.5 inches. It was dubbed the Lunar Bible.

In May 2014, Heritage Auctions in Dallas offered a Lunar Bible that had flown to the moon twice – first on the Apollo 13 mission, and again on Apollo 14, in the PPK of astronaut Edgar Mitchell. At some point after its return to Earth, it was ensconced in a handmade solid gold reliquary. It realized $60,000 plus the buyer’s premium.

A pocket Bible that saved the life of Union private Edwin C. Hall during the Battle of Sailor’s Creek in April 1865, and still has a bullet lodged in it, sold for $13,000 plus the buyer’s premium in March 2012. Image courtesy of Heritage Auctions and LiveAuctioneers.

A pocket Bible that saved the life of Union private Edwin C. Hall during the Battle of Sailor’s Creek in April 1865, and still has a bullet lodged in it, sold for $13,000 plus the buyer’s premium in March 2012. Image courtesy of Heritage Auctions and LiveAuctioneers.

Did it save a life?

You’ve probably heard stories of people who cheated death when the Bible in their pocket stopped a bullet. While many of those tales are apocryphal, at least one is not. Union soldier Edwin C. Hall was hit by a so-called “minnie ball” at the Battle of Sailor’s Creek in April 1865 and lived thanks to the Book of Common Prayer he had stashed on his person. We know it was a Confederate minnie ball (properly known as a Minie ball, after Claude Etienne Minie, designer of the rifle that fires it) that hit Hall because it’s still lodged firmly within the book. The Civil War veteran expressed his gratitude in an 1898 letter that includes the lines, “This prayer-book saved my life by stopping a musket ball at Sailor’s Creek. I hope you may use it in your museum. I have always put my trust in the Lord, and he has done work always come through for me … Edwin Hall late 5th Vermont Inf.” Heritage offered both the Bible and the letter as a single lot in December 2012. It sold for $13,000 plus the buyer’s premium.

A late 17th-century Bible featuring a later binding of red morocco tooled with gilt and fitted with silver clasps and corner-pieces realized £6,000 (about $8,000) plus the buyer’s premium in June 2020. Image courtesy of Forum Auctions and LiveAuctioneers.

A late 17th-century Bible featuring a later binding of red morocco tooled with gilt and fitted with silver clasps and corner-pieces realized £6,000 (about $8,000) plus the buyer’s premium in June 2020. Image courtesy of Forum Auctions and LiveAuctioneers.

Is its binding pretty? Really pretty?

The New Testament of the Bible focuses on the life of Jesus Christ, whose followers believe he is the son of God. He counseled modesty and humility, and took a dim view of the excesses of the rich. But his clear and unambiguous statements on the subject didn’t stop wealthy Christians from commissioning luxurious Bibles from bookbinders. Still, it’s hard to scorn artisans who summon their considerable talents to express their piety in the form of a breathtakingly beautiful object.

Two among countless examples along these lines is an undated Armenian Bible with a silver repousse cover showing a scene of Christ on the cross, flanked by the Virgin Mary and Joseph. Its spine is silver mesh, and its back features a Nativity scene. It realized $40,000 plus the buyer’s premium against an estimate of $3,000-$5,000 at a Fontaine’s Auction Gallery sale in Pittsfield, Massachusetts in January 2020. Also of note is a late 17th-century Bible plus a Book of Psalms with a jaw-dropping later binding elaborately tooled in gilt and fitted with silver clasps and corner-pieces. Offered in June 2020 at Forum Auctions in London, it achieved £6,000, or roughly $8,000, plus the buyer’s premium.

A single leaf, or page, from the New Testament of the Bible printed in the mid-15th century by Johannes Gutenberg achieved $65,000 plus the buyer’s premium in September 2020. Image courtesy of Freeman’s and LiveAuctioneers.

A single leaf, or page, from the New Testament of the Bible printed in the mid-15th century by Johannes Gutenberg achieved $65,000 plus the buyer’s premium in September 2020. Image courtesy of Freeman’s and LiveAuctioneers.

Did Gutenberg print it?

As noted above, incunabula — books produced during the infancy of the printing press — have inherent value. It should come as no surprise that the first of firsts, the Bible printed by Johannes Gutenberg himself, is forever in demand. Single pages from his exceptionally early edition sell for more than exquisite and complete Bibles printed decades or centuries later. Freeman’s, the Philadelphia-based auction house, proved the point in September 2020 when it presented a single leaf, or page, from the second volume of the New Testament printed by Gutenberg in the mid-15th century. It achieved $65,000 plus the buyer’s premium.

 The English Bible, a five-volume version published in the early 20th century in an edition of 500 by the legendary Doves Press, sold for $14,000 plus the buyer’s premium in September 2017. Image courtesy of PBA Galleries and LiveAuctioneers.


The English Bible, a five-volume version published in the early 20th century in an edition of 500 by the legendary Doves Press, sold for $14,000 plus the buyer’s premium in September 2017. Image courtesy of PBA Galleries and LiveAuctioneers.

Did a beloved small press print it?

Elite bookbinders raised the profession to an art form. It became common and almost routine for ambitious artistic small presses to cement their reputations by following Gutenberg’s lead and publishing their own renditions of the Christian holy book. Few small presses have earned the renown accorded to the Doves Press, which lasted fewer than two decades but truly died in March 1913 when co-founder T.J. Cobden-Sanderson pitched the first bundle of matrices of the press’s distinctive Doves Type font into the Thames River. The Doves Press five-volume English Bible, released between 1903 and 1905 in an edition of 500, is widely regarded as its finest work. PBA Galleries of Berkeley, California, offered a set in September 2017 with an estimate of $7,000-$10,000. It rose to $14,000 plus the buyer’s premium.

A Bible published in 1901 and signed and inscribed by magician Harry Houdini, who also had it gimmicked for use in mind-reading tricks, achieved $85,000 plus the buyer’s premium in December 2021. Image courtesy of Potter & Potter Auctions and LiveAuctioneers

A Bible published in 1901 and signed and inscribed by magician Harry Houdini, who also had it gimmicked for use in mind-reading tricks, achieved $85,000 plus the buyer’s premium in December 2021. Image courtesy of Potter & Potter Auctions and LiveAuctioneers

Did a famous person own it?

Provenance matters in the realm of collectible Bibles. In December 2021, Potter & Potter Auctions in Chicago featured a 1901 American Red Letter Edition printing that had belonged to Harry Houdini and bore an inscription from him to Joseph Dunninger, a magician who performed as a mentalist, or mind-reader. The book was one of four Bibles traceable to Houdini, and the only one with his signature. It might seem curious for him to have owned a Bible in light of the fact that he was Jewish, and the son of a rabbi. But it is clear that Houdini used it as a magic prop. The lot notes explain it was “prepared in a manner so as to allow the magician to read the mind of a spectator; when the volunteer flipped to any page in the bible, the mind reader could instantly determine which chapter and verse the reader was gazing upon with unfailing accuracy.” Its dual purpose as a working book and a holy book definitely made it more interesting, but its Houdini connection trumped all. Estimated at $15,000-$25,000, it achieved $85,000 plus the buyer’s premium.

Handmade tiles pave the way for an artful collection

A four-panel peacock tile, made in 1910 by Frederick Hurten Rhead as a personal gift for a friend and colleague, achieved $510,000 plus the buyer’s premium in October 2012. Image courtesy of Rago Arts and Auction Center and LiveAuctioneers

Handmade decorative tiles are like snowflakes: no two are exactly alike. But unlike snowflakes, tiles are able to survive for centuries and delight generations of appreciative owners.

Saied Hussain, the only producer of handmade decorative cement tiles left in Egypt, testified to the powerful sensation that comes with their creation. “When you do it, you feel like you’re an artist,” Hussain said in a recent interview with Business Insider. 

A circa-1920 handmade glazed earthenware landscape tile frieze by the Mueller Mosaic Co. earned $8,500 plus the buyer’s premium in January 2022. Image courtesy of Rago Arts and Auction Center and LiveAuctioneers

As a building material, cement – which comes from the Roman word caementicium – can be traced back to ancient Greece, Macedonia and Rome. These regions’ inhabitants relied on a cement recipe of crushed volcanic ash and lime, which delivered the makings of long-lasting roads, aqueducts and the open dome of the Pantheon. By the 18th century, however, cement had evolved into two separate types: non-hydraulic and hydraulic with their setting processes dictating their uses.

This unglazed handmade ceramic tile depicts Elbert Hubbard, the founder of the Roycroft Arts and Craft community, rendered in bas relief by Roycroft sculptor Jerome Connor. It sold for $450 plus the buyer’s premium in June 2020. Image courtesy of California Historical Design and LiveAuctioneers

Non-hydraulic cement needs carbon dioxide in the air to cure, which limits its applications because it takes weeks to set. It is primarily used for indoor stone or brick work. Hydraulic cement, which is also known as Portland cement, cures within days, thanks to a chemical reaction between lime, silicates and aggregates. Its faster curing time makes it suitable for handmade tiles, but such tiles require an additional step: they must be fired at high heat to render them as encaustic tiles and ensure their hardiness.

This Danish teak coffee table from HASLEV, with handmade tiles embedded in its table top, reached a top bid of $1,000 plus the buyer’s premium in September 2021. Image courtesy of Uniques and Antiques, Inc and LiveAuctioneers

The process by which Hussain creates his encaustic tiles has not changed since cement became a favored building material in the 19th century, when factories that produced handmade tiles were much more prevalent. But encaustic tiles, whose name is derived from the Greek infinitive meaning “to burn,” date back to the 5th century and they were made in much the same way.

The first step involves sifting white cement powder to remove any heavier material. Dry background pigments are gently mixed with the sifted cement and water, then stirred to a well-blended consistency. After that, one color at a time is painstakingly poured into each section of an elaborate metal pattern set within a sturdy mold. Artisans shake the mold to make sure all of the pigments are set completely before they lift the metal pattern to reveal the final, colorful design. Finally, the whole is covered with a mixture of sand, cement and limestone to keep the pigment in place and then tightly tamped down by a press (Hussain uses a hydraulic one) to form a hard-packed tile ready for firing. Finished cement tiles are typically destined to become floor pavers for indoor and outdoor spaces.

A handmade encaustic tile featuring a yellow lion outlined in black against a dark blue field, made by the American Encaustic Tile Company, sold for $30 plus the buyer’s premium in January 2021. Image courtesy of Vintage Accents Auction and LiveAuctioneers

The American Encaustic Tile Company (AETCO), which thrived in Zanesville, Ohio from 1892 to 1935, was the major producer of handmade encaustic tile during the Arts and Crafts Movement, and its products sometimes appear at auction. Encaustic cement tiles are generally not as bright as other handmade tiles because the pigments shine through on their own, rendering glazes superfluous. But other types of handmade tiles cannot be completed without glazing.

Portuguese artist A. Paula hand-crafted and hand-painted a 12-tile ceramic mural of a Portuguese ship named ‘Navio Sec. XVII.’ It sold as a framed piece for $500 plus the buyer’s premium in August 2021. Image courtesy of Estates Consignment and LiveAuctioneers

Handmade ceramic tiles are almost always glazed. Instead of sifted cement, their base ingredient is organic clay, which is molded and cut into shape – a less time-consuming process than that of cement tiles. Ceramics must be fired at very high temperatures but, as noted above, they also require a glaze, which can include ash, lead, salt or even tin. This extra step yields a hard, brick-like surface with an impermeable layer that protects the tile from moisture and decay. And of course, glazes can add a welcome splash of color. Ceramic tiles are more delicate than porcelain, but have a wider range of indoor uses than their cement cousins. 

These French handmade decorative porcelain tiles with white bas-relief motifs of a man with a bull and a woman with a cow realized $360 (as one lot) plus the buyer’s premium in August 2021. Image courtesy of Akiba Antiques and LiveAuctioneers

Porcelain tiles are made from organic clay, as well. Their decorations come from colored glazes that penetrate deeply into the clay. When the feldspar within the clay melts in the heat of the kiln, it renders a tile that is harder and more impermeable than a ceramic tile, but not as hard as an encaustic one. And because the glaze runs deeper, a scratch or a missing piece isn’t as noticeable as in ceramic tiles, which gain their glazes as thin, applied layers.

A vintage handmade pottery tile depicting a galloping knight on a horse with an oversize bird of prey, probably a hawk, made $150 plus the buyer’ premium in April 2016. Image courtesy of Great Expectations Auction Company and LiveAuctioneers

Yet another popular form of handmade tiles is fashioned from pottery clay and hand-painted to accent fireplaces, tables and countertops or serve as wall decorations. Pottery tiles are fired at high heat to maintain their glazes, and they resemble ceramic tiles in their hardness and permeability. 

Artist Andrew Hull used the sgraffito process to create this set of handmade tiles titled ‘Wrong Turn’ and ‘Pipefish and Friends.’ Together they earned $1,700 plus the buyer’s premium in March 2021. Image courtesy of Lion and Unicorn and LiveAuctioneers

Lastly, there is sgraffito, an ancient artistic tile made in a manner not unlike that of fresco painting. The finished clay is fired with layers of different color pigments, with the design etched or incised directly into the tile before firing to give it its unique design. Sgraffito (an Italian word meaning “to scratch,” which gave rise to the word “graffiti”) has been around since at least the 15th century and became prevalent during the Arts and Crafts Movement of the late-19th and early 20th centuries, most notably on building facades and as wall decorations. 

Taken together, the range of different types of handmade tiles allows the collector to amass a visually stunning collection that is one of a kind. Auctions feature vintage and contemporary artistic choices in an array of styles, and each is, in its own way, special because it is the work of a human hand, and not a machine.

“If you’re not an artist, you will not be able to do this job,” Hussain said. “Maybe, God willing, this craft will last for a hundred more years.” As long as masters continue to make tiles by hand, and as long as collectors embrace their masterpieces, Hussain’s craft should continue to thrive.

Bamboo, rattan and wicker: firmly planted in history

A set of furniture from Gabriella Crespi’s Rising Sun series – six chairs and two armchairs made from bamboo, wicker and fabric – achieved €41,000 (about $41,800) plus the buyer’s premium in July 2022. Image courtesy of Piasa and LiveAuctioneers

Bamboo and rattan test the limits of belief. The former is a grass which, when used as a building material, can be stronger than mahogany, while the latter is a vine that can be fashioned into comfortable and stylish furniture. When woven together, bamboo and rattan become a third wonderful material: wicker. These seemingly fragile plants are remarkably versatile, and they are also the stuff of beautiful, museum-quality artwork.

An undated carved Chinese bamboo vase earned $47,500 plus the buyer’s premium in June 2017. Image courtesy of Clars Auction Gallery and LiveAuctioneers

Bamboo is considered an evergreen perennial of the grass family poaceae.  Genetically, it’s not unlike the grass on your lawn or in nearby meadows. Giant bamboo, a subspecies strong enough for use in construction, is harvested by hand in Asia. It can grow to 30 meters, or nearly 100 feet, at the rate of an inch and a half per hour, making it the fastest-growing plant in the world. As mentioned above, mature bamboo can match or exceed the strength of mahogany. Because it is hollow, it cannot be bent, even under extreme heat.

A mottled bamboo tea ceremony shelf attained $47,500 plus the buyer’s premium against an estimate of $1,500-$3,500 in July 2020. Image courtesy of Cardale Auctioneers and LiveAuctioneers

More than 600 species of bamboo grow throughout Japan. Traditionally, it has been used for drainpipes and general framing as well as religious and social purposes, such as in tea services (sets) made entirely from the hardy grass. Several dedicated bamboo guilds in Japan are recognized for their artistic works in the organic medium, which extends to musical instruments, textiles and even martial arts.

This set of eight mid-century slat-leg rattan chairs realized $55,000 plus the buyer’s premium in May 2022. Image courtesy of Bidhaus and LiveAuctioneers

Rattan is a vine, or more accurately, a climbing palm of the subfamily calamoideae. Rattan roots itself in the ground and uses spines to attach to trees so it can climb upward to seek sunlight. Found mostly in the wild tropical forests of Southeast Asia, rattan can only be harvested by hand, a task embraced by small, independent farmers. Rattan’s diameter is never more than about two inches wide and it is solid throughout, yet it is as strong as bamboo. The key difference between the two is rattan is thinner and can be bent and shaped when subjected to extreme heat, which makes it suitable for furniture production.

An Hermes Mini Picnic Kelly in osier, aka wicker, adorned with rouge de couer swift leather and palladium hardware, brought $40,000 plus the buyer’s premium in July 2020. Image courtesy of Greenwich Luxury Auctions and LiveAuctioneers

Wicker, which takes the best qualities of both bamboo and rattan, in used in a myriad of products. Possibly taking its name from the Swedish verb meaning “to fold,” wicker is created by using the outer layer of the rattan vine, known as the cane, to bind the bamboo and the rattan into one piece. Wicker is not a plant in and of itself; it is an ancient means of weaving.

Wicker is only one expression of the strength and beauty of bamboo and rattan. Over the centuries, both plant materials have been featured in paintings, sculpture, carvings, tableware, jewelry and a wide range of objets d’art. 

Japanese literature celebrates the plum, pinecone and bamboo as the ‘Three Friends of Winter’ for their ability to withstand the bitter cold. This blue and white ceramic baluster jar depicting the Three Friends of Winter sold for €11,000 (about $11,200) plus the buyer’s premium in October 2021. Image courtesy of Galerie Zacke and LiveAuctioneers

Celebrated in Japanese literature as a symbol for steadfastness, bamboo, along with the pine cone and the plum, is one of the “Three Friends of Winter,” a trio famed for its hardiness during cold winter months. China recognizes bamboo as a symbol of uprightness and celebrates it as one of the “Four Gentleman,” or the four seasons, which also include the plum blossom, the chrysanthemum and the orchid. Bamboo has been a part of everyday Chinese life since antiquity, and is lionized in Chinese poetry as a symbol of personal strength. About 300 species of bamboo appear throughout China, where they are used to create baskets, housing, fences, traditional medicines, and a broad range of household furnishings. 

A rattan monkey sculpture by Mario Lopez Torres earned $1,100 plus the buyer’s premium in June 2022. Image courtesy of DejaVu Estate Sales and Auctions, LLC and LiveAuctioneers

Rattan possesses thorns that make it tricky to harvest, and it is hard to reach as well, growing deep within the tropical forests of Southeast Asia. Would-be rattan harvesters must also contend with resident wild animals. Despite these challenges, rattan is relied upon for making mundane goods such as baskets, furniture, incense sticks, walking canes and serving tools. It is also transformed into polo mallets and beaten into textiles that ultimately become clothing.

In addition to their practical uses, there is a thriving contemporary art market for bamboo and rattan sculpture at auction. Sopheap Pich, a former painter, now creates one-of-a-kind pieces for exhibit at the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Guggenheim Museum. When an interviewer from theculturetrip.com asked the Cambodian artist why he enjoys working with bamboo and rattan, Pich said, “Making a three-dimensional object is different for me in that I am making something real as opposed to making a kind of illusion on a flat surface … I was concentrating on learning how to build a sculpture and testing my ability to bring something to the finished work.” 

Sculptor Tom Dixon combined rattan and bamboo to create a full-scale wicker Harley-Davidson motorcycle complete with saddlebags. It sold for $950 plus the buyer’s premium in September 2020. Note how the bamboo remains straight and unbroken, while the rattan easily creates round curves, with cane holding the shapes in place. Image courtesy of Billings and LiveAuctioneers

Another contemporary artist who works in bamboo and rattan is Tom Dixon, a Palm Beach, Florida, resident who earned fame for creating a wicker sculpture replicating a full-scale Harley-Davidson motorcycle, complete with saddlebags. The piece is so realistic, it’s easy to imagine yourself donning a helmet, hopping aboard and driving off. 

Hayakawa Shokosai V, a fifth-generation weaver of bamboo and rattan, created this basket and dubbed it ‘Line Constructed Layered Rings.’ It realized $15,000 plus the buyer’s premium in May 2018. Image courtesy of Rago Arts and Auction Center and LiveAuctioneers

Notable artists who have worked with bamboo and rattan include Hayakawa Shokusai I, a 19th-century basket weaver who twisted thin bamboo strands into unique shapes. He also signed his work, a practice his namesake sons and grandsons continue with their own bamboo work. Another well-respected name in this realm is contemporary Japanese artist Tanaka Kyokusho, who juxtaposes bamboo and black accents in forms that reflect the ancient art of bamboo sculpture. 

A pair of Paavo Tynell-designed floor lamps made from rattan, brass and wood strips commanded €71,000 ($72,490) plus the buyer’s premium against an estimate of €14,000-€18,000 ($14,295-$18,380) in March 2022. Image courtesy of Piasa and LiveAuctioneers

Depictions of wicker, bamboo and rattan in paintings, haiku, glassware, porcelain and even furniture showcase them as symbols of strength and adaptability that persevere in the most trying of circumstances. The hardy grasses of bamboo and the sturdy vines of rattan endure the hardships inflicted by nature, and we can honor their strength by employing them as renewable resources. 

Whether made from bamboo, rattan, or a weave that transforms the two into wicker, we can all enjoy works made from these plants, no matter where we are from or how sophisticated we might be. 

The Bizarre world of ceramic artist Clarice Cliff

A large, boldly-colored Clarice Cliff vase measuring slightly more than 14 inches high achieved $2,200 plus the buyer’s premium in February 2019. Image courtesy of Palm Beach Modern Auctions and LiveAuctioneers

It would be hard to imagine Art Deco pottery without the brilliantly-hued palette of British artist Clarice Cliff (1899-1972). From the tender age of 13, Cliff worked as a gilder at a site in Stoke-on-Trent, England known as “the potteries,” applying conventional patterns to ceramic wares. 

At age 17, the ambitious, working-class teenager relocated to the A.J. Wilkinson pottery works to expand her creative skills. Cliff soon became a modeler, working as part of a team of designers that was otherwise exclusively male. With the support and sponsorship of factory co-manager Colley Shorter – who later married Cliff – she was able to study briefly at the Royal College of Art in London and, later, visit Paris, where she absorbed the Art Deco aesthetic like a sponge. She returned to England with sketchbooks filled with ideas inspired by what she had seen on the Continent.

This Clarice Cliff for Newport Pottery House and Bridge vase with printed Bizarre marks realized £950 (about $1,100) plus the buyer’s premium in October 2020. Image courtesy of Kinghams Auctioneers and LiveAuctioneers

In 1927, the Cliff was granted her own studio at nearby Newport Pottery and was allowed to cover imperfections on defective whiteware any way she wished. She drew bright, daring, triangular freehand designs, dubbing them “Bizarres.”

A Bizarre Clarice Cliff Art Deco teapot achieved $750 plus the buyer’s premium in January 2019. Image courtesy of Ross Auction Company and LiveAuctioneers

In the late 1920s, Cliff launched Bizarre Ware, her own line of candlesticks, dinnerware, and service sets for the home, rendered in a vibrant range of colors. Hand-painted by an all-woman team of decorators known as “the Bizarre girls,” these pieces stamped with Cliff’s signature were an immediate success and remained so despite the financial challenges of the Great Depression. Celebrity and royal endorsements, in-store painting events, and media coverage trumpeting her rags-to-riches backstory turned Clarice Cliff into a household name. 

This Clarice Cliff Bizarre Crocus sugar sifter sold for £190 (about $231) plus the buyer’s premium in July 2022. Image courtesy Hannam’s Auctioneers Ltd and LiveAuctioneers

Many of Cliff’s forms, such as her conical sugar sifters and triangular-handled teapots, were based on fashionable Art Deco elements. Others, such as her Flora wall masques and Cruise Liner vases, were fancies that sprang from her imagination. 

A Bizarre by Clarice Cliff Art Deco pottery jug sold for $2,600 plus the buyer’s premium in May 2019. Image courtesy of Antiques & Art International and LiveAuctioneers.

 Cliff’s more conventionally-shaped biscuit barrels, cream jugs, chargers, jardinieres, vases, serving bowls and water pitchers boast a range of attractive patterns that are unmistakably her own. Some, such as Ravel, a leaf-and-flower motif named for the French composer of Bolero, are angular and abstract. Others, such as the 1928 pattern Crocus, a traditional pattern that was Cliff’s longest-produced design, feature purple, blue, and orange upward brush strokes amid slender green stems. Crocus became the standard dinnerware set for newlyweds and proved so popular, it was followed by variations known as Purple Crocus, Blue Crocus and Spring Crocus.

A Clarice Cliff Age of Jazz figural piece achieved £7,800 (about $9,496) plus the buyer’s premium in August 2016. Image courtesy of
Hannam’s Auctioneers Ltd and LiveAuctioneers

Cliff’s Age of Jazz series, celebrating that era’s exuberant musicians and dancers, represents a rare foray into figurative pieces. Few were made and fewer have survived. When they come to auction, they ignite fierce bidding wars. In August 2016, an example depicting formally-dressed ballroom dancers on a rectangular base achieved £7,800, or about $9,496, against an estimate of £3,000-£5,000 at Hannam’s Auctioneers Ltd. in Selborne, England.

This Clarice Cliff Sunrise Lotus jug with a printed Fantasque mark earned £1,000 (about $1,206) plus the buyer’s premium in July 2022. Image courtesy of Sworders Fine Art Auctioneers and LiveAuctioneers

As with her Bizarre wares, Cliff’s Fantasque line showcased abstract and Art Deco-style patterns. The Fantasque Sunrise pattern, a medley of orange, yellow and cream geometrics splashed across jugs, wall plaques and clogs, radiates optimism and sophistication. The Autumn pattern initially depicted blooms in dramatic blacks, greens and corals, but later appeared in variations including Blue Autumn, Red Autumn, and freeform Autumn Balloon Tree motifs. In contrast, Cliff’s Secrets pattern features images of cozy cottages on curving pathways, rolling hills and sandy beaches in natural yellow, green and brown shades.

A Clarice Cliff charger in the Rhodanthe design sold for £140 (about $169) plus the buyer’s premium in July 2022. Image courtesy of Potteries Auctions Ltd and LiveAuctioneers

Hundreds of imaginative Clarice Cliff patterns were created. Some of the chargers she produced for A.J. Wilkinson display subtly undulating images of rhodanthes, or pink daisies. Her Melon and Circle Tree patterns, which decorated bowls, beakers and jam pots, are graced with plump, Cubist-inspired orbs that have angular geometric accents. The Honolulu pattern, seen on pin trays, napkin rings and a variety of vases, features lush yellow, red and orange-topped trees evocative of a tropical paradise, while Cliff’s paler pink and blue versions evoke Hawaiian sunsets.

Standing 18 inches tall and possibly a unique example, a 1933 Clarice Cliff Honolulu charger made £4,000 (about $4,900) plus the buyer’s premium in October 2019. Image courtesy of Cheffins and LiveAuctioneers

Cliff’s Chintz pattern, based on floral motifs popular in England, is marked by large, bright, stylized flowers and foliage in shades of blue, green, coral, orange and yellow with matching banding. Cliff’s Harvest pieces, adorned with appliqued bits of fruit and corn, are perennial pleasers. So, too are Cliff’s exquisite ribbed Raffia Indiana jugs, pots, vases and art pottery, which were inspired by the forms and hues of traditional Native American basket wares.

A Clarice Cliff Blue Chintz Isis jug with a printed Bizarre mark earned £900 (about $1,096) plus the buyer’s premium in July 2022. Image courtesy of Sworders Fine Art Auctioneers and LiveAuctioneers

Clarice Cliff’s creations continue to enchant new fans on both sides of the Atlantic, as does her personal story, evidenced by the November 2021 release of the film The Colour Room, starring Bridgerton’s Phoebe Dynevor as Cliff. Indeed, she ranks as one of the most significant ceramic artists of the 20th century – a hard-won honor for a determined Brit of humble birth. 

Tiaras: Glittering regalia for crowned heads or commoners

A circa-1910 convertible diamond tiara-necklace in a floral design, made for Phyllis Elinor Turner to wear at her presentation at court prior to her 1913 marriage, achieved £45,000 (about $54,100) plus the buyer’s premium in July 2022. Image courtesy of Dreweatts Donnington Priory and LiveAuctioneers

The tiara – a glittering, indulgent headpiece worn by royalty or any woman who wants to feel like a princess – calls to mind images from a fairy tale, but this form of jewelry has an ancient origin. It debuted as a symbol of respect and authority for Roman emperors, who would don a wreath or tiara of laurel leaves made of pounded gold. Champions of the original Olympic games were crowned with a tiara of intertwined olive branches and leaves cut from a sacred tree that grew near the temple of Zeus at Mount Olympus. The word “tiara” actually descends from a Persian description of the high crowns and diadems worn by its royal families.

A tiara festooned with at least 18 carats of diamonds, which was worn by Princess Eugenia at her 1938 wedding to Prince Dominik Radziwill, achieved $55,000 plus the buyer’s premium in December 2020. Image courtesy of Hindman and LiveAuctioneers

As centuries passed, the tiara slowly became exclusive to elite and noble women, and it evolved into four styles: the bandeau, the kokoshnik, the halo, and the fringe.

The bandeau tiara is best described as a headband designed to hold the wearer’s hair or veil in place. When Meghan, the Duchess of Sussex, married Prince Harry in 2018, her wedding veil was crowned with a diamond and platinum bandeau tiara that previously had been worn by Queen Mary, who sited a diamond brooch at its center. The bandeau style can be traced back to a wreath of myrtle leaves and buds worn by brides at ancient Greek weddings. 

A 19th-century silver and gold amethyst kokoshnik tiara realized £1,300 (about $1,500) plus the buyer’s premium in September 2019. Image courtesy of Fellows and LiveAuctioneers

The kokoshnik tiara is rooted in the medieval-era customs of court officials of the Boyars in Russia, the Baltic States and small Eastern European kingdoms. Their social status depended on the height of the hats they wore, and this rule affected wives and princesses, too. These women signaled their rank and prominence with a large headdress-like tiara called a kokoshnik, which was weighted down with gemstones and diamonds. Today, the kokoshnik can take a smaller, simpler form, yet its distinctive shape and style remains essentially unchangely.

A halo tiara, as the name suggests, completely or almost completely encircles the head of the wearer. The most famous halo tiara of the 21st century was worn by Kate Middleton in her wedding to Prince William, in 2011. A Cartier creation featuring 739 brilliant cut diamonds and 149 baguette diamonds, it was first donned by Queen Elizabeth The Queen Mother in 1936. She gave the tiara to her daughter, the future Queen Elizabeth II, for her 18th birthday, but the piece found greater favor with Princess Margaret, who wore it for her elder sister’s coronation in 1953.

The fringe tiara is so named because its diamonds and gemstones are arranged upward in rows, not unlike the fringe of a flag. Queen Mary, a keen collector of jewelry, had a fringe tiara made which Princess Elizabeth – now Queen Elizabeth II – borrowed for her wedding to Prince Philip in 1947. The reigning monarch clearly shows a preference for this diamond fringe tiara, having worn it for numerous official photographs and on state occasions. Its distinctive array of brilliant cut diamonds radiates a sense of sophistication fit for a reigning queen.

A diamond tiara topped with three cabochon emeralds weighing 3.51 carats, 10.76 carats, and 3.28 carats respectively, sold for £16,000 (about $19,200) plus the buyer’s premium in December 2020. Image courtesy of Elmwood’s and LiveAuctioneers

Tiaras are exquisite and expensive expressions of the jeweler’s art, but many are built around a surprising secret, one that allows them to transform with ease and grace. 

A Victorian-era 22K gold amethyst jewelry set featuring a tiara, a necklace and a detachable brooch-pin pendant earned $12,500 plus the buyer’s premium in June 2021. Image courtesy of P.K. Gallery and LiveAuctioneers

In the not-too-distant past, a tiara served as the cornerstone of a set of official jewelry worn for state or social occasions. Once the tiara was in hand, it would be matched with a separate brooch, bracelet, earrings and a necklace. This suite of jewelry, called a parure, first appeared at the court of King Louis XIV and soon became an indispensable part of a woman’s wardrobe. Parures were scrutinized as mercilessly as gowns. To maintain her status, the wearer had to have the right design, the right gemstones and the right jeweler. Keeping au courant was difficult in the fast-paced world of the royal court.

This circa-1810 kokoshnik-type tiara parure, offered in its original fitted box, sold for $2,300 plus the buyer’s premium in January 2018. Image courtesy of Case Antiques Inc., Auctions & Appraisals; and LiveAuctioneers

Jewelers solved this problem and soothed the social anxieties of their clients by making tiaras convertible. The most ingeniously designed tiaras that could be broken apart into a separate necklace, brooch, earrings and bracelet. The fully-assembled tiara was suited to the most formal occasions, while its component parts could be worn at intimate dinners, parties, family gatherings and semi-official outings. Convertible tiaras delivered a parure, all in one.

A circa-1850 18K gold and silver diamond tiara that converts to a choker realized €8,000 (about $8,100) plus the buyer’s premium in April 2021. Image courtesy of Ansorena and LiveAuctioneers

A notable example of a convertible tiara is the Dutch Emerald Parure Tiara of the Royal Family of the Netherlands. Created in 1899, the royal parure consists of emeralds, natural pearls and diamonds. One tiara can transform into other versions that sport different configurations. 

As you might expect, royal traditions dictate who can wear tiaras, and when. Unmarried girls are forbidden to don them on the notion that youth needs nothing artificial, including gemstones, to compete with its fleeting merits. Only on her wedding day is a high-born woman allowed to place a tiara on her head, and that tiara should be provided by her family. Once married, her husband will give her a new tiara of her own, usually as part of a parure. 

A silver, gold and diamond floral tiara, dating to the early 20th century, achieved £15,000 (about $18,000) plus the buyer’s premium in March 2020. Image courtesy of Fellows and LiveAuctioneers

Decidedly nonroyal couples of the Victorian era embraced the tiara and the rules that came with it. Husbands presented their wives with parures centered on tiaras as engagement or wedding presents until the practice fell out of fashion after World War I. These 19th-century parures, many of which took the forms of convertible tiaras, show up with some frequency at auction. 

A tiara set with rubies, diamonds and pearls in a series of seven graduated foliate motifs attained £12,000 (about $14,400) plus the buyer’s premium in October 2020. Image courtesy of Elmwood’s and LiveAuctioneers

Although you might think a tiara is too fancy for your lifestyle, it delivers practical benefits anyone can appreciate. “Tiaras are unfailingly flattering,” said Claire Scott, head of design for the prestigious British jeweler Garrard & Co. “These mini crowns tend to lengthen necks and straighten backs [and] make even the slouchiest stand taller. It gives you a different feeling, a different posture. That’s something people like. It surprises them.”

Moreover, tiaras need not be made with precious metals and gemstones. They are just as delightful in enamel, coral, onyx or other semi-precious stones.

A white metal tiara sporting more than 20 carats’ worth of diamonds in four different styles of cut sold for $15,000 plus the buyer’s premium in June 2017. Image courtesy of Heritage Auctions and LiveAuctioneers.

And, because it might need to be said: Yes, every woman deserves to wear a tiara. You don’t have to inherit a title first. You don’t need to be a debutante or a dowager. And you need not be married. Despite their history, tiaras can grace any head.

If you don’t have a tiara of your own yet, don’t worry. Take the advice of socialite Paris Hilton, who suggests that you “always walk around like you have on an invisible tiara.”