Weighing in on gold and silver

Silver and gold can be weighed two different ways. If you’re not careful, you can be selling at the lower weight but buying at the higher weight. It’s important to know the differences so you don’t end up on the losing end when involved in a precious metal transaction.

Gold and silver are the only two of the “seven metals of antiquity” (the others being tin, lead, mercury, copper and iron) that are known to occur as native metal, ones that occur in pure form. For at least 40,000 years, gold and silver have been in the forefront of finance, ornamentation, technology and even space exploration.

Yet, weighing gold and silver isn’t quite the exact science it should be. There are different ways to measure just how much of these precious metals we buy and sell, yet there are easy ways to convert each onto a level playing field for all.

Gold as gram: A 35 gram gold nugget offered at auction sold for $1,800 in 2018. With a troy ounce spot price of $1,332.73 in 2018, the value of the nugget is $1,499.86 if it were 24K. Most nuggets of over 1 ounce are unusual and may still have inclusions of other metals. Image courtesy BK Auctions and LiveAuctioneers.com

Troy ounce vs. standard ounce in grams

There are two types of ounces to be aware of: troy ounce (t oz) and avoirdupois ounce (avdp or standard). So if you are buying by the troy ounce, but selling at the standard ounce, the difference is already 3.5% in the dealer’s favor.

The reason is that a troy ounce is 31.10 grams while the standard avdp ounce is 28.35 grams. Be sure that the scale that weighs your gold and silver shows it as 31.10, not 28.35.

Pennyweights (dwt)

Occasionally, an auction will show gold offered in pennyweight. There are 20 pennyweight to a troy ounce. Simply take the pennyweight, shown as dwt, and divide by 20 to get the troy ounce in total weight then multiply by the karat to get the troy ounce in gold, then multiply by the spot price of gold that day for its value.

Gold as pennyweight: A simple 18K gold ring from Tiffany weighed in at 9.30 dwt, which equals .348 troy ounce with a value of $581.46 with a price of gold at $1,667.27 at the time. Image courtesy Carlsen Gallery Inc. and LiveAuctioneers

Measuring gold in karats

Gold is measured by troy ounce but also by karat, which designates the amount of gold that is usually offset by a harder alloy to strengthen it. The amount of gold versus the amount of another metal determines the karat: 8K is 33.3% pure (.333), 10K is 41.6% pure (.416), 14K is 58.3% pure (.583),16K is 66.6% pure (.666), 18K is 75% pure (.750),  22K is 91.6% pure (.916), 24K is 100% pure (1.00).

Measuring silver content

Silver is measured by the amount used in any piece of jewelry or decorative item. Sterling silver, for example, is 92.5% silver and usually 7.5% copper. It is hallmarked (stamped) with the word “sterling,” “ster” or the number .925 either on the bottom or on the underside of the item. The item actually feels rather heavy as well.

Silverplate, on the other hand, is mostly base metal with a thin layer of pure silver that has been electroplated to give it the shine and brilliance of silver. If it isn’t stamped, it is silver-plated. It actually feels rather light compared to the sterling.

Silver as sterling: A set of Gorham sterling silver tureens with a total weight of 74 troy ounces of silver at $32.26 a troy ounce in 2012 with a value of $2,413.88 that sold for $3,000. Image courtesy Millea Bros. Ltd. and LiveAuctioneers

Coin silver is usually defined as having 90% silver and 10% copper, but depending on the melted coins used there could be a difference between having 75% to 90% silver.

One way to know how much silver an item has is to cut a small piece from an inconspicuous area of an item, but this is destructive. An X-ray fluorescence (XRF) device, while non-destructive, measures only the base silver nearer the surface and misses entirely the type of base metal alloy underneath, thereby misreading the content of silver overall.

Testing a silver item that is marked as pure silver can be done by setting an ice cube on it. If it melts quickly it is pure silver. Use a magnet to see if it sticks. If it does, it is mostly base metal. A commercial silver testing kit uses nitric acid to see if it tarnishes at a predictable rate.

Silver as plate: A complete five-piece Art Nouveau silver-plated tea set of sold for $2,400, not for its unmarked silver content, but from its artistic design. Most silver-plated tea services will auction for $50 to $150. Image courtesy Clarke Auction Gallery and LiveAuctoneers.com

Things to know

When gold and silver are being weighed, it should be done in front of you. The scale should be at least two decimal places (31.10) to show it is being weighed as troy ounces, not in grams or pennyweight. Sending gold and silver to an offsite location by delivery service won’t allow the collector to know if it was weighed as troy ounce or a standard ounce.

Offsite locations (where you send your gold elsewhere to be weighed) will typically offer 70% or so of the spot price that day. You should be expecting 90% of the spot price or more.

If a dealer wants to sell you numismatic or “collectible” coins instead of buying your gold or silver outright by suggesting that the coins are “outperforming bullion by more than 2 to 1 … charging only … a 1 percent fee,” according to an AARP investigation, he is involved with a boiler room operation. The markup for each coin is wildly astronomical and a collector will always have trouble selling them later. This bait-and-switch tactic is not what a reputable dealer will ever suggest.

Reputable dealers will ask for your personal identification when selling gold and silver. This is to comply with federal regulations to combat money laundering and to verify against stolen goods.

Buying and selling of gold and silver at hotel shows, those offering free appraisals, answering 800 ads, getting a cold call from a so-called dealer, among other types of misrepresentations should always be avoided. Buyer beware is still the watchword. “Consumers need to do their due diligence,” says Kathy McFadden, executive director of the Industry Council for Tangible Assets, “Just as they would if buying a car or asking a contractor to come into their home. There is no difference.”

In the world of gold and silver, buy the book before you buy the coin. In other words, learn what you can first. That is the safest way to hedge against your own inflation.

Ansel Adams – an iconic American photographer

NEW YORK – The first half of the 20th century produced many fine American photographers, but few with the name recognition and respect accorded Ansel Adams (1902-1984). The landscape photographer and environmentalist was famous for his crisp and dramatic black and white images of the American West. He was also a co-founder of Group f/64, an association of photographers that advocated for “pure” photography, favoring sharp focus and the use of a photo’s full tonal range.

“Part of the attraction of Ansel Adams is the star power,” said Nigel Russell, director of Photographs at Heritage Auctions in Dallas, Texas. “He got that name recognition by being the first 20th century photographer to capture the majesty of the American West in pure black and white crystal-clear photographs, in contrast to the pictorial soft-focus photography that was popular in the 1920s. His photographs were never simple landscapes; they were taken at dawn or dusk, or as storms approached, and have a drama that is lacking in other photographers’ work.”

Ansel Adams, ‘Clearing Winter Storm, Yosemite National Park, 1937. Sold for $47,500 at an auction held June 5 by Heritage Auctions in Dallas, Teas. Image courtesy of Heritage Auctions and LiveAuctioneers

Russell expressed admiration for Adams’s resumé and accomplishments. “He was on the board of the Sierra Club and worked with the Department of the Interior to help expand the National Park system,” Russell said. “There was an exhibition of his work at Stieglitz’s An American Place gallery in New York in 1936 and he was an adviser on the founding of the photography department at the Museum of Modern Art. Through his workshops Adams also taught many photographers who followed in his footsteps but none have achieved the public recognition.”

As for market demand, Russell said Adams’ photographs enjoyed a steady increase in value from the start of the photography art market in the 1970s up until the Great Recession of 2008. “Since then, while many other photographs went down in price, Adams’ photographs for the most part have retained their value,” he said. “There continues to be demand for his most desirable images and I would imagine they’ll slowly increase in value over time. If I were to make any predictions it would be that there might be a softening of the market for his less appealing works and the strongest increase in value will be for the rarer early prints or prints in unusually large sizes.”

Ansel Adams, ‘Moonrise, Hernandez, New Mexico,’ 1941, sold for $50,000 at an auction held April 5, 2014 by Heritage Auctions in Dallas, Texas. Image courtesy of Heritage Auctions and LiveAuctioneers

Adams was born into privilege, the only child of Charles Hitchcock Adams and Olive Bray. He was named after his uncle, Ansel Easton. His paternal grandfather founded a successful lumber business that his father later managed, but which Adams condemned because it contributed to the cutting down of many of the great redwood forests. His early years were spent living in San Francisco, and he was 4 years old when the 1906 earthquake struck the city. Adams had his nose broken in the quake, requiring him to be a mouth breather for the rest of his life.

The following year the family moved a few miles away, to just south of the Presidio Army Base. The home had a spectacular view of the Golden Gate and Marin Headlands, which sparked the young Adams’s interest and appreciation of nature and beauty. He was given his first camera – an Eastman Kodak Brownie box camera – while on a family trip to Yosemite National Park, in 1916, at age 14. It would be the first of many subsequent trips to Yosemite for Adams, where he took many of his most famous photographs, ones that are still admired and coveted by collectors.

Ansel Adams, ‘Old Faithful,’ gelatin silver print mounted to card, signed in pencil on card lower right, image 13½ x 10in. Sold for $4,250 at an auction held June 29, 2019 by Clark’s Fine Art & Auctioneers in Van Nuys, Calif. Image courtesy Clark’s Fine Art & Auctioneers and LiveAuctioneers

Remarkably, photography was not Adams’s first career choice. He loved music, and strived to be a professional pianist. He became quite good, and even taught piano to save up for a grand piano, to match his grand dreams, but ultimately his small hands limited his repertoire and he proved to be a poor accompanist. So, with some regret he relegated his piano playing to hobby status and devoted himself full-time to a life of camping, hiking and, of course, photography.

Adams’s first photographs were published in 1921, and Harry Best’s Studio began selling his Yosemite prints the following year. His early photos already showed careful composition and sensitivity to tonal balance.

Original Ansel Adams photograph, from Special Edition, ‘Photographs of Yosemite,’ signed by the artist in the lower right with initials, 9½ x 7in. Sold for $2,800 at an auction held Oct. 29, 2011 by Royka’s in Leominster, Mass. Image courtesy Royka’s and LiveAuctioneers

During the mid-1920s, the fashion in photography was pictorialism, which strove to imitate paintings with soft focus and diffused light. Adams experimented with these and other techniques and for a short time even used hand-coloring. But he stopped the practice in 1923 and by 1925 he’d rejected pictorialism altogether for a more realistic approach that relied on sharp focus, heightened contrast, precise exposure and darkroom craftsmanship.

In 1927, Adams began working with Albert Bender, a San Francisco insurance magnate and arts patron. Bender helped Adams produce his first portfolio in his new style, Parmelian Prints of the High Sierras, which included his famous image Monolith, the Face of Half Dome, taken with his Korona view camera, using glass plates and a dark red filter to heighten the tonal contrasts. One biographer called Monolith Adams’s most significant photograph because the “extreme manipulation of tonal values” was a departure from all previous photography.

Ansel Adams, ‘El Capitan, Yosemite Valley,’ print 115 of S.E.Y. No. 3. Displayed in a floating acrylic frame. Photograph measures 6¾ x 9½in. Sold for $1,400 at an auction held Feb. 25, 2017 by Scheerer Auctioneers in Fort Wayne, Ind. Image courtesy of Scheerer Auctioneers and LiveAuctioneers

Between 1929 and 1942, Adams’s work matured and he became more established. The 1930s were an experimental and productive time for him. He expanded the technical range of his works, emphasizing detailed close-ups as well as large forms, from mountains to factories. On visits to Taos, New Mexico, Adams met and made friends with the poet Robinson Jeffers, artists John Martin and Georgia O’Keeffe and photographer Paul Strand. His talkative, high-spirited nature combined with his excellent piano playing made him popular among his new artist friends.

His first book, Taos Pueblo, was published in 1930, and he put on his first solo museum exhibition – Pictorial Photographs of the Sierra Nevada Mountains by Ansel Adams – at the Smithsonian Institution in 1931. It featured 60 prints taken in the High Sierra and the Canadian Rockies. He received a favorable review from the Washington Post, which said, “His photographs are like portraits of the giant peaks, which seem to be inhabited by mythical gods.”

Ansel Adams, ‘Jeffrey Pine on Sentinal Dome,’ silver gelatin print, 8¾ x 6¾in. Sold for $225 at an auction held Sept. 24, 2019 by Black River Auction in Pennsville, N.J. Image courtesy of Black River Auction and LiveAuctioneers

In 1941, Adams contracted with the Department of the Interior to make photographs of National Parks, Indian reservations, and other locations managed by the department, for use as mural-sized prints to decorate the department’s new building. The contract was for 180 days and was nicknamed the “Mural Project” with commissions for the U.S. Potash Co. and Standard Oil. While in New Mexico for the project, Adams photographed a scene of the moon rising above a modest village with snow-covered mountains in the background, under a dark sky. The photograph became his most famous and is titled Moonrise, Hernandez, New Mexico.

This photo of Ansel Adams, taken by J. Malcolm Greany, first appeared in the 1950 Yosemite Field School Yearbook. Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Adams continued to work tirelessly through the war years and into the 1950s, but by the ’60s he suffered from arthritis and gout and had to cut back. He died from heart disease in 1984, at age 82. Many works by Adams have been sold at auction, including a mural-size print of Clearing Winter Storm, Yosemite National Park, which sold at Sotheby’s New York in 2010, for $722,500. It was, and remains, the highest price ever paid for an original Ansel Adams photograph.

Halloween candy containers sweet ’n’ scary collectibles

NEW YORK – When it comes to Halloween decorations, particularly candy containers, pumpkins and jack-o’-lanterns are fairly common. Harder to find are witches, black cats, veggie people and devils. From its roots in the early Celtic holiday of Samhain, when people would slip on costumes to hide from evil spirits, Halloween has evolved into a fun holiday for all ages, marked by parties, trick-or-treating and elaborate decorating. Early and colorful candy containers in all manner of Halloween imagery are highly sought after by holiday collectors.

This vegetable man candy container/lantern, 9½ inches tall, sold for $9,000 at Morphy Auctions in September 2015. Photo courtesy of Morphy Auctions and LiveAuctioneers

Early examples were made of composition, molded cardboard with a composition wash and litho over cardboard and these are the ones most collectors are drawn to, explains Rob LaPlace of Vintage Halloween Collector. He cites German-made examples in particular “that are all original and complete with exceptional detailing, surface molding, have a compelling character and captivating expression.”

Interestingly, many of the most desirable early examples were not made in America but in Germany for export to the United States as the country was trying to rebuild its economy after World War I. “Several American discount-merchandising magnates like Frank W. Woolworth and Sebastian S. Kresge more strongly encouraged German artisans at this time to use their creative expertise to craft unique and wondrous items for export to the vast and growing American holiday market,” writes Mark B. Ledenbach on his website, Halloween Collector. A collector of Halloween antiques since 1988, he explains that these German-made items were usually made in small operations (either homes or shops) from a set design or a mold and decorated by hand.

This 13-inch-tall German-made pumpkin candy container was once packed with an abundance of candy and doubled as a roly-poly toy. It and the accompanying 2¼-inch roly-poly brought $4,500 in September 2010 at Morphy Auctions. Photo courtesy of Dan Morphy Auctions and LiveAuctioneers

Some candy containers were made in Japan, mostly of cardboard, crepe paper and composition, but usually not made to the same standards of quality as the German-made pieces. Today’s secondhand and auction markets will usually bear that out with antique German candy containers bringing the higher prices. Also collectible are hard-plastic American-made candy containers from firms like Rosbro as well as paper ones by Beistle and Dennison.

If a diamond is judged by four C’s (cut, color, clarity and carat) then perhaps it can be said that candy containers can be gauged by their own set of the four C’s: condition, color, composition or cardboard.

This rare Halloween lantern paper litho candy container, marked Germany, 3½in tall, realized $2,250 in April 2018 at Bertoia Auctions. Photo courtesy of Bertoia Auctions and LiveAuctioneers

“Condition is the most important factor when collecting vintage Halloween candy containers,” said Cynthia J. Breen Vogel of Marcin Antiques in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania. “The earliest ones are most desirable and date from the very early 20th century and up to what many consider to be the golden age of Halloween—the 1920s and 1930s,” she said. “The most sought-after pieces were made in Germany from composition, formed-and-stapled cardboard, or both. Some candy containers were made as lanterns as well, and some were also made as ‘nodders’ with tiny springs or with heads balanced on a stem. One of the most desirable sets of candy containers is referred to by collectors as ‘The Trio’ and consists of a witch, a devil, and a black cat.”

A German jack-o’-lantern candlestick form candy container 4¼in tall, went out at $2,250 at Bertoia Auctions in November 2013. Photo courtesy of Bertoia Auctions and LiveAuctioneers

So-called “veggie people” candy containers are also quite collectible, Breen noted, and these pay homage to the earliest imagery of the holiday by honoring the fall harvest. These candy containers frequently have a jack-o’-lantern head that sometimes does double duty as a candle lantern, along with parsnip arms, zucchini legs and potato feet. To get at the candy, one need only remove the head.

Given the ease with which modern reproductions can be created, LaPlace says, “One of the true tests of age is simply to smell it. Condition is a consideration, but flaking paint or hairline cracks further ages the piece.”

Among American-made candy containers is this 3in-tall composition pumpkin head figure (shown in center of photo) by the Beistle Co., which earned $1,300 at Ron Rhoads Auctioneers in September 2015. Photo courtesy of Ron Rhoads Auctioneers and LiveAuctioneers

Telling the old from the new can be challenging as there are those who fake vintage items down the last detail as well as people making brand new “fantasy creations” to look vintage even though such a piece never existed then. “Although most reproductions are mass produced overseas, they are being made by hand in much the same manner as vintage originals,” according to Real or Repro. New pieces from China, India and the Philippines have enough random irregularities and flaws, which collectors have previously used to authentic genuine pieces, that new collectors need to be wary, the website cautions.

This holiday collectibles market genre has enough variety to support both emerging and veteran collectors. Depending on condition and rarity, prices can range from a few hundred dollars to nearly $10,000. Some recent sales include this rare horseshoe shaped pumpkin that sold on eBay for $888 in October 2019 to a policeman riding a pumpkin, 4 inches tall, which made $3,750 in September 2019 at Dan Morphy Auctions. Whether you collect candy containers that are gourd-form, figural, or seek out unusual examples in the form of small purses, hat boxes or skulls, there is something for every taste.

The wide world of tin-glazed earthenware

NEW YORK – Earthenware has a long history dating back nearly 30,000 years. The ability to form earth and clay into storage, drinking, cooking and household utensils proved helpful, especially as a nomadic life transitioned into more stable communities.

Process

Earthenware by its nature is porous. Forming earth and clay into a pot or utensil, then allowing it to dry has limited use. It is fragile, unable to hold liquid and cannot be made too large as it is bulky, heavy and easily damaged. Firing it at temperatures as high as 1,100 degrees C (2,000 F) is the only way to strengthen it for daily use as a storage container.

However, to make it impermeable for the storage of liquids, a thin, clear coat of lead glaze and other oxides was fired to seal the pot. Later a tin oxide was added to form a white glaze from which a hand-painted decorative element could be applied.

A Rouen faience tray, mid 18th century, “decorated in the Rococo manner with an amourous Watteauesque couple set in a stylized garden setting,” according to the auction description. It sold for about $12,000 + the buyer’s premium in 2015. Image courtesy: Dreweatts Donnington Priory and LiveAuctioneers

Lead glaze vs. tin glaze

To fire correctly, the basic composition of clay used for earthenware today is 25% kaolin (a silicate), 25% ball clay, 35% quartz and 15% feldspar. When formed together and fired the result is a biscuit, or bisque, from which the final product is glazed and decorated.

A lead-based vitreous compound consisting of powdered glass melts over the earthenware at very high temperatures to create a glossy, transparent, impermeable coating. This type of “enameling” has been found in China as early as the 13th century B.C. Lead glaze is more durable than the tin-glazed compound and is used for molded decorative items that are painted after firing. Lead glaze alone was largely replaced by tin glaze about the 15th century.

Tin oxide was added to the lead glaze about the eighth century in region that is now Iraq to create a white opaque compound allowing colorful overglazes and design to be painted directly onto a mostly flat surface before being fired. This process required more skill since mistakes couldn’t be corrected and therefore was more expensive to produce. Tin oxide became difficult to get during World War I and zirconium and zircon has since been substituted as a cheaper alternative, except in very small quantities.

Identifying tin-glazed earthenware

Once tin oxide was added to lead glaze, most collectible earthenware is made with this formulation.

Faience

This is the French name for tin-glazed pottery first produced during the 15th century Renaissance period in the Italian city of Faenza, near Ravenna. Today, it is more of a catch phrase for white tin-glazed pottery glaze that doesn’t have its own particular style. Usually the term refers only to the tin-glazed wares made in France, Germany and Scandinavia.

Two 19th century Italian majolica plaques depicting saints “in the manner of Benozzo Gozzoli (Italian, 1421-1497),” according to the auction catalog description. The pair sold for $38,000 + the buyer’s premium in 2016. Image courtesy of Cottone Auctions and LiveAuctioneers

Maiolica, Majolica

Said to have come from the Spanish island of Majorca to Italy in the 15th century, this style of tin-glazed pottery is highly decorated with vibrant stylized natural or historical events known as istoriato. It is common in collector circles to identify lead-glaze pottery as majolica and tin-glaze pottery as maiolica.

Mid-18th century Dutch blue and white delftware, the smaller plate hallmarked with ‘IVDH’ for Jan van der Hagen of the ‘Het Jonge Moriaanshooft’ workshop. Image courtesy: Thomaston Place Auction Galleries and LiveAuctioneers

Delftware

A vibrant blue and white tin-glazed pottery from the city of Delft in the Netherlands. This style is easily recognized in the Delft blue tiles and jars showing Dutch scenes such as windmills. The heyday of Delftware is from 1640 to 1740 but became popular in England (known as English Delftware), Japan and China in the 18th century. Delftware production continued at a greatly reduced level through Victorian times into the 20th century. 

A 19th century luster glazed Etruscan-style charger featuring bulls, lions and other animals surrounding a large rooster in iridescent black, red and gold from the Italian potter Ulisse Cantagalli recently sold for $2,500 + the buyer’s premium. Image courtesy of Neue Auctions and LiveAuctioneers

Lusterware

Tin-glaze pottery having a golden iridescent sheen is aptly named luster, or lusterware. Originating in the Middle East in the ninth century, this metallic glaze of copper and other metallic oxides provides an earthy brown to the white tin-glaze underglaze. Luster decoration became popular with English potteries in the first quarter of the 19th century.

Tin glazed Hispano-Moresque copper luster charger, probably 16th century, decorated with leaves, flowers and acorns with luster gold rings and small circles decorating the reverse that sold for $2,200 + the buyer’s premium in 2012. Image courtesy of Hyde Park Country Auctions and LiveAuctioneers

Hispano-Moresque ware

Produced during the period of Muslim Spain beginning in the eighth century, tin-glaze earthenware was originally produced using Islamic and Christian elements, particularly the “IHS” monogram and personal coats-of-arms for export to Europe. The 14th and 15th centuries constituted the peak period before the Italian maiolica earthenware become prominent.

Specialty ware

Saint-Porchaire Ware

From 1520 to 1550, a specialized and highly detailed bas relief white lead glaze earthenware was produced in the French city of Saint-Porchaire intended only for high-end collectors of the time. Known as Henri II ware or Saint-Porchaire Ware, only about 70 pieces survive from the period.

Palissy Ware

French potter Bernard Palissy (1510-1590) created high relief, polychrome lead-glaze natural scenes such as fish, snakes, frogs and even mussels often from taking casts of the real thing. Known also as “rustic ware,” most examples at auction are 19th and 20th century reproductions attributed to the style of Palissy while the 16th century originals are considered museum pieces.

Made for export to the United States, this early 19th century English creamware jug made in Liverpool features President Thomas Jefferson surrounded by a garland and the 13 original states that sold for $5,500 + the buyer’s premium in 2016. Image courtesy: Heritage Auctions and LiveAuctioneers

Creamware

Making use of the white, glassy lead-glaze coating, potters in 18th century England, particularly from Staffordshire and Leeds, created a relatively inexpensive substitute for porcelain. Josiah Wedgwood’s production of what was called pearlware was so prolific by 1780, that his mass- produced transferware was exported throughout Europe and undercut the more expensively produced tin-glazed, hand-painted earthenware.

Collectibility

When reviewing auction values for vintage lead-glaze or tin-glaze earthenware, it doesn’t seem as if there is a significant difference in the final hammer prices. The style, period, age and condition dictate what is more collectible.

Tin-glazed earthenware doesn’t hold up as well as lead glaze, however. Edges, posts and the feet of tin-glazed objects are prone to crack and decay more often than the harder edge lead-glaze pottery.

While most early tin-glaze and lead-glaze pottery have higher auction values, a resurgence in replicating early Renaissance tin-glaze pottery in Italy in the early 20th century can be an alternative. Artists such as Roger Fry, Duncan Grant, Alan Caiger-Smith and others from the 1920s to the 1950s can be the start of an alternative collection. Even Picasso has his own brand of tin-glaze earthenware design.

There is a lot more to glazed earthenware to discover. With so many design elements and periods to choose from, tin-glaze and lead-glaze earthenware easily lends itself to the collector mantra: Collect what you like first.

Frederick Carder’s masterwork: Steuben Aurene

NEW YORK – When it comes to art glass, the adage “less is more” is perhaps no truer than when describing Steuben Aurene glass. Developed by the pioneering glass chemist Frederick Carder in 1904 in upstate New York, Aurene glass was elegant in its simplicity with no need for ornate embellishment. Its iridescent look immediately captivated buyers then, as it still does now, and distinguished itself from Tiffany’s Favrile glass made during the same period.

The hallmarks of Steuben glass are “classic, color and original,” said Bonnie Salzman, president of the Carder Steuben Club. “Frederick Carder was a classicist. His more than 7,000 designs follow simple and traditional ancient forms that contain clean and graceful lines, symmetry and proportion.”

A rare Steuben blue Aurene vase, having an overall pulled feather design, realized $13,000 + the buyer’s premium in March 2013 at Jaremos. Photo courtesy of Jaremos and LiveAuctioneers

Carder honed his expertise with glass in his native England working for Stevens and Williams when Thomas G. Hawkes, who owned a cut glass firm in New York, offered him the opportunity to manage a glass factory he wanted to open in Corning, N.Y., in Steuben County (hence the new company’s name) as well as to be its leading designer. Carder accepted and almost immediately began experimenting with colored glass.

As a chemist, he excelled at creating luminous glass that beautifully absorbed and reflected light, creating more than 140 distinct colors, Salzman said. “The combination of colors he incorporated into glass objects is unique to Steuben. The colors were pure – like his English country garden, none of them clashed,” she said.

This rare Steuben decorated red on alabaster vase, circa 1908-12, signed “aurene 533,” sold for $22,000 + the buyer’s premium in July 2016 at Early Auction Co. Photo courtesy of Early Auction Company and LiveAuctioneers.

Carder was fascinated by the multicolored iridescence seen on Roman glass of the first–fourth centuries and experimented for years in England before he came to America, where Gold Aurene was first produced in 1904. Blue Aurene followed in 1905. Aurene glass was in continuous production from 1904 until about 1933. “Pieces made come in all manner of vases, bowls, centerpieces, goblets, candlesticks, compotes, baskets, colognes, etc.,” Salzman said. “Aurene is a most beautiful, elegant and rich glass – glowing with shades of blue, green, purple and silver – no two pieces exactly alike. Carder saw his Aurene glass as needing no further decoration – the finish was the decoration. These pieces are modern and luxurious even today, and glass collectors gravitate in their direction.”

Gold Aurene glass on display in the Carder Gallery at the Corning Museum of Glass. Photo by Jack Hartwein-Sanchez, courtesy of Carder Steuben Club

He was a prolific designer but around World War II, public tastes were changing and moving away from colored glass; company management had changed and the war effort greatly restricted availability of materials needed to produce this glass. In 1943, Steuben ceased making colored art glass wares and instead focused on crystal and colorless glass.

Carder’s legacy in glassmaking stands the test of time, however, with his Art Nouveau-inspired Aurene wares, especially in gold and blue hues, remaining a perennial favorite with collectors.

“The most befitting tribute to Frederick Carder’s prolific career in glassmaking is the museum’s visually stunning Carder Gallery,” according to a blog on the website of the Corning Museum of Glass. “The several thousand pieces on view show every type of glass that Carder created from the founding of Steuben in 1903 until 1932. Also on view are examples of works from his entire career in glassmaking from 1880 to the 1950s – from early pieces made at Stevens & Williams to individual pieces he created in his retirement.”

This Steuben red Aurene milifori vase with gold leaf and vine decoration and seven milifori flowers went for $11,000 + the buyer’s premium in December 2018 at Dan Morphy Auctions. Photo courtesy of Dan Morphy Auctions and LiveAuctioneers.

His glass stands at the pinnacle of beautiful colors, purity of design and the finest quality attainable in handmade artistic glass, said longtime collectors and Carder Steuben Club members Elizabeth and Frank Creech. “Carder was the penultimate glassmaker: for over 80 years he labored with astonishing energy, intellect and experimentation, producing thousands of artistic glass objects in styles rooted in Classicism and including Art Nouveau, Art Deco and even Modernism.”

He was also a stern taskmaster, demanding high quality from his employees. “Carder’s insistence on excellence and, indeed, upon handmade artistic glass rather than machine-produced objects was unrelenting and is an inspiration to contemporary studio glass artists.”

Blue Aurene glass on display in the Carder Gallery at the Corning Museum of Glass. Photo by Jack Hartwein-Sanchez, courtesy of Carder Steuben Club

A prodigious genius, glass artist, glass scientist and glass technologist, according to the Creeches, Carder lived his life to create beautiful works of glass that he hoped would inspire people to seek out beauty.

To quote Carder’s own words inscribed on one of the last pieces he made at age 92, a technically challenging diatreta vase, “Life is short — Art is long,” which perhaps best sums up Carder’s legacy to the world of enduring art.

How to protect and preserve comic books

In the early days of comic-book production, publishers probably never imagined their products would become valuable collectibles. Comic books were considered ephemeral – something to be discarded after they were read. Little thought was given to making them last beyond their intended usefulness. They were printed on cheap, acidic newsprint that quickly turned yellow and brittle.

A few wise collectors were successful in preserving their old comic books. We know this because of the small number of pristine, early copies that only infrequently come to market.

Action Comics #1, June 1938, CGC-certified 9.0 featuring first appearance of Superman, sold by Pristine Comics on Aug. 24, 2014 for $3.2 million. Image courtesy of Pristine Comics

Who thought to carefully preserve a copy of Action Comics #1 (Superman’s debut) when it published in June 1938? Those who did take pains to store their copies with future value in mind were visionaries, considering what this title is worth today. A CGC-certified 9.0 example of Action Comics #1 was sold by Pristine Comics via eBay for a record-setting $3,207,852 in 2014 – the highest price ever paid publicly for an American comic book. More than one copy of Action Comics #1 has sold for seven figures, and it’s the only title with multiple specimens confirmed to have sold at or above $1 million.

Want more mindboggling reasons to take care of your old comics? A CGC-certified 8.0 copy of Detective Comics #27 (May 1939), which features the first appearance of Batman, was sold by Heritage Auctions in 2010 for $1,075,500. It was the first comic to break the million-dollar mark in the open marketplace.

Cover of Detective Comics 27 (May 1939 DC Comics), art by Bob Kane. Copyright DC Comics. Fair use of low-resolution image to illustrate the issue in which the copyrighted Batman character first appeared

Even The Amazing Spider-Man #1, published in March 1963, has risen rapidly in value. A condition-9.6 example of this title sold for $262,900 at a 2016 Heritage auction. However, Amazing Fantasy #15, which introduced the enduring character Spider-Man before he was given his own dedicated comic book title, is worth far more. A CGC-certified 9.6 copy of Amazing Fantasy #15 sold for $1.1 million on ComicConnect.com in 2011.

Twenty years younger than Action Comics #1 or Detective Comics #27, Amazing Fantasy #15 is by far the most recent comic book production to top $1 million – a testament to Spidey’s enduring popularity. From a standpoint of market observation only, it’s interesting to note that five years later, in 2016, Heritage auctioned a CGC-certified 9.4 copy of Amazing Fantasy #15 for $454,100. This might suggest that the market thought the previous $1.1 million price came a little too soon for the title, but it nonetheless supports the long-established pattern of six-figure prices for this issue.

Marvel Comics’ Amazing Fantasy #15 marking the debut of Spider-Man, CGC-certified 9.4 condition, sold by Heritage Auctions on Feb. 18, 2016 for $454,100.

So now you know what some of the most coveted comic books can sell for. Here are steps recommended by the Overstreet Comic Book Price Guide to help preserve your paper collectibles:

Store comic books in a cool, dark place, while maintaining a low and stable relative humidity – around 50 percent. Fungus and mold thrive in hot, humid conditions. Never store comic books in a basement or anywhere where they might be exposed to flooding. And never store them in an attic, where hot, dry conditions will damage the paper.

Direct light will quickly damage comic books. Store them away from direct light, especially sunlight and fluorescent light, which contains high levels of ultraviolet radiation. Limit their exposure to other types of light sources as well.

It is important to protect comic books from atmospheric pollution. As extreme as this may sound, avoid exposing comic books to air. Sulfuric dioxide, emitted by automobile exhausts, will cause paper to turn yellow. For that reason, storing comic books in or close to a garage is not recommended. To minimize exposure to atmospheric pollution, comic books should be stored in Mylar sleeves. Polypropylene and polyethylene bags, while safe for temporary storage, should not be used long-term.

Comic books should be stored vertically in acid-free boxes to preserve flatness and spine tightness. Only acid-free backing boards should be used inside the Mylar sleeves.

Following these simple steps will ensure a comic book collection will last for at least the owner’s lifetime.

Our thanks to the experts at Hake’s Auctions for providing the record prices and other statistical information included in this article.

Salesman’s samples: small scale, big demand

NEW YORK – Sometimes confused with toys, salesman’s samples are small-scale versions of products, such as farm equipment, machinery, furniture and drugstore goods. They once were a salesman’s best marketing tool.

In the late 1800s–early 1900s, when traveling salesmen would go town to town to take orders for products, these samples became a critical part of their sales pitch to show a buyer what he would get before placing an order. Some companies still make salesman’s samples today but with the advent of digital marketing, salesman’s samples are not as common as they once were.

A sample of a 19th century horse-drawn walking plow with steel blade and iron wheel turned up $6,500+ buyer’s premium in December 2018 at Pook & Pook Inc. with Noel Barrett. Photo courtesy of Pook & Pook Inc. with Noel Barrett and LiveAuctioneers

Salesman’s samples were scaled-down replicas of the original item, say a plow, with nearly all the features of the full-sized versions. Most were working models. Ranging from a few inches to about 2 feet tall (sometimes larger as with a canoe), they often featured complex mechanisms that the salesman would demonstrate to explain to a potential customer how the item worked. Customers could also inspect the sample to be assured of its manufacturing quality. A sample’s small size allowed salesman to carry them in a case as he peddled his wares, traveling by horse and buggy or train.

This 48-inch-long sample of an Old Town canoe, circa 1930, in original green paint, realized $16,500+ buyer’s premium in November 2015 at Saco River Auction. Photo courtesy of Saco River Auction and LiveAuctioneers

“Salesman’s samples were a key part of persuasive demonstrations and getting the order in 19th century and early 20th century America,” noted Rodney Ross, curator of the DFW Elite Toy Museum in Fort Worth, Texas, in a press release for an exhibition on salesman’s samples the museum presented from its collection. Seeing how a working scale model functioned would have instilled buyer confidence from municipal agents to order such equipment as road graders, tillers and tractors when these items were brand new and unfamiliar to most potential buyers.

This sample of a horse-drawn Adriance Buckeye sickle mower sold for $4,000+ buyer’s premium in June 2019 at Pook & Pook Inc. with Noel Barrett. Photo courtesy of Pook & Pook Inc. with Noel Barrett and LiveAuctioneers

In general, the most collectible samples are those with mechanical moving parts. The more authentically made they were in resembling their full-size counterparts, the more money they bring from collectors. “These types of samples were often intricate and difficult to assemble. Farm equipment samples are one of the most collectible because they had the most mechanical parts,” says Dan Morphy, CEO and owner of Dan Morphy Auctions in Denver, Pennsylvania.

Besides tractors and farm equipment, all sorts of products were made as salesman’s samples, including typewriters, folding attic ladders, stoves, sleds, windmills, well pumps, furnaces, barber chairs, books, household furniture, bank safes, humidors, Coca-Cola coolers, garage doors, pocketknives and even burial caskets.

A Coca-Cola double Glasscock ‘standard’ salesman’s sample cooler, circa 1929, brought $14,000+ buyer’s premium in March 2017 at Dan Morphy Auctions. Photo courtesy of Dan Morphy Auctions and LiveAuctioneers

As they were made to scale, usually 1:6 or 1:8, sometimes these salesman’s samples can be mistaken for dollhouse items or children’s toys. “Samples generally have actual working components integrated in the sample and were created true to scale,” Morphy said. One good way to tell the difference is that samples often will have a label announcing the product’s name, and sometimes a patent date; toys usually would not. They are also usually more mechanically complex and detailed than a toy would be but not always. Miniature cookstoves are often referred to as salesman’s samples but most are actually highly detailed toys.

A fine example of a complex salesman’s sample was a Murphy bed, circa 1870, that auctioneer Noel Barrett of Noel Barrett Antiques & Auctions Ltd. in Pipersville, Pennsylvania, appraised in May 2018 for an episode of Antiques Roadshow. “It’s really a complicated little device,” Barrett said on camera, while pointing out the owner how it worked. A longtime aficionado of salesman’s samples, Barrett opened several small doors to reveal areas for blankets, storage, a wash basin and even a shaving area with mirror. When the doors are opened another way, however, one large panel drops down to reveal the Murphy bed complete with a scaled-down mattress. The bed displays a label indicating it was made by William Kelly, Bath, Maine, and patented April 19, 1870.

Complete with its original carrying case, this salesman’s sample of the leaning wheel road grader, with metal maker’s tag reading ‘J.D. Adams & Co., MFR’S Road Building Machinery, Indianapolis, Ind.,’ sold for $31,000+ buyer’s premium at Rich Penn Auctions in May 2014. Photo courtesy of Rich Auctions and LiveAuctioneers

Another rare example Barrett came across was a butcher block sample that he sold at auction in June 2019 for $2,600, well over its estimate. The sample set on three legs measuring 3½ inches tall still had its original decal reading “Wolf, Sayer & Heller – Chicago Butcher Supplies – Handsome Market Fixtures.”

Dan Morphy Auctions has also sold quite a few salesman samples over the years, particularly barber chairs and Coca-Cola display items. Highlights include a sample of the Koken barber chair that was sought after because of its attention to detail and authenticity. A 16-inch-tall sample chair has white porcelain, leather upholstery and nickel-plated details, and folds upright. It realized $17,000 in October 2018.

This sample of a Koken barber chair made $17,000+ buyer’s premium in October 2018 at Dan Morphy Auctions. Photo courtesy of Dan Morphy Auctions and LiveAuctioneers

The highest price seen on LiveAuctioneers’ price database for a salesman’s sample barber chair was a Victorian-era chair constructed of quartersawn oak that earned $41,000 at Cottone Auctions in June 2012. That 25-inch-tall chair featured elaborate carving with lion’s faces and a nickel-plated cast-iron adjustable framework.

As with most cases, rarity drives demand. “Since they were meant to advertise a product, not many were produced. It was a sales tool that salespeople took with them from business to business,” Morphy said, saying the scarcity of samples spurs their appeal among collectors.

Dating US flags: it’s in the stars

NEW YORK – It is the only national flag that has officially changed its design more often than any other. The 28 different designs tell the history of a country that began in revolution nearly 250 years ago. Collecting the American flag is more than just counting the stars; the stripes and the fabric are important, too.

Authenticating a flag of other nations is, at times, dependent on its change in design or color. The national flag of Greece, for example, changed its canton and stripes from light blue to dark blue in the 1960s. Cambodia’s flag can be determined by the number of towers of the temple, Angkor Wat, used as a symbol on its flag since Independence in 1948. But these changes are known only with a bit of research.

The flag of the United States, on the other hand, has the most noticeable changes of any national flag. With the addition of a star for each new state since its official adoption in 1777, the national flag has changed a total of 28 times. The number the stars on the flag is the key to learning when it was adopted.

Thirteen-star flags usually date to late 19th or early 20th century like this unusual star pattern that sold for $2,500. It has hand-sewn stars (before 1890), but machine-sewn stripes with metal grommets (after 1850). Image courtesy: Cowan’s Auction and LiveAuctioneers.com

The Stars

From Independence in July 1776 until June 1777, the U.S. flew an unofficial flag called the Grand Union Flag, which consisted of the UK flag (before 1801) in the canton with 13 alternating red and white stripes. When asked for a naval flag to fly aboard ships when entering foreign harbors, Congress adopted the first Flag Resolution on June 14, 1777 that simply stated, “Resolved, That the flag of the 13 United States be 13 stripes, alternate red and white; that the union be 13 stars, white in a blue field, representing a new constellation.” That’s it. There was no standard for how many points in the star, the star pattern, whether the stripes were horizontal or vertical and certainly gave no special meaning for the colors.

And so, until 1912 (when the 48-star flag was officially standardized as six rows of eight), stars were arranged however the manufacturer saw fit while the stripes became consistently horizontal by tradition.

To collectors, it is the number of stars and the star pattern that determines its auction value. Most stars were five-pointed (the first country to use this device on a national flag), but some were six-pointed. All stars were cut and sewn by hand until the zigzag sewing machine was invented about 1890 (stripes were hand sewn before 1850 and machine sewn after that).

Virtually all military and official government flags were made of wool bunting from the 18th through World War II. Shown are a close-up view of a 36-star handmade linen U.S. flag dated 1876 (left) and a later 50-star cotton flag (right). Image courtesy: William J. Jenack Auctioneers and Forsythes’ Auctions LLC

Some star patterns were in a circle, others in a row and even a few in patterns. As long as the flag had the right number of stars, all were official and still are. The stars were originally made mostly of linen and hand stitched. Cotton wasn’t made commercially available in the U.S. until after 1810.

If you have a 13-star national flag, just know that one has never been found that survived the 18th century. Any flag with 13 stars is generally a commemorative-type flag, perhaps from the Centennial era of 1876, or is more likely a U.S. Navy “boat flag” that was officially used as a naval standard from 1860 to about 1920.

Material 

Curiously, all of the wool bunting used to manufacture the military flags throughout the Revolution was imported from Great Britain. That’s right. Our enemy supplied the material for the symbols of U.S. resistance.

All national flags of the United States were made of a one-ply worsted woolen bunting up through 1940 or so. This allowed for a higher quality, lighter weight construction, was virtually moisture resistant and allowed flags to unfurl more easily in the wind. Wool was reserved mainly for military uniforms during World War II and so manufacturers turned to cotton for government and civilian flags. Smaller flags were made from other materials such as silk and muslin, particularly the small parade flags that were fastened to a stick.

Construction

To fly a large flag, a several-ply hemp rope called a halyard was stitched through a plain weave, coarse linen sleeve on the flag known as a heading. Later, heavy metal clips held the flag to the halyard through hand-sewn eye holes on the hoist end of the flag before 1850, then through metal grommets thereafter.

Pictured are three types of flag attachments; first is a woven rope attached in a sleeve of the heading (left), the second is a hand-sewn eyelet (center) in use until about 1850 when a metal grommet (right) became the norm. Images courtesy\ William J. Jenack Auctioneers and personal collection

Collectibility

When it comes to collecting flags, size matters. Any flag measuring more than 3 feet by 5 feet is more difficult for collectors to display and is therefore not as desirable. Smaller handheld flags sometimes have the same value as larger ones, especially if the material, the star pattern and condition are all extraordinary.

Any flag before and during the Civil War-era (up to 33 stars) are more desirable simply because relatively few survive in any condition, yet the flags of the Civil War-era are the most reproduced, especially military unit flags. Flags from the Centennial era of 1876 up through 1896 (34 to 44 stars) have secondary collector interest; 45- and 46-star flags still do well as a third collectible category.

Handmade stars were prevalent throughout the late 18th and most of the 19th century up to the Civil War-era. On the left is a hand-cut linen star which was sewn by hand until the invention of the zigzag sewing machine about 1890; the last is a machine-sewn star. Image courtesy: William J. Jenack Auctioneers and personal collection

The 48-star flag of 1912 served the second longest at 47 years (the 50-star flag has served for nearly 60 years to date). It was the first U.S. flag to have its stars officially arranged by statute. Its wool bunting construction prevailed from 1912 until 1940 or so with a mostly cotton construction thereafter. Depending on condition, a wool 48-star flag usually has a somewhat higher value than a cotton version.

The 49-star flag served for only one year, from 1959 to 1960, and is considered desirable in any size or condition (as long as the stars are intact) with a slightly higher value at auction from the 48-star flag.

A 50-star flag in any size is common and not usually collectible unless it has a historic context, has flown over the White House or Capitol (with original box and certificate), flown to the moon, or autographed by a president or someone of significance. Otherwise, the value is about $30 to $40 or so, depending on size.

Unlike other collectibles, the condition of a flag is not usually the deciding factor. Instead, the stars play more of a central role in its auction value. If some of the stars are missing, but the stripes are intact, the value would be compromised. It is more desirable to have all the stars intact even if some of the stripes are missing.

Finally

The material that was prevalent  throughout, the way the stars are arranged and stitched (whether sewn by hand or machine), the type of material in the sleeve, what ply and type of thread was used to sew the parts together, and how it was attached to a pole (whether by a rope, hand-sewn eyelets or metal grommet) are the key factors to determine when a flag was created.

These specifications are what separates an authentic flag from a reproduction. No matter how skillfully a flag was made, the details in its construction will always tell the real story. It is therefore important to have an expert in textiles verify any historic flag before it is auctioned or restored.

Nantucket lightship basket makers moved to the island

NEW YORK – In the late 1800s, Nantucket lightship baskets were handcrafted by sailors aboard the lightships that were moored off the coast of Nantucket. These storied baskets are still being made today, though not on ships, and have kept their original name.

Weaving these rattan baskets was initially a pastime aboard New England whaling ships starting in the 1850s.

This Clinton Mitchell ‘Mitchy’ Ray basket is in the permanent collection of the Nantucket Lightship Basket Museum. Photo courtesy of Nantucket Lightship Basket Museum

Later, lightship sailors had free time during the day as their work was at night, lighting hazardous waterways around the island to allow safe passage for merchant ships. They started making baskets, first for sweethearts and family members. This hobby soon turned profitable until the early 1900s when officials called a halt to lightships’ crews daytime moonlighting. Basketmaking then moved onto the island of Nantucket and transformed what was once a utilitarian object into a work of art.

Taking inspiration from the splint baskets made by local Native Americans, Nantucket lightship baskets were first made freeform without benefit of a mold but today molds are commonly used. The Nantucket Lightship Basket Museum has an impressive collection of baskets from the 1800s to contemporary examples. Its website notes that a Nantucket lightship basket today has several critical components, including weaving the basket with rattan (aka cane) on a mold and being made with a solid wooden bottom plate. Having a hinged top lid with a turned knob and a carved or scrimshaw decorative element (usually a whale, bird, seashell or other nautically themed object) adds to the value of these iconic baskets.

This Jose Reyes friendship basket from 1961 having a carved seagull is on display at the Nantucket Lightship Basket Museum. Photo courtesy of Nantucket Lightship Basket Museum

Collectors have long been interested in Nantucket baskets and they are highly collectible. Rare forms are especially desirable such as the “lollipop” baskets. They are open form baskets with staves having round lollipop-shaped endings or heart-shaped endings such as this one and this one seen on the website of Nantucket’s Four Winds Craft Guild.

Early examples are particularly valuable as many have not stood the test of time. “Any 19th century Nantucket lightship basket that has its original paper label and is in somewhat good condition is highly prized,” says John Sylvia of Sylvia Antiques in Nantucket, which specializes in nautical antiques.

This Nantucket lightship basket with carved ebony whale finial by Reyes sold for $4,750 in May 2019 at Grogan & Company. Photo courtesy of Grogan & Company and LiveAuctioneers.

Among highly sought-after Nantucket basket makers are Jose Formoso Reyes (1902-1980), who learned his craft from third-generation basket maker Clinton Mitchell “Mitchy” Ray (1877-1956) and went on to himself teach many others. “Reyes’ most popular basket was the Nantucket friendship basket (akin to a pocketbook/purse),” Sylvia said. “Contemporaries of his in the 1950-1960s were Stephen Gibbs, Sherwin Boyer and Stanely Roop. They have always been collected but they made a lot less of them, so their names are not as popular as Reyes.”

A Jose Reyes Nantucket purse having a carved bone lighthouse on its lid with seagulls brought $3,900 in August 2018 at Americana Auctions. Photo courtesy of Americana Auctions and LiveAuctioneers

Any 19th century basket makers who worked on the lightships are very collected, he said. Some examples include Davis Hall, Andrew Sandsbury, Thomas James, Charles Sylvia, Oliver Coffin and Joseph Fisher. “Then, there is another group that learned from the crewman who made baskets on land and primarily for the tourists … Mitch Ray, A.D. Williams, Ferdinand Sylvaroma and Frederick Chadwick.” Ray learned (basketmaking) from his grandfather, Captain Charles B. Ray, a renowned basket maker. Ray had a prolific studio and signed his baskets with a paper label that read, “I was made in Nantucket, I’m strong and stout. Don’t lose me or burn me and I’ll never wear out. Made by Mitchell Ray.”

Ray would affix this paper label on the bottom of his baskets. Photo courtesy of Nantucket Lightship Basket Museum.

By the mid-1900s, makers were signing their baskets and the basket-making tradition continues today, with a new generation of makers learning and making baskets in workshops as a hobby or as a way to earn a living. While the look of a Nantucket lightship basket is immediately recognizable, forms and styles can vary slightly from lidded to open forms. Most are round or oval though a few makers create square baskets. Nesting sets of baskets are popular and baskets can range in size from 4 to 20 inches. Carrying handles are usually crafted from ash, oak or hickory.

The basket-making tradition is alive and well on Nantucket. This pocketbook-style basket by Michael Kane in 1983, who made baskets there for over 40 years, sold in 2010 for $2,500 at Louis J. Dianni LLC. Photo courtesy of Louis J. Dianni LLC and LiveAuctioneers.

“We have seen many changes in adornments, materials used and detail that goes into weaving a Nantucket basket,” according to Rafael Osona Auctions in Nantucket. The auctioneers have sold several rare baskets, including a heart-form open basket made in the last quarter of the 19th century, which sold for over $100,000.

Nantucket baskets have become inextricably linked with the island as a symbol of friendship. At one time, girls graduating from high school on Nantucket would receive a friendship basket, a form created by Reyes. “Reyes broke from tradition and called these friendship baskets because the basket symbolized a bond with Nantucket and was instantly recognized as a reminder of this special place,” according to the Nantucket Lightship Basket Museum. Over the years, these baskets have been recognized as an art form and many visitors have taken their own remembrance of the island home in the form of a Nantucket basket.

Whiting & Davis mesh bags always in vogue

NEW YORK – Paired with the quintessential little black dress for an evening function, Whiting & Davis metallic mesh bags are so striking they can become the jewelry in one’s outfit all by themselves. Having clean lines and a shimmering metallic surface, these small silk-lined purses have been favorite accessories by fashionistas for decades. The bags, usually featuring sterling silver chain mesh or golden vermeil, had hand-engraved frames and were often decorated with colorful gemstones.

A 14K Whiting & Davis mesh purse made $750 in June 2019. Photo courtesy of Kamelot Auctions and LiveAuctioneers

These diminutive bags can’t hold much – maybe a pair of keys and a modern cell phone – but they pack a big style punch. At the height of their popularity, the company was selling a million bags a year, which have been embraced by women from all walks of life. While popular for decades, Whiting Davis mesh bags were especially fashionable during the disco era of the 1970s especially apropos when worn with a Halston lamé jumpsuit.

William H. Wade, Edward P. Davis and Louis Heckman founded the Wade Davis & Co. in 1876 in Plainville, Mass. Whiting came up with the design for their first mesh bag in 1892, with all rings formed and joined by hand. Four years later, he and Davis launched a partnership and renamed the firm as it the Whiting & Davis Co. For two decades, groups of women in the factory would work, linking chain rings together by hand, reportedly doing about 1,000 rings a day. The turning point in the company’s history came in 1912 with the advent of a machine that automated the mesh-making process. The company is America’s oldest handbag manufacturer and in the mid-1920s was said to also be one of the country’s biggest manufacturing firms. It had offices in New York, Chicago and Canada at the time and today is still selling American-made products from its headquarters in Massachusetts.

These two antique Whiting & Davis mesh purses brought $1,300 in August 2013. Photo courtesy of Gulfcoast Coin & Jewelry and LiveAuctioneers

Vintage fashion dealer Elaine Klausman of Vintage With a Twist in Bedford, N.Y., said people love the squishy feel of these bags and their style is so universal, they look great with jeans or an evening dress. “They have a very high fashion look that has lasted through the years,” she said.

Styles and sizes have varied for these mesh bags over the years, but most had a flat or a V-shaped bottom, sometimes adorned with a row of fringe hanging off the bottom. They were often set with a sapphire in the clasp. While gold and silver bags were the company’s bread and butter early on, colorful bags were also offered in later decades. A vintage ad from 1939-40 offered such items as “a graceful Whiting and Davis Beadlite pouch bag with chain,” silk-lined and in red, blue or green for $1.75 or a “new style mesh bag … choice of Armor or Beadlite mesh in gold or silver” in non-tarnishing mesh for $2.25. These bags today routinely sell for several hundred dollars each, while rare examples sometimes bring several thousand dollars.

This rare Whiting & Davis mesh purse with a colorful portrait advertising Moxie sold for $4,000 in October 2013. Photo courtesy Dan Morphy Auctions and LiveAuctioneers

“In the teens and early ’20s, Whiting & Davis bags are made of small precious metal rings and are unpainted for the most part, their striking designs coming from a mixture of metal colors, artfully joined rings and metal fringe,” according to a company history on its website. “By the end of the ’20s, flat Armor mesh painted in bold Deco designs and Dresden mesh, with its tiny rings silkscreened by hand in dreamy Impressionistic shades, take center stage.”

A flapper-era 14K gold mesh handbag by Whiting & Davis having a sapphire cabochon earned $850 in September 2018. Photo courtesy of Ashcroft & Moore and LiveAuctioneers

Successful partnerships in the 1930s with renowned designers Paul Poiret and Elsa Schiaparelli, further cemented the company’s reputation for quality purses, carried by flappers, movie stars and regular women. Poiret’s designs added “Parisian allure” to the bags while Schiaparelli debuted new and modern shaping.

This Whiting & Davis advertisement in the 1940s with actress Grace Kelly shows some of their mesh bags for sale. Photo courtesy of Whiting & Davis

After a production hiatus in the 1940s to support the war effort, the company returned to creating its iconic mesh handbags and soon embraced midcentury modern styling that was all the rage.

“Both Poiret and Schiaparelli were influential in changing the look of the purse,” said Lélia  Teixeira, sales manager of Whiting & Davis in Attleboro Falls, Mass. “Their designs turned the purses from ornamental delicate shapes to a more functional design that could be used to carry more than a key and handkerchief.”

‘Whiting & Davis Purses: The Perfect Mesh’ by Leslie Pena and Donald-Brian Johnson (available now from Schiffer Publishing, 610-593-1777, info@schofferbooks.com)

Keeping current with fashion trends while providing timeless styling lies at the heart of the appeal of these mesh bags, which are still made in Massachusetts today.

“We believe that the Whiting & Davis appeal throughout the decades has been the quality, craftsmanship and the classical styles,” says Teixeira. “Whiting & Davis has always had the motto that our styles should be ‘hand in hand with fashion.’”