Lacquered wares cross many cultures

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

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

Lacquerware:  5000 BCE China, Japan, Korea

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Japanning: 17th Europe

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

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

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

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

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

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

Toleware: 18th century Americas

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

Lifting the lid on sarcophagus relics

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How to identify fake gold coins

NEW YORK – Ever since the first gold coins were produced in Lydia, in present day western Turkey, in the sixth century B.C., counterfeiters have been at work in what has been called the world’s second oldest profession.

The first gold coins were made from electrum, a natural alloy of gold and silver found in the region’s rivers. The coins typically showed a picture of a lion or bull on the face and a punch mark or seal on the other side. They weighed from 17.2 grams (0.55 troy ounces) to as little as 0.2 grams (.006 troy ounces). The introduction of these coins to the masses is said to have been by the Lydian King Croesus (561-547 B.C.). Improvements in refining soon led to the distinct minting of gold coins.

The detail on this counterfeit 1877 $2.50 Liberty gold coin (left) shows limited sharpness throughout. It was identified and properly represented by the auctioneer as a counterfeit and sold for $190. An original 1877 $2.50 Liberty gold coin is pictured on the right and can sell for twice that amount. Image courtesy Affiliated Auctions, GovernmentAuction and

Earlier coinage consisted of ingots of silver before base metal coins were introduced for wider circulation. Pure silver coins were reserved for higher denominations.

The common method for making counterfeit coins has changed little over the centuries. Take a base metal, cover it seamlessly with a precious metal – gold or silver – then die stamp it using a forged engraving of an authentic coin. Then use the debased coin, or fourrée (French for “stuffed”), at face value in regular commercial transactions.

The counterfeiter can also create fourrées by making a clay or ceramic mold of an original coin, then pour the alloy, create the coin, then cover with a thin veneer of precious metal using a “fire gilding” process that involves dissolving mercury to adhere the gold to the base metal. Early silver ingots were also counterfeited the same way.

An example of a counterfeit silver clad Roman coin for Emperor Domitian over a copper alloy, called a fourrée, French for ‘stuffed.’ Image courtesy:

While counterfeiting can be successful, the penalties for being caught were rather extreme. Besides disrupting trade in general, counterfeiting was considered to be a personal offense against the state and the emporer. During Roman times, for example, a counterfeiter could be sentenced to damnatio ad bestias, loosely translated as being fed to the lions during festival days. Death by hanging for counterfeiters was still common in 17th and 18th century Europe.

A third century A.D. clay mold for counterfeiting an early Roman coin. Image courtesy: By Geni and

Gold coins are still being counterfeited, according to of industry studies. A recent study of the 50 most commonly counterfeited U.S. coins by the Numismatic Guaranty Corp., an industry grading company, 43 are gold coins of different eras. And that’s a concern for collectors.

While detecting counterfeits is getting easier in the age of electronics, counterfeiting is still a game of numbers. In 2016, Deutsche Bundesbank, the central bank of the Federal Republic of Germany, reported finding 33,000 counterfeit Euro coins, but only 1,570 precious metal ones. This begs the question: How many others did they miss?

For gold coins it’s getting more difficult to know for sure. Counterfeiters have employed science to help. They have found a particular alloy that replicates a similar density of gold as an alloy in the center. They then cover this alloy with a respectable layer of gold and die stamps them with a counterfeit example of the original. The alloy of choice for gold coins is tungsten. Gold and tungsten are close in density. For that reason, a thin layer of pure gold over tungsten is the ideal combination for counterfeiters because the overall weight is very close. Tungsten has a face value of about one-third of gold per ounce, which makes producing a counterfeit cost effective.

So how do you determine if your gold coin is a counterfeit or not? Biting it won’t work. That was something early gold miners might have done to distinguish the soft gold from the hard pyrite, but otherwise has no relevance as a reliable test. After all, if you have a proof gold coin, for example, biting it, drilling into it, carving a piece out of it to examine, or otherwise removing it from its original plastic slab to test would devalue the coin. You could weigh it, but if the scale isn’t properly balanced or doesn’t weigh past two decimal places, it would be hard to detect if an alloy such as tungsten is being used.

The other, less intrusive way is to examine the coin details. Check that the date is consistent with official production records along with its official weight, diameter and thickness. Under magnification small details such as sloppy lettering, the use of a wrong typeface for numbers and letters, misspelled or missing words, unusual or missing design features, rim or edgings that are spaced incorrectly or missing altogether, and other obvious defects like foundry marks will show up clearly.

One of the ways to quickly determine a counterfeit is by its details, such as this obviously unskilled attempt to replicate the detail along the rim of a coin. Image courtesy: By Peterlewis and

Other more professional methods include a gravity balance test, the use of an x-ray fluorescence spectroscopy using ultraviolet light to measure the electrons, and a device that measures electrical conductivity consistent with gold and any other metals that might be present. All the tests are done with no harm to the coin and usually in their original packaging. Ask a respected local coin or bullion dealer for assistance.

Where are these counterfeit gold coins originating? According to several respected coin and bullion dealers, many of the counterfeit gold coins are being produced in China, among other places. One longtime dealer simply will not accept any gold coins from Iran, for example, knowing that most of their gold coins may be counterfeit. And yet, collecting obvious or suspected counterfeits is another collecting category that can be both a learning experience and an interesting look at the history of gold coinage, without the premium intrinsic value. Even the British Museum has a large collection of ancient and modern counterfeits in its official inventory.

The rule of thumb is to always associate with respected dealers and auction houses when adding gold coins or bullion to your collection. Once a counterfeit is verified, the coin is usually confiscated and destroyed with no recourse for the collector. To paraphrase Forrest Gump, cautious is as cautious does.

Get hooked on collecting vintage fishing lures

NEW YORK – Anglers have their favorite fishing holes, especially deep and dark spots few know about where the big fish lurk, and have their favorite lures to catch them. Much like their decoy compatriots, fishing lures have become highly collectible.

Gary Smith, an editor with The National Fishing Lure Collectors Club, said the best-known fishing lure makers are referred to as “The Big Five” and are Heddon, Shakespeare, Pflueger, South Bend and Creek Chub.

Heddon’s Deep Dive River Runt with original box and pocket catalog from 1951. Photo courtesy Heddon Museum

While a top five list of the most highly collectible fishing lures is debatable, and certainly personal, most collectors would likely agree that the original Heddon Frog tops the list. “Very few are known to exist, and provenance is extremely important because reproductions/fakes are out there in circulation,” Smith said. “After that, I would say that the Haskell Minnow is number two.”

This Haskell Minnow marked with the typical ‘R. Haskell Painesville, O., Pat’d Sept 20, 1859,’ 3½in. long, sold for $6,000 at Dan Morphy Auctions on Nov. 3, 2017. Prices do not include the buyer’s premium. Photo courtesy of Dan Morphy Auctions and LiveAuctioneers

Smith’s third pick for the top lure would be the Flying Helgrammite, which was made by Harry Comstock in upstate New York and was notable as one of the earliest lures having glass eyes. “Beyond that, it’s anyone’s guess or preference but good candidates would be the Chautauqua Minnow, first production Heddon Minnows, early Rhodes Minnows [Rhodes morphed into Shakespeare] and first production Pflueger lures,” Smith said.

This Comstock Flying Hellgrammite earned $5,000 in November 2014 at Crossroads Angling Auction. Prices do not include the buyer’s premium. Photo courtesy of Crossroads Angling Auction and LiveAuctioneers

Founded in 1996 by Don and Joan Lyons, the Heddon Museum stands today in Dowagiac, Michigan, where the Heddon company made its fishing tackle.

“The James Heddon & Sons company began selling wood lures on a commercial scale in 1902 in Dowagiac, Michigan. In fact, they named their first lure the ‘Dowagiac.’ That lure today is referred to by collectors as a ‘Slope Nose in recognition of its upward facing snout,” Don Lyons said.

From that first Dowagiac lure, Heddon quickly developed a number of new lures that for the next two decades they referred to generically as Dowagiac Minnows, and added a number such as “100” or “150,” or a name such as Artistic Minnow or Crab Wiggler to distinguish the different lures.

Heddon’s Dowagiac Slope Nose lure from 1904. Photo courtesy Heddon Museum

For years, fishing tackle was purely functional and it’s hard to say just when tackle collecting, especially bait lures, took off but it took shape in the mid-1970s with the formation of the National Fishing Lure Collectors Club. The club (spawning many localized clubs) promoted regular shows across the United States – initially referred to as swap meets because lures were traded, not sold – and it encourages members to share information via club publications, a mission it continues to embrace today.

“As with most hobbies, the popularity of antique fishing tackle was fueled by people who had matured, gained some disposable income and could now afford to own those things that they could only dream about as young kids who had made do with what they could afford, not what they really wanted,” the Lyons said.

A collection of South Bend fishing lures with a National Fishing Lure Collectors Club pin sold for $4,500 in July 2016 at Ellenberger Brothers Inc. Photo courtesy of Ellenberger Brothers Inc. and LiveAuctioneers

Lures were made in different price points and when collecting today, potential buyers must evaluate not only condition but how a specific lure was decorated (glass eye vs. painted eye), material (wood, rubber or hard plastic) and what color. Some lures were made in multiple styles. With regard to condition, Smith suggests buyers consider: “Do you want a lure that appears to be factory-new or would you prefer a lure that exhibits good honest use and therefore tells you it has tempted fish, and maybe caught them?”

People collect vintage lures for various reasons, he noted, including, “the beauty of lure construction and finishes, the link to an earlier (and seemingly less complicated) period in our history, fraternity, investment/profit, the thrill of the hunt or an appreciation of fishing lure history and owning a tangible part of it.”

Various lures like this grouping were offered at the 2016 Nationals show held by the National Fishing Lure Collectors Club. Photo courtesy of the National Fishing Lure Collectors Club

Offering advice beyond doing homework, Smith said, “Be disciplined. Stay within your budget. You might want to limit your search for one company, like Creek Chub. Don’t display your lures in direct sunlight and keep artificial light to a minimum. Excessive exposure to light will cause lures to fade. Control climate as much as possible. Extremely dry air can cause paint to crack; extreme moisture encourages rust.”

“Again, as with all collectibles, collect what you enjoy,” the Lyons advise. “It’s a large and diverse hobby with regional and national clubs that will be glad to help newcomers to the hobby gain knowledge and make new friends.”

Reflecting on rhinestones’ flash from the past

NEW YORK – Rhinestones are named for Rhine stones, sparkly, highly coveted rock crystals found along Europe’s Rhine River. They date from the early 1700s, when Georg Friedrich Strass devised a method of backing faceted glass crystals with metal powder. As a result, light, instead of passing through their facets directly, refracted into brilliant rainbow spectrums.

His individually cut, hand-finished pieces, also known as Strass and diamantes, were marketed as “poor men’s diamonds.” Nonetheless, many well-to-dos, fearing that their precious jewels would be lost or stolen, often commissioned rhinestone replicas to wear while traveling or attending public events. Since hand faceting and molding rhinestones was laborious, these faux ornaments were often as costly as their originals.

Elsa Schiaparelli, Aurora-Borealis set of bracelet and earrings, marked ‘Schiaparelli’ with patent number ‘2383,’ France, 1956, realized €1,100 in 2015. Image courtesy Auctionata Paddle 8 AG and LiveAuctioneers

As jewelry became simpler, smaller and more elegant, colored rhinestones, created by backing clear stones with metallic foil in a variety of shades, became the height of fashion. Their shimmering, transparent shades, known as turquoise, sapphire or ruby-rhinestones, for example, reflect the gems they simulate. Colorful chokers, bracelets and brooches, featuring romantic floral motifs, were also charmers.

Elsa Schiaparelli suite of ear clips and brooch, aurora rhinestone brooch and matching ear clips, the brooch with prong-set marquis Swarovski crystals and three marbleized prong-set cabochons, marked ‘Schiaparelli,’ 3.25 in. From the Collections of Carole Tanenbaum, Toronto, Canada, realized $225 in 2012. Image courtesy of Cowan’s Auctions and LiveAuctioneers

In the late 1890s, as pieces became more extravagant, Daniel Swarovski, son of a Bohemian gem cutter, invented a water-powered machine that mechanically cut and faceted lead crystal faster, more precisely and affordably than before. Since each facet breaks reflected light into a striking rainbowed fragment, the more facets, the more flash. When their lead percentage was increased, Swarovski’s multifaceted creations grew flashier still. Indeed, due to their multiple, consistent facets and exceptional brilliance, many consider vintage Swarovski rhinestone pieces to be top of the line. Marked or signed ones in prime condition are doubly desirable.

Costume jewelry bracelet with rhinestones and simulated emeralds, 6¾in. long, realized $60 in 2017. Image courtesy Auction Gallery of Boca Raton and LiveAuctioneers.

At the turn of the century, when garnet or pearl petit point edgings adorned delicate diamonds, scores wore versions with less costly rhinestones. Some, instead, preferred romantic winged, whirled, or feathered bow hearts, bow knots, or floral spray brooches. Others flaunted showy, multihued, rhinestone frogs, dragonflies, swans, snails, peacocks or tortoises.

French rhinestone shoe clips, circa 1800s, marked ‘Holfast Pat. App. For.’ Few rhinestones missing from each, realized $20 in 2017. Image courtesy of Cordier Auctions & Appraisals and LiveAuctioneers

Rhinestones came into their own, however, in the 1920s, when white-on-whites, say diamonds or white topaz on platinum, were the cat’s meow. Coco Chanel, parting from tradition, championed rhinestones not as diamond wannabes, but as glamourous, cutting-edge glories worn day or night. In time, glittery, mass-produced rhinestone earrings, hat pins, shoe clips and evening bags were available not only in exclusive shops, but also at five-and-dimes.

During the Great Depression, whimsical, brightly hued rhinestone flower, bird and butterfly brooches brightened the gloom. In addition, dazzling dress clips, hair clips and necklaces, inspired by Hollywood glitz and glam, made simple outfits look like a million.

Vintage Eisenberg brooch, with colored stones and rhinestones in shape of a dragonfly, 4in. x 3.5in., realized $300 in 2011. Image courtesy of Jay Kielstock Auctions and LiveAuctioneers

Through the following years, American manufacturers such as Coro, Haskell and Trifari, produced fine, detailed pieces of rhinestone costume jewelry, many with imported Swarovski stones. Exquisite, highly detailed Eisenberg & Sons dress clips, snowflakes and swirling bows were also popular. After World War II, when jewelry styles grew big and bold, many earrings, chokers and brooches bloomed with large-stone, razzle-dazzle rhinestone floral clusters. Others depicted birds, bows, snakes, scrolls or ribbons.

Black floral lace dress worn by Sharon Tate to the London premiere of Roman Polanski’s film ‘Cul-de-Sac’ in 1966, featuring raised waist with satin bow, rhinestone and simulated pearl brooch, Boutique Christian Dior London label, realized $15,000 in 2018. Image courtesy of Julien’s Auctions and LiveAuctioneers

In the mid-1950s, the Swarovski company introduced a new type of stone featuring clear glass crystals coated with micro-thin layers of vaporized blue metal. These extraordinary jewels, illuminated by bursts of colorful, otherworldly lights against pale-blue grounds, are known as Aurora Borealis (AB). Since they also reflect hues of nearby fabrics, they caused a sensation. Christian Dior, in fact, embellished scores of his signature evening gowns with them. Furthermore, when his exclusive rights expired, other famed designers, like Elsa Schiaparelli, quickly secured them.

A vintage rhinestone creation is not only an unabashed fashion statement. It’s also a flash from the past.

Horror movie posters bring frightening prices

NEW YORK — Horror movie posters — be they blockbuster films or indie cult classics — are highly collectible, whether the movies they advertised were great or so bad that they were good. Works of art in their own right, horror posters take storytelling to the next level through visuals. Arguably, they sometimes overstep the boundaries of good taste, but that’s part of the fun.

The Overstreet Guide to Horror Collecting surveys all sorts of horror collectibles, from movie posters to comic books and more. Photo courtesy of Hake’s.

“Horror movies differ from other film genres because they capitalize on visceral reactions and focus on the villains, which is reflected in the movie posters,” said Amanda Sheriff, author of The Overstreet Guide to Collecting Movie Posters and The Overstreet Guide to Collecting Horror. “They typically depict menacing villains, protagonists in peril, the threat of violence, ominous settings, and grotesque imagery. The best posters are designed to promise a fun and frightening viewing experience.”

From creepy villains and misunderstood monsters to damsels in distress or terrifying experiments gone horribly wrong, horror movies terrify us as children and fascinate us as we get older. While each generation has its own monsters (Freddy, Jason, Godzilla and Chucky to name a few), the classics like Frankenstein, Dracula and the Wolfman will always rank high among favorites for collectors.

This three-sheet insert movie poster, style C, for Frankenstein (Universal, 1931) set a world auction record price of $358,500 in March 2015 at Heritage Auctions. Photo courtesy of Heritage Auctions.

Not surprisingly, a 1931 three-sheet insert poster for Frankenstein, the original sympathetic monster, holds a world auction record price of $358,500, set at Dallas’ Heritage Auctions in March 2015. Heritage also holds the record for a one-sheet poster —  Dracula (from the same film studio, Universal, also released in 1931), which sold for $525,800 in November 2017.

“Every cliché of cinema horror was created with this film: the mad scientist, the misunderstood monster, the angry villagers carrying torches, the dark laboratory filled with science fictional devices, and the creepy assistant,” according to Heritage Auctions.

Grey Smith, director of vintage posters at Heritage, said horror movie posters combine several design tricks to make them so compelling. “Title and design are the draws. The titles of the great Universal films make them in great demand and the better the graphic, the better the demand. But that being said, almost anything to have survived from the 1920s and ’30s of the great horror films is of demand. I believe horror posters are so avidly collected as horror films make a very strong impression on young people and when they grow older with money to collect, those are films that were important to them.”

A one-sheet poster for The Creature from the Black Lagoon (Universal, 1954) fetched $18,107 in March 2016 at Hake’s Auctions. Photo courtesy of Hake’s Auctions.

Michael Bollinger is senior cataloguer and resident horror specialist at Hake’s Auctions in York, Pa., and coincidentally, is Amanda Sheriff’s husband. He added, “Striking Gothic and oftentimes grotesque imagery tends to linger with an audience, piquing interest. That morbid curiosity acts as a hook, compelling moviegoers to check out the film.”

From Nosferatu to today’s movies, horror movie posters have evolved stylistically over the years. “Early horror posters were dramatically painted in bold colors, usually featuring large renderings of the villains with inset images of the heroes,” Sheriff said. “They transitioned to photo-based imagery, in some cases using artistic collages and in others basic cast photos or glimpses of the gore.”

Within the horror genre, there are notable poster subgenres that appeal to collectors, including the silent film era, classic Universal monsters, the ’50s sci-fi/horror, Britain’s Hammer Studios horror, giant monsters like King Kong and Godzilla and slashers from the ’70s and ’80s, Sheriff said. Collectors are also drawn to international horror films and among the most visually striking  posters are those for the Italian Giallo films of the late 1960s and ’70s.

A record price was set for this one-sheet Dracula poster, style A (also a 1931 movie released by Universal), which sold for $525,800 in November 2017 at Heritage Auctions. Photo courtesy of Heritage Auctions.

Among the most collectible and desirable posters, the early Universal Monsters posters are typically the rarest and achieve the highest prices. Rare posters for such films as Dracula, Frankenstein, The Black Cat, The Bride of Frankenstein, and The Phantom of the Opera have brought hundreds of thousands.

“As for popularity and accessibility, posters for Alfred Hitchcock hits like Psycho, 1950s sci-fi/horror posters like Attack of the 50-Ft. Woman, and slashers like Friday the 13th are consistent favorites,” Sheriff said.

Asked about what would bring the most money, Smith theorized some of the best have yet to be sold. “I suggest that the top posters may be those posters that have not appeared in the market before and still remain elusive, such as a Dracula 1931 three-sheet, anything from the silent classic Nosferatu, a U.S. one-sheet to Metropolis, a Mummy 1933 six-sheet or a Frankenstein 1931 style D three-sheet,” Smith said. “All are unknown and should bring large sums in the market.”

This insert poster is for the original release of the classic 1958 film Attack of the 50 Ft. Woman, where an heiress comes into contact with a large alien, making her become a giant. The poster made $9,086 at Hake’s Auctions in March 2018. Photo courtesy of Hake’s Auctions.

The market for horror posters remains very strong, especially for key titles and key horror posters. “The earliest horror movie posters dominate the highest prices paid for posters, holding many records within different size categories,” Sheriff said. “Across all time periods, horror posters regularly sell for higher prices than their contemporary competition from other genres. This may not be the case when going up against Marilyn Monroe or James Bond, but if an average horror poster sale is compared to an average sale for a comedy or drama or action poster, it’s likely that the scary stuff sells for more.”

Automata: fantasy in motion

NEW YORK – Combining artistry with engineering, automata are mechanical marvels. These mechanical figures move via clockwork mechanisms, allowing them to move their hands, walk, dance and even smoke but they also embody equal parts of fancy and magic, becoming a sort of animated sculpture.

“The best automata have in common a quality of fantasy or romance that touches the heart of the viewer,” said horologist and automata expert Michael Start. He and his wife, Maria, own The House of Automata in Scotland. “A Pierrot sitting on the tip of a horned moon and serenading on a lute, a theater in a woodland setting with curtain rising to reveal a host of tiny dancers twirling to a music box or a tiny bird no bigger than a thumb tip who appears from the top of golden box to flap its wings and sing a beautiful birdsong before disappearing with a snap of the lid. The best automata are not just a mimicry of life, they portray fantasy brought to life.”

‘Pierrot Serenading the Moon,’ Lambert, Paris, circa 1890, papier-mache and clockwork automaton, sold for $7,000 March 13, 2019. Image courtesy of Morphy Auctions

Many of the best automata were made by Gustave and Henry Vichy and other makers in Paris, including Leopold Lambert, who was a foreman at Maison Vichy before launching his own business, Roullet et Descamps, and the Bontems family, known for lifelike singing birds and singing bird boxes.

Auction Team Breker in Cologne, Germany, which specializes in mechanical antiques, including automata, explained that automata date back to antiquity with mechanically articulated figures powered by air or water.

The golden age of automata, employing complex mechanisms, spanned the mid-19th century until the outbreak of World War I in 1914 and was centered in Paris.

A rare ‘Lune Fin de Siècle’ musical smoking moon automaton by Gustave Vichy, Paris, circa 1899, papier-mache and clockwork, sold in November 2015 at Auction Team Breker for $123,879. Image courtesy of Auction Team Breker and LiveAuctioneers

“During this heyday period, Paris was the epicenter for classic French-style automata with the major makers being Alexandre Theroud, Jean Roullet, Gustave Vichy, Leopold Lambert, Bontems, Phalibois, Roullet et Decamps and Triboulet & Renou,” says Jeremie Ryder, the Murtogh D. Guinness Collection conservator, Morris Museum in Morristown, N.J. The museum received in 2003 the Guiness collection comprising 750 historic mechanical musical instruments and automata.

‘Pierrot Écrivain (Pierrot Writing),’ automaton, circa 1895, G. Vichy, Paris, France. Photo by SFO Museum (SF Int’l. Airport Museum). Image courtesy of Morris Museum, the Murtogh D. Guinness Collection

Rarity, subject matter and condition are among the driving forces in determining how valuable an antique automaton is but its personality ranks high also. “The pieces that bring the big prices at auction tend to be those with a distinct character or facial expression and a dramatic or surprising element – acrobats, entertainers, smokers and the surreal,” according to Auction Team Breker. A fitting example is the “Fin de Siècle” smoking moon automaton by Gustave & Henry Vichy that auctioned here in November 2015 for $123,879 or such charming pieces as a grand magician standing at a table performing tricks with objects under cups or an acrobat performing a handstand atop a ladder.

Detail image of an acrobat automaton that performs a handstand on two chairs, by Gustave Vichy, Paris, circa 1890, papier-mache and clockwork. Image courtesy of The House of Automata.

“Originality of costume and surface are also key factors, especially for European collectors, according to the auction house. “Sometimes a quite modest piece will command a high price because it is in especially fine condition or comes carefully preserved and unplayed with from the family of the original owners.”

Advanced private collectors and museums gravitate toward pieces that retain their “historic integrity,” meaning as original as possible, all things considered, Ryder says. Owing to the mechanical nature of automata, conservation must be undertaken with care to preserve a piece’s functionality.

Smoking Monkey by Roullet & Decamps, Paris, circa 1900; fur covered papier-mache and clockwork automaton with bellows. The automaton smokes real cigarettes. Image courtesy of The House of Automata.

“A lot can happen to a 18th or 19th century automaton, a delicate decorative artifact, through its lifetime: wars, scorching attics, moldy basements, fires, direct sunlight,” Ryder said. “One or two hundred years can take its toll. Original aspects such as costuming, face and hand-painted surfaces, structurally sound, complete and functioning clockwork mechanism as well as musical movement, are all key factors.”

Choice examples of automata evoke a strong sense of character or possess a striking personality. “Clockwork automata have been developed to perform all the functions of life and nature – every animal from tortoises to elephants with a preponderance of rabbits and every human function – and I do mean every – and the wonders of nature from radiating sun rays to stormy seas,” Smart said. “The ingenuity with which these actions were portrayed was impressive and tested in the marketplace.”

This eccentric clown musical automaton by Gustave & Henry brought $42,795 in November 2016 at Auction Team Breker. Image courtesy of Auction Team Breker and LiveAuctioneers.

“These pieces carry a sort of magic, especially when they are able to function and allowed to perform, however briefly,” Ryder said. “That’s the purpose for which they were conceived and fabricated. To remain static and never perform, they are still quite beautiful, but their full story is never told.”


‘Buffet Magique’ (The Magic Cupboard), probably made by Auguste Triboulet for Maison Vichy, Paris, France, circa 1910. Video courtesy of Morris Museum, the Murtogh D. Guinness Collection.

Rookwood defines American art pottery

NEW YORK – In American art pottery, there is perhaps no more important name than the Rookwood Pottery Co. in Cincinnati, Ohio, an industry leader since the pottery was launched by Maria Longworth Nichols in 1880 as one of the first U.S. manufacturing companies founded by a woman. 

Rookwood has long been renowned for not only its talented decorators but its scientific experimentation, resulting in innovations such as “air-brush” glaze application and some of the most sought-after glazes used in pottery. 

This Rookwood Black Iris vase with swallows and ivy by Kataro Shirayamadani in 1907 made $43,500 in June 2015 at Humler & Nolan. Photo courtesy of Humler & Nolan and LiveAuctioneers.

Rookwood artists changed the way art pottery was created. “They were arguably the best at underglaze decorating,” said Don Treadway, owner of Treadway Gallery in Cincinnati and a specialist in the Arts and Crafts movement. “From their inception, there was nobody producing the quality of work they produced. They were the best at this technique by far and their vellum glaze was another innovation others couldn’t copy.”

Underglaze decorating techniques were mainly developed through significant research and development by Rookwood’s founder and its expert staff. Rookwood was the first company of its kind to hire a glaze chemist to scientifically research glaze chemistry and perfect the glazes. The many international awards it garnered attest to its success, which continues today with crystalline glazes on the cutting edge of new multiglaze decorating techniques.

Attributed to Kataro Shirayamadani for Rookwood, this Fish vase, 1898, in Tiger Eye glaze, sold for $16,000 in March 2016 at Treadway Toomey. Photo courtesy of Treadway Toomey and LiveAuctioneers.

“These glazes were perfected, a time-consuming early research and development project, before the Rookwood decorators could then use them to paint as artists did on canvas. Importantly, each artist had to have a thorough understanding of glaze interactions for the colors to commingle and work together as a unit,” said George Hibben, historian and tour coordinator for the Rookwood Pottery Co. “The atomizer was perfected by Laura Fry in the 1880s and allowed glazes to be sprayed, fading from color to color in a smooth transition. Rookwood vases were thus sprayed with a few glazes, then decorated, creating a seamless canvas of artistic beauty on a three-dimensional form. This was a radical transformation of artistry.”

Rookwood led the industry by adhering to high standards of quality control while always experimenting to improve and develop new and striking glazes. “Oral tradition says that Rookwood never fired a kiln without there being experimental pieces in the mix,” said Riley Humler, auction director and art pottery expert for Humler & Nolan in Cincinnati, Ohio.

A William P. McDonald for Rookwood Pottery Sea Scene vase, 1897, fetched $19,000 in June 2018 at Treadway Gallery. Photo courtesy of Treadway Gallery and LiveAuctioneers.

Stylistic themes have tended to change about every 10 years throughout Rookwood’s history, Hibben said. “Asian-inspired themes were popular and tend to be prior to 1910 and include dragons, birds and koi fish in flowing themes. Many of these were executed by Kataro Shirayamadani or Albert Valentien. Native American portraits were popular during the 1890s with many artists contributing, the best possibly being Grace Young. Tight geometric designs were seen in the 1920s-30s with Sara Sax and Arthur Conant being among the best decorators in this style. Abstract decorations of animals and nudes evolved in the 1930s-40s, Jens Jensen being one artist sought after by collectors.”

Great examples of Rookwood hail from every era but the most desirable Rookwood pieces today date from the late 1910s to the early 1930s, Humler said. “This is a period of great technical achievement at Rookwood coupled with innovative work by many of Rookwood’s better artists. These pieces have always been of interest to collectors but they seem to be gaining favor and holding value better than some. Early examples of Rookwood (early 1880s pieces) have recently gotten a boost of collector interest and are doing well.”

Better items, regardless of price range, are doing well, Treadway said. “The standard glaze floral examples aren’t very popular as has been the case for a long time. Native American portraits have continually done well and sculptural examples are also very popular but rare to find. Unusual glaze examples are often very sought after but they are in short supply.”

A Rookwood Standard Indian portrait twin-handled vase by Grace Young, 1900, took $29,000 in November 2013 at Humler & Nolan. Photo courtesy of Humler & Nolan and LiveAuctioneers.

Glazes have been innovative throughout Rookwood’s history with updated versions equally as eye-catching, Hibben said. “From 1880 to 1885, the Limoges style of underglaze decoration involved new colors in slip decoration, allowing texture and creating depth of color. Standard Glaze was in vogue from about 1884 to 1909. The elusive Goldstone-Tiger Eye Glaze was hard to control, but award winning from 1884 to 1900 (the modern cousin being Nebula).”

“Luxurious and soft mat glazes were developed in a variety of colors beginning about 1900, with this color palette being used for architectural tile installations,” he said. “Vellum Glaze was developed in 1904 and used until 1948, yielding a translucent softness to landscape decorations and harbor scenes. Ivory Jewel Porcelain, from 1916 to 1953, is a translucent to semitranslucent glaze, yielding a softness to the artistic decorations.

Lesser known but equally appealing glazes include Black Opal, French Red, Butterfat, Nacreous (used only in 1915 and now Kaleido), drip glazes and fades (continues today), Wax Mat, Bengal Brown, and a multitude of others, he added. “Rookwood glazes have always been evolving, roughly every five to 10 years over the history, and that trend continues today with continued experimentation to find the next most interesting glazes.”

An important proto-Lorelei vase for Rookwood by Artus Van Briggle, 1898, having a Paris Exposition Universelle 1900 label, achieved $150,000 in June 2016 at Rago Arts and Auction Center. Photo courtesy of Rago Arts and Auction Center and LiveAuctioneers.

Regardless of their era, great Rookwood pieces have several traits in common: great artwork and great condition, Humler said. “Being fresh to the market is also important. Pieces that have never been sold before are apt to stir collector interest but the ultimate yardstick is excellent art and condition.” 

“When considering a piece, listen to the piece. As strange as this sounds, if it speaks to you or tugs at your heart or soul, that connection may be the best advice when considering a Rookwood piece,” Hibben said. “I have sometimes defined the attraction to Rookwood as a virus, inexplicable, but once inside you, something that cannot be cured.”

A passionate wave to vintage fans

NEW YORK – Hand fans began as a strictly utilitarian item, to keep its owner, usually ladies, cool on a hot day. Picture Cleopatra reclining on a sofa while a servant fanned her with a large fan. Somewhere along the way, fans got smaller so they could travel in a bag and became quite decorative. Many types of hand fans are collectible today, including both folding fans as well as fixed fans that don’t fold.

This fan by Alexandre, circa 1880, sold in December 2018 for $2,516. It is believed to have belonged to the Infanta Maria de la Paz, daughter of Queen Isabella II of Spain and her husband Francisco. Photo courtesy Tennants

The history of fans is rich, going back some 3,000 years with fixed fans being among the earliest of type, according to commentary on the website of The Fan Museum in Greenwich, London. “Few art forms combine functional, ceremonial and decorative uses as elegantly as the fan. The first European folding fans were inspired by and copied from prototypes brought in to Europe by merchant traders and the religious orders who had set up colonies along the coasts of China and even Japan. These early fans were reserved for royalty and the nobility and, as expensive toys, were regarded as a status symbol.”

Some collectors are eclectic, collecting a variety of fan styles but many specialize in one type, such as those advertising a product or made of bone or lace or featuring a certain decoration theme.

“People sometimes want to collect fans from different countries or that are defined by their time period,” says Abbey Block Cash, president of the Fan Association of North America. “Fans are also desirable based on their materials; the sticks may be constructed of lacquer, carved ivory, resin, tortoise, bone, wood, silver, gold, metal, or mother of pearl. The fan leaf may be of silk, cotton, satin, lace, decoupe or feathers.

An unusual Brussels lace fan mounted on pierced and gilded mother-of-pearl sticks and lace, circa 1880s, sold for $2,914 in March 2019 at Tennants. Photo courtesy Tennants

“The subject matter of desirable fans will also vary from love scenes to animals, landscapes, occupations, and activities engaged in by individuals, including intimate relationships,” she said. “Fan designs may be hand-colored, printed, lithographed or painted – and they may be adorned with embellishments such as sequins, pique work, weavings or precious or semiprecious stones.”

Mary Cooper, a longtime dealer in antique costume/textiles and publicity officer for the Fan Circle International, began selling vintage dresses while still a student in England about 40 years ago. Her passion for fans began when searching for an antique lace veil to wear for her wedding and finding a lacy fan.

A Duvelleroy fan with monture by Podani, circa 1880s. Photo courtesy the collection of The Fan Museum, UK

Cooper said fans ultimately became fashion accessories, able to be folded up and hung from a lady’s belt or carried in a handbag. “You want something that’s practical, is pretty and fits in a bag but has the sort of amazement factor.”

She has traded in and collected many lace fans and is personally drawn to Art Deco and Art Nouveau fans, around the same time (early 1900s) that women smoking cigarettes was no longer taboo, bringing about the demise of fans. Holding a cigarette in one hand and a drink in the other, women stopped carrying fans as they didn’t have a spare hand to hold it, she explained.

Detailing the history of fans, she said, “If you can imagine trade starting from Asia into Europe, the import agencies brought into Italy and into Marseilles in the south of France. The Italian artists used to paint a leaf, which is what we what we call the paper that sits on top [of the fan].” Fan leafs are often made of paper today but in those days it was lambskin or goatskin, made thin, she explained. “That’s one of the ways we can tell the age of a fan as in what that bit on the top is made of,” she said.

A vividly hand painted paper folding fan with Texas scenes realized $30,000 in April 2013 at Dorothy Sloan – Rare Books. Photo courtesy of Dorothy Sloan – Rare Books and LiveAuctioneers

By the 18th century, folding hand fans were made throughout Europe, into England and later in America; crafted of such elegant materials as tortoiseshell, ivory, bone and lace. The decoration on their leaves was ornate and meant to spark conversations among the fashionable ladies carrying them as well as conveying status.

Among the most famous of Europe’s fan makers were Felix Alexandre (b. 1823), who made fans for European royalty, Lachelin and Kees, and last but not least the House of Duvelleroy, founded in 1827 to make fans fashionable again. Interestingly, in 2010 two women pooled their savings to buy the rights to trade as Duvelleroy and are again making fans.

An early calligraphy paper fan by noted Chinese artist Zhang DaQian, hand-painted, earned $13,495 in June 2017 at Five Star Auctions & Appraisals. Photo courtesy of Five Star Auctions & Appraisals and LiveAuctioneers

Fans from all antique periods are popular but perhaps none more so than circa 1890s-1920s fans “where you have Art Nouveau styling, which was just beautiful design, color and shaping to the fan itself and good artists painting them,” Cooper said, adding that fans from that brief period are few, which pushes up the price. Faberge fans are also rare and highly collectible.

“You either want to buy a fan made in small numbers or you want to buy a fan with what we call provenance,” she said. “As a collector, I know I can’t collect one belonging to Queen Elizabeth II because she keeps them, but I can collect from someone who was in high society when fans were popular. We are always looking for fans that belong to somebody, it’s important if we can find them but it is quite a challenge, so you have to content yourself with just high-quality ones.” Conversely, cheaply mass-produced fans were not expected to last, so surviving examples can be rare and desirable.

Warm and casual Southwest style enjoying revival

NEW YORK (AP) – A desert storm is brewing in the design world. Renewed interest in earthy color palettes, rich textures, tribal patterns and rustic elements has sparked a revival of Southwestern decorating style, long associated with homes in New Mexico and Arizona.

The look is interesting and exciting but also warm and casual, designers say.

William Acheff, b. 1947, AOA, NAWA, ‘Pueblo’s Pottery,’ signed l/r: © WM. Acheff, 1982, oil on canvas,16in. by 26in. Image courtesy of Altermann Galleries & Auctioneers and LiveAuctioneers

“The overarching trend for 2019 is all about being real. It’s about surrounding yourself with nature, including natural fibers and earth tones,” said Dayna Isom Johnson, a trend expert with, the online marketplace that focuses on handmade and vintage goods. That’s a change from 2018, she says, when “it was fantasy, celestial and unicorns,” design inspired by mythology and science fiction.

Southwestern decor – distinguished by colorful, geometric prints and a palette that includes periwinkle, terra-cotta, cream and tan – often evokes a desert feel, said Maggie Lydecker, a designer for the online home-goods store,

Large Navajo pictorial rug, circa 1930, native handspun wool, aniline dyes, 74½in. x 107¼in. Image courtesy of Heritage Auctions and LiveAuctioneers

“Southwestern looks feature natural elements that bring the outdoors inside even in a small space that could otherwise look stark,” she said. “For those who are hesitant to pinpoint one particular style, Southwestern can be a nice compromise, as it encompasses many different elements such as batik, leather or relaxed linen. It is easy to mix and match with this style – so what’s not to love?”

Since many homes are in styles or regions that don’t automatically scream “Southwest,” start with small touches, Isom Johnson suggests. “When a trend happens, you don’t have to deck out your entire home,” she said.

Frank Peshlakai (1903-1965) Navajo silver and turquoise jewelry box, marked ‘FP’ with the artist’s arrow hallmark on inside of lid; 1.75in. high x 3.75in. wide x 4.75in., mid-20th century. Image courtesy of Cowan’s Auctions and LiveAuctioneers

Consider adding a throw to your bed, a rug in your foyer, a piece of pottery on a living room table or new knobs to your kitchen cabinets, she said.

Linda Robinson, who works as an interior designer in Arizona, says that even there she adheres to the principle of blending Southwestern pieces with other elements. “It can be beautiful – the mixing,” she said. “Mixing gives character. It’s very today.”

Navajo Third Phase Chief’s Blanket, finely woven in aniline dye; nine stepped diamond anchor points, 77in. x 58.5in, circa 1880-1885. Image courtesy of Cowan’s Auctions and LiveAuctioneers

She routinely combines Southwestern items with European antiques or Persian rugs. Two or three antique Apache baskets on a French secretary desk would create “a real focal point,” she said. She often uses wood or metal tables as pedestals to display eye-catching Southwestern pottery, baskets or art. She also gravitates to furniture with clean lines because it allows such special pieces to pop.

Traditional terra-cotta tiles are another mainstay of this style and can be interspersed throughout the home, Lydecker said. “Bathrooms, kitchens and stairways are great spots to have some fun with tile and clay elements,” she said.

Acoma Pueblo four-color pottery water jar, circa 1900, painted with birds and foliage, 7in. high x 9¼in. diameter. Image courtesy of Westport Auction and LiveAuctioneers

Osa Atoe, a potter in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, incorporates geometric patterns and neutral colors with a Southwestern feel in her pottery. The look is classic, she says, and easily fits in different homes. Her pieces are “colorful and neutral at the same time.”

Vanessa Boer of Portland, Oregon, designs Southwestern-inspired housewares. “My shop’s focus is on textiles, primarily pillows, so people are able to add a pop of color or bold pattern on a couch or chair,” she said. “This adds some fun or character without having your entire living room covered in patterns, or feeling so entrenched in a specific style that you feel compelled to redecorate a year later.”

Western Apache pictorial olla basket, 16in. high, 12in. diameter. Estimate $5,000-$7,000. Image courtesy of Leslie Hindman Auctioneers and LiveAuctioneers

When done right, Southwestern pieces will gel with elements already in your home, Lydecker said.

“The textiles are often layered, which creates a relaxed, inviting ambiance,” she said. “With white being popular for walls and overall room palettes, Southwestern decorative elements provide a playful juxtaposition that doesn’t feel forced.”


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