Baltic Amber Jewelry: more than meets the eye

It has often been said that beauty is in the eye of the beholder. In the case of Baltic amber, humans have admired and appreciated it since the early Stone Age, also known as the Paleolithic Period. That’s millions of years of beauty for millions of people to behold. Cultures and societies may have arisen and changed dramatically since cave man days, but the composition of Baltic amber and peoples’ fascination with it hasn’t.

This hand-carved translucent honey-colored Baltic amber piece contains various insects, including flies, spiders, ants, and a beetle. It is paired with an antique sterling silver chain to form a unique pendant. Image courtesy Jasper52

“The interest in the Baltic amber is growing everyday,” said Kazimieras Mizgiris, co-founder (with his wife Virginija) of a pair of museums focused on amber, including the Art Center of Baltic Amber, located in Vilinius, Lithuania. “Baltic amber has always been attractive to people. It was only 5,000 years ago that people used to work in the Baltic Sea for the production of amulets. Amber is warm, spreading good energy, and it glistens in the sun, Mizgiris said.

In the simplest terms, Baltic amber is resin from pine trees that has fossilized. It is not just any pine tree that produces this resin; it is specific to pines that grow in Northern Europe and regions surrounding the Baltic Sea. This particular resin contains more than 40 different compounds, most specifically, succinic acid. According to information on Mizgiris’ website, http://www.ambergallery.lt/, these naturally occurring acids possess attributes that may heal various forms of discomfort, such as wounds and cuts, tooth pain, headaches, and general inflammation within the body.

12 stones of honey-colored Baltic amber form this bracelet, which weighs 27 grams. Image courtesy Five Star Auctions & Appraisals.

Many believe that simply wearing objects that contain Baltic amber may benefit the wearer. Various sources report that when Baltic amber necklaces are worn, their stones or beads are warmed by body heat and release small amounts of succinic acid when warmed by body heat.

Amber and Aromatherapy: According to various sources including The Poland Import Export Chamber of Commerce site, Baltic amber played a role in limiting the death toll from the plague during the Middle Ages. When it was discovered that those who worked with Baltic amber on a regular basis did not fall victim to the disease, it was used to fumigate residences and businesses.

Vintage gold and Baltic amber ring. Image courtesy John Nicholson Auctioneers

With the longstanding connection between Baltic amber and wellness practices, it’s not surprising that evidence of amber jewelry has been discovered among ancient remnants in the advanced civilizations of ancient Greece and Rome, as well as the Baltic region. While the most common color of amber, as one might expect, is its namesake shade of yellow or white yellow, it’s not the only shade seen in amber. In fact, amber comes in seven colors and more than 250 shades.

Amber Fact: Annually for the past 25 years, thousands of people from around the world have gathered in Amberif Gdańsk, Poland, to discuss and display their shared interest in Baltic amber at a trade shown known as AMBERIF. The acronym stands for Amber International Fair.

Art Deco Baltic amber jewelry box made of wood and featuring tiles of natural butterscotch-color Baltic amber on top and honey-colored amber slabs along the sides. Its metal plaque indicates a manufacturer located in Königsberg, Prussia made it. Image courtesy Jasper52.

The opportunity to view an extensive selection of Baltic amber is not limited to those in attendance at AMBERIF. In Lithuania, a hub of Baltic amber history and processing, there are multiple museums devoted to the fossilized tree resin. The Amber Gallery-Museum is located in Nida, Lithuania, while the Amber Museum-Gallery is located within the Art Center of Baltic Amber, in Vilinius, Lithuania. The Mizgiris’ opened the museum in Nida in 1991, while the museum in Vilinius opened its doors in 1998. The Art Center of Baltic Amber opened seven years later. Every year, according to Mizgiris, each of the locations welcomes more than 50,000 visitors. In addition to presenting a variety of displays of Baltic amber, the museums and the center present educational activities and demonstrations of amber processing.

This set of three Baltic amber bead bracelets, yellow/white in color, weights 28.3 grams. Image courtesy Jasper52

Interest in Baltic amber, including natural specimens and pieces incorporated into jewelry or decorative art, is drawing attention worldwide. Whether the interest is scientific in nature, an aspect of collecting, or appreciation for and interest in jewelry and jewelry making, Baltic amber continues to tell its story, while also providing opportunities for more people to incorporate this unique form of nature’s artistry into their lives.

Imari: Japan’s original porcelain masterpiece

NEW YORK – Imari ware is a broad term for the first porcelain ever produced in Japan. Its development was made possible by the discovery of exceptionally fine kaolin in 1616, early in the Edo period. It is also known as Arita ware, named for the town where it was made, which was a traditional ceramics center on the island of Kyushu.

Initially, Imari utilitarian tea bowls, rice bowls and dinner plates featured simple, hand-painted, Korean-style cobalt blue designs against white grounds. This thickly potted, thinly glazed, grainy quality dinnerware was expensive and generally used by Japan’s privileged classes.

Massive Japanese Imari porcelain punch bowl, 18th/19th century, 18¼in diameter. Image courtesy of I.M. Chait Gallery and LiveAuctioneers

Innovative, multicolor Imari ware, created by painting bright enamel over their glazes, appeared in the 1630s. Vivid overglaze fauna, floral and figural motifs, executed in green, yellow, red, black and underglaze blue, adorned useful items like bottle vases, saki flasks, mugs, bowls and pots. Thereafter, Imari porcelain featured elaborate, colorful designs.

When political turmoil halted the production and export of Chinese porcelain in the 1650s, international demand for Far Eastern decorative items prompted the Dutch East India Company to ship Japanese Imari ware instead.

Though production of simply styled blue and white Imari cups, plates and bowls continued as before, many of Japan’s export wares, through form, decoration and style, were tailored to appeal specifically to European tastes. In fact, Dutch artists often provided Imari potters with prototype figural designs. Examples include colorful Japanese courtesans, naturalistic hunting dogs and cheery scenes of drunken Dutchmen astride spirit kegs. Few of these prized “Old Imaris,” which were produced before 1750, reach today’s market. Those that do are generally costly.

Large pair of 18th-century Japanese Imari (Edo Period) porcelain figures, 17.5 and 17in high, respectively. Image courtesy of John Nicholson Auctioneers and LiveAuctioneers

By about 1680, simple Imari designs featuring crisp, red, blue and green images of dramatically styled birds and floral scenes against milky white grounds had morphed into designs that were not only brighter and asymmetrical, but also more complex. Their shapes – square, octagonal or hexagonal plates and bottles, and fluted bowls, dishes and vases with lobed edges – were often sophisticated, as well.

From around 1700, high-quality, delicate Imari ware from the Kakiemon kiln dominated both the domestic and export market. Their overglazed, enameled motifs, which include geometrics as well as favorites like cranes, courting birds, flowering plums, pines, peonies, bamboo, cherry blossoms and floral scrolling, are derived from the classical Japanese style of painting. Created in various shades of blue, iron red, yellow, black and eggplant purple enamel, some also incorporated gold in their designs.

During this period, overglazed pieces produced at the Nabeshima kiln, which feature sparsely arranged but sophisticated motifs derived from traditional Japanese fabrics, dominated the market as well. In fact, porcelains produced at both these kilns, which were created expressly for use by feudal lords, shogunal families and members of the ruling classes, are considered to be among the finest Japanese porcelain ever produced. They also dominated the European market through the mid-1750s, when matching sets often adorned shelves and mantelpieces of the aristocracy.

Rare 19th-century Imperial Japanese Imari porcelain vase, melon-shape design, 19in high. Image courtesy of Kaminski Auctions and LiveAuctioneers

These refined, unusually high-quality Kakiemon and Nabeshima Imari pieces are the rarest and most expensive of all at auction today. Yet many Western collectors tend to overlook their simple but elegant designs, which are characterized by soft colors, smooth surfaces and natural motifs. Japanese and Westerners with a strong sense for the Japanese aesthetic, however, are always in pursuit of these exceptional items. One of their highly desirable plates can easily reach into five figures.

Japanese exports declined considerably in the mid-18th century when China began flooding the European market with similar yet far less expensive pieces known as Chinese Imari. In addition, because the Imari style had become so popular, enterprising European kilns, such as Meissen, Royal Crown Derby, Chantilly and Worcester, also produced Imari-inspired designs. Over time, the term Imari came to mean any densely decorated, gilded porcelain that featured Oriental-style motifs in vivid shades of gold, green, red and underglaze blue.

Exceptional palace-size Japanese Imari porcelain charger, 26in in diameter, on ebonized stand. Image courtesy of J. Garrett Auctioneers and LiveAuctioneers

Exports of authentic Japanese Imari rose once more during the late 19th-century Meiji era, when Japonism, a fascination with all things Japanese, was influencing Europe’s art and design landscape.

“Though many matching or oversized, richly appointed pieces of this era, which were produced solely for decoration, are of lesser quality than previous creations, they are currently in high demand when well executed,” said Matthew Baer, a dealer at www.ivorytowerantiques.com. “A really nice Meiji Period Imari vase in the 12-to-16-inch size range can retail anywhere from $1,000 to $5,000 in today’s market,” he added.

“Currently, collectors consider Imari ware produced by the Koransha/Fukagawa kiln during the late 19th and early 20th centuries the most desirable by far,” Baer continued. Most of their productions tend to exhibit bold, dense, precise, well-executed artwork that features stylized motifs such as koi, irises, chrysanthemums or bamboo.

These may seem most familiar to collectors because they are often displayed in homes and featured in decorating magazines. Yet their prices vary immensely. A well-decorated 19th-century Koransha plate of good to excellent quality, for example, will generally run between $150 and $600. In recent years, however, medium and lesser quality pieces have seen a decline in value.

Nineteenth-century Japanese Imari (Meiji Period) porcelain floor vase, 37in high. Image courtesy of Soulis Auctions and LiveAuctioneers

Moreover, though a wide range of high-quality, traditional Imari ware is available in a variety of styles, most enthusiasts are seeking pieces with fine and/or unusual designs and forms. So, unless something is of exceptional quality, it is often passed over.

“A beginning collector on a limited budget might consider seeking 19th-century, traditional three-tone platters, vases, serving bowls or charger plates,” Baer said. Many of these are currently found for under $1,000 each. Alternatively, they might prefer seeking more interesting or unusual items, like a small 19th-century incense burner, covered rice bowl, figurine or tea caddy. These are also found at reasonable prices.

One of the joys in collecting Imari is that there really is something available in every price range. Examples of this ancient art form are currently within reach of just about everyone.

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By MELODY AMSEL-ARIELI.

Our thanks to Antique Trader for sharing this article. Click to visit Antique Trader online.

Eccentric Potter George Ohr

Even in the progressive heyday of the American art pottery movement at the turn of the 20th century, the works of Mississippi potter George E. Ohr (1857-1918) were considered avant-garde.

His sculptural handmade pottery – he claimed no two were alike – resembled nothing turned out by his contemporaries. His bohemian behavior and unusual appearance, recorded in a series of mischievous period photographs, earned him the title of “The Mad Potter of Biloxi.”

Petticoat Vase, c. 1899, glazed ceramic, 7¾ in. x 4¾ in. Collection of the Ohr-O’Keefe Museum of Art. Gift of David Whitney in honor of Frank and Berta Gehry.

Eugene Hecht, authority on the potter and a professor of physics, wrote, “Ohr was an incomparable technician, an uncanny colorist, an exquisitely sensual soul, a totally committed, egocentric, eccentric, vulnerable genius who created a body of artistic work that rivals any produced in this country.”

Like many other artists, Ohr’s work was not fully appreciated in his own time. Thousands of unsold pieces remained in storage on family property after his death. The entire collection was purchased by an East Coast dealer in 1972, and only then did the highly manipulated vases and vessels find enthusiastic appreciation and an avid market among art collectors.

Pitcher, c. 1898, glazed ceramic, 5½ in. x 5½ in. Collection of the Ohr-O’Keefe Museum of Art. Gift of the estate of Hollis C. Thompson Jr., in memory of Evelyn Desporte Thompson, Nickie O’Keefe, Tine Lancaster and Annette O’Keefe.

Ohr learned to make pottery as an apprentice to Joseph Meyer and then traveled around the East and Midwest to view the works of other craftsmen. He set up his own pottery in his hometown of Biloxi in 1883 and took a first batch of work to a World’s Fair in nearby New Orleans the following year.

A turning point in his career was a major fire in the town that destroyed his pottery and 10 years’ worth of work in 1894. Ohr quickly rebuilt and the ceramics so admired by collectors today were made between 1895 and around 1907. As the Biloxi Art Pottery, he showed his wares in the Mississippi State Exhibition at the Louisiana Purchase International Exposition of 1904 (St. Louis World’s Fair). The judges awarded him a Silver Medal, but the designs remained too extreme for consumers and nothing in the display was sold.

Vase with in-body twist, c. 1900, glazed ceramic, 6 in. x 3¾ in. Collection of the Ohr-O’Keefe Museum of Art.

A comparison of George Ohr’s work with contemporary ceramics made by well-known art potteries such as Rookwood or Grueby reveals the stylistic risks taken by the Biloxi potter. Although in hopes of a sale, he made traditional forms such a vases, pitchers and teapots, his creative mind transformed these familiar shapes. Vases have eccentric looped handles and glazes in shocking reds and greens. Pitchers are crumpled and deformed.

After exploring the infinite possibilities of colored glazes, he later made unglazed works – sometimes in mottled clay – where all the artistry was in the shape. Each work captures a moment of inspiration.

Red and green vase with handles, c. 1898, glazed ceramic, 7¾ in. x 5¼ in. Collection of the Ohr-O’Keefe Museum of Art. Gift of Susan and Roland Samson.

Auction house owner David Rago has written extensively about Ohr’s work, emphasizing “his forms, thrown paper thin and manipulated with twists, crinkles, dimples and folds. Few people could have crafted pots so thin, and no one else thought to alter them in such bizarre ways.”

Double-handled vase, c. 1898, glazed ceramic, 7 3/4in x 5 1/4in. Collection of the Ohr-O’Keefe Museum of Art. Gift of the estate of Hollis C. Thompson Jr., in memory of Evelyn Desporte Thompson, Nickie O’Keefe, Tine Lancaster and Annette O’Keefe.

Rago says of the market, “The most expensive of Ohr’s pots, and the most desirable to collectors, are those that combine bright, imaginative colors with intense manipulation of form.” The best of George Ohr’s ceramics command prices in the five- to six-figure range.

For more biographical information and images of the potter’s work, the classic reference remains The Mad Potter of Biloxi: The Art & Life of George E. Ohr by Garth Clark, Robert A. Ellison Jr. and Eugene Hecht (Abbeville).

Mongolian Art – Origins Etched in Stone

In Mongolia, located in East Central Asia and bordered by Russia to the north and China to the south, rock formations yield evidence of artistic expression and communication in the form of petroglyphs dating back to ancient times.

Such early examples of stone drawings and carvings discovered in the mountains of western Mongolia are reflections of what once were everyday experiences of indigenous people. These examples of artistic carvings, according to archeological researchers, date back to the Upper Paleolithic period (40,000 to 1,200 B.C.). Some of the most common motifs include hunting scenes with bears and deer; and Mongolian people depicted as hunters and gatherers, or during celebrations and acts of meditation.

Late 19th-century wool-on-cotton mat, made in Mongolia, 4 ft. x 2 ft. Image courtesy Jasper52

In addition to drawings and carvings on stone and caves, Mongolian artists have been known over the centuries for their creation of silver immortality vases, paintings on burlap and burlwood; woven rugs, and figures made of clay, copper, and bronze.

As time passed, Mongolian art continued to be shaped by the cultural influences of nomadic tribes and new settlers. The topography of the country influenced the scenery appearing in Mongolian art, such as mountains, deserts, forests, and upland mesas of the landlocked region. As the nomadic tribes traversed the country, aspects of their art went with them in the form of items called tsa-tsa and gau, which are portable shrines made of wood, clay, copper, and at times, silver. Meanwhile, the people from beyond Mongolia’s borders who established homesteads and worked and hunted on the same piece of land for a lifetime also were known to use silver, bronze, and gold in creating their artworks.

Chinese/Mongolian silver elephants inlaid with lapis lazuli and turquoise beads, circa late 19th- to early 20th century. Image courtesy Dallas Auction Gallery

Mongolian art is strongly influenced by religion and other beliefs, such as Buddhism, Shamanism, Islam, and Nestorianism. Be it statutes, paintings, jewelry, or textiles, over the centuries artists of this region incorporated deities and divinities into their creations. Although many Mongolian beliefs are shared by peoples in bordering nations, there are elements reflected in Asian artworks that are distinctly indicative of the location and tribe or people responsible for their creation, explains Terese Tse Bartholomew, in an article on asianart.com.

“The ornamentation, the shape of the lotus petals on the pedestal, and the way in which the base plate is inserted and held in place often give clues as to the country of origin,” writes Bartholomew. “Even within Mongolia, there were variations between the works produced in Inner Mongolia and Outer Mongolia. The sculptures of Zanabazar illustrate these differences.”

17th-century gilt bronze of Mongolian Bhais Aijyaguru, with inscription. Image courtesy of Golden State Auction Gallery Inc.

The Zanabazar of whom Bartholomew speaks is the revered Mongolian sculptor and artist Bogdo Gegen Zanabazar, who lived and created between the mid-17th and early 18th centuries. He became the first Jebtsundamba Khutuktu, or the spiritual leader of Tibetan Buddhism in Mongolia, and the top-ranked lama in Mongolia. His work and leadership led to the development of the Zanabazar School of Sculpture of Outer Mongolia.

Within Mongolian artistry, motifs have specific meaning and symbolism. According to Bartholomew’s writings, there are five types of Mongolian artistic motifs:

  • Geometric: Eternity pattern, “happiness” knot, khan’s bracelet, ribbon
  • Zoomorphic: Friendly animals (elephant, monkey, hare, and dove), strong animals (lion, tiger, dragon, and a mythical bird Garuda), Asian zodiac animals (rat, ox, tiger, hare, dragon, snake, horse, ram, monkey, rooster, dog, and boar), a circle comprised of two fish – symbolizing yin and yang; and horn-like and noselike figures
  • Botanical: Lotus, peony, and peaches, which represent purity, prosperity, and longevity, respectively
  • Shapes of natural elements: Water, fire, and air
  • Symbols: Traditional symbolism of Tibetan and Chinese cultures including: the Eight Auspicious Symbols, Seven Jewels of the Monarch, and the Three Jewels

Antique miniature Mongolian thangka art, 2⅜ in. x 2½ in. Image courtesy Jasper52.

Mongolia’s most noteworthy artists of the 20th century are O. Tsevegjav, U. Yadamsuren, N. Tsultem and G. Odon, L. Gavaa, S. Choimbol, A. Senghetsokhio, B. Avarzed, Ts. Mijuur, Ya. Urjnee, S. Dondog, and D. Munkhuu.

Following a departure from communism and peaceful revolution in 1990, Mongolia adopted a democratic form of government. It is largely dependent on trade with neighboring China and Russia, its main industries being agriculture and mining. Mongolia also promotes tourism and capitalizes on the unique beauty of Mongolian art, both traditional and contemporary. With nearly three million people now living and working in Mongolia, and hundreds of thousands more visiting the country each year, art plays an increasingly important role in the present and future success of this intriguing Asian nation.

Storytelling Through Quilts

Quilting and storytelling go hand in hand, or perhaps it’s more like stitch by stitch. Whatever the illustration, the fact remains that for as long as people have been quilting, they’ve been infusing bits of themselves and their experiences into their creations.

Sometimes the infusion of first-person stories or family lore is strikingly apparent from the image or scene serving as the central focus of the quilt. In other examples the message may be more subtle but just as integral to the quilt’s overall tale. It could be the pattern, the material or type of stitch used that conveys a special meaning.

Lone Star quilt, 1900, Berks County, Pennsylvania, featured in an exhibition at the Guggenheim Museum, sold for $3,318 at auction. Photo courtesy Pook & Pook Inc.

The beauty of storytelling through quilting is that every piece and stitch matter, and every quilt is indeed a sum of its parts, not unlike life itself. Each person’s life is a collection of stories based on the experiences and emotions shaping the journey. It’s those stories that also speak to collectors of these textiles that “talk.”

Marla Jackson, founder of the African American Quilt Museum and Textile Academy in Lawrence, Kansas, refers to quilts as examples of visual literacy.

“I believe that when our ancestors or we make quilts, they speak for us. It’s a language and a form of communication,” said Jackson, who began quilting in the late 1990s and opened the museum in 2012.

“Ms. Marla” as she’s known, uses quilts and their stories to educate and inspire youth living in northeast Kansas. Through her “Beyond the Book” program, she strives to impart details and understanding of the African American heritage from the time of slavery through the Civil War era, the Civil Rights movement and to the present. The group has turned to quilts to survey the history of the African American community in their region of the Sunflower State.

Baltimore album quilt, mid-19th century, 25 applique and trapunto squares depicting images including the U.S. Capitol, an American sailing ship, and monument with flags. Auction price: $28,440. Photo courtesy Pook & Pook Inc.

Among the historical accounts Jackson and the children have explored by studying and making quilts is that of Maria Rodgers Martin. Martin was among the slaves abducted by Union troops during a raid of the Tennessee home where she worked. She was taken to Lawrence, Kansas, where she worked as a servant for Senator James Lane. It’s believed she created a variety of quilts during the Civil War years while living in Lawrence. One of the most notable is a Feathered Star pattern quilt, which was assessed by the authors of the book Stories in Stitches as being “a stunning example of fine workmanship and quality. Today the Feathered Star is considered an advanced pattern [and the example believed to have been done by Martin] done with flawless execution.”

As part of their research of Martin, Jackson and the students worked together in 2014 to create a quilt that told her story through textile. Jackson took the same approach to create narrative quilts that profiled people who endured discrimination in the 1930s. The quilts in this series feature iconic singers and musicians including Billie Holiday, Nina Simone, Louis Armstrong and Ma Rainey, among others.

Modern narrative profile quilt of musician Ma Rainey, created by celebrated quilter and historian Marla Jackson, founder of the African American Quilt Museum and Textile Academy and the National African American Quilt Conference. Photo courtesy of Marla Jackson

For Jackson, whose quilt art has appeared in more than 40 venues across the country – including the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture, and the American Folk Art Museum – all of this is about fulfilling her calling.

“It feels like I’m doing what I was born to do,” she said. “I’m sharing the stories told by centuries of people by helping others ‘hear’ the quilts…”

Echoing Jackson’s sentiments about quilts of the past and present is Laura Hendrickson, registrar at the National Quilt Museum in Paducah, Kentucky, where contemporary quilts are showcased, quilting is taught, and its tradition, celebrated.

Contemporary quilt titled “… and Our Flag Was Still There,” from the National Quilt Museum collection. Melinda Bula designed and quilted it after her son joined the Marine Corps. Photo courtesy of the National Quilt Museum

“I think it would be important to consider that quilts and other forms of textile art, which historically have fallen under the category of women’s work, provided a type of voice for people who might not have otherwise had ways to express themselves,” Hendrickson said. “Although we have the choice to speak out today in many ways, quilts, just like any other art form, can be a powerful form of personal expression. I’m not a quilt historian, but my impression would be that while many older quilts ‘spoke’ through symbolism and visual metaphor, today’s quilts are more blunt, even using text in the piecing and appliqué.”

An example of how storytelling and collecting intersect is Stuart Ansell’s 1934 Tiger Pennant Baseball quilt. It sold for $16,000 at a January 2018 Pook & Pook auction.

According to archival information at quiltindex.org, the story of Ansell’s quilt appeared in The Detroit News in 1935. As the story goes, Ansell showed up with a quilt he designed and quilted. The Detroit police officer was a life-long quilter and diehard baseball fan. He had reached out to each player on the 1934 Detroit Tigers team, as well as the groundskeeper and the team’s trainer, to obtain their signatures for inclusion on the quilt. Each embroidered name appears on tan baseballs pictured throughout the body of the quilt. In addition, he embroidered the names of each team in the American League as well as the Tigers’ record, onto the quilt. Also appearing on the quilt are four images of Bengal tiger heads, the team’s trademark Old English ‘D’ and a miniature baseball diamond at the center.

One-of-a-kind 1934 Tigers Pennant Baseball quilt, auctioned for $16,000 in January 2018. Photo courtesy Pook & Pook Inc.

This quilt reflects the story of one man’s appreciation for the game of baseball and his hometown team that took the American League pennant before falling to the St. Louis Cardinals during the 1934 World Series.

Although it’s been more than 80 years since Ansell created the storied Tigers quilt, the history and practice of quilts designed and made by men is more extensive than one might believe.

The appreciation for contemporary quilts like those displayed at the African American Quilt Museum and the National Quilt Museum is why modern quilts have little difficulty being categorized as future collectibles.

“For me personally, I am often struck by the anonymity of so many of the antique or vintage quilts I see. I want to know who made them, and why,” Laura Hendrickson said. “On the other side of that, my work here at the museum ensures that some of the world’s quilts will be cared for and remembered long into the future.”

On The Civil War Memorabilia Trail

By Dr. Anthony J. Cavo

I parked in front of the late Victorian A-frame home in response to a phone call I received from the friend of a friend who said she was interested in disposing of her uncle’s possessions, which included some Civil War items. While every house call (as we’ve come to call them) brings its own unique sense of anticipation, those with items described as “Civil War” instill a strange mixture of anticipation, excitement, worry, doubt and even anxiety. From the time you make the appointment to the appointment itself, your mind works overtime. “What could there be? Is it really Civil War related? Will we be able to come to an agreement or will I walk out empty handed?” After a lifetime in the business, few things cause me to shiver – old photographs, paintings, and Civil War-related items are some of those things.

These two hat insignia were included in Josiah Hammond’s box of medals. There was no accompanying information to indicate how the insignia were obtained or why Josiah had them. Photo courtesy of Dr. Anthony J. Cavo

Frequently the items encountered during these calls are antiques and collectibles that are readily available in the marketplace. There are other times, however, when you are surprised in ways you hadn’t expected. I have been called to homes to buy “Civil War” items only to find World War I real-photo postcards, helmets, canteens and other equipment – not that these are bad finds, but they are not Civil War.

Conversely, I have walked into a home to look at grandma’s rocking chair and walked out with a Colt Special Model 1861 rifle-musket dated 1862 and a World War II Nazi dagger from a soldier who served with Patton, both items with complete provenance. That is precisely why, with every house call, the excitement reaches a crescendo as you approach the home and ring the bell, thinking, ‘What will I find behind this door?’

The woman invited me to sit at her dining room table onto which she placed a few boxes. Was I a contestant on a game show? No, but all of the boxes could be mine if “The Price Was Right.” She removed photographs from the first box, and my heart sank. I immediately recognized as being of World War II era, not Civil War. They were photographs of her uncle, Richard Hammond.

Following the glossy paper photographs were Hammond’s WWII medals, and finally about 12 long, clear cylinders loaded with Indian head pennies. The woman explained that the pennies were tips her uncle received on his paper route during the early 20th century, which he never spent. There was a WWII photo album, and documents as well. Not a bad find but not Civil War.

Josiah Hammond’s Grand Army of the Republic Medal with insignia for the infantry, cavalry and navy, with images of 24 corps badges on verso. The partial letterhead from the District of Boton dates to 1859 and confirms that Josiah P. Hammond is an American seaman. Photo courtesy of Dr. Anthony J. Cavo

The next thing she pulled from the box was a 19th-century tobacco tin whose rattle informed me there was something inside other than tobacco. I pried it open to find a few Civil War-related medals, and immediately my adrenaline was on the rise. There was hope after all.

Things only got better from there. Letters appeared from a sailor named M. C. Philbrick from the U.S.S. Monongahela. His private papers and sketch of the U.S.S. Albatross off Mobile, Alabama, September 25, 1863, are in a collection at the U. S. Naval Historical Center.

The Massachusetts Minuteman Medal awarded to troops who answered Lincoln’s “first call” for volunteers. The rim of each medal is personally inscribed with the service member’s name, rank, and unit. This medal is inscribed, “Josiah P. Hammond, PRVT. H. 3rd. REG.”

Then out came a couple of hat insignia and uniform buttons along with a “Massachusetts Minute Men 1861” medal, inscribed on the edge, Josiah P. Hammond, PRVT. H. 3rd. Reg., and other Civil War-related medals. Josiah’s 10-page, official military record came next, accompanied by a Seaman’s Passport from the “Collector of Boston, Arthur W. Austin” verifying Josiah P. Hammond’s status as a sailor, dated March 31, 1858; as well as a sailor’s certificate from 1859 and a four-page letter from Josiah’s uncle, J. Parker, from the Armory Square Hospital in Washington, D.C., dated June 24, 1864. There was an ambrotype of Josiah P. Hammond and another of his father, Doctor Josiah S. Hammond, an 1834 graduate of Williams College.

The Massachusetts Minuteman Medal was awarded to troops who answered Lincoln’s “first call” for volunteers. The initial enlistment was for a period of three months in the belief that the war would be over before three months passed. The rim of each medal is personally inscribed with the service member’s name, rank, and unit.

It is estimated that about 3,800 such medals were struck by the U.S. Mint in 1902, by which time many of the recipients had either died or otherwise were unable to collect their medals. The medal alone brings $400 to $500, but it might be worth twice that amount if it is part of a collection of items belonging to the same recipient.

Ambrotype of Josiah P. Hammond that had been stored in a 19th-century tobacco tin. Photo courtesy of Dr. Anthony J. Cavo

Josiah P. Hammond, born November 24, 1839, answered Lincoln’s call for volunteers on April 16, 1861 – four days after the outbreak of the Civil War. He enlisted in Plympton, Massachusetts, for a period of three months as one of the “Minutemen of ’61.” Josiah was in the Massachusetts 3rd Regiment, Company H, Infantry. He re-enlisted in October 1861 in Boston for a period of three years and served as a seaman aboard the USS North Carolina, USS Bienville, USS Monongahela, and USS Pensacola. He was later promoted to Quartermaster for “meritorious service” and also took part in many historic battles from the Carolinas to Florida, into the Gulf and finally at Port Hudson, Louisiana, where he took part in the longest siege in American history.

The Hammond family has an interesting history. Josiah Hammond’s great, great grandfather, William Hammond, married Elizabeth Penn, the sister of William Penn, the founder of Philadelphia. William died in London, and Elizabeth Penn Hammond immigrated to America with her four children in 1634.

Included with the papers was a two-page letter on parchment, which is not related to the Civil War but very interesting nonetheless. It is a 1743 note written by a member of the Hammond family to “The North Precinct in the Town of Plymouth (Mass.) General Court” concerning the building of a meetinghouse. Also include in the historical trove were other Civil War-related documents, pension papers, 18th- and 19th-century land deeds, and last wills and testaments.

The most interesting item, however, was an 1863 blueprint of the Confederate fort at Port Hudson, Louisiana, on the Mississippi River. The blueprint originated with Charles H. Taylor, who was injured at the age of 16 during the battle of Port Hudson. As a photograph collector, I am familiar with cyanotypes (a type of blue-tinted photograph) and until now had never made the connection between the cyanotype process and blueprints. An Englishman named John Herschel, the son of astronomer William Herschel, invented the cyanotype and thus the blueprint process in 1842 in an attempt to copy his notes. Paper coated in iron salts was used to make a contact print (direct print by placing the original or a negative onto sensitized paper and exposing it to light). This resulted in a white image on a blue background.

Port Hudson was the Confederate stronghold on the Mississippi River and a major obstacle to Union forces. The fort was vital in the flow of supplies from Texas and Europe to the Confederate states. If Union forces could capture Port Hudson, they would be in control of navigation on the Mississippi River from the Gulf of Mexico throughout the Deep South. The Confederates repelled a number of Union assaults by Farragut’s forces during 1862 and 1863 until the 48-day siege from May 22 to July 8, 1863. At its peak, Port Hudson was 16,000 strong; however, during the 48-day siege it housed only around 3,500 men. This battle was the longest siege in American history and the first place where African-Americans fought under African-American leadership.

Portions of the Port Hudson blueprint showing the positions of the 1st Alabama, General Gardner’s Headquarters, a depot, Nims Battery, Lady Davis, 15th Arkansas Battery, rifle pits, the spot where Lieutenant Glover was killed, and the spot where General Paine was wounded. Photo courtesy of Dr. Anthony J. Cavo

The blueprint of Port Hudson is unique in that it identifies the position of almost everything in the fort – information that has otherwise been lost to time. Places and positions identified by the blueprint are: rifle pits, depots, mortars, 18-gun battery, Nim’s Batteries (Capt. Ormand F. Nims 2nd Massachusetts), Confederate General Gardner’s Headquarters, the positions of “Native Infantry,” the Indiana battery, Arkansas divisions 9th, 11th, 12th, 15th, 16th, 18th, 19th, and 23rd, as well as the 53rd Massachusetts and 1st and 43rd Alabama. Also shown is Clinton Road, Baton Rouge Road, roads leading to landings, the road to Confederate General Bank’s headquarters, Lamely Creek, Chimpson Creek, and a variety of SAP. SAPs are zig-zag trenches.

Along the Mississippi River, it indicates a “Mortar Fleet,” the place where the Gunboat Mississippi was destroyed and the positions of the USS Hartford and USS Alabama. There are also X’s indicating spots where Union Lt. Glover of the 53rd Mass. Infantry was killed and Union General Paine wounded.

One of the more interesting things shown on the map is a location identified as Lady Davis. Lady Davis was a rather large gun – a 10-inch columbiad – that fired 128-pound shells for a distance of two miles. This gun was a curse to Union camps and so named by the Confederates for the “First Lady of the Confederacy” Varina Anne Banks Howell Davis, the second wife of Confederate President Jefferson Davis.

The collection, never seen by more than a few people, will be on loan for five years to the museum at the Port Hudson State Historic site.

It’s pleasurable to collect and own such treasures, but sharing a collection with the public is not only beneficial to others but may serve to inspire young people who are interested in history, preservation and collecting. It is especially exciting to know that this blueprint could help reconstruct a map or model of Port Hudson. It is also gratifying to know that letters to and from sailors, as well as a photograph of a sailor who took part in the siege of Port Hudson, will be displayed at the Port Hudson State Historic Site. It is kind of like sending them home.

Our thanks to Antique Trader for sharing Dr. Anthony J. Cavo’s article with us. Visit Antique Trader online at www.antiquetrader.com.

A History of U.S. Paper Money

Liza Minnelli famously sang about the role of money in the award-winning Broadway play Cabaret, saying “Money makes the world go round.” Oscar Wilde cleverly wrote about it, as well, stating “When I was young, I used to think that money was the most important thing in life. Now that I am old, I know it is.”

Whether or not you wholeheartedly agree with these theories about money, at some level there is an element of truth to them. While the American monetary system was by no means the first, it’s an interesting and compact case study because the United States is such a relatively young nation.

The first forms of paper currency used by British colonials in the New World were issued by the province of Massachusetts, beginning in 1690, explained Peter Treglia, Director of Currency at Stack’s Bowers. At the time, the colonies issued their own paper money as a matter of convenience when paying for goods and services..

“(It was) essentially a form of fiat money, as it was not backed by any precious metals,” explained Treglia. That would change over time, with the decision to print a federal form of paper currency.

Fewer than 10 examples of the 1861 $20 Demand Note are recorded in the census, and most are in the Very Good to Fine range. This example’s grade is PCGS Very Fine 25. At the center of the specimen is a vignette of Liberty, with sword and shield in hand. It sold for $93,000 during Stack’s Bower’s March 2018 auction of the John R. Anderson Collection of United States Paper Money. The 64-lot auction realized more than $8 million. Image courtesy Stack’s Bowers

“The first form of paper currency, in 1861, was demand notes. They were designed to help finance the Civil War,” Treglia explained. “It did so by Congress authorizing demand notes; because the cost of the war exceeded the government’s limited income from tariffs and excises, and it was the only way to fund it.”

The forms of federally-issued paper currency quickly expanded beyond demand notes to include many different types including Silver Certificates, Gold Certificates, Legal Tender Notes, and Federal Reserve Notes. Both Silver Certificates and Gold Certificates were backed by gold, beginning in 1863.

“It was the most secure form of currency in the eyes of the government and the people of the United States,” added Treglia. “It allowed one to deposit physical gold and silver for paper currency. It was easier to carry as it was much lighter than say $50 worth of gold or silver.”

The last Gold Certificates were printed in 1928, and on June 5, 1933 President Roosevelt suspended the gold standard. The first Federal Reserve Note issue was the series of 1914, and it remains the sole form of paper currency in the U.S. today.

Example of the first federally-issued $2 note. This 1862 $2 Legal Tender Note appears in grade PCGS Gem New 65 PPQ and was part of the “greenback” currency issue that began in 1862. Alexander Hamilton appears at the center of the note, which sold for $20,400 during the March 2018 auction of the John R. Anderson Collection through Stack’s Bowers. Image courtesy of Stacks’ Bowers

“Because of the Great Depression, the government found it could do little to stimulate the economy, and in order to deter people from depleting the gold supply, President Roosevelt decided to remove the nation away from the gold standard,” said Treglia. “By doing this, it allowed for lower interest rates and for the government to pump money into the economy via fiat currency…This proved to be successful.”

As explained in detail on Wikipedia, “Federal Reserve Notes are authorized by Section 16 of the Federal Reserve Act of 1913 and are issued to the Federal Reserve Banks at the discretion of the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System. The notes are then put into circulation by the Federal Reserve Banks, at which point they become liabilities of the Federal Reserve Banks and obligations of the United States.”

Federal Reserve Notes are printed at the United States Bureau of Printing and Engraving, located in Washington, D.C. Tours of the BPE are offered to the public during specific months of the year. Admission is free, but anyone interested in taking the 40-minute tour is required to obtain tickets. If you are considering a tour of the BPE while visiting Washington, be sure to check the  HYPERLINK “https://www.moneyfactory.gov/washingtondctours.html” BEP site, as renovations to the area are slated for the latter part of 2018.

With such an involved history, selecting one particularly significant moment in the evolution of U.S. paper currency may seem like a tall order. However, Treglia offers his take without hesitation.

“Hands down, the National Banking Act,” he said. “Prior to the Civil War, state banks could issue their own currency backed by financial securities held by the bank. Because it was so lax, many of these private banks went bankrupt rather quickly, and it encouraged lots of fraudulent institutions to issue worthless bank notes.”

Treglia further explained, “In 1863, President Lincoln created the National Banking Act, which allowed National Bank Notes to be issued by private banks with the government’s oversight and backing. The act allowed banks to issue local currency with standard government-provided designs. This prompted great confidence in the currency and allowed tremendous growth in the economy, and security in business and commerce. That was arguably the most important time in United States paper-money history.”

One of only four known examples of the 1862 and 1863-dated $1,000 Legal Tender Note, with this being the finest graded (PCGS Choice About New 58) in private hands. At the center is a portrait of founding father and Superintendent of Finance Robert Morris. Notes of this denomination were typically used in bank-to-bank transactions and were not used by the public. It sold for $960,000 during a March 2018 auction through Stack’s Bowers. Image courtesy Stack’s Bowers.

Regarding who and what has appeared and continues to appear on U.S. currency, there’s been a lot of change within a framework of consistency.

“It was common early on to use powerful figures on currency, not just presidents,

Treglia said. “Female allegorical designs, important historical individual such as Lewis and Clark, and Ben Franklin have appeared on currency.”

Furthermore, the Eye of Providence was decided upon by a design committee and was first used in 1776.

Adding to the excitement of its rich history, the current market for collecting U.S. paper currency is robust.

“Today’s paper money-collecting market is very strong, especially in very rare material,” said Treglia. “(Stack’s Bowers) is currently selling one of the greatest pre-1923 U.S paper money collections of all time. It consists of only 240 notes and will sell over two years with a total estimated value of $30,000,000.”

How To Collect Comic Art Like a Pro

The reign of comics-infused and comics-generated forms of entertainment not only continues, it’s also growing. A visit to your local movie theater will confirm this fact. So far this year, the three top moneymakers at the boxoffice are: “Black Panther,” “Avengers: Infinity War,” and “Deadpool 2.” All are based on comic-book heroes.

Similar events are happening in the auction universe as well, as original comic art continues to create excitement with bidders around the world. One of the peripheral benefits is that fans are becoming more familiar with the artists and writers who’ve developed comic-book culture for more than seven decades. Of course, for those who’ve been enamored with comic books and comic art for a long time, there’s a bit of, “What took you so long,” and also, “We told you so.”

Thin artboard with pen-and-ink art by Jack “King” Kirby for the February 1970 issue of the Fantastic Four #95, which was published by Marvel Comics. Kirby and Joe Sinnott created the art for the issue and Stan Lee handled the writing. It measures 11⅜ in. x 17½ in. and it sold for $95,156 at auction in March 2013, after four decades of being off the market. Actual finished cover shown at right. Hake’s Americana & Collectibles image

To help gain a better understanding aspects of collecting original comic art we turned to Comic Art Specialist Sean Rutan with Hake’s Americana & Collectibles. In the discussion that follows, you’ll learn at least five things you should know about collecting comic art.

Tip 1: Become familiar with the work of various comic artists. Many of them produced vast volumes of work appearing in the evolution of comic books.

Who are a couple of artists from the Golden, Silver, and  Bronze eras that are most sought after by collectors today?

The big names in the early days of the collecting hobby were the comic-strip masters and/or the creators who bridged the gap from strips to comic format. (George) Herriman, (Hal) Foster, (Alex) Raymond, (Winsor) McKay, (Milton) Caniff, and (Walt) Kelly, among others, were the big names in early strip art. From there, the bridge moved into comics with the contributions of (Will) Eisner, (Mac) Raboy, (Jack) Cole, (Alex) Schomburg, (Dick) Sprang, and a slew of others. All of these names are giants in the medium, and their art (when you can find it) is valued accordingly. The unfortunate reality is that most of the Golden Age art seems to have been lost to history, with a large percentage of it destroyed by the publishing houses who valued the copy value but not the originals themselves.

In between the transition from the superhero-dominated Golden Age and the similarly-themed Silver Age, many of the great horror-comic artists (especially “Pre-Code”) made an impact that is still coveted by collectors to this day. So, too, did the crew over at Mad Magazine. The team at Mad included artists (Jack) Davis, (Reed) Crandall, and (Graham) Ingels, among others.

Mixed-media original Mad Magazine cover art for issue #121 (Sept. 1968) by Norman Mingo, featuring Mad’s Alfred E. Neuman as a spiritual guru perched above The Beatles, actress Mia Farrow and Maharishi Mahesh Yogi. Measures 25¾ in x 31¾ in. and sold at auction for $52,242 in March of 2017. Actual finished cover shown at right. Hake’s Americana & Collectibles image

Several artists who earned their stripes in the Golden Age continued their greatness into the Silver Age. Jack Kirby was the creative dynamo behind much of Marvel’s “House of Ideas” era, and his art from the ‘60s is definitely in the emerging “fine-art” level seen in today’s market. Carmine Infantino’s cover layout skills defined the look of DCs books for a decade as well, while Curt Swan was the artist who defined the face of Superman for a generation. Original artworks by both Steve Ditko and Wallace Wood are coveted for both their unique style and relative scarcity, especially in the superhero genre. The latter part of the era saw the emergence of John Romita Sr, John Buscema, Gene Colan, Neal Adams, and Jim Steranko. Their Silver Age art commands top dollar whenever it hits the market.

The Bronze Age market is arguably the current “hot era” in original art collecting, largely due to the fans of this era being at the perfect point in life where they’re still actively building their collections (versus the liquidation you see from older collectors) while also being right in their prime earning years. Big names from this era include Frank Miller, Bernie Wrightson, John Byrne, Jim Starlin, and many others who were in the forefront as the Bronze Age turned to the Copper Age and then into the Modern Era.

One of two examples of original comic cover art for Blazing Combat created by Frank Franzetta and featured in Hake’s Americana & Collectibles upcoming Auction #224. Hake’s Americana & Collectibles image

The reality is that there are so many great comic artists and creators from these past eras that it would require an entire book to give them the due they deserve. In my response alone I’ve missed two of the highest-priced recorded sales in the entire hobby with Frank Frazetta and Todd McFarlane, whose cover art has sold in the seven-digit and six-digit range respectively. There are too many greats to list and too many pieces of art that have sold for substantial dollar amounts.

Tip 2: Know why you collect and always be observant and willing to learn.

What are five essential tips you would give anyone buying original comic art?

1. Find a mentor who is already a successful collector and knows the game.

2. Know your “why.” Take some time to understand WHY you collect so you can identify the art that fits your real goals.

3. Observe and learn before leaping into the hobby, but also learn to recognize when to strike if a great deal presents itself.

4. Join the support structure that already exists, with things like ComicArtFans.com and the various Facebook groups and Internet forums.

5. Buy what you love.

Tip #3: Keep an eye on work by emerging artists as well. 

What are a couple of contemporary comic artists whose work appear to be poised for popularity in the collectible market?

This is the area of speculation that drives the modern wing of the hobby. I’m not personally great at this end of the spectrum, as I’m more of a “nostalgic” collector and similarly a bigger fan of history in general. That said, I really like the work of Chris Samnee, Jenny Frison, Rafael Albuquerque, Andrew Robinson, and many others.  I really enjoy Lee Bermejo’s work, too, though he already poised himself into popularity a few years ago

Framed pen-and-ink with inkwash recreation of the 1940 concept sketch of The Joker’s calling card by co-creator Jerry Robinson. It was initially designed with the classic playing-card image with Conrad Veidt’s depiction of the titular character in the 1928 silent film “The Man Who Laughs.” Drawing dates to 2006 and is inscribed “For Dan-” and contains Robinson’s signature. Measuring 15¾ x 18 x 2¼ in., it sold for $6,490 at auction in November of 2017. Hake’s Americana & Collectibles image.

Tip #4: Keep in mind that various factors drive value.

When looking at the difference in the value of cover and interior-page art, what factors impact that difference?

This is a very nuanced question with a bunch of layers, so it’ll be tough to give a great answer in a short format like this. Historically speaking, covers have generated the highest prices on the market. Value-wise, the covers are then followed by splash pages (often the title page but can also be full-page, single-panel drawings), and then the interior sequential art.

There are caveats to this, such as an instance where the title splash is weak or dull, or a story as a whole is so highly regarded and coveted that the supply-and-demand factor throws some of these “rules” out the window, etc. You can also expect to pay much more for an interior page by a legendary creator than you would for a lesser-known cover. And keep in mind that certain inkers or penciler/inker teams will always command a premium.

In other words, the factors involved are the type of art (cover, splash, interior, prelim, etc.), the importance of the story from a historical standpoint, the artist(s) involved, the availability of comparable art, and the quality or visual appeal of the art itself.

Framed and double-matted pencil, pen, ink and inkwash original art by Wayne Boring, features Silver Age image of Superman along with Boring’s ‘hands’ flanking the superhero. It includes handwritten instruction text “Friend Dan – Here is Your ‘Drawing Lesson….First Get a Piece of Paper!” Measures 7-¾ in. x 10-½ in. and sold for $6,089 at auction in March of 2018. Hake’s Americana & Collectibles image

    

Tip #5: The comic book auction market is creating a new level of interest and excitement. Which leads to opportunity.

How would you describe the auction market for comic books today?

In a word: aggressive. At literally every show or convention, I find myself having an “I can’t believe the prices. It can’t keep climbing. There has to be a top end!” conversation, and yet, the end hasn’t shown itself. I did get the feeling that the top end of the comic book market was possibly plateauing for a bit (Detective Comics #27 and Action Comics #1 sold for high-dollar amounts but were still below quite a few early estimates that I’d seen in collector groups, for example) but when we’re talking about funny books being sold for more than half-a-million dollars it starts to feel like splitting hairs. Many collectors have speculated that once a piece of comic art surpasses the million-dollar mark, we would see a whole new level of interest and an influx of new, serious buyers flood the market. I guess now we shall see!   

The aggressiveness of the current market is also one of the main reasons behind Hake’s approach to auctioning original comic art. We put a cap on the amount of art that we’ll list for each event so our consignors’ pieces stand out and don’t get buried in an avalanche of competing sellers. It is a somewhat slow and methodical approach, but our sellers appreciate it, as each and every piece gets maximum effort and marketing exposure. Beyond that, many of our bidders are aggressive collectors in OTHER genres and don’t normally follow comic art auctions, but they WILL bid on an interesting piece of comic art in our auctions if it somehow draws their interest. This cross-bidding is becoming more and more prevalent as comic art expands into higher levels of recognition. I’ve attached a few links to some pieces that I believe directly benefited from our unique approach.

Recapture Childhood Triumphs in Colorful Board Games

Caressing the dice in his right hand, the player surveyed the board at a recent game night gathering. After a couple seconds he hoped for the best and released white cubes, which tumbled onto the multicolored game surface and soon froze in place, a trio of dots topped one, a quintet on another.

Seconds later the player nodded, smiled and moved his top hat game piece to the corner square sporting the red arrow with the welcoming words: “Collect $200 salary as you pass GO.”

And for the likely the multi-billionth time since its mass-market introduction in 1935, someone enjoyed another moment in the classic board game Monopoly.

When it comes to board games of note, new or older versions of Monopoly, made for the U.S. and abroad, help keep the game in the upper tier of a pastime that enjoys decent interest, but once, for some, represented a much bigger slice of their social pie chart.

Parker Brothers ‘Monopoly,’ early version, 1936. Continental Hobby House and LiveAuctioneers image

The popularity of vintage board games, defined as those made before 1990 for this article, sometimes relates to their 21st-century counterparts, many of which have a solid following, too.

“The success of a modern title can certainly garner more interest in earlier games of the same genre,” said Anton Bogdanov, a senior collectibles specialist with Everything But the House (EBTH), an estate sales auction company. “Nearly every week we have board games for sale,” Bogdanov said. “And I see a growing interest in games from the 1960s to the 1980s.”

Pure nostalgia motivates some vintage game collectors. “Others may be driven by game design and historical context,” Bogdanov noted. “The market relies on a community of collectors. A growing presence of gaming forums and clubs on the Internet can surely be credited.” BoardGameGeek.com, for instance, reportedly has over 1 million users, although much of them focus on newer titles.

“There are quite a few people that collect vintage board games,” Eric Mortensen said. Mortensen, the co-creator of geekyhobbies.com, owns “a little over a thousand (games) myself,” a few hundred of the older variety. “Most people buying vintage board games are people trying to relive (childhood) memories.”

Board games go way back, as in thousands of years, when you include the likes of backgammon, checkers and chess, to name a trio with lasting power.

“We’ve had custom chess sets do really well,” EBTH’s Bogdanov said. “And a 19th-century board with Parcheesi on one side and checkers on the other sold for $1,400” in 2015.

Vintage double-sided folk art game board, late 19th century, showing the Parcheesi game, with a checkerboard on the reverse. It sold for $1,400 in August 2015. Photo courtesy Everything But the House

American-made board games gained initial traction in the 1840s with Mansion of Happiness, the first main title. Milton Bradley began making games in the 1860s, many geared toward Civil War soldiers, with Checkered Game of Life as his maiden venture. The 1880s brought the Parker Brothers to the table and with Milton Bradley ultimately represented the two companies “with the greatest impact on the American game industry,” according to Bruce Whitehill.

Whitehill has also enjoyed a lasting impact on the board game landscape. He owns an extensive collection of games – about 1,500 from before 1980; has written and spoken on the topic for decades; he even worked for Milton Bradley in the 1980s as a game inventor. Like a full box of Trivial Pursuit question and answer cards, Whitehill’s website, thebiggamehunter.com, represents a fun thicket of information.

Think box, inside and out

The overall look and design of a game, demand and rarity can all play key roles in a vintage board game’s value. Of course, so does condition. When considering the price for buying or selling a game, condition can often mean the difference between Easy Money and Sorry!  “Warping, tears, scrapes, scratches and holes in the box” topped Whitehill’s condition checklist of items to avoid, or at least minimize. Next, the game guru emphasized seeing how the game’s contents are holding up.

Mortensen agreed that box condition can be significant, but it is not his priority. “The most important thing for me is that the game has all the original pieces. If a game is missing pieces, it will drastically reduce its value.”

‘The Elvis Presley Game’ from 1957 is at the top of many post-1950 want lists and commands $2,000 to $3,000 in strong condition. Courtesy of Desi Scarpone

Bogdanov said average collectors need to keep any tape and/or price stickers on a box, since that removing them, especially poorly, “will permanently alter the graphics” and devalue the game. “I would encourage anyone with a rare board game to consult a trained paper conservationist before attempting to remove any of that (tape/stickers … ) themselves.” Then again, some collectors like the look of the original price sticker on the box.

The first edition mass-marketed copy of Monopoly (1935) was affordably priced. The 1937 Sears Christmas catalog shows “the game of the century” selling for $1.69 and the deluxe version for $2.89, therefore the original 1935 Monopoly game was comparably priced.

Bogdanov said surviving 1935 examples in decent shape sell for $200 to $300.

“But if it’s in really nice condition and all the pieces are there, maybe two or three times that.” Sometimes more. Those numbers might even make Milburn Pennybags proud. Milburn who? The mustachioed Monopoly mascot.

This rare game featuring The Man of Steel dates back to 1940. ‘The Adventures of Superman Game’ was produced by Milton Bradley.

Whitehill said a game’s theme can also play a big part in its demand strength.

Television, music, movies, modes of transportation, those “motifs” are just some of the most popular.

A few communications-related games that are a big hit with collectors include: Superman Speed (1940), Captain Video (1952), The Beatles’ “Flip Your Wig” (1964), James Bond, Secret Agent 007 (1964), The Twilight Zone (1964), The Green Hornet Quick Switch (1966), and Lost in Space 3D (1966).

Keep your eye on the ball

Bogdanov said older tin lithograph games have strong potential moving forward, too. “And, anything sports related from the mid-20th century is also good to keep an eye on.”

Two games that fit that last description are baseball based. The first is the 1957 Swift Meats Major League Baseball Game. In this case the players came in “pieces,” (arms, legs, the torso, the head) that could be “punched out” of their original packaging and then put together to form a full athlete.

One site said the 18 cards alone from the 1957 game sold at $400, while the board brought $900.

Another homerun: Be a Manager, (1967, BAMCO), with a box featuring Hank Bauer, then-manager of the 1966 World Series Champion Baltimore Orioles. It is a scarce game; mid-level versions easily sell around $500, while top-end samples can go for about triple that.

For 1980s games, the newest in our vintage arena, both Mortensen and Bogdanov recommended Fireball Island (1986). “Basically, you are looking for games that developed a cult following and have only been printed once or twice and haven’t been in stock for years,” Mortensen said. Both Fireball Island and Dark Tower (1981) match that profile. “They regularly sell for hundreds of dollars each.”

Feel lucky?

Collecting vintage board games started to take a more broad-based hold in the mid-1980s, so finding “a deal” might have been easier in one sense, but locating particular titles presented more of a logistical chore. Even so, many collectors enjoy the hunt.

With the accessibility of the Internet since the 1990s, however, finding these games of yesteryear is often just a few computer clicks away. Whitehill said eBay and Amazon are two of the best places to track down vintage board games. “But the real finds are at the flea markets.” Some things rarely change.

‘The Beatles Flip Your Wig Game,’ originally manufactured by Milton Bradley in 1964. Photo courtesy Everything But the House

True, vintage board games currently enjoy a certain level of popularity, but like any collectible, some wonder if the interest will greatly run out in the coming years. Whitehill is optimistic that the spinner, so to speak, will once again point to a winner on a more regular basis, even though some prices have sagged as of late. “These things go in cycles.”

Bogdanov, meantime, thinks the upward trend will be brighter than certain glow-in-the-dark pieces from Green Ghost, a 1960s board game made-to-be-played with the lights out. “I think we will see slow and steady growth over the next decade or so.”

One thing is for sure: Whether one collects a thousand or more board games of yore, like Mortensen, Scarpone and Whitehill, and creates their own Mansion of Happiness, or puts together a mere handful of these parlor pastimes, more of a Duplex of delight, if you will, these vintage games guarantee enjoyment on several levels for many people, and you can bank on that much more than just a wishful roll of the dice.

Charming: Bracelets with Timeless Appeal

As much as a society and its tastes may change, some things remain the same and seem never to lose their appeal. Such is the case with charm bracelets.

These beautiful wrist adornments with talismans that represent facets of the wearers’ character are not a new phenomenon. The earliest examples date back to the Neolithic period, with Egyptian pharaohs being among the first to don wrist jewelry with precious stones and metals fashioned as unique shapes and figures.

In Ancient Egypt, charm bracelets were not merely a stylish choice; they were part of the people’s efforts to protect themselves, indicate their social status, and as an extra measure, to help position them in the proper societal status in the afterlife. That’s a lot to ask of a piece of jewelry, but the Egyptians were not the only ones who thought charm bracelets were up to the task.

14K yellow gold bracelet, stamped ‘Made in France,’ features seven charms including a cat, dog with ruby eyes, horse head with ruby eye, letter ‘E’ with single cut diamonds and rubies, pail with gemstones and hen bell with diamonds and ruby cabochons, 7-1/4 in., 96.2g. Sold for $24,000 during a May 2018 auction. Brunk Auctions and LiveAuctioneers image.

During the period of the Roman Empire, early Christians wore a hidden charm depicting a fish that would be revealed to fellow Christians as a sign of acknowledgment of the faith. Even during the Middle Ages, a time of great upheaval and societal change, knights and royalty would regularly wear charms and amulets for additional protection. They weren’t only seen as superstitious tokens to ward off evil; the charms and amulets also served an important purpose of identifying one’s family origin, profession and even political affiliation.

Not surprisingly, during the reign of Queen Victoria of England, charm bracelets transitioned from practical, utilitarian objects to a fashionable accessory. Just before the start of the 20th century, luxury goods icon Tiffany and Co., unveiled its first charm bracelet. The link bracelet featured a single heart suspended from the chain. Despite the challenges of the Great Depression, jewelers began adding platinum and diamond elements to charm bracelets in the 1920s and 1930s.

Military gold charm bracelet with five different medals, 5½ in. long, 16.1 dwt. Sold for $600 during an April 2018 auction. David Killen Gallery and LiveAuctioneers image

The trend of charm bracelets continued as the world recovered from World War II. For the first time, a large segment of the U.S. population was introduced to trinkets, products and garments made by artisans in foreign lands, courtesy of returning soldiers. Charms were one example, and they became a tangible record of the wearers’ travels or dream destinations. It also sparked an increase in the number of jewelers opting to get into the business of charm creation.

Charm bracelets, like other articles of fashion, were also indicators of the changing interests and societal advancements. They were featured as prizes in coin-operated machines in the mid-20th century, owing to their popularity with the younger set.

Early 20th century platinum and 14K gold charm cuff bangle bracelet, surmounted with 30 gold and platinum whimsical charms set with old European, single and baguette cut diamonds, rubies, star sapphire and emeralds among others. 97.8g, 6½ in. diameter. Sold for $8,500 during an April 2015 auction. Dallas Auction Gallery and LiveAuctioneers image

Throughout the latter half of the 20th century, charm bracelets appeared and reappeared a bit like the ocean tide. As they say, everything old is new again, and maybe yet again. Current interest in charm bracelets appears to span all age ranges, cultures, interests and economic levels. The charm bracelet is also considered a crossover collectible. You don’t have to be a collector of jewelry to appreciate a bracelet featuring charms representing elements of astronomy, pop-culture characters, sports, music, flowers or animals.

The subjects depicted in the charms have never been as diverse as they are now. With national jewelers such as Pandora, Zales and Kay Jewelers; noted designers including Alex & Ani, Juicy Couture, Betsey Johnson and Michael Kors; and legends of luxury like Cartier and Tiffany and Co., producing them, there seem to be charms available for nearly every interest and occasion.

New charm bracelets, depending on material, jeweled accents and intricacy of charms, range in price from $30 to upward of $1,000. On the secondary auction market, the prices vary, but online prices realized show a range of $10 to $200,000. Also, as of this writing, at least 100 lots featuring charm bracelets are set to sell in auctions listed on LiveAuctioneers.

Solid 14K white and yellow gold handbag bracelet charm with diamond accents on the front of the charm, finished with a pierced heart and filigree details on back, 2.1g. Sold for $120 during an April 2018 auction. GWS Auctions Inc. and Live Auctioneers image

With present-day wearers of charm bracelets combining vintage charms rich in sentimental value or a classic look with contemporary designs and elements, today’s most appealing charm bracelets seem to include mementos of past generations. For some wearers, charm bracelets may represent the opportunity to pay homage and draw on the strength and character of ancestors. For others it may signify a sense of belonging to a particular group or mindset, or indicate their stops along life’s journey and the places they long to see. Whatever the reason may be, wearing a charm bracelet is always a stylish statement.

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When you think of celebrities who wear charm bracelets, your first thought probably isn’t of legendary American sharpshooter Annie Oakley. But one of the gifts Oakley received from her husband, Frank E. Butler, was a charm bracelet consisting of small gold pipes, with a spring-blade clasp and safety chain. Like most owners of charm bracelets, Oakley reported added to her bracelet while keeping with a singular theme – gold coins. Each charm on her bracelet was a British or American coin, including an 1873 half sovereign and an 1873 half eagle.

Annie Oakley’s gold coin charm bracelet sold for $200,000 (hammer price) in 2013. Heritage Auctions and LiveAuctioneers image

The first coin charm on Oakley’s bracelet was given to her in 1885 by the U.S. Cartridge Co. The rest were gifts from friends and family, including fellow competitive shooters, the secretary general of France, and W.F. “Buffalo Bill” Cody. The coin given to Oakley by Cody bears his engraved initials. While the bracelet wasn’t something she wore daily, there is photographic evidence of her wearing it on various occasions.

Not unlike her fellow wearers of charm bracelets, Annie Oakley held a special place in her heart and wardrobe for her bracelet. It was reported that in a show of support for the war effort she had nearly all of her silver and gold medals and trophies melted down to buy Liberty Bonds. However, the sentimental attachment Oakley had to her charm bracelet (which had a weight of about 1.35 troy ounces) made it something she chose to keep in her possession.

In 2013, during a Heritage Auctions’ sale, Annie Oakley’s gold coin charm bracelet sold for $200,000.