Cloisonné and its enameled cousins

It may only be glass dust baked into colorful decoration today, but cloisonné art defined royalty from its earliest period some 3,000 years ago. Today, that royal privilege is a common everyday auction favorite.

Around the third century B.C., the art of cloisonné featured gems and multicolored stones that were ground to perfectly to fit within thick, solid gold, wire soldered to a base metal and separated into compartments (cloisons) to complete a design, usually religious in nature. With the use of gems, only the wealthiest, mostly royal households, could commission these intricate and delicate works of expressive art.

This pair of late 19th century Meiji cloisonné vases shows the detail enamel work of land and waterscapes featuring colorful floral and geometric design throughout and a collector favorite in style and design that sold for $850 + the buyer’s premium in 2016. Image courtesy of Hill Auction Gallery and LiveAuctioneers

Slowly over time, the use of cut precious gems and stones to create cloisonné was eventually substituted with powdered or fragments of clear or opaque glass fired onto metal at high temperature becoming routine sometime around 14th century Europe. This method still shone like the earlier cut stones but made cloisonné art more accessible especially as decorative household items or worn as jewelry.

However, while cloisonné is enameling, not all enameling is cloisonné. While the use of powdered glass is constant, the manner that it is artistically applied differs.

Cloisonné

In the simplest way to describe it, the art of cloisonné is arranging thin metal walls along a pattern etched onto a metal base, usually gold. These individual cells, called cloisons, are then filled with powdered glass, either colored or clear, to the top of the thin metal walls and fired at high temperature to form a vitreous glaze known as hardened enamel. Once cooled, the surface is brushed with soft cloth creating a mirrored, glossy surface that brings out a striking colorful portrait or artistic pattern. By the 12th century, Western Europe had moved on from this technique in favor of a more detailed and creative style called champlevé.

Unlike cloisonné that uses thin wires to separate colors, patterns in champlevé are incised directly into a heavier metal such as copper and only the incision is filled with enamel and fired like this 19th century Russian silver box that sold for $600 (without buyer’s premium) in 2012. 
Image courtesy of Charles A. Whitaker Auction Co. and LiveAuctioneers

Champlevé

While cloisonné is achieved by inserting thin metal walls from which the design is created, the art of champlevé instead carves out the design directly onto a thicker metal surface, usually copper or other hard metals. The powdered glass is inserted into the carved metal up to the top of the metal surface and fired at high temperature to create a detailed pattern or decorative design. Even more artistic refinement was achieved through the process known as basse-taille.

Basse-taille

It would be difficult to distinguish champlevé from basse-taille, (meaning ‘low cut’) without a closer examination. Both rely on etching a complete pattern or design directly onto a hard metal surface with enamel filling in the carved pattern and fired at a high temperature. The difference between the two techniques, though, is that while champlevé has only one thickness of carving, basse-taille has at least one other carving that is below the thickness of the first. Using clear or translucent colored enamel interchangeably, the different layers produce a more three-dimensional look and feel to the final design, especially when used on a gold or silver base. The total effect of color, brightness and design was a skill that few could master and fell out of favor after the Renaissance.

In this Chinese example of plique-a-jour bowl the process starts out similar to cloisonné, but the metal base is removed to create a visually stunning stained glass effect that Tiffany was famous for. Image courtesy of Aspire Auctions and LiveAuctioneers

Plique-à-jour

Up to now, creating an enameled work of art required the process to be on a metal base. However, in 14th century France and Italy, the metal base was no longer found necessary. The process of plique-à-jour (meaning ‘light of day’) was more akin to stained glass in that metal strips form a pattern on a metal base, the glass powder is added to create the pattern, then the underlying metal base is removed. But instead of cut glass pieces to form a pattern like stained glass, the colored enamel allows light to shine through. The foremost artists of plique-à-jour enameling were Rene Lalique, Louis Comfort Tiffany and Peter Carl Faberge.

What Collectors Look For

There are other artistic forms of enameling such as niello (a black inlay on gold and silver), guilloché (repetitive patterns), gripoix (poured glass), taille d’épargne (black enamel tracing), en résille (enamel on rock crystal or glass) and damascening (inlay similar to the look of damask silk) each with a special artistic use of fired ground opaque, opalescent and transparent glass. Most have their origins in early history such as niello while others, like guilloché, can now be created mechanically.

While other examples of enamel are colorful and opalescent, niello is a dark inlay made from a mixture of sulphur, copper, silver and lead. When added to a base of gold and silver produces a dramatic contrast of light and dark similar to this 1915 Longines rose gold and silver pocket watch that sold for $250 + the buyer’s premium in 2015. Image courtesy of Hindman and LiveAuctioneers

Enameling, though, has been featured throughout the ancient world from Arabia to Europe usually as a regional artistic expression and mostly as a decorative display on cups, saucers, vases, religious objects, small boxes, personal jewelry, tableware and even decorative clocks. But there are differences to look for.

Chinese cloisonné, for example, has a smoother finish around the rims while Japanese cloisonné has more of a mottled feel like an orange peel. Tap the bottom. If it is not metallic (usually copper) then it isn’t authentic cloisonné and it is the Japanese cloisonné from the late 19th and early 20th centuries that are prized at auction for their sophistication and deep color.

The difference in style from cloisonné to champlevé and basse taille is another example. Cloisonné usually covers the entire metal surface while the others do not. Yet, champlevé and basse taille are somewhat similar until viewed closely to see the differences in the height of the cuts made into the metal itself; champlevé usually has only one level while basse taille has more.

Yet, with all the differences in style and technique of enameling whether vintage or historic, it is a matter of personal preference that will determine what collectors prize the most.

And while there is much to learn from each technique, once the differences are made clear, identifying each style becomes a most satisfying collecting experience filled with color, light and thousands of years of history.

Finally

Enameling in any form is an ancient artistic process originally intended as a visible display of wealth and sophistication for early royalty. Whether cloisonné, champlevé or any other variations of sleek, colorful and vintage enamelware will make any collector look and feel like royalty, too.

Tureens offer a feast of artistry

NEW YORK – Humans have eaten soup for thousands of years but have served them from tureens for only a few hundred. Dinnerware designers elevated the large covered serving bowl into the form dubbed the tureen in the early 18th century and quickly understood its potential as an artistic showpiece. Hosting a dinner party is known as entertaining, after all, and serving soup from a vessel festooned with maidens, cherubs, cornucopias, garlands, painted landscape scenes and other expensive, labor-intensive frippery that enchants and holds the eye certainly counts as entertaining.

It’s not clear who invented the tureen, or where, but it probably emerged from France, a nation that loves its soups. The origin of the word has not been pinned down, but it could come from “terrine,” a covered container used for making the dish of the same name.

Tureens debuted in an era when soup was traditionally the first course on a menu. Ladling that soup from a fabulous-looking tureen set the tone for the evening: This is an elegant experience, and you and a select few others have been invited to share it. As dinner parties evolved, it became standard for hosts to offer two contrasting soups—for example, a dark-colored, heavy game meat soup as well as a lighter, more broth-like one. That meant dinner party hosts had to own at least two tureens, doubling the opportunities to dazzle their guests and show off their wealth.

Chinese export goose tureen. Image courtesy of Freeman’s and LiveAuctioneers

Some tureens were ornamented with animals, such as ducks, rabbits or deer. The appearance of a bird or beast on the outside might signal what food is inside, but not always. Freeman’s sold a circa 1760s Qianlong period Chinese export porcelain tureen shaped like a goose, but the odds are it never held a soup or other dish made from the bird. In all likelihood, it was meant purely as eye candy. Standing just over a foot high, it’s exquisitely painted and sculpted. The unknown artisans went to the trouble of articulating the goose’s wingtips and lifting them away from its body, and they explicitly modeled its tucked-in feet rather than painting them on or leaving them out entirely.

People love figurative tureens now as much as they did in the 18th century. Freeman’s sold the porcelain goose, which would have been a specialty item when new, for $50,000. “Novelty forms are always very popular because not as many are available,” says Ben Farina, head of Asian arts at Freeman’s. “For collectors, they’re not only rare forms, but a bit of sculpture. When they’re not being used, they can sit on a sideboard as decoration.”

The Chinese export porcelain goose tureen Freeman’s offered was single, but other examples dating to the same period have come with identical mates. Farina cannot confirm whether the goose once had a gander. “It’s not impossible. It would make some sense if it was a large service, but I don’t want to say,” he said. “Sometimes you do see pairs together. Whether they started life together is another question.”

Minton majolica bunny tureen. Image courtesy of Strawser Auction Group and LiveAuctioneers

Farina also suggested that animal-form tureens might recall the medieval practice of carrying whole roasted birds or wild boar into a dining hall to the delight of the guests. “I think these tureens were entertaining pieces, showpieces carried into the hall in front of the diners,” he says.

The talented staff at Minton, an English majolica producer active during Victorian times, created several pieces they called tureens, though the vessels don’t seem to be designed to hold soup. One of Minton’s most beloved pieces, a game tureen decorated with depictions of the heads of rabbits and ducks, has earned the nickname “the Bunny tureen.”

Minton majolica fish tureen. Image courtesy of Strawser Auction Group and LiveAuctioneers

Michael Strawser of Strawser Auction Group has handled five Bunny tureens in the last 30 years and auctioned one dating to 1878 for $22,000. Strawser also sold an equally rare Minton fish tureen, featuring a clever lemon-shaped handle, from 1876 for $15,500.

Minton certainly recognized how the tureen form could make a superlative canvas for its artisans. “Minton is famous for the crispness of the painting,” Strawser says. “With other companies, you see the painting run from one section to another. Here, there’s a lot of extra detail, such as showing the actual hair on the rabbits.”

When Jean Puiforcat tackled the tureen, he stripped it down while keeping its opulence. The fourth-generation French silversmith knew that an abundance of decorative flourishes on a piece of silver holloware could conceal any number of flaws. His circa 1925 silver tureen and stand is spectacular in its simplicity. He and his clients lived in the time of Art Deco, and he streamlined the serving piece accordingly. The luxury is in the quality of the craftsmanship—Puiforcat didn’t need to hide his silversmithing mistakes, because he didn’t make any—and in accents fashioned from semiprecious stones.

Puiforcat silver tureen and stand. Image courtesy of Millea Bros. and LiveAuctioneers

“This is a really fine example of what he’s known for. It’s iconic Art Deco, and it’s as much a sculptural object as a functional one,” says David Halpern of Millea Bros, speaking of the 1925 Puiforcat tureen and stand that the auction house sold for $35,000 in 2016. “It’s clean, but it’s not so reductionist that it doesn’t have intricacy to it.”

Halpern affirms that the fact of its being a tureen helped push the bidding to almost twice the high estimate of $12,000 to $18,000. “What part of a table service is going to be this large and complex?” he asks. “Tureens are very suited to being monumental and important.”

While he can’t confirm whether the winner of the Puiforcat tureen has since used it to serve guests, Halpern says people continue to buy and use tureens, even if they might not use them in precisely the same ways as past generations did: “I think they buy them because they’re beautiful, and they think, “Won’t it be fun to trot out at a dinner party?’ People are going to want to get together and socialize. They want to make a point of saying ‘We are together and we are celebrating.’”

Pop-up valentines send hearts soaring

NEW YORK – How do I love you? Let me count the ways … A handmade or printed valentine is one popular way to tell your spouse, parent, child or sweetheart of your feelings on Feb. 14. Evolving from religious devotionals and sung/spoken messages of love, sending cards on St. Valentine’s Day has been a tradition for centuries.

One of the earliest known valentines is in the collection of the British Museum in London and was sent by Catherine Mossday to a Mr. Brown. Published in 1797, the hand-colored card included a handwritten message from its sender that is sad and heartfelt, reiterating past requests for him to please visit her. One wonders how the relationship turned out or if Ms. Mossday found someone else to return her ardor.

A group of antique die-cut, pop-up and articulated cards made $70 + the buyer’s premium in December 2019 at Matthew Bullock Auctioneers. Photo courtesy of Matthew Bullock Auctioneers and LiveAuctioneers

There are endless variations of valentines, from lace-trimmed Victorian cards to die-cut and pop-up cards. Pop-ups, sometimes referred to as mechanical cards, have been perennially popular and were made in France, England and America to name a few. Clever use of paper, layering, string/wire or use of honeycombed tissue elements make these cards pop up. Their collectibility is largely based on the card’s elegance or whimsy. Most also have a footed base that allows them to stand up for easy display, adding to their appeal. They can easily be stored in books too. At the height of the Victorian era, collecting valentines was like a status symbol and eligible young women would have scrapbooks of valentines they had received that visitors could peruse and admire.

A group of antique pop-up Victorian Valentine die-cut cards took $65 + the buyer’s premium in December 2018 at Matthew Bullock Auctioneers. Photo courtesy of Matthew Bullock Auctioneers and LiveAuctioneers

Before the advent of affordable postage and expanded mail delivery in the 1840s in England and America, two countries where Valentine’s Day is avidly celebrated, sending valentines by mail was expensive and they were often hand-delivered instead. The penny stamp in England, for example, revolutionized the holiday and it’s estimated that some 40,000 cards were sent in 1840, the first year that letters of a modest weight could be mailed for a penny. The holiday soon became big business and today is a billions-dollar industry with cards a large part of that along with flowers, chocolates and gifts.

A group of 13 pop-up Valentines in shadow boxes realized $190 + the buyer’s premium at Litchfield Auctions in September 2020. Photo courtesy of Litchfield Auctions and LiveAuctioneers

The origins of Valentine’s Day cards is rife with urban legends and stories going back as far as the Roman Empire. A popular legend is that St. Valentine was in jail for performing weddings of local soldiers, where he is said to have fallen in love with his jailer’s daughter and sent her a love note signed “your Valentine.” This story is entertaining but given the literacy rate at the time and the odds he would be able to get pen and paper while in prison makes it seem a bit unlikely.

Many holidays are lamented for being overly commercial and Valentine’s Day became widely commercialized in the United States starting in the mid-1800s as paper became mass-produced and printing was cheap. Hallmark now rules the greeting card industry here but before the company’s debut in 1911, there were several small stores up and down the East Coast carrying fine valentines, mostly imported from Europe.

A collection of vintage Valentine cards, including pop-ups, sold for $105 + the buyer’s premium in October 2018 at Terri Peters & Associates Auction and Estate Marketing. Photo courtesy of Terri Peters & Associates Auction and Estate Marketing and LiveAuctioneers

Esther Howland in Worcester, Mass., was one of these early proponents, importing fancy paper, lace and other items from England to make valentines here. Tapping into her squad of lady friends to work, she ran a profitable cottage industry up until the 1860s making and selling valentines. Companies like Beistle in Shippensburg, Pa., also got into the greeting card business around 1900 and Valentine’s Day was soon a popular addition to the company’s product line.

A dozen pop-up Valentines fetched $60 + the buyer’s premium at Saco River Auction in January 2016. Photo courtesy of Saco River Auction and LiveAuctioneers

The more unique the card, either in sentiment or design, the more collectors will covet that particular example. The most popular depictions in pop-up Valentines are scenes of love or friendship. Commonly seen are fetching young ladies dressed to the nines, often standing in front of a beautiful house or in a garden, or images of couples dancing or being serenaded by Venetian gondoliers. From roses to lilies of the valley, flowers are prolific in valentine cards especially in early 1900s cards. These cards usually feature elegant young women in poofy gowns and frilly hats, often surrounded by flowers. Cherubs and angels are also a popular motif. Whimsical cards often feature people pictured on a bicycle or in a trolley car and the best examples are not rectangular cards but silhouetted and shaped cards cut into the forms of people or objects.

Sentiments vary from shy or cutesy to saccharine with messages like “Valentine, You ‘suit’ me well / from head to toes/ I think you’re swell” on a pop-up card showing a boy and girl enjoying a day at the beach to “I send you this Valentine to say I like you better every day.”

American furniture styles changed with the times

NEW YORK – The first settlers to the New World brought what furniture they had with them but as American towns and commerce grew, furniture began to be made here in the late 1600s. The earliest examples likely were highly influenced by Dutch or British styles, but the American aesthetic was developing.

Over the last 200-plus years, American furniture has developed about a dozen distinct styles as consumer tastes changed. Early American furniture was fairly utilitarian and focused on simple forms created for a specific purpose, but American cabinetmakers began making increasingly sophisticated pieces, including high-style pieces for wealthy clients. Whole books have been written on the history of American furniture. so the following guide is a broad-strokes primer of sorts on some of the most popular American antique furniture styles.

William and Mary (1690–1730)

This style of furniture is bulky and strong, having low horizontal profiles and typically made of oak. To combat its overly rectilinear appearance, pieces would be decorated with low-relief carving, paint and applied moldings or turnings to add interest.

As an example, this circa 1750 Pennsylvania William and Mary spice chest, has a somewhat staid and boxy form. Decoration creates visual interest however with a herringbone border on the center of its door in the shape of a circle within a larger herringbone border framing the door’s outline.

A Pennsylvania William and Mary spice chest, circa 1750, 19in tall, attained $58,560 + the buyer’s premium in January 2020 at Pook & Pook Inc. Photo courtesy of Pook & Pook Inc. and LiveAuctioneers

Queen Anne (1730-1760)

Queen Anne furniture, noted for its restrained decoration and curvilinear forms, was among the first styles to use the cabriole leg that defined 18th century furniture. The S-shaped legs on everything from chairs to case pieces were shaped in a convex curve atop a concave curve. Curving chair crests and arms as well as decorative seashell carvings were emblematic of the Queen Anne style.

This important Queen Anne low-back upholstered mahogany chair, having a balloon seat, sold for $70,000 + the buyer’s premium in January 2020 at Keno Auctions. Photo courtesy of Keno Auctions and LiveAuctioneers

Windsor chairs

While a British invention, the ubiquitous Windsor chair is worthy of mention here as it became quite popular on this side of the pond. Philadelphia was the center of Windsor chair production in America as early as the 1740s. These chairs are instantly recognizable by their backs with multiple thin spindles, reclining form and splayed straight legs.

A Philadelphia comb-back Windsor chair made $5,000 + the buyer’s premium in May 2020 at Wiederseim Associates Inc. Photo courtesy of Wiederseim Associates Inc. and LiveAuctioneers

Federal (1790 to early 1820s)

The Federal period encompassing Hepplewhite, Sheraton and Chippendale furniture is all about straight lines and geometry. Legs are mostly straight instead of curved and pieces are distinguished by contrasting veneers and elegant geometric inlay designs. This period of furniture saw great changes in form and style. High chest of drawers fell out of favor and new styles appeared such as the sideboard. Satinwood or mahogany were frequently used as the primary wood for the base, though bird’s-eye and ripple-grain maple are hallmarks of pieces made in New England in this era. Finials, such as on secretaries or bookcases, used common motifs of eagles, draped urns, or an urn and a flame.

A rare North Carolina Federal miniature chest realized $30,000 + the buyer’s premium in March 2020 at Brunk Auctions. Photo courtesy of Brunk Auctions and LiveAuctioneers

This two-piece Chippendale desk and upper bookcase, dated 1796, made entirely of walnut serves as proof that highly sophisticated furniture was being made in America this early. Capt. John Cowan, one of the first settlers in Kentucky, commissioned this piece that stayed in his family for 200 years, as a show of his status and success.

A rarity among early American furniture is this 1796 Kentucky secretary that Capt. John Cowan commissioned. It made $440,000 + the buyer’s premium in October 2017 at Cowan’s Auctions. Photo courtesy of Cowan’s Auctions and LiveAuctioneers

Pennsylvania Dutch (1720 to 1830)

Paint-decorated Pennsylvania furniture is one of the most iconic forms of folk art. Characterized by its straight lines, plain turnings and tapered legs, the use of vibrant paint made these pieces sizzle. Regional forms popularized here saw the introduction of hanging cupboards and wall racks, usually painted with scrolling decoration or common motifs like hearts, tulips and fruit.

A rare Johannes Spitler paint-decorated Shenandoah blanket chest, circa 1790-1800, attained $36,000 + the buyer’s premium in February 2019 at Cowan’s Auctions. Photo courtesy of Cowan’s Auctions and LiveAuctioneers

Shaker (1780-1860)

Known for their devout religious beliefs, Shakers were guided by three central beliefs: honesty, simplicity and utility, which were evinced in the furniture they made for use in their self-sufficient communities as well as selling to the outside world. Boasting muted colors and clean lines, Shaker furniture is elegant in its simplicity. Simple dovetailed joints and a lack of fussy ornamentation are its hallmarks. A notable form is the Shaker ladder-back chair having horizontal posts on the back that look like ladder rungs.

A Shaker drop-leaf sewing table, probably Hancock, Mass., circa 1840, took $80,000 + the buyer’s premium in July 2020 at Morphy Auctions. Photo courtesy of Morphy Auctions and LiveAuctioneers

Classical Empire (1820-1840)

Inspired by the French Restoration period, Classical Empire furniture was made in America by such renowned makers as Duncan Phyfe and Joseph Meeks & Sons, who ran competing firms in New York City. Their furniture tended to scale on the large side and case pieces were distinguished by S- and C-scroll pillars. Meeks Classical Empire sofas typically had scrolled arms and used flame mahogany in the frames.

Attributed to Duncan Phyfe, this Classical rosewood table, 1815-1820, is distinguished by its fine rosewood veneers and satinwood banding. It earned $130,000 + the buyer’s premium in
September 2020 at Brunk Auctions. Photo courtesy of Brunk Auctions and LiveAuctioneers

Revival periods

The second half of the 19th century saw a flurry of Revival styles, including Rococo Revival, Egyptian Revival and Renaissance Revival as furniture began to be mass-produced in the 1860s. Taking design cues from Renaissance architecture, earlier Classical and Romantic styles, or Egyptian architecture, pieces from this era were known for detailed carving, elegant details, applied medallions, ebonized wood or ormolu gilding.

Attributed to renowned furniture maker J.H. Belter is this Rococo Revival rosewood etagere that sold for $85,000 + the buyer’s premium in December 2019 at New Orleans Auction Galleries. Photo courtesy of New Orleans Auction Galleries and LiveAuctioneers

20th century and beyond

Arguably the greatest evolution in American furniture design has been in the last 150 years as tastes changed from the highly ornate Victorian and Art Nouveau furniture styles to the streamlined Art Deco look by the 1930s. Rebelling against the Industrial Revolution, furniture makers such as Gustav Stickley focused on simplicity, creating what came to be known as the Mission style.

Boasting a unique look evocative of midcentury modern furniture is this Paul Evans floating sideboard credenza from his ‘Cityscape’ series, which earned $22,000 + the buyer’s premium in December 2018 at Joshua Kodner. Photo courtey of Joshua Kodner and LiveAuctioneers

The Midcentury Modern era in the 1950s was a time of rebirth after World War II and this furniture aesthetic was unlike anything that came before. Midcentury designers/makers such as Ray and Charles Eames, Florence Knoll, Eero Saarinen, Paul Evans, Paul McCobb and Wendell Castle created comfortable and functional furniture that were works of art in themselves.

Sal Buscema: creating dynamic comics

NEW YORK – Marvel comics are arguably the gold standard of comics and one of the company’s most talented and prolific artists has been Sal Buscema.

The younger half of a dynamic duo, to rip a phrase right from comics, Sal can credit his older brother, John, for giving him his start in creating original artwork for Marvel, where he was already working as an artist. Sal’s own talent, first as an inker and then as a penciller, cemented his legacy in the comicsphere and his original illustrations, comic panels and comic book covers have been eagerly sought after by collectors.

A key Bronze Age Marvel comic is this ‘Defenders #1’ from August 1972 with cover by Sal Buscema, Jim Mooney and Sam Rosen. This issue marked the first appearance of Necrodamus and made $1,711 + the buyer’s premium in November 2019 at Hake’s Auctions. Photo courtesy of Hake’s Auctions and LiveAuctioneers

Born in 1936 in Brooklyn, N.Y., Sal grew up reading comics like Prince Valiant, which he credits as being an influence on his artistic style. After graduating high school, he did some commercial art work and served in the military before joining his brother at Marvel in 1968.

“Sal Buscema is one of the old-school Marvel artists whose work really dominated in the 1970s,” said Todd Sheffer, production manager at Hake’s Auctions in York, Pa. “He worked on numerous Marvel titles and there aren’t many that he didn’t touch at some point. Well known for his Defenders run, Avengers and The Amazing Spider-Man, his work is eagerly scooped up by collectors when it comes to market.”

The title splash page of ‘Defenders #11’ featuring Sal Buscema and Frank Bolle artwork brought $15,000 + the buyer’s premium in March 2015 at Heritage Auctions. ‘A Dark and Stormy Knight,’ was the final chapter in the Defenders vs. Avengers story arc. Photo courtesy of Heritage Auctions and LiveAuctioneers

“He is definitely a fan favorite when it comes to collecting,” said Travis Landry, specialist and auctioneer at Bruneau & Co Auctioneers in Cranston, R.I. “He has done a lot of iconic covers and important story lines. His career has been since the early Silver Age [of comics] before there was even Marvel Comics.” Both Sal and John’s art was a fixture at Marvel from the Silver Age through the Bronze Age.

A 1992 comic panel by Sal Buscema, ‘The Spectacular Spider-Man – The Valley,’ sold for €1,300 + the buyer’s premium at Urania Casa d’Aste in June 2020. Photo courtesy of
Urania Casa d’Aste and LiveAuctioneers

One of his most iconic covers is Silver Surfer #4, which features a great battle scene between Thor and the Silver Surfer on the bridge in Asgard, says Landry. From the X-Men to the Defenders and the Avengers, all of whom have crossed over to the small and big screen, Buscema has worked on many iconic characters and important storylines.

“He is always going to be a top five, top 10 name in Marvel because he has touched every important character,” he said.

Buscema’s art “has a crisp line with attention to anatomy and proportion and he has been a penciller and inker, both of which help define his classic work,” Sheffer said. “Some of his covers have brought tens of thousands of dollars over the past several years and he’s even hit the $100,000 mark with a cover [a cover for Submariner #35 from 1971]. Pages can bring upward of $10,000 for key characters, but there are more modern pages that can be had in the $300 range, thanks to the large volume of work he produced. So, for his many fans, it’s still possible to have an original page for a reasonable price, even for the newer art collector.”

Introducing the Grandmaster into the Marvel universe, Sal Buscema and Sam Grainger created this circa 1969 artwork for ‘Avengers #69.’ It earned $3,750 + the buyer’s premium in April 2018 at Bruneau & Co. Auctioneers. Photo courtesy of Bruneau & Co. Auctioneers and LiveAuctioneers

For collectors, while individual tastes will vary, there are certain types of original art that generally have an order of values. Desirability of comics is often dependent on the artist, the character depicted and content. When looking at particular pages created for a comic book, pages with auction scenes, especially battle scenes by characters in costume, will rate higher than static posed characters, not in costume. Covers tend to bring the highest prices followed by double-page splashes, splashes and panel pages.

This signed Sal Buscema original comic art with storyboard for ‘Marvel Two-in-One Presents’ ‘The Thing and Ghost Rider,’ published March 1975, realized $1,600 + the buyer’s premium in October 2017 at Quinn’s Auction Galleries. Photo courtesy of Quinn’s Auction Galleries and LiveAuctioneers

A title splash page of Defenders #11, featuring Sal Buscema and Frank Bolle artwork, brought $15,000 + the buyer’s premium in March 2015 at Heritage Auctions. Titled “A Dark and Stormy Knight,” this story was the final chapter in the Defenders vs. Avengers story arc and this page features iconic characters like Iron Man and Captain America as well as the Hulk, Hawkeye, Doctor Strange, Silver Surfer and Valkyrie.

Buscema’s original art overall continues to appreciate in value. Citing Avengers #69 as an example, which Bruneau & Co. auctioned off in April 2018 for $3,750 + the buyer’s premium, this comic book would likely sell for double that figure today, Landry said. “The comic market is on an upward trajectory for any good Marvel property and even DC Comics, which have been softer over the past decade, but they definitely are still appreciating in value.”

Fine hand-rolled cigars don’t always go up in smoke

NEW YORK – A fine cigar is the only collectible that, if done right, should go up in fragrant smoke that imparts a satisfying flavor, warmth and personal enjoyment.

Turns out, though, that collecting cigars isn’t much different than collecting fine wines. Each has their rarities, exclusiveness and the ability to be enjoyed in the company of friends while also being a unique piece of art with investment potential. But what makes a fine cigar worthy of such special attention?

Presidential cigars from John F. Kennedy occasionally appear at auction such as this unusual cedar lined wooden cigar box featuring a ceramic seal of the president and two Flor Extra Fine cigars sold for $15,919 + the buyer’s premium in January 2020. 
Image courtesy RR Auctions and LiveAuctioneers

Where fine tobacco comes from

More of a mystical plant cultivated for thousands of years, tobacco was originally a staple crop in the Caribbean and South America used mostly in ceremonies and as a medicinal plant. The word tobacco is probably from the Arawakan Taino word tabaco meaning “roll of tobacco leaves.”

That changed when Christopher Columbus visited the Caribbean islands in 1492. He was the first European to be introduced to tobacco and the first to export it to Europe for resale as a cash crop rather than for medicinal purposes. From there, tobacco was eventually introduced by explorers throughout the known world.

The leaf

Over the centuries, the development of tobacco resulted in two types, flu-cured (low nicotine, high sugar content) and burley (high nicotine) with both requiring nitrogen or nitrate occurring either naturally in soil or added with fertilizer to make sugar, cellulose and nicotine. “Without nicotine in the tobacco plant, it would have virtually little or nonexistent commercial use,” according to Jeffrey Wigand, a biochemist and a former vice president of the Brown & Williamson Tobacco Corp.

No matter whether it is commercial or artisanal tobacco, all tobacco plants are first grown from seed in a greenhouse for about a month. Then, after a month, the plants are transplanted into fields where they will grow to maturity.

Once picked the leaves are dried for up to 60 days, sorted, dampened and allowed to dry in piles to ferment for another three months with the process repeated one more time before being sent to be graded, bundled and made into cigars. The process from greenhouse to cigar takes about two years.

A cigar collection need not be expensive to start, especially with vintage mix of Cuban and Dominican Republic cigars such as this collection of 11 cigars in different sizes and distinctive shapes that sold for $90 + the buyer’s premium in 2019. Image courtesy Affiliated Auctions and LiveAuctioneers

How its made

Derived from the Mayan word sikar meaning “to smoke rolled tobacco leaves,” the English word “cigar,” which is derived from the Spanish cigarro, was introduced in 1730.

Since then, handmade cigars have had three main components: the outside wrapper (capa), the binder underneath (capote) and the filler (velado, seco, and ligero leaves).

The buncher (bonchero) begins by rolling different filler leaves called long fillers because, unlike processed cigars, each filler is a full leaf, never cut, to create a unique blend of flavor. The filler is then wrapped with a binder leaf compressing the filler leaves together, not too loose and not too tight to allow for easy airflow. The completed bunch is then handed to the roller (torcedor).

The roller places the completed bunch into a cigar mold that is stacked and weighted down until the bunch is evenly compressed into proper tubes. It is then ready for the wrapper, the final step.

The wrapper leaf is specially grown in shade to maximize overall smoothness, color, flexibility and taste. During production, the stem and vein of the wrapper leaf are removed leaving a left and a right-side leaf. The skill of the torcedor is evident in the cutting and rolling of the outside wrapper leaf (rolling either left or right depending on the leaf) using only a curved blade known as a chaveta. A rounded cap is glued with gum arabic at the end of the cigar, a signature mark of an experienced torcedor. 

Lastly, a stack of 50 handmade cigars is bundled and aged together. After aging they are individually tagged with a paper band and placed in specially crafted boxes for shipment.

Nothing is more important to age a cigar properly than a humidore, such as this vintage burlwood roll-top Cigar Master humidor complete with a ‘self-regulating humidification system’ that keeps cigars at no less than 70% humidity and always near 70°F (21°C). It sold for $400 + the buyer’s premium in 2018. Image courtesy Auctions at Showplace and LiveAuctioneers

What to look for

Premium handmade cigars are generally measured by their ring gauge (its diameter in millimeters) and its length measured in centimeters.

The most common cigar shape is the parejo, otherwise known as corona, that are round, have even sides (no figural shapes) with an open end on one side and a covered ‘cap’ on the other that needs to be cut off or punched through before smoking. Altogether there are at least 19 different standard versions of parejo cigars ranging from the very small cigarolla measuring less than 8mm in ring size (a third of an inch) and 8cm (about 3 inches) in length (which are found in boxes of eight or so) up to the Double Toro measuring 24mm in ring size (shy of one inch) to 15cm in length (6 inches) bought individually or in large gift boxes.

For collectors, the figurado is the most desirable. Made in irregular shapes from the traditional parejo could mean a perfecto that is narrow at the base and the tip, but bulged in the middle to the pyramid that has a broad foot, but narrow at the tip. Figurados were more popular in the 19th century until about 1930 when they fell out of favor. Arturo Fuente, a prominent cigar maker in the Dominican Republic, occasionally makes figurados in the shape of American footballs, chili peppers and other shapes that are prized by collectors.

Smaller cigars such as the cigarillo and small, filtered cigars bought in packs like cigarettes since the 1940s are machine-made and not considered collectible.

Cuban cigars

Collecting premium handmade cigars isn’t complete without a reference to where it all started – on the Caribbean island of Cuba.

The Spanish saw the potential marketing of tobacco in Europe after Columbus visited the area in his voyage of 1492. Tobacco plants, known as cohiba by the early inhabitants, didn’t survive the trip to Europe very well, but rolled cigars did. So, the Spanish outpost on the island of Cuba became the first cigar factory in 1542.

Because of the perfect soil, humidity and weather conditions, Cuba is still considered a prime producer of handmade cigars. However, over the centuries, Honduras, Nicaragua and the Dominican Republic all have gained prominence equal to Cuba in cigar production due mainly to the original tobacco plants that began with seeds from Cuba.

With the United States embargo on Cuban cigars and other goods in 1962, it is difficult to find authentic Cuban cigars in the country even though the United States is the leading consumer of cigars in the world. Some estimates suggest that 95% of cigars claiming to be from Cuba in the United States are mainly from the New World countries. President Barack Obama lifted some restrictions in 2015, limiting the purchase of Cuban cigars to $100 intended for personal use only.

Collecting historic cigars

It’s well known that many presidents, prime ministers and entertainers smoked cigars. President John F. Kennedy, for example, routinely smoked hand-rolled Cuban cigars until 1962 when all imports from Cuba were embargoed, but only until after he was given 1,000 Cuban cigars for his personal use. These cigars continue to be featured in auctions from time to time.

The personal cigars of Presidents Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton also occasionally come to auction along with cigars from the personal collection of Prime Minister Winston Churchill (one of his half-smoked cigars brought near $12,000 at RR Auctions in 2017).

Another famous celebrity cigar aficionado was comedian George Burns who gifted one of his cigars and a signed photo that together sold for an affordable $40 + the buyer’s premium in 2006. Burns, who died at age 100 in 1996, once said, “I’m at the age now where just putting my cigar in its holder is a thrill.” Image courtesy Randy Inman Auctions Inc. and LiveAuctioneers

Mid-century comedians George Burns, Jack Benny, Groucho Marx and actress Marlene Dietrich all routinely smoked cigars throughout their professional lives, usually as a part of their act. “I smoke 10 to 15 cigars a day,” said George Burns who lived to be 100. “At my age I have to hold on to something.”

According to Mitchell Orchant, managing director of C.Gars in London in a recent article How to Collect and Age Vintage Cigars at cluboenologique.com, these “… cigars from the 1940s and 1950s are particularly popular at the moment …” Of course, the celebrity helps, too.

Not just the cigar

A distinctive handmade cigar can be aged, or laid down, over decades like fine wine. The secret is to keep the cigars in an atmosphere of no less than 70°F (21°C) and 70% relative humidity.

To accomplish that, cigars are stored in specially constructed enclosed boxes, usually made of wood, called humidors, that are fitted with hydrometers to maintain proper humidity levels. This helps to age the cigars in a constant temperature over a long period of time.

When traveling, a travel case of leather, silver or even wooden traveling cases serve as a portable humidor to protect the cigars from the vagaries of weather, sunlight and changes in humidity. Most have a limited capacity of just a few cigars, called fingers, and fits easily into a jacket pocket, briefcase or hand luggage. Many vintage humidors and traveling cases are routinely sold at auction in distinctive sterling silver or even exotic animal leather.

Collecting vintage cigar cutters, cigar advertising, framed cigar labels, and wooden cigar boxes also brightens any cigar collection.

A colorful wooden sign featuring a torpedo cigar in bas relief advertising handmade Cuban cigars sold for $200 + the buyer’s premium. Image courtesy: Abell Auction and LiveAuctioneers

Celebrate with care

It’s known that the use of tobacco results in health issues over time no matter its form. Smoking cigars may have different health issues than cigarette smokers, but the warnings are still relevant. The key, of course, is what Mark Twain was to have said, “I smoke in moderation. Only one cigar at a time.”

Whether to celebrate a birth, a special occasion or even the New Year, a cigar hecho a mano totalmente (made totally by hand) is indeed a pleasurable way to pass the time with friends, family and community – one puff at a time.

Garnets symbolize friendship, fidelity

NEW YORK – Garnets, like all gemstones, are timeless. To quote The Curious Lore of Precious Stones, “The love of precious stones is deeply implanted in the human heart … All the fair colors of flowers and foliage, and even the blue of the sky and the glory of the sunset clouds, only last for a short time, and are subject to continual change, but the sheen and coloration of precious stones are the same today as they were thousands of years ago and will be for thousands of years to come.”

Indeed, garnets boast an illustrious history. Bronze Age tombs yield garnet-graced buckles, bracelets and pendants, while ancient Egyptian ones yield garnet talismans, necklaces and carvings. Moreover, Biblical scholars surmise that the red “carbuncle,” one of 12 gemstones decorating the breastplate of Aaron, the first Biblical High Priest, was a garnet.

Exceptional garnet intaglio ring depicting Mercury, messenger of the gods,
intaglio .375in x .625in; opening .7in wide x .875in high; weight: 12.7 grams. Gold quality: 90% gold, equivalent to 20K+, Roman, circa second to third century. Realized $1,700 + buyer’s premium in 2019. Image courtesy of Artemis Gallery and LiveAuctioneers

Ancient Greeks and Romans prized golden, garnet-studded earrings, pendants and bracelets. Some, in addition, stamped wax-sealed documents with intaglio-carved garnet signet rings. Frankish Merovingian nobility (c. 450-750 A.D.) boasted garnet-jeweled fibulas, scabbard-belt mounts, sword hilts and shield fittings. Byzantine clergy and aristocracy favored elegant garnet-encrusted crosses, pendants, brooches, rings and earrings.

Victorian Etruscan Revival almandine garnet, seed pearl and 14K yellow gold brooch, approximately 42.6 x 36.3 mm, weight 13.49 grams. Realized $475 + buyer’s premium in 2018. Image courtesy of Clars Auction Gallery and LiveAuctioneers

These blood-red gems, in addition to beauty, held great charm. Many believed that, powdered or whole, they shielded people from harm, safeguarded travelers and protected warriors, rendering them powerful and victorious. Moreover, they allegedly healed wounds, improved vitality, countered melancholy and soothed troubled souls. In addition, these gems were associated with comradery and constancy.

Gold scabbard-belt mount with beaded border, convex garnet cloison upper face, central garnet cabochon, bronze slider bar to reverse, 14 grams, 25mm, Merovingian Period. fourth-fifth century. Realized £1,400 + buyer’s premium in 2018. Image courtesy of TimeLine Auctions Ltd. and Live Auctioneers

The word “garnet” is related to granatum, the Latin word for “pomegranate,” a fruit clustered with lustrous, jewel-like, red seeds. No wonder, when mentioning them, that visions of tiny, ruby-hued, rose-cut Bohemian garnets come to mind. Their intricate, glistening designs, “paving” gold brooches, bracelets or bangles, were hands-down Victorian favorites. So were larger, dramatic stones, brilliant cut to maximize their radiance.

Bohemian garnet grape cluster pendant locket/brooch, 8-9K, 2.5 x 1.5in. weight 21.4grams. Realized $900 + buyer’s premium in 2020. Image courtesy of Reverie and LiveAuctioneers

Because Almandine garnets are darker than Bohemians, many find them more desirable. If cabochon-cut, these commonly found beauties not only rival rosy tourmalines, spinels and rubies. To many, they also evoke the Biblical carbuncle of old.

Yet not all garnets are red. “If your hand were a model of a garnet molecule, all garnets would share the arrangement of atoms represented by the palm,” explains the International Gem Society site. “However, the atoms represented by your fingers are interchangeable.” Altering their chemical compositions creates a rainbow of shades.

Early 20th century gold demantoid garnet pendant suspended from matching floral spray, Russian marks, L. 5.5cms, 6.6gr. Realized £540 + buyer’s premium in 2018. Image courtesy of Fellows and LiveAuctioneers

Gem-quality spessartites, for example, range from orange to reddish-brown, while hessonites are yellow, cinnamon or honey-hued. Diamond-bright demantoids, once prized by Russian royals and Fabergé alike, are light to dark green. Mandarins, aptly named, are pure-orange. Tsavorites, more brilliant than emeralds and most expensive of all, are deep, forest-green. Umbarites are pink to pinkish-purple

18K gold link bracelet featuring 64 amethyst cabochons accented by 320 round-cut tsavorite garnets, total weight 5.30 carats, length 7in, 28.2dwts. Realized $3,250 + buyer’s premium in 2011. Image courtesy of Michaan’s Auctions and LiveAuctioneers

“One of the things I love about garnets,” explains Nigel O’Reilly, acclaimed contemporary goldsmith and jewelry designer, “is their color diversity. Color plays a huge role in my work and garnets come in such rich and unique colors. They add a real depth to any piece they’re incorporated into. My most recent garnet piece, a ring called Dante’s Garnet, used a fancy cut umbalite garnet set in rose gold. The darker, warm hues meant that I could complement the center garnet by setting the rest of the ring with tsavorite garnets, blue sapphires, orange sapphires and blue diamonds while maintaining the original depth of the center stone.”

Dante’s Garnet, featuring fancy cut umbalite garnet set in rose gold highlighted by tsavorite garnets, blue sapphires, orange sapphires and blue diamonds. Image courtesy of Nigel O’Reilly at https://www.nigeloreilly.com

Since garnets suit all tastes and pocketbooks, choosing a traditional January birthstone is a joy. As of yore, many believe that they promote health, foster peace of mind, increase energy, raise self-esteem, spark creativity and grace the heart with love and passion.

Yet this was not always so. No one knows why or when Europeans began signifying specific times of birth with particular gemstones. Perhaps nobility – whether relating to superstitions, astrological zodiac signs, Aaron’s breastplate, or pure fashion, began wearing them during the Middle Ages. Birthstones apparently became attainable by the masses, however, centuries later. In 1870, for example, Tiffany & Co. published “some verses of unknown author” that match each month with its traditional stone.

Their January entry reads:

By her who in this month is born,

No gems save garnets should be worn;

They will insure her constancy,

True Friendship and Fidelity

Contemporary artists to watch

NEW YORK – After a meteoric rise over the last few decades, the contemporary art market shrank a bit this year while largely moving online, owing to the pandemic and a range of other socio- and geopolitical factors. Contemporary art represents about 15 percent of worldwide fine art auction offerings and is a key source of the market’s growth. Given that there are thousands of artists working all over the world with new ones every year, over 30,000 by some counts, it can be challenging to decide which new artists to collect. Here are five artists to consider:

Miriam Cabessa

Born in 1966, Miriam Cabessa was born in Morocco, grew up in Israel, and has worked and lived in New York the last two decades. The painter, performance and installation artist is best known for her slow action paintings, which she debuted in 1997 when she represented Israel at the Venice Biennale. Forgoing brushes, she creates art by using alternative objects and her own body as tools.

An untitled mixed media on Masonite by Miriam Cabessa sold for $1,700 + the buyer’s premium in July 2020 at Yair Art Gallery. Photo courtesy of Yair Art Gallery and LiveAuctioneers

The Jenn Singer Gallery in New York, which gave her a solo exhibition of her oil paintings and textiles in 2018, says, “Using a unique sensory-based painting technique, Miriam Cabessa deftly works her body through her oils in a visually engaging improvisational performance, as much at home on a stage with a viewing audience as it is in isolation in the painter’s studio.”

Rodel Tapaya

Phillipino painter Rodel Tapaya (b. 1980) pays homage to Filipino culture and its history in his artworks, which are noted for their labyrinthine patterns and whimsical character montages. Connecting the past to the present, Tapaya mines old stories to create new narratives based on ancient myths that increasingly he finds relevant today.

This untitled Rodel Tapaya painting from 2015 made PHP 380,000 ($7,807) in October 2020 at Leon Gallery. Photo courtesy of Leon Gallery and LiveAuctioneers

“At the heart of Rodel Tapaya’s work is his ongoing amalgamation of folk narrative and contemporary reality within the framework of memory and history,” writes Arndt Fine Art, which has four galleries around the world. The dreamlike quality of Tapaya’s work, which often takes the form of large-scale murals, has been likened to that of Mexican muralists and Surrealists such as Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera.

Aleksandra Staniorowska

Describing herself as a painter and a climate activist, emerging artist Aleksandra Staniorowska (b. 1990) was born in Poland and became involved in the climate movement in 2018. With paintings like Paradise Lost and Yggdrasil, she calls attention to the long-marginalized issue of the environment, from endangered snow leopards in the Himalayas to the effects of the sun on the earth and the plight of trees.

Aleksandra Staniorowska’s ‘Heart path,’ 2020 brought PLN 4,800 ($1,250) + the buyer’s premium in October 2020 at DESA Unicum SA. Photo courtesy of DESA Unicum SA and LiveAuctioneers

Yutaka Sone

Japanese artist Yukata Sone (b. 1965) was already well-exhibited internationally when he received his first solo exhibition in the United States in 1999 at the David Zwirner Gallery in New York.

Yutaka Sone’s pair of lithograph prints titled ‘Mt. 66,’ 2006, earned $1,500 + the buyer’s premium in December 2020 At Hindman. Photo courtesy of Hindman and LiveAuctioneers.

In the years since, Sone has not been content to harvest his heritage for artistic inspiration nor ascribe to Western art traditions. Rather, he has created art that cannot be limited by simple descriptions or even one medium as the artist utilizes sculpture, drawings and video. “It strives to create its own poetic vocabulary not connected to a particular culture, but to culture at large,” according to the David Zwirner Gallery.

Alyssa Monks

American artist Alyssa Monks (b 1977) is widely known for her large oil paintings that often feature people partially hidden or clouded by water or steam, often set in bathrooms and tubs, or in her newest works, flowers and vines.

A still life of a meditative woman in a bathtub by Alyssa Monks achieved $2,400 in April 2020 at Klein James. Photo courtesy of Klein James and LiveAuctioneers

According to New York’s Forum Gallery, which represents the artist, a recent series created during the pandemic quarantine reflects Monks’ quest to stay positive during this challenging time and explore the persistence of life. “The new paintings, with their intense but distorted color, portray the inner psychological experience of isolation for these female subjects as they interact with the ‘natural’ world as it gets less and less certain or safe,” the gallery writes.

Starting a contemporary art collection can be intimidating but the old adage of buying with your eyes holds true. Focus less on what is investment grade but on what you love and you will seldom be wrong. You can start out a nice small collection with less than $1,000. While there are no steals, smaller works often prove to be bargains. Overall, the cost risk ratio is lower with emerging artists and lesser-known names than art world stalwarts. Look at a lot of art, learn what you can about artists you like and take a few chances along the way.

 

 

Carousels: Carved animals in motion

NEW YORK – Who, as a child, hasn’t whirled merrily like a top? Or spun a playground merry-go-round and hopped onto it for a thrilling ride? Carousels, which feature creatively-shaped mounts on rotating circular platforms, are the ultimate spinning amusement for fun-seekers of all ages.

Surprisingly, they originated in medieval times, when mounted knights, to hone their skills, tossed balls to one another while galloping in circles. Indeed, the word carousel originates from Italian and Spanish terms for “little battle.”

By Elizabethan times, circling jousters speared small, suspended rings. Within a century, similar ring-tilt carousels sprang up at fairgrounds across Europe. Wooden horses, suspended from central canopies, replaced riders. These popular amusements, powered by ponies or rope-pulling youngsters, however, had no platforms. So as they gained speed, the horses pushed outward centrifugally, flying free.

Their wooden stick-legs, heads and bodies, adorned with rabbit-skin manes and tails, were crude, wrote George Sanger in Seventy Years a Showman. But bright-white and “plentifully dotted with red and blue spots,” they thrilled the crowds.

Rare, county fair-style carousel frog, park paint, 40 x 42 inces, American, circa 1914, Herschell Spillman. Realized $6,500 + buyer’s premium in 2010. Image courtesy of Guernsey’s and LiveAuctioneers

By the mid-19th century, newer models, featuring carved riding horses fixed to round platforms suspended from central poles, replaced flying-horses. Like earlier ones, however, these were pulled by man or beast.

When the first steam-driven carousel appeared a decade later, its impact was profound. A Halifax Courier journalist described its … “huge proportions, driven by a steam engine which whirled around with such impetuosity, that the wonder is the daring riders are not shot off like cannon- ball, and driven half into the middle of next month.”

Soon afterwards, Frederick Savage, an enterprising British engineer, incorporated farm machinery into fairground rides — including carousels. According to Victorian fairground manufacturer Frederick Savage, The Platform Galloper, his best-loved carousel, “imparted a vigorous rocking motion to the mounted horses via a series of eccentrics under the platform.” Later models featured platform slides — which swang poled-mounts concentrically as carousels gained speed — as well as gears and off-set cranks, which created up-and-down “galloping.”

Eventually, Savage carousels were also enhanced by “vivid scenic painting, exuberant scrollwork, carved Baroque dream images, plush upholstery, engraved mirrors, barley-sugar brasswork, gaudy hues and gilt. The emphasis was on unashamed opulence.” As traditional British trading fairs gave way to public performances and amusements, Savage carousels thrilled crowds far and wide. They were also exported around the world.

French carousel carvers, including Gustav Bayol and Limonaire Frères, fashioned charming figures, like prancing donkeys, long-eared pigs, cockerels, and cows with brass horns. German carvers usually created gentle-faced, prancing horses, while others fashioned whimsical pull, wind-up, or wind-driven toy carousels.

Philadelphia-style, outer row stander carousel horse, provenance Great Escape Fun Park, Lake George, New York, 58 x 62 inches, Gustav Dentzel. Realized $10,000 + buyer’s premium in 2010. Image courtesy of Guernsey’s and LiveAuctioneers

Gustav Dentzel, a German immigrant, introduced carousels to America in the mid-1800s. Most of his large, decorative, Philadelphia-style machines featured elegant, realistically carved horses, along with menageries of rabbits, roosters, bears, and other beasts. Carvers, including E. Joy Morris, D. C. Muller & Bro., and the Philadelphia Toboggan Company, created similar creatures.

Glamorous Coney Island-style carousels, fitted with bright lights and glittering mirrors, also featured flamboyant horses adorned with multifaceted jewels and gilded trappings. Lavish Looff, Carmel, and Stein & Goldstein equine creations are especially appealing.

Prolific North Tonawanda, New York carvers, like C.W. Parker, Charles Dare, and Herschell Spillman, created small, easily transportable county fair -style carousel animals for the seasonal Midwest county fair circuit. Their elegant though substantial pieces generally inhabited permanent amusement park carousels.

Whatever their style, American carousels usually featured three rows of mounted animals. Visible, outer rows usually boasted grand, colorful stationary horses with lavish, finely carved manes, gilded trappings, and decorative images on their flanks. Inner rows, in addition to accommodating ornately carved chariots and smaller animal mounts, featured “ galloping” poled horses in prancing (front legs up) or jumping (all legs up) positions.

Until the Great Depression, thousands of American fairs, towns, cities, and amusement parks hosted carousels. Afterward, many were closed, destroyed, or abandoned. While some reopened as the economy improved, they were overshadowed by more thrilling rides and were no longer main attractions. Today, some 400 are believed to exist.

Fiberglass reined elephant featuring iron hand/foot rests, 48 x 26 x 45 inches. Realized $700 + buyer’s premium in 2019. Image courtesy of Dan Morphy Auctions and LiveAuctioneers

Due to extensive use and exposure to the elements, most carousel mounts were repaired and repainted every few years. Since those in original or near-original condition are very rare, those that have been restored — stripped to their natural wood, repainted with original colors, or featuring brighter “park paint” hues — are the ones most likely to reach the collector marketplace.

For those who dream of owning an entire carousel, the price is steep. In 2012, RM Sotheby’s auctioned a huge, extraordinarily ornate, custom-built example featuring a menagerie of 42 historically accurate, hand-carved animals and two chariots, along with a Wurlitzer 153 Band Organ and 10 music rolls. It realized over one million dollars.

# # #

Hark! The herald Christmas angels

NEW YORK – “Fear not” are usually the first words of an angel, described as a messenger with direct access to God and Heaven. It’s one of the reasons why they are so omnipresent during the winter holidays like Christmas, Hanukkah and other religious observances.

Originally from the Late Greek ángelos, angels may even have an earlier possibly Persian reference that is documented before the Christian era. In most religions, an angel is interpreted in art as having a human-like form complete with wings of feathers and, sometimes, a halo. While they are described as being a guide or messenger from God, it’s also suggested that an angel is a metaphor for the struggle of morality and spirituality of the conscience.

Over time, the angel has played a direct role in a religious context, mostly to tell stories of the season, particularly Christmas. The Archangel Gabriel, for example, is the one who informs Mary that she is to become the mother of the Son of God and to name him Jesus, meaning Yahweh or salvation in the Annunciation, a full nine months before his birth. It was an angel that appeared in the dreams of Joseph to spirit the baby Jesus away from King Herod’s murderous search for him.

One of the early commercially available holiday angels beginning in the late 19th century was this lovely embossed, hand-gilded tree topper made in the German state of Thuringia from 1880 to 1914 and are the most coveted of early tree toppers and ornaments. This almost perfectly preserved Dresden angel sold for $650 + the buyer’s premium in 2014. Image courtesy Bertoia Auctions and LiveAuctioneers

As a Christmas Tree Topper

So it’s no surprise that an angel figures greatly during the Christmas season. Except for the figure of Santa Claus or St. Nicholas, an angel is the most collected of all Christmas ornaments.

Its popularity began in a castle. An indoor lighted and decorated Christmas tree was featured in the Illustrated London News in 1848 at the royal residence of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert of England. Both born of German heritage, it wasn’t unusual for them to feature an indoor evergreen during the Christmas season. It’s been done since at least the early 16th century.

What was particularly inspiring for the newspaper reader, though, was that the top of the tree featured an angel evoking the Archangel Gabriel and the Annunciation. Today an angel, along with the star of Bethlehem, continues to be the most popular Christmas tree toppers.

As a Christmas Tree Ornament

With an indoor evergreen tree more common by the late 19th century in America, early decoration consisted mainly of handmade colored paper, fruit and candles. More fanciful hand-blown glass ornaments from the German state of Thuringia were imported by the 1870s beginning the introduction of more commercial varieties that families added to each year.

From 1880 to about 1914, highly detailed fitted paper ornaments handmade in Dresden, Germany were being imported into Great Britain. Because these Dresdens, as they’re known by collectors, were not expected to survive from year to year, they are considered some of the most collectible ornaments today.

An unusual example of a wax covered angel that was popular in the late 19th century that features inset glass eyes, colorful fabric and doll’s hair. Containing a music box that plays two tunes, it sold for about $928 + the buyer’s premium in 2018. Image courtesy Ladenburger Spielzeugauktion GBMH and LiveAuctioneers

Guarding the Christmas Creche

At the birth of Jesus, celebrated on Dec. 25, angels appeared to shepherds to announce that, “Today your Savior, Christ the Lord, was born in [Bethlehem where you] will find an infant wrapped in strips of cloth and lying in a manger,” according to the Bible’s Book of Luke, chapter 2.

The stories of the season tell of the Roman need for a census of its citizens and so Joseph and Mary traveled back to Nazareth for the final count. However, because so many were traveling, space for the birth was found only in a sheep stable where a manger was the only bed available. Even in this humble place, angels appeared to herald the coming of Jesus and to direct others like the Three Kings with light and celebration.

To help tell the story, nativity scenes are set up in a prominent place in homes, complete with angels that guard the manger or creche (French for crib). Look for figures of Jesus, Mary, Joseph, animals and Three Wise Men to complete a set. Most were made from painted ceramic from Germany in the late 19th century, but chalkware from Fonanini in Italy and detailed papier-mache ones from the 1940s to 1950s are also collectible in very good condition, but usually available for under $100. Ceramic or crystal angels from Mikasa and Lenox continue to remain popular with collectors and usually available at auction for under $30.

Painted chalkware was most commonly used for the seasonal creche and usually included an angel that was sometimes identified as the Archangel Gabriel similar to this mid-20th century version recently auctioned for only $5 + the buyer’s premium. While popular, chalkware chipped easily and the colors often faded. An example in very good condition is difficult to find at auction.
Image courtesy Vidi Vici Gallery and LiveAuctioneers

And Throughout the Season

By the early 20th century, America was importing ceramic angel figurines by the Japanese company Yona. They became one of the most collectible of the 1940s and 1950s because of the detailed hand-painted facial expressions and that they were incorporated into candle holders, wall hangings and table decoration. Each angel easily matched the holiday spirit and are routinely available for under $30.

Other more realistic angels were made of spun glass, delicate fabrics, and even wax figures were also very popular, but difficult to find excellent condition. By the 1950s, though, the molded, plastic angel became the more commercially successful version.

Three German spun cotton Christmas ornaments including two angels, late 19th or early 20th century, all with some paper elements and printed applied face, about 4½in high. Sold for $425 + the buyer’s premium in December 2019. Image courtesy Locati LLC and LiveAuctioneers.

What Collectors Look For

According to goldenglow.org, an online Christmas-themed website, “… angels have been crafted using a variety of techniques including hand-carved from wood, poured wax … papier-mache, clay, pressed cardboard, paper, fabric, bisque, porcelain, glass … tin, lead and almost any other readily available material.

“Interestingly,” they continue,” angels made from celluloid are virtually unknown.” So the variety of angel collectibles is rather large and varied with most available only from the early 19th century.

Mynativity.com recommends Italian papier mache angels from Fontanini beginning in 1908 until production switched to plastic by the 1960s. Early ceramic Hummel figurines from the World War II era still command auction interest rather than the later more commercial production period. Just note that each Hummel figurine with a copyright date embossed at the bottom only suggests when it was introduced, not when it was manufactured.

These German-made glass angel ornaments are an example of the fine hand-painted detail collectors of early 20th century ornaments look for at auction. They sold for about $920 + the buyer’s premium in 2016. Image courtesy Ladenburger Spielzeugauktion GBMH and LiveAuctioneers

Any Victorian-era angel (1840s to the early 1900s) will always have an enormous collector interest from the because production was more limited. The brighter the colors and the more intact, the higher the auction value is overall.

Without exception, the colorfully embossed, hand-painted Dresden angels are the most sought after with auction values easily beginning at several hundred dollars for good to very good examples. Products of a cottage industry and made of cardboard, they weren’t especially intended to last generations, so they are also difficult to find in exceptional condition.

As a Guardian

The presence of an angel during the Christmas season does seem to trumpet joy and celebration. Still, whether angels were messengers or guides from God in human form or are only metaphorical manifestations of our collective conscience, perhaps in the end, angels are just ordinary people that are intended as guardian angels for each other, not just for a holiday season, but all year-round.