Collectors Still Burn For Zippo Lighters

A 14K gold Zippo lighter by Tiffany & Co. sold for $950 plus the buyer’s premium in November 2017. Image courtesy of Fortuna Auction and LiveAuctioneers

Click. Thunk. Simply seeing the word “Zippo” is enough to call to mind the sound a Zippo lighter makes when you open and close its sturdy hinged lid it’s that recognizable. 

The lighter rose to prominence by proving it could perform in tough conditions. A gust of wind wasn’t enough to snuff its flame, ensuring that smokers in foxholes, tents, ship decks, battlefields and other stressful settings could keep their cigarettes lit. The company touted its wares as “wind proof” and boldly promised, “It works or we fix it free.” The lighter’s reliability made it a favorite amongst smokers – predominantly men – in the 20th century. For some of them, a Zippo was the closest thing they had to jewelry, especially if they worked at factories or on shop floors where employees were barred from wearing wedding rings and wristwatches, for safety reasons. 

An 18K gold Zippo lighter by Buccellati achieved $2,750 in March 2018. Image courtesy of Alex Cooper and LiveAuctioneers

According to official Zippo company lore, the Zippo came into being after George C. Blaisdell noticed a friend struggling to light up. The scene took place in the early 1930s at the Bradford Country Club in Blaisdell’s hometown of Bradford, Pennsylvania. The friend, whose name is lost to history, was grappling with an Austrian gas lighter made from old cartridge shells. The Zippo history page states Blaisdell observed that it “… worked well, even in the wind, due to the unique chimney, but the appearance and design were utilitarian and inefficient. The lighter required the use of two hands to operate, and its thin metal surface was easily dented.”

Inspired, Blaisdell decided to redesign his friend’s lighter, giving it a sleek, rectangular polished chrome case with a hinged cover that could be flipped open with one hand. He kept the chimney design that made it “wind proof” and dubbed his creation “Zippo,” a derivation of “zipper,” a word he liked because he thought it sounded good when spoken. Blaisdell received a patent for his lighter in 1936, three years after he started selling it for $1.95 a sum that would equate to roughly $40 today.

A circa-1934 Zippo tall case lighter with a telltale soldered exposed hinge sold for $875 plus the buyer’s premium in December 2019. Image courtesy of Milestone Auctions and LiveAuctioneers.com

Blaisdell changed the Zippo design over the next few years, reducing the case by a quarter-inch, adding diagonal lines to give the case an Art Deco look, and soldering the hinge so that the top cover connected to the inside of the case instead of its outside, where it was more vulnerable to damage. Collectors prize these early examples, which are known as “tall case” Zippos, as well as those with cases that sport the outside hinge.

Another transformative event shaped the Zippo in its fledgling years. In the mid-1930s, the Bradford-based Kendall Refining Company ordered 500 lighters emblazoned with its own corporate brand. Kendall was the first entity to commission Zippos with special livery, and many, many other companies would follow.

A USS Cole Zippo lighter with a brass finish, offered with a WWI-era Bowers trench lighter, sold for $50 in September 2013. Image courtesy of Affiliated Auctions and LiveAuctioneers

During World War II, Zippo suspended civilian sales and produced lighters strictly for the military. The company lacked an official government contract, but regardless, Zippo lighters became the go-to flame-generator for soldiers, sailors and Marines who received mini-packs of cigarettes along with their K-rations. They carried their Zippos from battle to battle and kept them after the war ended. 

Most Zippos that were in use during WWII had black, crackle-finish steel cases. Soldiers believed this detail muffled the noise produced by striking, which in turn helped them keep a low profile during military maneuvers. But the company insists that the case style was chosen for mundane business reasons. Like the scrimshanders of centuries ago, bored trench-bound troops transformed the black cases into canvases, scratching all manner of designs, initials and battle dates into them with any sharp object at hand. Not surprisingly, collectors place a high value on such personalized Zippos.

WWII delivered priceless and lasting benefits to the Zippo company. Hundreds of thousands of teenagers and young men carried its lighters during the most daunting experience of their lives, and depended on them to deliver the nicotine that calmed their nerves in literal life-or-death situations. It’s a sad commentary, but about half of all Americans were routine tobacco smokers in 1945. 

A circa-1960s Zippo Corinthian tabletop lighter rose to $175 plus the buyer’s premium in December 2015. Image courtesy of Clars Auction Gallery and LiveAuctioneers

In the 1950s, Zippo offered its custom-designed lighters in a range of formats, including a series of stand-alone tabletop versions with upscale names such as the Barcroft, Lady Bradford, Moderne, Corinthian, Handilite and the Lady Barbara. A handsome teal green circa-1960s Zippo Corinthian table top lighter sold for $175 plus the buyer’s premium in December 2015 at Clars Auction Gallery. 

Another innovation arrived in 1956 when Zippo unveiled the Slim design, which was smaller, thinner and sleekly polished, with rounded corners that fit easily into pockets and rolled up t-shirts. 

A circa-1950s Zippo lighter commissioned by Buffalo Bob Smith and given to a ‘Howdy Doody’ crew member sold for $454 in February 2021. Image courtesy of Hake’s and LiveAuctioneers

Custom-made Zippos, commissioned as gifts to celebrate anniversaries, retirements and similar milestones, or to create a bond amongst team members, alumni or coworkers, took off. A standout example is a circa-1950s brush-finish Zippo lighter given by “Buffalo” Bob Smith to members of the crew who filmed the Howdy Doody TV show. One that featured a camera and the name “Larry” sold for $454 at Hake’s in February 2021. The very idea that a Zippo cigarette lighter would be in any way associated with the country’s most popular children’s show seems unimaginable today, but that’s how widespread smoking was in the postwar years. 

A circa-1950s Zippo lighter owned by John F. Kennedy, depicting the ‘U.S.S. Joseph P. Kennedy, Jr.,’ which was named for the president’s older brother, realized $1,500 plus the buyer’s premium in July 2018. Image courtesy of Potter & Potter and LiveAuctioneers

Even the highest of high-profile individuals are known to have carried Zippo lighters. One of the most notable was President John F. Kennedy, who took his tobacco strictly in the form of a cigar. A personally owned Kennedy Zippo, decorated with the image of the destroyer named for his older brother, Joseph P. Kennedy, Jr., sold in July 2018 for $1,500 plus the buyer’s premium at Potter & Potter Auctions. JFK also commissioned Zippos, as evidenced by a chrome example commemorating his June 1963 trip to Europe. Kennedy gave the lighter, which is emblazoned with the Presidential Seal, to his longtime friend and aide Dave Powers. It was offered with its original box at a February 2013 sale at John McInnis Auctioneers, where it made $4,500 plus the buyer’s premium.

A chrome Zippo lighter that President Kennedy commissioned for a June 1963 European trip and gave to longtime aide Dave Powers achieved $4,500 plus the buyer’s premium in February 2013. Image courtesy of John McInnis Auctioneers, LLC and LiveAuctioneers

Another Zippo commission came from John Wayne, who had lighters made as gifts for crew members on the 1968 film The Green Berets. Each lighter featured the movie’s name and a likeness of the military hat on the front, and a whimsical inscription on the back that read, in part, STOLEN FROM JOHN WAYNE. An example from the estate of one of Wayne’s friends, Chuck Iverson, sold in July 2012 for $900 plus the buyer’s premium at Profiles in History.

The cultural reach of the Zippo inevitably caught the attention of top luxury goods retailers. Tiffany & Co., created a 14K gold rendition with a vertically ribbed design, subsequently offered at Fortuna Auction in November 2017, where it realized $950 plus the buyer’s premium. An 18K gold Zippo by Buccellati, graced with brushed crosshatched engraving, achieved $2,750 plus the buyer’s premium in March 2018 at Alex Cooper.

A circa-1968 Zippo lighter commissioned by John Wayne for the crew of ‘The Green Berets,’ with the name of the film on the front and the words ‘STOLEN FROM JOHN WAYNE’ on the back, sold for $900 plus the buyer’s premium in July 2012. Image courtesy of Profiles in History and LiveAuctioneers

Spotting a genuine Zippo is relatively straightforward. Just turn it upside down. Those made between 1933 and 1955 feature an unadorned block letter logo stamped on the bottom of the case. A fancy-script logo design prevailed from 1955 until the late 1970s, when it was changed to the version seen today.

Every Zippo lighter made since 1955 also has a date code that specifies when it was made (those produced before 1955 are identified by their stamped logo design). The Zippo company is still going strong, and a page on its official website, www.zippo.com, helps collectors decipher the codes shown on their products, both vintage and new. Also standing ready to assist are Zippo collector clubs, many of which are active on social media. The Zippo/Case Museum, a 15,000-square-foot facility in Bradford, Pennsylvania, that also houses a repair clinic and a store, is normally open seven days a week.

As much more has become known about the connection between smoking and serious illnesses, the number of active smokers has dwindled dramatically. Now, only around 16% of the American population are smokers. But the habit of acquiring vintage Zippo lighters has continued, joining the many other collectibles categories that are associated with taboos of a less-enlightened era.

No mystery to the appeal of Egyptian Revival style

Gold, amethyst, demantoid garnet, and enamel brooch, 1¼ × 1⅛ inches,
Theodore B. Starr, stamped, NY, NY, circa 1900, gift of Jacqueline Loewe Fowler, 2013. Image in public domain, courtesy metmuseum.org

Egyptian Revival, a European artistic style dating from the early 19th century, was inspired by Napoleon’s conquest of Ottoman Egypt and Admiral Nelson’s Battle of the Nile. As volumes documenting Egyptian architecture, antiquities and natural history appeared, with sketches of the Near East’s exotic sights and mysterious symbols, the West’s fascination with this ancient culture grew. Egyptomania, obsession with Egyptian antiquities, increased further in 1820, when translation of the Rosetta Stone led to deciphering ancient hieroglyphics – opening another window into the art and culture of that fascinating world. 

Initially, grand Egyptian-inspired sculptures and architectural elements arose in Paris and London. Toward the end of the century, however, stylized Egyptian motifs embellished a variety of functional and ornamental objects, as well.  

Red stoneware Wedgewood teapots and underplates, for example, often depicted images of winged sphinxes, crocodiles and canopic jars. Silverplated pots bore curlicued, engraved cartouches, elegantly draped plinths, or images of sacred ibis birds which represented rebirth. 

Pairs of tall, tapering marble, slate, or onyx obelisks depicted graceful palm fronds, trumpeted flowers, medallions, sphinxes, and hieroglyphics, in addition to images of scarab beetles, which the Egyptians associated with the life-giving sun. Smaller obelisks often flanked marble and bronze clock garnitures – three-piece, matched sets designed for mantlepieces. Highly stylized settees, armchairs, desks, tables, and sarcophagus-shaped caskets often bore images that could be seen in Egyptian tomb paintings.  

Armchair and sidechair, rosewood with prickly juniper veneer, 37 x 27½ x 27½ inches, attributed to Pottier and Stymus, New York City, circa 1870-75. Image in public domain, courtesy metmuseum.org

 

After the American Civil War and the inauguration of the Suez Canal (1869), exotic, Egyptian-style furniture also charmed Americans. Their hand-carved cabinets, credenzas, sideboards, and “parlor suites” often featured gold-painted cuffs and collars along with carved or bronze-mounted lion masks, sphinxes, ceremonial headdresses, or palm-frond details. Most surviving post-Civil War-era pieces are associated with the famed furniture design company, Pottier and Stymus. Their opulent rosewood armchair with prickly juniper veneer, for example, featured gilt-brass sphinxes and nailed-bead moldings, along with an abundance of gilt-engraved accents and painted medallions. 

Egyptian Revival garniture set featuring slate/marble clock and marble pillars, marked with Japy Freres seal, circa 1880s, France, clock 17 x 16 inches, pillars 20 x 6½ inches. Sold for $1,400+ buyer’s premium in 2021. Image courtesy Akiba Antiques and LiveAuctioneers

 

By the turn of the century, Tiffany & Co., was marketing a number of Egyptian Revival decorative objects, including clock garnitures, glass powder containers coiled with gold-wash sterling snakes, and gold-wash coffee spoons featuring bright, striped Egypt-evocative enamel detail. Additionally, Tiffany adorned some of their simple bronze candelabras with images of ibises and lotus flowers, symbolizing creation and rebirth. 

Other pieces of the period – like Theodore B. Starr’s gold and enamel brooch depicting an Egyptian-clad figure playing a falcon-headed amethyst-scarab harp above a coiled-snake plinth – spared no expense with their luxurious details.

Archaeologist Howard Carter’s discovery of King Tutankhamun’s treasure-filled tomb in 1922, which was celebrated in newspapers, newsreels and on the silver screen, sparked a renewed interest in Egyptomania. Over time, Ancient Egypt’s ancient motifs and symbols permeated all aspects of modern culture, including architecture, theater, literature, and the decorative arts. Bookends, vases, jardinières, andirons, busts, and finely embroidered tapestries depicted an abundance of Egyptian motifs. Fashionistas of the day caught the Egyptian Revival bug and often carried lustrous, Egyptian-motif celluloid or micro-beaded evening bags. 

Egyptian-themed woven tapestry featuring gilt metal thread, approximately 46½ wide x 48 inches long, 1920s. Sold for $325 + buyer’s premium in 2017. Image courtesy of Blackwell Auctions and LiveAuctioneers

Egyptian Revival design also became an integral aspect of Art Deco, a sleek, geometric style melding ingenuity and fine artistry with precious materials. As a result, gleaming gilt images of pharaohs, royal headdresses, winged sphinxes, and pyramids adorned wall plaques, perfume bottles, belt buckles, lamp bases, cigarette cases, and sconces. 

In addition, fine jewelers, including Tiffany, Cartier, and Van Cleef & Arpels, created Egyptian Revival bracelets, beaded bib necklaces, earrings, rings, pendants, bar pins and hatpins. Many bore gilded mummy, sphinx, snake, hieroglyphic, pyramid or plump, rounded scarab motifs. 

Art Deco Egyptian Revival moonstone and diamond scarab brooch, France, wings set with buff-top onyx, with various old-cut European diamonds, platinum mount, 1 7/8 inches, guarantee stamps. Sold for $9,500 + buyer’s premium in 2021. Image courtesy Skinner and LiveAuctioneers

Art Deco winged scarab brooches resembling beetles in flight were, perhaps, the most popular of all jewelry designs. Simple gold or silver models often featured carved hardstone “bodies” with delicate, stylized champlevé or plique-à-jour wings. Exquisite beauties featuring moonstone and onyx bodies tipped with old European-, rose-, baguette- or fancy-cut European diamond wings were the most extravagant creations of the period. Those now-classic creations, which are favorites in auction rooms worldwide, shimmer like their inspiration: the sun.

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Morgan vs. Peace Dollar: Which has a silver lining?

Morgan and Peace silver dollars are the quintessential dollar coins issued from 1878 through 1935 considered the most aesthetically pleasing coins ever produced by the United States. This example sold for $7,500 (plus buyer’s premium) in 2006. Image courtesy: Brunk Auctions and LiveAuctioneers

A silver dollar is impressive any way you look at it. It’s hefty, artistically beautiful, and symbolically as American as apple pie. It’s no wonder that the Morgan Dollar and Peace Dollar, both noted for their intricate designs, are the ones most sought after at auction. Which one is the more collectible of the two, though?

Morgan Dollar

Coins — both silver and gold — were first issued for circulation by the United States Mint in 1794. But it may surprise you to know that, at that time, anyone possessing either silver or gold bullion could request that the US Mint create coinage from their bullion in fractional values for use as legal tender. The Coin Act of 1873 changed that policy when it demonetized silver for the first time, putting the United States on the gold standard.

By 1878, the Bland-Allison Act re-monetized silver into dollars. The Mint intended to strike a new silver dollar beginning that year and turned to Assistant Engraver George Morgan, a die engraver originally from Great Britain, to design it. The final design featured a profile of Liberty wearing a Phrygian cap of freedom (modeled after teacher and philosopher Anna Willess Williams) on the obverse and an American Bald Eagle with outstretched wings on the reverse. The Morgan Dollar, named for its designer, was circulated from 1878 until 1904 (it was reissued in 1921 and reintroduced in 2021 as a commemorative proof coin).

The redesigned silver dollar of 1878 was so pleasing to collectors, compared to previously minted coins, that it was promptly named the Morgan Dollar for its designer, George T. Morgan, an Assistant Engraver for the US Mint. This closeup shows a first issue that recently sold for $59,500 (plus buyer’s premium). Image courtesy: 3 Kings Auction and LiveAuctioneers

Peace Dollar

The Pittman Act of 1918 required the melting down of existing silver dollars into bullion and purchasing an equal amount of silver from western silver mines to be re-minted into new silver dollars, initially continuing the Morgan Dollar design. However, coin collectors strongly encouraged a unique design to commemorate the world at peace with the end of World War I.

In 1921 a new silver dollar was designed by sculptor Anthony di Francisi after winning a competition sponsored by the Commission of Fine Arts. The obverse featured a profile of Liberty wearing a stylized crown (modeled after his wife Mary Teresa) and a perched Bald Eagle with sun rays in the background on the reverse that together would “…capture the spirit of the country – its intellectual speed, vigor and vitality.” The new silver dollar was immediately nicknamed the Peace Dollar.

The Peace Dollar would remain in circulation from 1921 until 1928, with reissues in 1934, 1935 and a collectible proof coin beginning in 2021.

Following War I, a new silver dollar was being considered to celebrate the final victory. The result was sculptor Anthony di Francisi’s design for the Peace Dollar. It was first issued in 1921. This lot of 40 uncirculated ones together with 60 uncirculated Morgan Dollars for $4,000 (without buyer’s premium) in 2011. Image courtesy: US Asset Forfeiture & Seizures, Inc. and LiveAuctioneers

A Comparison

The Morgan and the Peace Dollars are considered by collectors to be the most attractive and collectible of all United States coins. Both feature Liberty on the obverse and a Bald Eagle on the reverse, but each design’s details and artistry make them so distinctive that when they were first released, they set the standard for all future coin designs.

The composition of Morgan and Peace Dollars is identical, but their numbers are dramatically different. Both are of the same thickness, diameter, and weight, minted with 90% silver and 10% copper (the 2021 proof coins of each are .999 silver content). Only the Morgan Dollar was minted in larger quantities, about 650 million circulated for more than 27 years. In comparison, 190 million Peace Dollars were circulated over nine years. For that reason, the Morgan Dollar is the more “collected” of the two types.

Collectors will find many Morgan Dollars in uncirculated condition, meaning that the coins do not feature the usual scratches and wear such coins would naturally encounter over a long period of public use. Coin dealers may point this out as a selling point, however many Morgan Dollars weren’t generally circulated by the US Mint and instead were kept in vaults. For that reason, uncirculated Morgan Dollars aren’t necessarily scarce.

While assembling a complete collection of Morgan Dollars is more of a challenge and amassing a full set of circulated Peace Dollars is more manageable, each type has its rarities. For example, the Morgan Dollar, reissued in 1921, was minted in San Francisco, but it was also minted in Denver for that year only, making the 1921 D Morgan Dollar quite rare. The 1893 S had a small mintage of only 200,000, and any with an early mint mark of CC (Carson City, Nevada Mint) is quite scarce.

The Peace Dollar was initially minted in high relief in 1921 and 1922 to call attention to the detail of its design. The dies used to highlight the coin’s fine detail were subjected to too much pressure. Frequently they would crack or break and would immediately be replaced with the latest coin design, featuring a lower relief. One might occasionally encounter a high-relief Peace Dollar for 1921 or 1922 at auction, but, except for the existence of about 10 or so, all of the high-relief coins were melted down and never circulated. Also, many of the Peace Dollars minted in San Francisco beginning in 1923 are considered rare for their relatively low mintage and are a collector’s favorite at auction.

Each Morgan or Peace Dollar will have its distinguishing characteristics such as rarity, condition, mintage, and errors that collectors should watch for at auction. Always check with a reputable dealer, the American Numismatic Association, collectors.com, and prominent coin-grading companies such as the Professional Coin Grading Service (PCGS) and the Numismatic Guaranty Company (NGC) to help track the rarities and follow the current value of any Morgan and Peace Dollar.

In the end, both the Morgan and the Peace Dollar are collected equally, based on a personal interest in their symbolism, design, and overall collectibility in the marketpplace. Their history, alone, instills a feeling of pride in any collector who holds one of these beautiful coins in their hand.

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Toys that shuffle, tap or dance a jig

A suspended clockwork clown jig doll achieved $2,300 plus the buyer’s premium in August 2021 at The RSL Auction Co. Image courtesy of The RSL Auction Co. and LiveAuctioneers

NEW YORK — Toys or dolls that are sometimes known as “jiggers” have free-swinging limbs that render the appearance of shuffling or dancing. Starting with a simple figure on a wooden or tin-plate platform, these antique toys evolved into more complex playthings that employed clockwork or wind-up mechanisms.

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Staffordshire Animals Pay Tribute To British Country Life

Staffordshire pearlware figure of pipe in the form of a snake featuring figure of a head, ca.1815. Image courtesy John Howard, https://www.antiquepottery.co.uk

Starting in earnest in the 18th century, millions of people left the British countryside to work in bustling towns and cities where there was more opportunity for them. Reflective of the times, enterprising potters in England’s Midlands region started adding functional animal-themed pieces to their existing range of decorative figures as an homage to the pastoral life. Since most of the small pottery works producing these items were located in Staffordshire – a region of rivers where clay was abundant – the wares from all of the studios became known collectively as “Staffordshire/” 

Initially, these humble pieces were made of salt-glazed earthenware or stoneware. However, they eventually evolved into finer, thinner, glassy creamware, bluish-white pearlware, and underglaze-painted Prattware. Today, these delightful, functional items are collectible art. 

Staffordshire spaniel dog pitcher. Ca/ 1890’s – 10″ x 4.5″ x 5.5″. Realized $850+ buyer’s premium in 2003. Image courtesy Dallas Auction Gallery and LiveAuctioneers

Among British well-to-do, plump, white-glazed Staffordshire dairy cows, featuring hollow bellies, moo-mouth spouts, and curly-tailed handles, served as appealing creamers. Some, grazing on grassy-green bases, featured realistic spots and splotches characteristic of breeds common at the time. Others featured lighthearted freeform designs, dotting, sponging, or all-over Whielden-style spattering. 

Before the advent of lucifer friction matches, cow, horse, bull, donkey, hound, and wooly sheep images graced ornate Staffordshire porcelain spill vases. These functional hearthside items, bearing tall, hollow vessels on raised bocage bases, were filled with spills—slender wax tapers used to conveniently transfer fireplace flame to grease lamps, candles, pipes, or cigars. Since traveling menageries also captivated crowds, spill vases sometimes bore images of exotic parrots, giraffes, elephants, leopards, and zebras.

Pair of Staffordshire Porcelain Recumbent Greyhound Inkwells, unsigned, each 5⅛ x 8″. Realized $375 + buyer’s premium in 2020. Image courtesy Kodner Galleries Inc.
and LiveAuctioneers

Bold, naturalistic broody hen, guinea hen, rabbit, pheasant, dove, and duck figurines sat pretty or nested atop broad, deep soup tureens—apparently alluding to their enticing contents. Rarer elephant, leopard, and tiger-themed tureen tops, however, evidently celebrated memorable menagerie moments instead, 

Flamboyant red roosters, molded into trendy 18th-century mustard jars, may have been prestigious in their day. “But happening on an identical pair in original condition, without repairs, was amazing,” explains Jason Woody, Operating Manager and Auctioneer at Woody Auction LLC. “When you think about the amount of time that has passed since they were created, and the fine detail these jars exhibit [including full combs and impossibly fragile “chicken-foot spoons”], these were truly extraordinary finds.”

Staffordshire Creamware Creamer on flat base with seated milkmaid, polychrome decoration, 1780-1810, 5” HOA. Realized $550 + buyer’s premium in 2019. Image courtesy Jeffrey S. Evans & Associates and LiveAuctioneers

 Though all sorts of Staffordshire cat figurines were popular through the 1700s, few, if any, were functional in nature. During the Victorian Era, widely adored King Charles spaniel porcelain sculptures, associated with both King Charles I (1600–1649) and Queen Victoria’s beloved dog Dash, were also purely decorative. 

Yet at the time, Staffordshire potteries also produced a range of tall, large, hollow, expressive “begging” spaniels, topped by incongruously cheery, flowered crowns. These sturdy, functional vessels served as milk or water pitchers and jugs. Though scores appeared life-like, others, more elegant, were gilt and white-glazed or treacle-glazed, referencing the dark, thick British syrup that resembles molasses. 

Early Staffordshire Figural Mustard Jars featuring life-like rooster heads with full combs and full-figure “chicken foot” spoons. Realized + buyer’s premium in 2017. Image courtesy Woody Auction LLC and LiveAuctioneers

Many Victorians found hunting hounds, like pointers, pugs, and poodles (bred to hunt bears), endearing. Yet after Prince Albert famously acquired a greyhound named Eos, sculptures of these sleek, fleet hare hunters, singly or in pairs, graced innumerable trinket boxes. Others, along with whippets, foxes, nesting birds, perching parrots, and swans, were fashioned into decorative, highly popular ink pots. 

Staffordshire Molded Duck Tureens and Covers with feathers, 25.5cm, realized £380 ($507) + buyer’s premium in 2014. Image courtesy Sworders Fine Art Auctioneers and LiveAuctioneers

According to recognized authority on 18th- and 19th-century British pottery, John Howard, The Antique English Pottery Specialist at https://www.antiquepottery.co.uk, “Early 19th-century Staffordshire potters also created remarkable, quirky pearlware pipes in the form of coiled snakes. In addition to delicate enamel dot and stripe embellishments, they featured tiny human-head pipe-bowls. Vivid, zoomorphic pearlware porcelain sauce boats, with spouts shaped like bird heads and snake-like handles, date from the same era.” 

Though these Staffordshire animal-themed, functional charmers fell from fashion by the end of the 19th century, they offer fascinating glimpses of long gone British values, mores, and ways of life. 

The Timeless Appeal Of A Charlie Brown Christmas

One of the most iconic images from ‘A Charlie Brown Christmas’ is the unloved small shrub of a tree that Charlie Brown adopts. An original cartoon cel, signed by director Bill Melendez and numbered 332/500, sold in May 2021 for $1,400 plus the buyer’s premium.
Image courtesy of Alderfer Auction and LiveAuctioneers

Imagine bringing together children, light, faith and the true meaning of Christmas in one animated special that still charms audiences more than 50 years after it first aired. A Charlie Brown Christmas does precisely that. What you might not realize is that at first, the odds against its success seemed as daunting as Charlie Brown’s odds of kicking a football held in place by Lucy Van Pelt.

In 1947, Charles Schultz, known as Sparky to his family and friends, created the four-panel comic strip Li’l Folks for the St. Paul Pioneer Press, featuring the antics of elementary school-age kids. Charlie Brown (the name of a real childhood friend), Patty, Shermy, and a dog named Snoopy were the original characters. 

When United Features Syndicate picked up Schulz’s strip in 1950 for national syndication, an editor changed its name to Peanuts (despite the artist’s objection) to avoid its being confused with an earlier comic strip that had a similar name. Lucy, Linus, Sally, Violet, Schroeder, Marcia, Franklin, Pig-Pen, Peppermint Patty (a different character from Patty), Woodstock and many others eventually joined the cast. Adults were never seen.

At its peak, Peanuts ran in 2,600 newspapers. Schulz produced nearly 18,000 original strips before he retired in 2000. He died that year on February 12, the day before the final original Peanuts strip was published. All subsequent strips are reruns. Unlike other comics that have continued long past the deaths of their creators, United Features Syndicate honored Schulz’s request and chose not to hire a successor to continue drawing Peanuts.

A photo of the Charlie Brown characters standing around a Christmas tree, signed by several Peanuts voice artists, sold for $275 plus the buyer’s premium in November 2018. Image courtesy of GWS Auctions and LiveAuctioneers

Schulz maintained a different, more relaxed outlook on Peanuts TV specials, however. New series starring Snoopy and other characters from the strip currently appear on the Apple TV streaming service. But, of course, none of these contemporary productions would have even been pitched if A Charlie Brown Christmas hadn’t earned its place in American pop culture and provoked demand for more. 

Schulz didn’t leap directly to television. The first step on the path that led to the initial Peanuts TV special was taken in 1961, when he allowed his characters to appear in a series of animated commercials for the Ford Falcon, a small compact car. Bill Melendez, an animator for Walt Disney and Warner Bros. cartoons, tackled the task of translating Schulz’s characters into moving images. 

In early 1965, Lee Mendelson, a television producer, was asked by the advertising agency that handled Coca-Cola’s account whether he had an upcoming Christmas special they could sponsor. According to the 2001 documentary The Making of A Charlie Brown Christmas, Mendelson said, “Absolutely.” That was a lie, but he immediately set to work on turning his lie into the truth.

As recounted in the 2001 documentary, Mendelson called Schulz and said he had sold what he called “A Charlie Brown Christmas.” Sensibly, the artist asked, “Well, what is that?” Mendelson replied, “It’s what you’re going to write for a presentation the following Monday.” Schulz suggested bringing in Bill Melendez to help outline the Christmas special. The Coca-Cola executives liked the pitch and asked for it to be ready for broadcast in early December – giving the men just six months to write a script, cast voice actors, compose a musical score, and draw, ink and paint more than 13,000 animation cels needed to render a 30-minute-long television program. 

They wrote storyboards depicting the Peanuts gang organizing a play centered around the meaning of Christmas. Composer Vince Guaraldi contributed the light jazz background music and vocals, which Mendelson described in the documentary as “ … being very adult-like and kid-like at the same time,” a curious choice for the soundtrack of an animated holiday special aimed at children in the year 1965.

The men cast real children as the Peanuts characters instead of adult actors who sounded like children another bold and unusual choice. They recruited regular kids from families they already knew instead of professional actors, with the exception of the two 11-year-olds who voiced Charlie Brown and Linus. “The 10- and 11-year-olds could pretty well read without our help, but … we had to coach the five- and six-year-olds … and feed them half a line at a time … which is why there is a sing-songy pacing to the voices in the show,” Mendelson said in the 2001 documentary. Bill Melendez, who directed A Charlie Brown Christmas, provided the voice of Snoopy. The dog’s little yellow avian companion, Woodstock, debuted in the strip in 1969 and Melendez voiced the bird in later Peanuts specials.

An original animation cel depicting a key scene from the finale of A Charlie Brown Christmas realized $3,600 plus the buyer’s premium in September 2015. Image courtesy of Peachtree & Bennett and LiveAuctioneers

Schultz emphatically refused Mendelson’s suggestion to add a laugh track, even though that was fairly standard in children’s animation at the time. The creators also wove in a Bible quote from the Book of Luke, Chapter 2, verses 8-14 of the King James Version, famously spoken by Linus: “And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them …” When it was suggested that including a Bible verse in a commercial work of animation made the special seem too religious, Schultz reportedly said, “If we don’t do it, who will?”

After delivering the finished show, Mendelson had jitters, fearing that he and his colleagues might have ruined Charlie Brown. He needn’t have worried. When CBS aired A Charlie Brown Christmas on December 9, 1965, 49% of all televisions in the United States tuned in, yielding the highest ratings to date for a prime-time Christmas feature. When A Charlie Brown Christmas won an Emmy and a Peabody Award, it opened two sets of floodgates: one for animated Christmas specials of all sorts, and a second for Peanuts TV specials.

As of December 2021, there are 46 Peanuts specials in total, eight of which were produced after Schulz’s death. These include the classics It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown and A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving, neither of which could have been made without the success of A Charlie Brown Christmas.

A 1965 first edition, first printing of the read-along children’s book ‘A Charlie Brown Christmas’ sold for $48 plus the buyer’s premium in July 2021. Image courtesy of Artelisted and LiveAuctioneers

One of the first collectibles to appear after the 1965 debut of A Charlie Brown Christmas was a companion children’s book, written by Charles Schultz and published that same year, which tells the story of the TV special in a read-along format.

Since then, A Charlie Brown Christmas and the Peanuts comic strip in general has given rise to a mind-bogglingly wide range of collectibles in every conceivable format. Schultz called merchandising ‘The Things’ and was ambivalent about this aspect of managing the Peanuts universe. In an interview for The Washington Post in 1985, he explained, “ … I … had five kids to support and put through college. And I have United Features Syndicate that takes half the money, and they’re pushing for things and it keeps getting bigger and bigger.”

The items associated with A Charlie Brown Christmas that perform best at auction are individual colored animation cels which were actually used to produce the special. Those signed by Charles Schulz, Mendelson, Melendez, and/or the voice actors can inspire serious bidding wars. Animation cels that reference the special’s original sponsors, Coca-Cola and Dolly Madison, have their fans, too. Seasonal rebroadcasts of the show removed them to comply with FCC regulations that outlawed advertising within children’s programming.

More than half a century has passed since A Charlie Brown Christmas first aired, and more than two decades have gone by since Schulz died. Yet, the holiday adventures of the hapless, confused, gentle third-grader Charlie Brown continue to cast their spell and enchant new generations.

Summoning the faith to do better, even if it’s just improving a scrawny Christmas tree, is why A Charlie Brown Christmas remains a classic. It’s the simple things that matter the most, as Linus, in his youthful voice, says in a key scene: “That’s what Christmas is all about, Charlie Brown.” So be of good cheer, Christmas time is here.”

Putting a spin on it: The delights of agateware

A Staffordshire white salt-glazed stoneware solid agate cat figure realized $1,300 plus the buyer’s premium in November 2018. Image courtesy of Leland Little Auctions and LiveAuctioneers

Agateware stoneware or earthenware pottery featuring whirls of contrasting clays mimics natural agate, a gemstone once prized in jewelry across the Near East, Greece, and Rome. Allan Anawati, Director of Medusa-Arts Gallery, explains, “In those times, similar pieces produced in glass or bronze would have been valued at a fraction of their price. Agate was, more or less, reserved for the elites.” 

A circa-323-31 BCE Greek Hellenistic period pendant featuring a white and reddish-brown agate bead realized £275,000 ($368,041) plus the buyer’s premium in January 2021. Image courtesy of Apollo Galleries and LiveAuctioneers

Pieces designed to replicate agate have been discovered at 8th-century Tang dynasty burial sites. Yet Staffordshire English potters, perhaps inspired by polished pebbles displayed in gentlemen’s cabinets of curiosity, did not create similar ones until the 1670s. 

A circa-1750 English Pecten shell teapot with griffin finial achieved $6,500 plus the buyer’s premium in January 2020. Image courtesy of Nye & Company and LiveAuctioneers

Unlike mugs and jugs which are marbleized on their surface, agateware featured identical patterns inside and out. In laid agateware pieces, components were produced before determining their forms. Initially, bands of light and dark clays were laid alternately, one upon the next, as a baker would when constructing a layer cake. Clays had to be chosen carefully, because despite differing densities, shrinkage rates, plasticity, elasticity, strength and firing temperatures, the whole had to kiln-dry evenly to succeed. Following that step, these so-called “layer cakes” were laboriously and repetitively processed into patterned sheets that emulated the desired scale and complexity of natural agate swirls. 

After that, potters carefully pressed completed sheets into delicate molds, one for each vessel component. An agateware pectin shell-shaped teapot, for instance, required separate molds for its finial, lid, body, spout, handle and feet. Once assembled, agateware products were lead- or salt-glazed to a high finish. 

A late 19th-century Staffordshire agate hexagonal pitcher, attributed to John Thomas and Joshua Mayer, sold for $150 plus the buyer’s premium in August 2020. Image courtesy of Jeffrey S. Evans & Associates and LiveAuctioneers

Thrown agate, the other technique for creating agateware, was formed by shaping stacked and restacked clays into balls, then throwing them on the potter’s wheel and shaping them into bowls, platters and the like. Though lathe trimming revealed their striped, spiraling patterns to great effect, thrown agateware was thicker and coarser than laid agateware. 

In the 1740s, Thomas Whieldon, a Stoke-on-Trent Staffordshire potter, refined agateware production further by staining white clays with oxide pigments. His accounts note small numbers of bowls, tureens, ewers, sugar dishes, plates, trinkets and hollowware teapots and coffeepots, some resembling silver and pewterware designs of the day. Because surviving pieces are unmarked, however, determining attribution is difficult. 

A pair of partial gilt agateware urns, marked WEDGWOOD and various potters’ marks, realized $4,000 plus the buyer’s premium in June 2019. Image courtesy of Heritage Auctions and LiveAuctioneers

A decade later, the well-renowned Whieldon partnered with young Josiah Wedgewood. On establishing a pottery of his own, Wedgwood applied Whieldon’s agateware techniques to his opulent neo-classical urns and vases. Other Staffordshire potters, including Thomas Astbury, Daniel Bird, Ralph Wood, John Thomas and Joshua Mayer also created agateware. So did the Spode Pottery, notably during their Copeland & Garrett period (1833-1847). 

A mid-19th-century English agateware lobe-rimmed bowl with splayed foot, attributed to Copeland & Garrett, made $800 plus the buyer’s premium in July 2021. Image courtesy of Brunk Auctions and LiveAuctioneers

Because of the exacting demands of production, most pieces of agateware were small, and took the forms of snuff boxes, sauce boats, cutlery handles, pickle trays, tea wares and charming animal figurines. The smallest of all, however, were agateware marbles, which might have been meant to replicate fashionable natural marble spheres that wealthy 18th-century travelers acquired during a Grand Tour of Europe.

A group of five agateware marbles, offered as one lot, sold for $300 plus the buyer’s premium in March 2016. Image courtesy of Dan Morphy Auctions and LiveAuctioneers

Some may find delicate, kaleidoscope-swirled agateware too dizzying to gaze upon. Others who delight in their richness, refined beauty and colorful backstory prize them as true ceramic gems. 

Here be dragons

This pair of rampant dragon brooches set with brilliant-cut diamonds achieved €22,000 ($25,504) plus the buyer’s premium in October 2020. Image courtesy of Subastas Segre and LiveAuctioneers

Dragons fearsome, reptilian, legendary creatures have appeared in the cultures and lore of dozens of communities across the world, but their characteristics vary from region to region. 

China’s relationship with dragons stretches back thousands of years. It portrays its dragons as wise, benevolent, powerful protectors that symbolize wealth and good fortune. Chinese dragons are not only capable of changing their size, shape, and color, they also manage to fly despite lacking wings. Because Chinese tradition says they dwell in distant waters, these beasts are associated with rainfall, waterfalls, floods and typhoons. 

A Chinese carved and underglaze red Dragons and Waves vase, made for the Yongzheng court, sold for $1.9 million plus the buyer’s premium at Freeman’s in April 2021. Image courtesy of Freeman’s and LiveAuctioneers.

Some Chinese dragons that are carved into seals, sculptures, or brush bowls feature auspicious turtle bodies. Others depicted on scrolls, sculptures, mahjong tiles and porcelain appear as four-legged, undulating beings. Larger dragon motifs, which are hugely popular at festive occasions such as the Chinese New Year, incorporate nine lucky animal aspects. These can include camel heads, deer antlers, cat whiskers, dog noses, lion manes, tiger claws, hare eyes, carp scales and snake-like necks. 

During the Imperial Era, Chinese emperors and their immediate families wore so-called “dragon robes,” exquisite silk tapestries featuring dragon motifs, which symbolized majesty, wisdom, wealth, good fortune, authority and benevolence. 

Although Indian, Japanese, Indonesian and Korean dragon motifs closely resemble Chinese ones, the feet of the animals may differ. Japanese dragons generally feature three claws per foot, while Indonesian ones have four and Korean ones five. 

A Ming dynasty dragon box realized $30,000 plus the buyer’s premium in October 2019. Image courtesy of Rivertown Antiques and Estate Services and LiveAuctioneers

 

Because Eastern dragons symbolize good luck and prosperity, their stylized images adorn innumerable porcelain items such as seals, teapots, bowls, boxes, vases, garden stools, planters and incense burners. Images of dragons set against billowing clouds also decorate luxurious repousse silver teapots, trinket boxes, hand mirrors, bracelets and brooches. 

Dragon seals, sculptures, plaques, pendants, and belt buckles carved from jade were considered doubly auspicious by the Chinese. The mythical animals represent prosperity, while jade represents longevity and immortality.

A Russian cloisonne enameled loving cup with figural dragon handles achieved $14,000 plus the buyer’s premium in April 2019. Image courtesy of ELITE AUCTIONEERS LLC and LiveAuctioneers

European dragons were very different beasts from those that animated the Eastern imagination. According to medieval tradition, these ancient, winged, scaly, toothy, fire-breathing creatures dwelled in dark forests, deep pools, damp caves and far reaches, guarding piles of fabulous treasure. When the dragons ventured out among mortals, they would mercilessly slaughter flocks of sheep and devastate entire villages. Unsurprisingly, slaying a dragon became a key aspect of European heroic myths. 

A Great Britain gold 5-pound quintuple sovereign BU/Proof depicting St. George slaying the dragon realized $3,650 plus the buyer’s premium in October 2021. Image courtesy of Golden Gate Auctioneer and LiveAuctioneers

St. George and the Dragon, the best known of these myths, was widely spread by returning Crusaders in 1200 CE. In one version of the tale, when sacrificial offerings of sheep failed to appease a local dragon, desperate villagers offered their children instead. The very day the king’s daughter was to be devoured, St. George miraculously appeared and rushed to the rescue, slaying the beast with his sword and symbolically defeating paganism. The story ends with the grateful population converting to Christianity. Depictions of St. George and the Dragon have been the subject of countless prints, paintings, porcelains, sculptures, coins, medals, and most notably, vibrant Russian religious icons; George is the patron saint of Russia and England as well as Portugal, Bulgaria, and, fittingly enough, Georgia. 

A Russian Pelakh icon depicting St. George slaying the dragon in sight of guardian angels, holy people, and members of the court sold for $44,000 plus the buyer’s premium in May 2012. Image courtesy of
Jackson’s International Auctioneers and LiveAuctioneers

Mythical dragon images continue to charm and beguile us. Three-dimensional figural tributes serve as slithery loving cup handles, teapot spouts, table bases and lighting fixtures. Dragons not only crawl across rugs and tapestries but also feature in fantastical dragon-shaped rings, earrings, pendants, bracelets and brooches. 

An animation cel depicting an open-mouthed Smaug the dragon from Rankin/Bass’s 1977 film ‘The Hobbit’ sold for $1,650 plus the buyer’s premium in September 2015. Image courtesy of Weiss Auctions and LiveAuctioneers.

Fans of J. R. R. Tolkien may find depictions of Smaug, the devious antagonist of The Hobbit, most captivating dragon of all. Smaug, in Tolkien’s words, is the medieval dragon personified:

 I kill where I wish and none dare resist. I laid low the warriors of old and their like is not in the world today. Then I was but young and tender. Now I am old and strong, strong, strong, Thief in the Shadows! … My armour is like tenfold shields, my teeth are swords, my claws spears, the shock of my tail a thunderbolt, my wings a hurricane, and my breath death!”

Whether they symbolize Eastern luck and light or Western darkness and destruction, dragons remain part of our collective culture and our artistic inspiration. Like mapmakers of old describing distant shores, we too might whimsically gaze across a carefully amassed collection of themed treasures and say, “here be dragons.”

Collecting cookbooks: Making a meal of it

A 1671 cookbook by Robert May, ‘The Accomplisht Cook or the Art and Mystery of Cookery,’ sold in January 2015 for about $670. Image courtesy of Bloomsbury Auctions and LiveAuctioneers

Nothing speaks of home and hearth more than a well-used cookbook. A favorite recipe for grandma’s noodles, Aunt Betty’s apple crisp pie, Dad’s chili, or Mom’s Thanksgiving turkey is the very definition of ‘comfort food.’ 

Cookbooks didn’t start as nostalgic compilations of beloved family dishes, however. Up until at least the 17th century, instructions on cooking were largely straightforward functional documents created by the (primarily male) lead chefs for the kitchen staffs of prominent households. Those who lacked the power and prestige to immortalize their culinary creations on paper – aka everyone else –passed down the art and science of cooking through on-the-job training at home, one meal at a time.

A 1541 reprint of ‘Cookery and Dining in Imperial Rome’ by Apicius realized $3,500 plus the buyer’s premium in November 2018. Image courtesy of PBA Galleries and LiveAuctioneers

The first authenticated book of recipes in book form is De Re Coquinaria, which is attributed to Marcus Gavius Apicius, a Roman gourmet who lived during the reign of Tiberius in the 1st century (or maybe the 5th century, according to some scholars). The recipes, written in Latin, were arranged by meats, vegetables, fish and fowl, and even included housekeeping hints, a practice that later cookbooks would embrace.

After the advent of the printing press, cookbooks slowly turned into a distinct genre. Some showcased local cuisines and reflected whether and how its cooks employed spices, and when they prepared exotic animals for the table, such as the peacock. Tips for running a kitchen and a home appeared as well. As these household mainstays moved closer to transcending the role of the instruction manual, they evolved into anthropological documents that reveal and preserve cultural practices and values.

The first cookbook printed in the United States appeared in 1796 and was authored by Amelia Simmons, who described herself as ‘an American orphan.’ An 1808 edition sold for $1,200 plus the buyer’s premium in April 2021. Image courtesy of Swann Auction Galleries and LiveAuctioneers

The first cookbook published in the United States was American Cookery, which was released in 1796 and written by Amelia Simmons, an American orphan. Recognized by the Library of Congress as one of the ‘Books That Shaped America,’ American Cookery was the first to rely on ingredients found only in the United States. Simmons identified pumpkin pie, cranberries with turkey, and the cookie (spelled as the Dutch word ‘cookey’) for the first time in a printed work. American Cookery became a bestseller for nearly 30 years and it continues to be reprinted by the Oxford University Press and Dover Publications.

Measurements for ingredients in cookbooks of centuries past were annoyingly inexact, advising home chefs to add a pinch of this or a bit of that without quantifying the size of said pinch or bit. Cooking temperatures weren’t uniform, either. Nor could they be, as cooks of the pre-Industrial age readied meals in open fireplaces in huge pots and kettles that could feed scores in one sitting or feed a smaller group several days’ worth of meals.

All that changed when Eliza Acton’s Modern Cookery for Private Families was published in London in 1845. She specified the amount of each ingredient in her recipes and standardized the cooking times. So obviously useful was this approach to recipe design that subsequent cookbook authors were compelled to adopt it.

A first edition of ‘Pauline’s Practical Book of the Culinary Art for Clubs, Home or Hotels,’ the third cookbook written by an African American woman, realized $7,500 plus the buyer’s premium in February 2019. Image courtesy of PBA Galleries and LiveAuctioneers.

In 1896, Fannie Farmer, the director of Miss Farmer’s School of Cookery, published The Boston Cooking School Cookbook, which standardized cookbooks once and for all. Farmer’s contribution was a byproduct of the domestic science movement of the late 19th century, which ultimately gave rise to the discipline of home economics. Farmer placed supreme emphasis on giving precise measurements that could be confirmed and delivered by teaspoons, cups, and other purpose-made kitchen tools we now take for granted. Farmer’s focus was so intense, she became known as the mother of level measurements. Nor did she overlook the niceties of the presentation of a meal, or the merits of its nutritional qualities. Her cookbooks were so thorough, comprehensive, and revolutionary as easy-to-follow guides that they are still in print. Well-known 20th-century cookbooks such as The Joy of Cooking, Betty Crocker’s Cook Book, Better Homes and Gardens, and Julia Child’s Mastering the Art of French Cooking followed the format of American Cookery and Fanny Farmer’s works.

Collectors of cookbooks have as many options for approaching and categorizing their libraries as there are goods at a supermarket. Unfortunately, it is impossible to own an antique cookbook that contains what might be the best-known line from a recipe: “First, catch your hare.” The wry comment that captures the wisdom of starting at step one has been attributed to Hannah Glasse’s 1747 best-seller The Art of Cookery, made Plain and Easy, and also to Isabella Beeton, author of the 1861 favorite, Beeton’s Book of Household Management, but the phrase doesn’t appear in either woman’s book. Glasse, however, comes closest in her recipe for roasting a hare, which states, “Take your Hare when it is cas’d [skinned] and make a Pudding.”

Collectors can target books by region, by nation, by language, by era, and by food group. They can concentrate on cookbooks of nouvelle cuisine; on cookbooks that teach how to produce an absurdly wide range of meals with a single piece of kitchen equipment, such as a Dutch oven or a crockpot; and on cookbooks created for religious communities, such as Kochbuch für Israelitische Frauen (Cookbook for Jewish Women) which was published in 1901. The subcategory of the celebrity cookbook long predates the rise of the celebrity chef, and features many authors who made their reputations in other arenas before publishing a tome of recipes.

‘Les Diners De Gala Suite,’ a 1973 cookbook by Salvador Dali that also contained 12 color lithographs and his signature, achieved $1,500 plus the buyer’s premium in November 2013. Image courtesy of Brunk Auctions and LiveAuctioneers.

Diet books have been bestsellers for generations and provide a telling window on the concerns and anxieties of those who first purchased them. Yet another notable cookbook category features one main course or major ingredient, such as The Pescatarian Cookbook, created for people who eat fish rather than any other meat.

Holiday cookbooks are a perennial favorite. Many people who don’t bother with books full of day-to-day recipes clear room on their shelves for seasonal cookbooks, grateful for the refresher on preparing dishes they only make once a year, and grateful for ideas for indulgent, over-the-top dishes that delight the eyes just as much as the stomach. Popular choices in this realm include How to Cook Everything Thanksgiving by Mark Bittman, which was first published in 2012, as well as the annual Christmas with Southern Living titles. Both help steer their readers through the stress of cooking for holiday gatherings. 

An author-inscribed first edition of ‘The Alice B. Toklas Cook Book’ that contained the infamous recipe for hashish fudge sold for $3,500 plus the buyer’s premium in October 2021. Image courtesy of PBA Galleries and LiveAuctioneers.

One thing that collectors of cookbooks are never required to do is put their prizes to the purpose for which they were published. Sure, cookbooks that feature smudges, smoke-scorched pages, or cryptic handwritten notes in the margin gain an aura of authenticity that a rigidly pristine example lacks, but when it comes to book-collecting, clean copies always win. Perhaps the solution is to gather two versions of the same cookbook – one to keep in mint condition, and another that sports the wear and tear that comes with being loved and trusted by generations who rose from kitchen novices to seasoned experts while turning its pages. 

Bon appetit.

Golden Opportunities in Bars and Ingots

An example of gold bullion that was formed into a large rectangular ingot of one 24K gold kilo (2.2 pounds) sold for $105,000 plus the buyer’s premium in August 2020. Image courtesy of Tyler Louis Jewelry and LiveAuctioneers

The enduring passion for gold is so strong and obvious, it almost defies explanation. Most of us are content to possess gold in the form of coins, medals or jewelry, but those are not the only available options, like gold bars and ingots, or oblong blocks. These particular forms of gold were intended as a functional, no-frills way to quantify, store and transport the precious metal. But the shiny, heavy yellow rectangles prove enchanting nonetheless. Contrary to what some may assume, gold bars and ingos are not restricted to the ultra-secure facilities of banks and governments. They can be purchased quite easily. You just need to know what to look for.

An ingot dating to the early 20th century and traced to the Vulture Mine near Wickenburg, Arizona, achieved $31,000 plus the buyer’s premium in February 2021. Image courtesy of Holabird Western Americana Collections and LiveAuctioneers.

The two main choices in this unconventional realm of gold ownership are cast bullion and minted ingots. The first can be purchased through refineries, with cast bars weighing up to 400 ounces, or 27.5 pounds.

The second easily portable, smaller ingots authorized by governments or private mints are more affordable and accessible, and can weigh as little as one gram. Both are acceptable ways to own physical gold, provided they come with the correct documentation.

Historic Gold

For centuries, humans have crudely fashioned gold into bars or ingots to make the metal easier to ship. Vintage and antique gold bars that have survived in their utilitarian form offer collectors something that a gold coin can’t match, and that is heft.

A late Qing Dynasty 32-gram gold ingot with its original Chinese markings sold for $2,500 plus the buyer’s premium in June 2020, although its intrinsic value was only about $1,663. Image courtesy of Golden Moments Auction and LiveAuctioneers

As with any collectible, the rarity, history, condition and size of the gold ingot will determine its worth beyond the intrinsic value of the gold itself. For example, a 32-gram gold ingot minted in China in the 19th century during the Qing Dynasty (1644-1912) was sold at auction on June 9, 2020 for $2,600, a sum well above its intrinsic value. The Chinese ingot is more than just gold; it is history you can hold in your hand.

Avoiding Fakes

Just about anything for which people will fight to pay top prices makes it a target for counterfeiters, and gold bars and ingots are no exception. A method commonly favored by crooks involves applying a thin layer of gold to a brick made from a less valuable substance usually tungsten. The atomic weight of tungsten (74) is reasonably close to that of gold (79), but its price is not; it sells for 90 percent less. Canny collectors can foil bad actors by weighing a gold bar to at least four decimal places using a troy ounce (31.1034 grams) measurement instead of an avoirdupois ounce (28.35 grams). If the piece under consideration is, in fact, gold and not an alloy, the weight of both it and the troy ounce should match.

Another way to detect a bogus bar is to test it with a magnet. A wide range of metals, tungsten included, are magnetic, but gold is not. If a magnet reacts to a gold bar or ingot, the gold contains a metal alloy that should not be there. 

It is also important for an interested buyer to confirm all of the identifying marks stamped on a gold bar or ingot. These may include the foundry’s name, the year of production, a production number, the assayer’s monogram, the fineness of the gold, serial numbers, and the piece’s official weight. This information should be compared to the certificate of authenticity issued by the refinery, government agency or private mint. 

A 56.65-ounce gold bar bearing a Harris, Marchand & Co. stamp sold for $230,000 plus the buyer’s premium in January 2017. Image courtesy of Dan Morphy Auctions and LiveAuctioneers.

In addition, it is vital to check the company stamps on the gold against official ones to ensure counterfeiters aren’t replicating the stamps themselves. Some private mints have added holograms directly to their ingots during the manufacturing process to provide additional security. These hologram-sporting pieces are known as kinebars, and sometimes the holograms can actually make them more desirable to collectors. The fanciful artistic hologram design on a gold ingot from Argor-Heraeus in Switzerland sold in April 2020 for a hammer price of $2,300, or about 26% above the spot price of gold at the time.

Holograms were introduced as a security feature for small, minted gold ingots, but artistic holograms can add value. A fanciful design on a one-ounce gold bar from Argor-Heraeus in Switzerland realized $2,300 plus the buyer’s premium in April 2020. That sum was about 26% above the spot price of gold at the time. Image courtesy of 3 Kings Auction and LiveAuctioneers

While most of the world’s gold is currently mined in China, the United States has produced more gold to date than any other nation, according to a September 2020 BBC report by Justin Harper. Russia, Australia, South Africa, and Peru are other significant sources. Much of the counterfeit gold in circulation comes from countries such as North Korea, which have few to no gold mining operations. Ironically, China is considered a primary source of counterfeit gold bars as well as the genuine article. Of course, industry leaders firmly insist that all gold bars and ingots should only come from reputable dealers or mints.

The Future of Gold 

Of all the gold in existence today, about 201,000 tons, or 75% of it, was mined after 1910. Even more startling is the fact that the world’s entire historic supply of gold would easily fit inside an Olympic-sized swimming pool.

Explorer Mel Fisher appeared on television more than once with this petite 18.65-ounce gold bar, which he recovered in 1979 from the shipwreck of the Spanish galleon Atocha. It realized $75,000 plus the buyer’s premium in August 2015. Image courtesy of Guernsey’s and LiveAuctioneers

Our planet has yet to be drained of its gold supply. Another 15 billion pounds of the glittering stuff is believed to be lurking in seawater and along the seabeds of the oceans. The unexplored reaches of Antarctica could contain gold deposits, and the moon is suspected to have seams of the precious metal, too. Your golden opportunity to acquire bars or ingots is all around you, including in online auctions such as those hosted on LiveAuctioneers.