Explore Tiffany’s earthy side through pottery

This geometric three-handled Tiffany Studios vase in green and blue-green glaze sold for $7,500 plus the buyer’s premium in April 2014.
Image courtesy of Michaan’s Auctions and LiveAuctioneers

Bright, iridescent glass is the hallmark of Louis Comfort Tiffany and the firm he founded, Tiffany Studios. Its stained-glass masterpieces, Art Nouveau lamps and favrile glass pottery, have attracted legions of fans for more than a century. Less well known is the fact that Tiffany pursued an interest in pottery design. Tiffany Studios pottery might even be more desirable today than it was when it was introduced at the height of the Art Nouveau movement.

A circa-1905 favrile bronze pottery vase, pictured on page 63 of ‘Tiffany Favrile Pottery and the Quest of Beauty,’ sold for $22,000 plus the buyer’s premium in January 2022. Image courtesy of Rago Arts Auction and Auction Center and LiveAuctioneers

The leaders of Art Nouveau wanted to remove the stuffy, antiquated boundaries between decorative and applied art. In a nutshell, the former was to be admired, while the purpose of the latter was to be functional. Artists of the era insisted that practical everyday object could be just as fashionable as a strictly decorative piece. Louis Comfort Tiffany did with glass and pottery what his fellow Art Nouveau trendsetters did in their respective fields – Aubrey Beardsley with graphics, Gustav Klimt with painting, Victor Horta with architecture and Louis Majorelle with furniture.

A Tiffany Studios scarab pottery vase with a jeweled scarab mount attained $15,000 plus the buyer’s premium in May 2013. Image courtesy of Michaan’s Auctions and LiveAuctioneers

Tiffany Studios pottery production lasted from roughly 1900 to about 1920. Louis Comfort Tiffany might have been inspired by the American art pottery movement that emerged from the 1876 Centennial International Exhibition held in Philadelphia, or perhaps he visited the French-inspired pottery exhibits at the Exposition Universelle in Paris in 1900 and was moved by what he saw. Whatever the source of the inspiration, Tiffany exhibited his firm’s earliest works of pottery at the Louisiana Purchase International Exposition in Paris in 1904 and at the Salon of the Societe des Artistes Francais in Paris in 1905.

The contours of an artichoke also serve as the body of this Tiffany Studios vase, which earned $16,000 plus the buyer’s premium in April 2010. Image courtesy of Rago Arts Auction and Auction Center and LiveAuctioneers

Just like Tiffany Studios’ famous works in glass, the firm’s pottery designs were based on flowers, plants and the beauty of the natural world. Artichokes, water lilies, vines, celery, ferns, crocuses, seedpods, blossoms and poppies were translated into the medium of ceramics with exceptional authenticity, resembling the real-world models in vivid, lifelike detail. Tiffany and his artisans achieved this feat by casting actual flowers and plants into the molds that formed the final design. This strict, obsessive attention to detail sets Tiffany Studios ceramics apart from others and wins the devotion of collectors. Note: the ceramic pottery should not be confused with Tiffany Studios favrile glass pottery, which is a separate category of wares.

An ivory and moss green vase modeled after the flowering trillium plant, which features the incised initials of Louis Comfort Tiffany on the base, earned $8,000 plus the buyer’s premium in October 2020. Image courtesy of Hill Auction Gallery and LiveAuctioneers

Part of what makes the ceramics of Tiffany Studios valuable today are the fundamental practices that led to its downfall. Louis Comfort Tiffany always strived for perfection, and whenever he had to choose between maintaining quality and increasing profits, he chose quality every time. Tiffany and his artisans were always experimenting, always improving, always ensuring every detail was just right. While most of the firm’s pieces were cast in commercial molds, it is said that Tiffany himself always threw the first piece on the line the one that would create the mold from which to shape all that followed.

The aquatic plant known as Sagittaria latifolia, possibly the arrowhead variety, is showcased in this Tiffany Studios vase that achieved $140,000 plus the buyer’s premium in May 2013. Image courtesy of Michaan’s Auctions and LiveAuctioneers

Once Tiffany Studios pottery pieces were fired, talented artists painted them individually with colored glazes in matte, crystalline and iridescent finishes. These glazes became the preeminent design feature of the firm’s pottery line. “Glazes on pottery claimed much of his time in certain years,” says the authorized 1914 biography The Art Work of Louis Comfort Tiffany, written by Charles de Kay. Glazes defined his work, and his work was exacting, labor intensive and costly.

This experimental Tiffany Studios vase, colored with mottled blue, pink, and green glaze, sold for $8,000 plus the buyer’s premium in May 2017.
Image courtesy of Rago Arts Auction and Auction Center and LiveAuctioneers

Unfortunately, Tiffany Studios pottery did not enjoy the same commercial success as its other offerings. Pottery production ceased around 1920, with only about 2,000 pieces created in total. While that was bad news for the firm, the relative rarity of Tiffany Studios pottery is good news for collectors. 

A whimsical Tiffany Studios vase depicting a frog on a green-glazed lily pad realized $5,500 plus the buyer’s premium in March 2013. Image courtesy of Treadway Toomey Auctions and LiveAuctioneers

The dwindling of Tiffany Studios pottery might have been a signal of dark times to come. In the 1920s, the Art Nouveau movement was eclipsed by the sleeker, more minimalist aesthetics of Art Deco and Bauhaus. Business declined, and too many pieces went unsold. Tiffany Studios declared bankruptcy and closed in 1932. Louis Comfort Tiffany suffered a personal bankruptcy and fell ill not long after closing the foundry, dying of pneumonia in 1933.

A high-shouldered Tiffany Studios Favrile pottery jar sold for $3,750 plus the buyer’s premium in July 2018. Image courtesy of I.M. Chait Gallery/Auctioneers and LiveAuctioneers

Tiffany was forgotten for a time by the art world, but the power and beauty of his decorative arts vision was rediscovered in the 1950s by curators and collectors. The artistic genius of Louis Comfort Tiffany and the artists he employed is proven at auction whenever original Tiffany Studios pottery captures the pre-sale high estimate, which it often does.

Budding collectors can learn more about Tiffany Studios pottery at the Charles Hosmer Morse Museum of American Art (www.morsemuseum.org) in Winter Park, Florida which “… houses the world’s most comprehensive collection of works by Louis Comfort Tiffany …” including his paintings, graphics and an ever-expanding display of decorative art.

A Tiffany Studios Favrile pottery vase, depicting a forest with the help of a matte chocolate glaze, realized $5,500 plus the buyer’s premium in January 2017. Image courtesy of Rago Arts Auction and Auction Center and LiveAuctioneers

Speaking on Tiffany and Tiffany Studios pottery, the Morse Museum’s site states it “… celebrates the design genius’s achievements with the ceramic medium that proved irresistible in his pursuit of beauty.” It is indeed a fitting epitaph for an artist whose works are beloved and immortal. 

A SIGN OF THE TIMES

A Kelly Tires sign featuring its fictional spokeswoman Lotta Miles sold for $55,000 plus the buyer’s premium in August 2018. Image courtesy of Route 32 Auctions and LiveAuctioneers.

“Sign, sign, everywhere a sign” says the chorus of the 1971 song Signs by the Five Guys Electric Band. Signs were, and still are, everywhere. But the older a sign gets, the more charming it can become. The company that paid for it might have shuttered many decades ago, and the product or service it touts might be as absent as a dodo bird, but it can still do what it was created to do: grab your attention.

This vintage porcelain sign for RCA Victor, featuring the famous ‘His Master’s Voice’ logo, sold for $800 in May 2014. Image courtesy of Rich Penn Auctions and LiveAuctioneers.

Porcelain signs, in particular, conjure a sense of nostalgia and a different era because they their heyday was in the 20th century. Back then, people had to leave their homes to buy almost everything they needed. An attractive, well-designed sign would turn the head of a carriage driver or walker. If the sign was destined for display outside where it would be exposed to the elements, it made sense to manufacture it from porcelain and decorate it with enamel.

An H.P. Hood & Sons Milk porcelain sign in outstanding condition achieved $11,000 plus the buyer’s premium in November 2021. Image courtesy of Dan Morphy Auctions and LiveAuctioneers.

To some, the word “porcelain” cannot be divorced from the word
fragile,” but those people forget that ceramics are amongst the most durable of materials, able to survive for centuries with their surface decorations almost as bright and vivid as they were when they emerged from the kiln. This admirable quality ensures that vintage porcelain signs will always have an audience.

An undated porcelain sign advertising DuPont shot powder realized $1,800 plus the buyer’s premium in May 2016. Image courtesy of Rich Penn Auctions and LiveAuctioneers.

Collectors concentrate on two broad types of porcelain signs: petroliana/automobilia, the terminology for signs that tout anything related to gas and oil, motor vehicles and the businesses that support and maintain them; and country store, which covers pretty much everything else from the 19 and early 20th centuries. The former have a daunting number of fans, many of whom seek period decor for the garages that house their car collections. 

Of course, condition and rarity matter in the realm of vintage porcelain signs, but what trumps them both, and always will, is the quality of a sign’s graphics. Prompting people to fix their vision on a sign may seem simple enough, but it is in fact quite challenging. Cutting through the visual clutter to command attention is both an art and a skill. The best porcelain signs testify to this fact.

This large Mobil Oil Pegasus sign sold for $3,250 plus the buyer’s premium in March 2011. Image courtesy of Daniel Donnelly Vintage Auction and LiveAuctioneers.

Early 20th-century designers of automobile signs faced the extra challenge of attracting drivers flying by at then-breathtaking speeds of up to 30mph. Their graphics had to be bright, whimsical, and colorful to entice the motorist to stop, top off the gas tank, and perhaps make other purchases, as well. The sign had to communicate its message quickly, boldly and efficiently. 

A unique illuminated Texaco porcelain sign festooned with red and green glass jewels achieved $55,000 plus the buyer’s premium in April 2017. Image courtesy of Dan Morphy Auctions and LiveAuctioneers.

To a collector of enameled porcelain signs bidding at auction, the most important criterion is, and will always be, the graphics. If the graphics are colorful and unique, the sign will attract healthy bids; if they are dull and non-graphic, the sign is likely doomed, unless the featured product or the company it represents has an exceptional backstory.  

Porcelain signs are relatively rare. In a 2009 interview with CollectorsWeekly.com, Michael Bruner, an enamel sign collector and author of Signs of Our Past: Porcelain Enamel Advertising in America, explained, “By World War II, a lot of those products had become obsolete. The signs came down, and they would just sit in places,” he said, adding, “The scrap drive of World War II really took a lot of our heritage away.”

A circa-1930s Canadian porcelain door push sign for Coca-Cola realized CA$1,400 (about US$1,000) plus the buyer’s premium in May 2021. Image courtesy of Miller & Miller Auctions Ltd. and LiveAuctioneers.

Collectors express a clear preference for smaller porcelain enamel signs. Those that are perceived as too big to ship, store and display might not attract as many bidders at auction. Another popular forms is the porcelain ceramic door push, which retailers would attach to the part of a store’s front door that customers pushed to enter. “D]oor pushes are so popular; you can put them right in the palm of your hand,” Bruner said. 

Another example of a coveted smaller porcelain enamel sign form is the pump plate, which appeared on early gasoline pumps and identified the company brand and, sometimes, the type of gasoline the pump dispensed.

A Gasco Motor Fuel porcelain gas pump plate earned $12,000 plus the buyer’s premium in November 2018. Image courtesy of Route 32 Auctions and LiveAuctioneers.

Ceramic signs with imagery showing railroads, highways, farms, tobacco, and anything featuring the Wild West tend to be serious draws at auction. Collectors can also specialize by shape, lasering in on two-sided flat, one-sided flat, round, curved or flanged signs as well.

A Western-theme porcelain sign from the early days of service station advertising realized $8,000 plus the buyer’s premium in April 2017. Image courtesy of Dan Morphy Auctions and LiveAuctioneers.

Reproductions can be an issue. According to antiqueadvertisingexpert.com, savvy collectors can determine the authenticity of a porcelain enamel sign by checking for the presence of rust spots. The genuine article will have a black-brown rust color that is noticeably metallic. Reproductions will have hand-painted or computer-applied rust spots with a distinctive orange-red color that will be evident when closely inspected.

Sun-fading affects a porcelain sign’s lettering more than its background, with the color red suffering the most. Be wary of signs with reds that appear a little bit too vibrant; they may be bogus. Other telling details include rivets and screws, which should be checked to ensure they have rusted evenly along with the holes. Unless a sign has survived unscathed, the reverse of the sign should be corroded and worn in the right places as well. 

It pays to use a magnet when examining a vintage porcelain sign. Prior to 1950, sign substrates were fashioned from steel sheeting. Reproductions, by contrast, feature aluminum. If the magnet sticks, that’s a good sign, literally and figuratively.

A curved corner porcelain sign for Old Dutch Cleanser attained $2,250 plus the buyer’s premium in September 2020. Image courtesy of Showtime Auction Services and LiveAuctioneers.

As of yet, no association exists specifically for the study of vintage porcelain enamel signs, however an abundance of porcelain sign collectors are members of the long-established and well regarded Antique Advertising Association of America (www.pastimes.org), which welcomes collectors of all types of antique and vintage advertising. Additionally, publications such as Bruner’s Encyclopedia of Porcelain Enamel Advertising and online sites such as antiquesigncollector.com can help novices learn more about the collecting specialty

Those who invest the time and money to acquire vintage porcelain enamel signs treat it as a lifetime hobby. They enjoy them for their artistry and for their ability to recall a vanished time when Coca-Cola cost a nickel and squads of smiling, uniformed gas station attendants would ready your car for the next leg of your journey.

Silver or Gold? With vermeil, you get both

A pair of vermeil silver Champagne coolers by English silversmith Paul Storr sold for €32,000 (approximately $33,675) plus the buyer’s premium in June 2018. Image courtesy of Colasanti Casa D’Aste and LiveAuctioneers.

Gold is easy to work with on its own – just heat it and form it as desired. It is heavy and luxurious, but because of its price, it isn’t always practical. A solution since ancient times has been to apply gold over other metals, like silver, a time-honored choice. But early methods of applying gold to silver to create vermeil (pronounced vehr-may), also known as silver-gilt, were sometimes difficult and dangerous. 

The Incas of South America married their Sun God of gold and Mother Moon of silver in their religious artifacts through what’s known as a depletion-gilding technique, a process that employs acids, salts and heat to bind the gold to the silver. European artisans came up with a fire-gilding process by which an amalgam of gold and mercury is heated to slowly dissolve the mercury until the gold chemically binds to the outer surface to produce ormolu. This practice was finally outlawed around 1830 due to its seriously harmful effects on the health of the metalsmiths.

A French silver-gilt breakfast set once owned by August Ludwig Viktor, Prince of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha, achieved NT$1,700,000 (about $58,000) plus the buyer’s premium in June 2020. Image courtesy of Yu Jen Taipei and LiveAuctioneers

French artisans discovered electrolysis in the late 18th century, a far-safer process that binds gold to silver by passing electric currents through the metals. Electrolysis is now the standard technique for creating works of vermeil.

It should be said that vermeil is not interchangeable with pieces that are gold filled or gold plated. The rules for the manufacture of the latter two are looser. Gold-filled pieces feature a layer of gold electroplated onto an alloy of copper, brass or other base metal that has no less than 5% of its total weight in gold, while gold-plated works have less than 1% of their total weight in gold over alloy. No specific karat-weight of gold is regulated for either type, although each can be identified by a hallmark such as GP for gold plated and GF for gold filled.

A circa-1809 French Empire silver-gilt platter and cover made for Prince Camillo Borghese and Pauline Borghese (nee Bonaparte) achieved £34,000 (about $42,500) plus the buyer’s premium in July 2021. Image courtesy of Kinghams Auctioneers and LiveAuctioneers.

Vermeil, in contrast, always has a base of fine or sterling silver – not an alloy. American government regulations require the layer of gold to comprise no less than 2.5 microns, which is about five times thicker than that used in gold plating. Also, the gold overlay can be no less than 10K in weight. With its combination of both gold and silver, vermeil is classified as demi-fine jewelry. It is by far the most coveted of the three gold-layered variations at auction.

As pointed out earlier, vermeil is created by electroplating pure gold onto a solid silver surface, but it need not be done when a piece is first made. A work of silver can be elevated to vermeil at any time. 

A circa-1950 decorative basket by Cartier featuring silver gilt bands, enameled strawberries and white enamel flowers achieved $1,400 plus the buyer’s premium in January 2017. Image courtesy of Quinn’s Auction Gallery and LiveAuctioneers

Any object made from gold will have a hallmark declaring its full karat weight, but items of vermeil, which have a layer of gold over silver, are not usually hallmarked for their gold content. They should sport a hallmark of .925 for sterling silver or .999 for fine silver to identify the purity of the base silver alloy. 

A circa-1900 sterling silver-gilt vermeil centerpiece bowl by Marcus & Co., sold for S1,100 plus the buyer’s premium in July 2019. Image courtesy of Auctions at Showplace and LiveAuctioneers

Telling the difference between a gold object and one that was originally cast as vermeil is straightforward but involves multiple steps, starting with checking for discoloration, general wear or tarnish. Pieces that have a history should show wear in logical places. If something appears too new for its age, the layer of gold you see was almost certainly added after its completion.

A 54-piece vermeil dessert service realized $2,400 plus the buyer’s premium in March 2018. Image courtesy of Leighton Galleries and LiveAuctioneers

Just feeling the weight of an item can help determine if it is gold or vermeil. The atomic weight of silver is 47 and the atomic weight of gold is 79, a difference in weight of about 41%. Vermeil jewelry, teacups, clocks, flatware and even royal crowns will feel lighter than their solid-gold counterparts and a bit heavier than those made from an alloy of brass and copper. 

A case in point is the 17th-century St. Edward’s Crown that Queen Elizabeth II wore at her coronation in 1953. Composed of solid 22K gold and more than 440 precious gems, it weighs nearly five pounds, a challenge for anyone to manage, whether high-born or not. 

“It weighs a tonne,” Her Majesty once told an interviewer. 

An openwork vermeil and diamond bangle bracelet earned $550 plus the buyer’s premium in December 2016. Image courtesy of New Orleans Auction Galleries and LiveAuctioneers

Magnets are good tools to have at hand when testing objects of vermeil. 

Magnets will not interact with gold, silver, brass or copper, but they will stick to anything that contains enough nickel, iron or steel. If the piece comprises anything except gold over silver, it’s not vermeil. 

Most vermeil items appear at auction in the form of jewelry and personal accessories, but the metallurgical technique has been used to produce other objects as well, both functional and fanciful. Teasets, mantel clocks, candlesticks, presentation bowls, serving trays and Russian icons adorned with vermeil are seldom bypassed at auction.

This Russian icon, chased and embossed with vermeil over a wood panel, sold for €1,500 (about $1,600) in November 2020. Image courtesy of Hargesheimer Kunstauktionen Dusseldorf and LiveAuctioneers

The White House has a Vermeil Room on its ground floor that showcases one of the largest collections of vermeil pieces ever assembled. Dedicated to the first ladies, the collection contains about 1,000 examples of flatware, tableware, chalices, tureens and a wine cooler donated to the Eisenhower administration in 1956 by socialite Margaret Thompson Biddle.

According to the White House Historical Association, the collection includes 18th-century vermeil in the English Regency style by Paul Storr, French Empire-style pieces by Jean-Baptiste-Claude Odiot, and examples by Philip Rundell, a London metalsmith. Vermeil designs by all of these revered names remain very much in demand.

A pair of mid-19th-century French silver and vermeil double salts by Maison Odiot, patterned after the original model by Jean-Baptiste-Claude Odiot, earned $2,600 plus the buyer’s premium in October 2020. Image courtesy of Freeman’s and LiveAuctioneers

Contemporary artisans such as Jacquie Aiche, Alfred Phillippe, Dina Mackney and Kendra Scott create vermeil jewelry in vintage and classical designs to suit any event, even a reception at the White House Vermeil Room.

A 20th-century sterling silver vermeil desk clock with a Breguet movement sold for $20,000 plus the buyer’s premium in November 2016. Image courtesy of Kodner Galleries Inc. and LiveAuctioneers

Owning vermeil, be it a centuries-old decorative object by a renowned artisan or a head-turning piece of jewelry finished last week, can make economic sense. If you don’t care to consider pure 24K gold coins, bars, bullion or jewelry part of your investment strategy, vermeil might be a sensible option.

How to measure three-dimensional objects, including silver, ceramics, glass & sculpture like an expert

Accurately measuring irregularly shaped three-dimensional objects can be challenging. This guide will give you the tools to accurately measure your decorative art and sculpture. Before handling them, make sure your hands are clean and dry.

The standard format for reporting measurements of three-dimensional items is as follows: Height x Width x Depth or Diameter.

Circumference, the distance around a circular item (such as a bowl or lamp shade), may also be measured if it applies to your object.

To begin, imagine putting a clear box or cube over your object. Now, measure the box – height first, then width, then depth (front to back).

Height: The vertical measurement from the base of an object to the top, its tallest point. If your object is mounted on a base, plinth, stand or pedestal, measure the height of the object including the base, and then measure it again without the base.

Width: The horizontal measurement of an object at its widest point, farthest left and right of center. If an object has handles or other details that protrude from the body, measure just the body, and then measure the object again, including the handles.

Depth: In this context, depth is the distance from front to back, or the horizontal measurement of an object’s protrusion into space, perpendicular to the object’s width.

Diameter: This measurement only applies to circular items. This is the measurement of the width of the circle at its largest point. Imagine bisecting the circular area into two equal parts with your ruler. If you are measuring objects with circular components of variable sizes, such as a bowl or vase, take three measurements: the diameter of the bottom, the diameter of the widest point of the body, and the diameter of the rim.

Circumference: The distance around a circular object, such as a bowl, lamp shade or paper weight. Use a flexible measuring tool, such as a seamstress tape. Hold the tape at the largest point of the object and then encircle it with the tape. This measurement only applies to circular objects.

Basic Types of Measuring Tools:

  • Seamstress tape: Soft and flexible, good for measuring circumference, three-dimensional objects or curved objects.
  • Measuring tape: Rigid, can be hooked onto a frame or canvas, good for measuring straight items that are longer than one foot.
  • Ruler: Rigid, good for measuring straight items smaller than one foot, particularly small items that can be laid directly on the ruler.

How To Measure:
Measuring tools

Imagine the clear box over your object.

For items that are not circular, such as sculptures, measure the Height, Width and Depth of the object.

  1. Place the “Zero” end of your measuring tool at the end of your object.
  2. Make sure the end of your ruler is flush (in line) with your object.
  3. Adjust your ruler so that it is aligned with your object. The ruler should be straight and parallel to the object.
  4. Move to the opposite side of the object you are measuring and read the ruler.

For items that have circular components, such as bowls, vases or paperweights, measure the Height, Width, Diameter and Circumference of the object:

  1. Place the “Zero” end of your measuring tool at the end of your object.
  2. Make sure the end of your ruler is flush (in line) with your object.
  3. Adjust your ruler so that it is aligned with your object. The ruler should be straight and parallel to the object.
  4. Move to the opposite side of the object you are measuring and read the ruler.
  5. Use a flexible tool such as a seamstress tape to measure the circumference, the distance around the object.

Measuring height

Measuring width

Measuring circumference

Measuring height and width

Measuring Diameter and Circumference

Measuring diameter of opening

Toleware: both useful and beautiful

An early 19th-century tin toleware lighthouse coffee pot with a gooseneck spout realized $16,000 plus the buyer’s premium in April 2011. Image courtesy of Pook & Pook, Inc., and LiveAuctioneers

Toleware, a term for tinned objects that have been paint-decorated and lacquered, usually with charming folk motifs, originated in 17th-century Wales. Although early examples were utilitarian in nature, many were decorated to imitate exotic Asian lacquerware imports, especially those from Japan. Cups, pans, pails, coffee pots and other standard household items boasted fanciful chinoiserie-style designs against shiny black “japanned” (aka lacquered) grounds. 

This eight-piece Regency period parcel gilt toleware service sold for €1,800 (roughly $1,900) plus the buyer’s premium in June 2015. Image courtesy of Sheppard’s Irish Auction House and LiveAuctioneers

British “whitesmiths,” a term coined to mean tinsmiths, worked magic through the medium of toleware. With a thin tin coating and a deft creative hand, any humble household item could be transformed into a durable, decorative statement. As toleware became more fashionable, British whitesmiths created pieces that held higher regard in the home, such as wine coolers and molasses dispensers. 

A Victorian toleware molasses dispenser with front panels featuring a British coat of arms sold for £500 (about $653) plus the buyer’s premium in December 2020. Image courtesy of Lyon & Turnbull and LiveAuctioneers

With the advent of roller mills, which pressed smelted iron bars into thin sheets ready for tinning, production of basic flat household toleware pieces soared. Through the mid-18th-century, both toleware and pressed tinned sheets were exported to the Colonies. Edward and William Pattison, enterprising whitesmiths based outside of Hartford, Connecticut, created similar kitchen wares of their own. Their business flourished as they took a business-to-consumer approach, peddling their fanciful wares door to door. 

This circa-1840 New England toleware document box earned $240 plus the buyer’s premium in February 2019. Image courtesy of the New Hampshire Antique Dealers Association and LiveAuctioneers

After the Revolutionary War, family-run toleware workshops also arose in Maine, New York and Pennsylvania. Simple, useful items were always in demand, but some whitesmiths graced more ornate creations with cut, punched, pierced, gilt, beaded, flat or raised details. They enlisted their wives and daughters to add freehand painted floral images in a process commonly known as “flowering.” More complex images could be produced through the use of multiple stencils. Most of these American toleware designs feature red, orange and yellow bouquets against green or black grounds. Other American toleware motifs were inspired by images found on costly imported porcelains. 

A 19th-century Pennsylvania toleware child’s mug attained $600 plus the buyer’s premium in January 2022. Image courtesy of Conestoga Auction Company Division of Hess Auction Group and LiveAuctioneers

The Pennsylvania Dutch (an aberration of the term “Deutsch”), a distinct European cultural group of farmers and artisans also known as the Pennsylvania Germans, settled across the southern and eastern parts of the Keystone State in the 18th and 19th centuries. Their tan, rust red, green and pumpkin-yellow toleware designs, rendered in sweeping brush strokes or by “thumbing” (blending applied paints with finger or thumb), are reminiscent of European peasant designs. In addition to fruit and florals, Pennsylvania German tolewares often bore geometric shapes enhanced with stylized images of birds, farm animals, tulips or hearts-and-flowers against dark lacquered grounds.

A 19th-century Pennsylvania toleware child’s mug with a yellow ground achieved $2,500 plus the buyer’s premium in October 2021. Image courtesy of Conestoga Auction Company Division of Hess Auction Group and LiveAuctioneers

Although toleware fell out of fashion by the turn of the 20th century, these now-antique pieces have earned legions of fans. British, American and Pennsylvania Dutch tolewares are ardently collected, but so, too are French tolewares, famed for their superior lacquer, varied palettes, fine embellishment and elegant floral designs. 

A circa-1830 toleware box attained $300 plus the buyer’s premium in April 2021. Image courtesy of the New Hampshire Antique Dealers Association and LiveAuctioneers

Toleware pieces that reflect the 19th-century French fascination with mystery and illusion might be the most intriguing of all. Elaborate magic sets were made from toleware, and sleight-of-hand tricks with names such as Scotch Purse, Hammer and Ball, Die Through Hat and Bonus Genius, often employed colorful toleware coin-conjuring plates. Hand-painted toleware changing canisters helped magicians produce objects or make them disappear, while colorful card-changing ladles fitted with hinged, moveable tin leaves inside the bowl captured and held magicians’ chosen cards. 

Alexander Herrmann’s Cards and Card Bouquet magical apparatus with toleware vase, achieved $6,500 plus the buyer’s premium in October 2021. Image courtesy of Potter & Potter Auctions and LiveAuctioneers

The quirky toleware Cards and Card Bouquet magic apparatus, once linked to the famed French stage magician Alexander Herrmann and once part of the Circus Museum of Sarasota Collection, was no less bewitching. It featured an internal mechanism which, once a spectator’s secret card choices were returned to their deck, reveals them in all their glory.

A Hermes coffee table with a toleware tray top sold for $4,000 plus the buyer’s premium against an estimate of $400-$600 in August 2021. Image courtesy of Alex Cooper and LiveAuctioneers

Toleware may have been vanquished with the rise of plastic, but it hasn’t left the art scene completely. Hermes, the fashionable, centuries-old French company, produced a coffee table with a toleware tray top in Veuve Clicquot’s trademark yellow, emblazoned with the Champagne producer’s brand name. An example of the table hammered for $4,000, 10 times its low estimate, in August 2021. But it’s the antique tole pieces that dominate, reminding their owners of plucky cottage entrepreneurs who found a way to create objects that were both useful and beautiful.

How to measure prints and posters like an expert

Accurately measuring prints and posters can be challenging. This guide will give you the tools to accurately measure them. Before handling your prints and posters, make sure your hands are clean and dry, and use gloves if you have them.

The standard format for reporting measurements of a print or a poster is as follows: Height x Width. For a framed artwork, use this format: Height x Width x Depth.

Experts need three different measurements to assess your print or poster: Sheet, Image and Plate. If the work is in a frame, they also need to know the Sight and Frame measurements.

Sheet: Measure the entire sheet of paper. If your item is in a frame, you may not be able to take this measurement. See the red line in the illustration below.

Image: Measure the colored area. See the yellow line in the illustration below.

Plate: Plate marks are faint indentations surrounding the image, and are usually square or rectangular in shape. See the blue line in the illustration below.

Sight: This is the area of the artwork that is visible inside the mat or frame. See the orange line in the illustration below.

Frame: This is the overall size of the frame. See the purple line in the illustration below.

How to measure prints

How to measure prints

How to measure prints
BASIC TYPES OF MEASURING TOOLS:
Measuring tools

  • Seamstress tape: Soft and flexible, good for measuring circumference, three-dimensional objects or curved objects.
  • Measuring tape: Rigid, can be hooked onto a frame or canvas, good for measuring straight items that are longer than one foot.
  • Ruler: Rigid, good for measuring straight items smaller than one foot, particularly small items that can be laid directly on the ruler.

How to Measure:

  1. Place the “Zero” end of your ruler at one end of your print (the “Zero” end is usually on the left side of the ruler).
  2. Make sure the end of your ruler is flush (in line) with your print.
  3. Adjust your ruler so that it is aligned with your print.
  4. Move to the opposite side of the print you are measuring and read the ruler.

How to determine the condition of paintings on canvas, board or linen like an expert

This article will explain common condition issues found in paintings on canvas, board or linen. It will give you the tools to determine if common condition issues are present in the paintings that you own.

Keep in mind that if you discover condition issues, they will not necessarily hurt the sales value of your artwork. Some condition issues are inherent to the materials used to create the piece, and their presence can help confirm authenticity. Should an expert determine that restoration prior to a sale would increase the resale value of the piece, that same expert should be able to recommend a restorer who can perform the work.

It is best to remove a painting from the frame when looking for condition issues because the frame can conceal parts of the work. However, if you are not comfortable with the idea, do not remove the piece from the frame.

When handling the work, make sure your hands are clean and dry, or wear clean gloves. This step is vital because the oils from your fingertips can cause damage to the artwork.

Many condition issues can be detected with the naked eye, but you should also examine the painting using a light source. Note that certain issues may require a magnifying glass or a black light to detect.

Once you’ve set up the painting for examination, you should look for the following issues:

  • Tears or Rips
  • Paint Loss
  • Craquelure
  • Inpainting, Overpainting and Retouching
  • Water Damage
  • Varnish Discoloration
  • Fading or Overcleaning
  • Surface Dirt
  • Re-lining
  • Sagging or Looseness on Its Stretchers
  • Frame Damage

Tears or Rips
Examine the front of the work. Are there any tears or rips in the canvas? Look at the back of the painting. Are there are any patches? Canvas patches can indicate that a tear has been repaired.

Paint Loss
Look closely at the entire surface to see if there is any paint loss. If you have a magnifying glass, use it. Examine the surface in raking light, which is light that falls across the surface at an angle. Viewing the work in raking light can help you determine if there are cracks in the surface of the paint or areas of loss. Related issues include cleavage (separation between the paint and ground layers), flaking and lifting.

Craquelure
Craquelure is a very common condition issue. The term describes a network of fine fracture lines in a paint layer. It often resembles spider web­-like cracks, but it can manifest in several different ways. Craquelure may only be present in certain areas of the surface, and the size of the cracks can vary from a centimeter to a few inches. It often occurs naturally as a painting ages, but it can also be caused by an impact to the canvas, by rolling or folding the unstretched canvas, and by exposure to humidity or other environmental influences. Craquelure can lead to flaking and lifting and can indicate poor adhesion between the paint layer, varnish layer and support. To look for craquelure, examine the surface in raking light.

Inpainting, Overpainting and Retouching
Inpainting or retouching is the introduction of new paint into small areas of loss in order to restore continuity and conceal damage. Overpainting is an application of new paint that completely covers the old surface. The results of these conservation techniques are difficult to detect. Look for areas where the paint color is slightly different. Inconsistent brush strokes or areas where the paint is thicker can also be signs of restoration. Often, inpainting is used to conceal a tear in a canvas that has been patched on the reverse. Sometimes, areas that have been restored can be detected because condition issues present in other parts of the canvas are absent. If you have a black light or ultraviolet light available, take your painting to a dark room and examine the surface under the black light to see if any areas of the paint fluoresce differently. Older paint will look different from new paint under black light; new paint will usually look darker.

Water Damage
Examine the back of the work. Are there any discolored areas that might indicate the artwork came into contact with water or another liquid? Moisture exposure can cause the canvas and the wooden stretcher bars to expand and contract or warp, which can disturb the paint layer and cause lifting.

Varnish Discoloration
A final protective coating of varnish is often applied to a painting in order to protect and preserve the paint layer. Varnish can discolor, darken and deteriorate with age, affecting the overall appearance of a painting. Varnish often yellows with age and becomes brittle.

Fading or Overcleaning
Fading is a gradual loss of color or intensity. This can be caused by exposure to sunlight, or it can be inherent to the type of paint. Fading can also result from overcleaning.

Surface Dirt
If a painting is not kept under glass, a layer of surface dirt will naturally accumulate on the surface as time passes. This dirt often consists of dust, soot, smoke and natural particles found in the environment. To determine if your painting is dirty, closely examine the surface. Does it appear dark or soiled? Check the frame to see if a layer of dirt has accumulated on the top edge or along the lower interior lip. Then, put on clean white cotton gloves, or take the corner of a clean piece of paper towel, and press it gently on the surface of the painting near the edge. If the material is darkened when you lift if off, your painting may need to be cleaned. Do not attempt to clean the work yourself.
Example of surface dirt

Re­-lining
Re­-lining is the process of reinforcing the canvas by applying a second canvas or material lining to the back of the original and securing it with pressure and an adhesive, usually wax or glue. Until the 1970s, re-­lining was a common restoration technique used to fix tears, unstable paint and deteriorating canvases. Because the adhesive used in this process eventually can seep into the original work and cause adverse effects, re­-lining has become less common today. To determine if a canvas has been re-­lined, turn the painting over and look carefully at its edges. Does it look like another piece of canvas has been sandwiched to the back of the original canvas? There may be glue or wax residue along the edges. The back of a re-­lined canvas may also appear new.

Sagging or Looseness on Its Stretchers
The fibers in stretched canvas often lose their tautness over time, causing the material to sag on the wooden frame. When you gently shake the painting, does the canvas move? Does the canvas sag or bend? Examine the canvas in raking light. A restorer can easily tighten a canvas that has become loose on its frame.

Frame Damage
Is the frame stable? Are there chips? Has the gilding worn away or flaked off? Frames are decorative and also serve to protect the edges and surface of a painting from damage. Because frames can be replaced, experts generally do not consider the condition of most frames when valuing an artwork.

Past Repairs or Conservation
If your painting has been conserved or restored, do you have documentation of the treatment? This paperwork should accompany the painting so that future owners know what treatments it has received and when the services were completed.

Gold dollar coins add beauty and history to your investment portfolio

An 1855 Type 2 gold dollar with an NGC grade of MS-64 achieved $8,200 plus the buyer’s premium in January 2022. Image courtesy of Pacific Global Auction and LiveAuctioneers

Of the many coins created and released by the mints of the United States, only three official gold dollar coins have been issued – the fewest of any denomination. These coins lure collectors with their gold content and the traditional artistry of 19th-century American coin design. But, as with most collectibles, some specimens have greater investment value than others. 

Christopher Bechtler’s privately-minted gold dollar coins gained acceptance because they were known to be of honest weight. A circa-1840s example minted by his son Augustus earned $3,250 plus the buyer’s premium in November 2021. Image courtesy of Gold Standard Auctions and LiveAuctioneers

Before diving in, it’s worth mentioning that collectors are not strictly limited to U.S. government-minted examples. When Congress failed to authorize the creation of a gold dollar coin in the Coinage Act of 1792, at least one individual stepped up to meet the demand. Christopher Bechtler was a goldsmith and watchmaker originally from Baden, Germany who set up a private gold foundry in Rutherford County, North Carolina, about 75 miles west of Charlotte, North Carolina. He serviced the first gold rush in the country following the discovery of gold there in 1799. 

Bechtler, later joined by his sons, minted private gold coins in denominations of $1, $2.50 and $5, based on different carat weights. His coins were not considered legal tender within the United States and circulated only within the region. The Bechtler family closed the foundry in the 1850s, but their gold coins, in any denomination, are valued at auction for both their historical connection to the first gold rush in America and the purity of their gold.

A Christopher Bechtler one dollar Carolina coin, dating to between 1827 and 1842 and with an NGC grade of MS-63, realized $13,000 plus the buyer’s premium in June 2021. Image courtesy of Ira & Larry Goldberg Coins & Collectibles and LiveAuctioneers

By the late 1840s, gold was being discovered in sufficient quantities in North Carolina and California for Congress to reconsider allowing the creation of a gold dollar coin for general circulation. The coin would be a boon to small, rural communities where early banknotes had not yet integrated into the economy, but a potent objection remained: gold dollar coins are easily counterfeited.

Nonetheless, Congress passed the Coinage Act of 1849, which at long last authorized the US Mint to produce a gold dollar coin. Each was a bit smaller in diameter than the dime then in circulation, with only 1.67 grams of gold (31.1 grams to the troy ounce). The dollars were minted at 90% gold and 10% copper and were struck at five different US Mints from 1849 through 1889.

A Type 2 gold dollar coin struck at the Philadelphia Mint in 1855 sold for $130 plus the buyer’s premium in July 2011. Though it was in weakened condition, the auction sum beat the coin’s melt value of $76. Image courtesy of Manor Auctions and LiveAuctioneers

The US Mint’s Chief Engraver, James B. Longacre, a copper plate engraver, was commissioned to design the new gold dollar coin in 1849. Ultimately, Longacre would design all three gold dollar coins, which would become known as the Type 1, Type 2 and Type 3 versions. While each was similar in design, all have individual charms that captivate collectors.

Type 1

The obverse (the heads side) of the Type 1 features a female personification of Liberty in a left-facing profile, crowned by a small tiara and ringed by 13 six-pointed stars and a raised edge. The reverse (the tails side) features an olive wreath surrounding the numeral “1”, the word “dollar” and the date, with the Mint mark added just below the wreath. The legend “United States of America” surrounds three-quarters of the outer perimeter. Together, these details would comprise the basic design of all three types of gold dollar coin, except for some minor differences.

An 1853 Type 1 gold dollar coin picturing Liberty on the front bore no mint mark, meaning that it was struck at the Philadelphia Mint. It attained $250 plus the buyer’s premium in January 2012, a sum well above the $85 melt value of the gold. Image courtesy of William J. Jenack Auctioneers and LiveAuctioneers

The Type 1 was minted in 1849 at the mints in Philadelphia and Dahlonega, Georgia, until 1854; at Charlotte, North Carolina and New Orleans until 1853; and at San Francisco only in 1854.

Collectors consider the most valuable Type 1 to be the 1849-C issue of the Charlotte Mint. It featured what is known as the “open wreath” on the reverse, because the wreath did not close around the central core as later issues would. Just 125 open wreath gold dollar coins were minted at the Charlotte Mint before a closed wreath design replaced it. Only five specimens are known to exist, one of which sold for $690,000 in 2004.

According to CoinWeek.com, “ … there are no overly difficult coins [of this type] to acquire although many of the Charlotte and Dahlonega issues are rare to very rare in Uncirculated [condition]. Most … collectors seek a single high-grade Type One issue from Philadelphia.”

Type 2

The Type 2 design features a profile portrait of an unidentified Native American Princess instead of Liberty. She sports a fanciful feathered headdress that was described by one critic as “ … an elegant version of folk art.” The only difference appears on the reverse, where an agricultural wreath replaces the Type 1 olive branch, featuring intertwined cotton, corn, tobacco and wheat stalks meant to represent both North and South.

An 1855 Type 11 gold dollar coin with a PCGS grade of MS-64 attained $6,500 plus the buyer’s premium in July 2016. Image courtesy of Richard Opfer Auctioneering, Inc., and LiveAuctioneers

This design was minted at the Philadelphia Mint in 1854 and 1855, with the mints in Dahlonega, Charlotte and New Orleans producing them in 1855 and San Francisco contributing in 1856. With lower production numbers, CoinWeek.com recommends “ … the 1854 or 1855 Philadelphia issue [as] the best choice,” with all Type 2 coins in much higher grades difficult to find at auction.

Type 3

The only slight difference with the Type 3 gold dollar coin is the portrait of the Native American princess was larger than the one on the Type 2, taking up more of the obverse. Its reverse is identical.

The Type 3 is the longest-serving dollar gold coin design, minted from 1856 through 1889. The Philadelphia Mint produced coins through the entire period, while the Charlotte Mint issued only in the years 1857 and 1859; the Dahlonega Mint from 1856 through 1861; and the San Francisco Mint from 1857 through 1860 and also 1870.

Among the most sought-after gold dollar coins is the 1861-D minted at Dahlonega, Georgia in 1861. It was struck by the Confederate government with the gold bullion left behind when they seized the mint early in the Civil War. This example achieved $32,500 plus the buyer’s premium in July 2008. Image courtesy of Heritage Auctions and LiveAuctioneers

Collectors clamor for 1861 D gold dollar coin as it was issued exclusively by the Confederacy during the first year of the Civil War, after its troops captured the Dahlonega Mint. The Confederacy minted the gold dollar coin for its own use until the mint’s gold supply ran out. Otherwise, CoinWeek.com recommends “ … a Philadelphia issue made during the 1880s [as] a prime choice.”

This Type 3 gold dollar coin, struck at the Philadelphia Mint in 1887, realized $450 plus the buyer’s premium in March 2022. Image courtesy of Alex Cooper and LiveAuctioneers

Collectors who have heard about gold Sacagawea dollars and other commemorative gold dollars might wonder where they fit in to the larger picture. A total of 39 Sacagawea dollars issued from the West Point Mint in 1999, but were never intended to circulate. They were sent to the International Space Station and displayed at coin shows and are now stored at the Fort Knox Gold Depository. Gold dollar coins issued between 1903 and 1922 are merely commemorative and never circulated as legal tender; they don’t even feature the Longacre design. Beware of vendors or collectors who suggest these dollar coins are scarce prizes.

An 1882 Type 3 proof gold dollar coin, graded PR66, achieved $12,000 plus the buyer’s premium in December 2018. Image courtesy of BK Auctions and LiveAuctioneers

The value of an individual gold dollar coin depends on many factors: its year of mintage, the mint of origin, the presence of production errors, the type of proof, its condition and the overall grade itself. A complete collection is satisfying and can earn a higher value at auction, but assembling it is the work of a lifetime.

Some money managers recommend antique gold dollar coins because they diversify a portfolio into gold while enhancing it with their historic value, giving them a higher value together than they might have separately. 

A Christopher Bechtler gold dollar coin, dating to 1831-1834 and PCGS certified, sold for $11,000 plus the buyer’s premium in July 2018. Image courtesy of Brunk Auctions and LiveAuctioneers

Whether you are an investor or a collector, always trade with a reputable dealer and educate yourself by consulting LiveAuctioneers, the American Numismatic Association and the American Numismatic Society to learn more about gold dollar coins. The best and rarest tell the story of a young nation that grew and transformed itself with the discovery of gold.

How to measure jewelry and watches like an expert

Accurately measuring irregularly-shaped jewelry and watches can be challenging. This guide will provide tips and best practices.

The standard format for reporting measurements of three-dimensional items is as follows: Height x Width x Depth, and, if needed, Diameter and Length.

Distinguishing between Width and Depth can be confusing. Sometimes it’s helpful to imagine placing a clear box or cube over your entire object. Now, imagine you are measuring the box – height first, then width, then depth (front to back).

For jewelry set with stones, always measure the width and depth of the setting, not just the overall object.  For watches, measure the width and length of the case and the length of the band.

 

How To Measure:

Imagine the “clear box” over your object.

Height: The vertical measurement from the base of an object to its tallest point.

Width: The horizontal measurement of the widest point of the front of an object, farthest left and right of center.

Depth: In the context of jewelry and watches, this is the distance from front to back, or the horizontal measurement of an object’s protrusion into space, perpendicular to the object’s width.

Diameter: This measurement only applies to circular items. Diameter is the measurement of the width of a round object at its largest point. Imagine bisecting the circular area into two equal parts with your ruler.

Length: Measure the length when the size of the item from end to end is important to determine how it will fit the wearer. This applies to items such as necklaces, watch bands and bracelets.

Interior Circumference: This captures the distance around the interior of a circular object, such as a bangle bracelet. Use a flexible measuring tool such as a seamstress tape and encircle the interior of the object. If you do not have a seamstress tape, use a piece of string and then measure the string. This measurement is important for determining how the object will fit the wearer.

 

Basic Types of Measuring Tools:
Measuring tools

  • Seamstress tape: Soft and flexible, good for measuring circumference, three-dimensional objects or curved objects.
  • Measuring tape: Rigid, can be hooked onto a frame or canvas, good for measuring straight items that are longer than one foot.
  • Ruler: Rigid, good for measuring straight items smaller than one foot, particularly small items that can be laid directly on the ruler.

For items that are not circular, measure the Height, Width, and Depth of the object. If applicable, measure the Length.

  1. Place the “Zero” end of your measuring tool at the end of your object.
  2. Make sure the end of your ruler is flush (in line) with your object.
  3. Adjust your ruler so that it is aligned with your object. The ruler should be straight and parallel to the object.
  4. Move to the opposite side of the object you are measuring and read the ruler.

For items that have circular components, such as bangle bracelets, measure the Height, Width, Diameter, and Interior Circumference of the object:

Measuring interior circumference

  1. Place the “Zero” end of your measuring tool at the end of your object.
  2. Make sure the end of your ruler is flush (in line) with your object.
  3. Adjust your ruler so that it is aligned with your object. The ruler should be straight and parallel to the object.
  4. Move to the opposite side of the object you are measuring and read the ruler.
  5. Use a flexible tool such as a seamstress tape to measure the interior and exterior circumference.

How to photograph rugs

This guide contains instructions and tips for taking clear photographs of your rug. Photograph your rug or carpet in a clean and clutter-free area. Always handle your rug with clean, dry hands or wear gloves.

Lighting
Select an area with good, preferably natural light. You may consider photographing your rug outside or in a room with strong, natural indirect light.

Object Position
It is best to take large rugs outdoors and place them on a clean, dry surface, such as clean, dry pavement. If photographing indoors, remove furniture and other objects from the rug.

Camera Position
Make sure that the entire rug is in the frame. You may need to use a ladder to achieve the correct perspective. Avoid photographing the rug at a severe angle.

You should take the following photographs of your object:

  1. Images of the Entire Front and Back
    Be sure that no parts are cropped out.

  2. Close-up image of the back of an item with a quarter on the surface. The quarter helps experts determine the size of the weave.
  3. Close-up images of interesting, detailed or beautiful areas
  4. Close-up images of any dirt, repairs or other condition issues
    Accurately reporting condition issues is essential to successfully selling your property.
  5. A close-up image of any labels