American furniture styles changed with the times

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

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

William and Mary (1690–1730)

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

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

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

Queen Anne (1730-1760)

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

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

Windsor chairs

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

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

Federal (1790 to early 1820s)

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

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

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

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

Pennsylvania Dutch (1720 to 1830)

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

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

Shaker (1780-1860)

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

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

Classical Empire (1820-1840)

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

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

Revival periods

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

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

20th century and beyond

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

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

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

Sal Buscema: creating dynamic comics

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Where fine tobacco comes from

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

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

The leaf

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

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

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

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

How its made

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What to look for

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

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

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

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

Cuban cigars

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

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

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

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

Collecting historic cigars

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

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

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

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

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

Not just the cigar

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

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

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

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

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

Celebrate with care

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

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

Garnets symbolize friendship, fidelity

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Their January entry reads:

By her who in this month is born,

No gems save garnets should be worn;

They will insure her constancy,

True Friendship and Fidelity

Contemporary artists to watch

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

Miriam Cabessa

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

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

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

Rodel Tapaya

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

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

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

Aleksandra Staniorowska

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

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

Yutaka Sone

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

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

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

Alyssa Monks

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

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

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

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



Carousels: Carved animals in motion

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Hark! The herald Christmas angels

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

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

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

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

As a Christmas Tree Topper

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

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

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

As a Christmas Tree Ornament

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

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

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

Guarding the Christmas Creche

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

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

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

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

And Throughout the Season

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

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

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

What Collectors Look For

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

“Interestingly,” they continue,” angels made from celluloid are virtually unknown.” So the variety of angel collectibles is rather large and varied with most available only from the early 19th century. recommends Italian papier mache angels from Fontanini beginning in 1908 until production switched to plastic by the 1960s. Early ceramic Hummel figurines from the World War II era still command auction interest rather than the later more commercial production period. Just note that each Hummel figurine with a copyright date embossed at the bottom only suggests when it was introduced, not when it was manufactured.

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

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

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

As a Guardian

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

Navajo expressed artistry with silver adornments

NEW YORK – The Navajo, who traditionally seek balance and beauty throughout their lives, adore ornamentation, especially silver. So families accumulate all they can afford. Besides, explains Charley B., raised on the “Big Rez” reservation near Chinle, Arizona, “Silver jewelry is given as gifts from birth, then all through life.”

Charley’s grandfather, a medicine man, wore all his silver – rings, bolos, concho belts, bracelets, ear pendants, moccasin buttons, hatbands, and bow guards – when performing healing ceremonies. His grandmother, a Navajo “star-gazer” and “hand-trembler” diagnostician, wore all her splendor, plus apparel bearing weighty Mercury-dime and Walking-Liberty-dollar buttons. All that radiance, though unrelated to religion, inspired respect and trust.

Silver concho belt, commercial leather and sinew with metal buckle, 43in, circa 1890. Sold for $7,000 + buyer’s premium in 2018. Image courtesy of Heritage Auctions and LiveAuctioneers

Yet Navajo silverwork is a relatively new art.

Decorative silver reached the New World in the 16th century, along with Spanish conquerors who decorated their horses with dazzling, silver-mounted bridles. Like the Moors, who had long ruled Spain, they believed that its shimmer averted the Evil Eye.

Hispanic blacksmiths, impressed by these trappings, eventually created similar bridles, trading some for Navajo cattle. In the 1850s, Atsidi Sani, a venturesome Navajo blacksmith, tried his hand at silverwork, using crude tools forged from scrap metal.

Leather bow guard adorned with silver buttons, 79 grams, 6in circumference, 2½in high, first quarter 20th century. Sold for $1,800 + buyer’s premium in 2020. Image courtesy of John Moran Auctioneers and LiveAuctioneers

While bands of his tribe were forcibly held at Fort Sumner in New Mexico Territory, he taught them his new-found techniques. By the time they returned to their homeland a decade later, scores had mastered the skill.

Initially, Navajo silversmiths melted American silver coins into ingots over charcoal fires. Then, by pounding them flat, they fashioned bridle bits, belt buckles, and bow guards for themselves, their families, and their community. Many of these early pieces featured simple, stamped geometric ornamentation, accented with filed or chiseled grooves and gashes. Others featured punched, scalloped borders.

Navajo silver bracelet featuring gem quality turquoise, stamped ‘RS,’ 105 grams, 1⁵⁄₈ x
5⁵⁄₈in, circa 1970. Sold for CA$450 (US$452.36) + buyer’s premium in 2012. Image courtesy of
Seahawk Auctions and LiveAuctioneers

By the 1880s, Navajo silversmith also crafted heavy ingot bracelets and earrings, embellishing some with choice blue or green bits of turquoise. Within a decade, many featured this “sky stone,” believed to offer physical and spiritual protection, more extensively. Yet it rarely overpowered the silver in their designs.

Once Navajo silversmiths mastered more advanced techniques like pounding silver into dies and soldering, they constructed more intricate creations. Silver conchos, possibly inspired by Spanish buckles, for instance, feature large shell-like, repoussé domes threaded through leather belts. Squash blossom necklaces, featuring flower-like beads resembling Spanish bridle floral motifs, are pairs of domed, soldered coins. Bridle-inspired najas, horseshoe-shaped, good-luck pendants often adorning these necklaces, were painstakingly sand-cast.

Squash blossom necklace featuring central, sand-cast, turquoise-tipped 3¼ x 2¼in naja suspended from dual strands of separated beads, each featuring bead and naja, on a 24in foxtail chain. Sold for $5,750 + buyer’s premium in 2017. Image courtesy Soulis Auctions and LiveAuctioneers

Anglo-American trading posts, established across the Navaho Nation in the 1890s, eased contact with the outer world. Since then, the relationship between trader and Navajo has been mutually beneficial. Traders provide Navajos with needed food, clothing, tools and art supplies. (When the U.S. government forbid defacing American currency, for example, traders supplied silversmiths with pure, soft Mexican pesos instead.) Navajo artists, in turn, sold completed creations to traders, who brought them to market.

From the 1920s, Navajo smiths, now including women, created lighter, smaller, more portable designs for the growing tourist trade. Others, in urban, Anglo-owned workshops, mass-produced similar pieces from prerolled silver sheets and precut components. Yet at the same time, innovative Navajo craftsmen, like Kenneth Begay and Mark Chee, were creating superb pieces for tribal use and retail. Sales fell, however, during the Great Depression.

Navajo silver hatband featuring groups of pear-shaped, bezel-set turquoise divided by raised crescent embellishment, marked ‘IH Sterling,’ 72 grams. Sold for $375 + buyer’s premium in 2020. Image courtesy Hill Auction Gallery and LiveAuctioneers

Navajo silver regained popularity in the 1960s and 1970s, as interest in Native American culture rose. Since production did not meet demands, however, prices soared. Yet toward the turn of the century, traditional Navajo silver pieces, along with fashionable watchbands, combs, barrettes, brooches, and earrings were readily available. Since then, master Navaho silversmiths, including Lee Yazzie and Ben Begaye, have combined traditional skills and innate creativity with sophisticated style.

Serious collectors, though, may seek Navajo “old pawn,” silver jewelry that, from the early 1900s, trading posts accepted as collateral on loans for necessities. Even today, women may swap sand-cast or turquoise-studded bracelets for bolts of cloth, redeeming them after their sheep are shorn. Farmers may swap prized concho belts for seeds, redeeming them at harvest home. Others routinely keep all their silver in pawn, “borrowing” it briefly for communal dances and ceremonies. “Stuff changes hands whenever there is a need,” Charley explains. “ Families in the midst of a dispute, for instance, might redeem their entire fortune, then don it to demonstrate strength and independence.”

Silver bracelet featuring turquoise set on stamped motifs resembling feathers, 5.5 x 1.2in, first quarter 20th century. Sold for $3,750 + buyer’s premium in 2010. Image courtesy of Cowan’s Auctions and LiveAuctioneers

If old pawn silver is not redeemed within the contracted period of time, however, it becomes “dead pawn,” which traders are authorized to sell at will. These historical pieces, which rarely reach the market, are prized not only for primitive style and silver content, but also for their authenticity – unevenly wrought wire, worn edges, crackled silver and crazed, natural turquoise. Some even boast original pawn tickets.

These treasures, created by Navajos for Navajos, reflect not only tribal art and culture, but also a notable time in Native American history.

The enlightening story of the menorah

NEW YORK – Hanukkah, known as the Festival of Lights, falls during the darkest days of the year. It commemorates the rededication of Jerusalem’s Holy Temple following second century B.C. Greek defilement. Though a bit of consecrated olive oil, enough for one day, was found to rekindle the Temple’s candelabra, it burned for eight days and nights – long enough to prepare more.

Ever since, Jews have celebrated this eight-day miracle by kindling special lights commonly known as Hanukkah menorahs or lamps. Their form is fixed – eight lights at uniform height, along with a separate “servant” light, used to kindle them. One light is lit on the first night of Hanukkah, followed by another on each subsequent night. By holiday’s end, all eight are aglow.

Rare, important, Neo-classic style Hanukkah lamp of hand-chased silver with the original servant light, 7in high, Wurzburg, Franco-Germany, 1800. Realized $17,500 + buyer’s premium in 2018. Image courtesy of J. Greenstein & Co. Inc. and LiveAuctioneers

Though candelabras appear on Jewish coins dating from 40 B.C., people likely kindled eight individual oil-filled clay lamps or single ones featuring eight small oil-fonts. During the Diaspora (70-1948 A.D.) when Jews scattered worldwide, Hanukkah lamps often reflected local materials, techniques and traditions. Some were impermanent. Many communities kindled eight small cups of oil, while others used eggshells or scooped-out potatoes.

Through the late Middle Ages, Franco-German Jews evidently favored wall-hung bronze lamps featuring pierced, triangular backplates. In place of olive oil, however, they may have kindled wicks dipped in goose fat.

Rare, engraved silver, marked Hanukkah lamp with architectural-type backplate, 25.5 x 13.5 x 4 centimeters, Salé, Morocco, 1899. Realized $950 + buyer’s premium in 2017. Image courtesy of Hammersite and LiveAuctioneers

Early Spanish Hanukkah lamps, though similar in style, featured vertical backplates.

Examples reached foreign shores during the 15th century when Jews sought refuge overseas from persecution. In time, Moroccan wall-hung models incorporated Moorish-type arabesques, openwork geometric designs, stylized birds and architectural elements. Algerian and Tunisian ones, edged with tiny oil fonts, featured decorative scrolled motifs and crenelated backplates. Since North African Jews favored appearance over age, when these lamps were worn or needed repair, they were melted down and cast anew. As a result, originals are rare.

With the expansion of international trade, North African Hanukkah lamp elements also appeared in other lands. Early, squarish, brass Dutch backplates, for example, were pierced, punched or embossed with low-relief bird, flower, candelabra, heart or Star of David images.

Brass Bezalel menorah, marked, 29 x 15.5 centimeters, circa 1915. Realized $5,500 + buyer’s premium in 2017. Image courtesy of Ishtar Auctions Ltd. and LiveAuctioneers

By the 19th century, however, Dutch Jews, like many others across Europe, favored convenient, candle-lit silver, gold or bronze menorahs featuring symmetrical branches supported by central shafts. Some were simply designed, evoking the stately Temple candelabra. Others featured imaginative bases, decorative spouts and intricately scrolled branches, along with oil jug, lion or Star of David finials.

Small, decorative backplate, footed menorahs of this era, especially those wrought by master craftsmen, were highly desirable. Silver Austrian ones often feature semicircular backplates exquisite chased and pierced peacock, ramping lion, or Ten Commandment motifs enhanced by rich florals and regal crowns. Polish brass ones, depicting crests or noble animals like stags, griffins or eagles, are sometimes flanked by similar side panels. Fine, woven silver filagree “Baal Shem Tov” models, featuring gilded, cartouche-shaped backplates adorned with birds, flowers, Torah scrolls, architectural elements and paired servant lights, are particularly enticing. Though most were small, designed for table use, “monumental” Polish and Russian synagogue menorahs ranged up to 4 feet in height.

Baal Shem Tov menorah, fine woven filagree, with applied decorations, marked 12 and a clover, 12in high, Ukraine, circa 1820. Realized $8,000 + buyer’s premium in 2012. Image courtesy of J. Greenstein & Co. Inc. and LiveAuctioneers

Rare, exceptional, antique menorahs, featuring fine, unusual images or craftwork, explains Jonathan Greenstein, Judaica expert at J. Greenstein and Co., are extremely collectible. Yet few survived the Holocaust. Most available on today’s market reached the West during earlier Jewish immigration.

From 1909 through 1926, members of the Bezalel School in Jerusalem created appealing stamped brass and silver backplate menorahs, many depicting classic motifs or scenes of the Hanukkah story. Classic Bauhaus forms and green, patinated brass models followed.

Rare Austrian silver peacock menorah, marked and initialed, Vienna, late-1800s. Realized $9,000 + buyer’s premium in 2016. Image courtesy of Pasarel and LiveAuctioneers

Contemporary Western artists often recast favorites or, inspired by tradition, create modern ones featuring Hebrew inscriptions, embossed Biblical scenes or popular motifs, Some, through cutting-edge technology, create crystal, acrylic, glass and freeform “molten” silver beauties. Others craft intriguing menorahs from found materials like bullets, artillery shells, or a mishmash of metal pipes.

Handmade sterling silver menorah featuring spheres intertwined with silver pipes, signed Ari Ofir, 13in high, Israel, modern. Realized $11,000 + buyer’s premium in 2015. Image courtesy J. Greenstein & Co. Inc. and LiveAuctioneers

Though many celebrate Hanukkah with a single menorah, others assign a separate one to each member of their family. Seven, eight, nine menorahs with candles all aglow – that’s a sight to behold.

Many observant families, however, prefer kindling oil-fonts because they are closer to tradition, closer to the Hanukkah miracle. These are enclosed in protective glass boxes, then displayed outdoors for all to see.

Pandora has a charm for every occasion

NEW YORK – Among modern collectibles, Pandora charms are some of the most well-known and widely worn. Introduced in 2000, Pandora charms are designed to allow the wearer to express her personal style through jewelry with personal meaning. Hundreds of styles of dangle and clip-style charms have been released since then in gold, sterling silver, rose or two-tone. Today, Pandora is synonymous with charm jewelry and while charm bracelets are its bread-and-butter, it even has necklaces that can accommodate a few charms.

A 14K gold Pandora charm bracelet sold for $2,750 + the buyer’s premium in November 2019 at Dallas Auction Gallery. Photo courtesy of Dallas Auction Gallery and LiveAuctioneers

There are charms for all interests and to commemorate many occasions from a wedding, a memorable trip to the birth of a child. They also have been a godsend to those who found themselves stumped for gift ideas but could look like a rock star by getting that special woman a charm each year for graduation, Mother’s Day or her birthday to add to her bracelet/s.

Popular charm themes are animals and family as well as special collections, including Star Wars and Disney. Most new charms range in price from about $25 to about $75, though the 14K gold ones are pricier. Pandora’s most expensive charm is a pavé gold heart that features real diamonds, which retails for over $600. In 2020, to celebrate its 20th anniversary, Pandora issued a limited edition charm each month based on designs in its archives. Charms that are not selling at goal levels are periodically retired from production to make way for new styles. Some of these retired charms can become more valuable over time, owing to scarcity. Among desirable retired examples are some charms issued to benefit charities, especially the Randers Frog charm. This was issued in 2003 for a Kiss the Frog event and only sold in Randers, Denmark. Fairytale-inspired charms, including ones paying homage to Hans Christian Andersen stories, are also collectible as are strikingly designed retired charms such as Daybreak, which features cubic zirconia.

This 14K gold Pandora bracelet with 24 charms earned €3,000 + the buyer’s premium in October 2015 at Henry’s Auktionshaus AG. Photo courtesy of Henry’s Auktionshaus AG and LiveAuctioneers

Generally, the plainer the charm is, the more affordable it is and Pandora’s sterling silver charms are on the first pricing tier with one of its most popular models, the Motherly Love charm, selling for $25. Adding gemstones and embellishments such as colored enamels and Murano glass elements, depending on the intricacy of the work, will increase the price for these charms. Among its newest releases and sure to have a strong following given the popularity of Disney’s Mandalorian is a charm featuring Baby Yoda called The Child, which retails new for $55.

A University of Kansas Jayhawk charm, one of the retired 14K gold charms, clips and spacers on a Pandora bracelet that fetched $3,100 + the buyer’s premium in July 2019 at Circle Auction. Photo courtesy of Circle Auction and LiveAuctioneers

While the company is based in Denmark, the charms are made in Thailand – finished by hand – and the company reportedly has a production staff of over 5,000 people there. Pandora charm jewelry is sold around the world and there are some charms that are only sold in certain countries. A football helmet was sold in America while a cricket bat charm was an Australia exclusive and reportedly a dice charm was available only in Las Vegas. Short of having a personal shopper overseas, some passionate collectors buy or trade with others online. There are several Facebook groups for this purpose that are quite active.

This 14K gold Pandora bracelet with 21 gold charms and clips brought $2,750 + the buyer’s premium in August 2018 at Dan Morphy Auctions. Photo courtesy of Dan Morphy Auctions and LiveAuctioneers

As with many luxury items made today, fakes will abound in the marketplace. “Spotting Pandora fakes can be quite difficult, especially if you are not overly familiar with Pandora’s catalog of charms,” according to the blog, Mora Pandora. Authentic Pandora charms feature a Pandora hallmark, usually “S925 ALE” or “925 ALE” for silver charms, and “G585 ALE” for gold charms. Hallmarks can be faked, however, so be careful when buying online.

The Art of Pandora blog website routinely reviews Pandora charms, especially as new ones are released. Among its recent reviews was Pandora’s relaunch of one of its earliest charms, the Stars charm that features small cutout stars on the cylinder-shaped charm that has ruffled edges. “The Pandora 20th Anniversary Stars Cham (799119C00) encourages and reminds its wearer to dream big and wish upon a star,” it writes.

Bearing 28 Pandora 14K gold charms, this sterling silver Pandora bracelet went for $1,350 + the buyer’s premium in September 2019 at Apple Tree Auction Center. Photo courtesy of Apple Tree Auction Center and LiveAuctioneers.

Personalization is the top-searched item for on crafting e-commerce site Etsy this holiday season and Pandora charms owe their popularity to their personalized nature. Mixing and matching favorite charms lets you express your personal style with charms that speak to important moments in life. They also ensure your jewelry designs don’t look like anyone elses.