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 

Meteorites: collectibles from out of the blue

A lunar meteorite dubbed The Moon Puzzle because it consists of six pieces that fit to create a whole weighing slightly more than 12 pounds achieved $500,000 plus the buyer’s premium in October 2018. Image courtesy of RR Auction and LiveAuctioneers.

Comets, eclipses and other cosmic phenomena visible to the naked eye are awe-inspiring, but meteorites are in a class of their own. The name of these extraterrestrial rocks reflects their down-to-earth nature, in that only those that reach the surface of the Earth are called meteorites; those that burn up in the atmosphere remain meteors.

A Gibeon nickel-iron meteorite, part of a fall that took place in Namibia that was discovered in 1836, sold for $13,000 plus the buyer’s premium in February 2020. Image courtesy of Brunk Auctions and LiveAuctioneers

The fascination with meteorites predates written history. Up until recently, it was difficult to confirm a rock was in fact a meteorite, simply because most have unremarkable appearances that give no hint of their out-of-this-world origins. Improvements in technology have made confirmation easier, and commercial travel has made it easier for meteorite-hunters to reach far-flung locations where meteorite falls have occurred. 

A slice of an Imilac pallasite from northern Chile, featuring gemmy olivine crystals in a silver matrix, made $5,000 plus the buyer’s premium in May 2012. Image courtesy of I.M. Chait Gallery/Auctioneers and LiveAuctioneers

Some meteorites discovered during private expeditions enter museums and research collections, but many more are acquired by collectors. Due to their extreme rarity, however, most meteorites available on the open market are fragments or slices of larger masses.

This partial slice of breccia from the largest lunar meteorite, found in Morocco, earned $7,000 plus the buyer’s premium in October 2012. Image courtesy of Heritage Auctions and LiveAuctioneers

Stony meteorites, age-old igneous-like silicate rock aggregations, are the most common form of meteorite. They originate from non-melted and melted asteroids in the Asteroid Belt, an area between Jupiter and Mars that experts believe to be the remains of an ancient solar system. A number of younger stony meteorites come not from asteroids, but rather from the moon. Lunar meteorites are among the most coveted and sought after. Even vanishingly tiny, unexciting-looking examples can command strong prices. Most lunar meteorites were created when asteroids pummeled the lunar surface. Others are breccias, stones made of rock fragments, glass shards or glass spherules that fused on impact. 

A Martian meteorite recovered from the Sahara Desert near Morocco realized $15,000 plus the buyer’s premium in October 2012. Image courtesy of Heritage Auctions and LiveAuctioneers

The only meteorites that categorically rival lunar specimens for popularity and high bids at auction are also a type of stony meteorite from a nearby planet: Mars. Martian meteorites have unusually young crystalline structures (dating from 180 million to two billion years ago) and can contain water-bearing minerals and organic compounds that some believe might have helped give rise to life on earth. The prospect of owning a piece of another planet, however small the piece might be, inspires collectors to strain their budgets and battle ferociously to win such specimens at auction. 

The surface of this Sikhote-Alin iron meteorite was shaped by the atmosphere as it fell to Earth. Offered with Soviet limited-edition commemorative stamps, it realized $18,500 plus the buyer’s premium in October 2012. Image courtesy of Heritage Auctions and LiveAuctioneers

Also of note are iron-nickel meteorites, which originate in the cores of melted asteroids. They are have caused earth-shattering impacts and are scarcer than stony meteorites. On the morning of February 12, 1947, a massive meteoritic fireball brighter than the sun and the largest ever known rocketed over the Sikhote Alin mountains of eastern Siberia. It was traveling at a speed of 10 to 20 miles a second and had a temperature in excess of 10,000 degrees when it hit the Earth’s surface and exploded into more than 60 tons of metallic meteorites. In addition to producing sonic booms, uprooting trees, and shattering windows over a large area, the fragments and rocks created nearly 200 separate impact craters. Because the fall was spectacular and also relatively well documented, all serious meteorite collectors seek a fine example of a Sikhote Alin.

Recovered near Seymchan in Russia in 1967, this pallasite was fashioned into a sphere to spotlight its abundant olivine crystals. It sold for $13,000 plus the buyer’s premium in October 2012. Image courtesy of Heritage Auctions and LiveAuctioneers.

A third type, stony-iron meteorites, contain equal amounts of silicate rocks and nickel-iron metal. They form within or upon melted asteroids. A subgroup that demands mention are pallasites cohesive masses studded with pale green peridot-like olivine silicate crystals in metal matrices. These beauties, unsurprisingly favored by collectors, have been found from Alaska to Antarctica. (It should be noted that the pallasites shown here didn’t arrive on Earth looking this pretty. Just as rough stones are pulled from mines and cut and polished into diamonds, rough meteorites with heat-scorched exteriors are cut and polished into pallasites.)

A ribbed, scalloped piece of Libyan desert glass, found in the Sahara and weighing more than four pounds, sold for $4,750 plus the buyer’s premium in June 2010. Image courtesy Heritage Auctions and LiveAuctioneers

Still another form of meteorite came to light in 1922, when archaeologist Howard Carter unsealed the tomb of the Egyptian Pharaoh Tutankhamun and discovered a mysterious glassy greenish-yellow carved gemstone on King Tut’s breastplate. A decade later, similar pieces were found across the Libyan Desert, and they are now colloquially known as Libyan desert glass. Although the origin of the stones remains uncertain, geologists think they appeared millions of years ago when a massive, blazing-hot meteorite struck, liquifying the sands and hurling debris into the upper atmosphere. The afflicted pieces returned to earth as hardened, yellowish droplets of natural glass meteorite byproducts known as tektites. Moldavite tektites, which are found across modern-day Germany and the Czech Republic, appear translucent or mossy green. Others found in southeast Asia, Australia and North America range in color from yellow-gray or gray to brown and black. 

This faceted Moldavite crystal, a tektite discovered in the Czech Republic, was auctioned for $1,900 plus the buyer’s premium in October 2012. Image courtesy of Heritage Auctions and LiveAuctioneers

 

Whatever their source, meteorites take their names not from the people who found them but rather from a prominent feature of the area where they landed bodies of water, towns, cities, whatever makes sense. Specimens from the same place receive identifying numbers or letters. Meteorites discovered in deserts, which feature few distinguishing geographical features, are given a name that reflects the general area, followed by a designated grid number. A mineralogically and texturally unique feldspathic breccia stony meteorite found in Morocco, North West Africa, is known as NWA 5000, while an exotic, coarse-grained, ultramafic igneous one found in the Sahara Desert near Morocco carries the label NWA 1950-SNC. 

This Muonionalusta meteorite specimen, cut into a cube to show off its striking latticework, achieved $15,000 plus the buyer’s premium in October 2012. Image courtesy of Heritage Auctions and LiveAuctioneers

When Chicken Little, a character in an ageless folk tale, was struck by a tumbling acorn, she feared that the sky was falling. Had she been struck by a meteorite and carefully documented her story, she could have auctioned it for tens of thousands of dollars, easily. Humans have always thrilled to tales of rocks raining from the heavens and setting the skies ablaze. We now know so much more about the hows and the whys of meteorites, but they are no less bewitching. They unite science and romance, and they encourage us to keep scanning the skies and dreaming about worlds beyond our own.

How to measure rugs and carpets like an expert

Accurately reporting the size of your rug or carpet is important. Before handling your rug, make sure your hands are clean and dry. If the rug or carpet is especially delicate or fragile, handle with care and use gloves.

The standard format for reporting measurements of rug is as follows: Length x Width. Use a measuring tape that can be hooked onto the edge of the rug.

How To Measure:

  1. Start with the longest measurement of the rug. Hook the “Zero” end of your measuring tape to one end. Make sure the end of your measuring tool is flush (in line) with the rug.
  2. Move to the opposite end of the rug and read the measuring tape. This measurement is the Length.
  3. Next, hook the “Zero” end of your measuring tape to one end of the shorter edge of the your rug. Make sure the end of your measuring tool is flush (in line) with the rug.
  4. Move to the opposite end of the rug and read the measuring tape. This measurement is the Width.

How to determine the condition of silver like an expert

This article will explain what experts look for when determining the condition of silver. It will also give you the tools to determine if any condition issues are present in a piece of silver that you own.

Carefully assessing condition is an important step in accurately evaluating a piece. If you discover an issue that negatively impacts the value of your silver, experts can determine if restoration will increase the potential resale value of the piece and recommend a restorer.

Always handle silver with clean, dry hands or with cotton gloves. Do not use Latex gloves when handling silver, as it can cause the silver to tarnish.

Place the silver on a clean, nonabrasive surface in a brightly lit area. Never drag silver across a surface when moving it, as it can damage both the object and the surface. When examining the bottom of a piece of silver, place a thick towel or folded cloth on the table to protect the silver from damage.

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

  • Dents
  • Nicks and Gouges
  • Bends
  • Pitting and Corrosion
  • Wear
  • Scratches and Abrasions
  • Repairs
  • Tarnish

  • Dents
    Scrutinize the surface. Are there any depressions or indentations? Pay particular attention to the sides and also the feet or base of an object, as well as any handles, spouts or finials.
  • Nicks and Gouges
    Run your fingers over the outside of the piece, paying special attention to frequently touched areas, such as handles, edges of bowls and tines of forks. Do any areas feel sharp, rough or coarse?
  • Bends
    Do any parts of the piece appear bent or warped? Pay particular attention to thin or vulnerable areas such as handles and feet.
  • Pitting and Corrosion
    Pitting and corrosion is caused by exposure to an acid during cleaning, to salt or certain types of food residue. It appears as tiny black spots on the surface that cannot be polished away. The dark spots in this photograph are corrosion.
  • Wear
    Look closely at the decoration. If some areas appear highly detailed and crisp and others look like the detail has been polished and smoothed, it is likely worn.
  • Scratches and Abrasions
    Is the surface scratched? Are there areas that appear duller than the rest of the piece?
  • Repairs
    Are there any areas that look like they might have been repaired or cut out and inserted? (Monograms or armorials are sometimes “cut and pasted” into, or out of, a piece of silver when it changes hands). Look for inconsistencies in the surface and decoration, as well as any soldering that looks suspicious. Silver solder is usually applied cleanly so that it is barely visible. If you see heavy drops of solder or discolored areas around the soldering, it may be evidence of a repair or addition.
  • Tarnish
    Is the surface of your piece blackened and dull? Silver tarnish is a surface layer of oxidation caused by environmental factors. Tarnished silver appears a dull yellow, gray or black. Tarnish is removable and generally does not harm silver. If your piece is tarnished, you should polish it before taking photographs of the work for sale.

Vintage denim: Beloved by cowboys, film stars and fashionistas

A Lee denim jacket signed by Andy Warhol, Jean-Michael Basquiat and Robert Rauschenberg sold for $4,250 plus the buyer’s premium in December 2011. Image courtesy of Heritage Auctions and LiveAuctioneers

Denim has evolved by light years since its humble origins as the poor man’s workwear. Over time, Hollywood rebels and rugged characters of the Old West have imbued the cloth with an air of glamour, ultimately elevating vintage denim clothing to the status of “collectible.” But not all denim is the same, since the product it comprises can range from standard blue jeans and overalls to bags, caps and even bedspreads. 

A complete circa-1940 denim twill conductor’s uniform for the Norfolk Western Line railroad achieved $2,250 plus the buyer’s premium in December 2015. Image courtesy of Dan Morphy Auctions and LiveAuctioneers

Denim did not actually originate with the 49ers, i.e., miners attracted by the 19th century Gold Rush in California. It was first woven as a twill fabric in Nimes, France in the late 15th century. Traders labeled the cloth as de Nimes (from “Nimes”), a practice that likely gave rise to the word “denim.”

The French fabric was favored for work clothing such as overalls, vests, jackets, and uniforms because it could withstand heavy daily use for a longer period than plain woven cotton cloth. Over many decades however, the now-classic denim look, featuring an outer finish in indigo blue with a white interior, become a staple of fashionable outerwear and accessories.

Found unworn in storage, this vintage 1930 denim jacket with the classic Levi Strauss & Co., leather label sold for $11,000 plus the buyer’s premium in October 2019. Image courtesy of Daniel Buck Auctions, Inc., and LiveAuctioneers

A similar fabric to French denim was woven in the late 15th century in Genoa, Italy, but it was considered a corduroy weave rather than a twill. As with denim, the cloth was reserved for work outfits in this case, for Italian sailors, because it maintained its integrity whether it was wet or dry. The French word for Genoa was “Genes,” which may have morphed into the word “jeans.” A French military uniform made from “bleu de Genes” fabric in 1795 is the first known use of the term “blue jeans,” which is now relegated to pants only. 

A pair of circa-1940s new-old stock Lee Riders blue jeans achieved $9,600 plus the buyer’s premium in April 2019. Image courtesy of Daniel Buck Auctions, Inc., and LiveAuctioneers

A third woven twill fabric of note emerged near Mumbai (formerly Bombay), India in the 17th century. Described as “cheap, coarse, thick cotton cloth,” it was invented by the weavers of Dongri and sold under the name “dungri” Transformed into work-ready outerwear such as smocks and bib-and-brace overalls by manufacturers in England and Europe, the cloth eventually became known as “dungarees.”

Durable as these woven types of cloth were, certain areas of garments made from them wore out faster than others, especially the pocket corners, the seams and also the bottom of the button fly on men’s pants. In 1969, Jacob Davis, a tailor working in Reno, Nevada, came up with a solution. Davis routinely bought bolts of denim and canvas material from Levi Strauss, a dry goods proprietor in San Francisco, to make and sell sturdy work clothing he reinforced with copper rivets in the areas that endured the most punishment.

According to legend, Davis wrote to Strauss in 1872, suggesting a partnership. Strauss agreed, and in 1873, US patent No. 139,121 was issued for an “Improvement in Fastening Pocket-Openings.” That same year, Davis added double orange thread stitching on the back pockets of the pants. The distinctive decoration, united with the copper rivets, marked the arrival of an American icon: Levi’s.

This circa-1960 pair of never-worn Levi 505 jeans, with sales tags attached, earned $1,000 plus the buyer’s premium in November 2020. Image courtesy of Flannery’s Estate Services and LiveAuctioneers

Levi’s indigo blue jeans, the standard from which modern blue jeans evolved, starts with the patented copper-riveted version of 1873, which had two front pockets decorated with double-stitched orange thread and one rear pocket on the right side. The men’s style had a button fly in front and the women’s style placed the fly on the left side, following the company’s now-trademarked “arcuate” (arc-like) design.” 

‘Untitled (Jeans),’ an ink-on-denim drawing by Keith Haring, achieved $10,000 plus the buyer’s premium in June 2021. Image courtesy of Rago Arts and Auction Center and LiveAuctioneers.

By 1890, the jeans featured the legendary five-pocket design, with two in the front, two in the back and a fifth small front pocket, ideal for a pocket watch. The leather tag showing two horses pulling the jeans apart, called “The Two Horse label,” first appeared in 1886, but sometime in the late 1930s, it acquired a three-digit number on the lower left side that verified the style and date of manufacture. 

The company began branding their jeans with a small red embroidered cloth tag in 1936. It introduced a denim shirt two years later and launched a denim line exclusively for women in 1949.

The upper parts of two pairs of circa-1880s Levi’s jeans earned $8,250 plus the buyer’s premium in August 2021. Image courtesy of Holabird Western Americana Collections and LiveAuctioneers

Levi Strauss & Co., remains a cultural touchstone in denim wear, with consistently high auction prices for its early productions, no matter the condition. In 2018, a pair of denim jeans manufactured in 1893 sold for nearly $100,000. “It’s somebody who loves old Levi’s,” said Daniel Buck Soules, from Daniel Buck Auctions in Maine.

A door push promoting Can’t Bust ‘Em denim overalls sold for $325 plus the buyer’s premium in May 2016. Image courtesy of North American Auction Company and LiveAuctioneers

Other well-known brands made their debut around the turn of the 20th century, capitalizing on the success of Levi Strauss & Co. For example, Osh Kosh B’Gosh got its start in 1895; Wrangler jeans in 1904; and Lee denim overalls and shirts in 1911. Lee acquired an early brand of denim overall called Can’t Bust ‘Em that was targeted at gold miners, but lacked rivets and reinforcements. Examples of the Can’t Bust ‘Em denim brand dating to the American gold-mining period appear at auction infrequently and are regarded by some as long-term investments.

A Levi Strauss cowboy-themed display fitted with an oversize pair of jeans attained $2,500 plus the buyer’s premium in March 2012. Image courtesy of Showtime Auction Services and LiveAuctioneers

Movies set in the Old West sparked fresh interest in denim clothing that led to another enduring fashion favorite: the denim jacket, which was introduced in the early 1920s. By the 1950s, denim became associated with movie rebels Marlon Brando and James Dean, and by the late 20th century, denim had shed its workaday past and gone decidedly upmarket. Fashion designers Gloria Vanderbilt, Ralph Lauren, Gucci and others produced jeans, bags and other coveted pieces in the resilient fabric, carving out a niche of their own at auction. A vintage woman’s Chanel denim jacket sold recently for $2,200 not an unusual occurrence for designer denim.

A Louis Vuitton denim monogram handbag achieved $19,000 plus the buyer’s premium in March 2022. Image courtesy of Bidhaus and LiveAuctioneers

Denim appears in many different forms from just as many different companies. Manufacturing details such as buttons, pockets, fly styles (zipper or button) and color variations can affect a piece’s value. A good place to start researching denim brands is VintageWorkWear.com and the collector’s guide to Levi’s at heddels.com.

This Chanel long-sleeved denim jacket sold for $6,300 plus the buyer’s premium in October 2021. Image courtesy of Mynt Auctions and LiveAuctioneers

Denim and its cousins could have disappeared right along with the shattered dreams of those miners who did not strike it rich in the Gold Rush days, but its rugged durability spared it from that fate. Pop culture images of cowboys and societal mavericks clad in denim made the fabric seem cool, and when top fashion designers embraced denim, it rose in status yet again. Today, vintage denim doesn’t just deliver a classic look; it can also fit nicely into a collection of other investment-grade pop-culture collectibles.