How to Start a Comic Book Collection

Just about everyone can remember the comic books they read cover to cover and collected as kids. But why should the fun end just because you’ve grown up? Collecting comic books is an exciting hobby for fans of all ages. Maybe you’ve thought about getting into it but you just don’t know how to begin.

To help put you on solid footing, we turned to J.C. Vaughn, vice president of publishing for Gemstone, the company responsible for The Overstreet Comic Book Price Guide and other comic book references and guides devoted to pop culture and collecting.

Although one size does not fit all when it comes to comic books, there is one truth in collecting that applies to both the person who is collecting purely for enjoyment and the one who acquires comic books as an investment.

Every collector dreams of finding something like this – Amazing Fantasy #15, Marvel, August 1962, CGC 7.5, featuring the first appearance of The Amazing Spider-Man. Hake’s Americana sold this very rare example for $140,760 in their Nov. 14-16, 2017 auction. Hake’s Americana image

“First, last, and always: collect what you love. If you do that, you’ll never go wrong,” said Vaughn. “It may sound funny for a price guide publisher like me to say that, but that’s always my first answer for beginners in either category [enjoyment or investment].’

“Beyond that, educate yourself and seek out people who are trustworthy and who are willing to share their insights. Experience is the key.”

Detective Comics #27 (DC, 1939) CGC VF (Very Fine) 8.0 condition, off-white to white pages, marks first appearance of Batman. Sold for $425,000 through Heritage Auctions in 2010. Heritage Auctions and LiveAuctioneers image

Here are some of the ways to gain access to, and knowledge about, comic books:

  Attend comic book conventions and collector shows where comic book dealers are present. It provides an opportunity to become familiar with various genres of comic books under one roof.

  Visit recognized sites devoted to comic books and comic book collecting and sign up for e-newsletters serving the comic book community. Two excellent examples are the Comic Book Collecting Association: and the Scoop e-newsletter:, among others.

  Become familiar with auction catalog descriptions and watch comic book auctions in person or live online. Observe what the comic book looks like and the grade it has been given for condition.

  Begin acquiring comic book reference books [price guides] today, and they’ll pay for themselves in no time.

As in every other collecting category, condition is king when it comes to comic books. If expense is a concern, start modestly as you learn the ropes. Go for the best condition you can afford and don’t get discouraged if you can’t buy a prized example. You can always try to upgrade later on.

Plunge into the Depths of Despair Comic, Robert Crumb, 1969, complete and in very good condition, shows 50-cent price listed on the cover. Sold for $45 through Jasper52 in 2016. Jasper52 and LiveAuctioneers image

Prices for the most popular comics – the newsmakers and top lots with the higher grades of 9.4 and above – have been volatile for years, and Vaughn doesn’t see that changing. While grading is undoubtedly nuanced and not something you can learn overnight, it’s something a collector can get a handle on, given some effort.

“Understanding grading, even if you’re going to use one of the third-party, independent grading services, is key,” said Vaughn, who is part of the team behind Gemstone’s The Overstreet Guide to Grading Comics. The title may not be the company’s top-selling reference, but it is the most consistent, Vaughn said.

The good news is that getting into comic book collecting doesn’t mean you have to take out a second mortgage on your home or return to the staple college diet of ramen noodles for every meal. In the comic-collecting world, there’s something to suit every budget.

Zip Comics #1 (MLJ, 1940), poor/fair condition, detached cover, split at spine, with most pages detached. Sold for $150 through Michaan’s Auctions, Jan. 13, 2018. Michaan’s and LiveAuctioneers image

“Most, but certainly not all, comics published since the late 1980s are easily accessible and very reasonably priced,” said Vaughn, who first became familiar with The Overstreet Comic Book Price Guide when it was in its sixth edition. This July, Gemstone will release the 48th edition of the industry’s go-to guide.

Changes in perception, including a significant shift in social acceptance of comics and collecting, all play a role in shaping the market, but it often comes back to one truth, according to Vaughn, who has written thousands of articles and books about comic books, as well as comic books themselves, a comic strip, and a couple of cartoon shows, among other products.

“For anyone spending serious money, go back to ‘Collect what you love.’ If you overpay, at least you still have something you enjoy, and you won’t feel so bad waiting for the market to catch up to what you paid.”

Dale Chihuly: artist, educator, public art advocate

Glass installation by Dale Chihuly, as featured in an extensive exhibition of his work at Kew Gardens, London, in 2005. Photo by Patche99z

Unconventional, bold, surprising, creatively ambitious, collaborative, progressive and a catalyst and ambassador for artistic opportunity and appreciation. These are some of the words and phrases used to describe Dale Chihuly. Like his complex art glass installations that have mesmerized millions around the world, Chihuly is far more than one-dimensional. Some might say he’s the quintessential example of life imitating art.

Dale Patrick Chihuly came from a middle-class background and grew up in Washington state. His father was a butcher and union organizer. His mother was a homemaker and ardent gardener. By the time Chihuly was 17, both his father and his only sibling, a brother, had died, forcing his mother to work outside the home. Between 1959 and 1965, Chihuly was primarily a college student. He also traveled and lived abroad (Italy and the Middle East), studying art in its various forms. Upon returning to the United States and graduating from the University of Washington with a degree in interior design, he joined the Seattle architecture firm John Graham & Co. It was at this time, in the mid-1960s, that he began to explore glassmaking in the basement of his home.

1992 photo portrait of artist Dale Chihuly at Pilchuck Glass School near Stanwood, Washington. Photo by Bryan Ohno, licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported license

In 1966, he departed Seattle for Madison, Wisconsin, where he completed graduate studies in glassblowing at the University of Wisconsin. It was the first glass program of its kind. Chihuly’s academic accomplishments did not end with earning his masters in sculpture, and in fact, his next educational adventure would inspire his role as an educator; something he continues to do, albeit less formally, today. He embarked on studies at the Rhode Island School of Design (RISD), where his artistic exploration involved the use of neon and argon, and the continued expansion of his experimentation with blown glass.

Fun Fact: While on a fellowship in 1968, Dale Chihuly worked at the Venini glass factory in Murano, Italy. He was the first American glassblower invited to do so.

His academic career as instructor, adviser and department chair included more than a decade spent at RISD, co-founding the Pilchuck Glass School near Stanwood, Washington; and participating in various artist-in-residency programs.

“I didn’t care if they wanted to be artists, designers or craftsmen. It didn’t make any difference to me, as long as it was the most important thing in their lives.” – Dale Chihuly

Flame of Liberty, Dale Chihuly, 2000, a 20-foot glass sculpture, permanently on display at the National Liberty Museum, Philadelphia. Image courtesy of Trip Advisor.

His life’s work, in part, appears to be a symbiotic pairing of creating art while also empowering and equipping others to create and appreciate various forms of art. For more than a half-century, Chihuly has transformed vision, sentiment and examples of symbolism through the art, be it in glass, or other media. His work has appeared in exhibitions in cities, gardens and museums across the country and around the world. Institutions and agencies, including the National Liberty Museum, Philadelphia, are home to permanent Chihuly installations. For example, the museum houses the 20-foot Flame of Liberty sculpture, which was installed in 2000.

“We are very fortunate to have such an important sculpture at the center of our museum,” said Meegan Coll, Glass Art Director, National Liberty Museum. “Dale Chihuly is a master in his field, not only in technique but also in both scale and interaction with light and space.”

Coll continued, “The Flame of Liberty inspires dialogue and emotional response from our visitors, which is exactly what Dale and the museum’s founder, Irvin Borowsky, hoped for when they planned the installation. We use the Flame to converse with visitors about the fragility of freedom and the role we each play in safeguarding it.”

Deepest Orange Basket set with black lip wraps, blown glass, Dale Chihuly, 8.5 x 20 in., signed, 1994. Sold for $23,000 during The National Liberty Museum’s 14th annual Glass Now Auction, held Sept. 28, 2013. National Liberty Museum and LiveAuctioneers image.

Fun Fact: Chihuly is also a collector, reportedly favoring Native American baskets, trade blankets, bottle openers, old cameras, radios, pocket knives, and accordions. The book Chihuly: An Artist Collects written by Bruce Helander and published in 2017 (Abrams) explores the personal collections of Chihuly and other artists.

“When I start to collect something, I often don’t start with a single object. Sometimes I start with ten or twenty or a hundred. It is like creating my own little museum.” – Dale Chihuly

Art that prompts discussion and action is a common thread in the tapestry of the work of this 76-year-old artist. Throughout much of his career, Chihuly has been a champion of consistent access to art and opportunities to explore means of artistic expression, for all people. It’s evident in such installations as Chihuly Over Venice, Chihuly in the Light of Jerusalem and other exhibitions worldwide. It’s also part of the mission of the foundation established by Chihuly and his wife, Leslie. The foundation helps to fund and foster art education and appreciation for people from all walks of life, with particular effort taken to ensure youth, the elderly, veterans, and people with varying abilities are presented with these opportunities, according to information from

Massive blue and red Persian blown glass with red lip wrap, Dale Chihuly, Seattle, Washington, 1989, signed and dated, 19 x 33 x 18 in. One of 13 examples of Chihuly’s work included in the Jan. 21, 2018 auction to be conducted by Rago Arts. (est. $4,000-$6,000). Rago Arts and LiveAuctioneers image.

It’s this commitment to art through appreciation, preservation and creation that inspires many, noted Coll, who says the inclusion of drawings by Chihuly and an installation from his Persian Series are also popular draws at the museum. On occasion over the years, the Museum has presented items at auction, including a handful of pieces by Chihuly. This provides the opportunity for another to serve as guardian of Chihuly’s transformative artistry.

Chihuly pushes the limits of artistic expression; his inspiration is boundless,” Coll said. “I think we learn from Chihuly that our potential is greater than we imagine and that everyone can push themselves to achieve more than they expected. Chihuly shows other artists that every element in their work, even the smallest details, adds enormously to the overall result.”

The same can be said for the person who seeks to acquire examples of Chihuly art. While his work can be enormous in scale and imagination, it can also be smaller in scale and still be interpreted as an explosion of color, light and form.

“I want people to be overwhelmed with light and color in some way that they’ve never experienced.” – Dale Chihuly

Cobalt chandelier, 2003, hand-blown glass with steel armature, Dale Chihuly, illuminated internally (by a neon-lighted core) as well as externally, 94 x 72 x 72 in. Sold for $130,000 on May 22, 2013. Heritage Auctions and LiveAuctioneers image.

Whether palatial installations or artworks small enough to hold in the palm of a hand, the distinctiveness, vibrancy and limitless creativity of Dale Chihuly’s artistry remains accessible to the people – just as the artist planned them to be.

Best know the terminology before buying art

If a golden truth of collecting is to buy something because you love it, then the silver rule of collecting may be to continually seek knowledge. An informed decision is not only immediately beneficial, but also may lead to gains in the future. Fine art is one of many interests to which this applies.

The world of art is vast and complex. It can be intimidating, but the invigorating, comforting, enticing, sometimes heartbreaking imagery and emotion that art depicts and provokes is without equal. Simply put, art is transformative and worth understanding.

‘Bamboo Grove,’ Nguyen Gia Tri, Indochina Fine Arts (My Thuat Dong Duong), 1939, lacquer painting, 43 in. x 31.5 in. Sold for $12,000 through Jasper52 in June 2017. Image courtesy of LiveAuctioneers archive and Jasper52

To help understand art, and hopefully to diminish any intimidation buying it may pose, the following information should be helpful to novice collectors in navigating auction catalogs with a greater awareness of art terminology.

Identifying Identity

The inclusion of the name of an artist (first, last, and additional name) is listed when the item is determined to be genuine artwork done by the artist. Often accompanying the artist’s name are the years he or she was born and died.

Silkscreen and pencil on primed canvas, ‘Men in Her Life,’ executed in October-November 1962, Andy Warhol, 84 ½ in. x 83 ¼ in. Sold for $56.5 million during a Nov. 8, 2010 auction through Phillips. Image courtesy of LiveAuctioneers archive and Phillips

You will also come across lot descriptions with terms that reflect ties to an artist, be it in affiliation or style. Understanding what these phrases mean is a factor in informed decision making. The most commonly seen terms include, as defined at

  • Attributed to – This indicates that the piece is likely an example of the artist’s work, in the opinion of the auction house.
  • Studio of – An indication of where the artwork was created, in the workshop of the artist mentioned, and furthermore, the artist may have been supervising the artist who created the piece.
  • Style of – Refers to an example of artwork completed in a manner of a specific artist, but not by the artist. This also speaks to the possible identity of contemporaries of a specific artist. That information can be helpful when attempting to determine the age of a piece and to authenticate it.
  • The Manner of – Like “style of,” except it is a painting done by an artist later, not a contemporary of the artist inspiring the style.
  • After – As determined by the auction house to be a copy of a specific artwork.

Italian School (17th/18th century), old master painting, head of Saint Peter, oil on canvas, unsigned, 13.5 in. x 10.25 in (stretcher), unframed. Condition report: overall fair, old relining, craquelure, possible restorations, varnish darkened, scratch at center right and lower left. Sold for $650 at auction in November of 2009. Image courtesy of LiveAuctioneers archive and Millea Bros. Ltd.

Another set of terms to be aware of are signed, dated or inscribed. These words indicate the presence a signature, date or inscription by the artist, in the opinion of the auction house. The inclusion of a four-letter word changes the meaning of this trio words considerably: The addition of the word “with” means the terms were added by someone other than the artist, in the opinion of the auction house.

Collecting Tip: Have language translation software, like Google Translate, at the ready while reviewing auction catalogs. Checking phrases or terms that appear in catalog descriptions will help confirm identifying details and increase your familiarity with an artist’s artistic approach.

‘Voilier sur le petit bras de la Seine,’ Argenteuil,1872, Claude Monet, oil on canvas, signed and subsequently dated lower right: ‘75 Claude Monet,’ 20 1/8 in. x 25 in. Sold for $8.2 million during Fine Art Auctions Miami’s April 26, 2012 auction. Image courtesy of LiveAuctioneers archive and Fine Art Auctions Miami

A good example of this tip can be applied to the following description of a Monet painting. The phrase “Voilier sur le petit bras de la Seine” translates to “Sailboat on the small arm of the Seine.” When paired with the remaining verbiage: Argenteuil, 1872, a confirmation of the history of this piece comes into view. According to information obtained from, Monet lived along the Seine River, in the village of Argenteuil, between 1871 and 1878. During this time, Monet’s production of landscape paintings showcasing the scenery of the area was prolific. Phrases and terminology within lot descriptions in auction catalogs are clues to a more deeper understanding of an artist.

Original ink drawing (with traces of pencil) on paper, untitled, attributed to/in the manner of Wassily Kandinsky (1866-1944). Signed with the artist’s monogram lower left and dated ’23, 6/12 x 9 5/8 inches (approximate dimensions). Small area of foxing to obverse principally along the edges; some foxing to reverse, otherwise good condition. Sold for $1,000 through Preston Hall Gallery on July 22, 2014. Image courtesy of LiveAuctioneers archive and Preston Hall Gallery

Understanding Condition

Another essential element in making informed decisions when it comes to any item at auction is condition. This factor alone can impact the value of an object substantially. Understanding the terms used to describe condition is imperative.

Collecting Tip: Review the condition report of any piece you are considering buying. Request a condition report, if one isn’t provided, although it is the protocol with many auction houses to provide the report.

‘Jacob Wrestles Angel,’ color lithograph, Marc Chagall, 1972, signed in pencil, from the numbered edition 50, framed with glass, mat and sunlight toning, with possible faint fading, soft handling crease in margin, discoloration on verso, old hinges along top with some skinning to upper sheet edge, otherwise in good condition, sight 14 ¾ in. x 11 ½ in. Sold for $2,250 at auction in February 2009 through Clark’s Fine Art & Auctioneers Inc. Image courtesy of LiveAuctioneers archive and Clark’s Fine Art & Auctioneers

In addition to understanding the terminology of condition, the ability to recognize elements of the condition is important.

  • Foxing – Small brown spots, also referred to as “freckles,” that appear on art presented on paper are frequently caused by mold and metal impurities within the paper. Damp and high humidity conditions can fuel the growth of mold. In some cases, professional and experienced conservators can lessen or remove foxing – for a price. This added expense should be considered when planning a bidding strategy.
  • Toning – Describes the darkening of paper over time, as well as an impact of exposure to humidity and other effects in the atmosphere, which in turn makes the paper acidic.
  • Skinning – A result of a piece being cleaned extensively, which causes a portion of the original painting to be removed.
  • Craquelure – Pattern of fine cracks that develop in oil paintings after several years. The shrinking of the paint or varnish is among the primary causes.
  • Fading – Extensive exposure to light (fluorescent, sunlight, etc.) can cause an item of artwork, among other items, to fade. The damage from exposure to light may not immediately be visible, but a negative impact is still taking place. It’s also not just fading that is a result of exposure; brittleness, yellowing, and even darkening can take place. Again, this is something a conservator may be able to address – for a price.

‘Saint Tropez – LePort,’ lithograph in colors, Paul Signac, signed and annotated ‘No. 73’ in pencil, small puncture in paper along top edge of image, a few spots of foxing, 16 15/16 in. x 12 7/8 in. Sold for $4,500 during a June 2014 auction at Rachel Davis Fine Arts. Image courtesy of LiveAuctioneers archive and Rachel Davis Fine Arts

Collecting Tip: Closely consider the subject and theme of a piece of artwork when determining age. Examine the style of clothing, furnishings, activities depicted and other indications of historical or social manners present within a painting to help determine age.

‘Lemon Squash (3),’ 1999, screenprint with lame, Yayoi Kusama, signed lower right, dated and titled lower left, ed. 5/60, sheet 27 1/2 in. h x 23 1/8 in.” w, overall (with frame): 31 ¼ in. x 25 ¼ in. w. This print combines three of Kusama’s iconic subjects – her ‘infinity nets’ pattern, her ‘polka-dots’ and her repeated tall glasses of beverages with lemon wedge – making this print an important work that visually and thematically encapsulates her oeuvre. Sold for $6,000 during a July 2013 auction. Image courtesy of LiveAuctioneers archive and Clars Auction Gallery

With sales of art topping $45 billion worldwide there is interest and opportunity to acquire art of varied styles and a range of budgets. By understanding the details presented auction catalogs and condition reports you will be more empowered in your efforts to acquire artwork, which in turn can expand your appreciation of art.

Thor’s Hammer: Mighty Symbol in Viking Jewelry

Thor is, without a doubt, one of Marvel’s main men, both in comic books and on the big screen, as is evident in movie-going audiences flocking to theaters to see the hammer-wielding character in action. According to, gross ticket sales from the three Thor films combined top nearly $2 billion. Leading the way is the 2017 release of Thor: Ragnarok, bringing in more than $844 million.

Promotional poster for the film Thor: Ragnarok, produced by Marvel Studios, and distributed by Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures. The film, released in October of 2017, is the sequel to the 2011 film Thor and Thor: The Dark World, released in 2013. This scaled-down low-resolution image of the poster qualifies for fair use under the copyright law of the United States.  

The popularity of these films, as well as Marvel’s Avengers, and History Channel’s Vikings series, certainly plays a part in the growing interest in Norse history and lore. Yet, Thor’s revered status as a symbol of strength, protection and provision dates back centuries. That fact is evident in the presence and popularity of the Thor’s Hammer amulet in Viking jewelry.

To help us understand Thor and his ever-present hammer a bit better, we turned to fine art specialist Sydelle Rubin-Dienstfrey, PhD Art History, who is manager of the research and writing department at Artemis Gallery.

“The Thor’s Hammer is perhaps the best-known symbol of Norse mythology,” Rubin-Dienstfrey said. “Thor was the powerful god tasked with guarding Asgard, home of the Aesir tribe of deities. Thor tirelessly defended the Aesir from the giants, and the hammer was his trusty weapon. Interestingly, the name Thor literally means ‘Thunder,’ and Thor seemed to personify the spirit of a storm whose thunder was experienced as the resounding boom of his hammer as it decimated his adversaries.”

This solid silver Viking Thor’s Hammer pendant, dating to between 800 and 1100 AD, weighing 11 grams, has been cast as one piece with a long handle that ends in a loop for suspension. The surface of the pendant has been stamped with a unique decoration of the period – a triangle with three small raised pellets inside the triangle. The pendant sold for $1,100 in Artemis Gallery’s Dec. 2017 auction. Image courtesy LiveAuctioneers and Artemis Gallery

While this image of Thor is what comes to mind when you hear his name, it is one element of a more complex role within the world of the mythology, Rubin-Dienstfrey explained.

“In addition to serving as a weapon, the Thor’s Hammer played a major role in sacred rituals related to birth, marriage, and death. Some historians also believe that rituals involving people beating hammers were intended to protect communities from evil spirits. So, the Thor’s Hammer was not only a weapon possessing the might and power of a storm but also an instrument of protection against ill will.”

With the Hammer of Thor bearing such meaning, it is easy to understand why the symbol is represented in various forms of Viking artifacts, most specifically as amulets/pendants.

In 2014, a Viking artifact reportedly from the 10th century in the shape of the Hammer of Thor was discovered on the Danish island of Lolland, and it bore an inscription. According to an article posted on, the text was translated to “this is a hammer,” and it was one of the more than 1,000 similar items discovered throughout northern Europe, referred to as the Mjöllnir amulets, to include such an inscription. The inscribed Mjöllnir amulet currently resides in the National Museum of Denmark.

The only Mjöllnir amulet of more than 1,000 discovered in northern Europe, to bear an inscription. Circa 10th century AD. National Museum of Denmark image

Museums and historical programs provide an ideal opportunity to gain a better understanding of Norse people, their traditions and beliefs. One such example is the traveling museum exhibition “Vikings: Beyond the Legend,” said Rubin-Dienstfrey, who attended the exhibition with her fellow staff members from Artemis Gallery.

“I think that one of the greatest things about it was that the organizers did their best to bust generally accepted myths about the Vikings that Hollywood sometimes perpetuates,” she said. “For instance, there is this misconception that the Vikings were filthy brutes. However, some of the most commonly excavated artifacts of Viking Era include tweezers, combs, razors and ear spoons. This suggests that they were fairly focused on cleanliness and grooming. What’s more, many scholars estimate that only a small percentage of Vikings were warriors. Most were artisans, farmers, and traders.”

This rare bronze Thor’s hammer amulet with stylized raven heads, circa 900 AD, sold for $190 in Jasper52’s Oct. 29, 2017 auction. Jasper52 and LiveAuctioneers image.

The discovery of ancient Viking jewelry in a myriad of designs, created using a variety of metals and materials (bronze, silver, and stone), is another example of a culture that is more than one-dimensional.

“When one examines examples of Norse visual culture, it becomes apparent that their immense artistry defies common stereotypes of Vikings as horned helmet-wearing barbarians who went around raping and pillaging whomever and whatever crossed their paths,” said Rubin-Dienstfrey. “In addition to some stunning Thor’s Hammer pendants, we have had the privilege of handling incredible bracteate [beaten] pendants that display extremely sophisticated filigree and granulation techniques, as well. To create these works of wearable art clearly required advanced techniques and a keen sensibility.”

This coin, reportedly from that of King Regnald I of York and the Bossail Hoard, dates to 919-921 AD and bears an image of Thor’s hammer on the obverse with three pellets positioned above the hammer, a symbol not known to have been included on any other die It sold for £3,000 ($9,479) during a February 2016 auction at TimeLine Auctions Ltd. Image courtesy LiveAuctioneers and TimeLine Auctions Ltd.

Although ownership of artifacts does not necessarily require one to possess an understanding of the culture surrounding it, as many will attest, the value in acquiring that knowledge is immeasurable.

“I think that collectors love the Thor’s Hammer because of its many layers of symbolism. The hammer is associated with the Norse god of thunder, lightning, storms and strength – who protected so many – so by extension, the amulet is believed to protect its wearer,” Rubin-Dienstfrey added. “Finally, the fine workmanship and immense artistry exemplified by these beautiful works make them incredibly desirable.”

Gilt bronze raised heart-shape pendant enclosing an abstract face, possibly that of Thor, substantially symmetrical, in the shape of a heart, which stood for bravery, fortitude, loyalty, and integrity. Image courtesy LiveAuctioneers and Jasper 52

In case of Thor’s Hammer, there is so much more to it than meets the eye, as is the case with so many relics of centuries ago.

Santa Claus: He’s A Native New Yorker

1881 portrait of Santa Claus by Thomas Nast

The spirit of Christmas is universal, but the embodiment of that perennially popular Yuletide figure, Santa Claus, has a history that began in the unlikeliest of places – New York.

For centuries, European artists had depicted St. Nicholas, the patron saint of Christmas, as a dour medieval bishop with a long, gray beard.  It was not until 1863 that Thomas Nast, father of American political cartooning, introduced a far more endearing version of the character, one whose robust good cheer and imaginative North Pole-based mythology was both approachable and believable to children. Over the course of time, Nast would dramatically change all traditional conceptions of the Christmas benefactor, whose other “aliases” included Kris Kringle, Father Christmas and, later, Santa Claus.

Nast drew Santa Claus, whose name originated in Holland, as a plump, jovial man who smoked a long-stemmed pipe and wore buckled clogs.  He kept a detailed book of “good boys and girls” and spent many hours answering stacks of pre-Christmas “wish” mail.

Using his own family as unsuspecting models, the artist was inspired to create enchanting scenes of children sleeping in armchairs as Santa made his stealthy entry via the chimney to deliver gifts. Sometimes the red-suited spirit’s dramatic middle-of-the-night appearance would be witnessed by a throng of family pets, who were only too pleased to keep Santa’s methods a secret. Other illustrations depicted children gleefully arranging gifts and treats for Santa at the fireplace hearth.

The family pets can be trusted to keep Santa’s arrival a secret in this classic depiction by Thomas Nast

In developing the image of his Santa, Nast acknowledged the influence of two great 19th-century American writers: Washington Irving and Clement C. Moore. Irving, famous for his tales The Legend of Sleepy Hollow and Rip Van Winkle, had written an article in 1809 called History of New York, which dealt with Dutch-American traditions. It included a description of St. Nicholas as a tubby Dutch burgomaster who made his benevolent rounds on a fine white horse.

This planted the seed in Nast’s mind to reinvent the legendary Christmas figure Irving had described, steering the character along more humorous, secular lines. With his formidable credentials as a first-rate artist and political satirist, Nast was eminently capable of undertaking the task. Few of his contemporaries would have dared tamper with anything quite so fragile as the faith of young children, but Nast was accustomed to tackling sacred institutions. He was already held in high public esteem for having invented both the Republican Party’s elephant and Democratic Party’s donkey, not to mention the characters “Uncle Sam” and “John Bull.”

So admired was Nast for his uncompromising integrity that the cartoonist’s influence could decide an election or bring a criminal to justice. His artistic cut and thrust on the infamous William “Boss” Tweed landed the bribe-taking politician behind bars, and Tweed, himself, was first to declare it was “them damn pictures” that had sealed his fate.

Nast’s alternative, patriotic depiction of Santa in military uniform drew respect and praise from President Lincoln for the positive influence the image had had on Army enlistments, and even General Grant attributed his subsequent presidential victory to “the sword of Sheridan and the pencil of Thomas Nast.”

Santa’s sleigh is pulled by eight flying reindeer in this drawing by Thomas Nast.

In 1823, Clement C. Moore’s The Night Before Christmas debuted in print. Richly descriptive, it provided the final bits of fantasy employed by Nast in fleshing out his most famous cartoon subject of all. In Moore’s tale, the white horse originally described by Washington Irving as St. Nicholas’ preferred method of transport had been replaced by “a miniature sleigh with eight tiny reindeer.” As for St. Nicholas, he was characterized as an amiable, fur-swaddled figure toting a cornucopia-like booty of toys on his back. His “little round belly…shook when he laughed, like a bowlful of jelly.”

Moore’s details of the Christmas Eve ritual were marvelously whimsical and left the reader with the distinct impression that St. Nick was someone who might wear a lampshade on his head after one cup too many of electric holiday punch. But paradoxically, the illustrations accompanying Moore’s poem still depicted the traditional 6th-century European bishop figure, a benevolent but rather humorless fellow.

Nast set his sights on reinventing not just the central character, whom he renamed “Santa Claus,” but also Santa’s environment and supporting cast. Santa, Nast decided, should live at the North Pole, a geographically neutral location that showed no favoritism amongst the children of the world. The sole industry at the North Pole would be, of course, toy-making, and the workers would be a tireless and devoted crew of elves who didn’t know the meaning of the word “strike.”

Santa runs an efficient workshop from a geographically neutral North Pole location. Drawing by Thomas Nast

Nast painstakingly hand-engraved Moore’s poem onto woodblock, using his own revolutionary illustrations as accompaniment. The drawings were an instant sensation, going on to appear in many issues of Harper’s Weekly between 1863 and 1886. No one seemed to mind the artistic license Nast had taken, and in 1890, with chromolithography approaching its peak, Harper & Brothers published a now-classic collection called Thomas Nast’s Christmas Drawings for the Human Race.

Seeing the potential in a Christmas theme that was overtly child-oriented, American toy and game manufacturers wasted no time incorporating the new-look Santa into their production lines, resulting in a colorful spectrum of turn-of-the-century Christmas juvenilia whose beauty stands in stark contrast to the mass-produced plastic playthings of today.

Thomas Nast’s influence on popular culture – including the manufacture of toys and games – was immense. Around 1900, McLoughlin Bros. (New York) released Game of the Visit of Santa Claus with a beautiful scene of Santa’s sleigh on the box lid. Image courtesy of LiveAuctioneers Archive and Ron Rhoads Auctioneers

As for Thomas Nast, his career and life ended in unexpected tragedy.  In 1902, heavily in debt and desperate for funds, he reluctantly accepted an admiring President Theodore Roosevelt’s offer of a diplomatic post in Ecuador. There, amidst the squalor of open sewers and nonexistent sanitation, Nast contracted yellow fever. Shortly after sending money home to America to settle his debts, the visionaryartist died at the age of sixty.

Of all that he left behind – and the legacy is immense – it is said that Thomas Nast loved his Christmas Drawings best.  Certainly, they have achieved immortality, as even today there has been little change from his much-loved original interpretation of “the right jolly old elf.”

The author gratefully acknowledges historical information obtained from an introductory narrative by Thomas Nast St. Hill in the book Thomas Nast’s Christmas Drawings, Dover Publications, New York, copyright 1978.

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 © Catherine Saunders-Watson

Celebrating Hanukkah with Treasured Judaica

“Baruch ata Ado-nai, Elo-heinu Melech ha’olam, Asher kid’shanu b’mitzvosav v’tzivanu l’hadlik ner shel Chanukah.” Translated to English, this means: Blessed are You, Hashem our G-d, King of the universe, Who has sanctified us with His commandments, and has commanded us to Kindle the Chanukah light.”

The above blessing (Bracho) is one of three that are recited during the lighting of Hanukkah (traditionally spelled Chanukah) candles during the eight-day Jewish celebration. This year, Hanukkah began at nightfall on December 12 and will conclude at nightfall on Dec. 20. In recognition of this celebration, also referred to as the “festival of lights,” let’s explore Hanukkah – and other Jewish holidays – and view some of the cherished artifacts associated with the Jewish faith.


Hanukkah commemorates the rededication of the Jewish temple in Jerusalem early in the second century B.C. The Jewish people faced persecution when Antiochus IV Epiphanes, the, Hellenistic Greek king, took control of the region during the end of the first century B.C. During his reign, he outlawed Judaism and defiled the Holy Temple by erecting an altar for the worship of Greek god Zeus. A group of Jewish citizens known as the Maccabees, led by priest Mattiyahu (Matthias), rose up in defiance to the rule of Ephiphanes. They were successful and regained control of the temple and the right to practice their religion.

Once they had rid their region of oppressors, they set to work cleansing and purifying the temple so it could be rededicated as a holy place. They sought olive oil to use as fuel for the lighting of the menorah (candelabrum) within the temple. Although there was only enough oil to fuel the light of the menorah for one day, the oil ended up lasting eight days as the people celebrated the freedom to practice their beliefs in the temple. Hence, this miracle of sustainable light serves as the inspiration for the eight days of Hanukkah.

Stylized chrome menorah with nine removable arms and bobeches, circa 1966, signed ‘Agam 31/90,’ entered in J. Greenstein & Co. Inc.’s Dec. 21, 2017 auction. ($4,000-$6,000). J. Greenstein & Co. Inc. and LiveAuctioneers image.

Among the most notable objects associated with Hanukkah is the menorah, a sacred candelabrum or lamp that has either seven or nine branches for holding candles. In the nine-branched version, one of the branches is taller than the rest, and its role is to hold the Shamash – the candle that is used to light each of other candles during Hanukkah.

Menorah Note: Various sources point to the seven-branch menorah as a symbol of enlightenment. It is also a symbol of the menorah that resided in the Holy Temple in Jerusalem. A nine-branch menorah, or “hanukkiyah,” is used exclusively during Hanukkah. Menorahs have been constructed of brass, silver, pewter, copper, stone, glass and porcelain.

In addition to menorahs, other objects commonly seen during the Hanukkah celebration and popular with children are gelt and dreidels.

Silver and brass dreidel, Michael Ende, Israel, circa 1985, mounted on a marble stone, signed, number 3 of 180, 7 1/3 inches tall, sold for $1,200 during a December 2016 auction. J. Greenstein & Co. Inc. and LiveAuctioneers image.

Gelt is a gift of money or possibly sweets packaged to look like money. A dreidel is a plaything that served an important, and possibly life-saving, purpose when the Holy Land was under Greek-Syrian reign, before the Maccabean rebellion. In Yiddish, “dreidel” means “spinning top.” Traditionally made of wood, later examples of dreidels have been made of plastic. In addition, there are fine silver dreidels, but they are for display rather than play.

Each of the four sides of a dreidel bears a different Hebrew letter, and together the four letters are an acronym of the Jewish phrase “Nes gadol hayah sham,” which translates into “a great miracle happened there.” This refers to the Maccabean revolt. During the time of Greek-Syrian rule, studying the Torah or practicing any form of Judaism was forbidden, and the punishment was death. To avoid attracting attention from their captors, Jewish children would convene in caves along hillsides to conduct their religious study. In the event a Greek soldier would come upon them, the children would quickly take out their tops and begin to play a game. In the traditional dreidel game, each person is given an equal number of tokens (in some instances children use their gelt) and they must place a token in the “pot/kitty” before spinning the dreidel. After their spin, the player must take an action related to the letter on which the dreidel lands. These actions are related to the tokens that have accumulated in the pot/kitty.

In addition to these items of the Hanukkah celebration, several objects associated with other Jewish holidays are highly sought after by those with an interest in Judaica. The following are examples representing the holidays:

Yom Kippur

Considered a High Holiday of the Jewish faith, Yom Kippur is the holiest day of the year. This “Day of Atonement” involves fasting, reflection and prayers of forgiveness during a period of less than 26 hours during September. This holiday derives from the return of Moses following his ascension of Mount Sinai, where he sought God’s forgiveness on behalf of the transgressions of the people of Israel. His return from the top of the mountain was known from then on as the Day of Atonement – Yom Kippur. An object often associated with Yom Kippur and the other High Holiday (Rosh Hashanah) is a shofar, a ram’s horn that is blown after Yom Kippur services.

Antique silver-mounted shofar, circa 1880, traditional in shape, with three sections of applied silver, engraved in Hebrew with Yom Kippur related epithets, 11 inches long, sold for $2,250 on April 26, 2015. J. Greenstein & Co. Inc. and LiveAuctioneers image.


Another eight-day (seven days in Israel) festival of the Jewish faith, Passover (Pesach) marks the Jewish peoples’ deliverance from slavery in ancient Egypt. This came about following God’s imposement of 10 plagues on Egypt after the pharaoh repeatedly ignored God’s message – sent via Moses – to free the Israelites. The final plague was death to all firstborn children of the Egyptians, but it “passed over” Jewish households. This final plague convinced the pharoah to chase the Israelites, led by Moses, out of Egypt.

During the observation of Passover, which takes place during spring – late March to early April – the first two and last two days of the celebration are considered holidays during which no work is to be done, vehicles must not be driven, and devices must not be operated. Also, no leavened grain, pasta or beverage with wheat, barley, rye or oats should be consumed during Passover, honoring how the Jewish people ate only unleavened bread following their escape from Egypt. The central event of Passover is the seder, which takes place during the first two evenings. It is a feast with traditions, rituals and special dishes. Among the objects present during seder are ornate silver goblets and plates.

Massive sterling silver Passover compendium by Carmel Shabi, Jerusalem, with gilded removable dishes for the insertion of Passover foods, 16 inches wide, entered in J. Greenstein & Co.’s Dec. 21, 2017 auction. J. Greenstein & Co. Inc. and LiveAuctioneers image.

Rosh Hashanah

Rosh Hashanah represents the “first of the year,” or the Jewish New Year. Like Yom Kippur, Rosh Hashanah takes place in September. During Rosh Hashanah, Jewish people reflect on the past year and resolve to improve themselves in the the new year. Objects of Judaica present during Rosh Hashanah’s traditional practices are the shofar and a machzor (unique prayer book), among others.


Shabbat (the Sabbath) is a year-round, weekly occurrence steeped in rest, reflection and celebration of faith. It begins every Friday at sunset and concludes just after nightfall on Saturday. In the Jewish faith, the observance of Shabbat is one of the 10 Commandments God gave to Moses during his time on Mount Sinai. Shabat includes a feast, storytelling and singing related to lessons found in the Torah. Among the objects used during Shabat are candlesticks, kiddush cups, and sacred trays for serving the meal.

Rare and important silver binding, Italy, early 19th century, chased with crown, oval, and a family crest with a Magen David, containing original Machzor, 7 inches tall by 4½ inches wide, sold for $16,000 on March 12, 2014. J. Greenstein & Co. Inc. and LiveAuctioneers image.

As the time-honored traditions of Jewish celebrations demonstrate, followers of the faith place high importance on self-reflection and self-improvement. Objects associated with Jewish holidays are symbolic of the religion’s principles, which explains why there is so much appreciation for Judaica, especially treasured pieces handed down through subsequent generations of a family.

How To Start A Postcard Collection

Before the world turned to texting and Tweeting as a form of quick communication, there were postcards. Of course, the U.S. mail service of the 19th century – when postcards first came on the scene – cannot compare to 21st-century electronic methods, but there was an appeal to sending personal messages on paper that doubled as a keepsake. That’s evident from the number of antique and vintage postcards regularly offered in online auctions and at postcard shows.

10-piece group comprising seven postcards and two greeting cards handwritten by the late actress Carrie Fisher, addressed to her then-brother-in-law Ed Simon and his wife, Rose. Estimate: $3,500-$6,500. Charleston Estate Auctions, LiveAuctioneers image

Postcard collecting, like so many other things in the world, continues to evolve, said Lew Baer, of the San Francisco Bay Area Post Card Club.

“Just like the rest of the world we knew a quarter-century ago, postcard collecting has changed dramatically with the introduction of the Internet. Collecting used to be mostly through mail exchanges and mail-in auctions. Shows, often week-long events that would take over entire floors of hotels in major cities, were great events for postcard collectors,” explained Baer, editor of the SFBAPCC’s website ( and newsletter. “That social and friendly interaction has been eclipsed (both sadly and happily) by eBay and other online auction sites. Avid collectors used to drive hundreds of miles and spend hundreds of dollars to go to the great shows of the 20th century. Now, we have the entire world at our fingertips and can find the rarest of cards while surfing in our PJs.”

One of two postcards exchanged by Princess Sonia Orbeliani (1875-1915), a maid-of-honor to, and close friend of, Empress Alexandra, wife of Nicholas II, the last ruler of the Russian Empire. Estimate: $200-$500. John Atzbach Antiques, LiveAuctioneers image

When publishing companies such as Curt Teich & Co., Raphael Tuck & Sons, Dexter Press, E.C. Kropp Co., and Detroit Publishing Co., were producing postcards for the masses in the early 20th century, variety was the name of the game. The option to select a postcard with a particular theme, sentiment or image was a way to personalize the communication, in addition to the message that would be handwritten later on by the sender. In a way, it can be compared to adding emoticons, gifs, and colored backgrounds to online posts and texts today. Except that postcard were more collectible than ephemeral.

Postcard Fact: The act of studying and collecting postcards is called deltiology. It comes from the Greek term for a writing tablet or letter.

A beginning “deltiologist” can personalize a collection by narrowing its focus. There are many ways in which to specialize. For example, collect by:


    Topic of interest

    Geography (states, natural vistas, countries)

    Themes (wartime/military, holidays, world leaders, expositions/world’s fairs)

    Real-photo postcards

    Noted postcard artists (Ellen Clapsaddle, Alphonse Mucha, Frances Brundage, etc.)

    Material composition (Many novelty postcards incorporated silk or fabrics, wood, copper, and cork, among other materials. Still others – articulated postcards – have movable parts such as wheels.)

Postcard Fact: In the heyday of postcard popularity, around 1913, the total number of postcards mailed through the United States Post Office topped 968 million, according to information obtained from

The terminology used to describe the different eras of postcards varies, but knowing the terms and the era may help with authenticating postcards and determining age. According to information found at, the earliest period in U.S. postcard history (1873-1898) was the Pioneer Era. This is followed by the Private Mailing Card Era (1898-1901). It was during this time that U.S. publishers were able to print and sell postcards with proper marking and a one-cent stamp. A unique feature of these small works of art is that the address of the recipient was on the back and there was space for a personal message on the front.

Used Harry Houdini New Year’s greeting postcard, New York, 1923, includes halftone headshot of Houdini (Ehrich Weisz), addressed to Joseph J. Kolar with the message “Here are my wishes for a happy and prosperous New Year/ Houdini.” Estimate: $250-$350. Potter & Potter Auctions, LiveAuctioneers image

Next is the Undivided-Back Era (1901-1907), at which time private printers could create postcards as long as the term “Post Card” appeared on the back. The first magazine devoted to postcards, Real Photo Postcards, began during this time. The U.S. arrived a bit late to the party when it came to allowing use of divided-back postcards. England approved it in 1902, followed by France and Germany, then the U.S., in 1907.

The Divided Back Era between 1907 and 1914 is what some call the golden age of postcards. As the name implies, this was the era when postcards featured a division on the back with space for a message and space for the recipient’s address.

A move by printers to save on the cost of ink resulted in the next period in postcard history: the White Border Era, from 1915 to 1930. Most of these postcards were produced by U.S. publishers, and included a bit more detail in terms of descriptions about the image on the front. Scenic views became a leading subject for White Border-era postcards.

Advancements in technology ushered in the next segment of postcard history, the Linen Era (1930-1944). Publishers turned to a new type of paper to create postcards with the look of linen. Often these cards appear to have a texture to them. Linen postcards are less common than those of standard “card.” There were fewer in circulation because interest in postcards, in general, was starting to wane around the time linen postcards were introduced.

Finally, there is the Photochrome Era, which began in 1945 and is the period of the present. Photochrome postcards came into widespread use after 1945, but according to, the earliest generation of Photochrome postcards was in the selection offered by Union Oil Company at their Western-states service stations, as early as 1939.

Postcard Fact: Standard and Continental postcards refer to the two primary sizes of postcards. Prior to the 1970s, postcards measured 3-1/2 x 5-1/2 inches. During the mid-20th century, the size changed to 4 x 6 inches. However, there are still standard-size postcards available.

Even armed with an extensive knowledge of postcard history, finding antique and vintage postcards in quality condition can be challenging. But it’s not impossible.

“Postcards used to be everywhere; now they can be tough to find. The easiest place to find them is on racks in tourist shops, bookstores and stationers. Yes, NEW cards can be eminently collectible if they depict your chosen interest, topic or place,” said Baer. “To find vintage cards, try antique shops, yard sales, flea markets, used book shops and stamp shops.”

“There are also postcard shows—sales, actually. Look for their ads in free newspapers and flyers at antique and secondhand shops. They might read ‘antique paper sale,’ or something similar without specifically mentioning postcards. There are local postcard clubs that welcome newcomers, and there is one postcard-collecting magazine: Barr’s Postcard News, It has an online version as well. Google reveals lots of leads.” Additionally, it is hard to beat, with its thousands of auction-house customers, as a source

Real-photo postcard of the 1915 Boston Red Sox Major League Baseball team including a rookie Babe Ruth. Text at the bottom edge of the team image suggests production prior to the team’s World Championship win, reading, “The Boston Red Sox –American League Champions—Season 1915.” Sold for $34,000 during a February 20, 2016 auction at Heritage Auctions. Heritage Auctions, LiveAuctioneers image

Real-photo postcard of the 1915 Boston Red Sox Major League Baseball team including a rookie Babe Ruth. Text at the bottom edge of the team image suggests production prior to the team’s World Championship win, reading, “The Boston Red Sox –American League Champions—Season 1915.” Sold for $34,000 during a February 20, 2016 auction at Heritage Auctions. Heritage Auctions, LiveAuctioneers image

Whether collecting postcards by era, interest, theme, publisher or artist, physical condition is a contributing factor to their potential value. Discoloration, foxing (browning of postcards largely due to humidity and moisture over time), tears or other forms of damage can certainly impact the value of a card, even a rare one. Also, a premium is paid for specialty postcards that have retained such original embellishments as flocking, glitter or gilding. Conversely, their value drops when these decorative additions are compromised or missing.

Finally, Baer adds this parting bit of advice to anyone considering postcard collecting:

“Look a lot and learn a bit before you buy. Postcards can be overwhelming in their attractiveness and interest. It’s hard not to like every one.”

In The Pink With Rose Gold

Just as rosé wine is becoming a popular alternative to traditional reds and whites, so, too, is rose gold making rapid inroads into the jewelry market. An increasing number of brides – primarily “millennials” – are opting for something different in their engagement rings and choosing rose gold over conventional white or yellow gold. But what is rose gold, and is it something new?

14K rose gold and diamond hoop earrings. Image: LiveAuctioneers and Clars

Actually, production of the alloy rose gold, also known as “pink gold” or “red gold,” dates back to early 19th-century Russia. But earlier Greco-Roman texts indicate that, in ancient times, it was noted that impurities in the smelting process sometimes resulted in a gold product that had a reddish color – or “red gold.”

Cartier 18K rose gold Tankissime bracelet watch with diamonds. Image: LiveAuctioneers and Fellows

The difference in hues seen in the colored-gold spectrum is dependent on the amount of copper and/or silver the alloy contains. The higher the copper content, the stronger the red coloration. Here’s a breakdown of the metallic composition found in pink and red golds:

• 18K red gold: 75% gold, 25% copper
• 18K rose gold: 75% gold, 22.25% copper, 2.75% silver
• 18K pink gold: 75% gold, 20% copper, 5% silver
• 12K red gold: 50% gold, 50% copper

18K rose gold and fancy purple-pink diamond ring. Image: LiveAuctioneers and Leslie Hindman Auctioneers

If zinc is added during the smelting process, it can result in reddish yellow or dark yellow-colored gold. There are other colors, too. Green gold, or “electrum,” for example, was known to the Lydians of Anatolia (modern-day Turkey) as long ago as 860 BC. In spite of its name, the naturally occurring alloy of silver and gold actually looks more greenish-yellow than it does green.

Cartier 18K rose gold ladies cuff bracelet. Image: LiveAuctioneers and Longfellow Auctions

Over the past several years, rose gold has been embraced by many top jewelers, including Tiffany’s; and fashion-forward designers, like Kate Spade. It has even made its way into pop culture, initially with Samsung’s rose-gold-toned Galaxy Note 3. Apple kicked it up a notch with a $10,000+ rose gold Apple Watch Edition and a rose-gold option for its 2015-release iPhone 6. According to Wired Magazine’s David Pierce, “Apple couldn’t make rose gold iPhones fast enough.”

18K rose gold necklace set with oval-shape amethysts. LiveAuctioneers and Heritage Auctions

Nowadays there’s no end to the tech gadgets you can buy in quietly stylish rose-gold hues. Apple leads the pack with its iPad, MacBook and Beats headphones in “rose gold.” The look is uber cool, but no electronic accessory can match the feeling of luxury that comes from wearing a necklace, bracelet or ring of genuine rose gold.

Buccellati: Milan’s Family Jewelers

Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines timeless as “not restricted to a particular time or date.” It seems an appropriate word to describe the Buccellati company, makers of fine jewelry and silver. The firm’s elegant innovations span nearly a century, and although Gangsu Gangtai Group acquired a majority share of the company in August of 2017, the Buccellati family remains at the helm of the evolution of the brand’s design and meaning, appealing both to consumers with traditional tastes and younger buyers with a more adventurous spirit.

Pair of Buccellati sterling silver cufflinks in the form of a flower, inset with turquoise. Auctioned by Jasper52 for $380 in September 2016. Jasper52 and LiveAuctioneers image

This two-pronged approach in which old and new are blended, goes back to 1919, when founder Mario Buccellati launched his first jewelry store in Milan, Italy. He took the skills he learned as a young apprentice and fused conventional techniques with his revolutionary approach to designing jewelry and decorative objects.

Mario Buccellati 18K yellow gold and diamond bracelet, snowflake design. Auctioned by Jasper52 for $12,000 on Nov. 21, 2017. Jasper52 and LiveAuctioneers image

Inspired by Nature: The company’s Animalier Collection features 28 brooches shaped as animals and set with baroque pearls. The menagerie includes monkeys, scorpions, camels and rabbits, among other creatures.

Flash forward 95-plus years, and Buccellati family members, including Mario’s great-granddaughter Lucrezia – the company’s first female jewelry designer – are hard at work creating Buccellati’s trendy contemporary lines. They include iPhone cases – their diamond-studded gold model retails at around $208,000 – and the firm’s “Timeless Blue” project, which brings together impressionist artworks and modern jewelry designs.

Many of the same tried and trusted techniques, attention to detail and appreciation for beauty in many facets are woven into the fabric of this familial firm of luxury design.


Buccellati 18K yellow/white gold and diamond bracelet, wide bangle shape with a filigree design and mounted with 12 bezel-set round brilliant-cut diamonds, approximate total weight of 3 carats, with 72 round brilliant-cut diamonds with an approximate weight of 1.6 carats, a total weight of 54 grams. Auctioned by New Orleans Auction Galleries for $36,000 in March of 2016. New Orleans Auction Galleries and LiveAuctioneers image.

Innovation in every generation

Although Mario’s uncommon and exquisite creations brought global attention and acclaim in the first quarter of the 20th century, he was not the first Buccellati in the trade. In the mid-18th century, Contardo Buccellati was a goldsmith in Milan. Incidentally, the street where his business was located is now known as Via Orefici, or Goldsmith’s Street.

The “Buccellati style,” as it is known, harkens back to Mario’s development of an engraving technique that renders an unmistakable textured appearance. Today, Buccellati artisans use those same techniques, as well as many of the same types of tools, including a steel chisel for engraving, a bowl of wax for making a mold, and a wood, steel and string device to drill holes. The legendary engraving methods are said to give the appearance of materials such as linen, silk and tulle.

Those early traditions and techniques found eager students in four of Mario’s five sons, Frederico, Gianmaria, Luca, and Lorenzo. In various published articles, Gianmaria recalled working as an apprentice with his father at the age of 15 and having an interest in the jewelry trade since early childhood.

The Buccellati brothers inherited the company following the death of their father in 1965. Together they operated the business until the mid-1970s, at which point they divided the company. Brothers Gianmaria and the late Luca worked together to develop the Buccellati operation in the United States, and Gianmaria owned the Buccellati production and laboratories, according to an article in Departures magazine. The Buccellati name is used by operations owned by Gianmaria, while those operated by other Buccellati brothers employ variations of the family name.

Suite of diamond and sapphire jewelry by Buccellati comprising a brooch and pair of earclips in the realistic design of a bunch of grapes, the vine leaves pave-set with brilliant-cut diamonds from which cascade “grapes” composed of sapphire beads. Auctioned by Phillips for £19,000 ($22,410) in 2011. Phillips and LiveAuctioneers image.

Buccellati Locations: The firm has five boutiques within the U.S. (New York, Beverly Hills, Calif.; Chicago, Bal Harbor, Florida; and Aspen, Colorado), six in Italy, and one each in London, Paris, and Moscow. Plus, there are countless retailers, corner shops, and shops within shops, around the world.

Gianmaria’s children joined him in business, his son Andrea and daughter Maria Cristina in jewelry design, and Gino as overseer of the Buccellati silver factory. As mentioned earlier, the Buccellati legacy continues, with Andrea’s daughter Lucrezia joining the firm in 2014, around the same time that Gianmaria retired.

Lucrezia Buccellati’s vision and impact are represented in the company’s innovative Opera line of jewelry, each piece displaying a flower motif. Speaking about the Opera line, Ms. Buccellati told the New York Times, “Opera is a first step to show the new Buccellati for a younger generation who wants things light and more affordable that they can wear every day.”

Buccellati ring featuring an oval-cut citrine at center, claw set within a textured feathered surround to a border of circular-cut rubies, circa 1970s, signed Buccellati, stamped 750. Image courtesy of Dreweatts Donnington Priory and LiveAuctioneers

With the “Timeless Blue” jewelry range, Buccellati drew influence from masterpieces of Impressionist and Post-Impressionist art. A percentage of the sales from this line of jewelry generated during the week of its debut in March of 2015 was donated to Save Venice, a project to underwrite the cost of restoring art and monuments in Venice. The artists and works represented in the line include: Claude Monet (Storm on the Coast of Belle-lle, 1886), Pierre Bonnard (Two Vases of Flowers, 1930), Homer Winslow (Light Blue Sea at Prout’s Neck, circa 1890s), Mikhail Larionov (The Spider’s Web – a double-sided painting, circa 1900-1910), and Odilon Redon (The Fall of Phaeton, circa 1900).

The Romanza collection of bridal rings feature seven designs inspired by women in literary tales. They include: Beatrice Portinari, the beloved of Dante Alighieri; Titania from Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, and Bradamante, a female Christian knight appearing in Ariosto’s Orlando furioso.

While Buccellati may have started as a local Milan jewelry studio, its gilt-edged name is now recognized as one of the world’s most prestigious brands. It continues to embrace the new while respecting the traditions of generations past.

The Beginning of Time

From sundials to atomic clocks, the presentation of timekeeping instruments may have changed over the centuries, but the basic premise remains the same.

For generations, people have monitored and visualized time using a variety of sources, including the sun, water, a burning candle, the transfer of sand particles from one section of a container to another, and ultimately through the mechanical marvels known as clocks. The process of measuring moments has long been a necessary practice, and with the advent of clocks, it embraced an element of efficiency and design.

While the origin of the first formal clock is a bit of a mystery, many reports point to the advent of early clocks within European monasteries in the 14th century. That is a plausible concept, as the development of devices to regularly indicate time would aid monks in planning their prayers. Lending credence to this belief is historical documentation of two early examples of clocks built for churches that remain in service to this day. One is the oldest known functional clock, which is said to have been constructed around 1386. It is located in London’s Salisbury Cathedral.

Medieval clock in Salisbury Cathedral, operating a bell in the tower. Dates to circa 1386; restored in 1956. Image by Rwendland, licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license.

Potential Word Origin of Clock: Clokke (Middle English), Clocca (medieval Latin), Cloc (Celtic and Old Irish), and Glocka (Old High German)

According to the Salisbury Cathedral site, the hand-wrought iron clock at Salisbury has no face and only chimes on the hour. The mechanics of the clock include falling weights and a device that is wound daily, allowing the clock to run for just over 24 hours at a time. An hour wheel, also known as a “great wheel,” makes one revolution per hour and is designed to strike a pin at exactly the top of the hour. This contact activates an extensive mechanical process, which ultimately results in the striking of a bell, thus producing a chime.   

Tramp art pendulum clock, circa 1890s, porcelain face, glass panels on sides featuring a layered pyramid design. Auctioned for $1,500 in February 2017. Jasper52 and LiveAuctioneers image.

Another early model is the Wells Cathedral clock. It is said to be the creation of 14th century monk Peter Lightfoot. Although the clock appears to have some similar attributes and mechanical elements to that of the Salisbury clock, it also reveals added ingenuity. Among the clock’s unique qualities is its dial, which showcases an image of the universe, including the view of the sun and moon surrounding Earth. Above the face of the dial resides the figure of a character named Jack Blandifers, whose job it is to strike the bells every hour on the hour with the use of a hammer and the heels of his shoes. He appears with two knight figures who are responsible for striking the bell at 15-minute intervals. Up until 2010, the Wells Cathedral clock had been wound by hand three times a week, for more than 630 years. Since 1919, the winding had been the responsibility of a member of the Fisher family, according to an article in the Daily Mail. This tenure of service came to an end in 2010 when the final Fisher family member retired and an electric motor replaced the clock’s winding mechanism.

Rare Chinese animated bracket clock featuring porcelain dial with Roman hour numerals, quality triple-fusee movement with engraved brass plates and a filigree border signed Cheong Smag and bearing six-character Chinese mark for Hao Sheng Xiang of the Guangdong Province. Auctioned for $1.05 million in May 2016. Fontaine’s Auction Gallery and LiveAuctioneers image.

Although churches were not the only places one would find a clock in the 14th through 18th centuries, they were not an item regularly seen in homes. Exceptions to this were royal and upper class residences, where clocks were often part of the decor. Although, the first domestic tabletop clock was constructed in the early 16th century, clocks were still a luxury. With many churches and some town centers showcasing a clock in a bell tower, these types of community clocks seemed to meet citizens’ needs.


Early 19th-century Federal inlaid mahogany tall-case clock by Simon Willard. Interior door retains original Isaiah Thomas, Jr paper label for Simon Willard Clock Manufactory. Arched and painted dial with seconds hand and date aperture, gilt decorations on dial, painted brass moon phase disc with naval scene and landscape. Auctioned for $50,000 in May 2015. Brunk Auctions and LiveAuctioneers image.

As is most often the case, advancements in clock technology came about as a result of necessity. Here are a few:

  • 1577 marked the invention of the minute hand by Jost Burgi, to meet the needs of an astronomer looking for increased time-keeping abilities during stargazing.
  • Galieo’s discovery of the elements of a pendulum in 1581 was another advancement in clockmaking.
  • 1656 saw the development of the pendulum block, by physicist Christian Huygens, to improve accuracy in timekeeping.
  • Clockmaker Alexander Bain created the first electric clock in 1840.
  • In 1876, Seth E. Thomas filed and received the patent for a mechanical alarm clock that was wound by hand.
  • Frank Hope-Jones created a modern electrical clock in 1895 that would become the inspiration behind those in use today.
  • Between 1927 and 1929, Warren Marrison completed the research and development leading to the first quartz clock. The engineer turned to quartz crystals to create more reliable frequency standards in timekeeping.
  • 1949 saw the unveiling of the first atomic clock by what is now the National Institute of Standards and Technology in Gaithersburg, Maryland.

Opportunities to View Clock Collections: American Clock & Watch Museum, located in Bristol, Connecticut; National Watch & Clock Museum, in Columbia, Pennsylvania; and The Clockmakers’ Museum, located in The Science Museum, London. Also, the NAWCC has an online collection.


Atmos du Millenaire limited-edition mantel clock, Jaeger LeCoultre, month calendar in French with the moonphase, 10¾ inches high. Estimate: £3,000-£4,000. Fellows and LiveAuctioneers image.

In the digital age, reports place the patent for the first digital alarm clock in the hands of American inventor D.E. Protzman, in 1956. However, a more primitive model was introduced during the St. Louis World’s Fair of 1904. There, the Ansonia Clock Company unveiled its Plato clock – a spring-wound system with digital cards featuring numbers that flipped.

Many moments have passed since monks and scientists first created mechanisms and enhancements for keeping and displaying time. Centuries later, our society today lives by the minutes and moments these devices keep.