An NFT image of a poster created by renowned artist Shepard Fairey, ‘Make Art, Not War,’ achieved $200 plus the buyer’s premium in March 2022. Image courtesy of ArtMeetsStreet x Mercer Auctions and LiveAuctioneers

Imagine that you “own” a specific star. Ostensibly, you own it because you have its specific coordinates stored in a star registry, and a colorful certificate you received after purchasing the star says so. The star may be visible to all, but only you can claim to own that specific star.

One day, you decide to sell the star’s coordinates to someone else who buys it as an investment. The buyer, however, cannot hold the star, feel it, frame it, put it on display or store it in a box any more than you could when you owned it. The only “property” that conveys is the coordinates. And, just as you had hoped the star would one day increase in value, so does its new “owner.”

‘Suitcase in Space 1,’ a 2022 digital NFT artwork by 82-year-old Spanish artist Cristobal Toral, realized €2,000 (about $2,050) plus the buyer’s premium in June 2022. Image courtesy of Ansorena and LiveAuctioneers.

If you understand any of that, welcome to the world of the non-fungible token, or NFT. As a newbie, there are some basic points to understand. 

First, the term “non-fungible” means that the item is one-of-a-kind and completely irreplaceable. Your car, for example, is non-fungible as it will have a different value from other cars, even if those cars were built in the same year and may appear identical. Anything that can be exchanged with the same value is “fungible.” A five-dollar bill is easily exchanged with another bill of the same type as both have the same value. explains the concept this way: just as “… No. 2 yellow corn [is] fungible because it does not matter where the corn was grown; all corn designated as No. 2 yellow corn is worth the same amount.” 

Polish artist Yerka Jacek’s ‘Water World,’ offered in March 2022 as an NFT and a giclee print, together achieved 380,000 PLN (about $85,000) plus the buyer’s premium. Image courtesy of Agra Art Auction House and LiveAuctioneers.

Every line of computer code, by definition, is strictly unique, or non-fungible. When composed as an online token on a cryptocurrency blockchain – the online registry that serves as a certificate of authenticity of sorts – it becomes an NFT that cannot be changed or altered in any way. Once downloaded, the computer code defines the specialized image or plays only the unique sound that is bought and sold at online auctions.

NFTs can take many different forms. They exist as digital-game characters and trading cards, crypto art and also Internet memes, but NFTs are also being created as a kind of license for patents or online sports. So, according to, “… anything digital such as drawings, music, [or even] your brain downloaded and turned into an AI [artificial intelligence] …” can become an NFT along with any abstraction, idea or thought. The first-ever tweet, composed and sent in March 2006 by Twitter co-founder and former CEO Jack Dorsey, sold as an NFT for nearly $3 million in March 2021.

‘The Great Chain of Being’ by Anna Mills is an artistic taxidermy sculpture of a savannah wildcat, an African grey hornbill and a marmoset monkey. It also exists as an NFT. The sculpture and the NFT sold together for $5,000 plus the buyer’s premium in April 2022. Image courtesy of Public Sale Auction House and LiveAuctioneers

There are positive and negative aspects to creating, buying and owning an NFT. One of the positive aspects can be illustrated with the star registry example above. The key difference between owning a star on a printed registry and an NFT made from computer code is that the creators of the star registry can’t collect royalties if the same star is resold, while the creator of the NFT does. Told another way, in the United States, contemporary artists are paid when their artwork is first sold, but not when it is resold.

 In 2021, Chris Torres, creator of the Nyan Cat Internet meme, said to, “Most NFT platforms allow the artist to retain their copyright and trademarked work, which I feel is huge for an artist because it lets them keep their creative rights.” Also in 2021, Torres sold an NFT of Nyan Cat, a flying cat with a pop tart as its body, for nearly $600,000. NFTs allow creators of crypto art, as the Nyan Cat is called, to retain the copyright and continue to collect royalties every time the same NFT is resold to a new owner. More importantly, an artist can sell directly to a buyer without the need for a dealer or an agent who works on commission.

The NFT marketplace is relatively new. The first example, made by Kevin McCoy and Anil Dash and consisting of a short video clip of the sale itself, sold for $4 in May 2014. (Dash was the buyer.) By 2017, series of NFTs such as the CryptoPunks, CryptoKitties, Pepe trading cards and the Bored Ape Yacht Club were part of a $250 million marketplace and growing. An NFT by the artist known as Beeple (aka Mike Winkelmann) achieved $69 million at Christie’s in March 2021, generating headlines worldwide.

An individual NFT by the digital artist known as Beeple (Mike Winkelmann), titled ‘Bull Run Day #4951,’ achieved $40,000 plus the buyer’s premium in November 2021. Image courtesy of Heritage Auctions and LiveAuctioneers

These types of digital artworks, as well as video and gaming characters are the most traded NFTs to date. According to a financial report by, NFTs represent a $3 billion worldwide market that is expected to grow to $13.6 billion in 2027. The growth is expected to come from celebrity endorsements and the increasing use of game characters that can be bought and sold via game platforms. Crypto exchange platforms are also creating NFT marketplaces such as OpenSea, Rarible, Larva Labs, Cloudflare and Dapper Labs. All that is very positive for creators of NFTs, but what are the drawbacks of the NFT itself?

Anything can become an NFT, even this collage by Marc Karzen celebrating the 40th anniversary of ‘The David Letterman Show.’ The lot consisted of a signed book, a digital print and an NFT with the cryptocurrency wallet to access it. Collectively it earned $2,500 plus the buyer’s premium in May 2022. Image courtesy of Santa Monica Auctions and LiveAuctioneers.

As with anything considered valuable, only time and another buyer will determine its worth in the future. Remember the NFT of the very first tweet that sold for $3 million in March 2021? It was auctioned again in April 2022 and anticipated to sell for $50 million. But when no one bid more than $280, the NFT was withdrawn. Not even celebrity can help sell an NFT. In January 2022, Former First Lady Melania Trump created an NFT called Head of State Collection, featuring an image of her wearing a unique white outfit worn at a state visit with the president of France. It realized about $180,000, but public blockchain records later revealed Mrs. Trump herself purchased it after few interested buyers participated in the auction.

A fickle market aside, there are issues around the copyright of an image, video or game token represented by the NFT. Just creating an NFT doesn’t always mean ownership rights automatically transfer with it. Because of what are known as “personality rights,” buyers need to be sure the seller is also the owner of the image depicted in the NFT itself.

‘Bandera,’ a 2019 Bradley Settles landscape offered as an oil-on-board plus an NFT, sold for $850 plus the buyer’s premium in October 2021. Image courtesy of Vogt Auction Texas and LiveAuctioneers.

One of the most obvious downsides of an NFT is that if it is on the Internet, anyone can access it. You may have bought a video or graphic artwork as an NFT, but everyone else can still download it, too. It’s not unlike owning an original Picasso while everyone else owns a print. With an NFT, you, as the purchaser, may not own the copyright, which gives the original creator the ability to continue selling the same NFT many times over if they so desire. It wouldn’t make sense for the creator to do this, as it dilutes the scarcity of the NFT, but it can happen. Potential buyers should consider whether owning something that they can’t really control is in their best interest, bragging rights aside.

‘The Mistresses of Picasso,’ originally painted in gouache on paper in the 1930s, was auctioned as an NFT in May 2022 and attained $1,675 plus the buyer’s premium. Image courtesy of International Art Auction and LiveAuctioneers.

Also, it should be noted that anything created for a blockchain requires large amounts of energy to produce and maintain. According to Columbia (University) Climate School’s website, a University of Cambridge analysis estimated that bitcoin mining consumes 121.36 terawatt hours a year. This is more than all of Argentina consumes in a year, or more than the annual consumption of Google, Apple, Facebook and Microsoft combined. This results in pumping some 65 megatons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, equivalent to the output of the nation of Greece. Generating Bitcoins, or any of the other 19,000 cryptocurrencies out there, makes a significant contribution to climate change. Minting an NFT is no different. 

The French newspaper ‘20 Minutes’ auctioned an offset printing plate for the front page of its January 13, 2020 supplement, along with an NFT of a complete six-page digital version of same, to benefit charity. It realized €3,000 (about $3,079) plus the buyer’s premium in October 2021. Image courtesy of Piasa and LiveAuctioneers.

NFTs are also closely linked to the cryptocurrency market, which is undergoing its own grim adventures. The Guardian newspaper reported on July 2, 2022 that the market for NFTs had hit a 12-month low of slightly more than $1 billion in June after peaking at $12.6 billion in January.

Nor are NFTs any less prone to theft than tangible artworks. Burglars come for them as well, as celebrity Seth Green found out. In May 2022, news broke that Green had lost four of his NFTs in a phishing scam, including a Bored Ape upon which he intended to base an animated TV show. The theft of the Bored Ape meant Green no longer controlled its likeness, placing the future of the show in doubt. The following month, Buzzfeed reported that Green regained his missing NFT by paying $260,000 to an entity known as 165 ETH, as confirmed by public blockchain records.

Any new opportunity to buy and sell will have its pros and cons. To get started in collecting NFTs requires a reasonable understanding of cryptocurrency, the blockchain, access to markets, online auctions, the attendant scams and various fees involved. You also need to school yourself on how to securitize the NFT you buy and on the marketability of any NFTs you create. And you need to understand how accessible the NFT would be in the future if the website, cloud platform or Tor network that hosts it is no longer online.

A work by Tel Aviv-based artist Shira Barzilay, aka Koketit, titled ‘Family Tree VideoArt’ and offered with an NFT, achieved $12,000 plus the buyer’s premium in May 2022. Image courtesy of Tiroche Auction House and LiveAuctioneers.

In the end, owning an NFT could conceivably help to preserve a small part of the Internet as a historical snapshot in time, making your collection a digital museum of sorts. Whatever the motivation, an NFT is just another way to own unique items that aren’t necessarily accessible. They may lead to future monetary and economic innovations that will benefit collectors and the world to come.

Loose gemstones – not just for jewelers

A square 5.01-carat emerald-cut diamond of D color and VS1 clarity, accompanied by a GIA graded certificate, achieved $200,000 plus the buyer’s premium in May 2022. Image courtesy of Bid Global International Auctioneers and LiveAuctioneers

Gemstones have long been treasured for their brilliant, alluring beauty. Over many centuries, they have served as love charms and amulets as well as adornments for sacred ornaments and royal crowns. Although they are available in a wide range of ready-made settings, many collectors prefer acquiring them as single, loose stones and commissioning a jeweler to transform them into wearable works of art. Others prefer to appreciate the stones as they are. 

A GIA-certified natural loose ruby earned $10,620 plus the buyer’s premium in July 2014. Image courtesy of VDG Jewelry Inc. and LiveAuctioneers

Loose gemstones that have been cut and polished into round or oval cabochons can serve as the basis for one-of-a-kind rings, cufflinks, earrings, bracelets or brooches. Flashier faceted gems have been cut into shapes that further enhance their sparkle, brilliance, clarity, color and aesthetic appeal. 

A light blue Sri Lankan sapphire weighing 12.11 carats sold for $9,750 plus the buyer’s premium in August 2018. Image courtesy of Heritage Auctions and LiveAuctioneers

Natural untreated sapphires, which can come from as far away as Afghanistan or as near as the state of Montana, typically feature blue to violet hues, but those are merely the best-known colors for the stone. Thanks to a variety of trace elements, sapphires can be green, orange, yellow, purple or pink. If they have needle-like inclusions, they can display radiant star-like effects. Delicate Padparadscha sapphires, sourced initially in Sri Lanka and named for a local pinkish-orange lotus blossom, are the rarest of all. Whatever their color, sapphires are just as stunning as unset individual stones as they are when showcased in jewelry designs.

A pale pink 5.83-carat Padparadscha Sri Lankan sapphire attained €6,000 (about $6,292) plus the buyer’s premium in November 2018. Image courtesy of Kissing Auction and LiveAuctioneers

Loose rubies can be had in a range of cuts, but they might be most popular when shaped like a heart. Unsurprisingly, red heart-shape rubies give rise to extra-romantic pieces of jewelry and area a Valentine’s Day favorite. But the heart shape is not reserved exclusively for rubies. The Heart of Muzo, a heart-shape 12.07-carat emerald found in Muzo, Colombia – site of the most esteemed emerald mine in the world – might arouse greater passion in certain collectors.

The Heart of Muzo, a 12.07-carat heart-shape Colombian emerald, realized $10,000 plus the buyer’s premium in April 2017. Image courtesy of Guernsey’s and LiveAuctioneers

The emerald cut is a popular choice for gemstones of all types. It features straight alternating dark and light step cuts through large tables, which proves flattering to a broad variety of gemstones. In May 2022, Bid Global International Auctioneers of Scottsdale, Arizona, sold a square emerald-cut diamond featuring very fine color, clarity and dramatic reflective effects. Accompanied by a GIA (Gemological Institute of America) graded certificate, it earned $200,000 plus the buyer’s premium.

A 49.58-carat tourmaline found in Paraiba, Brazil, sold for $11,000 plus the buyer’s premium in August 2018. Image courtesy of Heritage Auctions and LiveAuctioneers

Jewelry designers, natural history buffs and fashionistas are hardly the only audiences for loose gemstones. They also interest investors who are wary of fluctuating real estate or currency values and want to park their money in something small and easy to transport. 

A GIA-certified Mexican fire opal weighing 14.29 carats was sold for $1,600 plus the buyer’s premium in April 2022. Image courtesy of Jasper52 and LiveAuctioneers

For those inclined toward loose-gem investment, the choices are abundant and tempting. In August 2018, Heritage Auctions achieved $6,750 plus the buyer’s premium for an absolutely massive Rwandan 259.42-carat amethyst that represented a type discovered only three years prior to its sale. 

A massive 259.42-carat pear-cut Rwandan amethyst exhibiting a deep purple color and intermingled flashes of violet-red was purchased for $6,750 plus the buyer’s premium in August 2018. Image courtesy of Heritage Auctions and LiveAuctioneers

The Super Auction Gallery, a gemstone mecca in Lahore, Pakistan, auctioned a natural deep-blue cushion cut 60.78-carat tanzanite, one of the scarcest gems on earth, for $115,000 plus the buyer’s premium in September 2019. 

A natural cushion-cut tanzanite weighing 60.78 carats realized $115,000 plus the buyer’s premium in September 2019. Image courtesy of Super Auction Gallery and LiveAuctioneers

Of course, prices for loose gemstones vary according to supply and demand. Those that are rare at purchase tend to remain so, and will remain so if the mine from which they came has since closed. Also, as a general rule, loose gemstones experience at least some increase in value with the passage of time. 

An amethyst from Afghanistan that weighed in at 719 carats was bid to $7,000 plus the buyer’s premium in January 2021. Image courtesy of Jasper52 and LiveAuctioneers

While the market for investment-grade loose gemstones is active and robust, it’s easy to assemble a rainbow of examples in a range of sizes and cuts without breaking the bank. Savvy collectors can purchase individual citrines, amethysts, garnets and other relatively common gemstones for under $100. Those who are patient, keen-eyed and lucky can acquire vibrantly colored and pleasingly cut versions of those stones at weights of 20 carats or more for double-digit bids at auction. 

Whether they are prized as investments, transformed into pieces of jewelry, or piled into a bowl on an office desk like an exotic, glittering form of eye-candy, the appeal of loose gemstones is undeniable and is only likely to grow as more people learn that these unset beauties are within the reach of almost anyone, no matter how modest their budget may be.

The Mickey Mouse wristwatch: a pop-culture sensation that matured into an enduring style icon

Luxury watchmaker Gerald Genta produced this diamond-encrusted ladies’ quartz watch that achieved $12,000 plus the buyer’s premium in December 2021. Image courtesy of Mynt Auctions and LiveAuctioneers

The Mickey Mouse wristwatch is almost as iconic as the Disney character himself. The timepiece arrived on the scene in 1933 and had an instant and lasting impact, because – no pun intended – the timing was perfect. The rising popularity of the wristwatch, which first gained traction during World War I, combined with the advent of animated films with synchronized sound and the opening of the 1933 World’s Fair in Chicago united to fuel public demand for the product.

While it’s hard to imagine a world without the Mickey Mouse watch, its creation and its triumph were far from inevitable. The circumstances that yielded the watch were promising, but did not foretell a hit that would endure for almost a century and counting.

A Rolex Oyster Perpetual Mickey Mouse watch with a gold case and bracelet sold for $3,600 plus the buyer’s premium in November 2018. Image courtesy of Jasper52 and LiveAuctioneers

During the early 1930s, Walt Disney was still smarting from having lost control of his first star character, Oswald the Lucky Rabbit, in 1927. He fought back by founding his namesake studio and launching a new cartoon character, Mortimer Mouse, who bore a suspiciously strong resemblance to Oswald. Disney’s wife suggested renaming him Mickey, and the mouse met the world with that name in his 1928 animated debut short, dubbed Steamboat Willie. 

Audiences were almost as captivated by Mickey’s whistling of the tune Steamboat Bill as they were with his animated adventures as a steamboat pilot. Synchronized sound was a fresh innovation in film, and Disney showed it off to great effect in the inaugural release from its studio. So integral was the combination of animation and sound to the success of the film studio that a clip of a black-and-white Mickey whistling cheerfully appears before every new Disney release, in recognition of the cultural juggernaut’s roots. 

A group consisting of a 1934 or 1935 Mickey Mouse wristwatch, a 1937 version with a rectangular bezel and a box for a 1933 Mickey Mouse pocket watch together earned $1,350 plus the buyer’s premium in June 2022. Image courtesy of Ira and Larry Goldberg Coins and Collectibles and LiveAuctioneers

The blockbuster cartoon did not completely relieve the newborn studio’s money woes, however. It was the early 1930s, after all, and the Great Depression was raging. To bring in additional revenue, Walt Disney sold the exclusive merchandising rights to the Mickey Mouse character in 1932 to Herman Kamen, an advertising and merchandising salesman. Kamen’s initial products were a Mickey Mouse pocket watch and wristwatch. Their reception would confirm the wisdom of his commercial instincts.

Wrist watches (the two-word description prevailed then) existed, but were far from dominating the marketplace. Most still appeared in the form of the wristlet, a thin, dainty timepiece regarded as best suited to women. Nonetheless, Kamen contracted with Ingersoll-Waterbury, a struggling watchmaker, to manufacture both a pocket watch that retailed for $1.50 (about $34 today) and a wristwatch priced at $3.75 (now equivalent to $85). The faces of both sported a full-body image of Mickey Mouse telling the time by pointing his yellow-gloved hands at the correct numbers on the dial. 

A Mickey Mouse pocket watch debuted in 1933 along with the wristwatch design. An example of the former in its original box realized $950 plus the buyer’s premium in November 2017. Image courtesy of Milestone Auctions and LiveAuctioneers

The timepieces debuted at the 1933 World’s Fair and were immediate best sellers. The success of the wrist-worn version led to broader general acceptance of that style of timepiece. It served as unbeatable advertising for Disney’s Mickey Mouse cartoons as well – every time wearers looked at their wrists, they saw Mickey smiling back at them. The products also saved Ingersoll-Waterbury from bankruptcy; the company lived on to become Timex in the 1960s.

The Ingersoll-Waterbury company continued manufacturing the Mickey Mouse wristwatch until 1971, selling millions in many formats and characters. Throughout the watch’s roughly 40 years of production, there were specific eras that delivered a scarce Mickey Mouse design. For example, the early editions featured a spinning second sweep hand featuring a trio of Mickeys chasing each other at the six o’clock position on the dial. By the 1940s, the Mickeys had been replaced with a single Mickey in a rectangular bezel. The 1960s were the minimalist era of the watch’s design: it didn’t have an image of Mickey at all, just the mouse’s name on the dial. 

A circa-1980s Seiko Mickey Mouse men’s quartz wristwatch attained £750 (about $917) plus the buyer’s premium in February 2022. Image courtesy of Hannam’s Auctioneers Ltd and LiveAuctioneers

During the 1970s, the appearance of quartz movements and lower-cost electronic watches from Asia devastated the domestic watch market, and sales slowed considerably. Ingersoll-Waterbury stopped producing Mickey Mouse and the Disney character watches completely by 1971. Once the original manufacturer exited, other watch companies manufactured their own versions of the Mickey Mouse watches.

Seiko, a Japanese concern, produced Mickey Mouse watches during the 1980s and 1990s under license through its Lorus brand, with some subbing in musical notes and national flags for numerals. Rolex and Omega both made Mickey Mouse watches under license for special orders only. The private luxury watch label Gerald Genta also created Mickey Mouse and other Disney character wristwatches under license in limited quantities.

Omega accepted special orders for Mickey Mouse wristwatches, such as this 1958 timepiece with a Mickey Mouse character added to the face. It sold for €1,300 (roughly $1,360) plus the buyer’s premium in October 2019. Image courtesy of Subastas Segre and LiveAuctioneers

Several special anniversary editions of the Mickey Mouse wristwatch have been released as well, beginning with a 25th anniversary product in 1958 to a 60th anniversary edition marketed by Seiko in 1993. In addition, Swatch commissioned artist Damien Hirst to produce a set of two colorful limited edition wristwatches for the 90th anniversary of the Mickey Mouse character in 2017, known as the Spot Mickey and Mirror Spot Mickey. 

A Spot Mickey wristwatch, designed by artist Damien Hirst for Swatch, earned $325 plus the buyer’s premium in April 2022. Image courtesy of Collectible Auction LLC and LiveAuctioneers

Despite the dizzying array of iterations and choices available, collectors unquestionably favor the very earliest editions of the Mickey Mouse wristwatch. An original 1933 edition in good to near-mint condition, in working order and offered with its original cardboard box and instructions, is the Holy Grail.

When evaluating an original Mickey Mouse wristwatch, condition is the most important aspect. Its value depends on whether it has been serviced in the past and whether all its original parts are present and intact. Scratches, rust, visible water damage and missing or replaced parts on the bezel connecting the band all affect its performance at auction. 

A circa-1937 Mickey Mouse Ingersoll wristwatch with its original box achieved $2,300 plus the buyer’s premium against an estimate of $300-$500 in December 2020. Image courtesy of Van Eaton Galleries and LiveAuctioneers

Certain characteristics of the original Mickey Mouse wristwatches help mark them as original. From 1933 until 1937, the watch had a round case and the dial was decorated with a black and white Mickey Mouse in red balloon pants and shoes with yellow gloves – not the white ones shown in the early cartoons. Mickey’s feet straddle a rotating wheel of three miniature Mickeys who chase each other around a smaller dial located between the numbers 5 and 7. These watches have a rounded clear bezel with the words ‘Made in U.S.A’ to the left of Mickey and ‘Mickey Mouse Ingersoll’ next to the number 3. Also, the metal strap has small Mickey Mouse charms attached near the bezel.

From 1938 to 1942, the Mickey Mouse wristwatches featured a long rectangular case with five decorative notches and the dial had a rotating seconds hand in place of the number 6. A serial number and a US Time stamp mark the reverse of the wristwatches beginning in the 1940s, although sometimes the serial number is missing. In 1948, the numbers were luminous, and by 1950, the numbers appeared in red. The round case returned in the 1960s, but without an image of Mickey and only the words ‘Mickey Mouse’ on its face. 

A 1934 Mickey Mouse wristwatch with a metal band, cutouts of Disney characters and its original box sold in August 2020 for $1,300 plus the buyer’s premium. Image courtesy of Van Eaton Galleries and LiveAuctioneers

While the original 1933 wristwatch hasn’t been actively reproduced, experts have said other early versions, such as the 1934 edition, have been reissued. Check with the National Association of Watch and Clock Collectors ( for collectors and dealers specializing in the Mickey Mouse wristwatch for help with spotting possible reproductions.

A contemporary Chopard Happy Sport Diamond ladies’ Mickey Mouse watch with a mother-of-pearl dial realized $11,250 plus the buyer’s premium in December 2021. Image courtesy of 3 Kings Auction and LiveAuctioneers

The Mickey Mouse wristwatch is not as popular as it was when it debuted, but it has yet to disappear from the public consciousness. Even if you’ve never owned one, you can easily call an image of the dial to mind. If you own an Apple watch, you can download a digital version of the famous Mickey Mouse watch face, or a Minnie Mouse version if you prefer. 

If you tap the Apple Watch dial, the cartoon character will speak the time – a feature that underscores the power of uniting animation with sound, something Walt Disney grasped and ran with decades ago. The vintage watch market is large and healthy, and demand for analog Mickey Mouse watches remains strong. Generations past, present and future know their Mickey Mouse watches like the backs of their hands. 

Manet or Monet: A Contrast in Styles

Manet and Monet are two highly important, similarly named French artists who deliberately moved away from the classical Old Masters to create their own individual styles. They were distinctly different in their approach, but even now, nearly a century after Monet’s passing, the artists are confusing to some, simply because of their surnames. There are ways to immediately tell them apart, however. It starts with their choice of subjects.

The art world of the early 19th century centered on expressive, lifelike formal portraits; colorful and realistic landscapes; and the charm of generic fruits and flowers, all reminiscent of the great Old Masters. They were wonderfully arranged in their composition, character, detail and style; and if a painter followed this approach, he or she could expect their paintings to be exhibited – the all-important first step toward garnering public and critical success.

This 1863 Manet painting is a clear departure from the Old Masters, as it depicts two nude women and two clothed men having lunch in a wooded field near a spring. The artwork caused quite the stir when it was exhibited in the year of its creation. Public domain image courtesy of Google Art Project and Wikimedia Commons

By 1856, the French painter Édouard Manet moved away from the conventional approach and instead began painting real workaday people, without necessarily focusing on light, detail or abundant color. He used loose brush strokes in contrasting darker colors, particularly black. Luncheon on the Grass, for example, featured two nude women picnicking with two fully clothed men along a wooded stream. The subject matter was quite unconventional – even shocking – for its time. Manet would continue painting beggars and people along the street exactly as he saw them, not as the Old Masters wished them to be. The Spanish Singer, an 1860 oil portrait of a guitar-playing singer, was his first painting that drew acclaim. Its “slapdash,” avant-garde painting style appealed to a younger generation.

Edouard Manet’s signature on an ink and gouache on paper titled ‘The Old Musician’ appears in the lower righthand corner and reads, simply, ‘Manet.’ Image courtesy: Leland Little Auctions and LiveAuctioneers

With his unconventional approach to painting in which he depicted real people in everyday situations, Manet was able to influence other artistic movements, especially Impressionism.

One of the leading Impressionists of the period was the Parisian-based artist Claude Monet. He took his inspiration from Manet, leaving behind the Old Masters’ obsession for detail, and instead placed an emphasis on natural color and light. In fact, many of Monet’s paintings repeat the same subject, such as The Haystack – there are 25 versions of it, each painted in different light from dusk to dawn, in different seasons reflecting their own shaded nuances.

Monet’s 1874 oil painting Impression, Sunrise was not well received, one art critic believing it unfinished who derisively called it impressionism for its broad strokes depicting rowboats in the port of La Havre either at dawn or dusk and Impressionism became the name of an entire new movement. Public domain image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

One of the most important paintings by Monet was his Impression: Sunrise, painted in 1873. Executed in muted colors, it is described as a rather hazy image of several rowboats in the French port of La Havre, depicted either at dusk or dawn (it isn’t known which), with broad strokes and the light of an orange sun casting lighted shadows along the water. An art critic derisively named Monet’s “unfinished” painting as “impressionism,” and thus began a completely new art movement.

Claude Monet usually added his signature in full to the lower lefthand corner of his paintings. An example of his signature is shown here and comes from a handwritten letter dated 1908. Image courtesy: University Archives and LiveAuctioneers

While both Manet and Monet were contemporaries in the French painting community of the late 19th century, Manet was older by eight years and established as an artist by the time Monet began painting seriously by 1865.  Each widely exhibited their paintings in salons – even next to each other on such occasions where artworks were displayed alphabetically by the artist’s surname. If pressed, Manet preferred not to be considered an Impressionist, and some art scholars would agree. Given a choice, he would not participate in exhibitions with other Impressionist artists. Monet, on the other hand, enthusiastically embraced the new art movement and had no problem with his paintings being described as “impressions.”

The differences were quite clear between the two Parisian-based artists. They were not necessarily spending time within the same artistic circles, since they painted differently. Manet worked primarily in a studio with models. Often he would choose black as the background color for his artworks.

Monet, like all Impressionist painters, primarily worked outdoors – en plein air – creating landscapes relatively quickly.  Brighter colors in quick brush strokes tended to blend well together, with rowboats or even people rendered as shadows or shapes rather than being clearly defined and detailed. Nearly 90% of all of Monet’s paintings were landscapes.

Claude Monet (French, 1840-1926), Water Lilies, 1919. Oil on canvas; 39 3/4 x 78 3/4 in. (101 x 200 cm). The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, The Walter H and Leonore Annenberg Collection, Gift of Walter H and Leonore Annenberg, 1998, Bequest of Walter H Annenberg, 2002 (1998.325.2). Image licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.5 Generic license

In short, Manet primarily painted everyday people while Monet painted natural landscapes with a diffusion of light and color. Of course, to quickly tell the difference, you could just as easily look at the painted signatures at the base of each painting, too.

The period of Impressionism lasted until about 1890 or so, when the movement gained more of an acceptance within the art world. Manet didn’t participate within the Impressionist movement itself, preferring to exhibit on his own with little recognition during his lifetime. He died at 51 in 1883 from syphilis. Monet, on the other hand, lived to the age of 86, with his paintings selling rather well until his death in 1926.

Other Impressionist artists who rose to prominence after Monet were Mary Cassatt, Pierre-Auguste Renoir, Camille Pissarro, Edgar Degas, Paul Cézanne, Alfred Sisley and others whose works embody the broad strokes and muted colors of everyday life, giving us an impression of what an artist sees and feels. It is the shifting light, the hazy unfinished reality that provide our own portrait of everyday life.

So, are the Impressionists still sought after at auction? Yes, but some observers opine that Impressionist artworks which haven’t already joined the collections of museums or institutions are the less-appealing examples, explaining why they haven’t reached the top tier of recent market sales. That’s not to say that there isn’t enthusiasm for early Impressionist works at auction – that would not be a fair comment – but as the pioneers of the movement were aware, there will always be new artists and genres to excite collectors.

Staffordshire spaniels: still fetching after all these years

A circa-1850 set of Grace and Majesty Staffordshire spaniels sold for £1,600 (about $2,000) plus the buyer’s premium in May 2022. Image courtesy of Kinghams Auctioneers and LiveAuctioneers

During the 18th century, when millions of Britons left the countryside to seek work in larger towns and cities, enterprising potters in the English county of Staffordshire started creating a range of animal figures that evoked the charm of country life. In addition to barnyard animals, the creatures replicated in pottery included King Charles spaniels, the affectionate, luxuriantly coated toy dogs long associated with British royalty, in particular King Charles II (1630–1685), who was known as “the Cavalier King.” 

A pair of Staffordshire spaniel jugs, each standing 10in high, earned $800 plus the buyer’s premium in March 2020. Image courtesy of STAIR and LiveAuctioneers

It is said that everywhere Charles II went, he took at least three of his pet spaniels with him. They had free reign of Whitehall Palace, including the monarch’s bedchamber. His preference for his dogs’ companionship over matters of state drew some criticism. Diarist Samuel Pepys observed that the king even frittered away time playing with his beloved dogs during important government meetings. 

In an entry dated September 1, 1666, Pepys described a council meeting thusly: “All I observed there was the silliness of the King, playing with his dog all the while and not minding the business.” The king’s fondness for his wee spaniels was also dramatized in the 1995 film Restoration, starring Robert Downey Jr., in which the palace physician is summoned to the king’s bedside to attend to an urgent medical matter, only to find that the patient is one of the monarch’s cosseted dogs.

A circa-1770 Staffordshire spaniel novelty bonbonniere attained £500 (roughly $630) plus the buyer’s premium in September 2019. Image courtesy of Bamfords Auctioneers & Valuers and LiveAuctioneers

Fueled by regal approval and the breed’s charming nature, pottery King Charles spaniels rose in popularity across Great Britain. Most came from potteries in England’s Midlands, an area blessed with abundant clay and water from several rivers. So prolific were those ateliers, and so winsome their depictions of the pets, that all of these pottery dogs became known as Staffordshire spaniels. 

A seated pair of black-and-white Staffordshire spaniels on ornate scrolled bases earned $4,750 plus the buyer’s premium in November 2010. Image courtesy of Wiederseim Associates, Inc. and LiveAuctioneers

The earliest examples were fashioned from glassy salt-glazed earthenware or stoneware and were usually rather plain in color, shape and style. By contrast, those produced by the Brampton potteries of Derbyshire were far more artistic. Brampton artisans tended to create highly detailed, wistful-looking spaniels seated upon decorative paw-foot plinths adorned with images of sheep and floral cornucopias. 

A Brampton salt-glaze Staffordshire spaniel seated on a plinth sprigged with sheep and flower cornucopias above six paw feet sold for £650 (about $820) plus the buyer’s premium in June 2015. Image courtesy of Cheffins and LiveAuctioneers

As pottery techniques evolved, salt-glazed spaniels were replaced by fine, thin, glassier creamware, bluish-white pearlware, and underglaze-painted Prattware spaniels with more colorful decoration. The pottery dogs became even more popular when Queen Victoria, whose dearest childhood companion had been a King Charles spaniel named “Dash,” ascended to the British throne. 

A Staffordshire pearlware spaniel, depicted lying on a plinth, realized $2,200 plus the buyer’s premium in September 2011. Image courtesy of Pook & Pook, Inc. and LiveAuctioneers

Pairs of these canine status symbols “guarded” Victorian working-class homes. Some sat. Others stood. Still others, such as a particularly convincing 19th-century pearlware model, lounged upon textured pottery bases. Although most Staffordshire spaniels feature legs molded to their bodies, the more collectible ones boast distinctly formed front legs. Less costly, mass-produced flatback spaniels, such as the sponge-decorated pair traditionally known as “Grace and Majesty,” were designed to sit flush against mantelpiece walls.

A pair of circa-1850 Grace and Majesty Staffordshire spaniels realized £1,000 (about $1,262) plus the buyer’s premium in October 2019. Image courtesy of Kinghams Auctioneers and LiveAuctioneers

Because each Staffordshire spaniel was individually hand-painted, none are exactly alike. Black spaniels might be as black as night or feature shimmering gold highlights and gilt-painted collars as well as gleaming red or yellow glass eyes. 

A pair of Staffordshire spaniels modeled with legs that are separate from their bodies and decorated with copper luster sold for $800 plus the buyer’s premium in May 2020. Image courtesy of Strawser Auction Group and LiveAuctioneers

On the other hand, white spaniels might be pale as snow, the purity of their coats interrupted only by their dark, expressive noses. Scores of Staffordshire spaniels displayed dark tails, ears and snouts; all-over scatters of delicate dotting; or random russet, black, green, or copper-colored patches. Some, possibly reflecting breeds popular in the day, boasted realistic-looking tan, brown or reddish legs and flanks. Others were depicted carrying cheery baskets of flowers in their mouths or sporting fashionable Disraeli-style kiss curls across their foreheads. 

A trio of Staffordshire spaniels, two shown holding flower baskets in their mouths, earned $1,900 plus the buyer’s premium in February 2021. Image courtesy of Jeffrey S. Evans & Associates and LiveAuctioneers

In addition to smaller spaniel figurines, Staffordshire potteries also produced a variety of large, sturdy, so-called “begging” spaniels topped by jaunty tricorn hats. Many of these creatures served as functional jugs, pitchers or storage jars. Others served as spill vases, holding slim wax tapers used to transfer fireside flame to lamps and candles.

A pair of Staffordshire spaniels, each with pipes in their mouths, sold for $1,400 plus the buyer’s premium in September 2011. Image courtesy of Pook & Pook, Inc. and LiveAuctioneers

While the majority of Staffordshire spaniels were produced during the Victorian era, accurately dating them is not always possible because identical molds were used, reused and shared among different potteries over many decades. Although it might not be possible to pinpoint their age or provenance, all Staffordshire spaniels stand for British tradition and recall a time when dogs were “king’s best friend.”

Presidential autographs: history created with a few strokes of a pen

A large February 1864 photograph of President Abraham Lincoln, with an affixed signature, achieved $12,000 plus the buyer’s premium in August 2020. Image courtesy of University Archives and LiveAuctioneers.

Until April 30, 1789, when George Washington said “I … solemnly swear to faithfully execute the office of President of the United States …,” virtually no other country in the world was governed by anything other than some form of a hereditary royal family. To be chosen by fellow citizens for their nation’s highest office by casting ballots was a bold experiment in government that has lasted 233 years through 46 administrations and counting.

A collection of presidential autographs from George Washington to George W. Bush earned $22,500 plus the buyer’s premium in November 2021. Image courtesy of Amero Auctions and LiveAuctioneers

Washington pointedly shrugged off anything that resembled a royal title, opting instead for one suggested by the House of Representatives: The President of the United States. He insisted he be addressed simply as Mr. President. Having fought and defeated a king – George III – he had no desire to become one himself.

A 1960 presidential campaign pamphlet signed by John F. Kennedy realized $5,000 plus the buyer’s premium against an estimate of $650-$840 in December 2016. Image courtesy of Heritage Auctions and LiveAuctioneers.

Modern-day presidents still encourage that familiarity and the sense that they are no better than other Americans; they’re just running the country for a few years before handing over the reins to the next president. Such accessibility inspires us to approach the sitting commander in chief to request an autograph.

A White House card signed by President Jimmy Carter went for $1,411, including buyer’s premium, in December 2020. Image courtesy of RR Auction and LiveAuctioneers

Presidential autographs appear in many forms at auction, but they can be classified into six main varieties: on a letter, on a car, on a document, in a book, on a photograph, or as a  on a card; on a cut autograph, which is a signature that has been physically and deliberately removed from one of the other five.

An 100th birthday greeting penned and signed by President Barack Obama on White House letterhead earned $3,185, including buyer’s premium, in June 2021. Image courtesy of RR Auction and LiveAuctioneers.

If the autograph is part of a letter, it will either be handwritten or typewritten, a format that first appeared in 1874. If the letter is handwritten, it’s likely the autograph is authentic; if it is typewritten, it may have been signed by a secretary. Typist’s initials lettered in lowercase under the autograph can identify the true signer.

Two White House cards, one signed by President Woodrow Wilson and the other by First Lady Edith Wilson, together realized $300 plus the buyer’s premium in April 2008. Image courtesy of Signature House and LiveAuctioneers

Presidential autographs were in heavy demand from the mid-19th century onward. The White House began issuing them on heavy stock in the size of a business card, with the heading President’s House or Executive Mansion, Washington, until Theodore Roosevelt officially changed it to The White House, Washington in 1901. These card-stock autographs are usually considered authentic and make for handsome framed presentations, especially when displayed below a relevant photograph.

An autograph deliberately removed from a letter, document or book is called a cut signature. An example of the form is this President John F. Kennedy autograph, apparently removed from an official presidential appointment. It earned $1,300 plus the buyer’s premium in June 2020. Image courtesy of University Archives and LiveAuctioneers

Autographs cut from letters or documents routinely show up at auction, usually framed with a photograph of the president who rendered the signature. Cut autographs are more readily available, but their surrounding context is, of course, removed. Any cut autograph should be compared to similar authentic autographs to determine whether it is real or staff-signed.

One of the standard duties of early American presidents was signing land grants and appointments. Appointments for cabinet-level officials are still signed by the sitting president, but staffers handle the rest. Land grant signatures were delegated beginning with Andrew Jackson’s Administration in 1833. Officials who signed the documents took it upon themselves to try to replicate the president’s signature and didn’t always succeed.

A presidential appointment to the Treasurer of the United States, signed by President Abraham Lincoln, sold for $12,000 plus the buyer’s premium in August 2021. Image courtesy of Rafael Osona Auctions and LiveAuctioneers

Writing books is a well-established sideline for presidents. Woodrow Wilson, John F. Kennedy and Barack Obama were published authors before they took the presidential oath of office, but most presidents tackle the task after their administration ends, penning memoirs that shed light on their time as chief executive. While books autographed by a president are usually authentic, signed books don’t command the same auction prices as other signed presidential items because they are harder to frame or otherwise display.

This set of three White House photos of Presidents Ronald Reagan, Richard Nixon and George H. W. Bush, the first two personally inscribed and the Bush photo displaying an autopen signature, realized $225 plus the buyer’s premium in November 2014. Image courtesy of Fairfield Auction, LLC and LiveAuctioneers

Photographs of presidents taken during the 19th century that bear the sitter’s signature tend to be authentic, but this is not always the case for those that post-date the mid-20th century. By that time, the White House was receiving so many requests for official photos that it was forced to replace the authentic autograph with a staff-signed, stamped or autopen signature. Any photo inscribed with a sentiment in fancy calligraphy is, sorry to say, more likely to be rendered by a machine. Perhaps surprisingly, automatic signature tools date back to the time of Thomas Jefferson.

A photograph of Theodore Roosevelt, which he signed while he was president, made $3,033, including the buyer’s premium, in March 2022. Image courtesy of RR Auction and LiveAuctioneers.

Jefferson, our third president, routinely copied his correspondence with a device invented by Englishman John Isaac Hawkins, who dubbed it the “polygraph.” As Jefferson wrote, a second pen attached by a wooden handle to the first copied the letter, creating a duplicate for his files. The polygraph was the ancestor of the autopen, which arrived on the market in 1937. 

Dwight D. Eisenhower first used an autopen as commander of Allied Forces in World War II and continued to rely on one after he took office as the 34th president (President Harry Truman might have been the first adopter, but the evidence is not conclusive). An autopen autograph is easy to recognize as it has no peaks and valleys; the autograph remains flat because the machine doesn’t lift the pen off the page at all, as a human hand would it is one continuous dark signature, with no fades between letters. The autopen is used for letters, cards and photos to fulfill public requests and autopenned presidential signatures have little value at auction.

William Henry Harrison served only 31 days before dying in office, making his presidential signature exceptionally scarce. An example of his signature sold for $27,500, including buyer’s premium, in October 2021. Image courtesy of RR Auction and LiveAuctioneers.

Building a complete collection of authentic presidential autographs, from George Washington to Joe Biden, takes time and effort, but can be accomplished for far less than $100,000 if you are careful and conscientious. The most valuable presidential autograph, as well as the hardest to find, is that of President William Henry Harrison, the ninth president, who served for one month before dying of pneumonia in 1841. Harrison’s presidential signature is so rare that collectors will usually settle for examples from his personal or military correspondence instead.

A card signed by President Ronald Reagan bearing the White House seal sold for $859, including buyer’s premium, in February 2021. Image courtesy of RR Auction and LiveAuctioneers.

Outside of Harrison, presidential signatures that perform best at auction are those of George Washington and other Founding Fathers who went on to become presidents, as well as Abraham Lincoln. Of those presidents from the mid-20th century onward, Franklin D. Roosevelt, Harry Truman, John F. Kennedy, Ronald Reagan, Bill Clinton and Barack Obama command better-than-average auction values.

A 1997 letter Bill Clinton wrote and signed to Frank Sinatra on White House letterhead realized $20,625, including buyer’s premium, in November 2021. Image courtesy of RR Auction and LiveAuctioneers.

While it is always wise to have a presidential signature evaluated by an expert before committing to buy, it is extra important to scrutinize those purporting to be from Kennedy. He personally signed little more than official correspondence throughout his political career, even as president. Most of Kennedy’s presidential letters, photos, cards and similar ephemera were signed by staffers or an autopen. 

Unlike kings and queens, American presidents have always been regarded as one of us, answerable to “We the People.” Owning a piece of paper personally touched and lettered by them seems natural and right, as their autographs reinforce the notion that our presidents are both avatars of democracy and human beings who grappled with the most difficult job on the planet. With just a few strokes of a pen, a U.S. president can create a link to a particular moment in history for future generations to reflect upon.

Woodstock collectibles document an American cultural phenomenon

A cardboard poster designed to advertise the Woodstock festival on New York City mass transit buses achieved $12,000 plus the buyer’s premium in December 2021. Image courtesy of Psychedelic Art Exchange and LiveAuctioneers.

Woodstock, the concert held on Max Yasgur’s dairy farm in New York state in mid-August 1969, has become the stuff of legend. It’s memorable for the sheer number of major rock stars who shared the bill, the rain that plagued the event for three days, and most of all, for being a cultural touchstone. With comparatively little advertising, it drew half a million young people to a 600-acre plot where they endured miserable conditions with little food, less water, too few toilets and too much mud. Still, everything turned out OK. 

A nylon security jacket from the 1969 Woodstock festival realized $1,005 plus the buyer’s premium in October 2008. Image courtesy of Weiss Auctions and LiveAuctioneers.

The crowd didn’t riot. The crowd didn’t stampede. Many who were there claimed they saw no incidents of violence. Only two people died, one from an overdose and the other as the result of an accident, which is absolutely astonishing, given the potential for danger and mayhem. If you support the hippie ethos of the era and are willing to believe the stories of a woman who gave birth while stuck in concert traffic and another who went into labor on-site and was airlifted out, you might regard the two new lives who entered the world at Woodstock as having balanced the cosmic ledger. (Neither of those babies, now eligible for AARP membership, have ever been definitively identified.)

A 50-star American flag featuring many of the 32 bands and performers who appeared at Woodstock, along with period peace slogans and logos, all hand-drawn in dark marker, sold for $12,500 plus the buyer’s premium in November 2018. Image courtesy of Julien’s Auctions and LiveAuctioneers.

Woodstock was a phenomenon – the godfather of all outdoor music festivals. Demand for genuine Woodstock memorabilia has shown no signs of fading. 

The most iconic image from the Woodstock festival is its poster. A 1969 original earned $5,000 plus the buyer’s premium in January 2021. Image courtesy of Stephenson’s Auction and LiveAuctioneers.

The most commonly encountered Woodstock items that appear at auction are promotional posters, paper tickets and festival programs. By far, the most visually appealing is the classic Woodstock poster, which pictures a white catbird sitting on the head of an acoustic guitar against an orange background. It was created by graphic artist Arnold Skolnick, who was paid $15 (about $120 today) for his work. “I used a catbird instead of a dove,” Skolnick said in a 2019 interview for National Public Radio, “because a catbird is fat, and a dove is like a pigeon. It has no shape whatsoever.”

A version of the Woodstock poster that lacks the text printed in black, which named the show, the site, the dates and the musical acts, sold for $1,800 plus the buyer’s premium in October 2018. Image courtesy of Jasper52 and LiveAuctioneers

The original Skolnick poster was printed in two sizes: 18 by 24in and 24.5 by 34.5in. Each had a thin white border with the name of Rapport Press, the printing company, on the reverse instead of on the bottom of the poster’s obverse, or front. The poster has been reproduced many, many, many times, starting less than a year after the concert itself with the 1970 release of the Woodstock documentary. 

A legitimate variant poster exists as well. The music festival was initially to have been held in Wallkill, New York, until town leaders made it unlawful to book an event for a group larger than 5,000. A more detailed and more psychedelic-style poster by David Byrd, indicating Wallkill as the event site, was never formally released. It is unclear how many copies of the poster were printed before the show venue was changed, but it emerges at auction on occasion.

A different, never-released version of the Woodstock festival poster, designed by David Byrd and produced for the event when it was initially supposed to take place in Wallkill, N.Y., achieved $3,600 plus the buyer’s premium in July 2021. Image courtesy of Heritage Auctions and LiveAuctioneers.

Tickets for the 1969 festival were priced at $6 per day (later printed editions raised the per-day price to $7, then $8) with the full three days costing $18 in advance or $24 at the gate. The only way to purchase them was through local record stores or via a post office box in New York City. Nonetheless, a total of 186,000 tickets were sold with the expectation that only 50,000 concert attendees would actually make it to the event.

This set of five unused Woodstock festival tickets, described as “complete, unused and NM (near mint)” sold for $885 plus the buyer’s premium in March 2019. Image courtesy of Hake’s Auctions and LiveAuctioneers.

The concert organizers were off by a factor of 10. Some 500,000 young people showed up and simply crashed the gate, walking in for free. Unsurprisingly, any surviving Woodstock tickets – especially a complete, original set numbered in chronological order – commands strong collector interest. Beware of crisp-looking orange and green Woodstock tickets; those are usually reproductions. 

A 52-page festival program was given away with each ticket purchase. It features all 32 artists and bands on the Woodstock roster, including Creedence Clearwater Revival (the first band to be signed up for the show), Jimi Hendrix, Joe Cocker, Richie Havens, Arlo Guthrie, a very pregnant Joan Baez, the Grateful Dead (who overloaded the amps, thus cutting their set short), The Who, Jefferson Airplane, Janis Joplin and Sha Na Na. Ordinarily, original programs make ideal keepsakes, but at Woodstock, attendees repurposed them as rain shields or burned stacks of them to keep warm at night. First-edition Woodstock programs that have survived without water stains are few and prized. 

An original 1969 Woodstock festival program went for $900 plus the buyer’s premium in February 2021. Image courtesy of Thomaston Place Auction Galleries and LiveAuctioneers.

As with the Woodstock poster, the festival program has been reproduced several times in the decades following the concert. On a true original, the front cover image of yellow wildflowers on green grass has the letter “f” in the word “of” from “3 days of peace and music” printed directly on a blossom. 1969 programs were printed on glossy, heavy paper stock, with the first and last pages printed on an opaque onionskin-like paper. Also, pages printed in black ink will show some white dots, which was the norm for the contemporary offset printing process of the era. 

The master audio tapes used to produce the concert albums ‘Woodstock’ and ‘Woodstock II’ achieved $120,000 plus the buyer’s premium in November 2020. Image courtesy of GWS Auctions, Inc. and LiveAuctioneers.

Other Woodstock artifacts that were not created as potential keepsakes have found favor at auction. The documentary film of the concert, released in March 1970 with the minimalist title of Woodstock, earned critical acclaim and an Academy Award for Best Editing. The audio master tapes used to produce the concert albums and the 16mm print film reels from the documentary were offered in two separate sales at GWS Auctions in California, the former realizing $120,000 plus the buyer’s premium in November 2020, and the latter earning $47,500 plus the buyer’s premium in September 2021. Security jackets, badges, t-shirts, stage instructions, program notes, order forms, brochures, lighting instructions, musician lineups and other festival memorabilia are highly coveted, as well, in any condition.

The 16mm work print film reels from the Academy Award-winning documentary ‘Woodstock’ sold for $47,500 plus the buyer’s premium in September 2021. Image courtesy of GWS Auctions, Inc. and LiveAuctioneers.

The passion for Woodstock and what it has come to represent extends to things associated with Max Yasgur’s farm, which was a working dairy at the time it served as the venue for the three-day event. Signage, crates, packaging, advertisements, invoices and milk bottles from Yasgur’s dairy are all treasured. However, Yasgur was not as popular as the mementos of his farm. He was ostracized by the community for allowing the festival to take place on his land. He finally sold the property in 1971, moved to Florida and died not long afterward from a persistent heart ailment. Addressing the crowd on the last day, he said, “ … the important thing that you’ve proven to the world is that a half a million kids … can get together and have three days of fun and music and have nothing but fun and music.”

The Woodstock festival was unique. No one, including experienced concert promoters who won the right to stage shows under the Woodstock name, has ever managed to recreate the magic of the 1969 original.

A milk bottle emblazoned with the Yasgur Farms Dairy logo – the site of the Woodstock festival – sold for $200 plus the buyer’s premium in December 2015. Image courtesy of Alexander Historical Auctions (LLC) and LiveAuctioneers.

After Woodstock was recognized as an iconic event, the community that had shunned Yasgur eventually embraced the concert’s historic and cultural significance by creating the Bethel Woods Center for the Arts on the very site of the former farm in 2006. Eleven years later, the field where the concert was held was added to the National Register of Historical Places.

A pair of staff passes for the 1969 Woodstock festival sold for $400 plus the buyer’s premium in April 2014. Image courtesy of Heritage Auctions and LiveAuctioneers.

Relics from the decades-old show carry more than just historical importance; they remind us that the impossible happened at least once. Maybe a future generation of peaceful, loving young people can make the impossible happen again. 

Explore Tiffany’s earthy side through pottery

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Silver or Gold? With vermeil, you get both

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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