Staffordshire Animals Pay Tribute To British Country Life

Staffordshire pearlware figure of pipe in the form of a snake featuring figure of a head, ca.1815. Image courtesy John Howard, https://www.antiquepottery.co.uk

Starting in earnest in the 18th century, millions of people left the British countryside to work in bustling towns and cities where there was more opportunity for them. Reflective of the times, enterprising potters in England’s Midlands region started adding functional animal-themed pieces to their existing range of decorative figures as an homage to the pastoral life. Since most of the small pottery works producing these items were located in Staffordshire – a region of rivers where clay was abundant – the wares from all of the studios became known collectively as “Staffordshire/” 

Initially, these humble pieces were made of salt-glazed earthenware or stoneware. However, they eventually evolved into finer, thinner, glassy creamware, bluish-white pearlware, and underglaze-painted Prattware. Today, these delightful, functional items are collectible art. 

Staffordshire spaniel dog pitcher. Ca/ 1890’s – 10″ x 4.5″ x 5.5″. Realized $850+ buyer’s premium in 2003. Image courtesy Dallas Auction Gallery and LiveAuctioneers

Among British well-to-do, plump, white-glazed Staffordshire dairy cows, featuring hollow bellies, moo-mouth spouts, and curly-tailed handles, served as appealing creamers. Some, grazing on grassy-green bases, featured realistic spots and splotches characteristic of breeds common at the time. Others featured lighthearted freeform designs, dotting, sponging, or all-over Whielden-style spattering. 

Before the advent of lucifer friction matches, cow, horse, bull, donkey, hound, and wooly sheep images graced ornate Staffordshire porcelain spill vases. These functional hearthside items, bearing tall, hollow vessels on raised bocage bases, were filled with spills—slender wax tapers used to conveniently transfer fireplace flame to grease lamps, candles, pipes, or cigars. Since traveling menageries also captivated crowds, spill vases sometimes bore images of exotic parrots, giraffes, elephants, leopards, and zebras.

Pair of Staffordshire Porcelain Recumbent Greyhound Inkwells, unsigned, each 5⅛ x 8″. Realized $375 + buyer’s premium in 2020. Image courtesy Kodner Galleries Inc.
and LiveAuctioneers

Bold, naturalistic broody hen, guinea hen, rabbit, pheasant, dove, and duck figurines sat pretty or nested atop broad, deep soup tureens—apparently alluding to their enticing contents. Rarer elephant, leopard, and tiger-themed tureen tops, however, evidently celebrated memorable menagerie moments instead, 

Flamboyant red roosters, molded into trendy 18th-century mustard jars, may have been prestigious in their day. “But happening on an identical pair in original condition, without repairs, was amazing,” explains Jason Woody, Operating Manager and Auctioneer at Woody Auction LLC. “When you think about the amount of time that has passed since they were created, and the fine detail these jars exhibit [including full combs and impossibly fragile “chicken-foot spoons”], these were truly extraordinary finds.”

Staffordshire Creamware Creamer on flat base with seated milkmaid, polychrome decoration, 1780-1810, 5” HOA. Realized $550 + buyer’s premium in 2019. Image courtesy Jeffrey S. Evans & Associates and LiveAuctioneers

 Though all sorts of Staffordshire cat figurines were popular through the 1700s, few, if any, were functional in nature. During the Victorian Era, widely adored King Charles spaniel porcelain sculptures, associated with both King Charles I (1600–1649) and Queen Victoria’s beloved dog Dash, were also purely decorative. 

Yet at the time, Staffordshire potteries also produced a range of tall, large, hollow, expressive “begging” spaniels, topped by incongruously cheery, flowered crowns. These sturdy, functional vessels served as milk or water pitchers and jugs. Though scores appeared life-like, others, more elegant, were gilt and white-glazed or treacle-glazed, referencing the dark, thick British syrup that resembles molasses. 

Early Staffordshire Figural Mustard Jars featuring life-like rooster heads with full combs and full-figure “chicken foot” spoons. Realized + buyer’s premium in 2017. Image courtesy Woody Auction LLC and LiveAuctioneers

Many Victorians found hunting hounds, like pointers, pugs, and poodles (bred to hunt bears), endearing. Yet after Prince Albert famously acquired a greyhound named Eos, sculptures of these sleek, fleet hare hunters, singly or in pairs, graced innumerable trinket boxes. Others, along with whippets, foxes, nesting birds, perching parrots, and swans, were fashioned into decorative, highly popular ink pots. 

Staffordshire Molded Duck Tureens and Covers with feathers, 25.5cm, realized £380 ($507) + buyer’s premium in 2014. Image courtesy Sworders Fine Art Auctioneers and LiveAuctioneers

According to recognized authority on 18th- and 19th-century British pottery, John Howard, The Antique English Pottery Specialist at https://www.antiquepottery.co.uk, “Early 19th-century Staffordshire potters also created remarkable, quirky pearlware pipes in the form of coiled snakes. In addition to delicate enamel dot and stripe embellishments, they featured tiny human-head pipe-bowls. Vivid, zoomorphic pearlware porcelain sauce boats, with spouts shaped like bird heads and snake-like handles, date from the same era.” 

Though these Staffordshire animal-themed, functional charmers fell from fashion by the end of the 19th century, they offer fascinating glimpses of long gone British values, mores, and ways of life. 

The Timeless Appeal Of A Charlie Brown Christmas

One of the most iconic images from ‘A Charlie Brown Christmas’ is the unloved small shrub of a tree that Charlie Brown adopts. An original cartoon cel, signed by director Bill Melendez and numbered 332/500, sold in May 2021 for $1,400 plus the buyer’s premium.
Image courtesy of Alderfer Auction and LiveAuctioneers

Imagine bringing together children, light, faith and the true meaning of Christmas in one animated special that still charms audiences more than 50 years after it first aired. A Charlie Brown Christmas does precisely that. What you might not realize is that at first, the odds against its success seemed as daunting as Charlie Brown’s odds of kicking a football held in place by Lucy Van Pelt.

In 1947, Charles Schultz, known as Sparky to his family and friends, created the four-panel comic strip Li’l Folks for the St. Paul Pioneer Press, featuring the antics of elementary school-age kids. Charlie Brown (the name of a real childhood friend), Patty, Shermy, and a dog named Snoopy were the original characters. 

When United Features Syndicate picked up Schulz’s strip in 1950 for national syndication, an editor changed its name to Peanuts (despite the artist’s objection) to avoid its being confused with an earlier comic strip that had a similar name. Lucy, Linus, Sally, Violet, Schroeder, Marcia, Franklin, Pig-Pen, Peppermint Patty (a different character from Patty), Woodstock and many others eventually joined the cast. Adults were never seen.

At its peak, Peanuts ran in 2,600 newspapers. Schulz produced nearly 18,000 original strips before he retired in 2000. He died that year on February 12, the day before the final original Peanuts strip was published. All subsequent strips are reruns. Unlike other comics that have continued long past the deaths of their creators, United Features Syndicate honored Schulz’s request and chose not to hire a successor to continue drawing Peanuts.

A photo of the Charlie Brown characters standing around a Christmas tree, signed by several Peanuts voice artists, sold for $275 plus the buyer’s premium in November 2018. Image courtesy of GWS Auctions and LiveAuctioneers

Schulz maintained a different, more relaxed outlook on Peanuts TV specials, however. New series starring Snoopy and other characters from the strip currently appear on the Apple TV streaming service. But, of course, none of these contemporary productions would have even been pitched if A Charlie Brown Christmas hadn’t earned its place in American pop culture and provoked demand for more. 

Schulz didn’t leap directly to television. The first step on the path that led to the initial Peanuts TV special was taken in 1961, when he allowed his characters to appear in a series of animated commercials for the Ford Falcon, a small compact car. Bill Melendez, an animator for Walt Disney and Warner Bros. cartoons, tackled the task of translating Schulz’s characters into moving images. 

In early 1965, Lee Mendelson, a television producer, was asked by the advertising agency that handled Coca-Cola’s account whether he had an upcoming Christmas special they could sponsor. According to the 2001 documentary The Making of A Charlie Brown Christmas, Mendelson said, “Absolutely.” That was a lie, but he immediately set to work on turning his lie into the truth.

As recounted in the 2001 documentary, Mendelson called Schulz and said he had sold what he called “A Charlie Brown Christmas.” Sensibly, the artist asked, “Well, what is that?” Mendelson replied, “It’s what you’re going to write for a presentation the following Monday.” Schulz suggested bringing in Bill Melendez to help outline the Christmas special. The Coca-Cola executives liked the pitch and asked for it to be ready for broadcast in early December – giving the men just six months to write a script, cast voice actors, compose a musical score, and draw, ink and paint more than 13,000 animation cels needed to render a 30-minute-long television program. 

They wrote storyboards depicting the Peanuts gang organizing a play centered around the meaning of Christmas. Composer Vince Guaraldi contributed the light jazz background music and vocals, which Mendelson described in the documentary as “ … being very adult-like and kid-like at the same time,” a curious choice for the soundtrack of an animated holiday special aimed at children in the year 1965.

The men cast real children as the Peanuts characters instead of adult actors who sounded like children another bold and unusual choice. They recruited regular kids from families they already knew instead of professional actors, with the exception of the two 11-year-olds who voiced Charlie Brown and Linus. “The 10- and 11-year-olds could pretty well read without our help, but … we had to coach the five- and six-year-olds … and feed them half a line at a time … which is why there is a sing-songy pacing to the voices in the show,” Mendelson said in the 2001 documentary. Bill Melendez, who directed A Charlie Brown Christmas, provided the voice of Snoopy. The dog’s little yellow avian companion, Woodstock, debuted in the strip in 1969 and Melendez voiced the bird in later Peanuts specials.

An original animation cel depicting a key scene from the finale of A Charlie Brown Christmas realized $3,600 plus the buyer’s premium in September 2015. Image courtesy of Peachtree & Bennett and LiveAuctioneers

Schultz emphatically refused Mendelson’s suggestion to add a laugh track, even though that was fairly standard in children’s animation at the time. The creators also wove in a Bible quote from the Book of Luke, Chapter 2, verses 8-14 of the King James Version, famously spoken by Linus: “And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them …” When it was suggested that including a Bible verse in a commercial work of animation made the special seem too religious, Schultz reportedly said, “If we don’t do it, who will?”

After delivering the finished show, Mendelson had jitters, fearing that he and his colleagues might have ruined Charlie Brown. He needn’t have worried. When CBS aired A Charlie Brown Christmas on December 9, 1965, 49% of all televisions in the United States tuned in, yielding the highest ratings to date for a prime-time Christmas feature. When A Charlie Brown Christmas won an Emmy and a Peabody Award, it opened two sets of floodgates: one for animated Christmas specials of all sorts, and a second for Peanuts TV specials.

As of December 2021, there are 46 Peanuts specials in total, eight of which were produced after Schulz’s death. These include the classics It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown and A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving, neither of which could have been made without the success of A Charlie Brown Christmas.

A 1965 first edition, first printing of the read-along children’s book ‘A Charlie Brown Christmas’ sold for $48 plus the buyer’s premium in July 2021. Image courtesy of Artelisted and LiveAuctioneers

One of the first collectibles to appear after the 1965 debut of A Charlie Brown Christmas was a companion children’s book, written by Charles Schultz and published that same year, which tells the story of the TV special in a read-along format.

Since then, A Charlie Brown Christmas and the Peanuts comic strip in general has given rise to a mind-bogglingly wide range of collectibles in every conceivable format. Schultz called merchandising ‘The Things’ and was ambivalent about this aspect of managing the Peanuts universe. In an interview for The Washington Post in 1985, he explained, “ … I … had five kids to support and put through college. And I have United Features Syndicate that takes half the money, and they’re pushing for things and it keeps getting bigger and bigger.”

The items associated with A Charlie Brown Christmas that perform best at auction are individual colored animation cels which were actually used to produce the special. Those signed by Charles Schulz, Mendelson, Melendez, and/or the voice actors can inspire serious bidding wars. Animation cels that reference the special’s original sponsors, Coca-Cola and Dolly Madison, have their fans, too. Seasonal rebroadcasts of the show removed them to comply with FCC regulations that outlawed advertising within children’s programming.

More than half a century has passed since A Charlie Brown Christmas first aired, and more than two decades have gone by since Schulz died. Yet, the holiday adventures of the hapless, confused, gentle third-grader Charlie Brown continue to cast their spell and enchant new generations.

Summoning the faith to do better, even if it’s just improving a scrawny Christmas tree, is why A Charlie Brown Christmas remains a classic. It’s the simple things that matter the most, as Linus, in his youthful voice, says in a key scene: “That’s what Christmas is all about, Charlie Brown.” So be of good cheer, Christmas time is here.”

Putting a spin on it: The delights of agateware

A Staffordshire white salt-glazed stoneware solid agate cat figure realized $1,300 plus the buyer’s premium in November 2018. Image courtesy of Leland Little Auctions and LiveAuctioneers

Agateware stoneware or earthenware pottery featuring whirls of contrasting clays mimics natural agate, a gemstone once prized in jewelry across the Near East, Greece, and Rome. Allan Anawati, Director of Medusa-Arts Gallery, explains, “In those times, similar pieces produced in glass or bronze would have been valued at a fraction of their price. Agate was, more or less, reserved for the elites.” 

A circa-323-31 BCE Greek Hellenistic period pendant featuring a white and reddish-brown agate bead realized £275,000 ($368,041) plus the buyer’s premium in January 2021. Image courtesy of Apollo Galleries and LiveAuctioneers

Pieces designed to replicate agate have been discovered at 8th-century Tang dynasty burial sites. Yet Staffordshire English potters, perhaps inspired by polished pebbles displayed in gentlemen’s cabinets of curiosity, did not create similar ones until the 1670s. 

A circa-1750 English Pecten shell teapot with griffin finial achieved $6,500 plus the buyer’s premium in January 2020. Image courtesy of Nye & Company and LiveAuctioneers

Unlike mugs and jugs which are marbleized on their surface, agateware featured identical patterns inside and out. In laid agateware pieces, components were produced before determining their forms. Initially, bands of light and dark clays were laid alternately, one upon the next, as a baker would when constructing a layer cake. Clays had to be chosen carefully, because despite differing densities, shrinkage rates, plasticity, elasticity, strength and firing temperatures, the whole had to kiln-dry evenly to succeed. Following that step, these so-called “layer cakes” were laboriously and repetitively processed into patterned sheets that emulated the desired scale and complexity of natural agate swirls. 

After that, potters carefully pressed completed sheets into delicate molds, one for each vessel component. An agateware pectin shell-shaped teapot, for instance, required separate molds for its finial, lid, body, spout, handle and feet. Once assembled, agateware products were lead- or salt-glazed to a high finish. 

A late 19th-century Staffordshire agate hexagonal pitcher, attributed to John Thomas and Joshua Mayer, sold for $150 plus the buyer’s premium in August 2020. Image courtesy of Jeffrey S. Evans & Associates and LiveAuctioneers

Thrown agate, the other technique for creating agateware, was formed by shaping stacked and restacked clays into balls, then throwing them on the potter’s wheel and shaping them into bowls, platters and the like. Though lathe trimming revealed their striped, spiraling patterns to great effect, thrown agateware was thicker and coarser than laid agateware. 

In the 1740s, Thomas Whieldon, a Stoke-on-Trent Staffordshire potter, refined agateware production further by staining white clays with oxide pigments. His accounts note small numbers of bowls, tureens, ewers, sugar dishes, plates, trinkets and hollowware teapots and coffeepots, some resembling silver and pewterware designs of the day. Because surviving pieces are unmarked, however, determining attribution is difficult. 

A pair of partial gilt agateware urns, marked WEDGWOOD and various potters’ marks, realized $4,000 plus the buyer’s premium in June 2019. Image courtesy of Heritage Auctions and LiveAuctioneers

A decade later, the well-renowned Whieldon partnered with young Josiah Wedgewood. On establishing a pottery of his own, Wedgwood applied Whieldon’s agateware techniques to his opulent neo-classical urns and vases. Other Staffordshire potters, including Thomas Astbury, Daniel Bird, Ralph Wood, John Thomas and Joshua Mayer also created agateware. So did the Spode Pottery, notably during their Copeland & Garrett period (1833-1847). 

A mid-19th-century English agateware lobe-rimmed bowl with splayed foot, attributed to Copeland & Garrett, made $800 plus the buyer’s premium in July 2021. Image courtesy of Brunk Auctions and LiveAuctioneers

Because of the exacting demands of production, most pieces of agateware were small, and took the forms of snuff boxes, sauce boats, cutlery handles, pickle trays, tea wares and charming animal figurines. The smallest of all, however, were agateware marbles, which might have been meant to replicate fashionable natural marble spheres that wealthy 18th-century travelers acquired during a Grand Tour of Europe.

A group of five agateware marbles, offered as one lot, sold for $300 plus the buyer’s premium in March 2016. Image courtesy of Dan Morphy Auctions and LiveAuctioneers

Some may find delicate, kaleidoscope-swirled agateware too dizzying to gaze upon. Others who delight in their richness, refined beauty and colorful backstory prize them as true ceramic gems. 

Here be dragons

This pair of rampant dragon brooches set with brilliant-cut diamonds achieved €22,000 ($25,504) plus the buyer’s premium in October 2020. Image courtesy of Subastas Segre and LiveAuctioneers

Dragons fearsome, reptilian, legendary creatures have appeared in the cultures and lore of dozens of communities across the world, but their characteristics vary from region to region. 

China’s relationship with dragons stretches back thousands of years. It portrays its dragons as wise, benevolent, powerful protectors that symbolize wealth and good fortune. Chinese dragons are not only capable of changing their size, shape, and color, they also manage to fly despite lacking wings. Because Chinese tradition says they dwell in distant waters, these beasts are associated with rainfall, waterfalls, floods and typhoons. 

A Chinese carved and underglaze red Dragons and Waves vase, made for the Yongzheng court, sold for $1.9 million plus the buyer’s premium at Freeman’s in April 2021. Image courtesy of Freeman’s and LiveAuctioneers.

Some Chinese dragons that are carved into seals, sculptures, or brush bowls feature auspicious turtle bodies. Others depicted on scrolls, sculptures, mahjong tiles and porcelain appear as four-legged, undulating beings. Larger dragon motifs, which are hugely popular at festive occasions such as the Chinese New Year, incorporate nine lucky animal aspects. These can include camel heads, deer antlers, cat whiskers, dog noses, lion manes, tiger claws, hare eyes, carp scales and snake-like necks. 

During the Imperial Era, Chinese emperors and their immediate families wore so-called “dragon robes,” exquisite silk tapestries featuring dragon motifs, which symbolized majesty, wisdom, wealth, good fortune, authority and benevolence. 

Although Indian, Japanese, Indonesian and Korean dragon motifs closely resemble Chinese ones, the feet of the animals may differ. Japanese dragons generally feature three claws per foot, while Indonesian ones have four and Korean ones five. 

A Ming dynasty dragon box realized $30,000 plus the buyer’s premium in October 2019. Image courtesy of Rivertown Antiques and Estate Services and LiveAuctioneers

 

Because Eastern dragons symbolize good luck and prosperity, their stylized images adorn innumerable porcelain items such as seals, teapots, bowls, boxes, vases, garden stools, planters and incense burners. Images of dragons set against billowing clouds also decorate luxurious repousse silver teapots, trinket boxes, hand mirrors, bracelets and brooches. 

Dragon seals, sculptures, plaques, pendants, and belt buckles carved from jade were considered doubly auspicious by the Chinese. The mythical animals represent prosperity, while jade represents longevity and immortality.

A Russian cloisonne enameled loving cup with figural dragon handles achieved $14,000 plus the buyer’s premium in April 2019. Image courtesy of ELITE AUCTIONEERS LLC and LiveAuctioneers

European dragons were very different beasts from those that animated the Eastern imagination. According to medieval tradition, these ancient, winged, scaly, toothy, fire-breathing creatures dwelled in dark forests, deep pools, damp caves and far reaches, guarding piles of fabulous treasure. When the dragons ventured out among mortals, they would mercilessly slaughter flocks of sheep and devastate entire villages. Unsurprisingly, slaying a dragon became a key aspect of European heroic myths. 

A Great Britain gold 5-pound quintuple sovereign BU/Proof depicting St. George slaying the dragon realized $3,650 plus the buyer’s premium in October 2021. Image courtesy of Golden Gate Auctioneer and LiveAuctioneers

St. George and the Dragon, the best known of these myths, was widely spread by returning Crusaders in 1200 CE. In one version of the tale, when sacrificial offerings of sheep failed to appease a local dragon, desperate villagers offered their children instead. The very day the king’s daughter was to be devoured, St. George miraculously appeared and rushed to the rescue, slaying the beast with his sword and symbolically defeating paganism. The story ends with the grateful population converting to Christianity. Depictions of St. George and the Dragon have been the subject of countless prints, paintings, porcelains, sculptures, coins, medals, and most notably, vibrant Russian religious icons; George is the patron saint of Russia and England as well as Portugal, Bulgaria, and, fittingly enough, Georgia. 

A Russian Pelakh icon depicting St. George slaying the dragon in sight of guardian angels, holy people, and members of the court sold for $44,000 plus the buyer’s premium in May 2012. Image courtesy of
Jackson’s International Auctioneers and LiveAuctioneers

Mythical dragon images continue to charm and beguile us. Three-dimensional figural tributes serve as slithery loving cup handles, teapot spouts, table bases and lighting fixtures. Dragons not only crawl across rugs and tapestries but also feature in fantastical dragon-shaped rings, earrings, pendants, bracelets and brooches. 

An animation cel depicting an open-mouthed Smaug the dragon from Rankin/Bass’s 1977 film ‘The Hobbit’ sold for $1,650 plus the buyer’s premium in September 2015. Image courtesy of Weiss Auctions and LiveAuctioneers.

Fans of J. R. R. Tolkien may find depictions of Smaug, the devious antagonist of The Hobbit, most captivating dragon of all. Smaug, in Tolkien’s words, is the medieval dragon personified:

 I kill where I wish and none dare resist. I laid low the warriors of old and their like is not in the world today. Then I was but young and tender. Now I am old and strong, strong, strong, Thief in the Shadows! … My armour is like tenfold shields, my teeth are swords, my claws spears, the shock of my tail a thunderbolt, my wings a hurricane, and my breath death!”

Whether they symbolize Eastern luck and light or Western darkness and destruction, dragons remain part of our collective culture and our artistic inspiration. Like mapmakers of old describing distant shores, we too might whimsically gaze across a carefully amassed collection of themed treasures and say, “here be dragons.”

Collecting cookbooks: Making a meal of it

A 1671 cookbook by Robert May, ‘The Accomplisht Cook or the Art and Mystery of Cookery,’ sold in January 2015 for about $670. Image courtesy of Bloomsbury Auctions and LiveAuctioneers

Nothing speaks of home and hearth more than a well-used cookbook. A favorite recipe for grandma’s noodles, Aunt Betty’s apple crisp pie, Dad’s chili, or Mom’s Thanksgiving turkey is the very definition of ‘comfort food.’ 

Cookbooks didn’t start as nostalgic compilations of beloved family dishes, however. Up until at least the 17th century, instructions on cooking were largely straightforward functional documents created by the (primarily male) lead chefs for the kitchen staffs of prominent households. Those who lacked the power and prestige to immortalize their culinary creations on paper – aka everyone else –passed down the art and science of cooking through on-the-job training at home, one meal at a time.

A 1541 reprint of ‘Cookery and Dining in Imperial Rome’ by Apicius realized $3,500 plus the buyer’s premium in November 2018. Image courtesy of PBA Galleries and LiveAuctioneers

The first authenticated book of recipes in book form is De Re Coquinaria, which is attributed to Marcus Gavius Apicius, a Roman gourmet who lived during the reign of Tiberius in the 1st century (or maybe the 5th century, according to some scholars). The recipes, written in Latin, were arranged by meats, vegetables, fish and fowl, and even included housekeeping hints, a practice that later cookbooks would embrace.

After the advent of the printing press, cookbooks slowly turned into a distinct genre. Some showcased local cuisines and reflected whether and how its cooks employed spices, and when they prepared exotic animals for the table, such as the peacock. Tips for running a kitchen and a home appeared as well. As these household mainstays moved closer to transcending the role of the instruction manual, they evolved into anthropological documents that reveal and preserve cultural practices and values.

The first cookbook printed in the United States appeared in 1796 and was authored by Amelia Simmons, who described herself as ‘an American orphan.’ An 1808 edition sold for $1,200 plus the buyer’s premium in April 2021. Image courtesy of Swann Auction Galleries and LiveAuctioneers

The first cookbook published in the United States was American Cookery, which was released in 1796 and written by Amelia Simmons, an American orphan. Recognized by the Library of Congress as one of the ‘Books That Shaped America,’ American Cookery was the first to rely on ingredients found only in the United States. Simmons identified pumpkin pie, cranberries with turkey, and the cookie (spelled as the Dutch word ‘cookey’) for the first time in a printed work. American Cookery became a bestseller for nearly 30 years and it continues to be reprinted by the Oxford University Press and Dover Publications.

Measurements for ingredients in cookbooks of centuries past were annoyingly inexact, advising home chefs to add a pinch of this or a bit of that without quantifying the size of said pinch or bit. Cooking temperatures weren’t uniform, either. Nor could they be, as cooks of the pre-Industrial age readied meals in open fireplaces in huge pots and kettles that could feed scores in one sitting or feed a smaller group several days’ worth of meals.

All that changed when Eliza Acton’s Modern Cookery for Private Families was published in London in 1845. She specified the amount of each ingredient in her recipes and standardized the cooking times. So obviously useful was this approach to recipe design that subsequent cookbook authors were compelled to adopt it.

A first edition of ‘Pauline’s Practical Book of the Culinary Art for Clubs, Home or Hotels,’ the third cookbook written by an African American woman, realized $7,500 plus the buyer’s premium in February 2019. Image courtesy of PBA Galleries and LiveAuctioneers.

In 1896, Fannie Farmer, the director of Miss Farmer’s School of Cookery, published The Boston Cooking School Cookbook, which standardized cookbooks once and for all. Farmer’s contribution was a byproduct of the domestic science movement of the late 19th century, which ultimately gave rise to the discipline of home economics. Farmer placed supreme emphasis on giving precise measurements that could be confirmed and delivered by teaspoons, cups, and other purpose-made kitchen tools we now take for granted. Farmer’s focus was so intense, she became known as the mother of level measurements. Nor did she overlook the niceties of the presentation of a meal, or the merits of its nutritional qualities. Her cookbooks were so thorough, comprehensive, and revolutionary as easy-to-follow guides that they are still in print. Well-known 20th-century cookbooks such as The Joy of Cooking, Betty Crocker’s Cook Book, Better Homes and Gardens, and Julia Child’s Mastering the Art of French Cooking followed the format of American Cookery and Fanny Farmer’s works.

Collectors of cookbooks have as many options for approaching and categorizing their libraries as there are goods at a supermarket. Unfortunately, it is impossible to own an antique cookbook that contains what might be the best-known line from a recipe: “First, catch your hare.” The wry comment that captures the wisdom of starting at step one has been attributed to Hannah Glasse’s 1747 best-seller The Art of Cookery, made Plain and Easy, and also to Isabella Beeton, author of the 1861 favorite, Beeton’s Book of Household Management, but the phrase doesn’t appear in either woman’s book. Glasse, however, comes closest in her recipe for roasting a hare, which states, “Take your Hare when it is cas’d [skinned] and make a Pudding.”

Collectors can target books by region, by nation, by language, by era, and by food group. They can concentrate on cookbooks of nouvelle cuisine; on cookbooks that teach how to produce an absurdly wide range of meals with a single piece of kitchen equipment, such as a Dutch oven or a crockpot; and on cookbooks created for religious communities, such as Kochbuch für Israelitische Frauen (Cookbook for Jewish Women) which was published in 1901. The subcategory of the celebrity cookbook long predates the rise of the celebrity chef, and features many authors who made their reputations in other arenas before publishing a tome of recipes.

‘Les Diners De Gala Suite,’ a 1973 cookbook by Salvador Dali that also contained 12 color lithographs and his signature, achieved $1,500 plus the buyer’s premium in November 2013. Image courtesy of Brunk Auctions and LiveAuctioneers.

Diet books have been bestsellers for generations and provide a telling window on the concerns and anxieties of those who first purchased them. Yet another notable cookbook category features one main course or major ingredient, such as The Pescatarian Cookbook, created for people who eat fish rather than any other meat.

Holiday cookbooks are a perennial favorite. Many people who don’t bother with books full of day-to-day recipes clear room on their shelves for seasonal cookbooks, grateful for the refresher on preparing dishes they only make once a year, and grateful for ideas for indulgent, over-the-top dishes that delight the eyes just as much as the stomach. Popular choices in this realm include How to Cook Everything Thanksgiving by Mark Bittman, which was first published in 2012, as well as the annual Christmas with Southern Living titles. Both help steer their readers through the stress of cooking for holiday gatherings. 

An author-inscribed first edition of ‘The Alice B. Toklas Cook Book’ that contained the infamous recipe for hashish fudge sold for $3,500 plus the buyer’s premium in October 2021. Image courtesy of PBA Galleries and LiveAuctioneers.

One thing that collectors of cookbooks are never required to do is put their prizes to the purpose for which they were published. Sure, cookbooks that feature smudges, smoke-scorched pages, or cryptic handwritten notes in the margin gain an aura of authenticity that a rigidly pristine example lacks, but when it comes to book-collecting, clean copies always win. Perhaps the solution is to gather two versions of the same cookbook – one to keep in mint condition, and another that sports the wear and tear that comes with being loved and trusted by generations who rose from kitchen novices to seasoned experts while turning its pages. 

Bon appetit.

Golden Opportunities in Bars and Ingots

An example of gold bullion that was formed into a large rectangular ingot of one 24K gold kilo (2.2 pounds) sold for $105,000 plus the buyer’s premium in August 2020. Image courtesy of Tyler Louis Jewelry and LiveAuctioneers

The enduring passion for gold is so strong and obvious, it almost defies explanation. Most of us are content to possess gold in the form of coins, medals or jewelry, but those are not the only available options, like gold bars and ingots, or oblong blocks. These particular forms of gold were intended as a functional, no-frills way to quantify, store and transport the precious metal. But the shiny, heavy yellow rectangles prove enchanting nonetheless. Contrary to what some may assume, gold bars and ingos are not restricted to the ultra-secure facilities of banks and governments. They can be purchased quite easily. You just need to know what to look for.

An ingot dating to the early 20th century and traced to the Vulture Mine near Wickenburg, Arizona, achieved $31,000 plus the buyer’s premium in February 2021. Image courtesy of Holabird Western Americana Collections and LiveAuctioneers.

The two main choices in this unconventional realm of gold ownership are cast bullion and minted ingots. The first can be purchased through refineries, with cast bars weighing up to 400 ounces, or 27.5 pounds.

The second easily portable, smaller ingots authorized by governments or private mints are more affordable and accessible, and can weigh as little as one gram. Both are acceptable ways to own physical gold, provided they come with the correct documentation.

Historic Gold

For centuries, humans have crudely fashioned gold into bars or ingots to make the metal easier to ship. Vintage and antique gold bars that have survived in their utilitarian form offer collectors something that a gold coin can’t match, and that is heft.

A late Qing Dynasty 32-gram gold ingot with its original Chinese markings sold for $2,500 plus the buyer’s premium in June 2020, although its intrinsic value was only about $1,663. Image courtesy of Golden Moments Auction and LiveAuctioneers

As with any collectible, the rarity, history, condition and size of the gold ingot will determine its worth beyond the intrinsic value of the gold itself. For example, a 32-gram gold ingot minted in China in the 19th century during the Qing Dynasty (1644-1912) was sold at auction on June 9, 2020 for $2,600, a sum well above its intrinsic value. The Chinese ingot is more than just gold; it is history you can hold in your hand.

Avoiding Fakes

Just about anything for which people will fight to pay top prices makes it a target for counterfeiters, and gold bars and ingots are no exception. A method commonly favored by crooks involves applying a thin layer of gold to a brick made from a less valuable substance usually tungsten. The atomic weight of tungsten (74) is reasonably close to that of gold (79), but its price is not; it sells for 90 percent less. Canny collectors can foil bad actors by weighing a gold bar to at least four decimal places using a troy ounce (31.1034 grams) measurement instead of an avoirdupois ounce (28.35 grams). If the piece under consideration is, in fact, gold and not an alloy, the weight of both it and the troy ounce should match.

Another way to detect a bogus bar is to test it with a magnet. A wide range of metals, tungsten included, are magnetic, but gold is not. If a magnet reacts to a gold bar or ingot, the gold contains a metal alloy that should not be there. 

It is also important for an interested buyer to confirm all of the identifying marks stamped on a gold bar or ingot. These may include the foundry’s name, the year of production, a production number, the assayer’s monogram, the fineness of the gold, serial numbers, and the piece’s official weight. This information should be compared to the certificate of authenticity issued by the refinery, government agency or private mint. 

A 56.65-ounce gold bar bearing a Harris, Marchand & Co. stamp sold for $230,000 plus the buyer’s premium in January 2017. Image courtesy of Dan Morphy Auctions and LiveAuctioneers.

In addition, it is vital to check the company stamps on the gold against official ones to ensure counterfeiters aren’t replicating the stamps themselves. Some private mints have added holograms directly to their ingots during the manufacturing process to provide additional security. These hologram-sporting pieces are known as kinebars, and sometimes the holograms can actually make them more desirable to collectors. The fanciful artistic hologram design on a gold ingot from Argor-Heraeus in Switzerland sold in April 2020 for a hammer price of $2,300, or about 26% above the spot price of gold at the time.

Holograms were introduced as a security feature for small, minted gold ingots, but artistic holograms can add value. A fanciful design on a one-ounce gold bar from Argor-Heraeus in Switzerland realized $2,300 plus the buyer’s premium in April 2020. That sum was about 26% above the spot price of gold at the time. Image courtesy of 3 Kings Auction and LiveAuctioneers

While most of the world’s gold is currently mined in China, the United States has produced more gold to date than any other nation, according to a September 2020 BBC report by Justin Harper. Russia, Australia, South Africa, and Peru are other significant sources. Much of the counterfeit gold in circulation comes from countries such as North Korea, which have few to no gold mining operations. Ironically, China is considered a primary source of counterfeit gold bars as well as the genuine article. Of course, industry leaders firmly insist that all gold bars and ingots should only come from reputable dealers or mints.

The Future of Gold 

Of all the gold in existence today, about 201,000 tons, or 75% of it, was mined after 1910. Even more startling is the fact that the world’s entire historic supply of gold would easily fit inside an Olympic-sized swimming pool.

Explorer Mel Fisher appeared on television more than once with this petite 18.65-ounce gold bar, which he recovered in 1979 from the shipwreck of the Spanish galleon Atocha. It realized $75,000 plus the buyer’s premium in August 2015. Image courtesy of Guernsey’s and LiveAuctioneers

Our planet has yet to be drained of its gold supply. Another 15 billion pounds of the glittering stuff is believed to be lurking in seawater and along the seabeds of the oceans. The unexplored reaches of Antarctica could contain gold deposits, and the moon is suspected to have seams of the precious metal, too. Your golden opportunity to acquire bars or ingots is all around you, including in online auctions such as those hosted on LiveAuctioneers.

Canine Portraiture: Best In Show Forever

An 18th-century portrait of a King Charles Spaniel sold for $5,200 plus the buyer’s premium against an estimate of $200-$300 in April 2018. Image courtesy of David Killen Gallery and LiveAuctioneers.

Each year the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show showcases the best of dog breeds and crowns one the Best in Show. It is an honor that is remembered for generations, particularly if a well-known artist paints a portrait of the winner.

An antique English canine portrait of a spaniel in a classic pointer pose sold for $2,900 plus the buyer’s premium in October 2021. Image courtesy of Selkirk Auctioneers & Appraisers and LiveAuctioneers.

Paintings of canines are not new. Wealthy owners have immortalized their favorite dogs for centuries, partly for their love for the animal and partly as a status symbol that both enhances and advertises their standing as a member of the upper classes. “The Middle Ages saw dogs being illustrated in hunting scenes, symbolizing their loyalty, bravery, and affinity between man and dog,” wrote Claire Rhodes in the 2014 article Portrayal of Dogs in Art and History for holiday4dogs.co.uk.

Sir Edwin Henry Landseer’s ‘Four Dogs in a Stable’ achieved $8,500 plus the buyer’s premium in May 2018. Image courtesy of Abell Auction and LiveAuctioneers.

Charles I of England had his namesake Cavalier King Charles Spaniels included in family portraits done by the superlative artist Anthony van Dyke, but it was Queen Victoria who presided over a Golden Age of canine paintings. Victoria, who reigned from 1837 to 1901, commissioned royal portraits of her many dog companions, and her passion helped foster a market that allowed artists to specialize in the niche. Some artists preferred depicting purebred dogs standing, sitting or lounging on the laps of their owners, while others favored showing them in action hunting, playing, chasing, and just, well, being a dog. Sir Edwin Landseer was arguably the most famous painter of animals, particularly horses and dogs, during the Victorian era.

‘Landscape Portrait,’ a 1994 Polaroid by William Wegman, realized $6,000 plus the buyer’s premium in March 2020. Image courtesy of Rago Arts and Auction Center and LiveAuctioneers.

Contemporary artists who specialize in portraits of dogs succeed by capturing the animal’s individuality as well as its appearance. Many of these artists like sticking with sub-niches of the genre. William Wegman, for example, concentrates on Weimaraners, a large breed that royal families relied on to hunt big game such as boars, bears and deer, but he made his artistic reputation using his own pets as models, and not with commissioned canine portraiture. Jim Killen paints sporting dogs – animals bred to assist hunters – at work in vibrant watercolor. Other canine portraitists, such as Steven Townsend, Ron Burns and Paul Doyle, paint a variety of different breeds.

Ron Burns’ colorful 2008 dog portrait, ‘Roxie Caulfield,’ sold for $1,000 plus the buyer’s premium in September 2020. Image courtesy of Clars Auction Gallery and LiveAuctioneers.

Would-be collectors of dog portraits enjoy a range of choices for how to enter the field and how to pursue their prizes. Chris Fox, Associate Deputy Director of Americana for William Doyle Galleries, summed them up succinctly following a 2020 Dogs in Art auction. “There are three categories: Sporting, pet, and mixed breed,” he said. “The breed portraits show how breed standards have changed. For instance, an 18th- or early 19th-century Pekinese has a snout that is different than today’s dog. Usually, people collect by breed and quality of the work. Most costly are pictures of sporting dogs such as retrievers, hounds and setters. Next would be Afghan hounds. On the down money scale would be lap dogs spaniels, terriers, and pugs. Last would be working dogs such as German shepherds and border collies.”

According to dealers and collectors, personality is also essential to the success and appeal of a dog portrait. An oil painting by Percival Leonard Rosseau titled Scent’s Up sold for double its estimate at the auction for $31,250. Rousseau’s ability to capture the personalities of the dogs certainly helped drive the bidding.

‘Scent’s Up’ by Percival Leonard Rousseau achieved $9,000 plus the buyer’s premium in May 2008. Image courtesy of Neal Auction Company and LiveAuctioneers.

While dog portraits can sell well at auction, the emotional aspects of the artistic genre effectively frustrates and discourages those who are determined to see only dollar signs. Well-rendered images of man’s best friend – those that transcend mere accuracy and competence and communicate something deep and profound about the wonder, the joy, and, yes, the absurdity of owning a dog – are precisely the images that resonate with collectors. Exceptional dog portraits are born from love rather than money. They aren’t just fit to earn the title of Best in Show; they earn the title of best at home, too.

Cyanotypes: Images Out of the Blue

A unique, signed 2008 cyanotype by Christian Marclay sold for $5,250 plus the buyer’s premium in November 2020. Image courtesy of Hess Fine Auctions and LiveAuctioneers.

Cyanotypes are almost as old as photography itself, but until now their use has been industrial, most often being seen in the form of architectural blueprints. Now they are starting to gain respect as an art form, as curators, contemporary artists and art collectors explore their history and potential.

Discovered in 1842 by Sir John Herschel, who also gave the process its name, the cyanotype might be the most widely used alternative photographic form in existence. Cyanotypes are cheap and easy to make; all the recipe calls for is paper, a mix of two chemicals (ferric ammonium citrate and potassium ferricyanide), water, sunlight and time. That’s it. No darkroom or costly, cutting-edge professional camera equipment required – in fact, no camera is required at all. The odds are good that you, the reader, made a cyanotype in a school art class by placing an object on chemically-treated paper, exposing it to light, and waiting. Once you were happy with what you saw, you washed the image to “fix” it, allowed it to dry, and admired the result. Making a cyanotype might actually have been your first experience as a photographer, long before you received your first camera or smartphone.

Its very simplicity and ease of use doomed the cyanotype’s artistic reputation for centuries. The gatekeepers of fine art unsurprisingly looked down their collective noses on a process that almost anyone could master. Another strike against it was the hue imparted by its chemicals – the “cyan” of its name. Photography itself struggled to be taken seriously as a fine-art medium for more than a century. More so, a form of it that portrayed the world in a deep, strong, almost aggressive blue, rather than a sober black-and-white or civilized sepia tone, found few advocates. The 19th century writer P.H. Emerson went so far as to say, “No one but a vandal would print a landscape in red, or in cyanotype.”

A group of nine early 20th-century botanical cyanotypes by Bertha Jaques realized $4,600 plus the buyer’s premium in June 2020. Image courtesy of Swann Auction Galleries and LiveAuctioneers.

What changed? According to Nancy Burns, Stoddard associate curator of prints, drawings and photographs at the Worcester Art Museum (WAM) in Worcester, Massachusetts, cyanotypes won their chance to shine after technological changes prompted people to think anew. “When digital photography came around, the question ‘What is a photograph?’ was staring everyone right in the face,” she said. “As a result, some photographers embraced a new ‘post-film’ photographic landscape while others began to revisit various ‘extinct’ photographic processes like cyanotype, tintype, platinum, and daguerreotype. I think that’s the biggest reason you see a resurgence in the medium at the turn of the 20th to 21st century.”

Deborah Rogel, Director of the Photographs & Photobooks departments at Swann Auction Galleries, has witnessed the same phenomenon. “The so-called alternative processes [including cyanotypes] have become very interesting to artists and collectors,” she said. “For me what this really comes down to is an interest in the process itself from both the collector and the maker – the ways in which photographic images can be translated to and produced on paper. And, of course, cyanotypes are quite beautiful, so perhaps it was only a matter of time before collectors began to invest more interest in them.”

The best-known contemporary cyanotypes are probably those of Christian Marclay, the American-Swiss artist who explores aspects of sound and audio, and to a lesser extent, obsolete technology. Around 2008, he created a series of cyanotypes featuring cassette tapes, and he published a book of his cyanotypes in 2011. A 2008 cyanotype by Marclay showing a single clear cassette tape spooling ribbons of white onto a cobalt background sold for $5,250 plus the buyer’s premium in November 2020.

‘Jocob’s Ladder,’ one of two John Dugdale limited edition cyanotypes offered as a single lot in August 2020, realized $4,000 plus the buyer’s premium. Image courtesy of Swann Auction Galleries and LiveAuctioneers.

Another contemporary artist who has embraced the cyanotype is John Dugdale, an LGBT artist who in the early 1990s lost most of his vision to complications of AIDS. It has not stopped him from creating riveting works of art in cyanotype and other photographic processes. In August 2020, Swann offered as one lot a pair of framed Dugdale cyanotypes, Jocob’s Ladder and Cresent Moon, both dating to the 1990s. They realized $4,000 plus the buyer’s premium. “Dugdale’s power as a photographer is illustrated beautifully in this pair of cyanotypes,” said Rogel. “He uses the blue tones to render both atmosphere and mood, and draws out an unparalleled level of detail and lush dimensionality within what is essentially a range of light to very dark blue. His work is timeless and beautiful, and in this way the cyanotype is the perfect format for his work.”

When contemporary artists shine a light on an overlooked art medium, it stokes interest in the works of those who came before. Almost a decade after Marclay released his cyanotypes, Burns co-curated the first dedicated museum show about the medium held in the United States, and possibly the first such show mounted anywhere on the planet. She and her colleague Kristina Wilson, a professor of art history at Clark University, which is also in Worcester, Massachusetts, knew that WAM had an intriguing collection of cyanotypes and thought it could support a museum exhibition. But as the two dug deeper, they made a startling discovery.

A circa-1852 botanical cyanotype by Anna Atkins achieved $4,000 plus the buyer’s premium in May 2016. Image courtesy of Clars Auction Gallery and LiveAuctioneers.

“Kristina and I realized that we couldn’t find a single exhibition catalog that focused on cyanotypes aside from the work of Anna Atkins. We had stumbled into a genuinely new topic for scholarly exploration and museum display,” she said. “There was a bit of excitement and anxiety that came along with that realization, too. I remember thinking, ‘Is it even possible to do this in seven-ish months? Should we put this on a backburner for another time?’ But we were so enamored with the idea at that point, Kristina and I were going to figure out a way to make it work.” Their efforts culminated in the 2016 show Cyanotypes: Photography’s Blue Period, which received much media coverage and introduced thousands of museum-goers and countless online visitors to the medium.

Another possible reason behind the rising interest in cyanotypes is several early practitioners were women, and greater attention is being paid to women artists. Anna Atkins, who Butler mentions above, is credited with creating the very first photo book, in 1843, a year before the photographic pioneer William Henry Fox Talbot published The Pencil of Nature. She released the first volume of her work British Algae: Cyanotype Impressions in 1843 and released the other two volumes during the decade that followed, giving one of the dozen-or-so sets to Talbot. While Atkins’ rare book has yet to appear in a May 2016 sale conducted on LiveAuctioneers, a circa-1852 cyanotype by her, dubbed Peiris Grandifolia, achieved $4,000 plus the buyer’s premium.

Another image from the group of nine early 20th-century botanical cyanotypes by Bertha Jaques that realized $4,600 plus the buyer’s premium in June 2020. Image courtesy of Swann Auction Galleries and LiveAuctioneers.

In June 2020, Swann Auction Galleries handled a set of cyanotypes made circa 1900-1906 by Bertha Jaques, another lauded cyanotypist. As with the Atkins cyanotype sold in 2016, the set of nine images were photograms – a form of cyanotype created by laying an object, such as a flower or a branch, directly onto chemically-treated paper and then bathing everything in light. The lot notes described the set as “rich” phonograms. Rogel explains the term applied because “the images were quite a vivid blue, and many with crisp delineation of the forms throughout. They are just stunning – Jaques absolutely perfected the process … In her imagery, the specifics of the specimen are identifiable, but rendered in a way that heightens and accentuates the strangeness and beauty of their form.”

An Edward Curtis cyanotype, ‘With Her Proudly Decked Horse – Cayuse,’ sold for $3,600 in June 2021. Image courtesy of Santa Fe Art Auction and LiveAuctioneers.

Another notable, but not prolific, source of cyanotypes is Edward S. Curtis, creator of the epic early 20th century ethnographic work The North American Indian. Curtis probably did not invent the notion of using cyanotypes to check the quality of his photographs, but he was certainly motivated to do so. J.P. Morgan gave him $75,000 to pursue the project, which forced Curtis to travel to some of the most remote locations in the country to obtain the 40,000 to 50,000 negatives he is estimated to have produced. He absolutely needed a way to confirm on the spot, hundreds or thousands of miles from his darkroom, that what he shot that day was good or needed a retake. Cyanotypes let him do that.

“They were his version of a Polaroid – a good way to proof something, to see a negative of what he shot in the field,” said Peter Bernardy, studio manager of Christopher Cardozo Fine Art in St. Paul, Minnesota, which was founded by a leading collector of Curtis images. He explained that Curtis “…would tear a sheet from notebook, coat it with emulsion, and let dry maybe 30 minutes to an hour to create a piece of photographic paper. Then he would take a negative he created that day, place it in contact with sheet of paper, expose it to the sun, and develop it in water. It’s very easy to do anywhere, really. If he saw a problem [in the cyanotype,] he might try to recapture the image. The cyanotype was the first step in the editing process, a very early step.”

Curtis cyanotypes are not just beautiful; they also give a glimpse of the artist at work. “Cyanotypes are the closest you’ll ever get to Curtis’s hand in the moment. This is what he used if he wanted an immediate feel for what he just photographed,” said Gillian Blitch, President and CEO of Santa Fe Art Auction, which in late June 2021 conducted an auction of Cardozo’s collection of Curtis photographs.

More than a dozen Curtis cyanotypes were in that sale, including a 1910 example titled With Her Proudly Decked Horse – Cayuse, which realized $3,600. “I love that piece, it’s wonderful. The expression on her face, the dignity and the elegance of that piece are striking. It’s got an amazing charisma to it,” Blitch said, adding, “You are looking at it as Curtis looked at it in the field, in a tent in the middle of a location. It’s quite mesmerizing.”

A group of five Edward Curtis cyanotypes from 1911, picturing dancing members of the Cheyenne tribal community, sold for $4,800 in June 2021. Image courtesy of Santa Fe Art Auction and LiveAuctioneers.

Given that Curtis regarded cyanotypes merely as tools to check his work, it’s amazing that any of them survive. Bernardy says that Curtis routinely shared them with the sitters, and whatever he didn’t give away made it back to his studio, where he would file it. The few that manage to reach the market are prizes indeed.

With cyanotypes in the first blush of being collected as cyanotypes rather than as blueprints of homes by Frank Lloyd Wright or examples of early photography, the field is open for collectors seeking an exciting new niche. “I am hopeful that there is a lot of potential for growth in this area of collecting,” Rogel said. “Broadening the conversations around inclusivity of maker, format, and purpose under the very broad photographic umbrella is certainly a goal of mine, both as a specialist and an advocate for the medium. The more collectors are able to see and appreciate the numerous ways in which photography is used and can be understood, the more growth potential there is. Cyanotypes are often at an accessible price point for new collectors, and as I’ve mentioned, their unusual and appealing visual features make them a great entry point.”

“I feel like cyanotypes are a bug that you catch and never shake,” Butler said. “I’ll be the first to say that I have a very soft spot in my heart for them. I find the same is true with collectors. At least in my experience, people who collect cyanotypes really love them for their jewel-like sapphire glow and their peculiarity. Have I seen an uptick in collecting them? Yes. I think that can certainly be attributed to the fact that they are getting greater exposure and as a result more artists are trying their hand at the medium.”

Trade Beads: First-String Collectibles

A collection of several strands of trade beads, boasting a range of colors, realized $125 plus the buyer’s premium in July 2015. Image courtesy of Sterling Associates and LiveAuctioneers

Africans have valued cowrie-shell and bone beads since well before written history. Tribes eagerly accepted the sleek, shiny glass beads that 15th-century European traders offered in exchange for commodities such as salt, gold, palm oil or ivory. 

Because trade beads were typically produced on demand to suit the tastes of those on the receiving end, their designs varied from village to village. And since their production numbers were in the thousands, it can be difficult to link specific ones to particular African regions. One exception is the large, round, chunky variety known as “Dutch Dogons,” which were produced in the Netherlands or Germany during the 19th century. They have been found in vast quantities in central Mali, home of the Dogon tribespeople. Most are bright cobalt blue, while others are brown, black, or white. 

A strand of Dogon cobalt glass ring or “annular” beads sold for $100 plus the buyer’s premium in August 2020. Image courtesy of Allard Auctions Inc. and LiveAuctioneers

Thousands upon thousands of African trade beads were also produced in Venice and Murano, Italy. Doughnut and pineapple-shape glass chevrons, which are the most common, feature characteristic layering produced by winding multiple molten colored glass rods around hollow canes. This resulted in a layered stripe or ornamental rosetta-star pattern, usually in combinations of red, white, and blue. Deep green chevron beads, known as “watermelons,” feature delicate white, green, and red stripes. 

Bi-conical king chevrons, highly favored by tribal chiefs, do not depict rosettas. Instead, they display characteristic horizontal stripes produced by winding molten yellow, black, and green glass threads around long, thin central rods, then shaping them. 

A string of African chevron trade beads realized $80 plus the buyer’s premium in January 2021. Image courtesy North American Auction Company and LiveAuctioneers

Spherical French cross beads, also known as “Bedoums,” range from 5mm to more than 12mm (roughly a quarter to a half-inch) in size. As with king chevrons, they were created by winding molten glass around metal cores. Most feature thin, colorful crosses or trailed designs applied by hand. Because these beads were produced in limited numbers, many Africans, particularly those in central Mali and along the coast of West African, found them desirable. 

Venetian skunk beads, on the other hand, were traded along the coast of East Africa. As merchants ventured inland in search of additional resources, these distinctive red, black, or white dotted pieces, also known as “eye beads,” eventually found their way to Mali. 

A group of Venetian millefiori glass trade beads achieved $475 plus the buyer’s premium in January 2016. Image courtesy of Quinn’s Auction Galleries and LiveAuctioneers

Throughout Africa, Venetian millefiori, or “thousand flower” beads, were the most prized of all. They featured tiny floral patterns created by arranging colorful glass threads in hollow glass rods that were fused, then drawn thin. After slicing these rods into tiny, slender, cross-sectional round discs, each disc was shaped around a metal core and fired. 

During the mid-1800s, large, luminous moon beads, likely invented in Murano, appeared on select sample cards used by European bead manufacturers to market their wares. These beads are often associated with the Yoruba people of present-day Nigeria, who believed that the moon held spiritual significance. 

Multiple strands of yellow-dominated Venetian glass African trade beads sold for $240 plus the buyer’s premium in May 2016. Image courtesy of Quinn’s Auction Galleries and LiveAuctioneers

From the 19th century on, enormous numbers of African trade beads were produced in Bohemia. Most were inspired by so-called “bead researchers” who, after consulting with merchants across Europe, brought sketches of popular designs to Bohemian glass manufacturers. Though most of their beads were relatively simple, innovative technical strides allowed uniform, high-quality, speedy production. 

Bohemian Mali wedding beads, popular among the Fulani people, often resembled pineapples, hourglasses or lightbulbs. Their bulbous shapes, which symbolized fertility in Mali culture, sparked a tradition of fathers giving them to daughters just before a wedding. The beads were available in single opaque shades as well as flecked and striped varieties. 

Round or oval Bohemian colodontes, also known as “hummingbird egg” or “pigeon egg” beads, resemble smooth, round, glossy eggs like those laid by small birds. They have been found not only in Mali, but also along the West African coast. 

A trade bead collection including millefiori, chevron, sand cast, wound glass and Hudson Bay red-white hearts realized $150 plus the buyer’s premium i

As African trade beads passed from hand to hand and continent to continent, many suffered fading, pitting, chipping, and other signs of excessive use. Yet today, each is a poignant, visually striking and highly collectible piece of history. 

FLY ME TO THE MOON: SPACE-FLOWN FLAGS

A flag signed by Apollo 15 Commander Dave Scott, which he carried in his space suit when he walked on the moon’s surface, sold in September 2020 for $22,000 plus the buyer’s premium. Image courtesy of RR Auctions and LiveAuctioneers

We can’t all go to space, even if we desperately want to. The Federation Aeronautique Internationale, the governing body that defines space flight, states that as of July 2021, only 574 individuals from 41 countries have made it to outer space, which is defined as traveling higher than 100 miles or 62 kilometers. Of those 574, just 12 have walked on the moon.

The next-best thing to traveling in space is owning a souvenir that did. Flags might be the most iconic space-flown collectibles. They combine national identity, culture, community, ideals and history, all in one recognizable medium. And with the price of launching cargo into orbit still hovering around $10,000 per pound, flags have the merit of being flat, light and easy to roll up or fold. While space-flown flags are relatively abundant compared to other space-flown objects, they aren’t unlimited in number, and those from the early years of space exploration can be difficult to acquire.

In April 1961, Russian cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin became the first human being to circle the Earth. It’s not known whether or not his tiny capsule contained personal souvenirs. In contrast, NASA’s Mercury, Gemini, and Apollo missions routinely permitted souvenir items on spacecraft, the lunar landing craft and even the Lunar Excursion Module (LEM) – what most of us would call the moon buggy. To conserve weight, American flags measuring no larger than 4 by 6 inches were allowed on board (larger flags were flown as well, just not as many). Individual astronauts carried these flags in a Personal Preference Kit, or PPK.

A flag flown on STS-1 Columbia, the first space shuttle mission, sold in May 2016 for $3,000 plus the buyer’s premium. Image courtesy of Heritage Auctions and LiveAuctioneers

NASA had its own Official Flight Kit, or OFK, in which flags and similar souvenirs were sent on behalf of the agency itself. Anything in the astronauts’ kits belonged to them; anything in the NASA kits were property of NASA. Collectors care about this distinction. Flags carried by American astronauts in PPKs have higher auction values overall than those that ventured to space in a NASA OFK.

Several hundred American flags went to space on the early NASA missions, and most of those were of the 4-by-6-inch variety, according to collectspace.com. Many more flags were brought into space during the NASA shuttle program. Tthe final shuttle mission, STS-135 Atlantis in 2011, listed 20,000 small US flags in its cargo manifest. Flags continue to make the extraterrestrial roundtrip as part of the inventory of the International Space Station.

Larger flags carried aboard the early NASA missions and on shuttle flights were usually earmarked for specific presentations at schools, nonprofit programs, government agencies and as gifts for international visitors. The website spaceflownartifacts.com states these examples rarely appear at auction.

Collectors consider four major factors when determining the value of

a space-flown flag: 

1 – which space mission took it to the stars and back

2 – whether it made the journey in a PPK or an OPK

3 – where it was stored during the voyage

4 – who owned the flag during the flight and after it returned to Earth.

A flag carried aboard the Apollo 11 mission and later signed by Apollo 11 astronaut Buzz Aldrin sold in November 2004 for $14,000 plus the buyer’s premium. Image courtesy of Swann Auction Galleries and LiveAuctioneers

Flags flown on Mercury and Gemini NASA missions are relatively scarce and highly desired because they rank among the earliest objects to orbit the planet. Flags from space shuttle missions and those taken aboard the International Space Station qualify as space-flown but are much more accessible and affordable, especially for new collectors.

Understandably, flags flown on any of the 12 Apollo lunar missions always have serious auction value. Even then, where the flag was stored during the lunar missions affects how ardently bidders pursue them at auction. Flags that stayed in the spacecraft are prized, but those that were carried onto the lunar surface in the space suits of the astronauts are worth even more.

Not all Apollo missions are equal, either. Flags flown aboard Apollo 11, the first mission whose astronauts walked on the moon; and Apollo 13, the mission that was aborted due to mechanical difficulty, command more than flags from the other four moon missions. And as with any realm of collectibles, historic firsts affect an object’s value. The spaceflownartifacts.com website notes:

“Apollo 8 being the first mission to the moon gives flags carried on that mission a certain cachet.”

Foreign national flags from early NASA flights are relatively rare. This signed Tunisian flag that flew aboard Gemini 4 sold in June 2019 for $1,153 plus the buyer’s premium. Image courtesy of RR Auction and LiveAuctioneers

The entity the flag represents also plays a role. Collectors bid the most for American flags, followed by foreign national flags, state or territory flags, the flag of NASA or other agency flags, and those with the livery of a particular church, school, corporation or other entity that has sentimental value to the astronaut who stashed it in a PPK.

Provenance obviously matters, and is fairly easy to confirm for many space-flown flags. Some astronauts from early missions signed their names directly onto a flag along with mission-specific details, but this practice wasn’t consistent or standardized (other astronauts only added a serial number to the flag, which was accompanied by a signed certificate). Later on, an agreed procedure took shape: Space-flown flags were mounted on presentation certificates created by each individual astronaut. These certificates usually featured a signature, mission details, perhaps a mission patch and a date a format consistent enough to reliably establish provenance. NASA, too, also created specially-designed certificates of its own for its flag presentations.

Collectors should be wary of unmounted flags that are not signed or identified in any way. A story alone is not sufficient to prove a flag left the Earth and came back home again. Mounted flags that are accompanied by a handmade document or photocopy of a signed or unsigned certificate lack the power of better-established examples. 

A set of space-flown American and Russian flags commemorating the joint docking effort of the US space shuttle with the Russian space station Mir in 1995 sold in April 2005 for $600 plus the buyer’s premium. Image courtesy of Aurora and LiveAuctioneers

Human beings will continue to venture into space and deeper into the solar system. Space tourists, who pay top dollar to experience thrills that were once limited to a professional elite, are making their own history. One thing is for sure: current and future space travelers will continue to take flags with them, and there will always be collectors who clamor for them.