Judith Leiber Handbags: Art on the Red Carpet

NEW YORK – Chronicling the career of Hungarian-American accessory creator Judith Leiber, who died on May 28 at the age of 97, the Thames and Hudson Dictionary of Fashion and Fashion Designers wrote, “…it is her whimsical rhinestone-studded evening bags, often crafted in the form of minaudieres, which have brought her lasting fame. Brightly colored, small-scale and delicate yet sturdily engineered, they are covered with handset Austrian crystal and semiprecious stones, duplicating flora and fauna.”

Movie stars flash them on the red carpet, president’s wives carry them to the inauguration ball, and collectors snap them up at vintage couture and jewelry auctions across the country. While the head might argue that you can get by with just one, the heart knows that you can never have too many of these glittering minibags in a hundred clever forms; one leads to another and a collection grows. The whimsical designs of the minaudieres are far too charming to keep in a drawer.

The form seems to have been developed by jewelers; Charles Arpels made one for socialite Florence Gould in the 1930s. The lip-smacking name “minaudiere” comes from a French term for silly little trifle, and the small size of the Leiber examples – dimensions under 6 inches – means only a few necessary items can be carried within. The artist designed elegant leather handbags for daywear, but the evening bags completely covered with handset crystals and semiprecious stones attract the most attention.

Judith Leiber bags from a 300-piece collection assembled by Louisiana philanthropist Bernice Norman were sold in a landmark 1999 charity auction to benefit the New Orleans Museum of Art.

Judith Leiber was present for the sale, hosted by New Orleans Auction Galleries, and even purchased some of the purses back to put in her personal museum. The minaudieres, as opposed to the also very desirable “day” bags, brought the most money. Those featured in the book Judith Leiber: The Artful Handbag (1995) by Edith Nemy sold for even more.

Judith Leiber’s interest in Asian art is reflected in this crystal-studded Buddha design sold at a Bruce Kodner auction in Lake Worth, Florida. It is 5 1/2 inches high.

Judith Leiber, nee Peto, was born in Budapest in 1921. Her hopes of studying chemistry in London were thwarted when war broke out in 1939. She joined the Hungarian handbag guild and worked her way up to master status, learning every aspect of construction. Her family survived the war, and at its conclusion she met and married American G.I. Gerson Leiber. After moving back to New York, she exercised her expertise at several accessories firms before founding her own in 1963.

Her designs received a number of prestigious awards. Fashionable stores carried the bags, and the New York Times did a lengthy story on Leiber in May 1996 after she opened her own boutique on Madison Avenue. Christine Cavanaugh, the actress providing a voice for the central character in the movie Babe, had carried a jeweled pink pig minaudiere on the Oscar red carpet that year. Judith Leiber is now retired from active designing, but the firm bearing her name continues to produce both old and new shapes, which are carried in stores such as Saks Fifth Avenue, Neiman Marcus and Bergdorf Goodman.

Leiber drew inspiration from many sources; the dragonfly on this 1992 minaudiere in the Leiber Collection Museum is similar to the winged creatures on classic Tiffany lampshades. Courtesy the Leiber Collection; photo credit Gary Mamay.

Judith Leiber evening bags were always luxury items intended for wealthy partygoers who wanted their outfits to be noticed; new creations with the brand name easily bring $5,000 or more. So vintage examples can be viewed as an opportunity to acquire something marvelous at a reasonable price.

Minaudieres are equipped with a concealed shoulder chain, which can be used to carry the evening bag. This rare Venetian mask design was auctioned by Bruce Kodner Galleries.

Most Judith Leiber evening bags have been well cared for and retain their original accessories – a coin purse, standing mirror, tasseled comb, and soft storage bag.

This violin-form minaudiere covered in Swarovski crystals came complete with original coin purse, comb, and mirror. The evening bag sold at New Orleans Auction Galleries.

Some Judith Leiber evening bags still have the store’s price tag and the designer’s certificate of authenticity. Restoration services are available if stones are missing from their settings.

The Museum at FIT, the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York City, has around 45 Judith Leiber bags in their permanent collection, including this bright 1994 tomato minaudiere design.

There, students can examine how the bags are constructed. Colleen Hill, associate curator of accessories, said in a recent interview, “There are a lot of whimsical handbag styles throughout the 20th century. Although Leiber did do many different styles of bags, these jeweled minaudieres were what she was especially well known for – they’re conversation pieces. The craftsmanship is absolutely the thing that I like to point out. Everything is really perfect, everything lines up exactly.

“For true luxury items like these Judith Leiber bags, you have to look closely at them,” Hill continued. “You have no visible glue, everything is fitting together perfectly, they’re almost objects of art in their own way. You can imagine how they’ve become collectors’ items – they’re more than just something to carry to a fancy party, they’re really something that can be admired as an object as well as an accessory. It’s very apparent that these are not things that are machine-produced and just replicated exactly time after time, which adds to their one-of-a-kind appeal.”

In one of its past sales, Dallas Auction Gallery offered this 6-inch “Sleeping Lion” minaudiere covered with tawny crystals and multicolored cabochon hardstones.

The form of Japanese inro, a container for small objects hung from a sash, inspired this tripartite beaded minaudiere with red silk cord and a gold leather lining. The colorful purse starred in a DuMouchelles auction in Detroit.

In 2005, Leiber and her husband Gerson, who was a Modernist artist, opened their own museum and sculpture garden in the East Hampton village of Springs, New York, near the tip of Long Island. (www.leibermuseum.org). Works by both artists – including many handbag designs – are on view in the galleries and a history of their entwined careers can be found in No Mere Bagatelles: Telling the Story of Handbag Genius Judith Leiber & Modernist Artist Gerson Leiber by Jeffrey Sussman (2009).

This article, written by Karla Klein Albertson, originally appeared in Style Century Magazine, now part of Auction Central News (www.auctioncentralnews.com).

How to Preserve Antique Maps

“Maps are a universal medium for communication, easily understood and appreciated by most people, regardless of language or culture,” said revered American geologist Daniel F. Merriam.

Throughout the history of humanity people have been going to or coming from some place. It’s a shared experience, if not physically, certainly intellectually. In some cases, that shared experience has contributed to maps. Most often today, it’s a digital map of some type that guides people in their travels. However, not so long ago printed maps were a daily part of life, and a folded paper map could be found in the glove compartment of nearly every vehicle on the road. Schoolchildren could expect to see a map of the world in their classrooms.

Map with a view of various sections of Alabama and West Florida, created by John L Tourette in the fourth quarter of the 18th century. It features various sections of the area in map in separate segments. Sold for $35,000 in February of 2017. Image by Neal Auction Company and LiveAuctioneers.

Today, antique and vintage maps are objects appreciated by collectors, historians, artists and academics, among others. To learn the ins and outs of collecting maps, see the archived article Collecting Old Maps, featuring expertise from Jasper52’s resident map expert Steve Kovacs.

Once again we turn to Steve for insight on the correct way to conserve old maps so they can remain intact and beautiful for future generations to enjoy.

Does the type of materials the map is printed on make a difference in whether or how quickly a map may deteriorate? Is it true some of the earlier maps, made of a paper with a fiber core, fare better over time than some made from more modern elements? 

The nature and quality of the paper substrate (n.b. – underlying layer of material) on which the map is printed are among the most important factors impacting the long-term condition of the map. Interestingly, older maps, primarily pre-1800, are more likely to maintain their condition, given that they were usually made of linen rags or flax with longer fibers and were low in acid-producing lignin content. With the ever-growing demand for paper to make maps, books and newspapers, by the early to mid-1800s the industry increasingly turned to a much cheaper paper source, wood pulp. Wood-based paper unfortunately has shorter fibers and much more lignin, which is a natural part of the wood structure. In turn, lignin will give off organic acids upon exposure to air and light, and these acids cause yellowing, browning and brittleness to the paper over time.

What are some of the most common issues impacting the condition of a map, and what are some specific steps one can take to avoid each?

As with paper in general, moist or wet conditions, large temperature fluctuations, UV light, oxygen in the air, and pests (worms, insects, rodents) can all contribute to the degradation of the paper itself or the pigment or dye in colored maps. Aside from handling abuses or crayon or ink markings, most condition issues are caused by these environmental factors. Moisture in combination with higher temperatures often causes mildew to develop. UV light and oxygen can cause foxing (reddish-brown spots), yellowing, browning and brittleness, especially in paper made of wood pulp, and degrade some pigments and dyes, thus changing or fading the colors.

To mitigate these potential issues, some common-sense steps in storage or display should be exercised, as outlined in the next section. Also, if the map is dear to you, consider cleaning and professional de-acidification – a simple washing process – to minimize any further yellowing, browning or brittleness that might otherwise occur.

The Museum of Old Maps is located in Bucharest, Romania. Here are several antique maps from the museum’s collection on public display. Image courtesy www.muzeulhartilor.ro

View a presentation of conservation techniques involving the treatment of an 1808 map of Milledgeville, Georgia. Note: The video is visual only; no sound:

What are some options for storing maps properly and safely?

Maps should be kept in typical room-temperature and humidity conditions, so not in hot attics, not in damp basements, and not next to heat sources. Preferably keep the maps laid flat in boxes or shallow drawers and, less ideally, gently rolled in a tube that is at least three inches in diameter. Very importantly, longer-term direct physical contact with the map should be only by archival, acid-free materials, an excellent option among these being polyester (e.g., Mylar) sleeves or acid-free paper. Avoid direct sun exposure and handling with dirty hands.

How would you recommend someone display an antique map, if that is their intention, so it isn’t compromised by light and moisture?

Many of us elect to display some of our favorite maps, and usually in frames. Before framing, it’s best to restore the map if there are any defects. As noted earlier, all physical contact with the map should be with archival, acid-free material, including the matting, the support board behind the map, etc. Do not glue the map to a board or backing; rather, use mounting corners or possibly acid-free hinging tapes to hold the map in place. If the map is fragile, backing with Japanese paper might be warranted. Avoid direct contact between map and glass. UV glass should be used, and do keep the framed map away from direct sunlight and heat sources. A professional framer who is familiar with maps should be considered.

What are some signs that a map is damaged? Some are more obvious than others I suspect, so how can you tell?

Most damage is readily visible on a map: 1) discoloration due to mildew, soiling, foxing, yellowing, browning, color fading; 2) voids caused by pests or mishandling, 3) tears, splits; 4) water stains, 5) uneven surfaces, etc. Needless to say, both sides should be evaluated. Brittleness is often not visible but can be devastating to a map.

If a map is damaged is finding a conservator the best next step? What kind of things should one look for or check on to determine the conservator you are looking to work with is reputable?

Nothing lasts forever, but if a map is damaged, short of a minor issue (unclean surface, small tear, slight and age appropriate discoloration), it is typically best to engage a professional conservator or restoration expert, or your map might suffer considerably over time. Cleaning dirt off the surface, closing a small tear with archival material on the back or minor flattening under weights are about as far most of us ought to take do it yourself conservation, and only if one is confident doing so after reading how to perform the task properly.

Engraved map of British and French Dominions in North America, published February 13, 1755, created by Thomas Kitchen after John Mitchell. Seldom-seen first edition, and first issue. Twenty-one editions and impressions of this map appeared between 1755 and 1781. This map was part of a noted moment of cartographic warfare when tension over territory and dominance within the new country was shaping up, just ahead of the French and Indian war. Sold for $400,000 during a June 2017 auction. Rader Galleries and LiveAuctioneers image.

The process of finding a conservator or restoration expert is like finding any other good professional. Most people would rely on information such as: a) personal recommendations by trusted antique map or book dealers or fellow map collectors; b) inquiring about length of time in the conservation and restoration business; c) learning about their experience base suggested by their client list (see if they have serviced antique map and book dealers and institutions) and viewing before-and-after restoration images of items; d) considering their professional accreditations (i.e., AIC – American Institute of Conservation) and the like.

While having the conservator nearby is good, shipping to a conservator is a good option as well. Do get an estimate up front, though (pictures of the problems to be resolved do help), as restoration service pricing can vary significantly. There are numerous individuals or companies offering restoration and conservation of works on paper – maps, books, letters, paintings – and some also deal with other forms, such as paintings on canvas, photographs, etc.

What are your four best pieces of advice when it comes to preserving and caring for an antique map?

When it comes to preservation and care of maps I’d offer the following thoughts:

  • Enjoy your maps. Chances are, most of them are many multiples of your age and have survived. But don’t add stress to their lives through abuse or neglect. Be knowledgeable what heals them and what prolongs their lives.    
  • The most important and likely easiest step is to help mitigate any future deterioration through appropriately storing or displaying your maps, as was discussed earlier.
  • Decide what role each map plays in your life. Is it dear to your heart? Will you or do you already prominently display it? Will you keep it in your collection long term? Or, is it just a nice-to-have map? The more important the map is to you, the more important it is that you proactively consider any restoration that might be needed.   
  • When it comes to active conservation and restoration, aside from minor steps, it is typically best to use the services of a professional conservator or restoration expert. With that said, balance the cost of restoration with the monetary and sentimental value of the map.

If you are looking for a new subject on which to focus your collecting efforts, you might want to consider antique and vintage maps, which are a fusion of several interests in one fascinating topic.

About the Expert:

Steve Kovacs has been passionate about geography and maps for five decades. His interest has taken him from studying and collecting maps to opening a boutique online map gallery. He also enjoys putting his knowledge of maps to use for his global travels – he’s visited 55 countries so far. He also has a background in science, engineering and business. He is a member of the International Map Collectors’ Society and serves as the expert curating Map auctions for Jasper52.

Navajo Rugs: Be Dazzled!

From big-city auction houses to remote trading posts, collectors have been searching for textiles of the American Southwest for more than 100 years.

The most highly collected and recognized form, the Navajo blanket, has shifted from an outer garment wrapped around the shoulders to a decoration on floors and walls. Hanging a traditional blanket vertically duplicates how it would have looked covering the doorway of a Navajo hogan.

Legend says Spider Woman, the creative deity from the underworld, taught the Navajo how to weave. Historians believe weaving in the Southwest originated with the ancestors of the Pueblo people. They were already using looms when Spanish explorers arrived. The colonization of New Mexico beginning in 1598 initiated trade between the Spanish and the Pueblo. Increasingly oppressive Spanish rule sparked a deadly revolt in 1680. When the Spanish reconquered the territory in 1692, many Pueblos took refuge in the Navajo lands.

Navajo Chinle pattern wool rug

Navajo Chinle pattern wool rug, circa 1900-1925, a small stain and slight edge fray noted, 47½ x 31 in. Hammer price: $850. North American Auction Co. and LiveAuctioneers image

The Pueblos taught Navajo women loom weaving, a technical art that takes years of practice to learn. Having acquired sheep from the Pueblo and Spanish, the Navajo traditionally used wool for their textiles. Finely woven Navajo blankets were famous for their ability to shed water. While Pueblo weaving has always been for Indian use, the Navajo traded their textiles with other Indians and Anglos. A central diamond surrounded by eight triangular elements at the edges creates a distinctive image that has made the Third Phase blankets the best-known Navajo weavings.

The opening of the Santa Fe Trail in 1822 and acquisition of the territory by the United States in 1848 resulted in increased recognition of Navajo weaving. Walk in Beauty: The Navajo and Their Blankets by Anthony Berlant and Mary Hunt Kahlenberg (1977, Little Brown & Co.) states that in 1849, when Lt. James Simpson led the first official U.S. expedition into Navajo country, he noted in his journal that the Navajo people made what were “probably the best blankets in the world.”

While economic conditions and changing lifestyles of the Navajo people have affected the progression of their art form, demand for it has grown. Auctioneers regularly schedule sales highlighting woven textiles within the greater category of American-Indian art.

The Cincinnati auction house Cowan’s made a big impact on the future market for American Indian weavings in 2002 when they sold a collection deaccessioned by the Western Reserve Historical Society. Among the items sold at that auction was a Classic Period Navajo child’s wearing blanket (46 by 31½ inches) that sold for $48,300. A Navajo Third Phase chief blanket (67 by 55 inches) sold for $26,450. Both textiles had once belonged to a U.S. Army cavalry officer who was stationed in the West in the late 1860s.

Navajo Storm pattern weaving/rug

Navajo Storm pattern weaving/rug, hand-spun wool woven in natural colors with a red stepped border, 85 x 50 in., second quarter 20th century. Hammer price: $950. Cowan’s Auctions and LiveAuctioneers

While museum-quality pieces from the 19th century like these are scarce, later weavings are readily available and more affordable to collectors and decorators.

For all the work and craftsmanship, Navajo blankets are beautiful decorating pieces that never go out of style.

Americans have long held an appreciation for Indian art, which became widely accessible in the first half of the 20th century. The railroads opened the Southwest to travelers during the 1920s, ’30s and ’40s and during that period people could bring these weavings home because they were easy to transport. There are many blankets from that time frame, and people continue to use them for decorating.

The 1920s marked the first heyday of the popularizing of Navajo textiles. Wealthy people often collected them. It was not uncommon to see Persian carpets on the floor of a home mixed with several Navajo rugs. People bought them for their aesthetic beauty as well as the fact that they are an important part of American culture.

While Classic period (1850-1875) and Transitional (1875-1890) weavings are the realm of serious collectors, nice 1920s-vintage rugs are still available.

Collectors evaluating a weaving will look for the caliber of the weave, the visual impact of the design and the technical difficulty behind its creation. A good example is the Teec Nos Pos style developed by weavers from the Four Corners area where Utah, Colorado, New Mexico and Arizona meet. Teec Nos Pos is a multicolored weaving with almost all of the design elements outlined in a different color. The technical expertise to weave a Teec Nos Pos rug is great, and they are in high demand.

Circa-1950 Navajo pictorial Teec Nos Pos rug

Circa-1950 Navajo pictorial Teec Nos Pos rug with floating crosses, diamonds, arrows and four American Flags. Image courtesy of High Noon Western Americana and LiveAuctioneers.

Another important factor in evaluating post-Classic period Navajo textiles is whether the weaving is done using native handspun wool, which is generally more desirable than a comparable piece woven with commercial machine-spun yarn.

Many 1950s weavings that are made of commercial yarn, which drastically affects the value downward.

There are, however, Classic Period Navajo blankets that are made of machine-spun yarn.

Following their surrender to Kit Carson in January 1864, more than 8,000 Navajo men, women and children were forced from their homeland and made to endure internment near Bosque Redondo, New Mexico. Deprived of their flocks, Navajo weavers were introduced to machine-spun yarn produced in Germantown (Philadelphia), Pennsylvania. Blankets made from these yarns are called Germantowns. Over the years the term “Germantown” has come to mean any three- or four-ply machine-spun yarns from any Eastern mill.

After signing a peace treaty, the Navajo were allowed to return to their homeland in 1868, but their way of life was forever changed.

Navajo Crystal pictorial rug

Navajo Crystal pictorial rug, with red, natural white and light brown showing Valero stars, tadpole four-directionals, arrows, feathers and eagles, 127 x 66 in., early 20th century. Hammer price: $2,200. Leslie Hindman Auctioneers and LiveAuctioneers image.

Another factor in evaluating American Indian textiles is the color: natural wool, vegetal or factory-made aniline dyes, or a combination of these. While tastes change in this regard, buyers currently prefer a brighter palette, even though it takes a weaver twice as long to make an all vegetal-dyed homespun rug.

The cryptic names that have been given to styles of Navajo weavings often denote the town or trading post where they originated. Examples are Crystal, New Mexico, and Ganado, Arizona. Weavings whose place of origin cannot be pinpointed are often identified by region, such as Western Reservation in Arizona.

Because modern reproductions are being made on mechanical looms in Mexico and other foreign countries, it is advisable for novice collectors to buy from knowledgeable dealers and auctioneers who guarantee what they sell.

Ganado-style Navajo rug

Ganado-style Navajo rugs generally have a design consisting of one or more stepped diamonds or stepped and embellished triangles. Red, gray, black and ivory are dominant colors in the designs. This mid-20th century all-wool rug shows the stepped diamonds and triangles. It measures 71 x 45 in. Hammer price: $475. North American Auction Co. and LiveAuctioneers image

Collectors also should learn as much as possible about the many styles, weaving techniques and materials.

 

REGIONAL STYLES

—BURNTWATER: Weavers around Burnt Water, Ariz., developed this new style in the late 1960s. Building on design elements from Ganado and Two Grey Hills styles, Burntwater type weavings often feature bordered geometric designs with central, terraced diamonds. The distinguishing characteristic is the use of yarns whose pastel colors are achieved from the use of local vegetal dyes.

—CHINLE: Developed in the 1930s in the Canyon de Chelly region of northeastern Arizona and named after the town nearby, this modern classic style is now woven across the Navajo reservation. Chinle weavings are typically borderless and characterized by alternating plain stripes with horizontal bands of geometric designs. Colors most often are pastel or earth tones, but they can also be bright colors.

—CRYSTAL: Navajos on the western side of the Chuska Mountains near Crystal, New Mexico, began supplying textiles for John B. Moore’s mail-order catalogs in the early 1900s. These old-style Crystal weavings featuring bordered designs with geometric patterns later influenced the work of the Two Grey Hills weavers on the other side of the mountains. Since the late 1930s Crystal textiles have been known for having golden tones and horizontal bands that include “wavy” lines. Colors are usually muted earth tones but may include pastels and pinks.

—GANADO: This famous style originated at the trading post near Ganado, Arizona, where owner Juan Lorenzo Hubbell began trading with Navajo in the late 1870s. He was influential in the development of the weaving style in that area and encouraged the weavers to improve the quality of their textiles. He preferred natural wool colors and deep aniline dyed red. The National Park Service has run the Hubbell Trading Post National Historic Site since 1967.

—KLAGETOH: meaning “Hidden Springs,” Klagetoh is a community south of Ganado on the Navajo Reservation in northeast Arizona. Though Ganado and Klagetoh weavings typically have similar central diamond motifs, those from the latter have a predominantly gray background.

—TEEC NOS POS: Named for a settlement in northeast Arizona, Teec Nos Pos textiles traditionally have been produced by Navajo people living around the Four Corners area. Since the turn of the 20th century, these boldly colored textiles have exhibited Persian rug design influences elements including a central design element and a wide border.

—TWO GREY HILLS: Named for a former trading post near U.S. Route 666 in northwest New Mexico, Two Grey Hills textiles are typically fine quality weavings of undyed handspun wool in white, brown, black and gray, and feature strong geometric designs. Designs are strong, crisp geometric patterns. Later textiles may contain commercially prepared wool.

—WIDE RUINS: This style is named for the former Wide Ruins Trading Post, where it originated about 1940. Located along U.S. Route 191 south of Ganado, Arizona., the trading post burned in 1986. The Wide Ruins-style rug is borderless and characterized by horizontal bands with stepped diamonds. Vegetable-dyed wool produces the pastel earth tones seen in these finely woven textiles, which evolved from the Chinle style.

Pearl Wisdom: Natural and Man-Made

At first glance, pearls may seem simple and uncomplicated, but there’s much more to their story than meets the eye.

There are two general classes of pearls: natural or man-made. Natural pearls are created by a living organism as a result of irritation. It occurs when a foreign object like a piece of shell or bone, or even another living thing, becomes stuck within an invertebrate with a soft shell, such as an oyster or mussel. In an act of protecting itself, the host organism begins to cover the foreign element in nacre, a crystalline material secreted by the organism. Over time, built-up layers of nacre cover the irritant. Because the process is not tied to any particular time schedule, the result is a product whose pattern, sheen, color, and dimensions are unique. Each natural pearl has its own individual identity.

Bulgari two-strand choker necklace with ruby rondelle beads and cultured pearls, 18K yellow gold clasp. Auctioned by Clars Auction Gallery for $70,000 + buyer’s premium on Feb. 19, 2012. Clars and LiveAuctioneers image

Man-made pearls, which do not rely on nature to take its course, are far more common than their natural counterparts. Also, pearl harvesting has been an ongoing pursuit for generations, so discoveries of old pearls are far less common than in the past.

Jewelry dealer and pearl appraiser Deborah Boskin, owner of db Designs, explained the effect that diminished supply has had on the pearl market. “The increase in interest and resale value for natural pearls has steadily grown over the past two decades,” she said.

This makes it an opportune time to sell natural pearls or turn one’s focus toward cultured pearls, which are available and affordable.   

Pearl Fact: Fewer than one in every 10,000 oysters produces a natural pearl of significant value.

To meet the growing demand for pearls, the practice of culturing pearls began in the late 19th century. It was the innovation of Kokichi Mikimoto that led to production of the first cultured pearls. After witnessing the depletion of oysters due to overharvesting in the waters near his homeland of Japan, Mikimoto sought to devise a process that would produce man-made, or cultured, pearls. Mikimoto achieved his goal in July of 1893 when he was able to culture a semi-spherical pearl, according to information from the Mikimoto website.

As explained on mikimotoamerica.com, cultured pearls transformed the opportunity of acquiring a pearl “from a chance to a certainty.” Not unlike nature’s process of creating a pearl, cultured pearls begin with a foreign object invading the tissue of an oyster. However, the object is placed inside the oyster by a technician, thus forcing the living organism to begin the process of coating the foreign element with nacre, according to information found at PurePearls.com. The process of creating cultured pearls may take place in either fresh or saltwater.

Opening oysters, extracting and cleaning pearls found inside, near the seaside town of Xiamen, China. Photo by Gauthier Delecroix, Creative Commons image.

Cultivating pearls in saltwater may take anywhere from 18 months to three years, while cultured pearls formed in freshwater settings, including lakes, rivers, and ponds, may be harvested as soon as two years after the process has commenced, says PurePearls.com.

Cultured seawater pearls generally come from one of three locations, which is also a definition of the type of pearl. Akoya cultured pearls are the most common and best known. These pearls are produced in Japan and China; while South Sea cultured pearls are produced in the waters off Australia, Indonesia, and the Philippines. Tahitian cultured pearls are cultivated around the islands of French Polynesia, most specifically Tahiti.

Pearl Fact: Archeological records reveal Mesopotamia was where natural pearls were discovered and first viewed as collectible gems. This took place around 2300 B.C., according to information obtained at the National Geographic website.

As fashion and cultural standards have changed, so, too, has the position of importance held by pearls.

Diamond and seed pearl necklace with central saltwater pearl measuring 60 centimeters. Auctioned for £1,300 ($1,600) in November 2017. Fellows and LiveAuctioneers image.

“For quite a while, every young woman owned and wore her cultured pearl strand as one of her primary pieces of jewelry. Japanese Akoya cultured pearls, both in graduated and uniform bead necklaces, were the status quo. Think of outfits in the 1950s and you can picture it,” Boskin said. “In the ’60s, styles began to change, and in the ’80s, South Sea cultured pearls came on strong. In the past few decades, people were inheriting cultured pearls necklaces from their grandmothers, aunts and mothers, but no one was wearing them, or buying them. On the secondary market, their value went down. There were too many sellers and too few buyers.”

She went on to say, “For South Sea pearls, the market was incredibly strong in both retail and secondary markets. The larger the pearl, the better, and people could own so many varieties – white, black, golden, bronze, pistachio colors in round, baroque and mixed strands,” Boskin continued. “Then in the 2000’s, the Chinese freshwater pearls being created began to be larger, rounder and with higher luster. Because they looked similar enough to South Sea pearls but were far less expensive, the South Sea market became quite soft. Today, the secondary market for cultured pearls overall seems to be slowly building back up.”

Although seawater cultured pearls are represented by a variety of types, these types are far less common than freshwater cultured pearls. Cultured pearls produced in seawater make up less than 10 percent of the global cultured pearl production, according to information found on the National Geographic website. In addition, seawater cultured pearls often have a higher value than freshwater pearls. Pearl farmers cultivating pearls in freshwater sources use mussels rather than oysters as the host, and they are able to insert a greater number of irritants into a single mussel, resulting in some 50 pearls at a time.

Baroque pearl and silver-inlay necklace. Jasper52 and LiveAuctioneers image

Pearl Facts: Pearl shapes and colors continue to evolve with technological advancements. Despite what may seem to be the case, the majority of cultured pearls are baroque, which simply means they are not round traditional pearls, but unique in shape.

If all this talk about pearls, natural and cultured, is igniting an interest in you to learn more, Boskin offers a few words of advice, starting with “buy what you love.” While jewelry does hold value, it is a relative value. It may not sell later for as much as its purchase price or insured “value.” Everything is continent on the whims of the market at any given point in time.

A final gem of wisdom about collecting pearls, natural or cultured, is to look for the best luster possible, Boskin said. Not only does luster enhance the beauty of a pearl, it tends to make the pearl more valuable.

Contact Deborah Boskin at http://www.deborahboskin.com.

Collecting Old Glory

The American Flag is an object of admiration and empowerment. Songs have been written about it, poems reference it, it’s the subject of artwork and countless designs, and it is at the core of the patriotism felt by many generations of Americans. The American flag also symbolizes the character of a nation and its people.

That’s a lot for a piece of textile to live up to, but the American Flag has done so for 250 years, since its design first began to take shape. To examine the changes in American Flag design over the centuries and the appeal it holds to collectors, we turned to foremost flag expert Jeff R. Bridgman, principal of Jeff R. Bridgman Antiques, Inc. www.jeffbridgman.com.

As Bridgman explained in his researched writing The Evolution of the Design of the American National Flag, the Sons of Liberty played an integral role in the foundation of the flag and its design. This came about in 1767 as the group worked to muster support within the colonies against British tyranny. History references the adoption, by the Sons of Liberty, of a flag featuring nine vertical stripes, alternating between white and red, as a symbol of the nine colonies that opposed the Stamp Act of 1765. Reports also point to the presence of flags featuring variations of the stripes, and the color selection, with the occasional inclusion of blue, in the design of flags seen during the early years of the Revolutionary War, according to Bridgman’s research.

Depiction of the Grand Union Flag, aka Continental Colors, thirteen horizontal stripes in alternating red and white, with the British Union Jack in its canton. Artwork by Hoshie.

An example of this is the “Grand Union” flag, largely accepted as the first national flag of the United States. This flag featured 13 stripes of alternating red and white, with the image of the British Union Flag positioned in its canton, at the top left corner. This flag would remain the generally accepted flag of the United States until June 14, 1777, when Flag Day was established and the recognizable “Stars & Stripes” version stitched by Betsy Ross was officially adopted. The resolution of the Second Continental Congress accepted on June 14, 1777 states: “Resolved, That the flag of the United States be made of thirteen stripes, alternate red and white; that the union be thirteen stars, white in a blue field, representing a new Constellation.”

Bridgman spoke of two other moments in the history of the flag’s design as being especially significant.

“The next would be 1795, when the flag was officially updated to include two more stars and two more stripes. In 1818 it was updated again, adding five more stars, but the stripe count was returned to the original thirteen. At the same time, it was decided that the flag would be updated annually, on July 4th, if any new states were added over the course of the ‘flag year,’” he said.

“For the first 135 years of our flag’s existence, it actually had no official star pattern, no official shades of red and blue, and no official proportions. There was also no official number of points that the stars had to have. All of this was decreed in 1912 via an Executive Order of President William Howard Taft.”

Hand-sewn cotton 34-star Civil War flag, canton incorporating the crosses of St. Andrew and St. George, possibly made with Southern sympathies, 1861-63. The stars are double-appliqued – sewn to both sides. Measures 48¾ by 68½ inches. Price: $26,500, available from www.jeffbridgman.com.

Bridgman went on to say, “Those were the big years. Also important was 1861. Before this date, private citizens seldom flew the Stars and Stripes. The onset of the Civil War and some related events changed all that.”

Flag Fact: The current version of the American Flag, featuring 13 alternating red and white stripes, and 50 stars on a blue background, has been in place since 1960 with Hawaii’s admittance into the Union as the 50th state.

With such a robust and multilayered history, it’s little wonder that American Flags are so coveted by collectors. In terms of current interest for the American Flag market, Bridgman cites the particular appeal of flags with historical ties. This places Civil War flags, both Confederate and Union, squarely in the arena of greatest popularity. Also influencing today’s collecting trends is the recent controversy over the Confederate battle flag. The removal of Confederate monuments is actually fueling the market for legitimate historical materials, Bridgman said, adding that collectors have a heightened sense of awareness about how our nation’s history is preserved.

“We use history to teach our kids about how we have grown as a nation. Confederate flags are a part of that,” he said. “They are a part about how we struggled and evolved. The objects that the war produced – textiles and otherwise – are beautiful and fascinating in their own right.”

Another area receiving attention from collectors are political campaign flags. “(They) are achieving results at auction like never before,” Bridgman said.

Evidence of Market Interest: In more than a few instances, antique campaign flags entered an elevated level at auction in 2017. During its July 2017 auction, Hakes’ Americana & Collectibles presented a selection of campaign flags that prompted several well-publicized bidding battles. For example, an 1860 Lincoln and Hamlin campaign flag sold for $40,124; and a John Bell Constitutional Union Party flag rose to $13,700, nearly tripling its high estimate of $5,000, according to an article posted by Antique Trader. Yet, the example that made auction history was a campaign flag touting James Buchanan and John C. Breckinridge as the Democratic Party’s running mates in the U.S. presidential election of 1856. The flag sold for a record-setting $275,000 during a May 2017 auction conducted by Heritage Auctions. The winning bidder was none other than Bridgman, according to an article posted by LiveAuctioneers’ Auction Central News.

1860 campaign parade flag with 33 stars in a pentagon medallion configuration and with an uncommon abbreviation of President Lincoln’s first name. The flag’s provenance includes a period of time when it was sewn into a quilt consisting of several rare political flags. Measures 11½ by 17 inches. Price: $48,000, available from www.jeffbridgman.com.

In addition to activity at auction and direct sales through his company, Bridgman is also witnessing the appeal and interest in American Flags first hand at the many shows he attends each year.

“(Shows) usually provide a ton of education for both collectors and dealers alike. Sometimes we learn as much or more from clients as we teach them. Shows are often full of educated, interested historians and collectors of all kinds,” said Bridgman. “They are a great place to actually see and touch material first hand and ask all of the questions necessary and get answers straight from the horse’s mouth, if you will.”

Attendance at shows helps with the overall education of a collector, which is something they will draw on for a lifetime. This is particularly important when people are purchasing flags from sellers via the Internet. The virtual world can provide unimaginable opportunity, but it also can be an overwhelming and confusing place for collectors just getting started, according to Bridgman. This speaks to the importance of educating oneself and becoming familiar with the history of both flags and textiles.

Tips From the Top: Bridgman’s Advice About Starting a Flag Collection

  • Buy from experts who have handled many flags. Don’t be drawn to the temptation of saving a dollar. If you do, you’ll more often lose dollars than win them. This goes for all categories of antiques and is in no way unique to flags. Whether it is silver, paintings, tramp art, decoys, porcelain, guns, or quilts, go to someone who knows their materials backwards and forwards and can be positively trusted to identify authenticity. A good deal will also tell you when they don’t know something.
  • After you’ve selected an expert and chosen some objects that you like, go with your gut. You’ll usually be happiest when you pick something you love.
  • Protect your investment by getting it mounted and framed by an expert in conservation of early textiles. Use U.V. protective glass or Plexiglas, change your lighting to LED, and minimize ambient light exposure when you are not using the space occupied by the textile.

With more than 25 years in the business of acquiring and selling flags, Bridgman’s appreciation for flags, their history and meaning runs deep.

“I love flags because they are not only an objectification of my love for America, its history and all it was intended by our forefathers to stand for, but also what America offers to people with the wherewithal follow to their dreams,” he said. “I also love the flag for the artistic achievement of the people who made it in the 18th and 19th centuries, when people had the liberty to design it as they chose.”

Thirteen-star American Navy jack with a diamond configuration that is unique among 13-star flags, likely made for a Hudson River paddle wheel steamer, circa 1880-1895. The jack flag is flown at the bow (front) of a military ship when at anchor or moored. Measures 23¾ by 35¼ inches, mounted and framed by Bridgman Antiques, Inc., conservation department. Price: $9,800, available from www.jeffbridgman.com.

At any given time, Bridgman has about 2,500 flags in stock, with the majority dating to the 19th century, some from the 20th century. Interestingly, recently he re-acquired a flag he had sold years ago. His in-depth explanation about the flag’s provenance demonstrates the type of appreciation Bridgman has for flags, and his intention to help others cultivate that appreciation for themselves.

The flag he re-acquired, Bridgman explained, is “a Liberation flag, made in France to celebrate the arrival of American troops following the Normandy invasion. Specifically, it was given to the 3rd Squad of the 8th Infantry Regiment (Motorized), which served under the 4th Infantry Division during the June 6 attack.”

He went on to say, “On the following day, the unit relived the famous 82nd Airborne Division at Ste. Mere/Eglise, battling German tanks and Panzer Regiments. Members of the French resistance movement presented the flag to the 3rd squadron while passing through French territory, and the squad proceeded to carry it through the balance of the war.”

“It has a beautiful, light blue, silk canton and wide red stripes that are a deep scarlet,” Bridgman said, describing the flag. “Like many of the flags I love best, it’s beautiful and unusual as well as historical.”

Finally, when asked about the valuable lessons that can be learned from exploring the American Flag’s long design evolution, Bridgman offered the following thoughts:

“[An appreciation for] quality hard work and a job well done, caringly delivered, value in handcrafted construction and thoughtful design; pride in patriotic love for our country, its people, and the men and women of our military who, with their own will and that of many great presidents and leaders, have afforded us all of the things we have today.”

He continued: “Many of these we take for granted, wanting more and more, and demanding special attention at every turn. A historic flag reminds me of a simpler time, when men and women made their own happiness from their own sweat and endeavors, and thanked God for what this great nation made available.”

To learn more about American flags, visit www.jeffbridgman.com.

 

Links to sources mentioned:

“Evolution of the Design of the American National Flag”:
http://www.jeffbridgman.com/pdf/2017-THE%20EVOLUTION%20OF%20THE%20DESIGN%20OF%20THE%20AMERICAN%20NATIONAL%20FLAG%20FROM%201767%20-%201912,%20AS%20IT%20RELATES%20TO%20COLLECTING%20ANTIQUE%20EXAMPLES.pdf

Flag Fact:
http://www.ushistory.org/betsy/flagfact.html

Sale of Lincoln and Hamlin flag through Hake’s:
http://www.antiquetrader.com/antiques/collectibles/1860-campaign-flag-sets-world-record/

Sale of Buchanan flag through Heritage:
https://www.liveauctioneers.com/news/auctions/auction-results/james-buchanan-1856-campaign-flag-posts-world-record-heritage-auctions/

Richard Avedon: Life through the lens

“If a day goes by without my doing something related to photography, it’s as though I’ve neglected something essential to my existence, as though I had forgotten to wake up.” — Richard Avedon

This quote from iconic 20th-century photographer Richard Avedon speaks to the deep passion he felt toward photography. It was a passion he summoned in capturing on film the essence of people, the various experiences and emotions of life, and the evolving landscape of culture.

The Beatles Portfolio: John Lennon, Ringo Starr, George Harrison and Paul McCartney, circa 1967, London, four dye-transfer prints, printed 1990, 21 5/8 x 17 3/8 in. each, signed and numbered 1/6 in ink in the margin. Sold for $600,000 at auction in October of 2011. Phillips and LiveAuctioneers image.

During his 60-year career, Avedon produced portraits of leaders and legends, including Marilyn Monroe, Malcolm X, Gloria Vanderbilt, Dr. J. Robert Oppenheimer, and the Duke and Duchess of Windsor. He revealed the glamorous world of fashion in its most authentic state, and, in stark contrast, the somber realities of life inside a mental institution.

One thing that is evident in Avedon’s work is that it didn’t matter if the subject was famous, infamous or unknown. From his perspective behind the lens of a camera, all were of equal importance.   

Portrait of elderly woman, borderless gelatin silver print, unmounted, 6¾ x 9¼ in. Sold for $340 during a January 2018 auction. Jasper52 and LiveAuctioneers image

Fun fact: Avedon was a pioneer in America’s mid-century advertising culture. His photography helped shape campaigns that made Calvin Klein, Revlon and Versace, among others, household names on an international scale.

Born in 1923 to parents with familial ties to fashion – one in manufacturing and the other in sales – it’s easy to see how Avedon’s interest in clothing came about. A love of photography took hold in his pre-teen years after joining New York City’s Young Men’s Hebrew Association Camera Club, according to Biography.com.

Avedon’s interest in photography continued to grow throughout his high school years, and he honed his skills after joining the Merchant Marine. He served as a photographer’s mate second class, from 1942 to 1944, assigned to shoot photo portraits for mariners’ identification cards. After fulfilling his commitment to the Merchant Marine, Avedon continued to study the mechanics of photography, both in academic settings and on the job. This resulted in a variety of opportunities that allowed him to photograph world leaders, entertainers and everyday people.

Groucho Marx, gelatin silver print, taken in 1972 and printed in 1975, signed, numbered 11/50 in ink, 15¾ x 15 in. Sold for $8,500 during an October 2011 auction. Phillips and LiveAuctioneers image

Fun Fact: Securing a job as a photographer at either Harper’s Bazaar or Vogue would have been a career pinnacle for Avedon, but he actually worked at both, for extended periods of time. His career highlights also included joining The New Yorker as its first full-time staff photographer.

After a 1955 exhibition of his work at the Museum of Modern Art, Avedon became a global name, with his photographs appearing at many other prestigious institutions around the world. They included the Smithsonian Institution, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Whitney Museum of American Art, Minneapolis Institute of Art, University Art Museum at Berkeley, and the Carnegie Museum of Art, as well as countless galleries.

JudyGarland exhibition portrait taken at the Palace Theater, New York, in 1951, gelatin silver matte, photographer signature on recto, 11 x 13¾ in. Sold for $3,750 during a March 2010 auction. Profiles in History and LiveAuctioneers image.

In March, an exhibition featuring 27 photos of President John F. Kennedy and family taken by Avedo, concluded at the Springfield Museum in Massachusetts. According to information on the Springfield Museum’s website, Avedon was the lone photographer granted permission to take official White House-approved photos of the Kennedy family during the time between Kennedy’s election and Inauguration Day.

From various accounts, it appears Avedon lived his life the way he had hoped he would, and it seems his death kept with the script. On Oct. 1, 2004, Avedon died from a cerebral hemorrhage – while shooting photographs for The New Yorker in Texas.

“If each photograph steals a bit of the soul, isn’t it possible that I give up pieces of mine every time I take a picture?” — Richard Avedon

Sources:

https://www.biography.com/people/richard-avedon-9193034; https://www.avedonfoundation.org/history/; https://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/2013/sep/20/big-picture-richard-avedon-women

5 Authors of Young Adult Fiction You Should Know

Growing up can be glorious, exhilarating and difficult—and that might very well be just one day. For generations, writers have explored this most complex, yet all too relatable topic, in the genre of literature commonly known as Young Adult Fiction, or simply YA.

The past couple of decades have been a boon to this genre of literature. Global YA sensations include series such as Harry Potter, Twilight, The Hunger Games and The Shadowhunter Chronicles, and singular top-sellers including A Fault in Our Stars, The Absolutely True Story of a Part-Time Indian, The Book Thief and most recently The Hate U Give, captivating audiences of all ages, backgrounds and regions.

First edition of ‘Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone,’ author’s presentation copy inscribed by J.K. Rowling to the family of her daughter’s nursery school chum, one of only 500 copies printed in 1997. Sold for about $140,738 at Bonhams in November 2017. Bonhams image

However, these modern-day reflections of the accomplishment and angst that often accompany the period of life between childhood and adulthood are part of a legacy of literature that helped generations of people through the most trying times. Do vintage classics including Charlotte’s Web, The Outsiders, The Catcher in the Rye, the Nancy Drew and Hardy Boys series, and The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn ring a bell?

Legendary List: One of the most extensive lists of “best of the best” in YA was compiled by Time magazine: http://time.com/100-best-young-adult-books/

In no specific order, we’ll look at five authors of Young Adult Fiction whose contributions to literature provided voices of truth for millions of young people. These works also afford those with a passion for literature and collecting the unique opportunity to amass a library of references that speak volumes and can become a cherished collection.

—Judy Blume: Born in 1938 and raised in Elizabeth, New Jersey, she currently resides in Key West, Florida, with her husband, where they operate the nonprofit Books & Books @ The Studios. She’s the award-winning author of 29 books including the revolutionary YA works Freckle Juice, Blubber and Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret. Her first book was published in 1969. Her books dealt with topics not often discussed with young adults of 1970s America. Subjects including teen sex, birth control, bullying, body image and death.

In addition to selling more than 85 million copies of her books, which include versions in 32 languages, Blume has long been an active advocate of the National Coalition Against Censorship, according to information on judyblume.com.

—John Greene: Born in 1977 in Indianapolis, Ind. He is an award-winning novelist specializing in YA fiction. To date, he’s authored five books and co-authored an additional two, with two of his books (A Fault in Our Stars and Paper Towns) transformed into feature films. In an uncommon, but innovative move, Green teamed up with fellow YA author David Levithan (New York Times best-selling author of Every Day and Invisibility) to co-author the series Will Grayson, according to Green’s official site, www.johngreenebooks.com. Another element of his body of work is viewable via YouTube. In the virtual universe, he teamed up with his brother, Hank, more than a decade ago to communicate primarily through video blogs at vlogbrothers.com on YouTube (https://www.youtube.com/user/vlogbrothers). The brothers also developed the program Crash Course (https://www.youtube.com/user/crashcourse), which features vlogs where the subjects of history, literature, economics, biology, chemistry and government, among others, are discussed. Each program is led by an expert in the field. At present, the Crash Course channel has 7.4 million subscribers, and the vlogbrothers greet a community of 3.1 million subscribers on YouTube.

YA Perspective: “The defining characteristic of YA literature is emotional truth,” responded David Levithan, author of Every Day, in an article appearing in The Atlantic. “Even if we’re not the same as the characters we read, they are all dealing with things—issues of who they are, who they should be, what they should and shouldn’t do—that we all deal with, in their own ways. With The Hunger Games, even if we will never be in Katniss’s shoes, the decisions she makes make emotional sense to us—even when she makes the wrong ones.”

—Jason Reynolds (1970): In his own words this Brooklyn-based writer plans to: NOT WRITE BORING BOOKS. Based on the sales of and accolades surrounding the 11 books he’s written, it appears he is on target with his goal. Graduating from The University of Maryland, College Park, he’s earned a litany of awards in the nine years since the debut of this New York Times bestselling author’s first novel. He’s the winner of a Kirkus Award, Walter Dean Myers Award, an NAACP Image Award, and several Coretta Scott King honors. This is in addition to being named a Newberry Award, Printz Award and National Book Award honoree, according to his author’s page at the site of his publisher, Simon & Schuster.

Jason Reynolds ‘As Brave as You,’ published in 2016, is a Kirkus Award finalist, Schneider Family Book Award winner, and a Coretta Scott King Award winner. It is the story of two young brothers from Brooklyn who spend the summer with their grandparents in Virginia. Simon & Schuster image

Among the YA books Reynolds’ has written is Ghost, All American Boys, Long Way Down, For Every One, and As Brave as You.

—J.K. Rowling (1965): Is a native of Gloucestershire, England, the daughter of an aircraft engineer for Rolls Royce and a science technician in the chemistry department at Wycedean Comprehensive, where Rowling received her education, according to information obtained at her site. Her first book came together when she was 6, and at the age of 11, she had penned her first novel: a story about seven diamonds and their owners.

Following her graduation from university, she worked in London, and her career included work as a researcher with Amnesty International. The idea for Harry Potter was perceived in 1990, and in the course of five years’ time Rowling developed the entire series. She taught English for the next several years until her first book was published by Bloomsbury Children’s Books in 1997. In 2001, Warner Bros. debuted the film version of the first book, which was followed by eight more films recounting the series, ending the final film Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2, which was released in 2011.

Although Rowling began as an author of children’s literature, the Harry Potter series had evolved to such a point that, by the publication of the fourth book (Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire), her work was classified as young adult fiction, as well.

—J.D. Salinger (1919-2010): Another native New Yorker, Jerome David Salinger was not a successful student, and ultimately was sent to the Valley Forge Military Academy in Wayne, Pennsylvania. Later he took evening classes at Columbia University, where he met Whit Burnett, a professor who ultimately helped Salinger get his work published.

He was drafted during World War II, during which time he began working on chapters of a book featuring the life and experiences of young Holden Caulfield. According to Biography.com. In 1951, Salinger’s work was published as The Catcher in the Rye. Although it is now regarded as an example of classic young adult fiction, early on it received its share of criticism and calls for censorship, as well as praise. It went on to sell 65 million copies. However, it also became part of the story involving the tragic assassination of John Lennon in 1980. Mark David Chapman, the man who murdered Lennon, had a copy of The Catcher in the Rye and said the reason for the attack was spelled out in the book.

Young Adult Fiction Fact: The Harry Potter series has sold more copies than the combined populations of the United States, Canada, Australia, and the UK. (Source: BookRiot.com)

As history has proven, there are always stories to be shared and lessons from which to learn. Some of the most poignant, relatable, influential and inspiring are those told through the experiences and eyes of young adults.

The Allure of Crystals & Geological Specimens

Double-terminated tourmaline crystal, obtained in Pech Valley, Afghanistan. Minerals Paradise image

The Allure of Crystals & Geological Specimens

Crystals and natural specimens are some of the most stunning and scientifically fascinating non-living objects in the universe. There is often remarkable symmetry within the way their atoms responded to time, pressure, and heat during the “growth” process of these beautiful objects of nature.

Crystals are comprised of a pattern of ions, atoms, and molecules that evolve within various states. Jeffrey Post, Ph.D., is curator of the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History. He states in an article about the Smithsonian Gem and Mineral Collection, for the Gemological Institute of America, one of the goals in maintaining such a collection is to provide a way in which people can “…think about the earth in a different way.”

A matrix of opaque and soft translucent gray quartz crystals, offset by rod-like inclusions of rich black manganese, with a spray of aquamarine crystal rods three inches long, 6 x 5 x 3½ inches overall. Sold for $45,000 during a 2014 auction. I.M. Chait Gallery and Auctioneers and LiveAuctioneers image.

At this current time in history, when information about nearly anything can be gathered quickly and easily, the discovery of crystals and other non-living mineral specimens in the field requires time, focus and dedication. There’s a lot of ground to cover, as it were, when it comes to “rockhounding.” People who “rockround,” or dig for, discover and collect crystals, rocks and mineral specimens, are part of a lineage that dates back centuries. Rockhounds have varied goals. For some it’s about creating a collection; for others, it’s to study the scientific aspects of specimens. Still others incorporate geological specimens into lapidary art, or turn to crystals and other natural specimens for their reputed healing properties. Thanks to rock, gem and mineral shows; as well as various retail outlets, collectors don’t necessarily have to dig to acquire the objects they desire.

To gain a better understanding of this collecting interest, we turned to self-confessed rockhound and dealer Muhammad Majid, of Minerals Paradise (http://www.mineralsparadise.com), to share some insight. Majid’s father, a pioneer of the gem and mineral market, started the family business in Namak Mandi Peshawar, a city in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Pakistan. It is one of the world’s largest markets for mineral specimens. The Majid family specializes in tourmalines, morganites, aquamarine, topaz, and many lesser-known stones including tantalite, microlites and herderites.

An etched Heliodore crystal specimen from Wolodarski-Wolynski, in the Ukraine, a gem beryl “floater” crystal of saturated, slightly greenish yellow hue and excellent transparency, natural surface etching with complex crystal faces, 12.70 x 5.10 x 3.80 cm, sold for $19,000 during a 2014 auction. Leslie Hindman Auctioneers and LiveAuctioneers image

How would you describe today’s collecting market for crystals and geological specimens? How has it changed in the past few years?

Majid: The market has changed drastically. We had buyers who were buying rare minerals in the past, but now most collectors prefer the common minerals such as tourmalines, morganites, and aquamarines, among others. Prices have also gone sky high in recent years.

What advice would you give someone who is just discovering an interest in collecting crystals and specimens?

Majid: In my opinion, one should not just start collecting crystals and minerals; they should study them, their characteristics, and also their pricing, because minerals have no fixed value.

Physical properties minerals to consider:

    Color

    Luster (assists with determining if a mineral has a metallic or non-metallic luster and is light-reflective or dull)

    Translucence

    Hardness (for comparison of density from one mineral to another)

    Size

Rose quartz, “La Madona Rosa” specimen, discovered in the Lavra Berilo Branco mine in Brazil in the late 1950s, given the name for its resemblance to the artistic depictions of the Virgin Mary, measuring 15½ x 8 inches. Sold for $662,500 during a June 2013 auction. Heritage Auctions image.

What are some of the most helpful tools for collectors of crystals and natural specimens?

Majid: Having an idea about the pricing of a mineral is the most important thing. As I said, minerals and crystals have no fixed value. For this purpose, I think the Internet is the best available source.

In recent years, which two crystals or specimens that you’ve sold were most memorable and why?

Majid: I sold one 4 kilogram double-terminated and undamaged aquamarine specimen to one of my regular buyers. It was a significant deal and I had to go to the Nagar mines twice in one week to acquire the specimen. It’s a 22-hour drive from our city to the Nagar mine.

Also, in February of this year, I sold a morganite specimen. I made a deal with my buyer, but then the miner refused to give the specimen to me, even though I had paid half in advance. I wanted to get that specimen for my buyer at any cost because it would destroy my reputation if I were unable to do so. The buyer had paid $15,000 for that specimen, and I had to pay $17,000 to the miner to get it for the buyer.

___________

Tourmaline with albite crystal specimen. Minerals Paradise image

Crystals and geological specimens may be enjoyed in public exhibitions around the world. Among the places within the United States where sizable collections of crystals, minerals, and other geological specimens are displayed include:

• Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History, Washington, D.C.: https://naturalhistory.si.edu
• Rice Northwest Museum of Rocks and Minerals, Hillsboro, Ore.: https://ricenorthwestmuseum.org
• Natural History Museum, Los Angeles, Calif.: https://nhm.org
• American Museum of Natural History, New York, N.Y.: https://www.amnh.org (Renovation is currently under way at the new Allison and Roberto Mignone Halls of Gems and Minerals. The halls will open in the fall of 2019.
• Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History, Santa Barbara, Calif.: http://www.sbnature.org

The Meaders family: Southern stoneware innovators

The Meaders family may not have been the first to produce Southern stoneware, but its members were, and still are, among the most influential and imaginative contributors to the genre.

Theirs is a pottery-making story of happenstance. Before the commercial availability of containers made of tin and glass, or the luxurious invention of refrigeration, 19th- and 20th-century potters created valuable vessels for carrying and containing perishables and goods.

Anytime a region’s soil was found to be dense with clay, the area would soon become the site of pottery operations. White County, Georgia, was just such a place. It’s reported that at one point during the 20th century, Mossy Creek, located in southern White County, boasted nearly 100 potters among its residents. Included within those numbers was John Milton Meaders, who founded Meaders Pottery in 1892-93.

Cleater & Billie Meaders Grape and Snake jug, signed on bottom and dated Nov. 18, 1992, applied grape clusters, grape leaves and handles, with curved, open-mouthed snake coiled around the vessel, tobacco-spit glaze, 18½ in. tall by 11 in. wide. Sold for $500. Image courtesy of John Coker, Ltd., and LiveAuctioneers

Various historical accounts indicate the Meaders family turned to potting to augment the income they generated as farmers. The elder Meaders viewed the new pursuit as a way for his six sons to learn a trade that could serve them for years. Apparently, that idea was well received, as five of his sons became potters, including Cheever Meaders. Between 1920 and 1967, Cheever ran Meaders Pottery. Following suit and learning the trade were Cheever’s sons Edwin, Cleater – who ran separate potteries – and Lanier, who carried on the operation of Meaders Pottery. If Lanier’s name sounds familiar, it may be due to the popularity of his unique face jugs.

To learn more about this family of potters, their influence and insights about collecting Meaders stoneware, we turn to John Coker, the principal of John Coker Ltd., an auction house located in eastern Tennessee that has been in operation since 1971. Coker has auctioned fine examples of Southern stoneware on numerous occasions.

Are there pottery-making techniques in the Meaders family lineage that stand out for their unique, efficient or progressive characteristics?

While the Meaderses’ pieces are unique, other makers produce close replicas of face jugs and other creations that originated with the extended Meaders family. Keep in mind that like any business, the customer usually gets what he or she wants. If the need was for a churn, large jug, butter crock or canning crock, the Meaderses, like any other potters, made what was salable. Usually, such utilitarian pots were plain, but the glaze usually tells a collector it is a Meaders piece. After Cheever passed away, some modern methods of turning were employed, as in replacing a mule with a small turning motor for the wheel, but basically, not much changed from the creative standpoint.

Large pottery jug, 17 1/2 in. tall by 9 in. wide, applied handles, signed on the base ‘Lanier Meaders,’ tobacco-spit glaze, sold for $425. Image courtesy John Coker, Ltd. and LiveAuctioneers image

It seems early examples of work by the Meaders family were at the forefront of studies of American folk art and life. How do you think the Meaderses’ contributions helped shape Southern folk art and 20th-century pottery?

Many of the regional potters from western North Carolina, northern Georgia, and eastern Tennessee studied and purchased Meaders family face jugs to see how they were made – what colors were used for glazes, how the eyes were formed, the way broken porcelain ‘teeth’ were inserted, the ways that cigars or tobacco products were used, and the methods by which warts and facial deformities were represented. Also, it was about seeing how the jugs or pots were formed, and from what angle they were made to be viewed. I have seen collections that began with pots made by Lanier’s parents (Cheever and Arie) with a progression through the cousins, as well as other regional makers who were adept at copying the style and adding quirks of their own. Having seen numerous collections where the owners personally met Lanier and his mother, it seems many felt a connection to the Meaders family. Over the years they’d choose to stay in touch with them, as well as acquiring different pots when they found something different enough from what was already in their collection.

A graduated set of lidded canister jars by Arie Meaders featuring a grape-and leaf-motif on bulbous-form bodies, ranging in size from 10¼ in. high by 7½ in. wide to 11½ in. high by 8 in. wide. The set sold for $5,600. Case Antiques Inc. and LiveAuctioneers image

Are face jugs the most desirable Meaders’ items?

The Meaderses were adaptable craftsmen, but the face jugs were probably the best-known and most collected pieces they made. Part of their creations were face jug mugs or big cups with handles, as well as whimsical pieces. These creations include the only [example] of a human head made as a bust but not a jug. It had a large open mouth with broken teeth, a cut on the face sewn up with stitches, bulging eyes, grotesque ears and a glaze that almost looked like something that had crawled out of a grave. The Meader potters were capable of making utilitarian objects, and this specifically included candle holders with a large drip area and a loop handle. Mrs. Meaders also made jelly, jam or sugar bowls, most with lids, that collectors both use and love. The glazed surfaces of these containers are unusual and arresting in appearance. Many have a grainy or slightly rough exterior. They are by no means pretty. Some of the Meaderses’ large pots, crocks or urns are knee-high and above, but these are not normal or usual by any means. They also made milk or beverage pitchers that were somewhere between one-quarter and one-half-gallon capacity. The palette of the glaze on these was close to, if not the same as, the surfaces of the face jugs, but not necessarily made as a match.

 

Lanier Meaders face jug, eyes with bluish-gray dripping glaze, tobacco-spit glaze on vessel, applied ears, open mouth. Sold for $1,800. Image courtesy of John Coker, Ltd., and LiveAuctioneers

How would you describe today’s market for Southern art pottery? Specifically Meaders-made?

This is a market that seems to be consistently going up, with the more unusual pieces bringing larger amounts of money. Lanier is, of course, the choice of most collectors but his father, Cheever, and mother, Arie, as well as his grandfather, John, are collected; with John being the originator of the face jugs in the family. Some of the Dorsey and Craven families of White County, Georgia, made similar pieces that are on occasion confused with Meaders pieces but are older. In addition, the older Brown and J.B. Owens Pottery pieces from North Carolina are close to the Meaders pieces. At auction today, you can expect that the Lanier pieces will generally do better than any of the other makers, but there is an adage among collectors that “odd or weird will always trump good any day.” The pieces that collectors love and are most attracted to are the highly unusual pieces that they have never seen and know they are likely never to see again. Hence, one of the reasons for their strong prices in today’s market.

Folk pottery rooster, cobalt glazed, features pronounced comb and waddles, seven-feather tail, incised signature and ‘5-26-1990’ date under the base, Edwin ‘Nub’ Meaders, 16½ in. tall by 7½ in. long, sold for $275. Jeffrey S. Evans & Associates and LiveAuctioneers image

What advice do you have for people interested in acquiring Meaders pottery? What insights do you have for helping people authenticate Meaders pottery?

The Smithsonian produced a film, “The Meaders Family: North Georgia Potters,” as the inaugural film in its Smithsonian Folklife Study. A DVD of the film is available through the Smithsonian. Plus, there is a collection of Meaders Pottery displayed at the Folk Pottery Museum of Northeast Georgia.

Finally, as Coker stated, time spent studying and becoming familiar with Meaders pottery by attending auctions are helpful would be most helpful in learning more about the South’s most celebrated family of stoneware artisans.

Weegee: Gritty photos of urban life

Heralded and criticized for revealing the darker side of society through the lens of cameras, pioneering photojournalist Weegee captured the reality of a world he knew only too well.

Born in 1899 in what was Lemberg, Austria, Usher Fellig, who would later adopt the professional name “Weegee,” emigrated from his homeland to the United States with his family in 1909. The 11-year-old’s given name was changed to Arthur during immigration processing at Ellis Island. Just two years later he would run away from home, joining the throngs of children living on the streets of New York, the very streets on which he would later photograph the subjects and scenes that made him widely known.

‘Mother and Child, Harlem,’ 1939, gelatin silver, printed later, annotated ‘printed by Weegee from the original negative, Louis Stettner’ in pencil with the photographer’s stamp on verso, 13 1/8 in. x 10 5/8 in. Sold for $1,900 at an April 2016 auction. Heritage Auctions and LiveAuctioneers image.

His early years living in the belly of the concrete jungle prepared him for his career as a crime photographer, a job that kept him busy, given the upheaval present in New York City during the Great Depression. As reported by The Art Story, Weegee made use of his familiarity of the city, its more colorful spaces and characters, and his ability to get in good with the local police to get the jump on other photographers as crime stories were breaking. His connections and street savvy may have put him in the prime position, but it was his eye and photography skills that secured his place in American photojournalism history.

To gain a better understanding of the impact and influence of Weegee, we spoke with Christopher George, the imaging technician at the International Center for Photography, an institution dedicated to photography and visual culture. Through exhibitions, school, public programs and community outreach, ICP provides an open forum for dialogue about the role that photographs, videos and news media play in society today.

For the past 15-plus years, George has managed the scanning of more than 20,000 photos by Weegee. The archive of photos originally came to the organization in 1993. Some 16,000 photographs and 7,000 negatives by Weegee were bequeathed to ICP by Weegee’s longtime companion, Wilma Wilcox. The New York Times has called the ICP ‘Weegee Central.” During his years at ICP, George has also gathered materials such as newspapers and magazines, continuing to build on the work set in motion by Miles Barth and his team to research and best represent Weegee’s work.

Rare example of a photograph of Weegee; inscribed ‘To Joe;’ dated 1949, mounted on photo board, previously belonged to Joe Jasger, a fellow photographer, 11¾ in. x 9 1/8 in. Sold for $1,400 during a May 2013 auction. Kaminski Auctions and LiveAuctioneers image.

What photography techniques and processes used by Weegee are most influential?

His ingenious techniques were ahead of their time. Early in his career, he was processing film in a repurposed ambulance and in a subway, when speed and getting a photo published first was crucial. Late in his career, he used kaleidoscopes and other techniques – both on camera and in the darkroom – to produce “distortions.” These were prescient and not unlike Photoshop and app filters of today, except it was in the 1950s and early ’60s. Plus, he was known for his use of flash photography and his instinct for self-promotion.

Gelatin silver print, circa 1960, stamped studio mark to verso ‘Credit Photo by Weegee the famous,’ and inscribed to lower margin, 10 in. x 8 in. Sold for $300 during a June 2016 auction. Wright and LiveAuctioneers image.

FUN FACT: Legend has it the name “Weegee” came about in response to Fellig’s uncanny ability to be the first on the scene of an accident, sometimes even before authorities. Word spread that it was because he turned to a Ouija board for information. Hence his choice to change his name to the phonetic spelling of the popular board game. Weegee was the first citizen in New York to be granted a police radio, and would tune into the police frequency for leads to chase up.

In your estimation, how did Weegee help shape the practice of crime photojournalism?

In the words of Ralph Steiner: “… I can say something about why he is a great photographer, which he certainly is. His greatness as a crime photographer grows out of three things: First his willingness to live entirely for his work. Second, his ingenuity in carrying it out. Third, his very intelligent approach to a kind of material which other photographers treat in a routine manner. And there is the all-important fact that Weegee, unlike the majority of photographers I have met, is a rich personality. You can’t squeeze blood from a stone; nor can you an editor squeeze good pictures out of a stony photographer. Weegee moves in a world of violence, brutality, bloodshed and horror, but the pictures he brings up out of it do not depend entirely on the drama of the event. They are good because Weegee adds a little of himself – a little of Weegee is really something.” This commentary appears in an article that appeared in the March 9, 1941, issue of PM Daily.

Also, George went on to say:

He pioneered the use of a police radio, both in his car and apartment/studio. Often when he photographed an “event” or “crime,” he made sure to include the people affected by the crime, an “audience” or spectators. For example, the photo Their First Murder shows people who were affected, and also not affected or oblivious to, a crime, a death, a dead person in their proximity and field of vision. Weegee also photographed that dead body, but it’s the people’s reaction to the crime that is remembered today… .

After concluding that most fires and people who were no longer living look pretty much alike, he would often look for a “human element,” things that were ironic or funny.   

His use of “found” language and signs is unparalleled. In the photo Joy of Living there’s a dead body – a traffic accident victim – covered in newspapers, a crowd of people (an audience), and above it all is a movie marquee that reads, in part: “Joy of Living.”

Vintage gelatin silver print dated Feb. 24, 1942, 11¼ in. x 14 in. Sold for $6,000 during a Nov. 2013 auction. Santa Monica Auctions and LiveAuctioneers image

How did society of the day and the culture Weegee was part of present itself in his work?

Something that is perhaps lesser-known, or underappreciated, or underrecognized (about his work) is the influence of World War II. Like most people alive in the early ’40s, the war was ever-present. Even in one of his most famous photos, The Critic, World War II plays an important role.

What noted photographers and artists appear to be influenced by Weegee’s work?

Diane Arbus was greatly influenced. Perhaps Louis Faurer was as well, in addition to Leon Levinstein. wwwzBeginning in the early 1930s and continuing throughout his life, Weegee took many self-portraits (or had friends take his photo). Sometimes he would wear different clothes and play different roles: the reporter, the curious passerby, an arrested criminal, an ice cream seller, a protester, a best-selling author, etc. One time he dressed up as a circus clown and photographed the circus and circus audience as a camera-holding clown. I don’t know if Cindy Sherman was influenced by these photos, they aren’t well-known, but Weegee and Cindy have made similar photos.

Gelatin silver print of a human cannon ball (a woman being fired from a cannon), circa 1943, Weegee Collection stamp on lower left, and written in pencil on verso, 25 in. x 21 in. Sold for $2,000 during a November 2016 auction. Clars Auction Gallery and LiveAuctioneers image.

What makes Weegee’s work appealing to photographers and collectors more than 90 years after his professional photography career began?

Because the photos are so great! There’s a lot of “depth” to his best photos. They can be funny, and sad. Most of his well-known photos were made from about 1937 to 1945 — a relatively short amount of time). Perhaps all were “commercial” — made to be sold to newspapers and magazines, but it was about more than that. Weegee began his life in poverty, as an immigrant from Eastern Europe; lived and struggled through the depression; was financially comfortable for a few years; and then lived with very little money and in not-great health, for about 20 years.

What do you believe today’s photographers and photo artists can learn from Weegee’s work?

He was an individualist and a humanist. Perhaps one thing that is not always acknowledged is how hard and how much he worked. He was incredibly prolific. Like most geniuses, he was born at the right time and place. He grew up in poverty, dropped out of school early, found his “calling,” worked extremely hard, became successful — when he was around 45 — and then lived another 25 hardscrabble years — with not a lot of success.

Gelatin silver print, ‘Girls at the Bar,’ circa 1946, artist’s representative’s credit stamp on verso, 13 3/8 in. x 10½ in. Sold for $6,000 during an April 2006 auction. Phillips and LiveAuctioneers image.

Weegee’s own words answer the question with first-person examples.

“Most photographers always use the same old methods. We’ll assume that a horse-drawn wagon is going over the Williamsburg Bridge. A car hits it, and the driver is tossed into the water and gets killed. The other photographers will take a picture of the bridge and then have an artist draw a diagram showing how the guy fell into the water. What I do is go and see what happened to the poor old horse.”

“When I take a picture of a fire, I forget all about the burning building, and I go out to the human element. If I see a woman standing by a fire engine and crying, it’s much better than a picture of the building. The building is just a spectacle.”

“A photographer should have confidence in himself, and if he gets a good idea, he should go take it, even if everybody laughs at him.” PM Daily, March 9, 1941

George offers one final gem of insight about Weegee: In June of this year, the first extensive biography about Weegee will be released: FLASH: The Making of Weegee The Famous, by Christopher Bonanos. It will be published by Henry Holt & Co., a division of Macmillan Publishers.

To view the book, visit https://us.macmillan.com/books/9781627793063.

Books published by Weegee that contain his photographs include Naked City (1945), and Weegee’s People (1946) and Naked Hollywood (1953).