The Enduring Value of Baccarat Crystal

Baccarat calls itself the world’s most renowned crystal manufacturer, and after two and a half centuries in operation, few would argue that claim.

The company’s chandeliers have illuminated the grandest palaces, halls and restaurants around the world. Its crystal stemware has graced the tables of monarchs, presidents and popes. Its bottles have held the most expensive fragrances.

An assortment of Baccarat Harcourt glassware. Image courtesy of LiveAuctioneers archive and Main Auction Gallery

The company now known as Baccarat began modestly in 1764 in the town of Baccarat in the Lorraine region of France, which has a tradition of glassmaking. The glasshouse’s early output consisted mainly of utilitarian soda glass. A change in ownership in 1817 led to the production of lead-crystal glass.

Awarded a gold medal at the National Exhibition of Industrial Products in 1823 for its crystal, Baccarat’s first royal commission was a table service for King Louis XVIII and the Tuileries Palace in Paris.

This Baccarat Louis XV-style dore bronze chandelier from the turn of the 20th century sold for more than $50,000 at Dallas Auction Gallery in 2009. Image courtesy of LiveAuctioneers Archive and Dallas Auction Gallery

On a visit by King Charles X in 1828, Baccarat honored the French monarch with a cut crystal pitcher bearing the arms of France and Navarre in gold.

In 1832 Baccarat opened its first shop in Paris at 30 rue de Paradis. Festooned with chandeliers, it is billed as a temple dedicated to crystal.

The company was awarded a second gold medal at the 1839 National Exhibition of Industrial Products, this time for its colored crystal. Eight years later, the company introduced its now-famous Baccarat Red, using 24K gold powder as the key ingredient in the formula.

Based on a commission by French sovereign Louis-Philippe, Baccarat introduced its iconic Harcourt crystal tableware line in 1841. Baccarat describes the design thusly: “The purity of its crystal exemplifies the Baccarat signature, with its generous base perched on a wide, hexagonal foot and its gently curved facets catching and enhancing the light.”

Antique Baccarat paperweight, 1848, complex cane and millefiori with a rare choufleur carpet ground. Image courtesy of LiveAuctioneers Archive and S.B. & Company.

Baccarat also produced fine paperweights decorated with colorful millefiori and glass cane elements from 1845 to the 1880s.

World’s fairs held in Paris in 1855, 1867 and 1878 helped to spread Baccarat’s appeal worldwide. The company was awarded the grand prize in 1867 for a 7-meter-tall chandelier and a monumental pair of cut-crystal vases. Baccarat won the grand prize again in 1870 with a rotunda-shaped crystal temple as large as a Victorian gazebo.

The international exposure prompted commissions from the Ottoman Empire and Nicholas II of Russia. In 1909, Japan’s imperial house ordered the Beauvais tableware service from Baccarat, a masterpiece of simplicity, embellished by the imperial emblem: a stylized chrysanthemum flower, wheel engraved with a matte finish.

A close-up shows the detail of the engraving on one of a pair of vases created for the International Exposition of 1867. Baccarat’s Jean Baptiste Simon worked for two years on the twin vases titled ‘The Allegory of Water’ and ‘The Allegory of Earth.’ Image by Nitot. File licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported, 2.5 Generic, 2.0 Generic and 1.0 Generic license

The 1925 International Exposition of Modern Industrial and Decorative Arts in Paris ushered in Art Déco, or Art Moderne, and Baccarat’s young designer Georges Chevalier propelled the company’s product lines into modernity “thanks to luminous transparency of the crystal and the lightness of the decoration.”

Surviving the global Great Depression and World War II, Baccarat opened its first boutique in New York City in 1948. Celebrity customers included playwright Arthur Miller, who purchased a Baccarat Soleil clock for the Manhattan apartment he shared with his wife, Marilyn Monroe.

In 1971 Baccarat turned to Italian designer Roberto Sambonnet, who created blown crystal in perfectly controlled organic forms. The company also updated its palette with pop-art colors.

Large vase at the Baccarat exhibition at Petit Palais of Paris in 2014-2015. Image by Yann Caradec. This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic license.

The Louvre Museum marked the glassmaker’s 200th anniversary with a retrospective in 1964. Baccarat celebrated its 250th anniversary in 2014-2015 with a retrospective exhibition of more than 500 pieces at the Petit Palais Museum of Beaux-Arts in Paris.

Collectors and connoisseurs appreciate all things Baccarat, no matter the vintage: glasses, plates, centerpieces, animal sculptures, perfume bottles, lighting and even jewelry. Baccarat’s objects of desire are evocative of all forms of elegance.

A Brief History of Coin Collecting

It is said that during the Great Depression, following the devastating Wall Street crash of 1929, the only investments of interest to skittish speculators were fine art, rare cars, and old coins. That rule of thumb seemed to have prevailed during every subsequent period of financial market instability since the 1930s, since the three categories have tended to prove their merits over and over again.

Scarce gold and silver coins are unique in the collectibles realm because they have both intrinsic worth based on their precious metal content and value as historical items. Gold and silver bullion has a melt value dictated by global financial markets, but bars of precious metal are not acquired primarily for their beauty or rarity. They are commodities.

An example of a collector favorite, this 1799 US $10 ‘Capped Bust’ Gold Eagle with Lady Liberty on obverse and American Eagle with US Shield on reverse was purchased for $7,500 plus buyer’s premium on April 20, 2013. Image courtesy of LiveAuctioneers Archive and Early American History Auctions

People have hoarded coins for their bullion value for as long as coins have been minted. However, the collection of coins for their artistic value was a later development. Evidence from the archaeological and historical records of Ancient Rome and medieval Mesopotamia indicates that coins were collected and catalogued by scholars and state treasuries.

It also seems probable that individual citizens collected old, exotic or commemorative coins as an affordable, portable form of art. According to Suetonius in his De vita Caesarum (The Lives of the Twelve Caesars), written in the 1st century CE, the emperor Augustus sometimes presented old and exotic coins to friends and courtiers during festivals and other special occasions.

An 1899 Chinese Kwangtung Empire specimen pattern dollar coin sold for $150,000 in Heritage Auctions’ June 22-24, 2016 auction held in Hong Kong. Image courtesy of Heritage Auctions

Contemporary coin collecting and appreciation began during the Renaissance, around the 14th century. Because only the very wealthy could afford the pursuit, coin collecting became known as the “hobby of kings.” The Italian scholar and poet Petrarch is credited with being the pursuit’s first and most famous aficionado. Following his lead, many European kings, princes and other nobility kept collections of ancient coins. Some of the notable collectors were Pope Boniface VIII, Emperor Maximilian I of the Holy Roman Empire, Louis XIV of France, Ferdinand I, Henry IV of France and Elector Joachim II of Brandenburg, who started the Berlin Coin Cabinet (Münzkabinett Berlin).

The first US gold coin ever minted, the ‘Brasher Doubloon,’ was struck in 1787 by a neighbor of George Washington. Heritage Auctions sold the coin for $4,584,500 in 2014. Image courtesy of Heritage Auctions

During the 17th and 18th centuries coin collecting remained a patrician pursuit. But during the so-called Age of Enlightenment that swept Europe during the 18th century, a more systematic approach to the accumulation and study of old coins was adopted. At the same time, coin collecting was becoming a leisure pursuit of the growing middle class, eager to prove their wealth and sophistication.

During the 19th and 20th centuries, the market for coins expanded to include not only antique coins, but also foreign and exotic currency. Coin shows, trade associations, and regulatory bodies emerged during these decades and in 1962, the first international convention for coin collectors was jointly hosted in Detroit, Michigan, by the American Numismatic Association and the Royal Canadian Numismatic Association. An estimated 40,000 people attended – a testament to the popularity of a pastime once reserved for only the wealthiest and most aristocratic individuals.

The US Mint’s State Quarters Program provided an inexpensive way for youngsters to enter the coin-collecting hobby. This example is the proof for the 2001 North Carolina quarter, which depicts the Wright Brothers’ first flight at Kitty Hawk.

While it is difficult to know how many people collect coins, it is clear that nowadays coins attract enthusiasts of every age and standing. Want proof? The United States Mint has estimated that some 120 million Americans pursued the 50 States Quarters issued from 1999 through 2008. This statistic alone shows that in contrast to its upper-crust origins, coin collecting has become perhaps the most egalitarian of all hobbies, with entry-level price points that even youngsters can afford.

The History and Resurgence of Mexican Silver

Beginning in the 1930s, silver workshops clustered in the mining town of Taxco spearheaded a revival in this traditional craft in Mexico.

At the same time, the artists and artisans working there took a new direction in design that mixed age-old motifs from native cultures with 20th century Modernism. The objects and jewelry they produced have become extremely popular with discerning collectors. Each piece provides a hands-on aesthetic appeal when used or worn. In other words, this silver makes daily life a little more beautiful.

Mexican silver dinner bell, circa 1960, marked ‘William Spratling, Taxco Mexico.’ Heritage Auctions image

In a past auction, Cincinnati Art Galleries offered a large group of Mexican silver, much of it from a single collection. Karen Singleton, who, at the time, was the firm’s art glass expert, explained, “This was the first time we had a round of Mexican silver. I accepted the lots because I keep telling them that we could sell more than pottery and glass.” The pieces were signed by many important makers in this field, including Williams Spratling, Frederick Davis, Hector Aguilar, Los Castillo, and Margot de Taxco.

Part of the sale was devoted to hollowware of silver and mixed metals, including a teapot, coffee pot, and chocolate pot by Spratling. There was also a selection of jewelry, some set with Mexican amethyst, malachite, and onyx. Singleton said, “I appreciate the jewelry. I put some of the necklaces on and was amazed how comfortable and light they were… They contoured themselves to the body.”

Any story of modern Mexican silver begins with the biography of artist and author William Spratling (1900-1967), who served as a catalyst for the industry’s revival. Born in New York state, he was an associate professor of architecture during the 1920s at Tulane University in New Orleans, where he shared a French Quarter apartment with author William Faulkner. He first traveled to Mexico to study architecture, then became enchanted with Taxco, and moved there in 1929.

Drawn by the inspirational scenery and post-revolutionary spirit of the country, many artists and writers lived and worked south of the border. Spratling met American writer Hart Crane, who finished one of his last great poems in Taxco, and became friends with Mexican muralist Diego Rivera, for whom he organized an exhibition in New York. Looking for a way to support himself as an expatriate artist, Spratling noted the city’s silver-mining history and opened a workshop, the Taller de las Delicias (Factory of Delights). He would later write: “Nineteen-thirty-one was a notable year in modern Mexican silversmithing. A young silversmith from Iguala named Artemio Navarrete went to Taxco to work for a small silver shop, founded with the germ of an idea, where Artemio as a nucleus, began to form silversmiths. The present writer, encouraged by his friends Moises Saenz, Dwight Morrow and Diego Rivera, had set up that little shop called ‘Las Delicias.'”

Large silver bracelet with malachite stones, marked ‘Spratling Made in Mexico.’ Courtesy Treadway Gallery.

The major authority on Spratling’s work is Penny Chittim Morrill, Ph.D., who co-authored Mexican Silver: 20th Century Hand-wrought Jewelry & Silver with art dealer Carole Berk. Morrill served as Guest Curator for the 2002 traveling exhibition William Spratling and the Mexican Silver Renaissance: Maestros de Plata, organized by the San Diego Museum of Art.

In her catalog essay, Morrill wrote, “In establishing silver as an artistic medium, what Spratling achieved was a delicate balance, a synthesis of abstract tendencies in the existent folk art tradition and in contemporary fine art, resulting in a visualization of concepts and ideas. As importantly, the Taller de las Delicias became the paradigm for other silver designers to follow. Las Delicias was a community in which imagination and innovation were fostered and encouraged as the men learned the art of silversmithing while producing for profit. In the hierarchy of the workshop, these silversmiths advanced according to their ability, enthusiasm, and technical expertise.”

Many alumni of Spratling’s workshop eventually ‘graduated’ to set up shop on their own. Antonio Castillo, who became a master silversmith there, left in 1939 with his brothers to establish their own successful Taller and shop, Los Castillo, on the Plazuela Bernal. Hector Aguilar, who had managed Spratling’s shop, also left in 1939 taking a number of silversmiths with him to found the Taller Borda.

Not all Mexican silver was marked by the maker. This 4 3/8-inch-wide silver cuff bracelet with a traditional feathered-serpent pattern is stamped 950 for the silver content. Courtesy Cincinnati Art Galleries.

One of the most important silversmiths from an artistic standpoint, Taxco native Antonio Pineda began his career studying painting at the Open Air School of Taxco, established by Japanese artist Tamichi Kitagawa who lived with his family. After further studies in popular arts and sculpture, he worked as an assistant in Spratling’s workshop and opened his own studio in 1941. A 1944 exhibition in San Francisco led to an early commercial coup, when his entire presentation of 80 objects was purchased by a prestigious northern California store, Gump’s.

Although he was born into the artistic tradition of Mexico, some of his most successful works of hollowware and jewelry are modernist, even futurist in concept. Examine the sculptural shapes of the circa-1960 tea service design, illustrated here as a set which sold in a 2005 Sotheby’s Modernism auction for $39,000. Morrill and Berk commented on the design in Mexican Silver: “Antonio Pineda has molded and manipulated the material to effectively convey an aesthetic idea. The sugar and creamer and teapot are no longer simply utilitarian vessels, but have taken on the qualities of works of art.”

Mexican silversmiths produced tableware for all aesthetic tastes. This pair of sterling silver candelabra in traditional style (height 20 inches, weight 184 troy ounces). Courtesy Cincinnati Art Galleries.

Most of the silver sought by collectors today was produced during the 1940s, 1950s, and 1960s. Spratling continued designing jewelry and serving pieces until his death in a car accident near Taxco in 1967. Books, such as the references mentioned above, are extremely useful because success bred many imitators; popular designs were quickly copied by competitors.

The Taxco output ranges from the dramatic silver necklaces and cuff bracelets of great weight made by Spratling’s workshop, to the less interesting trinkets made for tourists. Many travelers stopped at the silversmithing town, just off the main road from Mexico City to Acapulco. Pieces they brought back with them turn up at auctions and antique shows throughout the United States. Evaluating the quality and value of vintage Mexican silver takes considerable study. Sterling – 925 parts silver in a thousand – is the standard, but pieces in higher grade silver were made and may be stamped “980” or even “990.”

Penny Morrill said at the time of the Spratling exhibition, “You have to envision this market that was created by Spratling; he created opportunity for thousands. At any one time, there were so many silversmiths working in Taxco itself and a number working in Guadalajara and Mexico City marking their pieces ‘Taxco.’ They were sending their stuff to Taxco because they knew that was where people were buying.”

Morrill noted that even works by unknown makers can have merit: “A lot of the material is in 980 silver, a lot of it is interesting, you put it on, and it makes this incredible statement. I tell people over and over again, if you like it, wear it. If it costs $150, go for it, if it makes you crazy. It may be that one stellar moment when this little silversmith had a wonderful idea.”

Kevin Tierney, silver consultant to Sotheby’s in New York, has a great admiration for the best Mexican designers and their creations. Tierney said of Spratling, “He woke them up, he combined American know-how with an appreciation of their cultural history. They had the silver, and he provided the employment for artisans who needed it. I love the mix – a bit of European style with the motifs of Mexico enhanced by their superb ability to handcraft the silver.”

Interested in seeing more beautiful Mexican silver? Take a look at this week’s Mexican silver auction here.

Adapted from original piece by Karla Klein Albertson in Auction Central News

Georg Jensen: Godfather of Danish Modern Silver

In the realm of silversmithing, the name Georg Jensen is the epitome of the craft. Longtime collectors seek out Art Nouveau-influenced Jensen hollowware – the large tableware that is both highly decorative and functional. Younger consumers, on the other hand, tend to favor the modernist flatware and jewelry – the more-affordable pieces that still reflect the uncompromising quality long associated with the Jensen marque.

“It’s like the names Tiffany and Cartier,” said Michael Millea, co-owner of Millea Bros. Ltd., the Madison, N.J.-based auction house. “Jensen is the kind of thing that is always popular.”

Georg Jensen Sterling Silver “Melon” Bowl, designed in 1911 by Georg Jensen. Estimate: $20,000-$30,000. Jasper52 image


The Georg Jensen name takes in more than just the creations of the artist himself. More than 90 craftsmen worked for the firm during the founder’s lifetime and beyond, covering some 95 years of production and an evolution of styles. Born in 1866 in Dyrehaven, Denmark, Jensen was trained as a goldsmith, sculptor and ceramicist.

His best-selling products in the early years, however, were silver rings, brooches, bracelets and hat pins, adorned with amber, malachite, moonstones and opals. They weren’t costly to make or purchase, and they appealed to middle-class shoppers. Jensen’s style reflected themes from nature, in tune with the Arts & Crafts movement in England and Art Nouveau in France. The pieces were all carefully, lovingly handmade, as if each were a work of art unto itself, as opposed to the machine-stamped, mass-produced lines of the Industrial Revolution.

Pyramid pattern flatware set, service of 12, designed by Georg Jensen. Sold for $1,800. Jasper52 image


The Jensen craftsmanship was then carried over to the production of flatware and hollowware. His teapot with a floral motif called Magnolia was expanded into a full tea or coffee service. His work in utilitarian pieces blossomed into bowls, boxes, pitchers, candelabra, chandeliers, clocks, dishes and trays.

Finding and being able to acquire those large pieces from the Jensen workshops has become increasingly difficult, according to Millea.

This sterling silver cake service, with stylized bud handle, was designed by Georg Jensen in 1945. Courtesy of Brunk Auctions


Robin Rice, silver specialist at Brunk Auctions in Asheville, N.C., said Jensen hollowware is still appearing on the market, often coming from the shelves of collectors who are downsizing. They tend to end up in the hands of
 other advanced collectors, though.

Younger customers tend to pay more attention to Jensen jewelry, such as brooches, cufflinks and tie clips, or to the flatware, said Michael Millea. His design-conscious peers are often more interested in the “clean-lined” designs. “The Pyramid-patterned flatware and the fluted patterns appeal to the modernist aesthetic that is so popular now.”


Georg Jensen Sterling Silver Large Meat Platter or Serving Tray No. 290B, Circa: 1930’s. Estimate: $20,000-$30,000. Jasper52 image


Rice said the most desirable, larger pieces are the trays, pitchers and bowls. Flatware designed by Georg Jensen himself, particularly in the Grapevine and Blossom patterns, are also highly sought after and remain among the more affordable Jensen products. While the Jensen artists intended their work to be beautiful objects that could and should be used, collectors of the hollowware and flatware don’t always concur. “Whether it’s Jensen or English silver or something else, there are certain collectors who like to surround themselves with antiques and feel that using them is part of owning them, and that they should be used,” Millea has found. “And there are certain people who feel just the opposite – that they should be looked at and admired but not used. That’s true in most collecting categories, whether it’s Jensen or other antiques.”

A 1945 sterling beaker by Georg Jensen. Courtesy of Brunk Auctions


Jensen Jewelry

Interest in jewelry produced by the Jensen workshops is stronger than ever, according to Gloria Lieberman, director of Fine Jewelry at the Boston headquarters of auction and appraisal company Skinner Inc.

Jensen sterling silver and green onyx necklace. Courtesy of Skinner Auctioneers & Appraisers


“I think the popularity is growing because there is a larger population looking at Jensen (through) the Internet,” Lieberman explained. And because Jensen pieces are easily identified by their name and number, the Internet is a reliable marketplace, she said. Web searchers are purchasing Jensen’s modernist styles, many of which were not as popular a mere 10 years ago. And the hottest trend in Jensen jewelry is the gold line. The name Jensen is primarily associated with silver, but at age 14 Georg Jensen apprenticed with a goldsmith in Copenhagen. So gold actually goes back to the designer’s roots, as well.

“It has been around for a while,” Lieberman said, “but nobody cared about it years ago…not until the last year or two.”


Georg Jensen Silver Moonstone Bracelet, made by Georg Jensen in Denmark circa 1926. Estimate: $3,500-$5,000. Jasper52 image


Collectors still chase after the larger silver pieces as well. “The bigger and drippier, the better,” Lieberman said. “But those pieces were not in large production, so they fetch a high price.” Past sales at Skinner have seen the sale of a large brooch and early necklace, each reaching the $10,000 range. “It is, of course, about rarity,” Lieberman added.
 Jensen’s jewelry was not always so dear in price. “He was part of the Art Nouveau movement, and that was not about using precious stones and precious materials. It was about handcrafted floral designs. It was about silver, and the look of jewelry forged by hand.” In Jensen pieces, the hammered work and markings are plainly visible, and the stones were not the principal concern.

“But customers loved his combination of amber and green stones. Collectors love the moonstones still.”


By Alan Jaffe

Adapted from original article appearing in Auction Central News

A Trip Around the World Through Historical Maps

Maps are snapshots of world history. They record the result of battles, migrations and the birth of new nations. Enthusiasts collect maps for various reasons. The mind, the eye, and the heart all play a role in making new acquisitions.

For serious scholars, maps are crucial documents that present reality on the ground at a particular date. They reveal the borderlines in a year of conflict or the growth of cities during and after a period of global exploration. Rarity is more important than condition; a single example may reveal information that was previously unknown to anyone.

Maps can be as ornamental as they are informative. Cartographers were not content with just the ground plan; artists added ornamental borders, stately personifications of a city or state, and even mythological monsters swimming in the oceans.

Maps hold extra visual appeal when displayed in groups of three or four. Maps can reveal details of the place and time when ancestors were born or record pleasant details of special events – a honeymoon in France, gap year in New Zealand, anniversary cruise to Alaska – a map that recalls a special memory will bring a smile every time you walk past it.

Cuba with Havana Inset

Cuba with Havana inset, 1902, 14½ x 22in. Image courtesy of LiveAuctioneers

Thanks to improved diplomatic relations, a new wave of American travelers is discovering the rich cultural heritage of the island-nation of Cuba. The date of the map shown above – 1902 – was a crucial year for the country; American occupation had ended and a free Republic of Cuba was born.


Map of North America

1850 Map of North America by Thomas Cowperthwait. Image courtesy of Jasper52

This 1850 Map of North America by Thomas Cowperthwait is a colorful lesson in global spheres of influence. Canada remained a British possession until 1867, and Russia ruled Alaska until Seward’s purchase of the territory that same year. The Southwestern United States were still in transition. Texas declared statehood in 1845 and California in 1850, but Arizona and New Mexico would remain Mexican territories until 1912.


Map of France

1829 Malte-Brun Map of France. Image courtesy of Jasper52

Maps approach their subjects with different objectives. This 1829 Malte-Brun Map of France indicates not only the region’s settlements and topography, but also its political divisions.


Map of the Low Countries

1753 Homann Map of the Low Countries. Image courtesy of Jasper52

Anyone with ancestry from Belgium, the Netherlands or Luxembourg can trace family history on this detailed Map of the Low Countries with counties carefully outlined in color. An elaborate cartouche depicts the heraldic shields of the 17 provinces, as well as Neptune and Hermes with a globe illustrating the Dutch East Indies. The 1753 map was printed by Homann, Nurnberg.


Map of Virginia

1855 map of Virginia printed by G.W. Colton shows the state before West Virginia became a state of its own. Image courtesy of Jasper52

This map from G.W. Colton was printed in 1855 and shows Virginia as it looked before West Virginia became a separate state and six years before the beginning of the Civil War. Its insets depict the cities of Richmond and Norfolk.


Map of Northern Russia

1792 de L’Isle Map of Russia. Image courtesy of Jasper52

This attractive 1792 de L’Isle map covers northern Russia, from the Arctic Ocean and Finland to just beyond the Petzora River. It highlights in detail the topography, along with numerous villages, towns and roads. Its colorful cartouche features putti and a variety of scientific instruments. This important map of the European portion of the Russian Empire of the late 16th century is a testament to how much change has occurred in the area that eventually became the Soviet Union.

If you’ve purchased a map that is not already framed, it is wise to choose a frame shop with experience in mounting fragile documents. Once preserved with acid-free materials and sun-resistant glass, your map becomes a handsome virtual time capsule of geographic history to adorn your home or office.

By Karla Klein Albertson

Kilim and Dhurrie Rugs Complement Trending Tribal Style

As part of the red-hot globalism trend, “tribal style” – exotic, eclectic and influenced by travel – has spread from fashion to home decor. There’s a caravan of interesting furniture and accessories that work in any space, from the sleek and contemporary to the simple and functional.

“It’s a look that’s meant to reflect the places you’ve been and the decorative objects you brought home,” says New York designer Elaine Griffin. “And it’s perfectly fine if you’ve voyaged no further than the Internet, in the comfort of your living room.”

Authentic tribal Persian hamedan rug, all-wool, vegetable dye pile hand-knotted in Iran. Jasper52 image

Rugs are a big part of the style, and not just on the floor. Griffin says “the flat-weave kilim and dhurrie rugs that are now back with a vengeance move stylishly onto upholstered chairs, sofas and ottomans.”

Kilim rugs are admired for their bold, geometric flat-weave patterns. They’ve been hand-woven for generations in Turkey, North Africa, the Middle East and Asia.

Indian dhurrie rug, 13 1/2 x 14 1/2 feet. Kaminski Auctions image

A lot of their appeal lies in the bold motifs and pigment dyes, with elements like wolf’s mouths, stars and fertility symbols interpreted in geometric patterns. Back in Victorian England, smoking rooms and nooks were rife with kilim-covered furniture.

British manufacturer George Smith is known for kilim upholstery marked by careful pattern alignment and crisply tucked edges. They make a range of armchairs and benches covered in detailed modern and vintage Turkish flat-weaves. Karma Living’s collection of smartly styled midcentury modern chairs and footstools are upholstered in bold strips and tribal patterns.

Both new and antique versions are interesting, working well not only as upholstery, but as wall hangings or table coverings. The handcrafted nature of kilims, Oriental and rag rugs plays well with woods and metals. White walls make them pop, while more saturated hues are complementary frames.

1900s Caucasian Kilim, all-wool, natural dyed with vegetable dye, detailed colorful design pattern, flat-woven rug. Jasper52 image

Joss & Main’s style director, Donna Garlough, says pouf ottomans are one of her favorite twists on the Bohemian-inspired trend.

“They’re a great way to add a pop of pattern to a room, and you can use them for extra seating if you’re having a party,” she says.

An added bonus of these materials is that they’re pretty tightly woven and durable, and the bright patterns often camouflage stains.

“You don’t have to worry as much about a toddler spilling juice on a kilim-covered cocktail ottoman as you would if the upholstery were linen or leather,” Garlough says.

Turkmen kilim wool rug, hand-knotted, 9 1/2 x 15 feet Afganistan, 2000s. Jasper52 image

Atlanta-based artist and textile designer Beth Lacefield has done a collection of kilim poufs for Surya in both muted tones and vibrant hues like raspberry, burnt orange and olive green.

Boston designer Jill Rosenwald’s pouf collection for the retailer is also inspired by Indian flat-weave rugs, with sophisticated chocolate browns, grays and other muted hues.

Crafters will find lots of ideas online for turning inexpensive rag rugs from big box stores into floor pillows, headboard covers and benches.

Courtney Schutz, a designer from Point Reyes, California, turned a staid, traditional, upholstered bench into a fun piece for a girls’ room by gilding the legs and covering the seat with a gumball-colored rag rug.

At Style Me Pretty, Toronto designer Jacquelyn Clark offers a simple tutorial on sewing throw-rug pieces into a square, filling it with foam beads, and then closing it up with thread or a zipper to make a big pillow.

While the kilims have an earthy rusticity, distressed wool, linen or silk rugs can make a more elegant piece. Pottery Barn has a cotton velvet line inspired by Persian carpeting. And West Elm‘s Ornament velvet pouf comes in sophisticated, soothing hues of ivory or platinum.

By KIM COOK, Associated Press
Copyright 2017 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.
AP-WF-02-21-17 1537GMT

Handcrafted Advertising Signs Now Attracting Collectors

Look carefully at any real-photo postcard of Main Street in an American town of the early 20th century and chances are you will see a number of hand-painted signs. These signs were hand-lettered by sign painters, now a near-obsolete occupation in an age of computerized graphics.

Collectors are drawn to the folky look of signs made with brush and paint, which stand out amid modern cookie-cutter signage of today. There has been a renewed interest in recent years in the visually captivating craft of sign painting.

A high illiteracy rate was the main reason early trade signs were formed as figural representations of the product or service the vendor provided. A butcher might display the carved-wood head of a bull. A dentist would hang a larger-than-life molar, complete with roots. A giant pocket watch represented a jeweler or clockmaker. Of all the figural trade signs of the 19th century, the most valuable is the iconic cigar store Indian, which stood at the entrance to the town tobacconist’s establishment.

Primitive boot maker’s sign, circa 1870s, wood with metal trim reinforcement, 36 x x 23in, stenciled name ‘J.E. Breeze.’ Brian Lebel’s Old West Events image


By the turn of the 20th century, most Americans could read, so accordingly, commercial signs incorporated text in eye-catching lettering. Sign painters were in high demand, whether to create a sign for display in a store window or a large advertisement to be painted, and viewed, high on the side of a building.

While the latter has often been covered up by development or faded into what some call a “ghost sign,” smaller hand-painted signs advertising goods and services do appear on the secondary market and are appreciated for their folk-art qualities.

The simplest are single boards, usually having an attached wooden frame, that have painted text on a contrasting background color. The expression “to hang out your shingle,” in the sense of starting your own business, may have originated with such a sign.

Nineteenth-century wooden trade sign, ‘O.B. Richards, M. D., Office,’ artist-signed ‘ALLEN,’ 12 x 23in. Copake Auction Inc. image


Signs to be placed out and over a store’s entrance or posted on a roadside were double-sided so they could be seen by passersby from two directions. It’s common to find that such signs are more weathered and faded on one side than the other, due to greater exposure to the sun and prevailing elements.

‘Tourists’ sign, probably intended for travelers seeking lodging, painted on both sides with red wood frame, early 20th century, 28 x 14 in. MB Abram Galleries


Signs posted in rural locales often have arrows directing motorists off the highway onto a side road to the desired location.

‘Sunset Farm Milk,’ painted wood, 1930s, 15.5in x 40.5in. Jasper52 image


Figural signs did not disappear entirely as the literacy rate increased; instead, they transitioned to include hand-painted lettering. Like weather vanes of the late 1800s, many signs simply became flat rather than three dimensional.

Folk art hollow body trade sign, double-sided fish with painted lettering ‘Fishing Tackle and Ammunition,’ 44-1/2in long. Conestoga Auction Co.


For added visual appeal, many sign painters depicted the product being sold by the vendor, such as fruits and vegetables.

Double-sided farm stand sign, on plywood, 24 inches square, circa 1930. Jasper52 image


Reverse-painting on glass gave a sign a formal look and preserved the lettering from wear, since it was often protected by a frame.

Early 1900s reverse-painted sign, 18 x 37 1/2in. Copake Auction Inc. image


Expect to find usual wear, weathering and fading on signs that were used outdoors. Avoid the temptation to repaint or even touch-up old paint. It is better to leave a vintage sign in “as found” condition, which speaks to its character.

Vintage painted wooden antiques trade sign having applied carved letters on long rectangular reserve, old painted surface, now weathered, mid-20th century. 20 1/4 x 89in. Jeffrey S. Evans & Associates image

For a fascinating look into the world of antique signs and advertising turn to the Picker’s Pocket Guide: Signs by Eric Bradley (2014: Krause Publications, 800-258-0929).

For more handcrafted antique signs, take a look at our weekly Americana and Folk Art auctions.


How Youth Literature Became Big Business

The Many Pens Behind Nancy Drew, the Hardy Boys and Other Youth Fiction Heroes

Juvenile literature is big business. Of the top 10 most successful authors of all time – both in terms of books sold and total revenue generated – three wrote for young audiences. Those titans of youth fiction include Britain’s Enid Blyton, illustrator/cartoonist-turned-writer Dr. Seuss, and, of course, Harry Potter mastermind J.K. Rowling, whose book sales surpass all but those of William Shakespeare, Agatha Christie and a few other long-established authors, including Barbara Cartland, Danielle Steele and Harold Robbins.

Today, the names of successful writers of youth-oriented literature – Stephenie Meyer, Veronica Roth, etc. – are virtual “brands” of their own and known the world over. But there was a time when book publishers owned the authors’ invented names and used salaried, in-house ghostwriters to pen the riveting tales of young but confident characters like Nancy Drew, The Hardy Boys, and the earliest protagonists of the late-19th/early 20th-century adolescent-fiction genre: the Rover Boys. The writers were interchangeable, but the tone of each series remained remarkably consistent throughout.

1903 photo portrait of Edward Stratemeyer from the Stratemeyer Syndicate records, Manuscripts and Archives Division. Public domain image

The first book packager to aim its books at children rather than adults was the Stratemeyer Syndicate, founded by New Jersey publisher Edward Stratemeyer. A national survey conducted in 1922 revealed that, by far, most books read at leisure by American children were titles produced by Stratemeyer.

What made Stratemeyer’s books different was their focus on entertainment, as opposed to moral instruction. Children could tap into their imaginations and mentally immerse themselves into the adventures of sci-fi savant Tom Swift or boarding school sleuths the Dana Girls, or for the very young, the Bobbsey Twins.



Scan of the cover of the original 1910 book Tom Swift and His Motorcycle, 1910, from a series ghostwritten by numerous Stratemeyer Syndicate in-house writers using the pen name Victor Appleton. Public domain image

No fewer than 15 ghostwriters produced the hugely successful Nancy Drew books under the pen name “Carolyn Keene,” although Mildred Wirt (later Mildred Wirt Benson) is credited as having been the principal writer. The writers initially were paid $125 for each book and were required by their contract to relinquish all rights to their work and to maintain confidentiality. That’s a far cry from, say, J.K. Rowling’s lucrative deals, which have led to her astounding net worth of an estimated $750 million.

15 Nancy Drew titles actually used in the filming of the opening sequence of the movie ‘Nancy Drew: Mystery in the Hollywood Hills.’ Image courtesy of LiveAuctioneers archive and PBA Galleries

The Stratemeyer series of books about teenage detective Nancy Drew began in 1930 with The Secret of the Old Clock. It was followed with a new book release every year for the next 26 years. A joint publishing venture between Stratemeyer and Grosset & Dunlap added 21 more titles from 1959 through 1979, followed by the last 22 books of the series, which were issued as a Stratemeyer/Simon & Schuster collaboration, from 1979 through 1985.

‘The Secret of the Old Clock,’ Nancy Drew mystery originally published in 1930. Image courtesy of LiveAuctioneers archive and Gray’s Auctioneers

A cultural icon, Nancy Drew is cited as a formative influence by a number of successful women, from Supreme Court Justices Sandra Day O’Connor and Sonia Sotomayor to Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and former First Lady Laura Bush. Feminist literary critics have analyzed the character’s enduring appeal, arguing variously that Nancy Drew is a mythic hero, an expression of wish fulfillment, or an embodiment of contradictory ideas about femininity.

‘The Secret of the Golden Pavilion,’ Nancy Drew mystery originally published in 1959. Image courtesy of LiveAuctioneers archive and PBA Galleries

Where Nancy Drew appealed mostly to girls, amateur detectives Frank and Joe Hardy – the Hardy Boys – attracted a mostly male readership. Like the Nancy Drew books, which all carried the Carolyn Keene byline, the Hardy Boys titles were created by a number of different ghostwriters who used the pseudonym Franklin W. Dixon. Nineteen of the first 25 Hardy Boys books were the work of Canadian journalist Leslie McFarlane. The series enjoyed a long original-print run lasting from 1927 through 2005. Worldwide, more than 70 million copies of Hardy Boys books have been sold, and the first title of the series, The Tower Treasure, still sells over 100,000 copies per year worldwide.

‘The Disappearing Floor,’ first edition Hardy Boys mystery published in 1940. Image courtesy of LiveAuctioneers archive and Heritage Auctions

Both Nancy Drew and the Hardy Boys have reappeared in other forms of entertainment, including feature films, TV shows, board games, and video games. But to collectors, the most imaginative way to experience their teen heroes’ adventures is still through a book from the original series, especially with the colorful dust jacket still intact.

4 Names To Know When Collecting Photogravures

Early photographs are appealing for several reasons. They have artistic value, sometimes historical relevance, and often a connection to personal and societal moments captured in time. An element sometimes forgotten among the other qualities of early photographs is the scientific innovation within photographic processes. Remarkably intricate processes shaped the evolution of photography, and one of those processes is photogravure.

When asked about the simplest definition of the complex process of photogravure, Wm. B. Becker, director of The American Museum of Photography, provided this explanation:

“It’s a way of printing photographs in ink instead of using chemicals. There is no dot pattern like you’d see in a photo printed in a newspaper or magazine.”

Karl Blossfeldt (German, 1865-1932), lot of 30 black and white photogravures of flowers, 1928, 1932, 1942. Estimate: $350-$450. Featured in the Feb. 4, 2017 Fine Prints & Multiples Auction by Jasper52. (Jasper52 image)

Becker, who has curated exhibitions and published two books and dozens of articles about the history of photography, further explained that the photomechanical process results in prints that are made in ink on a printing press. The process involves transferring the photographic image onto a copper printing plate. The plate is then etched to retain ink in areas corresponding to the black sections of a picture.

The process, patented by Karl Klič in 1879, has inspired generations of  photographers and produced a multitude of impressive gravures. The process Klič formalized expanded on the method of photoglyphic engraving developed by William Henry Fox Talbot.

RIGHT: Karl Blossfeldt (German, 1865-1932), Anemone Blanda, First Edition, 1829. Estimate: $100-$250.
CENTER + LEFT: One of a group lot of 30 Karl Blossfeldt, black and white photogravures of flowers, 1928, 1932, 1942. Group lot estimate: $350-$450.
Featured in the Feb. 4, 2017 Fine Prints & Multiples Auction by Jasper52. (Jasper52 images)

As with many forms of art, there are names that are commonly cited as leaders in the field. The history of photogravure is no exception, and among its most referenced pioneers and champions are:

Alfred Stieglitz (1864-1946) is an American photographer whose contributions to the advancement and appreciation of photography are numerous. He founded the Photo-Secession Movement, which, according to information from The J. Paul Getty Museum site, is defined as an attempt “to prove that pictorialist photography was a fine art form.”

Alfred Stieglitz (American 1864-1946), The Terminal, photogravure on tissue, dated 1892 in lower right margin. Sold for $72,000 + buyer’s premium on Dec. 1, 2012 by Leland Little Auctions. (LiveAuctioneers/Leland Little Auctions image)

Stieglitz’s archive of early work seems to serve as a diary of his travels. In the 1890s his photographs included scenes taken in various European countries as well as the bustling streets of New York City, just ahead of the turn of the 20th century.

Upon his return from studying in Germany, Stieglitz’s father helped secure a job for him at the New-York Photogravure Co., Becker explained. It’s believed that this company published Stieglitz’s first portfolio. Stieglitz went on to also head the very popular periodical, Camera Work magazine.

Gertrude Kasebier (American, 1852-1934), Portrait of Miss Minnie Ashley from Camera Work 10, 1905, photogravure on laid tissue. Sold for $200 + buyer’s premium on May 20, 2011 by Skinner Inc. (LiveAuctioneers/Skinner Inc. image)

Gertrude Kasebier (1852-1934) was among the early modernists who were members of the Photo-Secession group, said Becker. Before producing revered photographs, she was an art student at the Pratt Institute. She was also one of the first two women to be elected to the British Linked Ring (also referred to as The Brotherhood of the Linked Ring).  The group’s focus, similar to that of the Photo-Secession Movement, was to present and promote photography as a form of fine art, that drew on science to continually improve and evolve.

Becker cites “The Manger” and “Blessed Art Thou Amongst Women” as some of Kasebier’s most creative photographs turned into gravures for Camera Work magazine.

Edward Steichen (1879-1973) was a native of Luxembourg, who moved with his family to the United States when he was a child. Early on, teachers identified his artistic talents. Eventually he worked as an apprentice at the American Fine Art Company, which resulted in his exposure to photography. In short order, he was exhibiting his photography at shows. According to information at the International Photography Hall of Fame website, he participated in his first show when he was just 19, and the single juror of that show was another famed photographer and practitioners of the photogravure process, Clarence White.

Edward Steichen (American, 1879-1973), Gloria Swanson, photogravure, 1924, printed 1930. Sold for $1,200 + buyer’s premium on Oct. 15, 2016 by Stanford Auctioneers. (LiveAuctioneers/Stanford Auctioneers image)

At the age of 20, Steichen sold his first photographs to none other than Alfred Stieglitz, and a couple years later he joined Stieglitz in forming the Photo-Secession. His work appeared in Vogue, Vanity Fair, and Art et Decoration. Subjects of his portraits included Greta Garbo, Charlie Chaplin, and George Gershwin, among others.

Becker points to works including “The Flatiron,” “J P Morgan,” and “Pond – Moonlight,” as beautiful and innovative examples of Steichen’s work.

Peter Henry Emerson (1856-1936) began life in Cuba, lived in the United States for a time during his youth, and ultimately moved to England as a teen. His dedication and promotion of the naturalistic approach to photography is at the cornerstone of his career portfolio.

As Becker points out, Emerson was among the first to use photogravure as a means of distributing his photographs. They were included in bound volumes and at least one portfolio. His book titled Naturalistic Photography for Students of the Art was published in 1889. Among the profound statements Emerson makes in this highly sought-after reference is, “Many photographers think they are photographing nature when they are only caricaturing her.”

Whether looking for examples by these oft-referenced iconic photographers, or contemporary photographers, Becker says the collector should start by knowing exactly what they are buying — and the best way to do that is to ask questions. He suggests these queries:

  1. Where did the gravure originate?
  2. If it was taken from a book or magazine, which one, and how many copies were printed?
  3. Is it signed by the photographer — and if not, why not?
  4. Was the intent of the photographer to see it removed from the context of the book and framed on someone’s wall, or was it intended to be seen in a particular order with other illustrations?
  5. Is there any advantage to purchasing a photogravure of this image over a modern-day print that might, because of improved technology, more accurately capture the nuances of the original (darkroom-made) photograph?

View this week’s Vintage Gravures auction and find your next artwork.

Wm. B. Becker is a journalist, writer, collector and historian of photography. In addition to serving as director of the award-winning online museum The American Museum of Photography, images from his collection have been exhibited at museums in the United States and Europe, and have appeared in numerous publications. His 25-year career in media resulted in four Emmy® Awards and led to two terms as a National Trustee of the National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences. He currently serves on the board of the Michigan Photographic Historical Society.

Online Resources: The American Museum of Photography, Museum of Modern Art, Collectors Weekly, The J. Paul Getty Museum, International Photography Hall of Fame and Museum, Art of the Photogravure

7 Fine Prints That Scream Springtime

As we round the corner into February, we can’t help but feel a natural wistful-ness for sunnier skies, warmer weather, and greenery. Winter is certainly a precious time of year, but one that drags on far too long. Luckily for us, this week’s fine print auction is full of spring-time inspiration from flowers to birds to prints of outdoor scenes. Mixed in with the impressive Keith Haring prints and the unique “Head of a Woman” by Pablo Picasso are elements of the upcoming season.

Find some spring excitement with the below 7 prints.

Wildflowers by Mary Vaux Walcott

This lot of 29 prints wildflower prints stunningly portrays the beauty of spring flowers.

Lot of 29 Wildflower Prints from North American Wildflowers, Volume I by Mary Vaux Walcott, published by Smithsonian Institute, 1925. Estimate: $100-$300


Glaucis Lanceoalota (Lanceolate Hermit) by John Gould

Nothing says spring like a chirping bird.

Glaucis Lanceoalota (Lanceolate Hermit) by John Gould, First Edition, Published by London, 1849. Estimate: $900-$1,000


Fiery Rosebay Rhododendron by Robert Sweet

Fiery? Yes, please.

‘Fiery Rosebay Rhododendron’ by Robert Sweet, from The British Flower Garden, 1838. Estimate: $350-$450


Eye-of-the-Sun Tulip (Tulipa Oculus Solis) by Pancrace Bessa

This hand colored print dazzles with color.

Eye-of-the-Sun Tulip (Tulipa Oculus Solis) by Pancrace Bessa, from Flore des Jardiniers, Amateurs, et Manufacturiers, 1836. Estimate: $400-$600


Bass Wood by Pancrace Bessa & J.P. Redoute

We all crave some greenery in springtime after a bare winter of white.

Bass Wood by Pancrace Bessa & J.P. Redoute, published by F.A. Michaux, Philadelphia, 1865. Estimate: $50-$100


Yellow Canary by James Bolton

Waking up to the chirps of the canary is so sweet.

Yellow Canary by James Bolton, from Harmonia Ruralis, 1824, framed. Estimate: $400-$600


Myrtle Beach Dunes Golf by Mark King

Hurry up, it’s almost tee time!

Myrtle Beach Dunes Golf, XL/CXLV, by Mark King, 1991. Estimate: $800 – $1,000


Explore the full catalog of fine prints and register to bid in this weekend’s auction.