Stock and bond certificates: the value is in the story

A 1940 war bond issued festooned with Disney’s most recognizable characters to date sold for $200 plus the buyer’s premium in April 2005. Image courtesy of Early American History Auctions and LiveAuctioneers

Your net worth can comprise more than money. It can be artistic, historic, and emotional, and it can showcase famous signatures. Scripophily – the collecting of vintage stock and bond certificates for their own sake – covers all those bases. These documents no longer pay out on their face values, but they deliver other riches, some tangible, some not.

Stocks

The earliest known paper stock was issued by the East India Company in 1606, but stocks have existed in one form or another since Roman times. A stock certificate states you have invested in an enterprise and you expect a share of the profits, knowing they might never materialize. Local inns often served as loosely regulated stock exchanges.

A United States stock certificate from March 1792, issued during the week of the stock market crash that caused the country’s first financial crisis, achieved $35,000 plus the buyer’s premium in October 2021. Image courtesy of Freeman’s and LiveAuctioneers

Things changed in 1792 when a group of New Yorkers who traded stocks under a buttonwood tree on Wall Street signed the Buttonwood Agreement, a document for governing the transactions. It laid the groundwork for what would ultimately become the New York Stock Exchange, realizing Alexander Hamilton’s idea for a regulated national stock exchange. Today, nearly 1.5 billion stocks representing about 2,800 companies are traded every day via Hamilton’s creation.

Electronic trading has rendered printed stock certificates obsolete. In 2013, the Disney company, which knows a thing or two about shifting from analog to digital, became the last major entity to issue paper stock certificates.

A Pullman’s Palace Car Company stock certificate signed by company founder George Pullman and investor Andrew Carnegie achieved $12,000 in February 2020. Image courtesy of University Archives and LiveAuctioneers

America is an entrepreneurial nation, and stock certificates illustrate the story of its growth and expansion. Collectors can assemble portfolios of vintage certificates from companies that mined gold, silver or minerals; those that built railroads, automobiles and airlines; utilities, including providers of oil and gas; and companies for wireless or telephone services, to name a few. 

A North American Phonograph Company stock certificate signed by Thomas Edison sold for $8,000 in January 2020. Image courtesy of Freeman’s and LiveAuctioneers

Before the rise of logos and branding, the stock certificate fulfilled many of the needs that corporate graphics address, giving investors the sense that the issuer was a serious, upstanding, well-run concern that would not abscond with their money. And, before the age of the automatic pen, titans of industry signed these documents themselves. Proof of having been touched by a famous, historic hand imbues these documents – which are really just fancy-looking I.O.U.s – with value strong enough to outlast the projects for which they were issued. 

A Standard Oil stock certificate signed three times by John D. Rockefeller and cosigned by Henry M. Flagler sold for $8,000 in February 2020. Image courtesy of University Archives and LiveAuctioneers

“If you have a stock certificate signed by Rockefeller or Morgan, it’s worth money … It doesn’t matter how good looking it is or isn’t. That’s the first component for value. The second is the aesthetics, combined with the condition. If it’s in bad condition, it doesn’t really matter how good looking it is. If you can’t display it, it’s just not as interesting,’ Gary Rose of certificatecollector.com said in a 2008 interview with Collectors Weekly.

A stock certificate for Bugsy Siegel’s Las Vegas casino achieved $37,000 plus the buyer’s premium in September 2012. Image courtesy of RR Auction and LiveAuctioneers

Other factors affecting the desirability of a stock certificate include the type and color of the paper on which it is issued; whether it is printed or written; its date of issue; the images on the certificate, with special attention given to the vignette (aka the largest central image); the company that issued it; the type of stock it represents; who owned it; its rarity; and, of course, its historical significance. All these seemingly small details can add up to serious sums at auction.

Bonds

Bonds are typically issued by an authority such as a national government, an agency, a state or a municipality to raise funds for schools, roads, utilities and other improvements to infrastructure. But initially, bonds provided governmental bodies a tool for underwriting wars and conflicts.

A Revolutionary War-era bond issued by the state of Maryland sold for $2,200 in December 2011. Image courtesy of Early American History Auctions and LiveAuctioneers

The City of Amsterdam issued the first municipal bond in 1517 to help finance its debts. England paid for its continuous wars against France with bonds beginning with William III in 1694, and other European monarchs followed his lead. The American colonies issued bonds and loan certificates to fund its revolution against George III. America’s efforts in World War II likely would have suffered without sales of savings bonds.

The holder of a bond lends money to the issuing authority for a specific amount of time, expecting only interest on the loan until the bond matures, and nothing more. Unlike those who own stocks, bondholders do not gain any form of ownership in the authority offering the bonds.

Early bond certificates came with a feature that most stock certificates lack: coupons. To receive the allotted interest payment, the bondholder tore off a coupon and redeemed it with the issuing authority. The presence or absence of coupons affects how well a bond certificate performs at auction. Collectors also care whether the coupons are still attached to the bond and how many there are, in addition to wanting to know if the bond is signed, and by who, and wanting to know the overall condition of the document. 

A bond issued by the Republic of Texas in 1840 – five years before it became a state – with all its coupons intact sold for $325 plus the buyer’s premium in February 2021. Image courtesy of Michaan’s Auctions and LiveAuctioneers

As with stock certificates, collectors of bonds enjoy a range of targets, from zero coupon bonds (which are redeemed whole at maturity); long term; short term; municipal; utility; money market; savings; perpetual; and even war bonds that are still being paid out.

This Spanish trading stock issued to Elizabeth Farnese, Queen of Spain by marriage to King Philip V, sold for $9,000 plus the buyer’s premium in June 2019. Image courtesy of Early American History Auctions and LiveAuctioneers

The practice of collecting stocks and bonds for their historic and cultural significance is relatively new, dating back to 1970 or so. Coins and stamps, two other collectibles issued with face values, have more than a century’s head start. Nonetheless, the pursuit of vintage and antique stock and bond certificates boasts a large and devoted following. Nascent collectors can look to associations such as the American Stock and Bond Collectors Association, which maintains an open group on Facebook. Also, the International Bond and Share Society (scripophilyusa.org) provides members with helpful resources and guides.

Possibly the most notorious stock certificate ever printed was issued by Playboy Enterprises. A lot containing eight such certificates, including two specimens, sold for $425 in December 2020. Image courtesy of Holabird Western Americana Collections and LiveAuctioneers

“Stocks [and bonds] are … interesting historically. Just about every stock in my collection, I’ve researched the company. A single stock can actually keep me busy for days. You try and research the company and see when it existed. Did they make anything important, was there anything special about them? They’re almost artifacts of history … ,’ said Rose.

A Houdini Picture Corporation stock certificate, signed by Houdini, realized $4,500 plus the buyer’s premium in March 2012. Image courtesy of Early American History Auctions and LiveAuctioneers

Stock and bond certificates for companies long since shuttered and projects finished ages ago still have value – it’s just different from the numbers printed upon them. The best examples tell a rousing tale with colors, graphics and design. ‘If you have a great-looking stock certificate,’ Rose continued, ‘even if it’s inexpensive, you can frame it, put it on a wall and it makes a very good work of art.’ Try doing that with a stamp or a coin. 

CELLULOID: WHEN PLASTIC WAS FANTASTIC

A large Egyptian and Art Deco style brooch featuring red and black celluloid achieved $250 plus the buyer’s premium in November 2021. Image courtesy of Ripley Auctions and LiveAuctioneers

The origins of celluloid, the first synthetic plastic, date to the 1850s. English chemist Alexander Parkes combined nitrocellulose (wood cellulose, aka guncotton) with the organic solvent camphor and named the results “Parkesine.” John Wesley Hyatt patented a similar substance in America in 1869, giving the useful stuff the name by which it is best known: celluloid. Hyatt viewed it as a substitute for ivory, using it to make piano keys, billiard balls and false teeth.

A circa-1920s set of celluloid billiard balls, with rack and carrying case, achieved $650 plus the buyer’s premium in February 2015. Image courtesy of Louis J. Dianni, LLC and LiveAuctioneers

Celluloid soon became the generic term for all nitrocellulose-based plastics. In addition to faux-ivory, this seemingly magical material could simulate mother-of-pearl, tortoiseshell, amber or coral, depending on which chemicals were added to it. Moreover, celluloid could be painted, molded, carved, cast or processed into sheets, blocks and rods. Its low production cost suited it to mass-produced items such as cutlery handles, straight razors, slide rules, trade signs and table tennis balls. 

Celluloid was also used to create a mind-boggling number of decorative items. Both opaque and transparent celluloid buttons brightened many a trendy outfit. So too did celluloid hatpins, belt buckles, fur clips and dress clips, embellishing opposite sides of women’s necklines. 

But this early plastic had a startling drawback, which manifested most infamously with billiard balls. If something made from celluloid struck another piece of celluloid with enough force, it could explode. Hyatt himself noted this flash-bang effect could cause serious trouble in pool halls, writing in 1914, “We had a letter from a billiard saloon proprietor in Colorado, mentioning this fact and saying he did not care so much about it, but that instantly every man in the room pulled his gun.”

Because the recipe for celluloid relied on nitrocellulose, a combustible material, the factories that made celluloid products were prone to catching fire. After a series of such blazes, The New York Times set its focus on the potential threat to consumers, stating in an 1895 article: “No man can play billiards with any real satisfaction if he knows that the billiards-ball may at any moment explode … burying the players under table and cues. Still worse would be the fate of a possessor of celluloid teeth, who should, in a moment of forgetfulness, insert the lighted end of a cigar into his mouth. The scene that would follow would make men and angels weep…”

A Victorian celluloid vanity box sold for $100 plus the buyer’s premium in August 2021. Image courtesy of Frasher’s Doll Auction and LiveAuctioneers

Sudden detonation was not a concern for those who bought jewelry and accessories made from celluloid, simply because those items weren’t intended to be slammed against each other, and no lady would treat her belongings so roughly. Antique pink, lime green, ivorine and mother of pearl celluloid vanity items were often displayed on Victorian ladies’ dressing tables. The plastic appeared in basics such as hand mirrors, scent bottles, balm jars, powder pots, combs, brushes and trinket boxes, as well as matching clocks, picture frames, shoe horns and clothing brushes. Women would also tuck their vanity items into satin-lined celluloid dresser top boxes decorated with ornate florals, cherubs or Victorian beauties. 

Folding fans, some barely the size of a woman’s palm, incorporated overlapping, bladelike celluloid sticks painted with lush florals or pierced with lacy patterns. Larger, more opulent creations by Duvelleroy of Paris, the fan-maker to royalty, featured celluloid sticks crowned with masses of ostrich feathers or black organza. Still others featured dainty celluloid frames spanned by slim, gold-painted wooden ribs against fine, sequined mesh grounds. 

Decorative celluloid hair combs were popular through the early 20th century. Many were graced with elaborate pierced designs, while others had rhinestone-edged florals, lotus flowers or butterflies. Chic celluloid-tipped hatpins and stickpins also gained favor.

A group of four celluloid hair combs achieved $500 plus the buyer’s premium in October 2011. Image courtesy of New Orleans Auction Galleries and LiveAuctioneers

Celluloid earrings ranged from demure clip-ons molded in the shapes of bows and flowers to dramatic multicolor danglers. Rings took the forms of classic, carved florals and geometric patterns as well as inmate-made prison rings. These humble pieces, which were created by carving or heat-bonding slivers scraped from celluloid pens, toothbrush handles or hand mirrors, often featured small photos mounted on their bezels. 

A trio of celluloid sparkler bangle bracelets achieved $225 plus the buyer’s premium in December 2021. Image courtesy of Ripley Auctions and LiveAuctioneers

Vintage necklaces typically bore delicate celluloid beads in muted amber, white or ivory shades, while chokers bore showy coral, green or blue blossoms. Inexpensive charm bracelets jingled with ivorine mini-menageries. Lightweight celluloid bangles were no less fashionable; women routinely wore armfuls of slim, simple multiples. Others chose molded florals, swirling patterns or sparklers featuring row upon row of rhinestones. 

A photographic celluloid brooch with an image of Carrie Nation holding her hatchet realized $450 plus the buyer’s premium in December 2017. Image courtesy of Soulis Auctions and LiveAuctioneers

Brooches fashioned from celluloid were produced in huge quantities. They often featured molded, carved florals or bouquets, while others resembled fine, costly cameos or featured photographic portraits. Though jewelry designer Lea Stein released scores of brooches, only her earliest examples were made of true celluloid. (Her later ones, as with most pieces of jewelry, used cellulose acetate, an entirely different plastic.)

A group of 12 Lea Stein celluloid bracelets achieved $500 plus the buyer’s premium in November 2020. Image courtesy of Augusta Auctions and LiveAuctioneers

Celluloid production ceased in the West after the arrival of better and cheaper plastics, but Japan, which holds the world monopoly on camphor, continued to make celluloid brooches, bracelets, bangles and beads. Intricate, delicately tinted, hand-painted floral designs bearing the label “Occupied Japan,” which denotes the era of American occupation after World War II, delight art and history buffs alike.

Brooches: pin pals since the Bronze Age

David Webb platinum and 18K white gold brooch centered with a 12-carat cabochon-cut emerald, auctioned for $120,000 plus the buyer’s premium in January 2022. Image courtesy of Joshua Kodner and LiveAuctioneers

In the beginning, there was the stick pin, a slender needle of wood or metal that held a heavy cloak or cape in place. As centuries passed and other clothing fasteners became available, the stick pin evolved into a flashier, more decorative object we now call a brooch. But in spite of its elevated position as an object of beauty, it never lost its core functionality. Many brooches can still be used as fabric fasteners, taking on additional rules such as reflecting authority or cultural values, serving as a family keepsake, and even signaling the wearer’s mood.

This collection of Bronze Age stick pins sold for £180 (about $246) plus the buyer’s premium in March 2013. Image courtesy of Timeline Auctions Ltd., and LiveAuctioneers

Brooches date back at least 5,000 years, to the Bronze Age, when people kept their garments in place with bronze or iron clasps. They were most often plain objects, but some were decorated with stones, enamel, bone, polished glass and occasionally gold and silver. Archaeologists named these clasps fibulae because their construction was similar to the shape of the fibula, the smaller bone in the lower leg.

Collection of Iron Age and Roman fibulae, featuring examples with a rounded arch-crossbow design; a Celtic brooch style (with the pin worn up), and a plate with a more intricate design. Auctioned for £200 (about $274) plus the buyer’s premium in February 2020. Image courtesy of Timeline Auctions Ltd., and LiveAuctioneers

Fibulae were classified as having four parts: the body, or plate; the pin, the spring, and the hinge, which works much like the modern safety pin. Although they were more complicated, fibulae were a vast improvement over the ancient stick pin and allowed for more intricate decoration as well. Fibulae designs uncovered by archaeologists include versions that resemble a violin bow, a compact spiral, and also a flat piece shaped in the form of a hand.

The Middle Ages saw the arrival of the button and its crucial counterpart, the buttonhole. This fastening system allowed wearers to close their clothes more firmly and comprehensively. Freed from their baseline function, fibulae began the transformation into the brooch.

‘Cedar Tree’ brooch by French designer Rene Boivin achieved $100,000 plus the buyer’s premium in November 2021. Image courtesy of Grogan & Company and LiveAuctioneers

Up until the Industrial Age, only the most affluent could afford brooches. The must-have accessory of the early 15th century was a cameo brooch featuring the profile of an ancient philosopher, scholar or royal rendered in cornelian shell, sardonyx, mother-of-pearl and even lava rock. The cameo brooch was a fashion accessory that lasted. Both Empress Josephine of France and Queen Victoria of England adored them. 

Late Victorian cameo brooch in 8K rose gold, sold for $100 plus the buyer’s premium in January 2022. Image courtesy of International Auction Gallery and LiveAuctioneers

A second brooch style that lasted the test of time from the 14th century to the Edwardian era and beyond is one that depicts flora and fauna surrounded by a semi-precious stone or many different stones. Ancient Greek or Etruscan imagery was carved into cartouches during the Victorian era, with diamonds playing an important role in their designs. 

After the death of Prince Albert, the mourning brooch gained popularity. They were typically made from onyx or some other black stone and trimmed in gold. Sometimes they contained the hair of a lost loved one. 

Edwardian-era brooch depicting precious and semi-precious stones set to represent colorful flowers in a ‘wicker’ basket, sold for $950 plus the buyer’s premium in December 2021. Image courtesy of MBA Seattle Auction and LiveAuctioneers

Art Nouveau brooch designs reached new creative heights in the hands of French glass master Rene Lalique and American visionary Louis Comfort Tiffany. When Art Deco took its turn in the design spotlight, Louis Cartier produce brooches resembling baskets of fruit in which jewels of  corresponding colors represented apples, oranges and grapes. Another exceptional Art Deco brooch designer, Frenchwoman Suzanne Belperron, produced brooches featuring flora, fauna and insects. 

Rene Lalique frosted glass Deux Figurines Dos a Dos design from 1913, sold for $2,100 plus the buyer’s premium in October 2021. Image courtesy of Heritage Auctions and LiveAuctioneers

By the mid-20th century, impressionist painter Salvador Dali pushed the brooch to new aesthetic heights with distinctive examples such as a gold bas-relief of Tristan and Isolde in red and clear enamel. Alexander Calder and Man Ray contributed brooches that featured highly geometric or abstract styles. Today, top-flight artisans continue to envision their own takes on the time-honored brooch with pieces that seem more like art than jewelry. Even the ancient stick pin has been revived and reimagined. 

Salvador Dali’s ‘Tristan and Isolde’ brooch with a gold bas-relief design and red and clear enamel, sold for $250 plus the buyer’s premium in March 2017. Image courtesy of Omega Auction Corp and LiveAuctioneers

Brooches are, of course, made to be worn. It’s no surprise, then, that many collectors view them as personal statements. One of the most prominent brooch collectors is former U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright. She has amassed more than 200 brooches in a collection that was comprehensive enough to sustain a 2010 exhibit at the Smithsonian Institute titled “Read My Pins: The Madeleine Albright Collection.”

As the top diplomat and usually the only woman in high-level international negotiations, Albright frequently used her brooches to convey messages. In the run-up to the show, she recalled in an interview with Smithsonian Magazine, “I had an arrow pin that looked like a missile, and when we were negotiating the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty with the Russians, the Russian foreign minister asked, ‘Is that one of your missile interceptors you’re wearing?’ And I responded, ‘Yes. We make them very small. Let’s negotiate.’”

‘Poissons’ articulated double-fish brooch, designed by Jean Schlumberger for Tiffany & Co., in 1965, sold for $90,000 plus the buyer’s premium in July 2021. Image courtesy of Mark Lawson Antiques, Inc., and LiveAuctioneers

While they haven’t yet enthralled younger generations as they did Secretary Albright and Queen Elizabeth II of England, brooches provide both designers and jewelry fans an excellent canvas for expressing an idea or mood as the perfect finishing touch to an outfit. Albright has said that her choice of brooch broadcasts “… what I’m feeling like on a given day or where I’m going. But mostly it’s fun. It’s just a good way to get started.”

Collectors Still Burn For Zippo Lighters

A 14K gold Zippo lighter by Tiffany & Co. sold for $950 plus the buyer’s premium in November 2017. Image courtesy of Fortuna Auction and LiveAuctioneers

Click. Thunk. Simply seeing the word “Zippo” is enough to call to mind the sound a Zippo lighter makes when you open and close its sturdy hinged lid it’s that recognizable. 

The lighter rose to prominence by proving it could perform in tough conditions. A gust of wind wasn’t enough to snuff its flame, ensuring that smokers in foxholes, tents, ship decks, battlefields and other stressful settings could keep their cigarettes lit. The company touted its wares as “wind proof” and boldly promised, “It works or we fix it free.” The lighter’s reliability made it a favorite amongst smokers – predominantly men – in the 20th century. For some of them, a Zippo was the closest thing they had to jewelry, especially if they worked at factories or on shop floors where employees were barred from wearing wedding rings and wristwatches, for safety reasons. 

An 18K gold Zippo lighter by Buccellati achieved $2,750 in March 2018. Image courtesy of Alex Cooper and LiveAuctioneers

According to official Zippo company lore, the Zippo came into being after George C. Blaisdell noticed a friend struggling to light up. The scene took place in the early 1930s at the Bradford Country Club in Blaisdell’s hometown of Bradford, Pennsylvania. The friend, whose name is lost to history, was grappling with an Austrian gas lighter made from old cartridge shells. The Zippo history page states Blaisdell observed that it “… worked well, even in the wind, due to the unique chimney, but the appearance and design were utilitarian and inefficient. The lighter required the use of two hands to operate, and its thin metal surface was easily dented.”

Inspired, Blaisdell decided to redesign his friend’s lighter, giving it a sleek, rectangular polished chrome case with a hinged cover that could be flipped open with one hand. He kept the chimney design that made it “wind proof” and dubbed his creation “Zippo,” a derivation of “zipper,” a word he liked because he thought it sounded good when spoken. Blaisdell received a patent for his lighter in 1936, three years after he started selling it for $1.95 a sum that would equate to roughly $40 today.

A circa-1934 Zippo tall case lighter with a telltale soldered exposed hinge sold for $875 plus the buyer’s premium in December 2019. Image courtesy of Milestone Auctions and LiveAuctioneers.com

Blaisdell changed the Zippo design over the next few years, reducing the case by a quarter-inch, adding diagonal lines to give the case an Art Deco look, and soldering the hinge so that the top cover connected to the inside of the case instead of its outside, where it was more vulnerable to damage. Collectors prize these early examples, which are known as “tall case” Zippos, as well as those with cases that sport the outside hinge.

Another transformative event shaped the Zippo in its fledgling years. In the mid-1930s, the Bradford-based Kendall Refining Company ordered 500 lighters emblazoned with its own corporate brand. Kendall was the first entity to commission Zippos with special livery, and many, many other companies would follow.

A USS Cole Zippo lighter with a brass finish, offered with a WWI-era Bowers trench lighter, sold for $50 in September 2013. Image courtesy of Affiliated Auctions and LiveAuctioneers

During World War II, Zippo suspended civilian sales and produced lighters strictly for the military. The company lacked an official government contract, but regardless, Zippo lighters became the go-to flame-generator for soldiers, sailors and Marines who received mini-packs of cigarettes along with their K-rations. They carried their Zippos from battle to battle and kept them after the war ended. 

Most Zippos that were in use during WWII had black, crackle-finish steel cases. Soldiers believed this detail muffled the noise produced by striking, which in turn helped them keep a low profile during military maneuvers. But the company insists that the case style was chosen for mundane business reasons. Like the scrimshanders of centuries ago, bored trench-bound troops transformed the black cases into canvases, scratching all manner of designs, initials and battle dates into them with any sharp object at hand. Not surprisingly, collectors place a high value on such personalized Zippos.

WWII delivered priceless and lasting benefits to the Zippo company. Hundreds of thousands of teenagers and young men carried its lighters during the most daunting experience of their lives, and depended on them to deliver the nicotine that calmed their nerves in literal life-or-death situations. It’s a sad commentary, but about half of all Americans were routine tobacco smokers in 1945. 

A circa-1960s Zippo Corinthian tabletop lighter rose to $175 plus the buyer’s premium in December 2015. Image courtesy of Clars Auction Gallery and LiveAuctioneers

In the 1950s, Zippo offered its custom-designed lighters in a range of formats, including a series of stand-alone tabletop versions with upscale names such as the Barcroft, Lady Bradford, Moderne, Corinthian, Handilite and the Lady Barbara. A handsome teal green circa-1960s Zippo Corinthian table top lighter sold for $175 plus the buyer’s premium in December 2015 at Clars Auction Gallery. 

Another innovation arrived in 1956 when Zippo unveiled the Slim design, which was smaller, thinner and sleekly polished, with rounded corners that fit easily into pockets and rolled up t-shirts. 

A circa-1950s Zippo lighter commissioned by Buffalo Bob Smith and given to a ‘Howdy Doody’ crew member sold for $454 in February 2021. Image courtesy of Hake’s and LiveAuctioneers

Custom-made Zippos, commissioned as gifts to celebrate anniversaries, retirements and similar milestones, or to create a bond amongst team members, alumni or coworkers, took off. A standout example is a circa-1950s brush-finish Zippo lighter given by “Buffalo” Bob Smith to members of the crew who filmed the Howdy Doody TV show. One that featured a camera and the name “Larry” sold for $454 at Hake’s in February 2021. The very idea that a Zippo cigarette lighter would be in any way associated with the country’s most popular children’s show seems unimaginable today, but that’s how widespread smoking was in the postwar years. 

A circa-1950s Zippo lighter owned by John F. Kennedy, depicting the ‘U.S.S. Joseph P. Kennedy, Jr.,’ which was named for the president’s older brother, realized $1,500 plus the buyer’s premium in July 2018. Image courtesy of Potter & Potter and LiveAuctioneers

Even the highest of high-profile individuals are known to have carried Zippo lighters. One of the most notable was President John F. Kennedy, who took his tobacco strictly in the form of a cigar. A personally owned Kennedy Zippo, decorated with the image of the destroyer named for his older brother, Joseph P. Kennedy, Jr., sold in July 2018 for $1,500 plus the buyer’s premium at Potter & Potter Auctions. JFK also commissioned Zippos, as evidenced by a chrome example commemorating his June 1963 trip to Europe. Kennedy gave the lighter, which is emblazoned with the Presidential Seal, to his longtime friend and aide Dave Powers. It was offered with its original box at a February 2013 sale at John McInnis Auctioneers, where it made $4,500 plus the buyer’s premium.

A chrome Zippo lighter that President Kennedy commissioned for a June 1963 European trip and gave to longtime aide Dave Powers achieved $4,500 plus the buyer’s premium in February 2013. Image courtesy of John McInnis Auctioneers, LLC and LiveAuctioneers

Another Zippo commission came from John Wayne, who had lighters made as gifts for crew members on the 1968 film The Green Berets. Each lighter featured the movie’s name and a likeness of the military hat on the front, and a whimsical inscription on the back that read, in part, STOLEN FROM JOHN WAYNE. An example from the estate of one of Wayne’s friends, Chuck Iverson, sold in July 2012 for $900 plus the buyer’s premium at Profiles in History.

The cultural reach of the Zippo inevitably caught the attention of top luxury goods retailers. Tiffany & Co., created a 14K gold rendition with a vertically ribbed design, subsequently offered at Fortuna Auction in November 2017, where it realized $950 plus the buyer’s premium. An 18K gold Zippo by Buccellati, graced with brushed crosshatched engraving, achieved $2,750 plus the buyer’s premium in March 2018 at Alex Cooper.

A circa-1968 Zippo lighter commissioned by John Wayne for the crew of ‘The Green Berets,’ with the name of the film on the front and the words ‘STOLEN FROM JOHN WAYNE’ on the back, sold for $900 plus the buyer’s premium in July 2012. Image courtesy of Profiles in History and LiveAuctioneers

Spotting a genuine Zippo is relatively straightforward. Just turn it upside down. Those made between 1933 and 1955 feature an unadorned block letter logo stamped on the bottom of the case. A fancy-script logo design prevailed from 1955 until the late 1970s, when it was changed to the version seen today.

Every Zippo lighter made since 1955 also has a date code that specifies when it was made (those produced before 1955 are identified by their stamped logo design). The Zippo company is still going strong, and a page on its official website, www.zippo.com, helps collectors decipher the codes shown on their products, both vintage and new. Also standing ready to assist are Zippo collector clubs, many of which are active on social media. The Zippo/Case Museum, a 15,000-square-foot facility in Bradford, Pennsylvania, that also houses a repair clinic and a store, is normally open seven days a week.

As much more has become known about the connection between smoking and serious illnesses, the number of active smokers has dwindled dramatically. Now, only around 16% of the American population are smokers. But the habit of acquiring vintage Zippo lighters has continued, joining the many other collectibles categories that are associated with taboos of a less-enlightened era.

No mystery to the appeal of Egyptian Revival style

Gold, amethyst, demantoid garnet, and enamel brooch, 1¼ × 1⅛ inches,
Theodore B. Starr, stamped, NY, NY, circa 1900, gift of Jacqueline Loewe Fowler, 2013. Image in public domain, courtesy metmuseum.org

Egyptian Revival, a European artistic style dating from the early 19th century, was inspired by Napoleon’s conquest of Ottoman Egypt and Admiral Nelson’s Battle of the Nile. As volumes documenting Egyptian architecture, antiquities and natural history appeared, with sketches of the Near East’s exotic sights and mysterious symbols, the West’s fascination with this ancient culture grew. Egyptomania, obsession with Egyptian antiquities, increased further in 1820, when translation of the Rosetta Stone led to deciphering ancient hieroglyphics – opening another window into the art and culture of that fascinating world. 

Initially, grand Egyptian-inspired sculptures and architectural elements arose in Paris and London. Toward the end of the century, however, stylized Egyptian motifs embellished a variety of functional and ornamental objects, as well.  

Red stoneware Wedgewood teapots and underplates, for example, often depicted images of winged sphinxes, crocodiles and canopic jars. Silverplated pots bore curlicued, engraved cartouches, elegantly draped plinths, or images of sacred ibis birds which represented rebirth. 

Pairs of tall, tapering marble, slate, or onyx obelisks depicted graceful palm fronds, trumpeted flowers, medallions, sphinxes, and hieroglyphics, in addition to images of scarab beetles, which the Egyptians associated with the life-giving sun. Smaller obelisks often flanked marble and bronze clock garnitures – three-piece, matched sets designed for mantlepieces. Highly stylized settees, armchairs, desks, tables, and sarcophagus-shaped caskets often bore images that could be seen in Egyptian tomb paintings.  

Armchair and sidechair, rosewood with prickly juniper veneer, 37 x 27½ x 27½ inches, attributed to Pottier and Stymus, New York City, circa 1870-75. Image in public domain, courtesy metmuseum.org

 

After the American Civil War and the inauguration of the Suez Canal (1869), exotic, Egyptian-style furniture also charmed Americans. Their hand-carved cabinets, credenzas, sideboards, and “parlor suites” often featured gold-painted cuffs and collars along with carved or bronze-mounted lion masks, sphinxes, ceremonial headdresses, or palm-frond details. Most surviving post-Civil War-era pieces are associated with the famed furniture design company, Pottier and Stymus. Their opulent rosewood armchair with prickly juniper veneer, for example, featured gilt-brass sphinxes and nailed-bead moldings, along with an abundance of gilt-engraved accents and painted medallions. 

Egyptian Revival garniture set featuring slate/marble clock and marble pillars, marked with Japy Freres seal, circa 1880s, France, clock 17 x 16 inches, pillars 20 x 6½ inches. Sold for $1,400+ buyer’s premium in 2021. Image courtesy Akiba Antiques and LiveAuctioneers

 

By the turn of the century, Tiffany & Co., was marketing a number of Egyptian Revival decorative objects, including clock garnitures, glass powder containers coiled with gold-wash sterling snakes, and gold-wash coffee spoons featuring bright, striped Egypt-evocative enamel detail. Additionally, Tiffany adorned some of their simple bronze candelabras with images of ibises and lotus flowers, symbolizing creation and rebirth. 

Other pieces of the period – like Theodore B. Starr’s gold and enamel brooch depicting an Egyptian-clad figure playing a falcon-headed amethyst-scarab harp above a coiled-snake plinth – spared no expense with their luxurious details.

Archaeologist Howard Carter’s discovery of King Tutankhamun’s treasure-filled tomb in 1922, which was celebrated in newspapers, newsreels and on the silver screen, sparked a renewed interest in Egyptomania. Over time, Ancient Egypt’s ancient motifs and symbols permeated all aspects of modern culture, including architecture, theater, literature, and the decorative arts. Bookends, vases, jardinières, andirons, busts, and finely embroidered tapestries depicted an abundance of Egyptian motifs. Fashionistas of the day caught the Egyptian Revival bug and often carried lustrous, Egyptian-motif celluloid or micro-beaded evening bags. 

Egyptian-themed woven tapestry featuring gilt metal thread, approximately 46½ wide x 48 inches long, 1920s. Sold for $325 + buyer’s premium in 2017. Image courtesy of Blackwell Auctions and LiveAuctioneers

Egyptian Revival design also became an integral aspect of Art Deco, a sleek, geometric style melding ingenuity and fine artistry with precious materials. As a result, gleaming gilt images of pharaohs, royal headdresses, winged sphinxes, and pyramids adorned wall plaques, perfume bottles, belt buckles, lamp bases, cigarette cases, and sconces. 

In addition, fine jewelers, including Tiffany, Cartier, and Van Cleef & Arpels, created Egyptian Revival bracelets, beaded bib necklaces, earrings, rings, pendants, bar pins and hatpins. Many bore gilded mummy, sphinx, snake, hieroglyphic, pyramid or plump, rounded scarab motifs. 

Art Deco Egyptian Revival moonstone and diamond scarab brooch, France, wings set with buff-top onyx, with various old-cut European diamonds, platinum mount, 1 7/8 inches, guarantee stamps. Sold for $9,500 + buyer’s premium in 2021. Image courtesy Skinner and LiveAuctioneers

Art Deco winged scarab brooches resembling beetles in flight were, perhaps, the most popular of all jewelry designs. Simple gold or silver models often featured carved hardstone “bodies” with delicate, stylized champlevé or plique-à-jour wings. Exquisite beauties featuring moonstone and onyx bodies tipped with old European-, rose-, baguette- or fancy-cut European diamond wings were the most extravagant creations of the period. Those now-classic creations, which are favorites in auction rooms worldwide, shimmer like their inspiration: the sun.

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Morgan vs. Peace Dollar: Which has a silver lining?

Morgan and Peace silver dollars are the quintessential dollar coins issued from 1878 through 1935 considered the most aesthetically pleasing coins ever produced by the United States. This example sold for $7,500 (plus buyer’s premium) in 2006. Image courtesy: Brunk Auctions and LiveAuctioneers

A silver dollar is impressive any way you look at it. It’s hefty, artistically beautiful, and symbolically as American as apple pie. It’s no wonder that the Morgan Dollar and Peace Dollar, both noted for their intricate designs, are the ones most sought after at auction. Which one is the more collectible of the two, though?

Morgan Dollar

Coins — both silver and gold — were first issued for circulation by the United States Mint in 1794. But it may surprise you to know that, at that time, anyone possessing either silver or gold bullion could request that the US Mint create coinage from their bullion in fractional values for use as legal tender. The Coin Act of 1873 changed that policy when it demonetized silver for the first time, putting the United States on the gold standard.

By 1878, the Bland-Allison Act re-monetized silver into dollars. The Mint intended to strike a new silver dollar beginning that year and turned to Assistant Engraver George Morgan, a die engraver originally from Great Britain, to design it. The final design featured a profile of Liberty wearing a Phrygian cap of freedom (modeled after teacher and philosopher Anna Willess Williams) on the obverse and an American Bald Eagle with outstretched wings on the reverse. The Morgan Dollar, named for its designer, was circulated from 1878 until 1904 (it was reissued in 1921 and reintroduced in 2021 as a commemorative proof coin).

The redesigned silver dollar of 1878 was so pleasing to collectors, compared to previously minted coins, that it was promptly named the Morgan Dollar for its designer, George T. Morgan, an Assistant Engraver for the US Mint. This closeup shows a first issue that recently sold for $59,500 (plus buyer’s premium). Image courtesy: 3 Kings Auction and LiveAuctioneers

Peace Dollar

The Pittman Act of 1918 required the melting down of existing silver dollars into bullion and purchasing an equal amount of silver from western silver mines to be re-minted into new silver dollars, initially continuing the Morgan Dollar design. However, coin collectors strongly encouraged a unique design to commemorate the world at peace with the end of World War I.

In 1921 a new silver dollar was designed by sculptor Anthony di Francisi after winning a competition sponsored by the Commission of Fine Arts. The obverse featured a profile of Liberty wearing a stylized crown (modeled after his wife Mary Teresa) and a perched Bald Eagle with sun rays in the background on the reverse that together would “…capture the spirit of the country – its intellectual speed, vigor and vitality.” The new silver dollar was immediately nicknamed the Peace Dollar.

The Peace Dollar would remain in circulation from 1921 until 1928, with reissues in 1934, 1935 and a collectible proof coin beginning in 2021.

Following War I, a new silver dollar was being considered to celebrate the final victory. The result was sculptor Anthony di Francisi’s design for the Peace Dollar. It was first issued in 1921. This lot of 40 uncirculated ones together with 60 uncirculated Morgan Dollars for $4,000 (without buyer’s premium) in 2011. Image courtesy: US Asset Forfeiture & Seizures, Inc. and LiveAuctioneers

A Comparison

The Morgan and the Peace Dollars are considered by collectors to be the most attractive and collectible of all United States coins. Both feature Liberty on the obverse and a Bald Eagle on the reverse, but each design’s details and artistry make them so distinctive that when they were first released, they set the standard for all future coin designs.

The composition of Morgan and Peace Dollars is identical, but their numbers are dramatically different. Both are of the same thickness, diameter, and weight, minted with 90% silver and 10% copper (the 2021 proof coins of each are .999 silver content). Only the Morgan Dollar was minted in larger quantities, about 650 million circulated for more than 27 years. In comparison, 190 million Peace Dollars were circulated over nine years. For that reason, the Morgan Dollar is the more “collected” of the two types.

Collectors will find many Morgan Dollars in uncirculated condition, meaning that the coins do not feature the usual scratches and wear such coins would naturally encounter over a long period of public use. Coin dealers may point this out as a selling point, however many Morgan Dollars weren’t generally circulated by the US Mint and instead were kept in vaults. For that reason, uncirculated Morgan Dollars aren’t necessarily scarce.

While assembling a complete collection of Morgan Dollars is more of a challenge and amassing a full set of circulated Peace Dollars is more manageable, each type has its rarities. For example, the Morgan Dollar, reissued in 1921, was minted in San Francisco, but it was also minted in Denver for that year only, making the 1921 D Morgan Dollar quite rare. The 1893 S had a small mintage of only 200,000, and any with an early mint mark of CC (Carson City, Nevada Mint) is quite scarce.

The Peace Dollar was initially minted in high relief in 1921 and 1922 to call attention to the detail of its design. The dies used to highlight the coin’s fine detail were subjected to too much pressure. Frequently they would crack or break and would immediately be replaced with the latest coin design, featuring a lower relief. One might occasionally encounter a high-relief Peace Dollar for 1921 or 1922 at auction, but, except for the existence of about 10 or so, all of the high-relief coins were melted down and never circulated. Also, many of the Peace Dollars minted in San Francisco beginning in 1923 are considered rare for their relatively low mintage and are a collector’s favorite at auction.

Each Morgan or Peace Dollar will have its distinguishing characteristics such as rarity, condition, mintage, and errors that collectors should watch for at auction. Always check with a reputable dealer, the American Numismatic Association, collectors.com, and prominent coin-grading companies such as the Professional Coin Grading Service (PCGS) and the Numismatic Guaranty Company (NGC) to help track the rarities and follow the current value of any Morgan and Peace Dollar.

In the end, both the Morgan and the Peace Dollar are collected equally, based on a personal interest in their symbolism, design, and overall collectibility in the marketpplace. Their history, alone, instills a feeling of pride in any collector who holds one of these beautiful coins in their hand.

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Toys that shuffle, tap or dance a jig

A suspended clockwork clown jig doll achieved $2,300 plus the buyer’s premium in August 2021 at The RSL Auction Co. Image courtesy of The RSL Auction Co. and LiveAuctioneers

NEW YORK — Toys or dolls that are sometimes known as “jiggers” have free-swinging limbs that render the appearance of shuffling or dancing. Starting with a simple figure on a wooden or tin-plate platform, these antique toys evolved into more complex playthings that employed clockwork or wind-up mechanisms.

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Staffordshire Animals Pay Tribute To British Country Life

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Timeless Appeal Of A Charlie Brown Christmas

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Putting a spin on it: The delights of agateware

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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