6 Fascinating Facts About Cats in Japanese Art

It’s hard to dispute the global popularity of cats, whether you fancy them or not. From museums to memes, they are represented in ancient Japanese art and contemporary communications. That’s quite a narration for the four-legged creatures who reportedly first took up residence in Japan around 500 A.D. The cats were brought on as crew members of ships departing China for Japan, charged with the task of protecting religious documents against destruction by mice. Obviously, their missions as mousers runs deep.

Upon arriving in Japan, it didn’t take long for felines to establish a revered presence within ancient Japanese culture. However, even as celebrated as they were, according to Japanese folklore, cats were also viewed by some as devious and perhaps possessing of darker traits. Nevertheless, one thing is certain, the presence of felines in Japanese art is extensive, and dates back centuries. With that, here are 6 intriguing facts about cats in Japanese art.

  1. One of the masters of ukiyo-e woodblock art of the 17th century, Utagawa Kuniyoshi (1797-1861), was reportedly a serious fan of felines, often sharing his living space with multiple cats at any given time. In fact, it is said that he kept a record of the cats that died, and treated the passing of each with a great symbolic reverence.

    Ukiyo-e woodblock art, “Cats of the Tokaido Road Triptych” by Utagawa Kuniyoshi. Sold for $1,100. Jasper52 image

  2. Another centuries-old applauded feline of Japanese art and culture is the Maneki Neko. Immediately recognizable for its raised and welcoming paw, the Maneki Neko (commonly referred to as Fortune Cat or Lucky Cat) is said to bear multiple telling symbols. For example, if the Maneki Neko bears calico colors, which is a traditional shading, it is said to hold the most potential for luck. You might also notice, the raised paw of a Maneki Neko figurine could be either the left or the right paw. Either way, the symbolism is positive, and is said to be a gesture of beckoning wealth and luck.
  3. In 1979, Japan issued a commemorative postage stamp featuring the painting “Black Cat,” circa 1910, created by Meiji-period painter Hishida Shunso (formal name was Hishida Miyoji) during a period of only five days. Interestingly, Shunso’s portrait also appeared on a postage stamp, as part of Japan’s Famous Japanese Personalities series in 1951.

    An image of the painting done by Shunso in 1910, and the postage stamp featuring the image, issued in 1979. ArtHistoryProject.com images

  4. One of the most heralded modern exhibitions featuring cats in Japanese artwork was the “Life of Cats: Selections From the Hiraki Ukiyo-e Collection.” The exhibition was presented in 2015 by the Japan Society Gallery in New York. Nearly 90 examples of Japanese art, in various mediums, was included in the exhibition.
  5. The presence of cats in Japanese art isn’t limited to sweet and small. Big cats also appear in artwork dating back centuries. One of the largest and most diverse collections of Japanese art in the world can be found at The Cleveland Museum of Art. The collection boasts 1,950 pieces, including the impressive six-panel ink on paper work titled “Dragon and Tiger” by 16th century Japanese and Zen monk Sesson Shukei.

    “Dragon and Tiger” six-panel folding screen ink on paper, 16th century, by Sesson Shukei. The Cleveland Museum of Art image


  6. Cats are also beloved characters within the storylines and art of modern-day manga – comics created in Japan. For instance, the character Minako Aino, in the wildly popular “Pretty Soldier Sailor Moon” manga of the late 20th century, is accompanied by her talking guardian and advisor, a white cat named Artemis. The manga is the vision of Japanese artist and writer Nako Takeuchi (1967). The illustrations and largely female-led cast of characters went on to influence the development of Magical Girl manga and anime.

Be it centuries-old ukiyo-e woodblock art or modern-day manga and anime art, the reverence for felines is a common thread within the art culture of Japan. Whether it’s because of their supposed mystical properties, elegant and mysterious characteristics, or something else altogether, the fascination with felines in Japanese art and society is alive and well.


A Coin Glossary for Aspiring Numismatists

Numismatics, or coin collecting, has its own lexicon, which can be bewildering to anyone new to the hobby. Popular nicknames of U.S. coins, such as wheat penny, buffalo nickel (it’s actually a bison) or Mercury dime (which neither depicts the Roman god nor has any mercury content), are also confusing. Use the following glossary to learn the basic lingo used by collectors of U.S. coins and soon you, too, will sound like an expert.

Bag marks: Surface abrasions found on coins as a result of coins striking the surfaces of other coins during bagging and shipping.

Buffalo nickel: Nickname given to the Indian head 5-cent coin issued from 1913 to 1938. The nickname is incorrectly used, however, because U.S. coins are usually named after their obverse (front-side) design. The animal depicted on the reverse side of the coin is a bison, not a buffalo.

Coin: A piece of metal, marked with a device and issued by a government for use as money.

The Winged Liberty Head dime is nicknamed the Mercury dime because of its resemblance to the Roman god. It was designed by Adolph Weinman and engraved by Charles Barber. Image courtesy of LiveAuctioneers archive and The Chivalrous Collector Ltd.

Clad: Coin that has a core of base metal, such as copper, and surface layers of a more valuable metal, like copper-nickel. U.S. dimes, quarters and half dollars minted since 1965 are a clad coinage.

Denomination: The face value of a coin; the amount of money it is worth as legal tender.

Die: A metal punch, the face of which carries an intaglio or incuse mirror image to be impressed on one side of a planchet.

Double Eagle: A $20 gold coin of the United States.

Eagle: A U.S. $10 gold coin.

Grading: Since the mid-20th century, the American Numismatic Association has used a 1-70 numbering scale, where 70 represents a perfect specimen and 1 represents a barely identifiable coin. Descriptions and numeric grades for coins (from highest to lowest) are as follows:

  • Mint State (MS) 60-70
  • Uncirculated (UNC)
  • About/Almost Uncirculated (AU) 50, 53, 55, 58
  • Extremely Fine (XF or EF) 40, 45
  • Very Fine (VF) 20, 25, 30, 35
  • Fine (F) 12, 15
  • Very Good (VG) 8, 10
  • Good (G) 4, 6
  • About Good (AG) 3
  • Fair (F) 2
  • Poor (P) 1

Half Eagle: A U.S. $5 gold coin.

The Indian Head 5-cent coin is nicknamed the buffalo nickel. It was designed by James Earle Fraser and engraved by Charles Barber. Image courtesy of LiveAuctioneers archive and Rago Arts and Auction Center

Indian Head cent: U.S. cent designed and engraved by James A. Longacre and issued 1859 to 1909. Also called Wreath, or Wreath and Shield, for the designs on the reverse.

Large cent: Refers to the U.S. cents of 1793-1857, with diameters between 26-29 millimeters, depending on the year it was struck.

Legal tender: Currency (coins or paper money) explicitly determined by a government to be acceptable in the discharge of debts.

Mint mark: A letter or other symbol indicating the mint of origin. U.S. coinage began at the Philadelphia Mint in 1793.

Obverse of the Morgan silver dollar, which depicts a profile portrait of Liberty. Image courtesy of LiveAuctioneers archive and Capo Auction

Morgan dollar: A U.S. silver dollar minted from 1878 to 1904, and again in 1921. The coin was named after its designer, George T. Morgan, U.S. Mint Assistant Engraver. The obverse depicts a profile portrait representing Liberty, while the reverse depicts an eagle with wings outstretched.

NickelThe common – but factually incorrect – name for the U.S. 5-cent piece. In the 19th century copper-nickel cents and 3-cent coins were also nicknamed “nickel.”

Obverse: The side of a coin that bears the principal design, often as described by the issuing authority. In a coin toss, the obverse is known as “heads.”

1935 was the last year the U.S. Mint issued the Peace dollar, which was composed of 90 percent silver. The coin was the result of a competition to find designs emblematic of peace. The reverse depicts an American bald eagle at rest clutching an olive branch, with the legend ‘Peace.’ Image courtesy of LiveAuctioneers archive and Lyn Knight Auctions

Peace dollar: A U.S. dollar coin minted from 1921 to 1928, and again in 1934 and 1935. Designed by Anthony de Francisci, the coin was the result of a competition to find designs emblematic of peace. Its obverse represents the head and neck of the Goddess of Liberty in profile, and the reverse depicts a bald eagle at rest clutching an olive branch, with the legend “Peace.” It was the last United States dollar coin to be struck for circulation in silver.

Planchet: A plain, round metal disk which, when placed between the dies and struck, becomes a coin; also called a flan or blank.

Proof coinage: Special early samples of a coin issue, historically made for checking the dies and for archival purposes, but nowadays often struck in greater numbers specially for coin collectors. Preparation of a proof striking usually involved polishing of the dies. They can usually be distinguished from normal circulation coins by their sharper rims and design, as well as much smoother “fields” – the blank areas are not part of the coin’s design.

Mercury dime: Nickname for the Winged Liberty Head dime issued from 1916 to 1945. Composed of 90 percent silver, 10 percent copper.

Mint mark: On U.S. coinage, a letter or letters indicating the mint where the coin was produced. Mint marks in the United States coinage include P for the Philadelphia Mint, D for the Denver Mint, S for the San Francisco Mint, and W for the West Point Mint. In the past, CC for the Carson City Mint, C for the Charlotte Mint, D for the Dahlonega Mint, and O for the New Orleans Mint were used.

Reverse: The side opposite the obverse, usually the side with the denomination. In a coin toss, the reverse is known as “tails.”

Standing Liberty quarter: A U.S. 25-cent coin issued from 1916 to 1930. It features the goddess Liberty on one side and an eagle in flight on the reverse. The coin was designed by sculptor Hermon Atkins MacNeil.

Steel war penny: 1943 U.S. cents were struck in steel due to wartime shortages of copper. The Philadelphia, Denver and San Francisco mints each produced these 1943 Lincoln cents. The unique composition of the coin (low-grade steel coated with zinc, instead of the usual bronze composition) has led to various nicknames, such as wartime cent and steelie. The 1943 steel cent features the same Victor David Brenner design for the Lincoln cent, which had been in use since 1909.

U.S. Mint: Produces circulating coinage for the United States to conduct its trade and commerce; also controls the movement of bullion. There are four active coin-producing mints: Philadelphia, Denver, San Francisco, and West Point.

Walking Liberty: A U.S. half dollar that was introduced in 1916, which depicts a Walking Liberty figure, while the reverse depicts an eagle.

Wheat penny: U.S. Lincoln cent issued from 1909 (the centennial of Abraham Lincoln’s birth) to 1958. Designed by Victor D. Brenner and engraved by Charles Barber, the coin takes its nickname for the “wheat ears” design on its reverse.

How to Care for Luxury Estate Jewelry

Whether it’s an heirloom passed down through generations of your own family or an eye-catching treasure purchased at auction, luxury estate jewelry deserves special attention to keep it at its sparkling best. But one might ask, how is that best achieved, and more importantly, how can a jewelry owner be sure that the cleaning product they’re using is safe for both the gemstones and the precious-metal setting?

We have the answers. But before we get to that, let’s stress what any estate jeweler would tell you: It’s important to maintain fine jewelry. The longer you wait between cleanings, the greater the potential for loss of shine. But don’t let the process of cleaning your luxury estate jewelry intimidate you. It’s definitely something you can do yourself, as long as you follow a few simple guidelines.

Aletto Bros. Colombian emerald and diamond earrings. LiveAuctioneers/Fortuna Auction image

Tip: Before you begin, take the time to bring your estate jewelry to a trusted jeweler for an inspection.

This is something you should do periodically. It shouldn’t cost much, and in some cases jewelers won’t charge you at all.

One of the most common processes to restore the sparkle to estate jewelry that has dulled is available in every household: soap and water.

Estate Art Deco sapphire and diamond ring, brilliant cut. Jasper52 image

According to the Gemological Institute of America, the same organization that first brought to light the ‘4 Cs – carat weight, color, clarity, and cut),’ most colored gems can be cleaned with warm water, mild dish soap and a soft brush. Keep in mind, the soap should not be automatic dishwasher soap or hand soap. Also, although obvious, the GIA advises rinsing jewelry in a glass of water, and not directly in the sink.

With a business built on the belief that jewelry should be worn and adored, the multinational Hueb jewelry company, now led by third generation Hueb family members offers several recommendations.

Tip: To brighten gold jewelry and mounted stones, use a minute amount of mild dish soap combined with club soda. After cleaning with the bubbly mixture, carefully rinse the piece with fresh, cold water and dry with a soft cloth.

Cartier platinum, sapphire and aquamarine brooch. LiveAuctioneers/Brunk Auctions image

“Studies show that the bubbles in club soda are very effective for removing debris in hard-to-reach corners,” Hueb site states.

When it comes to more porous stones, including pearls and turquoise pieces, Hueb’s specific advice is: Never soak them as a method of cleaning.

Purchasing a polishing cloth made specifically for jewelry is an inexpensive, but worthwhile investment. If you opt to use your own cloth, make sure you don’t use it for anything other than polishing jewelry.

Some say the device used to clean a piece of estate jewelry is as important as the cleaning concoction. The Jewelers Mutual Insurance Company says to use a “new, baby-size soft toothbrush.”

Antique Georgian rose-cut diamond, gold and silver lady’s chocker necklace. LiveAuctioneers/Kodner Galleries image

In addition, if you remember the story of Goldilocks and the Three Bears, you’ll be familiar with another bit of advice Jewelers Mutual offers: Make sure the water you use isn’t too hot or too cold, but just right. Gemstones don’t react well to extreme changes in temperature.

A little loving care can go a long way toward keeping the sparkle and shine in your favorite luxury estate gems and jewels. They’ve lasted this long, and if you give them the attention they deserve, they’ll retain their beauty for many years to come.


The Fine Print: Contemporary Art at Down-to-Earth Prices

“Art enables us to find ourselves and lose ourselves at the same time,” wrote Thomas Merton, early 20th-century theologian, author and Trappist monk.

That’s a powerful and appealing statement, isn’t it? If you’ve been watching the prices that fine artworks have been commanding, you may have resigned yourself to the fact that you’ll have to find another (more affordable) way to “find and lose” yourself. Take heart and take note: prints provide the opportunity to own high-quality works by modern art visionaries, including Roy Lichtenstein, Andy Warhol, and Keith Haring, at a fraction of the cost of originals.

That sounds like a fulfilling way to experience the duality of art appreciation described by Merton, so to gain some perspective about collecting contemporary prints we turned to an expert: Wade Terwiliger, co-owner of Palm Beach Modern Auctions.

“Contemporary art is hot, hot, hot, and increasing prices reflect that interest,” Terwiliger said. “As prices for original works of art by noteworthy artists have skyrocketed, prints have gained recognition as a more affordable way for collectors to obtain images by these artists. We’re seeing a broad range of prices for prints, with collectors worldwide getting in on the action online.”

Collecting Tip: Always, always, always ask questions. It’s important to find out the dimensions, the condition, and if artwork has been examined out of its frame.

Solid provenance and/or documentation are a focus for many collectors. So are good names and signed editions, Terwiliger said. And it goes without saying, condition is also an important factor. However, as Terwiliger explained, there’s no single specific factor that outweighs all others. “What we’ve seen is that buyers will determine their own priorities from among this list of criteria,” he said.

During their years of serving consignors and collectors, Palm Beach Modern Auctions has done well with icons of different art movements, according to Terwiliger. They include a number of market- and time-tested artists, including these five luminaries of the contemporary art realm:

Keith Haring, “Apocalypse I” silkscreen, signed edition, circa 1988. Sold for $4,880, Feb. 4, 2017. Palm Beach Modern Auctions image

Keith Haring (American, 1958-1990) – Haring tapped into his ability to draw at an early age, observing and learning from his father, who drew cartoons for entertainment. This early influence is evident in much of his work, which often has cartoon-like imagery. However, the themes and topics addressed in his work were not always light-hearted subjects about life and love, but also serious matters such as apartheid, AIDS, and drug addiction.

Haring’s work appeals to all age groups, Terwiliger said. Collectors can obtain at auction pieces from Haring’s Pop Shops operation, such as tote bags, for less than $1,000. Limited edition prints can be had for $3,000-$5,000 at auction. At the upper end of the spectrum, a print of “Three Lithographs: One Plate” signed, circa 1985, sold for $40,000 during a February 2017 auction at Palm Beach Modern Auctions.

“While his original works sell in the millions, it’s incredibly exciting that a print from the same artist can be accessible and affordable,” Terwiliger said.


Ellsworth Kelly, “Colored Paper Image XVII” from the “Colored Paper” series, hand-made paper with colored pulp, signed limited edition. Sold for $12,000 + buyer’s premium, Nov. 22, 2017. Palm Beach Modern Auctions image

Ellsworth Kelly (American, 1923-2015) – At one time, Ellsworth Kelly was considered an artist beyond definition, in that he produced works in a variety of disciplines. He was a painter, sculptor and printmaker, and left his mark on the development of Minimalism, Hard-edge painting, and Pop Art.

During World War II, Kelly served as a member of the “Ghost Army,” a unit tasked with using inflatable tanks to misdirect enemies. His works have appeared in exhibitions around the world, and in permanent commissions such as a mural in Paris, and a memorial for the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum.

“If you have a bigger budget or are advancing your collection, Ellsworth Kelly prints are worth considering, but they are in high demand,” Terwiliger said. “His works are very appealing to collectors, as they are colorful, pure, and though seemingly simple, always absorb the viewer into an unexpected experience.”


Collecting Tip: “It is essential not just for a beginning collector, but for all collectors, to deal with someone – a gallery, auction house or dealer – that you feel comfortable with. Whether you are buying online or in person, you are making an investment, and that should involve, to some degree, having a relationship of trust in place with the seller.”


Bridget Riley, “Untitled (Fragment 7),” silkscreen on plexiglass, circa 1965, signed limited edition. Sold for $25,000, May 6, 2017. Palm Beach Modern Auctions image

Bridget Riley (British/American, b. 1931) – Like the other artists discussed here, Riley identified a love of and ability to create art at an early age. Deeply involved in the Op-Art movement, Riley reportedly had a childhood fascination with observing cloud formations and the interplay of color and light.

“Specifically, Riley’s graphic black and white geometric-form artworks are most appealing to collectors and are solid market performers,” said Terwiliger, citing the recent sale of “Untitled (Fragment 7)” from an edition of 75 for $25,000 at a May 6, 2017 Palm Beach Modern Auctions event.


Takashi Murakami, “Flower Ball (3D) – TURN RED!,” offset lithograph in colors with cold-stamping on high varnish paper, circa 2013, part of the Flowerball series. Sold for $800, May 6, 2017. Palm Beach Modern Auctions image

Takashi Murakami (Japanese/American, b. 1962) – “Murakami is current, and his works are full of life…a younger generation’s Warhol or Haring,” Terwiliger noted. “We have a young staff who just love him. The recurring characters in his work draw you into a narrative.”

Described by Interview magazine as operating a “multi-tentacled enterprise,” Murakami – in addition to creating paintings and sculptures that fuse Japanese traditions with pop culture images – founded a company that manages and promotes artists, hosts art festivals, produces art-related merchandise, runs a gallery for young Japanese artists, and has collaborated with musicians and designers.


Roy Lichtenstein, “Mermaid” lithograph, signed edition, circa 1978. Sold for $8,500, Feb. 4, 2017. Palm Beach Modern Auctions image

Roy Lichtenstein (American, 1923-1997) – Lichtenstein is an artist with universal appeal. It is reported that, as a child, he was a fan of science-fiction radio programs, and thought his life observed and extensively studied nature. He also served in the army, and later as an art instructor at the university level.

Although he is credited with creating various pieces that incorporated elements of Surrealism and Cubism, it is Lichtenstein’s eye-filling, pixelated pop art that is most recognizable. The breadth of Lichtenstein’s work also provides opportunities for a collection to evolve along with the interest and investment of collectors, Terwilliger explains.

“What I like about Lichtenstein is that he spans a number of collecting ranges, from $500 to $800 to prints that sell for $40,000. A collector could start with a poster in the low to mid hundreds and work their way up to $2,000 to $3,000, such as the “Crying Girl” mailer and from there to the $5,000 to $8,000 range, such as “Pyramids” or “Mermaid.”


Collecting Tip: “For works over several thousand dollars, I’d recommend buying prints that have provenance and, if possible, accompanying documentation. Your standards may require a line of provenance that dates back to the artist’s studio, or to a reputable gallery, but be sure to gather such information and keep it on file for all the prints in your collection.”

“Contemporary art challenges us…it broadens our horizons. It asks us to think beyond the limits of conventional wisdom.” – Eli Broad, American entrepreneur, philanthropist and co-founder of the Eli and Edythe Broad Foundation

Charles Tiffany Set Standard of Quality in American Silver

One hundred-eighty years ago this year Chicago became a city, the patent for rubber was filed, two chemists laid claim to developing Worcester sauce, and the beginning of what would become the most iconic American silver company of the 20th century began to take shape.

Tiffany & Co. pair of candelabra, about 1879, silver, copper and gold, anonymous lender. IMA image

Interesting enough when Charles L. Tiffany and John B. Young went into business together in 1837 as Tiffany & Young, they initially specialized in selling stationary, fans, pottery, and silver items manufactured by other companies. This included Gorham, which would become Tiffany’s greatest competition in America’s early silver marketplace.

The competition between the two companies was “the biggest rivalry of the 20th century silver market,” said Dr. Charles Venable, the Director and CEO of the Indianapolis Museum of Art. The founders of the competing silver companies approached the business quite differently, Venable added, with Jabez Gorham viewing the business largely with the eye and mind of a silversmith, and Charles Tiffany as a retailer and progressive marketer.

Silver beer pitcher, circa 1857, by designer and maker Edward C. Moore (1827-1891) for Tiffany & Co. IMA image

Although Tiffany & Co. is synonymous with luxury items, including but not limited to silver, the company also served an important manufacturing role during various wars. During the Civil War, the company was an arsenal for the Union and a producer of badges, swords and military uniforms. When World War I broke out, the company shifted gears of its production to focus efforts on manufacturing surgical instruments for use on the battlefield. In addition, throughout World War II, Tiffany & Co.’s New Jersey-based silver factory turned out parts for military airplanes.

Tiffany & Co.’s role in developing America’s place in the silver market involved innovation on a global level. An early example of this materialized when the company brought the British standard of silver purity into the American marketplace in the second quarter of the 19th century. As a direct result of Charles Tiffany’s tireless efforts supporting this, the federal law requiring 925/1000 standard for an item to be marked “sterling silver” was passed. The company claimed another first when it earned the grand prize for silver craftsmanship during the 1867 Paris Exposition Universelle. This marked the first for an American firm.

This was a progressive time in the history of American silver, said Venable, whose IMA team curated and presented the exhibition “Tiffany, Gorham, and the Height of American Silver, 1840-1930,” which was on display between April 2015 and October 2016. With a tremendously positive response to the exhibition, both from private collectors of silver who lent the museum items for the installation and museum attendees, IMA is looking at curating another exhibition of silver in the next few years. This will focus on another period of silver innovation, said Venable.

Installation view of ‘Tiffany, Gorham, and the Height of American Silver, 1840-1930’ at the Indianapolis Museum of Art. IMA image

Although Tiffany & Co. and its counterparts in the American silver manufacturing community came into their own hundreds of years after European makers set a course, the freedom of newness – both of the country and the collective mindset of its people – helped spark a uniquely American approach.

“The American silver industry, from about 1865 to into the early 1900s, was a very innovative industry – characterized by a boldness of design,” said Venable, whose masters study at the Winterthur Museum, Garden & Library included work focused on the extensive collection of metalwork of the du Pont family. “America was much more willing to explore avant-garde design.”

Tiffany & Co. sterling silver English Armada dish/bowl, hallmarked and monogrammed, 3 1/4 inches diameter. Sold for $66 through Jasper52, November 2016. Jasper52 image

The innovative spirit present in Tiffany & Co.’s various offerings of luxury goods can also be seen in the items produced by the related, yet vastly different work of Tiffany Studios. This venture was the brainchild of Louis Comfort Tiffany, the son of Charles Lewis Tiffany. The works produced by various teams of designers, lamp makers and craftspeople associated with Tiffany Studios included blown-glass vases, lead-glass lamps and windows and pottery, among other items.

The continued popularity of many facets of Tiffany & Co. is likely based on a variety of factors, perhaps nearly as many as there are references to the brand in films, music and art. However, looking back at where and how it all began, Venable says, many things point to the attention to detail and marketing genius of Charles L. Tiffany. From the company’s Blue Book catalog (first published in 1845), the incomparable blue turquoise Tiffany’s box, to the experience of visiting a Tiffany & Co. retail store, it’s all about presentation.

Sterling silver box, Tiffany & Co., just less than 6 troy ounces, 1 7/8 x 6 inches. Sold for $242 through Jasper52, April 2017. Jasper52 image

“One area where they clearly outflanked their competitors was in marketing,” Venable said. “Their marketing has really been quite breathtaking.”

With that in mind, the next time you’re visiting a shop, perusing an auction catalog, or inventorying items tucked away and out of sight and mind for a period of time, remember this final bit of advice from Venable: “A lot of great American silver lives in attics.”

Dr. Charles Venable is the Melvin & Bren Simon Director and CEO of the Indianapolis Museum of Art. He possess more than 30 years of museum experience, including past service as the director and CEO of the Speed Art Museum, and senior positions at the Cleveland Museum of Art and the Dallas Museum of Art. He is also an award-winning author of the books “Silver in America, 1840-1940: A Century of Splendor,” “American Furniture in the Bybee Collection, and “China and Glass in America, 1880-1980.”

Other Sources:
Encyclopedia of American Silver Manufacturers by Dorothy T. Rainwater and Judy Redfield
Brainy History
Indianapolis Museum of Art
The Charles Hosmer Morse Museum of American Art

Twirling in the Wind: Folk Art Whirligigs

“A little wooden warrior who, armed with a sword in each hand, was most valiantly fighting the wind on the pinnacle of the barn,” wrote American author Washington Irving in his famous short story The Legend of Sleepy Hollow, published in 1820. The writer was describing perfectly the workings of a simple whirligig, sometimes called a wind toy.

In the construction of the figure Irving describes, a shaft runs through the shoulders. When the wind blows, the arms carved in the form of broad paddles spin like propellers.

Folk art, polychrome painted, tin, metal and wood whirligig. Features cyclist that races on high wheel around track. 33″ D., 20″ H. Good condition. Comes with base. Provenance: Richard Roy Estate. Sold to a LiveAuctioneers bidder for $1,800 on April 16, 2016.

When mounted on a free-moving shaft, a whirligig can serve as a weather vane, but most often the whirligig is mounted on a post and serves no other purpose than to amuse those who view it. Having at least one part that spins or whirls, a whirligig is a decorative whimsy that holds great appeal with today’s collectors of Americana.

Flying mallard whirligig by upstate New York maker, early 20th century, 29 inches long, carved and painted wood. From the Linda and Gene Kangas Collection, it sold for more than $1,500 at a Slotin folk art auction in November 2015.

Mentioned in Colonial American times, the wind-driven whirligig probably originated with the immigrant population. “Traditionally, the first American examples were models of Hessian solders and were supposedly made by Pennsylvania settlers of German origin in mockery of the German mercenaries employed by the British during the Revolutionary War,” writes William C. Ketchum Jr., in The New and Revised Catalog of American Antiques (1980: Rutledge Books Inc.).

Ketchum acknowledges there is little support for the Hessian-soldiers story. However, folk artists did take delight in spoofing military officers and lawmen. “Their serious expressions and upright poses are undermined by arms that flail uncontrollably in the wind,” writes Beatrix T. Rumford and Carolyn J. Weekley in the book Treasures of American Folk Art: From the Abby Aldrich Rockefeller Folk Art Center (1989: Little Brown & Co.).

Pennsylvania carved and painted pine whirligig, circa 1860-1870, in the form of a policeman, original polychrome decorated surface, 22 inches high. It sold for more than $18,000 at Pook & Pook Inc., in 2012.

Because whirligigs were invariably made of wood – usually pine – and placed outdoors, few early examples have survived the elements of harsh weather over time.

As compared to later productions, whirligigs made in the late 19th and early 20th centuries have more moving parts and exhibit more complex movements, e.g., a rooster pecking at an ear of corn, a man sawing a log, or a woman washing clothes.

Whirligig in painted tin and wood depicting a washerwoman bending over her tub, 28 inches long by 21 inches high. It sold for more than $600 at Thomaston Place Auction Galleries on Feb. 11, 2017.

Most whirligigs currently available to collectors date to the 20th century and are considered folk art. Unlike antique weather vanes, which can sell for many thousands of dollars, whirligigs are affordable to the great majority of American buyers.

Found at country auctions, barn sales, and online, whirligigs can sometimes be picked up for bargain prices. However, be aware that whirligigs are easily copied. There are fakes in circulation that are being passed off as old to unsuspecting buyers. If the paint appears to be fresh and there is little sign of weathering, it is possible the object is fairly new. Bottom line: buy from a knowledgable trustworthy source.

Find folk art and whirligig treasures in Jasper52’s weekly Americana sales.

Swatch: Watches That Add ‘Pop’ To Fashion

Back in the 1980s, at a time when “pop” was king, timepieces got in on the act, as well. For some watchmakers, the opportunity to innovate couldn’t have come at a better time.

Near the end of the 1970s, there was a switch in the approach to watchmaking, with Asian-based companies bringing forth mass-produced models, wrote Stephanie Potter. Because of this sea change in watch manufacturing, there was a steep decline in the export of Swiss watches, leaving tens of thousands of people unemployed.

Shown here is a selection of Swatch prototype watches from the extensive Dunkel collection that commanded $6 million at auction in April 2015. Image courtesy of www.watchpaper.com

From the ashes of this challenging time for Swiss watchmakers rose a company designed to retain business lost to manufacturers of less-expensive watches – some of decidedly inferior quality. The company Société Suisse de Microélectronique et d’Horlogerie found its way into the public eye as the Swatch Group, Potter explained. The company adhered to the goal of creating quality timepieces, using an automated production process, and pricing them affordably. The company’s recipe for success included teaming up with popular artists to create watches with unique and modern “pop art” designs, and employing effective marketing techniques, Potter said. Artists Keith Haring, Alfred Hofkunst, and Akira Kurosawa; director Spike Lee, and musician Moby, are among the creative minds who lent their vision to Swatch watch creations.

One of the thousands of Swatch watches and items from the Schmid and Mueller collection, which sold through Sotheby’s for $1.33 million. Image courtesy of Sotheby’s.

Swatch in the Spotlight

It’s been 34 years since the first Swatch collection came to market, with the first model being Swatch’s GB101. Paul Dunkel owned what was possibly the ultimate Swatch watch collection. It contained 5,800 Swatch & Art models and sold for $6 million during an April 2015 auction at Sotheby’s. Then in November of 2015 – again at Sotheby’s – there was an auction of almost 1,000 original watches and 380 prototypes and original design sheets and related art and memorabilia. The 4,000-piece collection belonged to Swatch designers Marlyse Schmid and Bernard Mueller, and sold as a single lot for $1.33 million.

The instantly recognizable art style of artist and philanthropist Keith Haring graced the face of a Swatch watch in the mid-1980s. This model and original drawing were among the items that sold as a single lot for $1.33 million at Sotheby’s in November of 2015. Image courtesy of Sotheby’s.

The appeal of Swatch timepieces continues to resonate with people of various walks of life. Those seeking to enjoy the nostalgia and camaraderie associated with Swatch watches look to the popular Swatch Club, which includes regular gatherings, a new Club Swatch watch each year, and four different membership options.

Another example of Swatch’s continued popularity is its presence on the wrists of some world leaders, as reported in 2014 by Anne VanderMey for Fortune. The CEO and chair of Goldman Sachs, Lloyd Blankfein; former British Prime Minister Tony Blair, and former President of France Francois Hollande all own and sport Swatch watches from time to time.

Original drawings and illustrations accompanied vintage Swatch watches in the Schmid and Mueller collection. Image courtesy Sotheby’s.

The popularity of these watches, then and now, is a sign of evolution, in engineering, affordability and fashion, says Ariel Adams, founder and editor of aBlogtoWatch. He commented on the cultural impact of Swatch and similar watches.

“What made these watches important is that they signaled the age of watches as fashion statements versus purely as functional items for much of society,” Adams said. “It isn’t that artists didn’t have fun with watches before, but it is the notion that mainstream timepiece consumption habits changed … people purchase multiple lower-cost fashion watches to go with their mood or look, as opposed to getting a single watch to wear all the time.”

Outdoor Americana: Garden and Architectural Antiques

With the month of May now upon us, it won’t be long until we’re spending summer days in the garden and evenings out on the patio. If do-it-yourself programs and Pinterest postings are any indication, there’s no shortage of ideas for incorporating personal style and decorating flair into your outdoor space.

Antique and vintage garden accessories and repurposed goods to use and enjoy in outdoor settings are not a new concept. Although the roots of this practice may run deep, the rules of application today seem to afford greater flexibility.

Simply put, if classic planters, urns, birdbaths and patio furniture are top of mind, there are plenty of options. Or, if the idea of transforming traditional with a personal touch is appealing, there are ideas and options for that, as well.

This also means the patriotic look is sometimes, often viewed only in association with Memorial Day and Independence Day festivities, need not be confined to a long weekend. It can be a central theme or a spectacular accent to an outdoor entertainment space, all summer long.

Stars with a decidedly folk-art flair, like the 19th-century iron star windmill weight offered by Urban Country, will give a star-filled sky competition for your attention. Whether star-shape items serve the purpose of holding items in place on a patio table, or simply adorn a shed, fence, or garage, the versatility adds an exciting extra dimension.

Halladay H37 cast iron windmill weight, U.S. Wind Engine and Pump Company, circa 1880-1916. Offered by Urban Country, $3,000

Figural accessories have appeared as garden ornaments for generations, with the earliest ones probably being those of a religious nature. Other popular themes for garden antiques have included cultural icons, military heroes, and other familiar figures of their day.

An example of a military design is this circa-1940 sailor whirligig. It is made of carved, painted wood and has a brimmed hat made of tin. Positioned on a metal stand, it measures 18 inches high by 9½ inches wide.

Sailor whirligig, circa 1940, Andrew Anderson, New Jersey. Available at Aileen Minor Garden Antiques & Decorative Arts, $450

If any outdoor piece is considered folk-art royalty, it’s the weathervane. Although in most cases this welcome backyard resident is no longer seen serving its original purpose, it remains highly sought after. Surface indications of what such coveted examples of once-practical folk art have “weathered” does not seem to lessen their appeal. If anything, it adds to their character and charm.

For example, a circa-1880 weathervane of a horse in running stride, made of cast zinc and molded copper by J.W. Fiske Ironworks, New York, was a highlight of Jasper52’s May 7 auction and quickly attracted bids. The weathervane displays original verdigris patina – which can only come from the natural aging process – with traces of attractive gilt.

J.W. Fiske Ironworks horse weathervane, circa 1880. Image courtesy Jasper52

Another utilitarian type of garden antique is a sundial, like this one decorated with the Latin phrase “Tempus Fugit,” or “Time Flies.”

American sundial. Photo taken at the New Hampshire Antiques Show by Catherine Saunders-Watson

Antique and vintage garden ornaments add special distinctive charm to any yard and patio scene, but it should be kept in mind that not every object can withstand the elements without some preventative measures being taken. In an article penned by Dennis Gaffney for Antiques Roadshow, the author of “Antique Garden Ornament, Two Centuries of American Taste,” Barbara Israel shares a few words of advice. Four points paraphrasing Israel’s advice include:

  1. Take steps to prevent damage from occurring. It’s easier and more affordable than fixing damage that has already occurred.
  2. Keep statues off the ground during winter months and wrap them in a breathable, weatherproof material.
  3. Avoid placing iron ornaments on marble to prevent rusty imprints.
  4. In the case of all garden ornaments, display and enjoy them in season but store them safely, away from the effects of winter weather during the off-season.


Tracing the History of Chinese Porcelain

Porcelain is often recognized and celebrated for its translucence, but it is far from delicate. In fact, by its very nature, formed and forged by fire, porcelain is like a beautiful phoenix rising out of the flames.

Pinpointing the period when porcelain was first developed is a bit tricky. According to some resources, it was at least two millennia ago. There are reported discoveries of “near porcelain” in regions active with civilization during the Shang Dynasty (1600-1046 BC), as well as examples dating to China’s Eastern Han Dynasty (221-206 BC). Other resources point to the Tang Dynasty era (618-970 AD) as the period in history when porcelain became widely known.

Copper-red dragon and phoenix vase, Qianlong seal mark and of the period, sold at auction for $259,708 (inclusive of buyer’s premium) in February 2017. Image courtesy Rob Michiels Auctions

One thing that seems to be apparent is that each dynasty in the history of porcelain helped to hone its production and presentation. Be it techniques used to make porcelain, methods of exporting, development of regions rich with firing kilns, or variation in design and decoration, it’s evident that porcelain’s history is one of multigenerational influence and evolution.

Not unlike most antiquities today, porcelain rose out of necessity. Creating utilitarian vessels to serve people’s day-to-day needs led to the creation of the remarkably durable, yet luminous medium that could be molded, dried, and fired. During the Tang Dynasty, when some of the earliest formal kilns for porcelain production were established in Chinese provinces, new specialities were produced: celadon in the Zheijiang province, and white porcelain in the Hebei province.

Porcelain Point: The city of Jingdezhen in China’s Jiangxi Province is one of the most prolific and longest tenured porcelain-producing regions, dating back more than 1,700 years. Today many traditional porcelain-making techniques are being passed on to artisans attending classes at the Pottery Workshop in Jingdezhen.

Celadon green vase with floral motif, Qing Period/19th century, Qianlong mark, 14” h. x 9-1/2” w. Estimate: $600-$800. Image courtesy Jasper52

In the beginning, export of porcelain for monetary gain wasn’t a consideration. However, that changed as visitors became more prevalent in China. With porcelain finding favor among the elite of Chinese society, it was not uncommon for leaders to bestow gifts of porcelain to visitors from abroad. After a trip to China around 850 AD, Muslim explorer Suleiman wrote that he had viewed porcelain for the first time, a revelation that attracted widespread interest. Paraphrased, and based on various reports of the translation of his writings, Suleiman reported that Chinese artisans used a fine clay to make vases that were both transparent and strong. Curiosity in the Western world led to a demand that turned porcelain into a product for export.

Porcelain Point: For centuries porcelain ranked #2 among China’s leading exports, just behind silk. This included years when Chinese emperors banned the export of all goods, including porcelain.

Porcelain Chinese punch bowl, 18th century, offered by Cohen & Cohen, during the 63rd Annual Winter Antiques Show in New York. Image courtesy Christie’s

Even with its deep and diverse history, the popularity of porcelain is far from a thing of the past. Today it takes pride of place in museum exhibitions, is a popular attraction at antique shows around the world, is the subject of study by academics, and is the focus of bidding battles at auction. Reporting on the 63rd Annual Winter Antiques Show held in New York earlier this year, former New York Times columnist Wendy Moonan selected not one, but two items from the porcelain family to include in her compilation of 10 stand-out items from the show. The highlights included an 18th-century punch bowl featuring a scene taken from a theatrical presentation, and a circa-1990 celadon platter made by Kawase Shinob – yet another example of porcelain’s appeal, whether it is of ancient past or contemporary times.

A History and Description of Chinese Porcelain by William Cosmo Monkhouse
Encyclopedia Brittanica
China Museums


KPM Berlin Porcelain Boasts Royal Lineage

Just as the secret formula for making porcelain eluded Western ceramics manufacturers for centuries, understanding its many facets can be confounding for today’s novice collectors. Take, for example, KPM porcelain. KPM factory marks yield few clues as to the actual origin or age of a piece because “KPM” was not an actual company name.

KPM Berlin is known for its useful wares, especially dinner services. KPM Berlin coffee set, Kurland pattern, 20th century, porcelain, polychrome painting with flowers and butterflies: coffee pot, six cups with saucers, cups, sugar bowl, creamer, six dessert plates, cake plate. Henry’s Auktionshaus AG image

The KPM mark was applied to porcelain made over a period of 250+ years by various owners, including European royalty. Collectors now use the term KPM to refer to porcelain produced in Berlin in the 18th and 19th centuries.

Porcelain, the translucent white material made from kaolin (a fine white granite clay) fired at a high temperature, was developed in China nearly 2,000 years ago. Porcelain is also commonly referred to as “china” because its first appearance in the Western world was in the form of wares imported from China.

Chinese porcelain was once so highly regarded in Europe that monarchs competed to acquire the finest pieces. They also attempted to unravel the secrets of its manufacture in hopes of producing elegant wares in their own royal pottery works.

Porcelain plaques were often decorated by independent artists. KPM hand-painted portrait plaque, signed on the back with impressed KPM and scepter mark, plaque measures 12.5in high x 10 in. Fontaine’s Auction Gallery image

Prussian King Frederick II (Frederick the Great) had a passion for the commodity known as “white gold,” and in 1751 gave permission for Berlin merchant Wilhelm Caspar Wegely to establish a porcelain factory. Most surviving examples of his wares are white figures, which are marked with a “W” and a combination of numerals. Plagued by the economic hardships brought on by war, the factory closed in 1757.

Purchasing Wegely’s tools and raw materials, and enlisting his top modeler and decorator, Berlin entrepreneur Johann Ernst Gotzkowsky resumed porcelain production in Berlin in 1761.

With the Seven Years’ War at an end, Frederick II bought the struggling company in 1763 and named in Königliche Porellan-Manufaktur Berlin (Royal Porcelain Manufactory of Berlin). The king allowed the Royal Berlin factory to use his emblem, a cobalt-blue scepter mark, in combination with KPM, an acronym for Königliche Porellan-Manufaktur.

Porcelain plaques from Berlin tend to fetch higher prices than comparable examples from other manufacturers. Fine Berlin KPM plaque of the five senses, impressed monogram and scepter marks, measures 16in x 10in. Fine Arts Auctions image

Until the abdication of Emperor William II in 1918, the company was owned by a succession of seven kings and emperors. It is still in operation today.

Through the years, competitors also used the KPM mark, muddying the waters for collectors.

The original KPM Berlin factory is famous for its dinner services, three of which were introduced in 1767.

Because Frederick II was the owner of the company, he often gave KPM porcelain as diplomatic presents. He personally strived to maintain and promote the porcelain’s quality, and to ensure factory employees worked in a satisfactory environment.

Hand-painted porcelain plaques are a popular collecting category. Monumental Berlin KPM porcelain plaque, 19in x11.25in, signed J. Wagner Wien, ‘Triumph of Ariadne,’ circa 1890, 11.25in x 19in. Royal Antiques image

The company flourished under Frederick the Great’s successor, his nephew Frederick William II, who came to power in 1786. The factory utilized the latest technology, installing efficient kilns.

Napoleon’s troops occupied Berlin in 1807-1808. They seized KPM’s cash and auctioned off the factory’s inventory for the benefit of French authorities. During this period KPM ran up huge losses.

The chemist Hermann Seger joined the company in 1878 and began to develop new glazes. Among his inventions were oxblood (sang-de-boeuf), celadon, crystal and running glazes. They were inspired by ancient Chinese ceramics.

KPM Portrait floor vase, signed Wagner, circa 1900, 50in high x 15in diameter, white glazed porcelain, polychrome overglaze painting. Auctionata image

Theodor Schmuz-Baudiss was appointed artistic director in 1908 and began to make greater use of the glazes developed by Seger. KPM porcelain of the Jugendstil era such as the Ceres dinner service made in 1912 is generally considered to be a paragon of perfection.

After the demise of the monarchy in 1918, KPM became the Staatliche Porzellan-Manufaktur. However, the KPM and scepter marks were retained.

On the night of November 22, 1943, an Allied air raid destroyed the KPM Tiergarten buildings in Berlin. The factory moved into temporary quarters in Selb.

After World War II, the company became the property of the state of Berlin. In 1957, manufacturing returned to the rebuilt KPM buildings in Berlin-Tiergarten.

In 1988 KPM became a limited company known as KPM Königliche Porzellan-Manufaktur Berlin GmbH. No longer a state-owned enterprise, KPM was placed in the hands of Gewerbesiedlugnsgesellschaft, a subsidiary of state-owned Investitionsbank Berlin.

Berlin banker Jörg Woltmann took over the Königliche Porzellan-Manufaktur Berlin in 2006 and became the sole shareholder. KPM celebrated its 250th anniversary in 2013 and continues to be a leading manufacturer of fine porcelain that is sold worldwide.