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An Ark Full of Americana Gems

Americana and folk art go hand-in-hand in this week’s curated Americana auction, much like the pairs of animals in a circa-1850 Noah’s Ark play set.

The finely made set, one of the few toys many children knew in the 19th century, consists of the 15 1/2-inch-long ark, seven members of Noah’s family, eight pairs of animals, 17 single animals, 18 pairs of birds and 10 single birds; a total of 86 figures. The figures are top-quality and retain their original colors. Other than having some small repairs, the set is in excellent condition. It is expected to sell for $2,200-$2,500.

Noah’s Ark set, circa 1850, total of 86 figures. The ark on its stand is 15 1/5 in. long x 10 in high. long. Estimate: $2,200-$2,500. Jasper52 image

 

Several gaming wheels are included in this sale. A rather curious example is a spinner arrow on a board with the names of automobile models. It appears to date to the 1940s. This whimsical game has a $500-$600 estimate.

Game board with car names – some abbreviated, from the 1940s – Nash, Cad’c, Bui’k, Pack, Chevy, 23 in. x 23 in. x 2.5 in . Estimate: $500-$600. Jasper52 image

 

Also having an automotive theme is a wooden whirligig that depicts an early motorist cranking to start his tin lizzie. The whirligig, in old weathered paint, has an estimate of $200-$300.

Whirligig, circa 1920, 18 1/4 in. high (on museum stand) x 20 in. wide x 15 in. deep. Estimate: $200-$300. Jasper52 image

 

A half dozen handmade generic signs are offered, with messages ranging from “fresh eggs” to possibly noting the location of a men’s room.

‘Gents’ sign, incised letters on thick board with good surface & original carefully worked hangers, Boston, 7 in high x 31 in. h x 31 w x 1 3/4 d c 1940s. Estimate: $300-$400. Jasper52 image

 

Several fine examples of chip-carved tramp art are in the catalog, topped by a large frame with mirror, which is adorned with carved stars and maple leaves. It dates to the turn of the last century and is valued at $700-$900.

Tramp art mirror with carved stars and leaves, circa 1900, 25 in. x 28.5 in. x 3 in. Estimate: $700-$900. Jasper52 image

 

For the fireplace, two cast brass andirons, each in the form of a lighthouse, have a mellow-colored oxidized patina.

Vintage cast brass lighthouse andirons, 13 1/2 in. high x 12 in. deep. Estimate: $600-$700. Jasper52 image

 

Check out the full catalog of Americana items and find your next treasure. 

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.