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Ormolu: ornamental castings bathed in gold

NEW YORK – From time immemorial, mankind has been mesmerized by the glint of glimmering gold. Ancient Egyptians overlaid royal mummy cases and furniture with thin gold leaf; Chinese artisans adorned pottery, wood, textiles and decorative figurines with gilt designs. Greeks gilded marble statues and architectural elements, while Romans gilded temple and palace walls with this rare, highly malleable metal.

During the Renaissance, Italian craftsmen gilded sword blades and hilts, while masters, like Ghiberti (1378-1455) and Donatello (circa 1386-1466), created magnificent, religious-themed, gilt works of art. Ornamental gilt furnishings, however, became fashionable among French royalty and well-to-do centuries later. Their description – gilt-bronze or ormolu (literally “ground-gold”) – reflects their ancient method of production, fire-gilding.

E. Kahn Louis XVI-style desk with ormolu mounts, clock signed ‘Le Roy Paris;’ some mounts marked, circa 1900, 40in high x 40½in wide x 24½in diameter. Realized $55,000 + buyer’s premium in 2012. Image courtesy of Dallas Auction Gallery and LiveAuctioneers

After metal decorative items were designed, molded and cast, they were tooled in a variety of textured surfaces. This ensured that finished products would feature lively interplays of light.

In gilding, the final step, craftsmen coated these with an amalgam of ground-gold and mercury. As they were heated over open fires, the mercury vaporized, leaving a thin, dull, pure gold film behind. Subsequent waxing, refiring and burnishing to brightness created pieces that rivaled the richness of solid gold. Yet they were more durable, less costly, and considerably lighter in weight.

Fine, rare George III-style paste-mount ormolu automaton music clock, made for the Chinese market, 32 x 16 x 15in, dial 4½in. Realized $270,000 + buyer’s premium in 2016. Image courtesy of A.B. Levy’s Palm Beach and LiveAuctioneers

Like the Mad Hatter in Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland, however, fire-gilders suffered from exposure to the vaporized mercury. Stricken with “gilder’s palsy,” manifested by tremors, jerky gaits, stammering and “mercury madness,” few lived past the age of 40. Although France banned mercury-based artistic techniques in the 1830s, ormolu production continued. In fact, luxurious French ormolu remained the foundation of European decorative art through the early 20th century.

Napoleon III ormolo-mounted marble mantel clock, signed Raingo Freres/Paris, circa 1870, overall dimensions 26 1/8 x 22 7/8 x 8 5/8in. Realized $16,500 + buyer’s premium in 2020. Image courtesy of Shapiro Auctions and LiveAuctioneers

Designers closely followed evolving styles of French interior design. During the flamboyant reign of King Louis XIV (1643-1715), master cabinetmakers, fashioning exquisite furniture, for wealthy clientele, replaced functional bronze elements, protecting corners, cabinet keyholes and table feet, with ornamental ormolu-mounts. Since affluent clientele sought to flaunt their wealth, these soon became integral parts of furniture design itself.

Massive, magnificent Imperial Napoleonic Russian ormolu Damascus blade sword, signed, dated, 41in overall, 33in blade. Realized $25,000 + buyer’s premium in 2019. Image courtesy Dan Morphy Auctions and LiveAuctioneers

Through the reign of Louis XV (1715-1774), fine furniture ormolu-mounts and fittings, shaped like shells, vines, flowers or leaves, were decorative in their own right. They not only enhanced the general appearance of luxury writing-tables, marquetry-cabinets and bureaus. By accenting borders and edges, they also emphasized their stylish scrolling and serpentine shapes. Craftsmen also created lavish ormolu-mount pieces, like vases, sculptural clocks, wall sconces and firedogs (decorative andirons). Craftsmen, “gilding the lily,” also enhanced extravagant Sevres porcelain with ormolu-mounts.

Pair of monumental gilt bronze mount Sevres urns, ormolu mount base, overall 36½in high. Realized $40,000 + buyer’s premium in 2018. Image courtesy of Clars Auction Gallery and LiveAuctioneers

In the reign of Louis XVI (1774-1792), decorative ormolu-mounts embellished a wide range of pieces, including cabinet-on-stands, commodes and credenzas. Ormolu-mounts also transformed functional candlesticks, candelabras and chandeliers into fonts of shimmery, lustrous light. Richly ornamented, ormolu-mount clocks were coveted eye-catchers as well. These were so impressive that, to this day, “Louis XVI-style” creations remain the height of elegance.

Toward 1800, fine ormolu-mounts, resembling garlands, tied ribbons, drapery and classical figures, not only embellished worktables, salon-chairs and consoles. They also adorned smaller pieces like vases, jewelry boxes, inkstands, urns and crystal centerpieces. Similarly, architectural mantel clocks gleamed with ormolu-mount sculptures of Cupids, Greek warriors and winged goddesses. Toward mid-century, remarkable ormolu-mount mantel clocks even depicted highly ornate, spired façades of French Gothic cathedrals.

Rare 19th century French bronze clock, Cathedral de Reims, upon ormolu mount step base, 26 x 15½ x 15½in, overall 30 x 18 x 18in. Realized $6,000 + buyer’s premium in 2007. Image courtesy of Kaminski Auctions and LiveAuctioneers

Because these creations have little melt-down value, many have survived. Since certain models appeared repeatedly, mounts were fraudulently cast, and regilded older pieces appear as new, however, dating them may prove problematic. Though few are signed, some may be identified by their quality, contemporary descriptions or study of existing models. French ormolu clocks, on the other hand, sometimes bear names of their gilders, casemakers, dial makers and enamelers.

Teapots: Steeped in History and Culture

As is often the case with antiquities, the objects themselves tell a story of the past and reflect their influence on the present. The teapot is one such storyteller.
Centuries before teapots were in use, people were drinking tea, but differently. In third-century China, the earliest method did not involve steeping the tea leaves, but rather, roasting them, forming them into a paste, then molding the paste into a cake which was boiled into a finished product that resembled soup. With that being the case, there didn’t seem to be a need for a teapot.
The process of preparing tea evolved into pounding tea leaves into a powder, placing the powder into a cup and pouring boiling water over it. The tradition of the tea service was an outgrowth of this change.

Early Rookwood lidded teapot with Limoges-style decoration of two bunnies on one side and flying bats on the other, most likely the work of Maria Longworth Nicholas, circa 1881. To be auctioned Nov. 3 by Humler & Nolan. Estimate: $2,000-$2,500). Image courtesy of LiveAuctioneers.com and Humler & Nolan

Arguably the first teapot was created in the Jiangsu province of China in 1500. Early teapots from this region were “Yixing” teapots. In Chinese, this translates to “purple sand pot,” a reference to the distinctive purple sand clay that was plentiful in that area and used in earthenware vessels. It wasn’t surprising that the earliest recorded teapots would come from this part of the world, as the Jiangsu province was prolific in the production of porcelain vessels in the 16th century and into the early Qing Dynasty (1644-1911).

The evolution of tea preparation led to a substantially successful period for makers of Yixing teapots. The mineral composition of the “zisha” (purple sand) clay of the region was considered the finest of all types for use in tea-brewing vessels. Zisha clay is very porous and allows for significant absorption and retention of the tea’s flavor.

Tea Legend: Because of the porous nature of the clay used to make Yixing teapots, it is said that after preparing tea in the same pot several times, one can simply add water to boil in the pot without tea leaves, as the flavor retained by the pot during past brewings will render a quality cup of tea.

As awareness of the Yixing pot spread throughout Asia, there was an increased demand for not only the pots, but also knowledge of how the earthen pots were made. This awareness led to new influences being incorporated into the manufacturing process, resulting in a more elegant design. It also marked the period in history when Europe became familiar with Chinese porcelain, including teapots.

Veilleuse teapot in a rich brown color featuring medallions with intricate design, set atop a globular stand of the same color and three floriated feet. Acquired in Rome and presently on display within the Trenton Teapot Collection. Image courtesy City of Trenton, Tennessee

In the 17th century, the East India Company brought its profitable imports to Europe. However, European manufactories were not familiar with the techniques that produced zisha pots. The oft-accepted process of making porcelain in Europe involved mixing glass-like materials with clay. Unfortunately, “soft-paste” porcelain teapots were known to crack and explode when boiling water was poured into them.

Things changed dramatically in 1705 when an “imprisoned” young alchemist and an experienced scientist were brought together with the purpose of developing a formula and technique for creating “hard paste” porcelain. This opened the door to European production of a much-sought-after commodity. At the time, 18-year-old Johann Friedrich Bottger was under house arrest, not for what he had done as an alchemist, but for what he might be up to regarding the development of gold. At the same time, Ehrenfried Walter von Tschirnhaus, a scientist, was two decades into an effort to learn how porcelain was made. At Tschirnhaus’ suggestion, Bottger was escorted by a guard to the scientist’s lab, where the two began collaborating on a porcelain project. They worked together until 1708, when Tschirnhaus died from dysentery. That same year, production of European porcelain, using the formula the two had developed, began in Meissen, Germany. The public’s first opportunity to purchase pieces took place at the Leipzig Easter Fair in 1710.

In short order, regions across Europe began delving into the production of teapots as well as other porcelain objects, and the industry began to flourish. In part, the popularity of the quality European porcelain grew through its availability, not only in quantity but also in affordability. Tea and teapots may not have bridged the gap between the upper and middle socio-economic classes within Europe, but it did allow for people of varying backgrounds to enjoy one common pleasure: tea served from a teapot.

Georgian George III sterling silver teapot in classic oval cann-shape form, on simple oval stand, circa 1784, England. Auctioned for $3,200 on April 2, 2017. Jasper52 image

With the porcelain formula now widely known, production moved at a steady clip, and the public was embracing tea and teapots with unmatched fervor. Creativity in design and new efficiencies in production were seen. This is visible in the forms of the teapots, the glazes, and novel designs, including Swinton Pottery’s iconic Brown Betty teapot. Like the famous Yixing teapots, the Brown Betty came from red clay, which also provides for substantial retention of heat. The Brown Betty was simple in design but a model of efficiency in producing a good cup of tea.
“Have tea and teapot, will travel,” may not have been the motto of the British colonists heading to what would eventually become America to start a new life, but the taste for tea and appreciation for teapots was not something they would leave behind. Of course, colonists would soon discover what Native Americans had known for centuries, that clay (an essential resource in porcelain and pottery-making) was both abundant and varied in composition within the “New World.” Additionally, North America had the natural resources for fuel, in the form of wood from its vast forests. By 1850, in New England alone, there were more than 500 potters actively working.

Pair of Meissen decorative teapots, late 19th/early 20th century, hand-painted with hinged, chained handle arching over the teapots, finished with gold trim, Meissen marks on bottom. Auctioned for $300 in October 2015. Image courtesy LiveAuctioneers.com Archive and Akiba Auctions

It wasn’t just in the East that American pottery production was booming. As people began to travel west and settle, potteries were established and teapots continued to be created. Again, the evolution of brewing and serving tea led to changes in teapot production. The development of the teabag in the first quarter of the 20th century simplified tea-brewing, as it eliminated the need for some accessories, such as strainers.
As time has gone on, teapots have evolved from functional wares to collectibles. One of the most impressive collections of teapots may be viewed in a small community in western Tennessee. The collection, amassed by Trenton’s native son, the late Dr. Frederick Freed, showcases porcelain veilleuses-théières, meaning night- or side-light teapots. This style of the teapot is unique in that the warming stand upon which the teapot sits is not the sleek and short style commonly seen, but instead, one that can measure more twice the height of the teapot, which on average would hold two to three cups of a beverage. The veilleuse came about as a means of providing warm beverages during the night, for patients and youngsters. A dish of oil was placed in the stand, and when lit, it would serve as a warming device for the porcelain pot.

The Trenton teapot collection includes 650 examples, all made between 1750 and 1860 and acquired by Dr. Freed during his travels to France and Germany. The collection is valued at $8 million.

Veilleuse teapot in a rich brown color featuring medallions with intricate design, set atop a globular stand of the same color and three floriated feet. Acquired in Rome and presently on display within the Trenton Teapot Collection. Image courtesy City of Trenton, Tennessee

Beginning in 1955 and over the course of several years, Dr. Freed donated his collection of teapots to the City of Trenton. All these years later Dr. Freed’s gift of conservatorship of his collection continues to draw visitors and tourism dollars to the Tennessee community. An estimated 3,000 people are said travel to Trenton each year just to view the rare pots.

Trenton Teapot Collection: The Trenton Teapot Collection is located at Trenton City Hall in Trenton, Tennessee. The museum is open weekly from 9 a.m. until 5 p.m., and admission is free. The community of Trenton will hold its 38th Annual Trenton Teapot Festival in April of 2018.
Whether they are ancient Chinese Yixing vessels, early Meissen designs, or decorative mid-20th-century productions, teapots perpetuate the fascinating story of how an Eastern invention became a staple of Western life.

An Americana Auction Filled With Color

Handcrafted tramp art, cast metal figures, and original artwork are highlights of this week’s curated Americana auction.

An early 19th-century school girl painting of a young couple in a bucolic setting. It was once a pastime for well-to-do young courting couples to venture into the countryside under the pretext of tending sheep, which this scene depicts.

Folk art courting scene New England, early 19th century, school girl watercolor, 17 ½ x 20 in. sight. Estimate: $1,400-$18,00. Jasper52 image

 

Figural cast-iron doorstops were popular during the Depression era in American and elsewhere. This collection features an American-made full-bodied pheasant doorstop. The beautifully painted game bird is more than a foot long.

Full-bodied pheasant doorstop in beautiful paint, 1920s-1930s, 9 1/8 in. x 12 ¾ in. Estimate: $1,600-$2,500. Jasper52 image

 

A decorative element from a vintage carousel will turn a lot of heads. The cast aluminum figure of a robed woman is signed “CW Parker, Leavenworth, Kan.,” who manufactured amusement park and fair carousels during the early 20th century.

Early 20th-century cast aluminum carousel figure, original paint, signed ‘CW Parker, Leavenworth, Kan.,’ 29 in. x 17 in. Estimate: $2,000-$3,000. Jasper52 image

 

An unusual hand-wrought copper weather in the sale vane depicts a Viking ship with the bow in the shape of a dragon’s head. Including the directional arrow, the weather vane is nearly 20 inches long.

Handmade weather vane depicting a serpent ship, circa 1920, sheet copper. 13 5/8 in. high x 19 7/8 in wide x 1 ½ in. deep, natural verdigris surface. Estimate: $1,200-$1,500. Jasper 52 image

 

The outstanding example of tramp art in the sale is the large mirror frame highlighted by many finely carved figural decorations. This extraordinary frame is dated 1912.

Tramp art mirror dated 1912 embellished with stars, shields, animals, wreaths, vines, weapons and human forms, 30 in. x 34 in wide. Estimate: $1,900-$3,000. Jasper52 image

 

Noting last month’s solar eclipse that crossed the continental US, the sale features a crescent-shaped cast-iron windmill weight embossed with the word “Eclipse.” Vintage farm-style windmills that pumped water came in two basic varieties. Vaned windmills used a tail, or vane, to guide the wheel into the wind. Vaneless mills depended on a counterbalance weight, perched at the end of a wood beam, to perform that function.

Nineteenth century cast-iron windmill weight. 6 in. high x 10in. long x 2 ¼ in. thick. Estimate: $400-$600.Jasper52 image

 

These artisan objects vary from outsider art, paintings, ceramics and more formal Americana. This collection of 19th-20th century rural life will create a unique sense of welcome in any home.

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.

 

The Enduring Value of Baccarat Crystal

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

5 Types of Unusual Americana to Display in Your Home

If you’re looking for a conversation piece for your home that no one else could possibly have, you might want to check out the many subcategories of Americana. You’ll be amazed at the artistry and ingenuity that went into hand-made objects and one-of-a-kind hand-painted signs from the 18th through 20th centuries.

Many of the things modern-day Americana fans covet were never intended to be collectibles of the future; they were meant to be functional items of their own time. Today they’re all part of our cultural history and are charming to us because of their naïveté, including the misspelled words and use of non-traditional materials.

You might choose to display just one piece as an artwork on its own and later find that it becomes the springboard for an entire collection – don’t be surprised if that happens!

Here are five unusual types of Americana you can watch for in online auctions or as you browse through antique shops or flea markets:

Hand-Painted Sleds

Early painted-wood child’s sled with stenciled horse motif and cast-iron rails terminating in figural swan decorations. Image courtesy of LiveAuctioneers and Milestone Auctions

Early painted-wood child’s sled with stenciled horse motif and cast-iron rails terminating in figural swan decorations. Image courtesy of LiveAuctioneers and Milestone Auctions

 

Canine Antiques

Antique dog muzzle of metal and leather. Photo by Catherine Saunders-Watson

Antique dog muzzle of metal and leather. Photo by Catherine Saunders-Watson

 

Old Store Displays

Unique circa-1940s sheet metal robot used by a hardware store as a mascot and “trade stimulator.” Note the eyes made from lead marbles and the use of screen to help create the illusion of teeth and nostrils. Photo by Catherine Saunders-Watson

Unique circa-1940s sheet metal robot used by a hardware store as a mascot and “trade stimulator.” Note the eyes made from lead marbles and the use of screen to help create the illusion of teeth and nostrils. Photo by Catherine Saunders-Watson

 

Non-Manufactured Signs

Antique hand-crafted wood trade sign used by a farrier to identify his place of business. Photo by Catherine Saunders-Watson

Antique hand-crafted wood trade sign used by a farrier to identify his place of business. Photo by Catherine Saunders-Watson

 

Hand-Painted Game Boards

Chinese checkers game board, circa 1930, hand-painted plywood. Image courtesy of Jasper52

Chinese checkers game board, circa 1930, hand-painted plywood. Image courtesy of Jasper52

 

Once you venture into the colorful, often whimsical realm of Americana, you’ll find it irresistible. Our ancestors definitely left us a rich supply of objects from which to choose, an best of all, you can start a collection with relatively little money.

Click to view this week’s curated Americana auction hosted on LiveAuctioneers. Bid today.

A Beginner’s Guide to Collecting Fabergé Pendant Eggs

Fabergé’s miniature pendant eggs are an exceedingly enjoyable area to collect. In what other area can you purchase a Fabergé egg that you can also wear everyday?

Perhaps no country is better known for its Easter eggs than Russia. From the jeweled creations of Fabergé to humble woodcarvings, the holiday could not be celebrated without the decoration and exchange of numerous eggs. With the tradition dating back to the 15th century, by the 1890s wealthy families presented each other with precious miniature eggs each year. Eggs could be decorated with symbols of the season, family professions, or love tokens. Strung on gold necklaces, a lady might have multiple necklaces by her later years.

Jeweled pendant eggs can range from affordable to quite expensive, so where should a novice collector begin? Read on for 5 key tips to beginning your Fabergé pendant egg collection.

1. It’s important to begin with an established and trustworthy seller who is willing to guarantee authenticity.

Fabergé gold-mounted carved purpurine miniature pendant egg, St Petersburg, circa 1908-1917. Lot 109. Estimate: $8,500-12,000

Fabergé gold-mounted carved purpurine miniature pendant egg, St Petersburg, circa 1908-1917

2. Consider the materials you prefer: the translucent guilloché enamels for which Fabergé is famed or a more unusual material like the matte purpurine, a rare and unusual glass that is so opaque it resembles a carved hardstone. Do you want an egg with an elephant or clover, symbols of good luck, or perhaps your birthstone? Eggs are available in every style and color, and designs can be surprisingly modern.

A Fabergé amethyst and gilded silver miniature pendant Easter egg, St. Petersburg, circa 1898-1908. Lot 98. Estimate: $4,000-6,000

A Fabergé amethyst and gilded silver miniature pendant Easter egg, St. Petersburg, circa 1898-1908

3. Examine the egg or photos of the egg carefully. It should show some signs of wear. When strung together on a necklace, the eggs often bumped into one another and tiny chips or bumps can appear on enamel surfaces. Large areas of loss and repair negatively impact price while an important provenance will increase it. The Red Cross egg (featured below) has a small area of discoloration that is fairly common with enameled eggs, and the estimate reflects the tiny bit of wear as well as the desirability of the subject matter.

A Fabergé gold and guilloché enamel miniature pendant Easter egg, workmaster Andrei Adler, St Petersburg, circa 1900. Lot 105. Estimate: $2,500-4,500

A Fabergé gold and guilloché enamel miniature pendant Easter egg, workmaster Andrei Adler, St Petersburg, circa 1900

4. Spend a little time familiarizing yourself with Russian hallmarks. Pendant eggs are mostly constructed on a frame of gold and are marked on the bale, the small suspension ring from which they can be attached to a necklace or bracelet. The bale is a small space for the relatively large maker’s marks and hallmarks, especially if we compare them to the diminutive marks used in France! Russian jewelers stamped items with the numbers 56 (equivalent to 14K) or 72 (equivalent to 18K).

Detail of the 56 mark (equivalent to 14K). Lot 109.

Detail of the 56 mark (equivalent to 14K)

5. If your budget doesn’t extend to a Fabergé pendant Easter egg, consider buying a Russian pendant Easter egg. Prices are significantly cheaper and the pendants can be just as lovely, if a bit less complex.

A Russian gem-set gold pendant egg, circa 1900. Lot 107. Estimate: $1,500-2,500

A Russian gem-set gold pendant egg, circa 1900

This week’s Fine & Decorative Arts Auction features beautiful Fabergé style pendant eggs. Take a look here!


Written by Karen Kettering, Vice President at John Atzbach Antiques in Redmond, Washington.