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Mantiques: Artful decorations for the man cave

There’s a category of collectibles that probably didn’t even exist 10 years ago but which is so popular today that entire auctions are exclusively dedicated to it. They’re called “mantiques” – items that manly men and the women who love them use to decorate their basement, garage or den—the man cave.

Mantiques can take on many forms. Some of the more common mantiques include old gas station signs, anything coin-op (slot machines, Coke machines, trade stimulators, jukeboxes, pinball machines, vending machines), beer trays, barber shop memorabilia and even old cars.

“Collecting mantiques may start as picking up a novelty here or there, but it can quickly explode into filling a den or garage with amazing finds,” said Eric Bradley, Heritage Auctions’ Director of Public Relations. “Each collection is different, and there’s no limit to how these disparate collections come together. Once assembled, the objects harmonize to do one thing: tell a story about the collector and their intellect, sense of humor and proclivities.” Bradley knows whereof he speaks. He literally wrote the book on the subject: Mantiques: A Manly Guide to Cool Stuff.

Twentieth-century Kuntz ‘St. Bernard’ tin litho beer tray (Waterloo, Ontario), made and signed by Kaufmann & Strauss (New York). Price realized: CA $5,463 in September 2018. Miller & Miller Auctions Ltd. image

Recently, Miller & Miller Auctions in Canada held an auction titled “Mantiques! Gentlemen’s Collectibles.” “I’ve never seen such anticipation for an auction,” said Justin Miller, of Miller & Miller Auctions. “The energy in the room from the beginning of the sale was unmistakable. Many items were fresh to the market, unlocked from 30- and 40-year collections. The prices tell the story. Collectors were fighting to get what they wanted.” Canadian auction records were shattered, and the top lot was a 1950 Plymouth woody station wagon (CA$35,400).

What took mantiques so long to come into their own? Answer: they’ve been here all along, just under a different name. “If you want to trace the evolution of mantiques, it was a genre that for years was called country store collectibles,” said Ben Lennox, Miller & Miller’s Operations Manager. “Tobacciana, petroliana, breweriana and automobilia—these all fit under one neat and tidy umbrella. It wasn’t until the 1980s, when collectors began to get more refined in their search for basement and garage items that the term ‘man cave’ and later ‘mantiques’ came into vogue.”

Goodrich Tires Canadian Mountie porcelain sign from the 1930s, among Canada’s most highly coveted signs and one of the nicest unrestored examples known. Price realized: CA$20,060 in September 2018. Miller & Miller Auctions Ltd. image

Today, gentlemen’s objets de vertu are in great demand, and that demand is only growing stronger. The category has expanded, to include items ranging from vintage watches and cameras to tufted-leather and quarter-sawn oak furniture. Women have even muscled their sway into the conversation, searching for items to outfit their “she-shacks” —items of a softer tone for their personal home space, such as quilts, textiles and kitchen collectibles. For the guys, some things have been, and will always be, popular, like gas station signs and beer trays.

American folk-art carved pine eagle in the manner of Wilhelm Schimmel, 19th century. Price realized: $8,125, Sept. 22-25, 2017. Heritage Auctions image

Sports, of course, can be a huge component of a man cave. The website for Steiner Sports has a toolbar category titled “Man Cave Essentials.” Items for sale include an aluminum sign that reads “NOTICE – Bleachers Are Now Alcohol Free” ($59.99); a Giancarlo Stanton 8-by-10-inch plaque with game-used Yankee Stadium dirt ($24.99); an Oklahoma City Thunder subway sign wall-art photo, framed ($59.99); and a Sacramento Kings “Home Sweet Home” sign ($59.99).

Those signs are replicas, which explains the low prices. To own or display a baseball or football signed by a marquee player or group of players understandably will cost much more.

One’s budget can be an important factor when outfitting a man cave. A restored 1950s-era Wurlitzer bubbler jukebox, for example, will set you back thousands, but a man on a budget might be just as happy with an old Bakelite AM radio and reproduction rock ’n’ roll poster from the same era. The effect is the same: to recreate a feel for a carefree time and place long past.

Bally Manufacturing Art Deco Skyscraper pinball machine, circa 1934. Price realized: $3,750, Sept. 22-25, 2017. Heritage Auctions image

The costliest man cave items, not surprisingly, are vintage cars and motorcycles. But even the big-name car auction houses like RM Auction and Barrett Jackson now incorporate petroliana and automobilia collectibles into their sales as ancillary offerings, and have even held stand-alone sales for just those items—no cars at all. Morphy’s also conducts highly successful auctions of petroliana and automobilia.

Vintage motorcycles hold particular appeal to men, plus they take up far less space than a car. Prices are robust, too. At auction recently in Texas, a 1951 Indian Blackhawk Chief in beautiful condition roared away for just over $12,000.

Man caves are nothing new. They date back to the days of the Industrial Revolution, when the home was often divided into spheres defined by gender. For men, who were all about politics, business and the law, that meant a place where they could let it all hang out, without fear of offending the womenfolk. The ladies tended to the rest of the house and were in charge of maintaining a strong moral fiber within the family. Over time, men expanded their reach into the mantiques realm, adding things like woodworking tools, vintage firearms and edged weapons, and such.

Two Pius Lang mother-of-pearl and stainless-steel penknives with Associated Penknife, circa 1960. Price realized: $6,250, Sept. 22-25, 2017. Heritage Auctions image

Much later, with the debut of TV shows like Pawn Stars (2009) and American Pickers (2010), interest in the idea of “antiques for men” (or “mantiques”) enjoyed a sharp spike. Men everywhere got the itch to get out there, climb through some old barns, get their hands dirty and bring home a rusty Texaco sign. Suddenly, antiques shopping was less intimidating to the average Joe.

Are mantiques here to stay? Judging by the fact that there are shops springing up that are dedicated expressly to man cave collectibles, the easy answer is yes. “The only caveat I have is that people should be on their guard for fakes and reproductions, especially when it comes to porcelain signs,” Ben Lennox said. “They’re coming out of India, and some of them are scary good, but if you look for certain things, like correct fonts and logo color matches, whether there are grommets where the holes are, etc., they’re fairly easy to spot. Just don’t let it deter you. Be a man, get out there and look!”

Vote Yes on Campaign Buttons

With the midterms looming and politics on everyone’s mind, no wonder collectors of political campaign buttons and pinbacks are in their glory, chasing up and adding new selections to what they already have. A report appearing two years ago in LiveAuctioneers’ digital newspaper Auction Central News identified campaign buttons as the most popular type of political memorabilia, followed by textiles, flags and posters. But why pinbacks and buttons? After all, they’re smaller and visually less impactful.

“Their size accounts for much of their appeal,” explained Ted Hake, owner of Hake’s Auctions and a lifelong collector of political pins. He is also the author of several books on the subject. “To me, they’re like miniature posters, and they don’t take up a mansionful of space. They’re wonderful artifacts from their time, and getting into the game is both cheap and easy.”

Indeed, nice examples from the 1896 presidential campaigns of William McKinley and William Jennings Bryan (spoiler alert: McKinley won) can be bought for as little as ten or fifteen dollars – and in nice condition! There’s a reason for that: 1896 was the first year that pinback buttons, patented only three years earlier, were mass-produced by the millions, at little cost. Prior to that, the buttons were mostly just that – buttons, which had to be sewn onto a person’s garment.

This McKinley & Hobart “Our Choice” mechanical jugate stud example, over 100 years old, sold for a very reasonable $112.50 at Heritage Auctions on Aug. 26, 2018.

To be clear, a pinback button is one that can be temporarily fastened to the surface of a garment using its attached safety pin. The fastening mechanism is anchored to the back side of the button-shaped metal disc, either flat or concave, leaving an area on the front of the button to carry an image or printed message. Such was the invention patented by Benjamin S. Whitehead in 1893.

Political campaign buttons have been around in this country literally since the election of President George Washington. At his inauguration, metal pins bearing the phrase, “Long Live the President” were worn by supporters. The phrase was probably chosen as a riff on “God Save the King!,” which the newly independent Americans had been accustomed to cheering back home in Mother England. That pin today, by the way, easily fetches in the thousands of dollars.

Think about it – what other type of collectible, outside of maybe rocks and bottles, can be picked up for free? That’s a trick question. Yes, you can gather pins and buttons at rallies, speeches and a campaign headquarters for free, but there will be a cost when buying at auction, on eBay or at an antiques shop or flea market. The spread is a wide one, as certain “Holy Grail” buttons fetch tens of thousands of dollars, while a group lot of 50 common pins might bring $20.

“Just a couple of weeks ago, we sold a Cox-Roosevelt pinback from the 1920 presidential election for $47,278,” Hake said. “Images of the two men were on the pin, as was the slogan ‘Americanize America.’ It was a record for that particular pin, but is by no means a record for a political pinback. I’ve seen Washington buttons and other rarities top the $100,000 mark. But that’s what makes the hobby so great. There’s attractive product at both ends of the market, and prices are on the rise.”

This 1920 campaign button for the Democratic ticket of James Cox-Franklin D. Roosevelt sold for $47,278 at Hake Auctions #222, held November 2017. It was a record for the pinback.

Ted Hake was first introduced to pinbacks at age five, when a friend of his mother’s – an antiques enthusiast – gave him a pin that promoted World War I Liberty Bonds. He was instantly enchanted and began collecting more pins, in varying types, not just political. Then, in 1951, his father suggested he start collecting coins, and for a time the pins got put aside. But an encounter at a local coin shop brought Ted right back to collecting buttons and pins.

“A friend of the fellow who ran the coin store was a collector of William Jennings Bryan buttons, and he had some on display for sale there,” he recalled. “It cost hardly anything to buy one, so I did and collected political buttons from then on.” Today, Ted is a member in good standing with the American Political Items Collectors (www.apic.us) and was even given the group’s coveted Lifetime Achievement Award.

The first political button to show a photographic image was from Abraham Lincoln’s 1860 presidential campaign. Lincoln, as well as his opponents, used the tintype (or ferrotype) process, a photograph made of tin and dark enamel or lacquer. Lincoln’s pins featured Honest Abe’s image on the front and a locking pin on the back – a precursor to the 1896 pinback.

This Abraham Lincoln 1864 ferrotype badge (with running mate Andrew Johnson on the reverse) sold for $1,947 at Hake’s #222, held Nov. 2017.

Since around 1916, campaign buttons have been produced by lithographing the image directly onto the metal disc. One of the more famous uses of campaign buttons occurred during the 1940 U.S. presidential election, when Wendell Willkie’s campaign mass-produced millions of lithographed slogan buttons in fast response to news items about his opponent President Franklin Roosevelt.

It wasn’t until after World War II that collectors found each other and organized the hobby. In the 1950s, Dwight Eisenhower unknowingly fed into Americans’ appetite for the pins when it became a trend to wear an “I Like Ike” button on one’s lapel. Notice no political party is mentioned. That’s because the slogan was coined initially, to encourage Eisenhower (who was still serving as Armed Forces Chief of Staff) to commit to either the Republican or Democratic party, something he had not yet done. It worked, as the slogan helped nudge the war-hero general into the race, on the Republican side.

In the 1960s, “grassroots buttons” began popping up. These were produced not by the presidential campaigns themselves, but by regular, everyday people who wanted to either show support for a candidate or bash an opponent. An example was a 1968 pin opposing the Democrat contender Eugene McCarthy. The pin – somewhat inexplicably – said, “McCarthy for Fuhrer.”

Today, sadly, increasing advertising expenses, plus legal limits on expenditures, have led many American political campaigns to abandon buttons altogether in favor of disposable lapel stickers – which are far less expensive to produce – or even virtual campaign buttons, or “web buttons.” Internet users simply place them on their personal websites. Wide distribution is nearly cost free.

A Roosevelt/Fairbanks 1904 “Souvenir of Pretzel Town – Reading, PA” jugate button sold at Hake’s on May 14, 2018 for $9,675. Image courtesy of Hake’s and LiveAuctioneers.

But for Ted Hake and many others like him, nothing will ever replace the hold-in-your-hands little buttons and pinbacks that have been part of the nation’s election culture since the very birth of our nation. “Everyday I can look online or attend a show and see a pin I’ve never seen before,” Hake said. “It really is a wonderful little hobby, and great for every taste and budget.”

Cigar store figures: treasured folk art

From around 1840 to 1910, life-size cigar store figures of Indian chiefs, braves and princesses – mostly carved from wood but some cast from zinc, too – could be seen inside or outside nearly every tobacco shop in America. The U.S. census from 1860 listed no fewer than 2,269 active wood carvers. Of those, 959 were living in New York, the epicenter of cigar store Indian manufacture. New York City was the unofficial headquarters for studios producing cigar store Indians, or “show figures,” as carvers called them.

This cigar store Indian statue sold for $65,000 + buyer’s premium in Material Culture’s May 26, 2013 auction in Philadelphia. It was crafted around 1850 by John Cromwell (1805-1873), who opened his first shop in New York City when he was 26.

The most famous and highly collected carvers are Samuel Robb, Thomas V. Brooks, J. W. Fiske, Julius T. Melchers, John Cromwell and William Demuth – although Demuth was not himself a carver but a tobacco products distributor who operated a carving studio. Of the group, all but one (Melchers) worked in New York City. They all even apprenticed under one another at various points in time; that’s how tightly knit the carving community was.

Melchers, the outlier, operated out of Detroit, and was the only carver who was a classically trained artist. The others were more or less folk artists and, in fact, cigar store Indians are generally considered a category of folk art. Melchers, it is said, used actual Native Americans as models in creating his highly detailed, true-to-life creations. In that regard, he’s in the top tier of most desired carvers in the collecting community.

As anyone who’s even casually familiar with the genre knows, cigar store Indians can fetch dizzying dollars at auction. “We sold a Samuel Robb figure at one of our sales not long ago for over $100,000, but that’s not unusual,” said Mike Eckles, owner of Showtime Auction Services in Woodhaven, Michigan. “Cigar store Indians sell for in the six figures all the time. They’re life-size expressions of a time gone by, and people just love them.”

When Heritage Auctions in Dallas, Texas auctioned this cigar store Indian attributed to Samuel Robb in May 2010 for $203,150, it set a new auction record.

In May 2010, a carved cigar store Indian done in the manner of Samuel Robb – but not definitively attributed to him, since it was unsigned (most weren’t) – was sold for $203,150 by Heritage Auctions in Dallas. At the time, it was a world record price, owing to the figure’s original paint, superb condition, impeccable provenance and detailed features. The male chief figure stood 75½ inches tall, including the base.

“Condition and original paint are especially important,” said Marsha Dixie, Heritage’s Consignment Director in the Historical Department. “Keep in mind, these figures were usually outdoors, year-round, exposed to the elements, with people sometimes throwing things at them or even hacking at them. As for paint, it was common for people to re-paint the figures, thinking they were doing the right thing. To a collector, that’s not a good thing. Patina is everything.”

The Heritage record was demolished in 2013 when a female figure – known in the trade as a cigar store princess – sold for a staggering $745,500 (inclusive of 15 percent buyer’s premium) at a sale held by Guyette & Deeter. The Maryland-based firm’s specialty is duck decoys, another genre of carved collectible that routinely sees six-figure prices. The cigar store princess was carved either by Robb or Brooks (again, unsigned) and overall stood 83 inches tall.

The current world auction record for a cigar store Indian figure was set by this spectacular example attributed to the shop of Samuel Robb or Thomas V. Brooks (it’s unsigned, so no one knows for sure). It fetched $745,500 at Guyette & Deeter in November 2013.

“I had known the owner of the figure for quite a few years,” said Jon Deeter of Guyette & Deeter. “It had been used and never traveled far from downtown Louisville, Kentucky. Its condition was pristine and it was a very attractive princess. We’ve sold other Indians in the mid-five-figure range. They’re fun to work with and are a wonderful slice of American folk art.” The sale price still stands as a record today, although it will doubtless be shattered at some point in the future.

Not all cigar store Indians sell for six figures. This carved and painted Indian chief, probably made by Thomas V. Brooks in the 19th century, sold for a very reasonable $13,800 at Cottone Auctions’ March 25, 2017 sale in Geneseo, N.Y.

The prices for better examples continue on an upward trajectory, but it wasn’t always that way. A New York Times article from 1974 stated, “It was not until the 1950s that the general public began to realize that cigar store Indians were anything more than firewood.” The article pointed out that prices in 1974 were 10 times what they were just 20 years earlier. Nostalgia and a yearning for a simpler, earlier time simply swept the category up to the big time.

One person who may own the next record-breaker is Mark Goldman, a collector and tobacconist in New York City. He began collecting in 1967 and today has over 100 life-size figures, by all the major carvers. But the one he thinks might trump them all is an early Punch figure by James “Jersey Jim” Campbell. Goldman bought it years ago when it was deaccessioned by a now-defunct U.S. Tobacco museum in Nashville. He says it’s worth about $500,000 today.

“Collectors today fall into one of two categories,” Goldman said, “people who are looking to outfit their man-caves and serious collectors. The man-cavers might be happy with a simple replica, which they can buy for around $500 or $600. The serious collectors bring serious money to the table, and are keenly aware of the often-subtle differences that can distinguish an ordinary cigar store Indian from a highly valuable piece of folk art.”

These cigar store Indians, both by Julius T. Melchers, are from the inventory of Mark Goldman, who lives in New York City and owns the largest collection of such figures in the U.S., with over 100 life-size examples, by all the famous carvers.

Aside from the obvious markers like paint and condition, Goldman says he also looks for what he calls movement. “A Samuel Robb Indian with a rose, for example, or with crossed legs, or who is showing a smile instead of a stern, steady expression, might double or even triple the value of a figure that doesn’t show those things.” Goldman said whether a figure is male or female (about an equal number of each was produced) matters little. His collection is half and half.

Books on the subject that collectors, or people considering collecting, refer to include Artists in Wood by Frederick Fried (the title refers to what Samuel Robb gave as his occupation on his marriage certificate), Hunting Indians in a Taxi Cab by Kate Sanborn (if you can find a copy; it was written in 1911), Cigar Store Figures by Pendergast & Ware, and The Ship Carver’s Art by Ralph Sessions. By the way, and fakes and repros are out there, so caveat emptor!

Warning! Things You Cannot Collect

The value of collecting begins and ends with what’s available and in what quantities. But what if you’re not supposed to collect it at all? There actually are quite a few items that, by law, collectors are not allowed to handle, sell, pawn, trade, auction, or represent in a transaction because they are protected national treasures.

What do you do if it’s a family heirloom? How can you legally convey the object outside of your own family? It pays to know which items are protected and if there are exceptions to the rules.

Apollo 15, 1971, lunar surface “moon dust” on clear cellophane tape clearly shows both the gray moon dust and ridges from the creases in the space suit worn by NASA Commander Dave Scott. The moon dust sold legally for $775. Image courtesy of LiveAuctioneers.com and Ira & Larry Goldberg Coins and Collectibles

Moon Rocks and Moon Dust

Only 12 astronauts have landed on the moon in six manned missions from 1969 to 1972. Over the course of those moon landings, about 842 lbs. of moon rocks and moon dust were brought back to Earth. All lunar “rubble” is considered a national treasure and is owned exclusively by the United States government. It cannot be sold publicly or privately unless it came from an official artifact that was given to an astronaut after their mission ended. An example would be moon dust embedded on patches, parts of spacesuits, boots, bags, or equipment. At one time NASA insisted that all of the artifacts kept by astronauts were government property, but Public Law 112-185, signed by President Barack Obama on September 25, 2012, gave clear title to artifacts in the personal possession of Mercury, Gemini and Apollo astronauts. Go to www.collectspace.com for more insight.

Families of astronauts may sell lunar artifacts at will, with the exception of moon rocks. They are still regarded as national treasures and held by the US government.

Disaster Debris

Tragedy struck in 2003 when the Space Shuttle Columbia broke apart during re-entry, killing all seven crew members and scattering debris across a wide area in Texas, Louisiana and Arkansas. Some 2,000 debris fields were searched by a thousand or so volunteers. During the search, debris from the Columbia turned up on online auction sites, triggering a warning from NASA that some of it may be hazardous.

After the September 11, 2001 attack on the World Trade Center towers in New York City, firefighters and other first responders volunteered to help with search and recovery efforts. Unfortunately, many items associated with these recovery efforts were later determined to have been looted from the site.

Any piece of debris, no matter how small, from any national disaster is considered to be a national memorial, and any attempt to keep, transfer, sell, trade, or otherwise profit from it is considered theft of government property. Families with relics from national disasters, no matter how unintentional, should return the item to the proper federal authorities.

Each Medal of Honor for the Army, Navy and Air Force is a protected military decoration that cannot be sold, traded, exported, imported, reproduced or otherwise involved in an transaction. Image courtesy of Wikipedia in the public domain

Medals of Honor

The Medal of Honor is considered the oldest combat medal in the US Armed Forces. Established in 1862, the Medal of Honor is awarded by the president of the United States in the name of Congress for “… conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of life above and beyond the call of duty,” per 18 USC 704. Since 1862, Congress has awarded 3,520 Medals of Honor.

There are three different versions of the modern Medal of Honor, each specific to the Army, Navy and Air Force. However, US Code prohibits “purchasing, attempting to purchase, soliciting for purchase, mailing, shipping, importing, exporting, producing blank certificates of receipt for, manufacturing, selling, attempting to sell, advertising for sale, trading, bartering, or exchanging for anything of value” a Medal of Honor.

So, if your family has one, what should you do with it? Keep it as a family heirloom. If it is necessary to remove it from the family, the medal should be returned to the Department of Defense.

The Oscar awarded in 1947 to the pioneer of the movie projector, Thomas Armat. It pre-dates the 1950 regulation that would have required its first being offered to AMPAS for $1. The Oscar sold legally for $80,000. Image courtesy of LiveAuctioneers and Heritage Auctions.

The Academy Award, aka The ‘Oscar’

“…and the Oscar goes to…” is the phrase every actor, director, producer or other motion picture professional hopes will be followed by the sweet sound of their own name. The winner’s ritual goes like this: stand, look surprised, look humble while enjoying the lavish applause, and deliver a witty speech while clutching the gold-tone statuette you just received. If you’re lucky enough to be the recipient of this most coveted of all film awards, you learn sooner or later that there’s just one small problem: the Oscar isn’t really yours. It is essentially leased to you by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (AMPAS).

From 1929 until 1950, an Oscar belonged to the recipient, and they could do whatever they pleased with it. They, and their families, were allowed to sell them, if they wished to do so. After 1950, however, the Academy had each award encumbered, meaning that if the recipient wanted to sell it, they had to first offer it to the Academy for $1.

All 1933 $20 double eagle gold coins were supposed to have been turned in to the federal government after President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed an Executive Order prohibiting the possession of gold by individuals. About 20 of the coins were stolen from the US Mint. One of the coins sold for nearly $7.6 million in 2002 after a compromise arrangement was struck between the coin’s private owners and the government. Public domain image, courtesy of Wikipedia

The 1933 Gold Double Eagle Coin

It was a gold coin that really wasn’t. To help ease the banking crisis of 1933, President Franklin D. Roosevelt ordered that gold was no longer legal tender. All gold pieces, certificates or bullion in circulation were supposed to be turned into the federal government in exchange for currency.

As of the time of Roosevelt’s decree, 445,500 $20 gold pieces had been minted for the year 1933. All but two were subsequently melted down. However, about 20 were stolen from the US Mint, with about 13 remaining at large.

By the early 1940s, between eight and 10 specimens were known. Two of them were sold by Texas dealer B. Max Mehl. In 1944, a journalist enquired of the Mint regarding the 1933 double eagles. Mint officials could find no record of any issuance of the coins, and decided those in private hands must have been obtained illegally. Over the next few years, the Secret Service seized a number of specimens, which were subsequently melted. One piece, however, wound up in the hands of King Farouk of Egypt, who even obtained a U.S. export license for the coin. What became of the Farouk specimen after his death is unclear, but the coin resurfaced in the late 1990s. When brought to New York for sale to a prospective buyer, it was seized by U.S. authorities. After litigation, a compromise was reached to allow the coin to be auctioned, with the proceeds to be divided equally between the government and the private owners. In 2002 this coin sold at auction by Sotheby’s for $7,590,020. The purchase price included $20 paid to the federal government to monetize a coin it contended had never been officially released.

In 2004, 10 specimens of the 1933 double eagle were submitted to the Mint for authentication by the heirs of a Philadelphia jeweler who may have been involved in obtaining them from the Mint in 1933. The Mint authenticated them but refused to give them back. The heirs brought suit against the government in 2006, and a federal judge ordered the government to file a forfeiture action regarding the coins. The government brought such a suit in 2009, and it was tried in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania beginning on July 7, 2011. On July 21, 2011, a jury decided that the coins had been properly seized by the Federal government. Judge Legrome D. Davis confirmed that jury verdict on August 29, 2012. On April 17, 2015, a panel of the United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit ruled that the government had failed to file its forfeiture action in a timely manner, and that the heirs were entitled to the coins. That ruling was vacated by the full court on July 28, 2015, and the case was set for further argument. On August 1, 2016, the full Third Circuit ruled in favor of the government, upholding the jury verdict. On November 4 of that year, the heirs asked the Supreme Court to review the case. The request was refused on April 21, 2017, thus ending the case.

It has been legal to own gold again since 1975, however the stolen $20 gold coins are still regarded as contraband and are subject to confiscation, fines and imprisonment.

Eagle Feathers

And speaking of eagles, our national symbol is legally protected under the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act, which assesses criminal penalties for those who “take, possess, sell, purchase, barter, offer to sell, purchase or barter, transport, export or import, at any time or any manner, any bald eagle … [or any golden eagle], alive or dead, or any part, nest, or egg thereof.”

However, to Native Americans, eagle feathers are sometimes used in religious ceremonies. This is why the National Eagle Repository was established by the US Fish and Wildlife Service. The agency issues permits to members of federally recognized tribes allowing them to possess eagle feathers for such ceremonies. Families with eagle feathers or eagle parts should deposit them in the National Eagle Repository for proper distribution.

Cool! Your ’70s playroom comes to life with toys, posters in Sept. 11 auction

Between the peace-and-love Woodstock decade and the era of Atari, Apple and Star Wars that followed, America had the real-life version of That Seventies Show going on. If you remember tie-dye shirts, Starsky & Hutch, or any car with a vinyl top, you were there. If not, you can relive the colorful 1970s with a playroom decked out with posters, toys and other fun collectibles available in Jasper52’s Sept. 11 online-only auction.

Genuine, original 1981 Raiders of the Lost Ark poster, Paramount Studios/LucasFilm Ltd. Est. $1,000-$2,800

View the auction.

Learn more about the auction on Auction Central News.

Petroliana: Separating the real from the unreal

It’s no secret that fakes, frauds and forgeries have infiltrated virtually every corner of the antiques and collectibles market. Counterfeiters have tried to replicate everything from rare coins to Confederate belt buckles in hopes of passing them off as items of great value. And some fakes are very, very good – good enough to fool even prestigious art museums with world-class experts on staff to vet their acquisitions.
Until the 1970s and ’80s, the field of petroliana was pretty much immune to this sort of nefarious activity. It was a sleepy sub-genre of vintage collectibles, supported mainly by classic car and gas station enthusiasts. Almost nothing in the field carried great monetary value. Signs, oil cans, gas globes and pumps were pretty cheap to come by. But starting in the 1970s, and certainly in the ’80s and ’90s, everything changed as the category got more organized and the nostalgia craze took hold.

Thirty-inch Sinclair HC porcelain signs. The one at left is a rare original. The one shown at right is a poorly made reproduction. Notice the large ‘C’ that doesn’t match anything Sinclair ever incorporated into their signs. Images courtesy Petroleum Collectors Monthly

“The fakes started showing up when car guys began looking for items to put in their man-caves and garages,” said Wayne Henderson, the editor and publisher of Petroleum Collectibles Monthly. “Those reproductions started out innocently enough as restoration supply items, and they were marketed and priced out as such. Then, folks started re-working old globes and signs, often without doing a whole lot of due diligence or research. In those instances, the frauds were easy to spot. But it didn’t matter so much, because prices hadn’t taken off yet.”
Fast forward to 1992, at an auction in Charlotte, North Carolina. Over time, signs had risen in value. Henderson, who attended that event, estimated that “80 percent of what was in that auction was fake.”

At left is an authentic 1938 lithographed-tin Texaco Sky Chief curb sign. This sign and globe lenses (examples not shown) are the only legitimate non-print uses of the Sky Chief logo in a round format. At right is a neon-added 24-inch lithographed-tin fantasy sign. Neon was used in gas stations only on identification signs or building signs and lettering. This sign is much too small for any logical use. Images courtesy Petroleum Collectors Monthly

It was a wake-up call not just to him, but also to the industry as a whole. He and a colleague, longtime petroliana insider Scott Benjamin, began to write books to enlighten collectors to the dangers of buying a worthless knock-off advertised as the real McCoy. They pretty much succeeded in cleaning up the fake gas globe and gas pump trade.
Oilcans, too, have been faked, but they’re difficult and labor-intensive to produce, so they’ve never been a real factor. “I’ve seen decanter-style phony cans that wouldn’t fool a two-year-old,” Henderson remarked. “Some others have been cleverly made and can reach prices approaching five digits, but I think the payoff just isn’t worth the time and effort.” So, with cans, globes and pumps largely under control, that left just one problem area: signs.

The sign at left is a known original, with holes for mounting onto truck panels and other places. The colors and hand-stenciled irregular stroke lettering are correct. The sign at right is a fake lithographed-tin sign. It has no mounting holes, the computer-set typeface for ‘Pennsylvania Motor Oil’ is too sharp and the wrong color, and it is missing the border and motto that appear on the original. Images courtesy Petroleum Collectors Monthly

Face it, when a single Musgo, Harbor or Clipper sign can bring $50,000 or more at auction, it’s no surprise that people will be out there trying to fake them and pass them off as genuine. To be clear, most reproductions are clearly marked as such and are not meant to deceive the public. But the problem of fakes is so prevalent that a new company has sprung up to combat it. It’s called The Authentication Company (or TAC) and was co-founded by Dan Matthews, a petroliana auctioneer and expert who’s authored several books on the subject; and Joey Whiteside, a lifelong petroliana collector who specializes in advertising signs. The firm is headquartered in Nokomis, Illinois, and is online at www.MatthewsTAC.com.
TAC specializes in marketing original period-correct items, including signs, globes, cans, metal thermometers, displays and various other advertising items, but with a heavy emphasis on porcelain signs (and tin, to lesser extent). It guarantees that all items that have been marked with its special security holograms and serial numbers are original. “Many fakes are pouring into the country from places like India, China, eastern Europe, the Philippines… and, of course, some are made here in this country, too,” he said. “Most repros are easy for the trained eye to spot, but the last thing a collector or auction house needs or wants is a fake.”

The known original porcelain sign at left has a smooth finish, irregular hand-lettered lettering, and a white border ‘T.’ The sign at right is a fantasy reproduction Sky Chief pump plate. It is lithographed tin as opposed to porcelain, has an embossed logo, computer-typeset ‘Texaco,’ and a black-border ‘T,’ which was never seen on original Sky Chief pump plates. Images courtesy Petroleum Collectors Monthly

Matthews said there are eight things to consider when examining a porcelain sign for authenticity. They are as follows:
• Size and style. Was the size or style of sign ever even made? (remarkably, oftentimes it wasn’t). If, for example, a size was only made in a 30-inch and a 40-inch size and you see one that’s 24 inches in diameter, run the other way.
• Quality. Look at the sign for its overall quality of workmanship. Does it look and feel real? Original signs have crisp, clear lines and edges on all letters and graphics, and were made with porcelain covering all sides. If a sign is missing enamel on the sides or inside the grommet holes, it’s probably a reproduction. The enamel inside the grommet holes can get chipped away, but there’s usually some evidence of its prior existence.
• Stamps. Pay close attention to the stamps printed on a sign. These will often tell the date a sign was made, or the company that created it. For example, reproduction Mobil signs are supposed to be marked with the words, “Licensed by Mobil Corporation,” but a huckster may try to knock off the finish where the distinguishing words are located.
• Holes. Are the holes in the right places? Some signs look very close to the originals, but the holes that were meant to be used in hanging the signs don’t appear in the right places.
• Grommets. Does the sign have grommets in the mounting holes? Almost all original signs had them at one time or another. If the sign doesn’t have grommets, there should be some chipping in the holes since they were most likely there at one time.
• Color. Are the colors and/or sign design accurate? Compare the sign to others that you know to be legitimate. If the color of the sign is a little off, this is a red flag. It’s not a mistake that would have been made by the factory. On original signs, the paint color will always be consistent.
• Feel. Does the back of the sign feel like sandpaper? The backs of most porcelain signs are smooth, or have some texture, but if the back is rough, it’s probably a fake. There are exceptions. The porcelain on the back of an original sign is usually not as thick as the front, so that’s almost always the first place it will rust. Also, if a sign has been buried in the ground for a while to artificially render the effect of “ageing,” the back will start to rust, which can make it feel like sandpaper.
• Design. Many repros are “fantasy” pieces – signs that are appealing to the eye but were never created that way. The fabricators take the logo and colors of a company and invent a new, eye-catching piece they think people will want to buy. This is fine, so long as the sign is clearly marketed as a reproduction and not an original. Unfortunately, some people (new collectors, especially) are dazzled by what they see, believe it to be original, and as a result, overpay for it.

The original sign at right included grommets (see 6 o’clock hole). The fake at left has none. The real sign has a vertical white outside line to the left of the ‘B’ in Buick (just above the tip of the curlicue), while the fake has none. The bottom of the ‘B’ should have a wider, flowing curve, per GM specs; but on the fake sign it’s squeezed together. Image courtesy Petroleum Collectors Monthly

Matthews and Henderson both agree that best way to protect oneself against being knowingly or even unknowingly sold a fake sign is through self-education. They strongly urge newbies and even seasoned petroliana collectors to read guidebooks, join clubs, talk to people who are knowledgeable in the field and – most importantly – always buy from reputable auction companies or dealers who are familiar with the items they’re selling.
Remember, there are a lot of great auction houses and dealers who unwittingly sell reproduction items to the public because they’re not entirely familiar with a particular genre of collectible. As with many things in life, the caveat emptor (buyer beware) rule definitely applies when buying petroliana for your collection – most especially porcelain signs

Both the 8-inch Texaco sign at left with a white-outlined T and the 15-inch Texaco sign at right with a black-outlined T are authentic. The heavily pitted 12-inch sign shown at right is a phony that was aged to deceive the unsuspecting. Errors include an incorrect typeface for the word Texaco, computer typeface oversized registration text, and a fake date. Images courtesy Petroleum Collectors Monthly.

Jasper52 auction unlocks cabinet of curiosities Aug. 14

Cabinets of curiosities were encyclopedic collections of macabre and bizarre objects gathered from around world. Many of these obscure curiosities are found in an online auction to be conducted by Jasper52 on Tuesday, Aug. 14. Some items in the auction were picked from the collection of the late Canadian tribal art dealer Billy Jamieson, the star of Treasure Trader on television’s History Channel.

Life-size hyper-realism sculpture by Evan Penny for FXSMITH studio, circa 2008. Estimate: $35,000-$75,000. Jasper52 image

View the auction.

Learn more about the auction on Auction Central News.

Pest Control In Pretty Packages

It is difficult to comprehend that some of our smallest works of antique art took their inspiration from disease, foul odors and fleas, yet the facts are indisputable.

Imagine a typical overcrowded 18th- or 19th-century city without plumbing facilities, where refuse littered the streets and animals roamed freely. Consider the multiple layers of heavy clothing people wore year round and how rarely those same people bathed, if at all. There was little oral hygiene and no hygienic paper products. There were no washing machines and no routine garbage collection. It was a world where rodents ruled and both animals and humans carried fleas. There was Febreze, although it was certainly needed.

How would a person mitigate these circumstances enough to make life bearable? If you were poor, you could not. If you were well heeled, however, you could purchase a vinaigrette or fancy flea trap.

This hollowed, Russian hand-carved bone flea trap dates to the 18th century. It is 2 inches tall and 3 1/2 inches in circumference. The owner would cut a strip of cloth, rub honey on one side, saturate the other side with blood, then slip it within the flea trap. The blood attracted fleas, they entered through the many carved perforations and stuck to the honey. Most flea traps are straight and tubular, but this flea trap displays the Russian penchant for the onion dome. Image courtesy Dr. Anthony J. Cavo

To the wealthy, flea traps were every bit as much an accessory as jewelry, hats, gloves or a fan. They were worn around the neck, tucked into clothing, stashed under a wig, or placed in a bed. Flea traps have been in use since the Middle Ages. They were made of silver or ornately carved ivory or bone, their beauty shrouding their unpleasant purpose.

Early flea traps, which are scarce to begin with, are even more difficult to find because they are often misidentified as vinaigrettes or even needle cases. As a result, comparative pricing can be tricky. Linear, cylinder and bulbous shapes are the most common forms and sell in the $250 to $300 range, although there is one 17th-century example currently listed online for $20,000, a highly inflated price.

An interesting fact to note is the origin of the color puce. “Puce” is the French word for “flea,” and by extension, the color of the stain remaining on a bedsheet after a sated flea has been crushed. You may never think of puce in quite the same way again.

19th century pomander that might also have been used as a flea trap, carved from coquilla nut, the fruit of the Brazilian palm: the coquilla nut. The top and bottom halves are turned in opposite directions to open this case, which is 3 inches tall and 5 1/2 inches in circumference. These beautiful pieces can be readily found online in the $20 to $30 range. Image courtesy Dr. Anthony J. Cavo

Throughout history, foul odors were another unpleasant aspect of daily life. Although, of necessity, people became accustomed to the circumstances that caused the odors, they still attempted to alleviate them. During the Middle Ages people began to use pomanders to introduce a pleasant fragrance to the environment. Initially, pomanders were made at home, much like those we still make during the holidays. People used citrus fruit pierced with herbs like cloves or they saved the skin of an orange and stuffed it with a rag or sponge that had been soaked in vinegar. Oranges and vinegar were believed to have the power to ward off illness.

Pomanders were also made of silver and gold, often with enamel work or even mounted with gems. These would be filled with sponges or cloths infused with scents. They were worn around the neck, wrist or on a chatelaine. They could also be placed in a trunk or cabinet with clothing.

Another innovation that soon largely replaced the pomander was the pouncet box. Pouncet boxes emerged during the late 16th century in England and were used primarily by the wealthy. The pouncet box was flat and circular in shape with a perforated lid that held vinegar-soaked sponges or cloths. Both men and women carried pouncet boxes to overpower any foul odor and, more importantly, to offer protection from infected air, then considered to be the source of contagion.

This 1851 Dutch Lodereindoosje or Loderein box, also known as a vinaigrette, is a hinged box type. The name Loderein is the Dutch phonetic variation of the French phrase “l’eau de reine,” which means “queen’s water.” It retains the original sponge and a hint of scent. Visible marks on this piece include the Dutch lion passant, the 1851 date letter “R” and the Minerva-head duty mark. Boxes such as this are often misidentified at antique shows as snuffboxes. Image courtesy Dr. Anthony J. Cavo

By the late 18th century, the pouncet box evolved into a smaller silver container known as a vinaigrette, from the French word for vinegar – vinaigre. The vinaigrette worked on the same principle as the pomander and pouncet box. Aromatic substances dissolved in vinegar or concentrated scented oils were used to saturate sponges or fabric placed in the vinaigrette, which was carried in a pocket, worn around the neck or suspended from a chatelaine. The amount of detail silversmiths managed to apply to such small pieces is quite remarkable. These are truly artworks.

Novelty vinaigrettes in the form of musical instruments, shoes, wallets, satchels, hearts, eggs, nuts, and even books were very popular during the 19th century and are highly desirable today. The violin vinaigrette shown here is valued in the $500 to $600 range.

The 3 1/4-inch long 19th-century Dutch vinaigrette was made in the form of a violin or cello, complete with pegs, string, bridge, scroll and “f” holes. It is decorated with scenes of a dock with a ship in the background and putti performing various tasks. There are wine barrels, wheels of cheese and, most interestingly, a figure in the background holding a caduceus, perhaps supporting the belief that the vinaigrette was a prophylaxis against disease. Image courtesy Dr. Anthony J. Cavo

By the mid-19th century, the popularity of the vinaigrette was waning. Younger women viewed vinaigrettes as outdated accessories carried by older women who used them more for their invigorating effect than as a prophylaxis. During the early 20th century they were collected as curiosities and regarded as bjets d’art or bibelots. Chances are you have overlooked these treasures at an antique show or auction. They are usually exhibited in jewelry display cases and can be easy to overlook when they’re jumbled together with other items.

Knowing about flea traps, typically identified as pomanders, will afford you the opportunity to obtain an antique far scarcer than vinaigrettes – an antique not many people have in their collection.

While on the subject of fleas and flea markets, do you know the origin of the term “flea market?” The phrase is derived from the French name “marché aux puces” (market of fleas) that applied to a market in Paris specializing in secondhand goods, especially clothing of the sort that might contain fleas. The Oxford English Dictionary cites the date 1922 as the year when the phrase was first used in its English translated form.
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By DR. ANTHONY J. CAVO

Our thanks to Antique Trader for sharing this article. Click to visit Antique Trader online.

Attention Star Wars Fans: You Could Own Your Very Own Jedi Lightsaber

This is not a drill. An epic collection of Star Wars toys is featured in this week’s Jasper52 sale. The Force is strong throughout this entire collection, but we’re going to highlight a few of the standouts. Perhaps you’ll have a few extra presents under your Christmas tree this year.

An authentic Anakin Skywalker Jedi Lightsaber signed by Star Wars creator and director George Lucas is a highly coveted item in the auction. The seller won the lightsaber in a 2002 contest sponsored by British grocery and general merchandise retailer Tesco, and provided documentation from Industrial Light and Magic confirming its authenticity. The lightsaber comes in a clear display case. It is estimated at $6,000-$8,000.

George Lucas-signed Anakin Skywalker Jedi Lightsaber, numbered 1 of 1. Estimate: $6,000-$8,000.

George Lucas-signed Anakin Skywalker Jedi Lightsaber, numbered 1 of 1. Estimate: $6,000-$8,000.

Imagine waking up to the voice of Princess Leia or Luke Skywalker. It is possible with a Star Wars talking alarm clock by Bradley Time. The clock, which has a $200-$300 estimate, is in mint condition in the original box.

Star Wars talking alarm clock by Bradley Time, mint in the box with instructions. Estimate: $200-$300

Star Wars talking alarm clock by Bradley Time, mint in the box with instructions. Estimate: $200-$300

Relive the Star Wars story in 112 slides with Kenner’s famous Give-A-Show projector, which was re-tooled for the Star Wars franchise. The boxed toy with the slides has a $300-$400 estimate.

Star Wars Give-A-Show Projector, Kenner, Star Wars saga in 112 color slides. Estimate: $300-$400

Star Wars Give-A-Show Projector, Kenner, Star Wars saga in 112 color slides. Estimate: $300-$400

The Star Wars Empire Strikes Back Rebel Transport Vehicle is a rare model from the series’ second installment. This toy in its original box carries a $1,300-$1,500 estimate.

Star Wars Empire Strikes Back Rebel Transport Vehicle, factory sealed in mint condition. Estimate: $1,300-$1,500

Star Wars Empire Strikes Back Rebel Transport Vehicle, factory sealed in mint condition. Estimate: $1,300-$1,500

And we know you’re not too old to play with dolls. Another rarity in this auction is a Star Wars Early Bird action figures set from 1978. Still sealed in original clear plastic bags, these figures are expected to forge their way to $40,000-$45,000.

Rare Star Wars Early Bird action figure set, 1978. Estimate: $40,000-$45,000

Rare Star Wars Early Bird action figure set, 1978. Estimate: $40,000-$45,000

Interested in all of these and more? The auction contains dozens of Star Wars boxed toys and action figures, many in the original boxes. Find your favorites here and register to bid.

6 Hand-Crafted Artisan Works to Make You Feel At Home

We’re going home for the holidays this week and the Americana auction is getting us ready. Hand-crafted works by artisans as well as self-taught artists comprise this delightful sale featuring more than 60 household artworks describe the everyday American experience during the 19th and 20th centuries. Hand-sculpted jugs, well-loved game boards, and vintage advertising all bring back memories of a simpler time.

These six hand-crafted works create a sense of welcome in any home:

19th Century Barber Shop Sign

‘Barber Shop’ sign, Pennsylvania, 1880s, tin and wood. Estimate: $1,100-$1,300

‘Barber Shop’ sign, Pennsylvania, 1880s, tin and wood. Estimate: $1,100-$1,300

A barbershop trade sign from the days when a shave and a haircut cost “two bits” (25 cents) is just one of several pieces of vintage advertising in the auction.

Lanier Meaders’ Face Jug

One of the most famous names in North Carolina folk art pottery is Lanier Meaders, and the auction features a fine example of the face jugs that earned him and his family national recognition in the latter half of the 20th century.

Lanier Meaders (1917-1998), North Carolina, face jug. Estimate: $900-$1,200

Lanier Meaders (1917-1998), North Carolina, face jug. Estimate: $900-$1,200

 

Horse and Rider Whirligig

Folk art carvings are often fun and whimsical. A fine example is a horse and rider whirligig made by an unknown artisan from Ohio in the late 19th century.

Horse and rider whirligig, Ohio, painted wood and metal, late 19th century, included in ‘American Folk Sculpture’ by Robert Bishop. Estimate; $2,800-$4,000

Horse and rider whirligig, Ohio, painted wood and metal, late 19th century, included in ‘American Folk Sculpture’ by Robert Bishop. Estimate; $2,800-$4,000

 

Hand-Carved J.W. Walker Figure

One of our favorites from the sale is a J.W. Walker 2-foot-tall folk art figure of a well-dressed gentleman, which was carved by in early 20th century.

Hand-carved folk art figure, J.W. Walker, early 20th century, original paint, 24 x 4 x 7 inches. Estimate: $650-$1,400. Jasper52 image

Hand-carved folk art figure, J.W. Walker, early 20th century, original paint, 24 x 4 x 7 inches. Estimate: $650-$1,400. Jasper52 image

Brass Honesty Box

An unusual brass tobacco box is noteworthy. It is sometimes called an “honesty box” because customers would insert a coin and fill their pipes with tobacco. These boxes were found in 19th century pubs.

Pub tobacco box, 19th century, brass, 9 1/2 x 7 x 4 3/4 inches. Estimate: $600-$700

Pub tobacco box, 19th century, brass, 9 1/2 x 7 x 4 3/4 inches. Estimate: $600-$700

 

Frog Bank

Although cast-iron mechanical banks were mass-produced, these ingeniously designed toys have earned their place in American folk art. A nice example is original paint is this Frog Bank.

Mechanical Frog Bank, cast iron with original paint, late 1880s, 8 x 3 1/4 x 4 1/4 inches. Estimate: $600-$900

Mechanical Frog Bank, cast iron with original paint, late 1880s, 8 x 3 1/4 x 4 1/4 inches. Estimate: $600-$900

 

As in all Jasper52 auctions bidding starts at just $1. Take a look at this comforting collection and place your bids.