ANTIQUITIES AND CULTURAL HERITAGE LAWS

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A Greek Marble Funerary Stele, Bonhams, December 1, 2020 Presale Estimate $10,000-$16,000

Since cultural property is considered highly valuable and inherently desirable, it is important that laws concerning this type of property are reviewed and fully understood by the appraiser.  

It is no surprise that foreign governments have ownership rights over any movable antiquities situated within their borders. Looted antiquities and cultural property have been a problem for culture-rich nations for centuries, but International protections for these objects began in May, 1954, with the Convention for the Protection of Cultural Property in the Event of Armed Conflict (the 1954 Hague Convention). The Hague Convention was the first international convention to deal solely with the protection of cultural property. It focused on protecting cultural property in times of war and was enacted in the shadow of the devasting destruction of artifacts and cultural landmarks that occurred during World War II. Further, the 1954 Hague Convention protects the transport of cultural property out of war zones and obligates warring states to return protected cultural property to its original state upon cessation of hostilities.

By far the broadest and most well-known international body associated with protecting cultural heritage is the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO). UNESCO was established with the signing of the Constitution of UNESCO on November 16, 1945. In the years since, UNESCO has created two major initiatives to address stolen cultural property; (1) the 1970 UNESCO Convention, and, (2) the 1978 (ICPRCP) Intergovernmental Committee for Promoting the Return of Cultural Property to its Countries of Origin, or its Restitution in Case of Illicit Appropriation (ICPRCP). Aimed at addressing restitution or return of lost cultural property, this international instrument would apply for cases arising before the entry into the 1970 Convention.

To accomplish these goals, the Convention governs the import and export of cultural property and provides guidelines for state parties to protect foreign and domestic antiquities. Its protections are much broader than the 1954 Hague Convention and suggests that the “true value of cultural property can be appreciated only in relation to the fullest possible information regarding its origin, history and traditional setting.” In essence, cultural artifacts lose value when taken out of their historical context.

10th Century Carved Marble Panels from Cordoba Sold at Bonhams Islamic Sale in London on October 26, 2020 for over $400,000. The presale estimate was $38,000-$64,000.

In order to complement the 1970 Convention in the fight against the export, import and transfer of ownership of cultural property, the (UNIDROIT) Convention was adopted in 1995. This new Convention provides uniform treatment for the restitution of stolen or illegally exported cultural objects and allows private claims to go through national courts. To further assist with this object, an object ID Standard was established in 1997. This standard was the result of years of research in collaboration with museums, international police, the art trade and appraisers of art and antiques. This descriptive standard helps combat illegal appropriation of art objects and brings together organizations around the world.

In 2019, 68 States Parties submitted their national reports on the implementation of the 1970 Convention. This reporting system served to report and summarize progress made, and obstacles encountered with this regulation.

However, problems do arise in implementing these guidelines, including; (a) enforcement of the Convention is left to the discretion of state parties, (b) there is wide leeway in how states meet their obligations under the 1970 UNESCO Convention, (c) the United States severely limits these protections. For example, the United States, while a signatory, has codified only parts of the Convention. Secondly, the United states created a reservation prior to accepting the terms of the Convention, clarifying that it “understands the provisions of the Convention to be neither self-executing nor retroactive.” Because the 1970 UNESCO Convention is not retroactive, antiquities looted prior to the 1970 signing of the Convention are not protected, which forces any nation seeking recovery to fall back on their domestic patrimony laws, and common law remedies provided by the states, such as replevin, (a replevin action lets you seek to immediately recover property that was wrongfully taken) and conversion (taking over the rights of ownership and possession). In addition, claims by plaintiffs proving superior title to property must comply with a statute of limitations of three years from the discovery or from a reasonable time frame wherein the plaintiff should have discovered the theft.

Gray Schist Relief with Hunt Scenes, Gandhara, 3rd-4th Century
     Sold for $30,000 at Christie’s New York, September 23, 2020

To improve their stringent ownership requirements, many nations have passed laws to establish ownership over artifacts discovered on their sovereign soil. Recognition of foreign laws in the U.S. is consistent with the goals of international cultural heritage law, which clears the path to recovery, while protecting good faith purchasers from bad faith claims. Further assisting with the enforcement of these  laws and relevant national regulations, the UNESCO Database of National Cultural Heritage was launched. In 2017, UNESCO along with other international organizations joined together against theft and illicit trafficking of cultural goods that resulted in the seizure of 3,561 artifacts.

Resources:

Bresler, Judith, Lerner, Ralph E., Art Law, Volume II, Chapter 8, International Trade. Practicing Law Institute, New York, NY, 2005.

South Carolina Journal of International Law and Business

Jessica L. Darraby, Art, Artifact and Architecture Law, Thompson West.2006

National Historic Preservation Act, 16 U.S.C.470 a-2

10th Century Carved Marble Panels from Cordoba

Staffordshire Blue

Photo 1: John Rogers “Zebra” Platter, Ca. 1830, Sold at DuMouchelles Auction in Detroit, MI on February 15, 2020 for $200.00

The process of transfer-decorated china began shortly after the mid-18th century. It was one of the few British contributions to the art of pottery, and one that became of great importance to the ceramic industry. Until this time, wares were painted by hand, but now industries were looking for new methods of production that were cheaper, had the ability create wares in larger quantities, and could be done with mechanical processes. In the early days, transfer-prints were always applied over the fired glaze, and were mainly done in black, sometimes brick red, and later in shades of brown and purple. At this time, the colors would not survive under the glaze during the firing process. The only color that could survive under the glaze was blue, a pigment from cobalt oxide. This color actually required the higher temperatures of the kiln. The overglaze print gave greater clarity of detail, but lacked the protection of the glaze. This underglaze process was introduced in Worcestor by 1760. The famous ‘Willow’ pattern, designed in 1780 by Thomas Minton, is regarded as the first pattern to be transfer-printed on earthenware. Taken up by the Staffordshire potteries, this underglaze transfer-printing was to become famous throughout the world as ‘Staffordshire blue’.

By 1810, blue-printed earthenware was being produced in large quantities, and after the Napoleonic War and the signing of the peace treaty with America, a growing export trade was resumed between Europe and the United States. The peak of production took place from about 1820 to 1840, with blue-printed wares being exported all over the world. There were likely over 500 pottery firms making these printed wares into the middle of the 19th century. While overglaze prints were finer in detail, and underglaze prints were somewhat blurry, in the 1820s an innovation known as ‘flowing’ or ‘flown blue’ was devised. Cups containing volatile substances such as lime or chloride of ammonia, were placed in the kilns at the time of firing, causing the color to run slightly. It was believed to create a softer effect and reduce the mechanical look of the print. It had the desired effect with lighter blue patterns, but the deep blue pieces have run to such an extent that the designs are almost obscured.

Photo 2: Thomas Mayer “Pennsylvania: Arms of the American States Series”, Ca. 1826-1835, Sold at Bourgeault-Horan Antiquarians in Portsmouth, NH on March 5, 2016 for $31,200.00

The designs used on Staffordshire blue were mostly influenced by Chinese ware. Nearly all engravings are anonymous and were only rarely signed within the transferred image. However, the sources from which the designs were copied are much more widely known.  Tableware with decorative pictures on them were a welcome change from the overdone chinoiseries. Many designs were copied from engravings that had been printed for books, with some well-known titles such as J. Merigots’ Views and Rivers in Rome and its Vicinity, Views in Asia Minor, and Views in Egypt, as well as landscapes, pastoral and genre scenes, hunt scenes, and other sporting events, and various floral and foliate botanical designs. Any engraving was considered appropriate, and was typically copied without any acknowledgement, as copyright laws were extremely lax until 1842. Traditional tastes shifted towards preferences for portraits of country mansions and views of well-known places, colleges, and important buildings throughout England. This was then followed by numerous views of American buildings and scenery for export items. Enoch Wood was one of the first with English views, and probably took the lead with American views. Factories established after 1820 appear to have concentrated on American views only, as the export trade flourished for the next 15-20 years. The American trade in dark blue-printed wares reached its height between 1825 and 1830, with Enoch Wood producing the greatest number of designs. In the 1830s there was much labor unrest in England, and the American trade grew stagnant by 1837. At this time various other scenes were being produced, including those from literary works. Beginning in 1830, the potters began to give up the rich dark blue in favor of lighter and duller tints.

Photo 3: American Historic Washington Independence Pitcher, Sold at Pook & Pook in Downingtown, PA on January 17, 2020 for $300.00

While some firms stamped their wares, after about 1835 marks seem to have become much less common on blue and white wares. Oftentimes the description of the type of pottery and name of pattern were included without the name of the manufacturer. The words ‘Limited’, ‘Trademark’, or ‘England’, denote a later date. The first two not used before 1860 and 1862, and the latter never before the 1880s. The very large number of manufacturers of blue transfer-printed earthenware makes it difficult to attribute unmarked pieces. Occasionally, the maker can be identified through the pattern or border patterns. It is rarely possible to date pieces exactly. Cases occur where firms deliberately used misleading marks, hoping they would be mistaken for those of a more reputable potter. Others were accustomed to marking only a certain number of pieces in each service. In the case of impressed marks, these had to be applied to the ware prior to firing, and were nearly always the plain name mark of the potter or firm. This was used almost universally on blue-printed earthenwares in the last two decades of the 18th century. In the 19th century when underglaze printing was fully established, the practice of using printed marks was quickly developed. Impressed marks were still used, but these were often accompanied by a further printed mark.

By 1850, the Staffordshire Blue craze had died down, and color printing surpassed it. Today the demand for such wares is low, and many of the pieces have sustained damage. Pieces depicting unusual subjects, or very early examples of American history, still bring decent prices at auction. Most of the best examples are in public and private collections, making quality examples rare in the market. Condition and subject matter will continue to be the important factors for demand by collectors.

 

Photo 1: Copyright of DuMouchelles Auction, Detroit, MI
Photo 2: Copyright of Bourgeault-Horan Antiquarians, Portsmouth, NH
Photo3: Copyright of Pook & Pook Downingtown, PA

Bibliography: 
Little, W.L. Staffordshire Blue, New York: Crown Publishers, Inc., 1969

WOVEN TO FOOL: IS YOUR SILK RUG REALLY SILK?

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Martine M. White, ASA, AAA

Oriental rugs are hand-made works of art. Woven on looms, both village and city rugs are unique in their design, knot and color palette. As an appraiser of Oriental rugs, I am often placed in an awkward position in that I have to inform my client that the rug they thought was authentic silk is actually something other than that– in most cases, it’s mercerized cotton.

Silk fiber is produced and harvested from the cocoon of the silkworm, whereas mercerized cotton, although natural, or man-made rayon, another substitute, is a manufactured product. While rugs made with non-silk fibers may initially have a beautiful, soft texture and sheen, they are not as resilient to foot traffic nor will they return from being cleaned with that alluring sheen, texture or appearance. With use and subsequent wear, the pile of a rug made with a mercerized cotton fiber will actually lay flat, clump together and lose its vibrancy. Unlike natural silk, mercerized cotton or rayon will start to accumulate dirt and take on a soiled look, even though it may have just been cleaned.

So how do you determine if you have an authentic silk rug? One method for identifying silk is to clip off a loose fiber from the rug and burn it. When silk fiber burns, it will curl up and leave a hard, black ash and skeleton of the fiber. This natural fiber will also smell like burning hair. Conversely, when mercerized cotton is burned it will turn into black ash that will be loose and flakey. Ignited mercerized cotton fiber will also smell more like burning paper. If the burn test seems extreme, you can also rub the fibers with your finger to determine the difference. Silk will stay cool to the touch when you rub it, and mercerized cotton will feel warm. That noted, this is a difficult technique for discerning a difference reliably. Also, don’t be fooled by a silk fringe, as many of these faux-silk rugs have the fringes sewn on to deceive the eye. The fringe in a hand-woven rug is always the extension of the warp.

Beyond the techniques noted above for identifying whether your rug is silk or not, the best advice is to rely on the expertise of an appraiser or an experienced, trusted rug dealer who is apt to have silk rugs on hand for comparison – which is the best way to tell the difference!

Applied fringe woven onto the end of rug

Tufted pile of mercerized cotton after washing

Irregular appearance of worn, washed mercerized cotton rug

A true silk fringe is an extension of the warp threads

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Horror Classics from an Appraiser of Antiques & Fine Art

By Martine M. White, ASA, AAA

Just When I Thought it was Safe to Go Back into the Shower – Once upon a dreary afternoon…I found myself alone on an estate appraisal that would have made Alfred Hitchcock’s imagination run wild. I started the day with a young intern from New York City to assist me, and although she had to catch a train in the early afternoon, I thought for sure we would be able to wrap up the inventory by then.

My client was slightly older than a middle-aged gentleman who had lived alone with his mother. I still remember when he initially called to book the appraisal he had said that he thought ‘his body should be appraised as well’ although this was clearly a joke, I should have hung up the phone right then!

As we began the appraisal inspection on that gloomy day, we realized along with the antique furnishings there was quite a lot of Continental porcelain and decorative art to be appraised as well. As we proceeded, I began to observe an unusual similarity with the collection. Upon close inspection, I realized that the collection of figurines were all seamlessly glued back together after being severed at the head. Trying to remain positive and thinking this may just be a fluke, I continued with the inspection that led me upstairs to a small bedroom where the client evidently slept. Upon entering the room with the unmade bed, I got the eerie feeling as though I had stepped into a boyish bedroom frozen in time from the 1950s with pennant flags covering the red plaid wall paper and a school desk adorned with trophies. By this time my intern had to catch her train, so I was moving on to inventory the master bedroom where his deceased mother had not slept in for over a year. The first strange thing I noticed was that this bed was also unmade, and her slippers still sat eerily in place by the side of her bed. As butterflies in my stomach were beginning to take flight, I heard the garage door open and to my dismay the client had returned earlier than expected. He quietly made his way upstairs and asked me to come with him to the basement to appraise some furniture stored there. With trepidation, I followed him into the dark cellar, my cell phone gripped tightly in the clammy palm of my hand. As I descended the stairs, I couldn’t help but think of Tony Perkins in “Psycho.” Thankfully there was no one down there waiting for me in a rocking chair, but I still wondered that evening how much water damage would be done to my bathroom if I showered with the curtain open!

 

The Transparent Market for Art Glass

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Martine M. White, ASA, AAA

Compote

Although the antique glass market has been in decline for many years, collectors do still desire art glass, just not the same pieces they collected twenty years ago. Collectors have been drawn to 19th century American glass since the first decade of the 20th century – at a time when what was collected was only 50 years old. This demand followed publications in the field by pioneers, Helen and George McKearin, James H. Rose and Ruth Webb Lee. These books influenced collector clubs in American glass to proliferate. Fueled by this strong interest throughout the twentieth century, reference volumes, active collector’s clubs and well-attended antique shows served as venues for buying, selling, and assembling collections.

WhaleOilLamps

After the turn of the 21st century, it is generally accepted that many categories of 19th century glass have yet to return to the earlier price levels, but market demand for rare desirable glass, especially art glass has continued to be strong. The broad field of American and European art glass is holding it’s own in the current market as well. Over the past ten years with Internet exposure sizable Continental wares have returned to collectors overseas. Continued scholarly research and on-line publications have also contributed to the demand for rare pieces in the category of Bohemian glass, Galle, Daum Nancy, Thomas Webb and other artistic wares. And the market for high-end Tiffany, Mount Washington, and other American art glass continues to maintain pre-recession price levels and high returns.

Burmese

The paperweight, often referred to as ‘art frozen in glass’ continues to mesmerize collectors old and new, while their intricate designs draw appreciation, their small size makes them easy to display and ship. Another category of glass that has a strong base among young collectors are bottles and marbles. The demand for rare colored flasks and bitters bottles has remained relatively strong over the past decade with a number of unique examples bringing record prices. Much of this interest can be credited to the work of the Federation of Historical Bottle Collectors and the many regional bottle clubs that continue to research and publish on the subject. As in many other glass categories, color is what usually drives bottle prices. Marbles have delighted collectors young and old for many years. Here, size plays a major role in value, as does color, design, and condition. Because they were made to be played with and not collected, antique large “shooter” marbles in mint condition are difficult to find and bring a premium price. Just like markets for most collectibles over the past 75 years, the top rarities in the best condition are the pieces that draw the most interest and sell for the highest prices, while the more common and ordinary pieces draw minimal interest and low prices.

NailseaLamp

Photos:

1. Early Thumbprint/Argus spherical covered compote, 20”h realized $35,100.00 at auction on September 26, 2018

2. Pair of Free Blown & Pressed Glass Cobalt Blue Whale Oil Lamps, realized $26,910.00 at auction on May 20, 2017.

3. Enamel & Gilt Decorated Burmese Vase, 6 ½”h, realized $16,380.00 at auction on October 13, 2017.

4. Nailsea Nautilus Miniature Lamp, 11 ¼”h, realized $12,870.00 at auction on October 13, 2017.

Resources: Journal of Antiques & Collectibles, Jeffrey S. Evans

Guitar Masters of the Jazz Age & Beyond

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Martine M. White, ASA, AAA

1.CFMartin

The guitar masters I’m referring to are not the virtuosos who play the guitar, rather the three men whose influential designs in guitar-building have attracted famed musicians not only to play their instruments, but to treasure them. Along with James D’Aquisto (1935-1995) and John Monteleone (b. 1947), John D’Angelico (1905-1964), was also part of the Italian American community that resided in and around New York in the early twentieth century. Direct descendents of Neapolitan craftsmen, these guitar makers primarily built mandolins due to their popularity at the time. But when musical tastes changed in the 1920s, the young D’Angelico applied his old-world craft to build a new type of instrument, the archtop guitar. Incorporating features of violin construction, including f-holes, arched sound board and a moveable bridge, this distinctly American instrument had a sound that cut through big band instrumentation. Soon the archtop guitar became the choice instrument by notable guitarists, including Chet Atkins, Bucky Pizzarelli and Johnny Smith. D’Angelico’s innovations in guitar building set the standard for generations to come and established him as the most revered guitar maker of the jazz age.

3.D'AngelicoTeardrop

After D’Angelico’s death, his apprentice James D’Aquisto broke from the past and took the guitar to new aesthetic and acoustic directions attracting a new generation of guitarists, including George Benson, Eric Clapton and Steve Miller. As the acoustic guitar market declined in the 1970’s, John Monteleone forged his reputation by introducing new innovations in archtop guitars and mandolins that were played by many top performers, including David Grisman.

Besides being remarkable craftsmen, these three guitar builders honed their skills to create the most innovative jazz guitars. In a radical departure from the standard guitar form, they also created the ‘Teardrop’ guitar which had a serpentine shape extending to a fin at the lower right corner. The ‘Teardrop’ would soon become one of the most famous guitars ever made.

2.D'Angelico.Guitar

I recently had the pleasure of appraising a D’Angelico guitar which was played by my client’s late husband. Although it was not in good condition, and didn’t have all the decorative elements that collectors desire, it still maintained an auction value of $7,500.00. Early and rare guitars will always appreciate in value, especially if they are kept in good, original condition. Although guitars come with a protective case, they are still sensitive to fluctuations in temperature and humidity. That said, attic storage is definitely out of the question!

 

Photographs:

  1. C.F. Martin 19th Century Parlor Guitar. Value: $2,500.00
  2. D’Angelico Archtop Jazz Guitar
  3. D’Angelico New Yorker ‘Teardrop’ Guitar

Dali, or Not Dali, That is the Question.

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Prints by Salvador Dali are typically met with skepticism, as his works are notoriously found to be inauthentic. In Albert Field’s official catalogue raisonné for Dali graphic art, an original print is considered “one for which Dali created all or part of the image on the plate or stone directly or by transfer.” In order to determine the authenticity of a Dali print, many factors must be considered and it is important to compare all qualities of the print with the catalogue raisonné. In the catalogue each print is detailed with a photograph, title, print medium, plate size, edition sizes, types of paper used, publisher/printer, and date. All of these details need to match up in order for a print to be considered authentic.

In order to determine that the print at hand has been printed properly, the blind stamp (an embossed seal) of the printer/publisher needs to be evaluated, as well as the watermark on the paper itself. It is also important that the edition number matches what is notated in the catalogue. Unfortunately, for some editions of a number of prints, unknown quantities of unnumbered AP and EA have been made in hundreds. Experts have questioned the amount of proofs that were actually signed by Dali. It is also important to note the manner in which a print has been signed. Some listings in the catalogue outline whether Dali signed in colored pencil or pencil, as well as the number of editions that he signed. On August 14, 1986, Dali signed a new statement, in English, that he had signed no editions during the entire year of 1980. Additionally, Dali’s genuine signatures on documents from 1980 and after are shaky and infirm, clearly made by a trembling hand due to severe nerve damage. Therefore, signatures on prints published after 1980 in a firm hand are not by Dali and are forged. At times Dali left Paris for New York and would leave pre-signed blank sheets in advance of printing so that his printer could complete the edition. Whatever had not been used was returned to him and destroyed. All sheets were used for authentic editions. However, there are false reports that Dali had signed between 40,000 and 350,000 blank sheets for later printing. These claims are believed to have been spread intentionally by fraudulent publishers to cover up the fake signatures.

Also included in the catalogue is a guide to prints that have been excluded from the catalogue raisonné: those denounced by Dali, extended editions, restrikes, “afters”, pastiches, counterfeits, and facsimiles. Because there have been so many accounts of fraud, the Dali print market is often met with suspicion. Even printers that were trusted by Dali had taken advantage and created extra or new prints for their own benefit.

Center Art Galleries in Hawaii is one of the most notorious Salvador Dali art fraud cases. In 1984, The Washington Post published an article about a very prominent art gallery that was considered by many art dealers to be one of the nation’s biggest art galleries. The article described how the owner, Bill Mett, came to buy the gallery as a young lawyer with minimal knowledge of art, but worked hard to turn it into a worldwide business. Much of what they sold were prints, although they also carried original works. At the time of the article, the gallery had many critics in the art world who said Mett used elaborate marketing techniques in order to sell art at extremely high prices to tourists on vacation. The gallery would keep in touch with their clients, continuing to promote artworks and pushing their clients to purchase additional pieces once they had returned home, and many did.

Center Art Galleries was also considered to be one of the biggest dealers for works by Salvador Dali. While they sold many authentic Dali prints by other publishers, the gallery also counterfeited a number of prints. There is no evidence that Dali participated in any of these works, despite the gallery’s insistence that the works were authentic originals. Many of the reproductions were copied from originals that the gallery owned, and there is no proof that Dali approved or signed any of these works, making the signatures forgeries. Mett and his art curator, Marvin Wiseman, provided certificates of authenticity, as well as appraisals with all of their works, often sending updated appraisals periodically to their clients. The “Confidential Appraisal Certificate of Authenticity” continued to state that the works were originals, and reflected an increase in value of the works. These fraudulent prints were being created during a time when there was already much speculation about authenticity regarding works by Dali. Many major auction houses and art dealers wouldn’t even consider consigning works published after 1950, as there was a greater risk that they were not right, and that the signatures were forgeries.

In 1987, Center Art Galleries became one of the largest Dali forgery rings ever uncovered. Federal agents seized over 12,000 prints and sculptures from the gallery, and in 1990, Mett and Wisemen were convicted and sent to prison. They served thirty-six and thirty months, respectively. The U.S. Postal Inspection Service received court permission to auction off the seized artwork, in order to offset some of the lengthy trial costs. This sale took place in Belmont California in October of 1995, and was handled by Koll-Dove Global Disposition Services. In addition to the sale of the fraudulent works, some authentic pieces by other artists were sold as well. The pieces were represented appropriately and sold as fakes, but oftentimes were only stamped on the back of the framed works, which can easily be removed. This means that many of the works have come to market again, often sold as originals by owners, and purchased by unsuspecting buyers. As such, the gallery and a list of known forged prints, are included in Field’s catalogue raisonné. While these works can still be sold legally, they should be advertised as prints “after” Dali.

IMG_9055

Christ of Saint John of the Cross, a reproduction after a painting by Dali from 1951. One of the known falsified prints sold by Center Art Galleries

Works Cited:

Field, Albert, The Official Catalog of the Graphic Works of Salvador Dali, authorized by Dali, Astoria: The Salvador Dali Archives, 1996.

Vise, David A. “Chain Carves Prominent Place In Art World,” The Washington Post, October 7, 1984.

Examiner Staff Report, “Auction to feature fake Dali prints from art fraud case,” SFGate, October 20, 1995.

Oh Christmas Tree!

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-Daniela Belgiovine

KugelObsession.comEvery year, in preparation for Christmas, families around the world select an evergreen tree to bring into their homes and decorate with glistening lights and beautiful ornaments. This tree often becomes the focal point of the family gathering on Christmas morning. But where did this tradition originate?

The practice of adorning one’s home with evergreen boughs serves as a symbol of the promise of life to come after the cold months of winter, and the tradition began as a Pagan ritual for the winter solstice for various civilizations, including the Druids, Romans, and Vikings, even dating back to the ancient Egyptians.

The tradition of decorating evergreen trees for Christmas dates back to the 16th century in Germany, where families would decorate trees with apples, as a representation of the tree in the Garden of Eden. Later, nuts, berries, cookies, and paper streamers were added to the décor. Much of this depended on what was available and what the family could afford. The idea of decorating a tree for Christmas did not come to America until the 1770s, but Colonial Americans found this tradition odd and saw it as a frivolous Pagan ritual.

In the 1800s, with German and English immigration, this tradition began to take hold. Its popularity skyrocketed during the reign of Queen Victoria because a publication released a depiction of the Queen and her family surrounding a decorated evergreen. Thus, the practice became fashionable for all American families.

The origin of glass ornaments began in Germany in the 1830s. The area around Lauscha was the hub of the glass ornament, or kugel, trade in Germany. Initially replacing fruits, nuts, and other food items, they branched out into making hearts, stars, angels, bells, and other shapes, eventually creating molds of children, saints, famous figures, and animals.

W. Woolworth visited Germany in the 1880s and decided to import glass ornaments to sell in his stores. By the 1890’s, he was selling $25 million in German imported ornaments made of lead and hand-blown glass. World War I halted production and imports of ornaments from Germany, but also created momentary backlash against all things German. New York importer, Max Eckhardt, saw that his business and the supply of ornaments suffered after the Great Depression, and in the late-1930s, he and Woolworth joined forces to persuade the Corning Glass Company to make American glass ornaments. Corning agreed, and by 1940 they were producing 300,000 per day, and sending them to various companies for decoration, and from there to retailers.

Today, collectors look for glass ornaments from the late-19th and early-20th centuries. The greatest value is usually with ornaments that are shaped like objects or figures, rather than glass balls. Additionally, condition is extremely important, and it is rare that these delicate baubles make it to market in pristine condition. Shapes like clusters of grapes, famous personalities, and animals can sell anywhere from $40-$1,000 apiece depending on color, rarity, and condition, although the higher end is extremely rare. On the other hand, an entire box of stenciled ‘Shiny Brite’ ornaments from the mid-20th century, in good condition, might sell for $50-$60. If you are looking to give your tree a vintage look you don’t have to spend a fortune, but, as always, beware of reproductions!

Photo Credit & Resources: KugelObsession.com; History.com; ReadersDigest.com

Retro Flash Back: The Allure of Crackle Glass

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All it takes is one stream of light shining through your window to create a rainbow effect after it illuminated that bottle or vase sitting on your sill. Perhaps, this is the magic that keeps collectors returning to that local tag sale or flea market in search of another sparkling keepsake.

Vintage Blenko Crackle Glass Miniature Pitchers 

Vintage Blenko Crackle Glass Miniature Pitchers

 

Crackle glass, one of the most common collectibles, will produce such an effect from that stray sunbeam, leaving you dazzled without warning when displays of colored, refracted light fill your room. Created as far back as the 16th century, this dime-store dazzler had a resurgence in the 1950’s and reached it’s zenith in the 1960’s to complement the modern décor of the Madmen era. Bold or clear, shaded or iridescent, crackle glass was available in all varieties and price ranges to complement interior spaces and wallets. From inexpensive eye catchers to pricey floor standing vases, crackle glass was easily available because it is a treatment rather than a type of glass.

Vintage Ruby Crackle Glass 

Vintage Ruby Crackle Glass

 

The ‘crackling’ finish is created when a hot glass object is submerged in cold water, a technique that can be applied to just about any type of sturdy glass. The abrupt temperature change creates a network of fine cracks in the glass leaving the light to deflect patterns of the irregular cracks on other surfaces.

Initially, crackle glass was hand blown, but quick popularity led to less-expensive moulded glass knockoffs. And, since any glass manufacture could utilized the crackling technique, almost every company created crackle glass, including Tiffin, Duncan and Imperial, but the most notable crackle glass firms were located in West Virginia. Especially noted for miniatures, Pilgrim, Rainbow, Kanwha and Bishoff, created those diminutive jugs, vases, and pitchers that typically adorn the interior of many households. But the master manufacturer of crackle glass was Blenko.

Blenko CrackleGlassVases 

Blenko Crackle Glass Vases

 

Originally known for producing stained glass, Blenko expanded its glassware to include richly colored, oversized art glass vessels. After the market for stained glass bottomed out in the Depression of 1929, William H. Blenko, the son of the founder was forced to seek out other revenue sources and expanded glassware production to include affordable decorative housewares, including bottles and vases. Their past experience with manufacturing stained glass contributed to the vast color palette that forged Blenko’s reputation. In the mid 1940s, Blenko produced crackle glass miniatures, and by the 1960s large scale versions in both crackle and no-crackle finishes were available. The two prominent artisans for Blenko, Winslow Anderson (1947-1952) was noted for modern shapes and vivid colors, while Wayne Husted, the design director (1952-1963) was responsible for hundreds of designs produced during that period. Joel Philip Myers, Blenko’s design director (1963-1970), a skilled glass blower, was known for elongated forms, spirals, two-color and air twist stoppers.

Today, crackle glass collectors have an array of options to choose from including color, type and size of vessel. Others focus on a particular company or artist. Many of us, however simply collect crackle glass for its bargain prices, and ability to brighten even a cloudy day.

Resources: Journal of Antiques & Collectibles, Etsy

 

Prominant Positions – Chinese Rank Badges

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3rd Rank Civil Badge Peacock

-Daniela Belgiovine

Working in the appraisal business, we often have the pleasure of inspecting, researching, and valuing pieces of history. One such object that we have come across in the homes of several clients is the Chinese rank badge. These badges have become coveted collector’s items, but buyers must beware that new copies are being made and sold as antique originals. These badges are generally 11” x 11”. One thing to be alert of when purchasing is the smell of smoke. Many of the newly made badges have been smoked in order to give the appearance of age.

During the Ming (1368-1644) and Qing (1644-1911) dynasties in China, important men were recognized by the elaborately stitched rank badges displayed on the chests and backs of their robes. These mandarin rank badges were only earned after numerous years of intensive study, followed by three grueling rounds of examinations. There were two different groups who achieved badges, civil and military, each of which could be easily defined based on the image stitched on the badge. While each category had nine ranks, the civil badge6th Rank Military Panthers featured birds and the military badges featured animals, both real and mythical. Within each group, each rank can also be identified based on the type of bird or animal. If one wanted to rise in the ranks, there were several ways to achieve a higher status, either through passing further exams, performing service worthy of merit, or purchasing a promotion. Although only men could earn rank badges, their wives were entitled to wear badges of their husbands’ rank for official occasions. In this case, the badges were mirror images of the men’s.

The Imperial family also wore badges on their robes, bearing phoenixes or dragons. Any other motifs, such as peonies or lanterns, were worn for festivals and ceremonies by palace courtiers, and later the Imperial court. Just like the civil and military badges, the specific image identifies the individual’s position within the Imperial family. Rank badges for the Imperial family and government officials originated in the decorative roundels sewed onto the front and back of the robes of Liao (907-1125) and Yuan (1279-1368) dynasty court officials. They were adopted by the Ming dynasty in 1391, and by the Qing dynasty in 1652, at which point a decree was issued that required all civil and military officials to wear their identifying badge on the front and back of their robes.Imperial Rank Badge

As a collector, is it more likely that you will come across civil badges of high rank. This is because those of higher rank were of higher wealth, and thus were able to purchase many more badges. Additionally, when the Republican revolution overthrew the imperial system in 1911, military men destroyed their badges so as not to be identified. Those of civil rank were incorporated into the new government and had no need to destroy their badges. We can be thankful to western collectors in the 19th and 20th centuries that a number of authentic badges still exist. Many of these collectors put the badges under glass, preserving them for later generations.

There are many more details involved in properly identifying these badges, check out http://www.pacificasiamuseum.org/rankandstyle/ for more information

Photo 1: Civil Rank Badge, 3rd Rank, Peacock
Photo 2: Military Rank Badge, 6th Rank, Panther
Photo 3: Imperial Rank Badge, Qing Dynasty

Photo Credits & Resources: George Washington University Museum Textile Museum, Washington, DC; The Journal of Antiques & Collectibles, ‘Chinese Rank Badges’, January 17, 2005; Pacific Asia Museum, Pasadena, CA