It's 1956 and your mom and dad are shopping for furniture. They've recently been to New York to see the 1954 exhibition "Design in Scandinavia," curated by Canadian designer John O. Van Koert (1912-1998), at the Brooklyn Museum of Art. They fell in love with the 700 objects from Danish, Finnish, Norwegian and Swedish designers, and in the craft tradition, making simple, usable domestic linear furniture and objects by hand.
This exhibition traveled through the U.S. and Canada from 1954 to 1957. The newness of the designs arrested young homemaker. Your mom and dad couldn't afford Scandinavian-made furniture; they wanted the look but not the price tag. Enter Drexel Furniture Co. of Drexel, N.C., which noticed the craze and hired curator/designer Van Koert to create a line of walnut and pecan furniture to suit the tastes and budgets of post-World War II families.
Mom and Dad had a bedroom in that ranch-style house in the suburbs to fill with something special, and they chose Profile by Drexel in 1956, with a long dresser for Mom, featuring a large, simple mirror supported on posts at the back, and a tall, commodious man's dresser with cubbies and plastic units for Dad's things. Mom and Dad also became the first on the block to consider "sleeping together." The early 1950s, just before they were married, was a time of single beds in most parents' rooms. Because Profile was a European-originated design, Mom was convinced to select a double or queen headboard to span the width of one single matrimonial mattress.
Your parents sought Profile because the 1956 ad was evocative: "You can see the difference ... it's Drexel." The ad goes on to say: "Just look! Isn't Profile by Drexel a picture of livability? Walnut warmed with color accented by silvery hardware! Gentle modern curves, designed by John Van Koert, that (complement) traditional rooms, too. And the invisible, but inevitable, differences in all Drexel — craftsmanship and value! See for yourself, at all fine stores!" Although Dad saw that sparse modern photo, he was not persuaded. Dad insisted the family go see Profile in a showroom.
Dad picked between Abraham & Straus, Macy's or Bloomingdale's. When the obliging salesman showed the room setting, Mom was sold. She saw the curved cornices and splayed legs in walnut, with chartreuse upholstery, set off, vignette-style, against a purple, silver and electric blue wall. Dad got out the checkbook.
Today, this style of furniture is both hot and ubiquitous, because all of us knew a Scandinavian Modern family. American "Scandinavian" Modern had a distinct domestic look. Designers like Van Koert added American elements of Art Moderne, the sweeping aerodynamic lines of speed and movement. The real Scandinavian designs were never mass-produced. Real Scandinavian design was hand crafted and hand finished, and looked and cost it.
John Van Koert was one of the first American designers to construct in "Scandinavian," although he was born in Manitoba and had taught art of the University of Wisconsin. His early passion was metalwork. As a young designer, he crafted jewelry for Harry Winston in New York City. As always in the decorative arts, the original inspiration for design comes from metalwork: jewelry and sterling silver. In fact, throughout any era, look at the jewelry and you will see where furniture will go.
In the early 1950s, Van Koert and designer Robert J. King created a pattern for Towle Silversmiths called "Contour," based on the sweeping modernist curves of Miro. Contour was a hit, and a piece of Contour was featured in a 1951 show, "The History of Eating," at the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis. Look at the hardware on the Profile furniture pictured here, sent to me by R.P., who wants to sell it for his friend whose grandparent's once owned it. You will see the influence of silver craftsmanship in the non-mechanical (handmade) elongation of the pulls.
One of the sad things about Drexel furniture of this era is that it has gone brown. The original color is translucent honey brown. It's okay to refinish, as the original finishes don't necessarily increase value because pieces are too recent and too mass-produced. If R.P. can find a buyer, that buyer will take 220 light grit sandpaper to the finish, spray it with several coats of lacquer.
R.P. asked me to research the value. At the base price, the market is asking $300 to $500 per case piece in this condition, although fine refinished pieces go for more.
My evaluation of a Japanese mourning kimono inspired S.L. in Santa Maria to sends me this gorgeous Chinese Mandarin robe.
Look at the back of the robe and you will see a pagoda enclosing two male figures flanked on one side by cranes, the other by deer surmounting two monkeys. This motif is called a Mandarin square, which, although here not square is the eponymous name of a symbol which indicates the rank and status of the wearer, as worn by a civil or military official in the Mongol, Ming or Qing dynasties. The front of the robe also has two emblems on either side of the chest.
As far back as the 14th century, Kublai Khan introduced these badges of embroidered silk of patterns of birds and animals worn on the back and chest areas of robes of the Mandarin class, who had to pass difficult examinations to achieve their posts. Military officers also had certain motifs for particular ranks. Only the emperor could confer the privilege to wear Mandarin squares; this continued well after the 14th century, when the Ming dynasty ruled supreme.
After the Manchu people seized power in 1654, their Qing dynasty established the type of over-jacket (p’u-fu) with those squares bearing more elaborate embroidery work, adding pure gold thread that glistened in the sunlight.
S.L.’s robe is early 20th century however. By this time, rank was not the driving force behind the square, but the mythology of traditional “good luck” charms. Politically, China was in turmoil and people distrusted their officials. The wealthy of the late 19th and early 20th centuries wore Buddhist emblems of good fortune, such as the eight Immortals or the eight Taoist symbols.
If you have ever seen the reverse painting on glass of these Mandarin officials, you have seen “Ancestor Portraits.” These robes are featured prominently in these portraits, and Mandarins often immortalized their wives in portraiture. When two people were painted, the robes bear symmetrical representations of good luck symbols. For example, portraits of a formally enthroned couple are sitting side by side: the wife may have a half-sun on her shoulder, and her high-ranking husband might have the other half of the sun on the shoulder barely touching hers. You'll also see the front of a deer on one shoulder and the back-end of a deer on the other. I wonder which part of the deer was most auspicious, the head or the hind?
Mandarin squares of luck were custom-ordered. If a Mandarin official courted wealth, he would ask for embroideries of ivory tusks, peonies, or the eight Buddhist jewels. If the Mandarin prayed for long life, the robe boasted pine trees, bamboo, cypress or evergreen trees or fungus. If the Mandarin longed for honor and privilege, he’d ask for embroidered peonies. If he sought eternal youth, he’d request roses on his robe. To amplify the wish for good fortune in a particular sphere of his life, he'd ask for a naturalistic background behind his charmed symbol, such as S.L.’s pagoda surrounded by flowers, or the cloud designs with dragons featured on the hem of the robe, or the rock designs in waves at the base of the hem. Nature’s energies were thus captured by the export needlework in precious gold or silver that emphasized naturalistic color.
Beloved by seekers of luck, these robes often pictured the eight Immortals. Even today, these Immortals are Daoist models for imitation when life seems overwhelming, and because of their wise yet playful nature, they rise above the frustrations of normal daily life. Depictions of these Immortals emphasize "The Way," personified. Zhongli Quan carried the secret of the Elixir of Life and immortality. The old man, Zhang GuoLao, was a symbol of wisdom and hope for conception for the childless. Lü Dongbin, the scholar, could cure illness and offered protection and scholarly success. Cao Gou Jiu is the beautifully dressed courtier offering fame and recognition. Iron-Crutch Li Tie Guai has a deer as a companion and is the most powerful of the Eight, because he bestows wisdom. Han Xiang Zi plays his flute and his happiness brings healing. The hermaphrodite Lan Cai wears blue, and carries flowers conferring luck to young maidens, and the eighth Immortal, a female, He Xian Gu is called upon for wisdom, meditation and purity.
S.L. asked me to help her sell the robe so I contacted Clars Auctions in Oakland. They have estimated the value at $1,500.
I often present Antique Road Show style events throughout the country. Last year I spent such an afternoon at my son’s business in Durham, NC. A young man brought in a bottle with small grains of sand in an elaborate deign with flowers and an American flag. I froze: “Don’t shake it! And don’t drop it!”
The 30-somethings at my son’s office thought, “What’s the big deal? It’s only a paperweight!” The ‘paperweight’ sold a few months latter at Cowan’s in Cincinnati, a good place to sell Americana, for $75,000. Thankfully, the young man didn't shake it up when her brought it to me on his skateboard.
The palette of about a dozen colors, with accent colors for shading, is completely natural. The artist gathered each grain of sand from Pictured Rock, where he had attended the Iowa Institute for the Education of the Deaf and Dumb in the 1870’s.
The artist, Andrew Clemens (1857-1894), became quite a tourist attraction on the streets of MacGregor, Iowa, making onlookers’ souvenir bottles. This one has a name inscribed, because someone who loved her paid Clemens $5-$7, not cheap in those days ($110-160).
Clemens, who never used glue, developed a set of long handled tools to work his magic inside of apothecary jars. His bottles exist, quite solidly, for over 100 years, as was this young man’s piece. Clemens sealed the bottles with stoppers coated with wax. The mind boggles at how many young fingers pried open the wax and open the stoppers to see how such pieces were composed.
In fact, this destructive, curious mind set was part of the bottles’ appeal: Clemens exhibited in St Louis, completing bottles and smashing them with a hammer to show that they were not fixed.
Fitting that the business staffed by my son and his colleague, who owned the sand art piece by Andrew Clemens, is a start-up in the age of Automated Intelligence via all things digital. Clemens composed his pieces one grain of sand at a time, upside down; similar to the creation of digital art pixel by pixel.
Some minds understand reduction to the very elements of a design, and Clemens’ mind was one of those. He died at 37, but left hundreds of what the world considers the best sand art known. A few other minds in history employed this painstaking technique, notably Tibetan monks creating wonderful dry painted sand mandalas. Unlike Clemens’, work the monks created images that were philosophically redolent of temporality. Other cultures, such as Southwest Native Americans and Australian Aborigines created two-dimensional sand paintings.
Leave it to the European sensibility to use sand paintings for the senses. People who enjoy incredible detail are drawn to this art form, such as King George III, who had a hobby of watch- making. George III (1738- 1820) observed the fashion of his day at noble houses, employing sand artists to decorate white tablecloths for banquets with site-specific paintings: around the fruit bowl, trees and monkeys, around the sweets, birds and bees. These were shaken after the meal along with the breadcrumbs.
George III hired a team of German artists to devise a way (actually long invented by the Japanese) of fixing the designs with lead and gum Arabic. So fashionable were these follies that the Duke of York commissioned a portrait of his dog Nelson.
19th century tourists on the Isle of Wight purchased sand art bottles and fixed sand paintings made by local craftswomen, who collected their palette from the cliffs at Alum Bay, although these were not up to the artistry of Andrew Clemens’ work. Once an unheard of tourist destination, after Queen Victoria planned a residence there, such souvenir craft was a cultural marker of the Victorian era as tourists began to travel by rail.
Similarly, sand carpets are created in diverse places around the globe: the Netherlands, to garner tourists, and in Latin American countries, to show the fleeting nature of life, as in Mexico’s Day of the Dead celebrations. Seattle also celebrates the Day of the Dead with sand painted streets.
Andrew Clemens would be happy to know that young artists of today paint with sand. In 2012 the Museum of Arts and Design in New York featured sand work by artists (well know Andy Goldsworthy created a ball of sand filled with bones) in an exhibit called “Swept Away”.
C.G. from Lompoc sends me a plea – he has a Gorham sterling silver tea service circa 1922, which he had appraised in 1980 for $6,500, at the top of the silver market. It consists of a coffee pot, teapot, covered sugar and creamer. The combined weight is 63.65 troy ounces.
C.G. despairs of having this set melted down, and is searching for an establishment that will purchase, at a reasonable cost, for the antique value of these pieces. I am not surprised he's had offers for weight value only. The history of antique silver is also the history of a commodity. In February of 1980 silver was $107 a troy ounce. Today the figure ranges around $18 an ounce. In March of 2011, buyers WOULD melt silver down because silver was $40 an ounce. A client with a Tiffany Epergne that was too beautiful to melt down found in March of 2011 that he received more for it melted for scrap than if sold.
Silver, therefore, can be sold by the troy ounce or by antique value. How does C.G. determine antique value so that he knows a dealer or an auction house has given him a fair estimate?
During 2011, many clients stopped by my office to ask. The secret is in the hallmarks, and auction house records of that maker’s sales. Clients know that ethical appraisers don’t buy items appraised so clients receive an objective opinion. If you don’t want to pay for an appraiser, check out ValueMyStuff.com or Worthpoint.com. Or, send photos of your silver including the hallmarks to auction houses (at least three) for estimate ranges: Heritage Auctions, Clars, John Moran, or Bonham’s, for example. The ranges given, for example, let’s say $2,000-3,000 for a tea set, will give an indication of the current market estimate.
Where should C.G. not look to sell? My experience tells me pawnshops, coin shops, replacement services (for flatware, such as Replacements Ltd) are not interested in top dollar payouts for silver. Auction houses are interested in selling silver at top dollar but will charge a commission from 10 to 50%. Figure that commission into what you will receive.
My databases contain all auction sales results for all makers of silver, so let’s look at the recent sale’s records for Gorham made in the 1920’s, like CG’s tea set. A 1912 Gorham set at 67.22 troy oz. sold for $1,416 in January of 2016. A first quarter 20th century set sold December 2015 at 30.74 oz. for $469. A 1927 set at 70.35 oz. sold in November of 2015 for $1,280. A 1910 set at 71.96 oz. sold in October of 2015 for $1,020.
Now Let’s compare Gorham with a great hallmark known worldwide for its antique value, Tiffany, and see if the “antique value” is equal or better than CG’s Gorham: a first quarter 20th century set at 79.7 oz. sold July of 2015 for $2,400, a first quarter 20th century set at 129 oz. sold in December of 2014 for $2,000. Thus, the “antique” value of the brand Tiffany does slightly better than Gorham.
Now let’s take the two highest auction results of Gorham and Tiffany sets and balance them against the current $15 an ounce. A Gorham set at 70.35 oz., which sold for $1,280, would have a meltdown value of $1,266. A Tiffany set at 79.7 oz., which sold for $2,400, would have a meltdown value of $1,434. Thus, we have further confirmation that the market antique value of Gorham is not as great as Tiffany. Lest CG be tempted to take a scrap value, remember, the scrapper does not generally pay full silver value! A question to ask before scrapping: what percentage of troy ounce silver today do you pay?
Finally, C.G., check the hallmarks of your service for “Maker’s Marks,” which refer the designer. Some are very desirable, for example, William C. Codman, who designed the beloved Chantilly in 1895. If the piece has references to the most valuable of all Gorham silver “Martele,” you have something great. Also, C.G., take provenance into consideration, because the history of ownership is also a valuation factor; Lincoln’s White House tea and coffee service was Gorham, the Shah of Iran’s punch bowl was Gorham, and the Nixon White House flatware (3434 pieces) was Gorham.
Finally, two invaluable sources are Rainwater’s Encyclopedia of American Silver Manufacturers and Turner’s American Silver Flatware 1837-1910.
I estimate the auction value of your set to be a disappointing $1,200.
AB’s Uncle served in Vietnam, and brought this sculpture back in the 1970’s. AB wants to know if it's jade, and what the figures represent. Because jade is HOT and VALUABLE in the wealthy and active Chinese market today, let's start with the material, jade, and how to tell if AB has the real deal. Jade is treasured!
Other semi-precious stones and minerals have been used to imitate jade from the 13th century onward, when the Chinese began to dye jade to enhance its colors, making it more valuable. I say colors, because jade can come in many delightful colors, and the key to its beauty is the color depth because of density. Here’s how AB can do a few tests to determine if piece is real jade (Jadeite and Nephrite are jade as well):
Why go to all the trouble of faking jade? If the difference in value between real jade and fake jade is $200 to $12,000, AB can see why Asian artisans created fakes and imitations.
The list of HOW fakes were made is impressive and creative. In the 1970’s when this piece was purchased, artisans were known to bleach poor quality jade. Or perhaps they shaved poor quality jade and then spun with a polymer to make an amalgamation of “jade.” This looks like jade and is in fact jade, but not altogether, but it isn't a lie to say that it's jade. Because the photo AB sends shows a near perfect finish, I would guess that this is the type of imitation; the surface of a polymer amalgamation was coated with a plastic finish that is uniformly smooth. If this scupture was coated, and left in the sun or exposed to household chemicals, it would have faded, but AB had it in a box. AB’s piece looks a little too perfect.
The modern techniques to make fake jade, created from high pressure or high temperature treatments, using modern chemicals and tools, is a far cry from jade ancient craft techniques, in which hand carvers bathed the piece as they worked in plum juice, and buffed the finish to a glow with beeswax. Asian artisans sold many other materials in sculptures that looked like jade: Aventurine Quartz, forms of garnet, forms of marble, serpentine, or prehnite. All these can be dyed and are of lesser value.
To AB’s second question: what does this piece represent? The tall female figure is Kwan Yin, whose name means “the one who hears the cry of the world.” Often referred to as the female Buddha, she is, on AB’s sculpture, pictured with a small laughing Buddha. Like Siddhartha Gautama, Kwan Yin became enlightened, yet she was acutely aware of human suffering. As she entered Nirvana, legend says that she heard the wail of a suffering being on earth, so she returned to this plane. Thus, she is the East’s compassionate mother, whose children are identified by their suffering.
Kwan Yen was and is a popular subject for small sculptures meant for the home, and perhaps AB’s Uncle was told that a sculpture of Kwan Yin would bring good luck and household protection. She has been venerated by Chinese Buddhists since the first Chinese translation of the Sanskrit Lotus Sutra in 406 AD. She is associated with the white lotus: AB’s sculpture shows the Lotus leaves twining around her head.
AB, if your Uncle’s sculpture is 100% pure fine unbleached jade, we are talking some big money, upwards of $10K. However, I suspect this piece is an amalgamation, a polymer composite, perhaps Peking Glass, or dyed semi-precious stone, as the piece looks too uniform and perfect. If I am right, the value would be closer to $300 depending on the size and condition.
C.L. has an oil on canvas by Carl Sammons at 12” x 16”, which unmistakably pictures our Santa Barbara shoreline. Sammons was a prolific California Plein Air artist who began as a sign painter in 1909 in Sioux City, Iowa. Many artists have begun their careers as sign painters: de Kooning, Jackson Pollack and Ed Ruscha, to name a few. Ruscha wrote the forward to the book Sign Painters by Faythe Levine and Sam Macon, which mentions the connection between visually creative types in signs and in fine art. This book, about (perhaps) the disappearing art of hand-lettered graphic signs, suggests that sign painters find their creative purpose in the individual challenge of each sign, loving the work itself rather than work as a means to a paycheck. Sign painting as a creative outlet was true for young Sammons 100 years ago.
Sammons began his working life while attending art school in Sioux City, Iowa, as a gold letter sign painter for two Sioux City firms; Arthur Loft 1909-10 and C.W. Ashley 1911-13, way before digital vinyl machines cut those circles and squares for our present-day signs. Sammons had some talent, as gold leafing in the painted sign business is a prestige position.
Yet Sammons must have felt a greater calling. He left Sioux City in 1915 to study at the California School of Fine Arts, affiliated with the University of California, today known as the prestigious San Francisco Art Institute. Painting Plein Air style one weekend in Petrolia he met his future wife Queen Ester Stewart. They were both transplants from the Midwest, and of course both Lutherans. They married February 3, 1923 at the First Lutheran Church of Oakland.
The newlyweds began to travel to find the greatest of all places in California in which to paint, as well as to find the greatest of all places in California in which to locate two summerhouses. Carl, accompanied by Bessie (Queen’s name of choice), painted in Big Sur, Cayucos, Mount Diablo and the Orinda Hills, Cape Mendocino, Davis Creek, Etter Ranch, Ferndale, the Mattole Watershed, Petrolia, Laguna Beach, the Monterrey Peninsula, Carmel Coast, Lone Cyprus, Pacific Grove, Point Lobos, then Mount Shasta, the Anza Borrego Desert, Palm Springs, the Russian River, the Sacramento River, San Diego, San Francisco, San Jose and all over the Sierra Nevada Range. In those days these places called for hiking or horses. Bessie must have been a trooper.
During their many years of travel through the Golden State, Bessie and Carl found they loved two places best; they purchased summer homes in Petrolia and Santa Barbara, where in 1943 Carl opened a studio. While here in Santa Barbara, Carl painted the Andre Clark Bird Refuge, Montecito’s Our Lady of Mount Carmel, and the Old Mission, as well as oceanscapes and the classic Plein Air style landscapes. From his studio in Santa Barbara, he often sold paintings to locals. His only gallery was Saake’s in Oakland. A Santa Barbara friend would come to his studio and commission a piece to be painted at a certain place. Sammons would visit the client’s house to see where the client would hang the proposed painting. He wanted to make sure his painting harmonized with its eventual setting. Unlike some artists, he left the choice of frame up to the buyer.
Carl died at 82 with services in Oakland, but his wife, who traveled by horse and foot all over California with him, lived to the ripe age of 103.
C.L., a Sammons canvas varies widely in prices paid at auction. You can see by my list of places he painted that there’s a lot of Sammons’ work around. When you wrote me, I asked that you check current market prices by sending a photo to Clars auctions in Oakland, and they told you the work would action between $2,000-$4,000. If the auction house or gallery isn't located in California, it’s unlikely Sammons’ work would reach into the $4,000 range. Large canvases of the most dramatic California locations sell into the $8,000 range, yours is a smaller canvas of our bluffs with brush flowering violet and yellow, a pretty scene but not exceptionally dramatic. If you insured the painting, I'd aim for the high end of the auction house estimate at $4,000 for your little Santa Barbara piece, probably finished in Sammons’ Santa Barbara studio in the 1940’s.
MB from Carpenteria sends me a photo of his late brother’s Philco Predicta TV set, circa 1958, which features an outer spaceship-shaped swiveling 21” screen, attached by a remarkable single brass plated post, mounted, with what appears to be a giant ice tong, on a teak veneered base unit. The cloth covering hides a speaker. The design was elitist, superb, and fashionable Americans loved it: retro-futuristic to us today, people found this simply futuristic in 1958-1960. Yet in 1926, the great inventor, Lee De Forest, said, “While technically television may be feasible, commercially and financially it is an impossibility, a development of which we need waste little time dreaming” as quoted in Mark Gawlinski’s Interactive Television Production, 2003. Boy was de Forest WRONG.
As if in the hopes of a more fruitful viewing experience, this Predicta housed 13 buttons for as many channels. This was a sign of plenty, in an era when we only had three channels: in 1958, we could select Maverick on ABC, The Danny Thomas Show on CBS, or Wagon Train on NBC. I think I liked the lack of choice better than 600 plus channels today.
In part, this TV owes its existence and name to Philo Farnsworth (1906-1971). Inventors all over the world had thought about television for 30 years. The early inventors battled over two competing systems, the mechanical, utilizing a series of mechanical disks, as opposed to the electronic, espoused by Farnsworth. Holding over 300 career patents when he died, in 1927, young Farnsworth hammered down the patent for a complete television system of receiver and camera at the age of 21. However, this was old in productive years for the brilliant inventor. At the age of 14, on his parent’s Midwest farm, Farnsworth created the idea of the ‘image dissector’, a technique for scanning an image in a series of lines. As a freshman in high school, he determined the possibility of TV to be entirely electronic. Elements of an image were converted into electricity, one element at a time, through the use of caesium, light emitting electrons conveyed an image.
Philo worked at Philco, in Philadelphia from 1931-1933. Philco put out a commercial consumer TV as early as 1948, a table 10” screen model, which sold for $395. Try saying that three times fast!
MB’S BLACK AND WHITE Philco was futuristic also in the flat depth of the picture tube and the swivel screen, useful in the days when more than one person watched TV in the same room. Today we have a TV per room. Back then, you might have a TV per neighborhood. TV, as ubiquitous as it is today, was long in coming. The First International Congress of Electricity was held at the World’s Fair in Paris in 1900. The Russian television pioneer Constantin Perskyi made the first known use of the word "television," speaking about a confluence of inventions that would amalgamate into the devise we see illustrated. In fact, many inventors from places as diverse as Scotland and Russia all independently worked on the ideas around TV, at the turn of the last century.
MB’s is a table version with a wood cabinet. Philco also made a 17” version with a colored enameled metal cabinet (I like the turquoise one), and also a magnificent standing version. A new design, highly artistic, the early, untested flaws forced Philco to pull the Predicta after a few short years on the market, making MB's a rare object today.
Philo Farnsworth was the farm boy who invented TV, yet the Predicta was the work of two talented European designers, Severin Jonassen and Catherine Winkle, who elevated the picture tube on that ice-tong support. The finest Predictas, in my mind, and, to the market for collectors, are the 40” pedestal models lovingly called ‘the gas pump’, ‘the barber pole,’ or ‘the cyclops.’
The elite design, a black and white capacity only, and poor performance was about to make the Predicta obsolete; however, the nail in the coffin came in the form of the market entry of color TV in 1960. Philco headed towards bankruptcy.
MB, if your model has all its vacuum tubes, your Groove Tube is worth $600. If you had that iconic pedestal model, you'd be looking at $1,200, however.
And many owners of Philco Predictas cannot repair them. I notice a trend to make them into computer monitors...which is desecration. I think Philo would agree.
JF found a lovey etching with aquatint called “Bogland,” signed by living Irish printmaker John McNulty, edition number 122/175, signed and dated 1980’s.
An etching, a type of intaglio print (meaning the ink is received in the depressed areas of the plate, and pressed onto paper) is prepared by cutting the artist’s design into a copper or other soft metal plate that has been covered with an acid resistant film. The drawing device, or burin, is pressed down hard to create the lines or shapes which will receive ink. Next, the plate is washed with acid so that the impressions the burin has created as a design will “attack” and eat into the metal. The plate is then inked (many times for complex palettes of many colors) and run through a press.
McNulty is a savvy artist. He seems to have a keen sense of marketing, which not all artists do. McNulty sells his work using very innovative avenues. An artist can make a name for himself in Hollywood if a set designer for a movie chooses to include the artist’s works on the walls of a movie set ‘home’ or ‘office’. I once consulted with an artist who had made thousands off his work, as his paintings appeared nightly on the walls of Robert Osborne’s on-set ‘living room”: Osborne is the classy host of Turner Classic Movies, and by implication, the art in Osborne’s “room” must be tasteful. This artist had no end of TCM viewers looking for him to buy his work.
John McNulty’s work, similarly, appeared in the movie Wall Street with Michael Douglas, and Regarding Henry with Harrison Ford. Imagine the exposure! Some artists aim to have their work in museum collections, and some artists aim to be in Hollywood or in Corporate Collections.
Of Corporate Collections, there are two kinds. One, the corporation collects art because the artists’ works they collect have been shown to increase in value over time. These corporations ‘hedge’ fine art. Such is the case of the 1987 purchase of Van Gogh’s “Sunflowers” by Japanese insurance magnate Yasuo Goto, who paid around $40 million for it, a record for its time, to put into his company vault at The Yasuda Fire and Marine Insurance Company of Japan. The painting, in a change of luck, currently may be seen at the Seiji Togo Yasuda Memorial Museum of Modern Art in Tokyo.
The other kind of corporate art purchase is for decoration of its offices, and McNulty’s work graces the offices of the Sears (Willis) Tower in Chicago, Smith Barney, IBM, American Express, Bank of Scotland, Metropolitan Life and Glaxo. Artists’ work that sells to corporations means (usually) good money for the artist, because museums (with the Getty being an exception) rely on donations of works, and corporations believe in capitalism.
Another good marketing tool for artists whose medium is printmaking, and that means that artist has more than ONE of any given print, is to offer work at Art Fairs, as McNulty does. He has gone up the ladder to the best of the world’s art fairs, which are expensive to join. A booth at Art Basel in Miami, with insurance and internet thrown in, is priced upwards of $23,000. McNulty shows there, as well as good fairs in New York, Brisbane and Tokyo. By the way, the Japanese art market at this present time LOVES the print medium, and Japanese auction houses typically set the highest prices for the classic master prints from artists such as Chagall.
Finally, since we are in the holiday season, another marketing idea put forward by McNulty, his “Little Christmas” prints, each a small size and small price (under $200) offered ONLY once a year, following a certain theme. One year the theme was ‘Matrix’, which can mean, in printmaking, the printing surface, or in biology, the substance between cells. Some good ideas for my artist friends, huh?
Thus, McNulty’s engraving, sent to me by JF, is a study on how an artist can best market his work OUTSIDE of the “Art” world. McNulty has the opportunity of asking retail of his PRIMARY market (the Corporations, and those who buy directly from him at the Fairs) for the price HE puts on his pieces. Yet, once a McNulty piece is on the SECONDARY market, meaning you're not the original retail buyer, the print isn't worth much at all. JF’s print is worth $300.
BM sends me a sample of his grandmother’s “Great War” postcard collection. To receive an image from overseas from a loved one at that dire time must have been an emotional experience. This November marked the 100th anniversary of Armistice, a great time to reflect on this collection. I turned to the Woodruff Library of Emory University, whose websites claims to have one of the largest collections of WWI postcards on the web, at 472 cards.
We call a collector of postcards a “deltiologist.” Connoisseurs of fine art look down on such collections as lowbrow. These lowly cards sprang out of a specific era; the art form and the medium reflect something unique as a means of communication. The Golden Age of the postcard is also the era of the Great War. Our present culture has access to immediate messages in both text and image, not possible for 200,000 years - since Homo Sapiens first appeared.
The breathtaking ability to receive a picture in the mail at a crucial time, when most family members of soldiers couldn't imagine the front, created what Emory scholars termed a “mania.” The postcard craze was born out of many factors: the growing postal services of the world, technological advances in photography and printing, and a desire for a short form of communication. We see in this early form of “media” something akin to our iPhone system of communication, one born of a hybrid of a platform of technology, using short-form communication and imagery, transmitted worldwide, with little privacy.
When such communication, in times of rapid change, is enabled, as in the postcard revolution of the early 20th century, the world took action. In 1905, seven million postcards flowed through the world’s post offices, says the Emory Library’s site. In 1909, Baltimore handled a million Christmas postcards; St Louis cancelled 750,000 postcard stamps in one day. The Atlantic City Post Office sold 17 million one-cent postcard stamps in 1911. In Europe, Germany sent 1.1 billion postcards in 1906, the UK sent 734.5 million. A year before the declaration of war, Americas sent 868 million postcards.
WWI generated its own categories, one is BM’s favorite, a hand embroidered card featuring the French, Russian, Serbian, British, and Belgian flags of the Allied Powers, underneath embroidered: “United for Liberty.” The trade name for these cards is “silks,” produced by French women who made a few francs each off the buying troops.
BM has a postcard picturing the Union Jack and a fit, happy “Tommy,” the card labeled “Church Army Recreation Hut.” Church Army was established in 1882 by Britain Wilson Carlile to bring the Gospel where he considered it most needed. WWI saw Church Huts serving 200,000 men daily in 2,000 huts that offered refreshments, games, and a ‘devotional’ corner. BM’s ancestor has written on the card, dated France, Oct. 28, 1915: “My dear Margaret: daddy is feeling fine and having a rest here at Camp. Hope you are well and haven’t a cold. Your daddy.”
BM grandmother’s husband fought in WWI in the Canadian Expeditionary Forces. BM, check for certain valuable categories, classified by Emory scholars: “nationality” cards, collected by troops from various postings, “military” cards, showing scenes of war, trenches, and devastation, “home front” cards of religious or sentimental themes designed to lift spirits, and those fine “silk” cards.
BM, your “silk” postcard is worth $35. But is a postcard collection ‘beneath’ great collections of fine art worth millions of dollars? Who actually named objects low, middle, or highbrow? Class, socioeconomic levels, and ‘taste’ enter into the opinion of status of an object or collection. The first, best book on this topic is Russell Lynes’ classic The Tastemakers: The Shaping of American Popular Taste, 1979.
Culture wars have raged around certain types of collections (I remember my assistant laughing over a client’s milk carton collection), but every collection of objects has an embedded narrative of an era, and none, perhaps, exhibit this narrative more fundamentally than a WWI postcard collection. Because of the use of a new media, in which shorted language (both visual and written) was necessary, as conveyed on a worldwide platform, these postcards reflect in a significant way the shrinking of the globe which began in the early 20th century.
BM, you are onto something. Build your grandmother’s collection into a WWI postcard archive and you’ll have one of the few archives of its kind. The value of an archive, a narrative of the past, and a predictor of a world of communication, used in times of duress to unite, is irreplaceable.
December 18, 2018 is USA National Re-Gifting day. Your personal stuff-whisper discloses RE-GIFTING protocol, along with ideas for foisting away last holiday’s seasons DOGS. Before you send out invitations to your White Elephant Exchange/Yankee Swap/Bad Santa/Ugly Sweater party, read the cautionary tales below.
Amusing tales from clients about the perils of re-gifting:
My Winner: Claudine writes me that her dad, an avid golfer, liked certain balls, tees, and clubs - and no others. Yet his family, for years, had gifted him all manner of golfing gear. Dad had a locked closet in the garage filed with sealed boxes of such golfing stuff. Claudine and her sister had enough one year; they found the key, re-wrapped all the sports gear (about 200 boxes), and stuck them under the tree for Dad. Dad didn't clue up until he unwrapped the fifth re-gifted box on Christmas morning.
My Second Place Choice: Joey writes that his mom, Mrs. Jones, helped him out with a new girlfriend’s gift with a $500 gift card given to Mrs. Jones a year previously from an expensive, trendy Montecito boutique. The styles were much too young for Mrs. Jones, she explained, but perhaps perfect for her son’s new flame. When the new flame purchased $500 of fashion, the clerk said, ‘Happy Holidays, Mrs. Jones!’ - Mom’s name was in the computer system. The girlfriend, overjoyed, took this as a proposal of marriage and rushed to the son’s office to accept.
Third Place: This is a personal story of my great-uncle who one Christmas gave each of us four siblings a hamster, a wheel in a cage, and pellets. By New Year’s Eve, each of the hamsters gave birth to a litter of 10-12 babies EACH. Combined, we now had about 50 hamsters. The eternal re-gift.
Fourth Place: Larry writes that one holiday season, he gave a valuable string of pearls to his longtime girlfriend, who dumped him right after Christmas. (She had the class to return the pearls.) Larry, undaunted, gave the pearls to his new girlfriend next Christmas. She dumped him New Year’s Eve. Larry hocked the pearls.
Honorable Mention: Jackie writes that her sister is a constant re-gifter. Last year Jackie received an opened bottle of perfume. The year before, a much-washed T-Shirt. The year before, “kiddy” style, dress-up jewelry. Not the least, all the gifts were wrapped in paper from the year before that her sister had ironed.sons DOGS, in this issue. Before you send out invitations to your White Elephant Exchange/Yankee Swap/Bad Santa/Ugly Sweater party, read the cautionary tales below.
A Typical Santa Barbara Problem: All of us are friendly with an artist. We often are gifted an original painting. Oftentimes, our décor is wrong for the gift. One client of mine tells her artist friend that her painting is at the framers, but it has been ‘at the framers’ now for 2 years…
And many of us deal with Depression era babies, who were re-gifters before the phrase was coined in the Seinfeld episode “Labelmaker.” My grandmother liked to give fruitcake from the church bazaar, not too bad, except it dated from the year before….
We know what we should not give: monogrammed objects, gift with last year’s cards INSIDE the box, used beauty items, handmade stuff, GPS navigation systems, CD’s, and Bluerays, but what CAN we re-gift without impunity? Should You Be Honest?
If you have a re-gifting party, it’s all out in the open. Here’s the protocol for one such party
December 18 is USA National Re-Gifting Day, and here are the rules:
Happy Re-Gifting Day December 18
Certified appraiser for estates, inheritances and trusts.
Dr. Elizabeth Stewart's column appears every week in the Salon & Style section of the Santa Barbara News Press. Email her your questions and high-resolution photos at ElizabethAppraisals @ gmail.com
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