ML from the Midwest sends me photos of this little flocked papier-mâché mechanical “noddy” dog, late 19th century. This is a life-sized model of a spotted black on white dog – A Boston Terrier -with a fluffy raffia collar, realistic soulful brown (glass) eyes, a whisker-y snout, a pink protruding tongue, and a crisp silver leash with a circular pull mechanism. The antique toy is in excellent condition, and is the treasure of ML’s collection.
What does the pull mechanism do? Well, it makes the jowls and bottom jaw move, emitting a life-like bark or ‘speak’. As it is pulled, the head, which is cantilevered with weights, nods and bounces. As it does, you’ll catch a glimpse of rows of dog teeth in that pink mouth. The little white paws belie tiny wheels; Sammy Chop-Chop (ML’s kids named the dog) can sail with you as you take him for a walk.
ML has had this since her childhood and wasn’t allowed to take it on many walks; I know this because it’s in excellent condition. By the way, ML never had to make believe a BARK for this little terrier when she frightened her kids with this toy. Even though over 100 years old, this little dog’s voice box machinery activates (sometimes) when the leash is pulled a certain way. The vicious creature will even growl if you exert less pressure on the pull. The growl is activated by the links on the chain abrading a sounding box in the interior of the dog. It is guaranteed to strike fear in the other inhabitants of ML’s doll collection.
The very early (1890) lifelike “growler” dog pull toys were made in France in a variety of breeds: English Bulldog, French Bulldog, Boston Terrier, and the rare French Snapping Bulldog, in all colors from white to spotted to brindle. The best of them have superior sculptural features like an articulated rib cage, muscular hind ends, and individualized toes. By 1900, England got in on the “growler” act and came out with its British “Bulldog Mascot,” the name proclaimed on its aggressive looking thick red leather studded collar. Typical of British pugnacity, this pull toy’s protruding lower jaw is set with two long canine teeth that curl up onto the dog’s front lip. His protracted mandible is fearsome. He is of course British white, with huge paws and articulated musculature. Whereas the French Bulldogs look adorable, the English Bulldogs look menacing, and are larger, at 24” long.
What is unique about ML’s terrier is his French style raffia collar, common to all French breed growler pull toys. Dog collars, a status symbol, have been around for millennia. Ancient Egyp tians collared and leashed their dogs; ancient Greek sheep dogs (which had to be white so they could be seen at dawn and dusk) wore spiked collars, called a melium to protect the dog’s neck from wolf bites. In fact the body of a dog petrified in the lava flow of Pompeii in 79AD is wearing a collar, which, when examined by infrared, was inscribed with a thank you message from its owner, whom the dog pulled from an attacker. Our little dog tags today with Fido’s name is a memorial to the Renaissance metal collars that were fastened with a dangling elegant padlock. One person held the key – the dog’s owner, so one’s dog was claimed as ones possession. Like today’s rich lady dog with a Swarovski crystal studded collar, 18th century dogs had sterling or gold bands, often inscribed with a witticism. Alexander Pope’s dog bore “I am His Majesty’s dog a Kew; Pray tell me Sir, Whose dog are you?” ML’s French raffia collar is a precursor to today’s green movement collars of hemp fiber. Raffia is pretty, cool, and comfortable.
ML’s growler is in excellent condition – which is everything in the antique toy world; in fact, in only two areas of the antique and collectible world is condition the top determinate of value: Toys and Books, especially children’s books. You can only imagine that so many of these Growlers, made of paper stretched over a wire support, might not have lasted if YOUR KID had gotten a hold of it. I know ML had to safeguard it from HER kids for it to have held up this well. Many such Growlers have broken legs and dislocated jaws, and are worth--with damage-- around $900. ML’s Papier Mache Growler Noddy is also complete, rare, whimsical, a work of sculpture – and worth $4,000.
J.P. has a framed embroidered silk-on-paper lady's fan depicting an elegant couple seated in a horse-drawn Regency-era cabriolet, circa 1820. I couldn’t find any similar fans so I resorted to a stylistic analysis to pinpoint a date of creation. One of those features is that cabriolet.
The two-wheeled cabriolet was designed to be driven by a gentleman himself, unheard of in society previously. The traveling chariot of 1815 was used by gentlemen of substance; had ample room for a driver, other servants and footmen; rode on four or six wheels; and had folding side panels to avert the common man's gaze. These were a statement of rank.
However, this intimate carriage of the English Regency, a curricle, offered a fun experience and public seat for two, with a back. A small platform at the rear served as a perch for a "tiger," the groom, who would leap down and hold the horses.
Notice the cabriolet supports only one horse and the carriage itself is low. These sporty carriages were designed especially for the new Regency gentleman, who publicly courted the Regency ladies. In fact, the lady here has her arm around the gent's waist; he holds his own whip aloft and the reins in the other. Very suggestive!
The other stylistic feature that indicates a Regency origin is the gentleman's black hat and simple high-necked jacket. For the first time in two centuries, men's fashion experienced an abrupt change from 1800-1820, away from the "male as peacock" flamboyancy. Gone were the rich fabrics, the flashy colors with embroidery, the figured gold or silver thread vests, the high heels worn with short breeches and silk stockings. Not to mention the powdered wigs! In came the Romantic era.
The gentleman of today, in fact, might feel comfortable in the fashions of the 1820s, with wool cutaway top coats, long pants and neckties. And a hat, always a hat — men's hats continued as part of the wardrobe into the 1960s.
The male figure on J.P.'s fan wears a black felt top hat with an upswept brim, a "cahill." I cannot think of a man who would not look fine in such a dashing hat. Men's formal wear and business attire of today trace their roots to this era; add to that the influence of the French Revolution of the common man and the English trend for the hunt, and we get the best period for men's clothes ever. Long trousers, with an equestrian flair, and showy fit, with boots, made for the perfect Jane Austen lover, in sober form-fitting square shoulders. Long, flowing, natural coupe sauvage hair completed the picture.
Thus, I can date J.P.'s fan to the English Regency period of 1820; I see no reason to date it to the Regency revival of the late Victorian era because it has none of the sickly sweetness about it of that period. Its slightly primitive images make it very early. This is the period when a handsome man drove his own carriage, could handle his own horse, and looked great while doing it in skintight drop-front pantaloons and those boots, not to mention cut-to-the-waist tailcoats undergirded by a tailored waistcoat with a high lapel. Finished off, of course, with a rakish hat atop a romantic white neckerchief. The stuff of dreams, and the envy of many designers of men's clothing.
J.P., your fan is missing its sticks, which could have been ivory, and is missing its distinctive carved guard that was flourished when a lady closed her fan. But someone loved this piece nonetheless, and, respectful of its 200 years, framed and glazed it.
Note the fine sequins that pick out the line of the couple, the carriage and the trees in the park. Those are not today's sequins, which are made of plastic. Those are real bits of fine metal. The word sequin comes from the word for coin of the 13th century. These 1820 sequins were made to impress the viewer when flashed, to light up the lady's face, impressing the viewer as it's the "stuff of money." This fan was certainly understood in the 1820s as a status symbol, and when used by a lady, broadcasted her forward-thinking attitudes about the opposite sex.
Since Regency styles are a niche collector's market (think of all those Jane Austen groupies), J.P.'s fan is worth $600.
K.K. sends me a tiny enameled tin suitcase in red with white trim, lined inside with beige and silver stars; a case for a toddler-shaped doll dressed in a plaid skirt, a white coat and matching hat. On the other side of the case hang a pink taffeta spring gown and big straw hat, a white pinafore and red hat, and other outfits from the 1950’s. A drawer opens to reveal clothing of light pink and baby blue.
This is a “Ginny” doll, named after creator Jennie Graves’ oldest daughter, Virginia. Graves created the Ginny line in the 1940’s from her storefront in Summerville, MA. K.K.’s doll dates from the 1950’s, as Graves’ dolls developed from composition (a blend of wood pulp and composite in the 30’s and 40’s) to hard plastic. The first plastic Ginny dolls were marked “Vogue” on their backs: I put K.K.’s in the mid 1950’s.
Readers of my column know I have “doll” trepidation: I dislike faces that seem life-like; I suffer from the ‘uncanny valley syndrome’ in which a near-identical resemblance to a human being arouses a sense of revulsion or unease. Even more intently do I feel that unease with the “Ginny” line of dolls: Graves dressed her toddlers in very adult clothing, stylish, sexy; heels and handbags, undergarments (sometimes garter belts), jewelry and spectacles. The fabrics were lush: velvet, lace, brocade – with trim and flounces. The packages read “Fashion Leaders in Doll Society.” Every fashionable toddler-woman had a dog accessory; a little stuffed terrier made by the famous Steiff Company.
As the Ginny line grew, by 1953 Graves’ doll factory boasted sales of over $2 million and by 1957, $5 million. The line persisted until 1995, purchased in 1986 by the R. Dakin Company. Tonka Toys was the first purchaser outside the Graves family in 1972, and the dolls began to be made in China. In the 21st C, the line was re-acquired by the Vogue Doll Company; and collectors, who love a good doll convention, acquired at the United Federation of Doll Clubs’ convention a 2010 Souvenir Ginny, created by designer Alice Leverett.
I had the honor of viewing a collection of sculpted prototype doll heads created by a former Mattel doll designer in the 1960’s, truly fine, albeit macabre, sculptures. In 2012, designer Leverett created another convention souvenir Ginny doll “Just Me.” Grown women collectors at the convention purchased “Just Me’s” wardrobe, in which they delighted in various costumes, tiny tea tables and chairs with a tiny stuffed bear for the doll’s tea party. The doll collector never fails to astound me.
K.K.’s relative, who played with Ginny, might have also played with other members of Ginny’s “family.” Vogue designers in the 1950’s capitalized on the popularity of child representation in adult attire: Ginny had a twin brother and sister, Steve and Eve, who dressed in identical plaid outfits. Ginny’s older sister, doll Jill, hung out with doll Jeff; they dug rock and roll, as exhibited by their Beatnik outfits. Jill even had holes in her earlobes for pierced earrings, considered wild in 1958.
Further scary facts about the Ginny dolls: brows and lashes are apt to turn green in sunlight. A late model was the ‘bent knee walker’ as opposed to the ‘straight leg walker.’ The most valuable outfits date from 1951-1953 and were tagged; desirable means a complete ensemble of dress, hat, shoes, parasol, etc. The exception are two favorite 1954 outfits (note these names), “Tiny Miss Pineapple” and the “Whiz Kids Lounging Outfit.” KK should check: “sleep eyes” which roll back in the head might be the rare “root beer” color that over time leaked into the whites of the eye, creating a special (horrific) effect. In the mid-1960’s Ginny had costumes from two series: “Fairytale” (think a suggestive “Little Bo Peep”) and “Far Away Lands” (think a Belly Dancing costume on a four year old).
My mother has said that the 1950’s were an era in which females had a certain prescribed niche in the family, and presented a front in support of society’s niche, if they were to find husbands, rear families, decorate a house. Did little 1950’s era girls long to grow up fast, or did their elders, who purchased the Ginny doll for them, foist adult 1950’s values on little girls? Probably both: by 1957, Vogue Doll Company was the largest doll manufacturer in America. K.K.’s doll and trousseau is worth $250, lowish because the doll has been played with and there’s still plenty of Ginnys around.
C.B. has a quartet of engravings, dated 1864, a commemoration of four leaders, often called "The Peacemakers." These works on paper all have condition issues like water damage and foxing, which occurs when the backing of the paper is acidic wood or, worse yet, cardboard.
What a moniker for American Civil War generals, "peacemakers." The Southerners didn't think so. Take William Tecumseh Sherman, who’s quoted as saying "War is cruelty. There is no use trying to reform it; the crueler it is, the sooner it will be over."
One of the other "peacemakers," General Philip H. Sheridan, whose engraving is owned by C.B., said, "Reduction to poverty brings prayers for peace more surely and more quickly than does the destruction of human life."
Not to mention fellow "peacemaker" Ulysses S. Grant, who said, "Find out where your enemy is. Get at him as soon as you can. Strike him as hard as you can, and keep moving on."
C.B.'s quartet is completed with an engraving of a real peacemaker, Lincoln, with Union leaders, by John Chester Buttre (1821-93) and designed by William Momberger (1829); Barr and Young took the original photos. The engravings were published by JC Buttre at 48 Franklin St., New York City, in 1864. At the head of the titles are facsimile signatures of the four men.
Engravings of American Civil War personalities were popular after the war in Northern states, and the glorious battle scenes that adorn the borders of these portraits belie the slaughter that these generals engendered. Major General Ulysses S. Grant's Army of Tennessee converged on Vicksburg on the Mississippi, trapping the city and the Confederates under Lt. Gen. John Pemberton. The six-week campaign was waged for control of the great river. The Union victory, one of the most brilliant in the civil war, saw 37,273 dead (4,910 Union and 32,363 Confederate), 29,784 were wounded or captured and 110,000 forces were engaged. After the Vicksburg victory, the Confederacy was virtually split in half by the dominance of Union control of the Mississippi. Grant was appointed General in Chief of the Union armies. Later, his fame was his springboard into the presidency from 1869-1877.
The Confederate President Jefferson Davis' plantation was just south of Vicksburg; he must have winced when the Mississippi Fleet Naval Commander David D. Porter, Sherman and Grant toasted the Confederate surrender on the USS Blackhawk on July 4, 1863. For that reason, Vicksburg did not celebrate Independence Day for 81 years; the city of Vicksburg's ruined buildings forced civilians to live in caves for protection. However, beautiful scenes of Vicksburg decorate the borders of Grant's portrait. Such is the romantization of war.
In his engraving, Grant faces left in his uniform; Union troops fight on land top right, a naval battle is engraved top left. At bottom left, Confederate General John C. Pemberton and Grant discuss the terms of surrender while a white flag waves; on the right, troops move through the river terrain; overhead, a hot air balloon conducts surveillance. Tellingly, at the very bottom center we see two expired soldiers, out of the almost 40,000 dead.
Although C.B. has four "Peacemakers," the original suite would have been sold containing seven portraits: Lincoln and his Generals Porter, Farragut, Sherman, Thomas, Grant and Sheridan. Many versions of these seven Union luminaries were produced post-war and hung in parlors, but not Southern parlors. It would take a long time for the Southern states to even acknowledge Union victory let alone buy portraits of Union generals. Thus, C.B.'s relative who owned these was a Northerner for sure, and perhaps a New Yorker as this was the center of Buttre's publishing concern. Many of these, however, were ordered by mail as a subscription, and eagerly paid for over months.
Once highly prized, these portrait engravings are of little value as works of art. C.B. might try a civil war museum, however. Most single portraits of these generals sell for $100 to $150 each, but the condition of C.B.'s pieces is poor, so hers would fetch less.
John Chester Buttre's work as a steel plate engraver and lithographer extended to more than 3,000 American personalities, including a young and fetching Martha Washington in a billowing gown beneath a vine-covered tree. Buttre didn't stop with American portraits; he executed historical figures Mary Queen of Scots, William Shakespeare, as well as a few Confederate soldiers, like Jefferson Davis. In his day, he was revered, but today his engravings are seen as beneath the early photos of the greats he reproduced.
P.J. from Carpinteria writes to me that during the tragedies of the last few months, she "lost control" of her household. "I'm now feeling like I need a checklist on how to research what I should keep; I need to be in control of a more streamlined house. Please write me a valuations checklist!! I need a guide for furniture, silver, glass, porcelain and books."
So I wrote P.J. a checklist, covering what most of us keep in a home, to help determine the value of objects. Here's what to look for to determine value:
"Brown" furniture is the industry term for antique dressers, tables and chairs of British and American provenance; even if these are circa 1840, and handmade, the market is not strong. Even less strong is furniture that was not handmade; mass production of furniture was in full swing by the 1850s. Still, handmade is a good starting point for valuation research, especially if the piece is American and not English (American pieces generally sell for more pre-1820s). Check for evidence of "handmade" by feeling the bottoms of furniture pieces for hand-planning marks. If you see circular saw marks, the piece was probably mass-produced in the mid-19th century, and not valuable.
If the piece is 20th century, check for maker's labels on top inside drawers; hope to see Kreiss, Baker, Marge Carson or Knoll, to name a few. These have salability. Check www.p4a.com for values. Don't use 1st Dibs, or any other site that advertises prices they HOPE to achieve. Use only consummated sales to determine value.
Art is valued by the artist's name; use a site like www.ArtPrice.com, which gives signature possibilities even if you have only part of a name. Or send photos to an auction house for an estimate at auction. There's neither charge nor obligation for this.
Everyone with grown kids knows that formal china for the table is hard to get rid of; there are really no buyers out there for full sets (for individual pieces, there's Replacements Ltd.). Your mother's and grandmother's services will have maker's names; of value are the really good names like Royal Crown Derby or Meissen. Check the pattern: If it is geometric or mid-century modern, you'll find a market. For older china, look for markings that are not names, but shapes, like a beehive. I use porcelain identification sites like Kovels.com.
Figurines like Lladro or Hummels have no value today, but to check www.prices4antiques.com, where you'll find photos of figurines under maker's names keyed to where they have sold. You'll be shocked at these prices paid.
One of the few "hot" makers of glass is the Italian mid-century Murano, and any kind of Scandinavian glass, like Kosta Boda or Orrefors. These pieces will look distinctly modern. I use David Rago Auctions for sale of this mid-century glass, or, if it's really a fine piece (think Daum, Lalique or Baccarat), Los Angeles Modern Auctions.
Steuben glass for the table is also high value, especially those modern shapes like the inverted triangle cocktail services. Lalique, especially the Art Nouveau wine glasses with nudes or seahorses as stems, are also hot. Look for both the glassmaker (you can see the name shimmer in the light under the base) and the design to determine value.
Silver is worth something by virtue of the precious metal, but silver flatware services are hard to sell, because most families have at least one in the closet. For American silver, you'll see a maker's name, and most American makers, except Tiffany and a few others, are poor sellers. European silver of the mid-20th century, is, however, hot, especially Scandinavian silver like Georg Jensen, Italian silver like Buccellati and French silverplate like Christofle or Puiforcat. To identify patterns and makers, I use 925-1000.com.
You know you have British silver of any form if you see a lion, and this site above will help with the three other marks you'll see on British silver.
Silver marks are deceiving. "Rogers 1847" is NOT old silver, for example; it is a name, and it is usually silverplate. The best test of sterling is its malleability. If you can bend a piece of flatware ever so slightly, research it for sterling.
Books marked "First Edition" may not be THE first edition but a reprint. When a book is first published, publishers generally do not know it will go into second, third or fourth printings. Books are difficult to research, but I use alibris.com or biblio.com.
SL from Santa Barbara is very sentimental about her grandmother’s wedding gown. She has sent two sets of photos, and each time she says the photos do not do it justice. A quick description: silk satin wedding gown, circa 1932 (I date it by style) with champagne satin and French lace, Renaissance style sleeves, arched (Art) Deco bias panels from midriff to mid-thigh, bias cut and trained skirt, which sits beautifully over a champagne colored bias cut slip with a VERY plunging back. Must have been a treat for her new husband to see that slip on the wedding night!
Champagne, ecru, white, beige are very NEW colors for wedding gowns, all supposed to symbolize purity. The first white gown in wedding history was worn by Queen Phillipa of England in 1406, a tunic with a cloak of white silk piped with squirrel and ermine fur. She broke the mold, choosing her own dress, as previously bride’s dresses were supposed to reflect the wealth and status and colors of their family. Weddings that required special clothing in those days were matters of judicious politics between two families (think Romeo & Juliet).
The next recorded bride to wear white, flying in the face of the status quo, was the redoubtable Mary Queen of Scots, who, on her marriage to Francis Dauphin of France, wore white in 1559. Ironically, white in the eyes of a Frenchman would have indicated that the wearer was ready for a funeral, because white was the French color of mourning. Wonder if Mary was truly all that interested in her groom?
Time online reports the AVERAGE price paid for an American wedding gown in 2015 was $1357. In addition, the average gown is one of the cheapest garments to manufacture because 75% were marketed without sleeves, one of the most difficult elements of the gown to custom tailor. I much prefer the Native American Hopi tradition. The bride required that her new husband sit at a loom and weave her wedding garment.
Speaking of the sleeveless bridal gown, covering a woman’s shoulders is something one must do in many traditional places of worship. The concept of marriage in the West is such that ancestral rules might not apply; here again contrasted with the Northern California Klamath Tribe, whose brides acknowledged not only their ancestors, but the four corners of the world, by wearing a gown of four colors: white for the east, blue for the south, yellow for the west and black for the north.
The tradition of white was made into a Western cultural fad by the very much in love Queen Victoria when she married Albert of Saxe Coburg in 1840. That blessed event coincided with the dawn of photography, and every bride in all of the British Empire got her hands on a photo of that gown. After 1840, white was the color of The Gown.
This contrasts with the continuous wearing of RED in the East, which is considered auspicious. Even if a Chinese bride is dressed in white during some part of her wedding day, she will change for good luck into red sometime along the ordeal. Which makes me wonder: why white? Traditionally, in thousands of years of art history, if an artist wants to emphasize innocence, loyalty and purity, he will paint a woman in a blue gown: think of the mandala around the Virgin of Guadalupe. Blue should be the color of purity if we think of the heavens. However, the dour Scandinavians never caught the white wedding bug until recently: BLACK was the color of the bridal gown for years. Matching perhaps the Finnish weather?
I think about the groom’s outfit, which generally IS black. We don’t worry about his color bringing bad luck to the union. Once visiting my mother in Chicago, at Lord & Taylor we witnessed a mom in a stunning black mother-of-the-bride gown in the fitting room, yet couldn’t bring herself to buy that color.
SL might be amused to know that sizes of brides have also changed from the 1930’s when her grandmother was the size of today’s 13-year old American girl. In addition, older gowns, unless they bear designer labels (think Worth, Chanel, Givenchy) are hard to sell and often not worth much. SL’s gown would be sold at auction for under $200.
J.S. has four framed engravings on paper from the Victorian era, circa 1840. The titles are narrative, instructive and symptomatic of the mid-Victorian sentiment around art for the home: "A Contadina Family Prisoners with Banditti," "The First Day of Oysters," "Neapolitan Peasants" and "A Procession with Christening" — all joyful, sweet and idyllic glimpses into the merry lives of healthy Italian peasant folks, just the opposite of real peasants in the 1840s.
The print I chose to include in a photo here has the added Victorian flourish of sex in the scene. Look at the dynamic between the handsome Italian bandit and the lovely young wife. Witness also the despair of the husband who, no doubt, caused the little family tragedy with his intrepid travels away from the safety of home. The artist was quite a notable Victorian tastemaker, Charles Lock Eastlake, the piece engraved by Edward Smith, and published by EW Finden. On old British engravings, J.S., look for three names: one will be the artist, from whose painting the engraving was copied; one will be the engraver; and one, the publisher.
When a mid-19th century image was reproduced in an engraving, generally the artist had little to do with the reproduction. Before copyright, any engraver could "popularize" an image. So many engravings were made of famous or beloved paintings, it's hard to understand why the original artists did not complain, but then, this was before intellectual property was property.
Charles Lock Eastlake, however, a worldly man of art, might have known his paintings were being mass-published as engravings. Eastlake was such a famous scholar, author and artist that in 1841 he was nominated to the Secretary of the Fine Arts Commission of England. Sir Charles' famous nephew, also a Charles Locke Eastlake (note the "e" after Lock, unlike his uncle's name), was instrumental in establishing "Rules for a Tasteful British House" in his book Hints on Household Taste. His uncle Charles was the famous keeper of the National Gallery in London, president of the Royal Academy in 1850, president of the Photographic Society in 1853, and finally the director of the National Gallery in 1855. The British art world respected both uncle and nephew as artists and academicians; Uncle Charles became Sir Charles in 1850.
The elder Eastlake is known for his works of art, many with Italian themes, as well as his translation of Goethe's "Theory of Colors" in 1840. Uncle Charles was a polymath, a gentleman of his times, good at almost everything, with piles of money to boot.
These engravings would have "ennobled" the room where they hung in the 1840s-50s and would have signaled the occupant's excellent taste in art and knowledge of art scholarship. Once considered valuable, these prints today sell for $40 to $50 each! I know of no poorer object in the market today than mid-19th century British "narrative" engravings or "after" prints like these, which preach a slightly saccharine story.
The younger Charles' famous bible of taste, Hints on Household Taste, recommended to the British public that each family should strive for high levels of "beauty" in their homes. Here's a quote from the book: "It is unpleasant to live within ugly walls, it is still more unpleasant to live within unstable walls." Charles did not flatter the female housewives of his era: "We may condemn a lady's opinion on politics, criticize her handwriting, correct her Latin, but if we venture to question her taste, in the most ordinary sense of the word, we are sure to offend." And his "Hints" included instruction on a lady's choice of upholstery, fabrics, wall colors, the type of engravings to hang, the style of furniture to purchase. He suggested "fixed principles of taste for the popular guidance of those not accustomed to hear such principles." Here again we see that late Victorian moralizing influence.
The elder Charles loved, as we see in J.S.'s engravings, Italy, where he studied art as a student in Rome with Sir Thomas Lawrence and JMW Turner. He died, after a long British career as a scholar and gallery director, in Pisa in 1865. A sea change from London, he adored Naples and admired the Italian peasant life symbolized by the "contadina," an Italian expression meaning "girl of the fields." His own wife was just the opposite type of female, a highly educated translator of thick, dense German philosophy! J.S., your four prints in a series are worth $200. Hold 'em — one day the world may admire Victorian printmaking.
In the 1990’s I rented a marvelous apartment in an unrestored 1920’s building. Each of the 20 units had a 1920-30 Magic Chef gas/propane antique gas stove. The owner dumped them all. Today a good one, restored, might run you up to $6000.
D. L. from Santa Barbara sends me a photo of her 1920-1930 Oxford Universal Range, of which she owns two identical – one purchased for her and one for her married son. I have made this mistake too; I buy things for Lock, but my son and his wife don’t have the same (retro) taste I do. The result: D says she needs to sell one of her Oxfords.
You’ll see this is a 4-burner. The porcelain enamel top shuts over the burners, creating a square profile. My research indicates a manufacture date of 1932 made by Cribben and Sexton Co. of Chicago, IL. I found it on virtual display at Kendall College of Chicago, at The Culinary Curiosity Exhibition, from the Mel and Janet Mickevic Collection. 200 early kitchen objects collected by the Mickevics adorn the culinary arts school, including one of D’s Oxford range.
Preparing food has changed dramatically in my lifetime–think of the microwave, the toaster oven, the rice cooker. Air conditioning was scarce; refrigeration was unreliable in the hot summers of my childhood. Think back to the Depression, the era of D’s stove, and you’ll remember the Deco streamline in rich folks’ interior designs. The middle classes needed some flair in the Deco direction, and this stove was the answer. Hard for us to see now, but D’s stove, as opposed to the earlier models, was actually considered elegant and streamlined, folding up into a 36” x 42” x 25” cube on graceful little cabriole ivory enameled legs. The hardware is teardrop shaped dangles of black ceramic. The top over the range creates a space saving prep surface. Notice the introduction of the oven’s temperature control in a dial to the side. Even though oven thermometers were invented in 1915, only by the 1930’s were they standard built-in equipment.
The porcelain enamel finish is deep green malachite, marbleized. This is a Deco nod to Classicism. The clean lines of Greek and Roman designs, so beloved of the Deco period, are referenced here. The marble look also spoke to solidity and importance. By the 1920’s cooks could choose a stove color: gray, white, beige, green and blue.
Before gas stoves, which we take for granted today, kitchen ranges pre-1930 were often oil-fueled. (People with furnaces will have an insight into the difference.) Propane stoves were also outmoded by the 1930’s when semi-reliable natural gas lines were added to homes in the more populated areas of the US.
D asks me the value, and in this category of collectibles, we see a wide range of prices paid, simply because either you want an old stove or you don’t. Those that have to dump an old stove have a beast on their hands. They are heavy and perhaps untrustworthy and modern cooks want more mod cons, although D tells me she finesses a turkey every year in her Oxford. So I see them selling in desperation for $50. Yet I see a similar retro gas antique restored and partially reproduced stove like D’s selling for $6800 on the “Good Time Stove” site. Sites have stove auctions, which reinforces my supposition that the marketplace has no concrete “blue book” of definite valuation.
However, 65 million major appliances–refrigerators, stoves, and dishwashers–are shipped to US consumers yearly, along with 100 million small appliances, according to the Association of Home Appliance Manufacturers. Some big names are turning retro: Frigidaire went back to its 1950’s era script-style logo. And the most expensive retro stove of all grows in popularity in the US: the Aga Range has always been the kitchen status symbol of the UK. Their brightly enameled cast iron exterior piloted in Sweden in the 1920’s belies an interior that cooks by radiant heat – it’s always on.
As close a valuation for D’s stove as I can get is quoted in USA Today, 2012: A cooking school in Pennsylvania tracked down one of D’s style stoves and paid $1500 before restoration. Restoration is costly, more if you want a stove converted to electric.
Still, two factors are in play with old retro stoves: they say grandma or mom, implying good loving food, and they are saved from the growing landfills of our consumer culture of “throw-away.”
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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