One of my favorite thrift stores, Destined for Grace, on Hollister in Santa Barbara, received a painting by artist Jack Wolfe as a donation. This is a rich abstract oil on paper, mounted on board, signed “verso.” This medium suggests Wolfe was working on composition in this study, in these vibrant autumnal, somber colors. At auction, I see that this deep soulful palette brings $3,000 at auction for a small painting of this size.
Jack Wolfe (1924-2007) painted near my college in Boston, Tufts University. In fact, my alma mater has this artist’s works in their collection, as does Boston Museum of Fine Arts, The Whitney of American Art, Harvard, Boston University and the Boston Public Library. Wolfe studied at Rhode Island School of Design (RISD) and the Boston Museum Fine Arts School, graduating in 1949. After a show at The Whitney, he left the commercial world of the career artist, and withdrew from a money-driven art scene. He returned for good to his Stoughton Studio and painted to please himself only. His studio today is open as he left it in 2007, full of unsold canvases. I predict his work will be very valuable one day.
A testimony to the power of art to find its eventual and proper home, this painting is today donated to Destined for Grace. The not-for-profit thrift stores began as private fund raising dreams of two young women, Rebecca Costa Smith and Lindsey Connolly, co-founders, who, back in 2008, planned to ‘somehow’ (says their website) help the country of Haiti. Back then, all they felt was compassion, having visited the country. They visited as schoolteachers with no experience in nonprofit administration and little capital. Today, thanks to their hard work, they will be opening a new school in Haiti, providing what they know best – a quality education.
Destined for Grace provides, with thrift store funds, an education by credentialed teachers, two meals a day, clean drinking water, uniforms and school supplies. They also provide prenatal vitamins, water filtration systems, and solar lights. Their school in Haiti won first place in the spelling bee contest against 11 other schools, the kids formed a winning soccer team, and the entire 6th grade class passed the Haitian State exam.
The school employs 25 Haitians as well as educating 210 children, all from a dream that materialized in two thrift stores in Carpinteria and Goleta; all profits from the stores go to Haiti. Monetary donations are 100% used in Haiti, not towards thrift store expenses.
Perhaps Jack Wolfe would have applauded the donation. Wolfe was a keen observer of the plight of the young in his portraiture and figural paintings. He painted complex portraits of mothers and children, with vulnerable and soulful faces, in an abstract expressionist style. The canvases collected in his Stoughton studio, seen on the Studio website, show many paintings exploring the relationship of the adult to the child. In his life and work, he renounced conflict for mercenary ends, and what it did to the creative psyche. He painted in emotive high contrast, employing unique color palettes. Even this abstract work shows depth.
As an artist, he separated himself from the world of creativity as commodity. Perhaps he would have appreciated the truth of Destined for Grace’s principle –that all children deserve quality education, as his canvases celebrate simple, deep human bonds.
In a Boston show of 2005 before the artist died in 2007, at the University of Massachusetts, works from the Vietnam War era, decades before, were first displayed. Kevin Bowen, Director of the Joiner Center for War & Social Consequences at that University, said “conflict, such as civil strife, takes its toll on civilians; Wolfe paints the children of causalities.” Basic human principles need to be mended, Wolfe suggests.
Sometimes art finds its way, ending up where it can convey its depth of spirit where it is needed the most. Think of how many wonderful works of art have survived unbelievable journeys, finally calling to us again. Art always comes home.
Sculptural art in the Western world is the most real of all art forms to create something lifelike out of mass. Large monuments capture the attention of the nation and have enlivened a controversy centered on the fine line between representation and assumed reality. Sculpture is the one form that can do this.
L. S. from Santa Barbara is curious about a cast metal sculpture of a Concord stagecoach, with drivers armed with rifles and six horses appearing to careen down an embankment. The title is "Flat Out for the Red River Station," while the artist is Michael Boyett. I was anxious to answer some of L.S.'s questions because sculptures, especially historic sculptures, are a hot topic.
Since ancient times, sculpture has captured our imagination because it is a form that occupies both mass and space. Humans are so accustomed to the world of mass and space that when looking at sculpture, we forget that its mass is created by metal. The metal is a space-occupier; the craft is a craft that imitates form. Sculpture is seductive because it appears to be real. Because it is a real-looking representation, we often overlook the fact that it is a mass of metal.
Throughout time, humans have looked at sculpture and imbued it with meaning. The Egyptians knew the power of a mass with human form to create a synthesis of the material world in the material imagination. Through the ages, we have modeled our heroes, and our dead, in such a way. So important was sculpture to early cultures that the scale of the work was the indicator of honor: The pharaoh was always the largest figure; less important minions were smaller.
Let's look at the elements in L.S.'s piece, which, because of the concept of history, brings us to a point in time. Focus first on the scale: This is small, having two editions of 10 each, one at 4 by 6 inches and one as long as 18 inches. Tabletop sculptures are a recently new innovation in the art world. Sculpture was previously always meant, by its scale, to involve people in a public place. Why sculpture moves us is that it realistically represents a moment frozen in time.
Human beings are the only creatures that understand this kind of reading; we respond to our form in stone, wood, metal, concrete. We read meaning into the material as easily as we read meaning into a friend's physical presence. Sculpture is often a target of projected concepts because it is easily attacked; it does not move and yet is a permanent moving form.
L.S.'s piece represents the Concord coach, first built in 1826, with spoked wheels to forage through mud and ruts. Where other coaches dared not venture, the Concord could because of its unique leather suspension. Concords, made by Abbot-Downing throughout the 19th century, had a big customer in the mail carrier Wells, Fargo and Co. L.S.'s piece celebrates the coach as a hero in the conquest of the West. Note two historical meanings. The scene of the action depicted represents the coach and drivers in an armed rush through Montague County, Texas, in 1863, intrepid drivers urging their horses through hostile territory once home to thousands of American Indians. The other hero not represented is known through the history of the area: Confederate military were responsible for chasing the warriors back into "Indian territory." Thus, L.S.'s sculpture has relevance to us today.
Cast metal, such as bronze, is a medium that's been used for 4,000 years to create a form immediately grasped. The technique of the craft is called the "lost wax" process. The wax is called "lost" because the ceramic negative space, which holds the shape of the sculpture, is filled with wax. When the molten bronze is poured into the cavity, the wax is lost and the form is born.
The artist, Michael Boyett, was a Vietnam Purple Heart honoree who specialized in sculpture of military and Western art themes. He created the "Texas State Military Order of the Purple Heart" sculptural monument. The artist's final commission was a figure of an American Revolutionary War Continental solider entitled "To Make Men Free" for the National Army Museum in Arlington, Va.
If L.S. were to buy this sculpture at retail, she would pay upwards of $3,000 and she should insure it for that, if she were to sell it. However, auction records indicate a value of $500.
J.K. from the 805 area sends me this photograph of two toy iron banks. The concept of a place to save money which is a toy and also decorative is an American invention. After all, we were taught as youngsters to “save our pennies.” And because pennies are “starter” money (or they were back in the day) we remember good old Ben Franklin’s adage “a penny saved is a penny earned.” Do we really believe that these days? I don’t think we do and as a reflection of that, more of us with young kids probably don’t give Piggy Banks for birthday presents anymore. In fact, as a kid’s toy, banks are a thing of the antique past.
This wasn’t always the case. One of the highest value banks is the little cast iron donkey used in FDR’s “Dimes for Dimes” campaign against childhood polio. I remember my big pink plastic piggy bank in my pink bedroom in Illinois. I felt powerful when I felt it get heavy with coinage. In fact, money saved meant kid-power. Toy banks represent this power expressed in material figural symbols: kid’s banks, beginning in the mid 1800’s were cast in a wide variety of figures. The American toy bank manufacturer A.C. Williams made many animal figure banks, a veritable menagerie of camels, dogs, cats, lions, buffaloes, owls, frogs, cows, bears, rabbits and even elk and turkey. The tradition of money held by an auspicious animal is ages old, in every known human culture, but many of the above-mentioned animals in A.C. William’s menagerie are not auspicious, for example, the turkey, which has “stupid” connotations. And what does saving money in a jackass connote? Money sends mixed messages.
What, for example, do pigs save? The pig was the most popular bank: dogs save bones, camels save water, squirrels tuck away nuts, donkeys are saddled with treasure, but what do pigs save? Language is the key here: Medieval England had a term for cheap clay called pygg. Money was hidden in cheap clay pots for centuries. (Mom back in Illinois kept change in our cookie jar.) One of the most expensive pygy banks ever made, according to the Still Bank Collectors Club of American (they hold an annual convention believe it or not), was produced by Wade of England in 1955. Wade’s “Woody” pig was glazed with 22-karat gold leaf, made in an edition of only 25, and presented to British Natwest Bank’s Board of Directors; today each one is worth $1500. The jump from a pygy pot to a piggy pot was not a long hurdle.
Giving banks, such as J.K.’s, to children, in the form of Well’s Fargo safe boxes, sent a message to kids. These banks echoed the zeitgeist of the American robber-baron times with their symbolic form. Lock away your earthly treasures! You can see the gold but you can’t touch. From post-Civil War until the 1950’s pygy banks achieved incredible popularity as gifts for children. Today such video “savings games” such as T. Ron Price’s Disney World’s “The Great Pygy Bank Adventure” encourage children to save money so they can then buy “cool stuff.” What once was a bank pictured as a wagon trainer train safe encouraged a former generation of good capitalists to lock up treasures. Today our good young capitalists are urged to spend.
Banks in the form of a bank safe, such as J.K.’s are intriguing because of the implied message, and the possible names of J.K.’s banks tell the story. Safe-shaped banks were named “The Roller,” “Grand Jewel,” “Rival Bank,” “Young American” and “Uncle Sam Security.” The trend, likewise, in the _____________ middleclass homes in 1880-1910 was to install huge iron safes in basements, so the paranoia trickled down to the kids. And today, no sane adult would buy any bank named “Uncle Sam Security.”
J.K., your banks are collectible and worth $200 each to a still bank collector. Think of it, you could actually use it for something, even though the fashion for saving money is “antique” as well.
Yes, I did it again, I went to another thrift store during my tea break from work, and this time I found something wonderful – a Nootka (Northwest Native American) paint decorated twined cedar bark basket, as old as 1900. You can see a little bit of fabric on the outside surface, which may mean that this basket was made to be a head covering chapeau, which would have had an inner hat band sewn or woven into the top inside. In a recent auction at Cowan’s in the Midwest, they sold such a paint decorated basket – (theirs was in better condition, mine has a hole which is sizable at the back) – and Cowan’s is a little smaller, yet it has bands that seem to have been sewn on the outside – six of them – to affix the hat to the head. Mine shows something of fabric that has been affixed to the outside. Dare I hope I could be correct in my attribution? My fear is that since Northwest paint colors are red, blue, green and black, and all that remains of mine is black paint, I am not sure if I have the region of the world identified correctly. If there are any of my readers who know Northwest baskets, please offer your opinion because if I am right, I could be a lucky girl: Cowan’s basket sold for over $4,000. I paid $8 for this one a few weeks ago.
I have always coveted Northwest Coast material and am always on the lookout for those red and black painted whale designs, which were painted on boxes of cedar. I got lucky and found one at the Boys and Girls Thrift in Ventura lately, as well.
So what follows is a story of MANY things found in the greatest thrift stores in the world, those in Santa Barbara. I have lived and “thrifted” many places, and only Dallas, during the fall of the oil industry, compares with the thrift stores in Santa Barbara.
Top find: a 17th C. Chinese bronze mirror at Alpha Thrift on Hollister (note: these typically are not mirrors per se, as the polished brass on the flat side shows your reflection).
Second: an entire collection of Native American beadwork, about 8-pieces, including a papoose, at Random at Victoria Court.
Third: a Tibetan wool salmon colored area rug with black abstract design that had always been hung on the wall, early 20th C., at Destined for Grace on Hollister. (Note: Since the women who run Destined for Grace are so worthy of donations for their school in Haiti, the powerhouse team of Elaine and Christi who manage estate sales often give what they CAN NOT sell for their clients to Destined for Grace. What that means is that Destined for Grace usually has the oversized, the strange, and that which might have been overlooked at clearing house estate sales. Those things are RIGHT up my alley.)
Fourth: a pair of Japanese paper decorative screens, one in the style of Hokusai’s great WAVE, in cobalt blues and creamy whites. I found this at the OTHER Alpha Thrift on the other end of Hollister Ave.
Fifth: a Gucci leather suit carry bag circa 1960’s with shiny brass zippers and those nice green and red stripes. I found this for under $100 at a little consignment store on Milpas called “The Attic.” My hint to you is to look for non-furniture things in consignment furniture places.
Sixth: a back of the sofa Lucite long high table circa 1970 for under $300 from Habitat for Humanity. That place is the BOMB. I also once found a nice huge piece of glass to cover a few Robert Scott Bases I found at a thrift sort in ORCUTT, another great place for mid-century modern.
Seventh: a series of three paintings of apples in the process of being eaten, which look great over my 1962 circa Flair, stove top, from the Unity Shoppe on State.
Eighth: a fantastic Harley Davidson full-length women’s black leather trench coat for $25 for my Steampunk niece at NYU from Goodwill on Carrillo.
Ninth: an oil painting of a little waif with huge eyes for the same niece, framed in the style I like to call “early brothel’ French Rococo, for $15.
Tenth: Bear, my Chi-weenie, second hand, at the wonderful place we call DAWG here in the gifted and giving town we live in!
I love the glamour photography of Hollywood Star Maker George Hurrell. The last thing my son’s high school yearbook photographer wanted to see at Lock’s portrait appointment was my copy of “Hurrell: The Kobal Collection.” Thumbing through the iconic black and white high-contrast Hollywood images of Garbo, Brando, Dietrich, Bogart and Hayworth, I asked this overworked photographer to make my son’s portrait “just like a Hurrell.” Boyd Anderson, the photographer, obliged me and aimed his lights upward, inviting Hurrell-like modeling of Lock’s face; of course, he stopped short of using Hurrell’s trademark negative retouching, although, believe me, I asked for it. I am a demanding art-hound mom, indeed!
The great Hollywood photographer George Hurrell (1904-92), who trained as a painter, found photography by accident when forced to shoot his paintings for his portfolio. Hurrell became one of the greatest portrait photographers of the Screen’s Golden Age.
P.W. from Santa Barbara has a Hurrell portrait of Hollywood producer Hal Wallis (of Casablanca and Maltese Falcon fame), shot with Wallis’ silent era actress wife, Louise Fazenda. The couple had one son who later maintained a house in Santa Barbara, the late Brent Wallis, who headed the Wallis Foundation (est. 1959; a donor to California State University and the International Foundation for Electoral Systems.) Brent, according to P.W., let his dad’s secretary keep his dad’s ephemera. His dad’s secretary was P.W.’s aunt, for 35 years acting as executive secretary to Hal Wallis.
What is the value of this portrait? It is not a portrait of a star, yet is a masterful example of Hurrell’s talents, a portrait of a phenomenally successful independent Hollywood producer and wife. Wallis’ films garnered more than 30-Academy Awards.
Wallis, according to his 1986 obituary in The New York Times, made everything from gangster movies in the 30’s to costume dramas such as Becket (1964) and Anne of a Thousand Days (1969) to G I Blues with Elvis Presley and Visit to a Small Planet with Jerry Lewis. His varied lifelong career created many stars: Kirk Douglas, Edward G. Robinson, Humphrey Bogart, Bette Davis, Montgomery Clift and James Cagney, says the “Times,” which also quotes that his favorite film was Casablanca. I turned to the fansite for Casablanca to gauge the market for such a photo of this film’s producer. This is indeed a cross-collectible, having market appeal to both Hurrell fans and Casablanca fans, or, for that matter, any of the films Wallis made.
P.W. should post a photo of her portrait on the fansite with the following comparable sales for my valuation of $1000. Swann Galleries of NY (a good place to sell prints and photographs) sold a Hurrell signed, poorly mounted Bette Davis portrait, in 2011, for $1320, with Hurrell’s signature. P.W.’s photo just bears Hurrell’s imprinted blind stamp (embossed name in a certain calligraphic style). Swann also sold a Joan Crawford portrait with Crawford’s signature and Hurrell’s blind stamp in 2011 for $1440, over the auction estimate of $500-750. Heritage Auction Galleries in Dallas (a great house for celebrity memorabilia) sold a 1930 (Hurrell’s first year as head of MGM portraits) Crawford portrait, blind stamped, for $6572 in 2006 (but it is Crawford!) and another 1930’s blind stamped Crawford portrait for $5078. Yet some of the lesser stars, such as Hurrell’s Dorothy Lamour, sold for $603 at Ivey-Selkirk, MO in 2003. By these results, we see the Hurrell portraits are rare in the market, yet have a “wide valuation range.” Start at $1000 for this, P.W. Target the sites on which you offer to sell it; DO NOT use a general site such as eBay.
As I knew when I was hounding my son’s high school yearbook photographer, Hurrell championed the silver gelatin art print, which is a black and white process based on the light sensitivity of silver particles on light sensitive paper. What he produced in his darkroom was the result of small particles of silver bound in a layer of gelatin. The Kobal Collection, in NYC, established by passionate collector John Kobal in the 1950’s of Hollywood stills, portraits and posters, holds the greatest known archive. I note with interest our own Christopher Lee’s images featured this month on their site. P.W. would do well to contact these folks at the Kobal Collection to see if they are buying.
D.K. sends me a pair of teacups and saucers that belonged, he supposes, to either his world-traveling grandparents, or his dad. They are delicate Chinese porcelain. Which story "fits" the history of the teacups, he asks — and he gives me a few lines of family history. Are the cups a trinket or are they something of value? he asks.
I opt for ownership by D.K.'s dad, as D.K. writes that his dad was stationed in Shanghai after the Japanese surrender in WWII. Serving as an American in China, D.K.'s dad helped the British internees who had been Japanese prisoners of war, having been held, miserably, in a massive camp at Shanghai.
Japan's attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941 and declaration of war had led to British civilians being captured and interned. When Singapore fell, British evacuees were seized: almost 21,000 British citizens were held at many camps in Japanese occupied territories, such as the notorious camp in Shanghai, where 7,000 Britons were interned. The death rate at such camps was one in 20. Women, children, and men were all held. They suffered dire conditions.
The history of the Chinese porcelain teacups and saucers are intricately woven around D.K.'s dad's soldier's story, I believe; I only have a few lines of D.K.'s dad's history, regarding the liberation of the Shanghai internment camp, but the cups and saucers speak to me. Thus, D.K., I might be wrong about the connections and parallels I am drawing, but it has been my experience that the objects that exist to tell their story usually have stayed around for a good reason!
The civilians interned in Shanghai mainly came from the industrious and well-off professional class of British expats who had made their fortunes in the East. The fall from luxury with servants, to scrounging for food, their children learning the alphabet in the dirt, shocked them. Some Britons endured three years of internment under the watchful eyes of the Japanese guards, only liberated in 1945 when American aircraft dramatized the moment by dropping loads of chocolate, spam and cigarettes from the skies overhead.
D.K.'s dad's crucial role might have begun right at this moment, and for his help, he may have been gifted the teacups and saucers. After the release of the British internees, American soldiers like D.K.'s dad helped Britons to adapt to their new liberty in China; they struggled with the adjustment, however, and three quarters of men aged 40-50 died within 10 years.
Internees may have returned to numerous old Chinese connections: many internees had been importers and exporters. The rarity, delicacy, and history of the teacups might explain why I draw the connection between D.K.'s dad's soldier's story and the cups themselves: perhaps they were a gift to his dad for his service to a British family who had been in the China trade. Whoever gave these cups to D.K.'s dad knew what he was gifting.
The pair is valuable and old; furthermore, to find a matched pair in wartime perhaps may be thought of as nearly impossible. The saucers bear the Qing Dynasty Kangxi (19661-1722) mark of four-squared character to the bottom. The saucer is gently lobed, matched by the cup which is paneled and lobed with a diagonal wave relief, echoed by the lattice/foliated painting in blue on white porcelain.
The key to age is not just in the markings but also in D.K.'s email: "The cups and saucers are very delicate and you can see light through them." Fineness is a mark of importance. Imagine! Someone had to protect and perhaps treasure such a pair— through such a war— in such a place!
It is as if beautiful, delicate antiquities are watched over by guardian spirits in cases like these.
D.K. will be interested to know that the cups are in the Kangxi style, which developed during the reign of perhaps the most revered of all female Chinese leaders, the Empress Xiao Zhuang, consort to the Kangxi Emperor Hong Taiji. "Dowager" means that "Bumbutai" (her name) ruled with her son and grandson until both became of kingly age. As his concubine, Bumbutai had born the Emperor a son; canny lady, because when the Emperor died, all Chinese rulers in her bloodline bore her own Mongolian blood. Just as D.K.s dad's porcelain found a will and a way to survive, so did the "patroness" of the style of D.K.'s cups and saucers.
There's a few understandable rim chips, but the value of the set is $1,500.
Rick’s Café upright piano from Casablanca sold for $3.4 million in 2014. John Lennon’s “Imagine” piano sold for $1.67 million in 2000. But your piano is worth less than you think.
Thus, C.J. writes me asking how to set a value on her piano. I offer C.J. some clues to piano valuations: older pianos are not necessarily the most valuable, and Steinways are not always the high-ticket pianos. Pianos and makers had good and bad years. First step in finding value is to ascertain the maker and age; cross reference using an online source (Piano Blue Book) for an estimated date/make = value. Find the piano’s serial number, which is usually stenciled on the iron bridge or plate on Grands, and for uprights, look for the number inside the lid stamped on the back of the piano.
Now, is a Grand worth more than an upright? Generally, yes, because ubiquitous uprights dominated the middleclass market from the 1890’s to the 1960’s. Throughout the evolution of upright pianos, gaudy late 19th C. designs gave way to simplistic utilitarian designs, like the “Acrosonic” I learned on.
What about baby grands? This style was popular: called “apartment grands” from the 1920’s to 40’s, sometimes only 52 inches long, the sound quality suffered. The “Spinet” upright piano, designed after the Great Depression (sometimes only 36 inches high), and the Console upright piano (a little taller) dominated the American later mid-century market, are not considered valuable today.
Manufacturers matter, too, in value, and the decal name over the keys may be the distributor and not the maker, so look for the maker’s name inside the piano. A hint: patent dates do not mean anything and do not establish the piano’s date of manufacture; many clients wrongly believe the patent date is the piano’s age.
If your piano is older, and has never been professionally restored, it is unlikely it will sell well, as expertly restored pianos always sell for more (just as a well-restored car will). Restoration does not mean your mom’s refinishing job. Restoration means expert professional care for the internal mechanisms, bringing an instrument to factory-new condition.
My clients are always shocked when I tell them their parent’s Grand piano is worth $1000 in poor condition to $3500 in average functional condition. And a spinet, upright, or console can be worth as little as $100-300 in functional but “unrestored” condition. A Grand piano of a good make in average functional condition is sometimes an albatross: it may only sell after weeks of marketing for $1500-5000, and then someone has to pay $800-1000 to have it moved. Yikes!
If you decide to have a Grand piano professionally restored (not just refurbished, which in many experts opinions is a halfway gesture of little value), you can spend $10,000+. If you have a good year of a Beckstein, a Bosendorfer, or a Steinway, and restore it, it may be worth twice the cost of restoration, or more, after you’re done.
Steinways do hold their value more so than other brands. Steinway has had a marketing strategy: great concert pianists are made “Steinway Artists,” the greatest Steinways are handpicked for their concerts. Steinway has “All Steinway” Schools and Academies, where no other brand is allowed: Julliard, Oberlin and Yale are “All Steinway” Schools.
C.H. read my mid-century modern column and has a question about mid-century ceramic dinner services, like her mom's "Golden Harvest" by Stangl, "Apple" by Franciscan and a set designed by Russel Wright.
Table ceramics were a huge part of family life in the 1950s. Matching sets of china are so commonplace that we seldom think of who thought of matched sets first. Early containers for food did not have to match — serving pieces were wooden bowls or trenchers for the common folk, and pewter or tin flats for the upper class of Europe and America until the late 18th century. The European world discovered China, literally. Merchants discovered the port of Canton and its chinaware. Porcelain, unique to the Orient, was shipped to Europe as profitable and rare ballast. Only the very wealthy requested special large orders of matching tableware. These services were years in design and firing in China (hence the name china) before they reached European nobility. Each piece of a service was emblazoned with the family crest. Prior to Chinese armorial porcelain, the concept of a matched service did not exist.
Matching china remained a touchstone of civilized dining for 200 years. By the time I was a suburban girl in Illinois, a dinner service was inexpensive, colorful and durable — and likely produced for everyday use by Stangl in Trenton, N.J.
Stangl is named after the German immigrant who pioneered a heavy-duty glaze on terracotta slip that sealed the pottery from moisture and oils. Since ceramics such as terracotta were so inexpensive, Stangl was the tableware of middle-class America for a generation. Firing porcelain, as opposed to stoneware or terracotta, was costly because porcelain requires intense temperatures; energy costs are high and breakage rates prohibitive. If a manufacturer could fire a low-heat clay and seal it for durability, everyone could afford a matched set of china. Note: Unless it is porcelain, the ceramic is not officially chinaware, although most matching tableware is casually referred to as china.
The Stangl in my household featured a terracotta-colored plate bottom and a yellow-and-white glaze top that boasted a rooster to the center. Later, we had a Stangl pattern with terracotta base, yellow glaze and a bunch of blueberries to the center. These designs were devoid of the more expensive gold or platinum glimmering accents of expensive porcelain. Numerous washings in the newfangled electric dishwasher didn't even fade the glaze.
In the 1960s, Stangl premiered a manufacturing revolution, pioneering the concept of a destination "wholesale" factory outlet shop in Trenton. Families might load up the imitation wood-sided station wagon and make a weekend of shopping for china at Stangl's outlet shop. Displays of many patterns on decorated tables filled the showroom. An outlet shop is nothing new today, but Stangl's was the first. C.H.'s "Golden Harvest" pattern was more than likely purchased there, and was one of the more expensive patterns because of the touch of gold, which made it "transitional" — it could be used for everyday service and more formal occasions.
Today, Stangl is a distant memory of mid-century Americana, but it's considered true Americana because most of the patterns were evidence of American myths: golden fall leaves, farmyards of chickens, fields of blueberries. One online vendor is selling a "Golden Harvest" service of eight for $45. Another is pricing it at under $10 per piece.
The matched, heavy-gauge, durable, kitschy china service is a thing of the past. The one set C.H. owns that is a true keeper is the Russel Wright. The great mid-century designer's dinner services were sold through Steubenville China. Depending on the color C.H. has (that mid-century green is perhaps the most valuable), she could sell her Russel Wright solid color biomorphic china service for $1,000.
C.H. also has Franciscanware, which is not considered as trendy today as Russel Wright (the value of a set is around $250).
There are two levels of mid-century modern china: the heavier Americana-designed sets by Stangl and Franciscan versus the streamlined, truly modern line and solid color of Russel Wright. With the growing hunger for mid-century design and the diminishing supply evidenced by the buying frenzy of the top end, like the Russel Wright, my advice is to hang on to the Stangl and the Franciscan.
C.H. from Santa Barbara found a Mork and Mindy script, along with a few other TV classic scripts, in a beat up cardboard box at a Pomona Antique mall; the Mork and Mindy episode she found was outrageous and famous. Why? Here’s the plot line:
It’s Fall 1981, Mork and Mindy marry and honeymoon on planet Ork. Mork subsequently gives birth to a small egg that pops out of his navel. That egg, sitting in their bedroom, grows to be the size of an upright porta-potty. When Mork and Mindy’s baby breaks open his egg, he emerges 6 feet tall, 225 pounds, and 50-years old. As the egg cracks open Mindy says, “I hope he doesn’t eat the bedroom set.” Jonathan Winters, who wears a size 42 diaper, by the way, plays the huge baby. Mork and Mindy name him Mearth (M for Mork and Mindy, and Earth); when Mearth first speaks, Mork is mommy and Mindy is Shoe. All three family members crawl to bed in matching pink bunny slippers. Problem is, Mearth, born a very mature man, continues along the timeline of age, growing younger: he was conceived on Ork, the reverse of earth, chronologically speaking.
How do you put a value on such precious and timeless memories? How do we put a dollar figure on a treasure like this, hailing from Boulder, CO, a suburb in Western TV Land? C.H. writes me about this script, for which I am writing about TV script ephemera, and here’s the irony in that: Mork, remember, is an alien from Ork, sent to earth to study human life – in large part by ‘studying’ our TV shows.
Here is the determination of script values, which C.H. needs to determine for her script’s level of value, which can range from $20 to $2,000. (I have an original signed Gone With the Wind script worth only $75.) Is it an original? Look at the paper color, is it blue or yellow? Is it a print out from a PDF? (Stores such as Script City in LA will sell you a PDF of a script for $20.) Does it contain writer’s or actor’s notes? Is that actor famous? (such as Robin Williams: if he signed it, the value is greater, as Williams was known for improvising off the script). Is the script signed by any performer? (scripts are often assigned, one to each actor). The most valuable scripts are the original TV scripts from the 50’s – 60’s; for example annotated scripts of The Twilight Zone can sell for thousands of dollars.
Condition of the script is important as deterioration can be accelerated with poorly stored or stained paper. How to tell if yours, C.H. is authentic, are the words themselves: consult the online Mork and Mindy archives to see if the original scripts compare. Value, therefore, increases if further proof of authenticity exists. Those proofs may be the often overlooked cast lists and shooting schedules. EBay sales of scripts sometimes contain certificates of authenticity of which I am always skeptical, so check out the authenticator.
Moreover, stars’ signatures make some scripts doubly valuable for both TV history and those autographs. If a show becomes a hit, sometimes the whole cast will sign the script and add a few photos. If the cast or an actor has signed the script, look for signatures with ballpoint pens, not signatures with felt-tipped pens, which are easily forged. Even PDF version scripts can be sold signed, and are therefore cheaper, but are essentially photocopies.
Is yours a continuity script or binder from the wardrobe department, containing Polaroid’s of actors throughout the taping? Those assure that the actor is dressed in the same costume over multiple taping days. These continuity scripts sometimes contain delightful windows into the process.
Searching for scripts’ values, I found this site of collectors of such objects: planetmegamall.com. My actor sister tells me that unsigned TV reproductions are sold online by the SEASON where one can buy up to 30-scripts. That’s a way to learn about the craft of TV writing: one can learn how to structure, format and describe action. I would say, C.H., that if your script is signed by Robin Williams upon such a momentous episode you have a real find there.
J.V. has a mid-century modern ceramic vase by one of Scandinavia's most influential post-war designers, Stig Lindberg (Swedish, 1916-1982). Lindberg was the archetypal early modernist designer, with his quirky horn-rimmed glasses, careful 1950s hair and ever-ready pipe accessory. He looked like a mid-century designer straight out of 1950s Central Casting. Everything about Lindberg's persona is reflected in his designs.
J.V.'s object reflects a growing market for mid-century modern anything that can be discovered, cleaned up and resold. This includes ceramics, rugs, clocks, furnishings, paintings and electronics. Fashions, vinyl records, musical instruments, early computers, radios and telephones are part of the craze, along with the rebellious offshoot of mid-century conservatism called the "hipster" phenomenon. The Beat Generation, the wild side of mid-century, lives again, too.
When older clients ask me "What's mid-century?" I tell them it's that straight-lined modern stuff you had in the 1950s and '60s that you donated to charity in the 1980s when you were redoing your home in French Provincial, Southwestern, Mediterranean or Mission. My older clients cannot believe the values of these lost treasures.
J.V.'s porcelain ovoid vase has a white field with gold geometric design. It's signed with Lindberg's flourish and features his studio/workshop paper stamp "Gustavsberg" and the model number, 321. Gustavsberg was a well-known Arts and Crafts design think tank in the late 1930s. Modernism in Scandinavia in this era had a distinctive "handmade" stylistic importance. In 1949, Lindberg became art director at Gustavsberg, designing his own ceramics, dinnerware and industrial designs. In his 66 years of life, he won many cutting-edge design awards, from 1948-73, and yet the art world did not classify him as a major designer until a show of his works at the National Museum in Stockholm from 2006-07.
Values for his ceramics in 2008 hovered around $400 per piece; that is, if you could identify that you had a "Stig" piece (that signature is hard to read). An auction result of 2008 at the prestigious Skinner Auctioneers in Boston shows a lovely stoneware vase in beiges and creams with a geometric clothesline stretched across its bulbous sides that did not sell at an auction range (set by the house) of $400 to $600. Since 2008, much has changed value-wise. Mid-century modern gathered momentum over the last 10 years. Today, much of the mid-century ceramics have been picked out of thrift stores and estate sales (a good place to find mid-century used to be Palm Springs; now you can't afford to purchase the stuff at those high-end shops along Palm Canyon Drive).
Looking at recent values, only certain areas of the country can claim top dollar for mid-century ceramics like Lindberg's handworks. Los Angeles, New York and Miami are the high rollers, but pockets exist in Palm Springs and Chicago. A 1967 stoneware "Stig" piece is offered today in North Miami for $4,500. Also in Miami, a brown-glazed unimpressive bud vase in stoneware by Stig is offered for $950. In Stockholm, a rare petrol blue-glazed stoneware vase at 15 inches tall is offered for $14,325. (Most people wouldn't recognize it as worth more than $50, I would venture, because of its resemblance to your 9-year-old's ceramic project.) Also in Sweden, a stoneware red-earth-glazed, impressed (a design stamped into the clay) bulbous-bottomed, thin-necked Stig vase is offered for $3,287. In New York, a glazed ceramic earth-colored vase is offered for $5,500. A high-end seller in L.A. offers a 1950s Stig "Pungo" vase, a white eggshell-shaped vessel open at the front, for $1,200.
J.V.'s vase therefore has potential if she sells it in one of those top-market places. I estimate it could fetch $1,500 to $2,000. This short, 10-year increase in values is reflective of a market open to those cognoscenti connoisseurs who have the dough. J.V. probably passed by a million "Stig" pieces at Goodwill over those past 10 years!
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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