D.L. has a fine little Asian ornamental bronze figure standing at about 30 inches. It is in the shape of a Japanese pagoda with seven stacked six-sided tapering roofs. Each corner of the dragon eaves (those wonderful upturned roof-lines) is accented by a little tole (tin) bell. The piece rests on a custom-made rosewood stand that echoes the diagonal of a mountain path. D.L. tells me her mother treasured this piece in the 1950s and left it to D.L., who wonders about its function and value, and, moreover, its history.
This is a fanciful decorative accessory and nothing more, as it does not do anything. It's not a lantern; it's an objet d'art. As a style these small pagodas reach as far back as the 18th century, and again reoccur in the mid-1850s. At these two times in history, both China and Japan entered Occidental consciousness, due to increasing trade (18th century), and tourism (19th century). We will see that D.L.'s piece comes from the last era of a style called chinoiserie.
So beloved were these little tabletop pagodas that before the souvenir makers of the Asian world knew Asian architecture fascinated the West, French designers made tabletop pagodas for the wealthy of Paris. They often ornamented these pieces with champlevé, the French version of cloisonné, an enamel on metal process. French designers who perhaps never actually saw a pagoda imagined the Asian style, creating a completely new genre of decorative art and architecture called chinoiserie in the 18th century, which caught on in both France and England. Visit the Brighton Pavilion built in the 18th century to see the English imitation of the Asian style. Chinoiserie, created by craftsmen really not familiar with the Asian style, is always fanciful, and delightfully whimsical, because it is imagined and not learned. D.L.'s piece is a great example of the romance of chinoiserie.
The history of western designers imagining and executing Asian designs reaches back to the 18th century, but D.L.' s piece dates from the 1920s, which also saw a recurrence in chinoiserie designs as part of the wave of exoticism in the decorative and visual arts (think of Valentino in the 1921 movie The Sheik or the rediscovery of Egypt). However, revising on Asian themes and exotic styles was nothing new. Kings throughout the years were captivated by the architectural ideas of Asian structures: No less a German than Frederick the Great of Prussia in 1770 commissioned the Pagoda Dragon House for his Sanssouci Park in Potsdam, Germany.
Thus, the 18th century saw the entry of the pagoda into western architecture, then in the 19th century into western decorative arts. But the "modern" pagoda as we see it reimagined in Europe, and in D.L.'s piece, is not exactly modern. The Japanese wooden Horyu-ji, built in the seventh century, is one of the oldest wooden structures known. The pagoda has entered the imaginations of creators for a thousand years, as we shall see, with origins in the tomb-like stupa. The nine-story Xumi Pagoda in Hebei China was built in 636; the Chinese iron pagoda of Kaifeng was built in 1049.
The stupa, a relative of the pagoda, originated in ancient India as a religious structure for sacred relics (third century BCE) and writings. In fact, in South Korea, in the pagoda called the Seokgatap, which was built in the eighth century and made of granite, held in its protection the oldest woodblock print, "The Great Dharani Sutra," hidden inside of its second roof, until 1966.
One of the reasons for the popularity of D.L.'s form of ornamental pagoda is the many examples of decorative art that exist in pagoda shapes. Japanese Meiji period (1868-1912) artisans produced garden bronze lanterns with pagoda tops, also created in stone — and today in concrete.
At the top of D.L.'s pagoda we see a typical tall finial presiding over the piece. Two reasons exist for the prominence and importance of this feature: Tall and high pagodas necessarily need a metal lightning rod, called a "demon arrester." If the demon arrester includes a globe, this is a reference to the blooming lotus. On D.L.'s pagoda, we see the rod shooting from the lotus.
The value of this little gem is $900. D.L. writes that with any luck, her niece, not of the generation who welcomes such objet d'art, will want it. I hope this article convinces her to love it!
J.H. purchased two copper plaques in Quebec in the 1960s. One ended up living in her husband's law firm in Santa Barbara for 50 years; the other, in a sunny room in her house. The first, titled "Gentlemen of the Jury," is a copy of a painting by Briton John Morgan capturing the boredom of jury service in 1861 at the Assizes in Aylesbury. This oft-reproduced image was executed over the years in lithographs, and here in copper at 23 inches by 38 inches.
Middle-class America in the mid-20th century had a love affair with sentimental narrative plaques, be they religious, whimsical or profession-related. Often reaching into American history, they pictured colonial men and dames, Asian faces, American eagles, and sailors and sailing. I was intimately acquainted with the American cowboy/Manifest Destiny theme: My brother's room in our childhood home in Illinois featured a pair of wagon wheel plaques, selected by my detail-loving mother to echo the maple cowboy beds. My room's walls held a pair of ceramic Hummel plaques of a little boy and pink beribboned girl, each startled by a bumblebee. Narrative plaques, which "blended" with themed rooms, made quite a decorating statement, the type of statement top-drawer interior decorators may laugh at today.
J.H., in researching the maker of your plaque, Copperama, I noticed that the brand's best-selling pair from the 1950s were unlikely bedfellows: A plaque of ubiquitous and armless praying hands is inconceivably matched with "The End of the Trail," an image taken from the mournful sculpture created for the 1915 Panama-Pacific Exposition in San Francisco by James Earle Fraser. These "matching" oval plaques were designed to hang together on a mid-century wall. What the conjunction of those two images was meant to convey was deep sentiment.
J.H.'s lawyer-centric narrative plaque illustrates the American mid-century interior design philosophy suggesting that an office or room tell the story of the dweller. These were the days of the themed room, themed event, and themed restaurant. (Our family's favorite: Kon Tiki, Chicago.) Because our interior design philosophy today is minimalist and functional, we may consider this kind of "placemaking" redundant.
J.H.'s other copper plaque, a delightful pattern of winged birds and fruit, is a reference to the late great 19th century designer William Morris; his philosophy of design initiated the "Aesthetic Movement." In 1887, he wrote, "Any decoration is futile when it does not remind you of something beyond itself."
This philosophy is a far cry from the later 20th century aphorism that "less is more." Morris' designs, often flattened into a picture plane, indicated wallpaper and matching fabrics to tell the story of the room. Morris was a great believer in nature as the narrative voice for interior design. In the more than 50 wallpapers Morris designed in the late 19th century, two very famous patterns include birds in flight, notably, "The Strawberry Thief" and "Birds and Pomegranates."
These birds made it into Copperama's marketable designs in the 1950s, referenced in J.H.'s copper plaque, which brings me to an interesting point about the development of style in general. Morris' 19th century philosophy of the "artistic home" reached its middle-class apex in the narrative genre rooms of the 1950s. Think of "early American" maple furniture and American eagle wall plaques, busts of George and Martha Washington, the objet d'art found in my childhood home in Deerfield, Ill.
Morris may have cringed at his birds in flight pattern being reproduced for the American middle-class masses in the 1950s; his clientele included upper-class Britons of the late 19th century. Morris wallpapers and fabrics, marketed by the prestigious Liberty and Co., were affordable only to the wealthy. He was snobby enough to glorify rustic, rural life, selling his art to the moneyed and privileged. This is often the case in decorative art history — a trend that starts out as highbrow ends up in places like my mom's two-bedroom brick house in Illinois 75 years later as kitsch.
Why would Copperama make designs as different as juries and birds? What both of J.H.'s plaques hold in common is the importance they give to narrative ornamentation; in other words, both plaques chronicle a living space. A lawyer's office told the story of an old-time jury at work, a garden room referenced flying birds in nature. Our decorative style today has turned 180 degrees from narrative interiors toward anonymous spaces and non-representational art.
J.H.'s lawyer's plaque done in affordable economical copper is worth $50 and her bird plaque, referencing the pattern of William Morris, is worth $75.
P.A. from the 805 sends me pictures of a unique handled glass mug which she found at a garage sale for $2, which she tells me comes from Seattle. It is 4 ½” tall and 3” in diameter, so it is not very large. P.A. is confused what the row of little teeth about ¾” from the top lid is for.
Well, P.A., it took me a while, but I figured this puzzle out – this is an “Eastern” glass, either Turkish or perhaps Moroccan, and is used for tea when served in the Arabic style. This special and potent type of tea starts with a form of green Chinese tea called “Gunpowder,” in which each leaf is rolled into a small round pellet. This technique dates to the Tang Dynasty (618-907) in which withered tea leaves are steamed, rolled and dried. These tightly rolled, shiny pellets need to steep to open up, releasing flavor and aroma. To do this, you need an infuser or strainer, which will let the loose tea steep in hot water. But you don’t want to drink the tea leaves themselves. So P.A., those “teeth” held a conical glass or perhaps even metal mesh strainer, which was held in place by those teeth.
Those teeth have room above them also for a cover or lid, because whilst infusing, the tea should remain hot. One teaspoon of loose leaf gunpowder tea is used for every 5oz of water heated to 176°F and needs to steep at least a few minutes, so that the leaves can unwind into a long leaf shape; after steeping you remove the strainer, and begin to create Arabic style tea.
If you have traveled to Arabic lands, such as Morocco, you will be thinking your tea was not smoky Chinese tea, but a minty, sugary concoction. The tradition of mint and Gunpowder as a ceremonial tea of the Maghreb dates to the Crimean War of the 1850’s when a British tea merchant was forced to unload his Gunpowder tea in Morocco.
Here’s how it’s done: put your Gunpowder in the glass strainer with boiling water, steep, take the tea leaves out with the infuser/strainer, add tons of sugar (5-teaspoons for each teaspoon of tea leaves is typical) and add fresh mint leaves. Or if you really want a huge head rush, make this mixture in a teapot, then reheat it once more to concentrate the potency, and pour it into P.A.’s glass with the strainer in tact to catch the tea waste; take the strainer out, and get ready to hit the roof.
It's a custom to offer your guest three cups of this tea, and rude to refuse, because the quality and taste of the “hit” changes with the infusion. The famous Maghrebi proverb goes: “The First glass is as gentle as life; the Second is as strong as love, the Third glass is as bitter as death.”
The area called the Maghreb, once called the Barbary Coast, is west of Egypt in Northwest Africa, and includes the mountains, coast and plains of Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia and Libya. This fascinating area was once part of the Muslim Empire of Islamic Iberia, 700-1400, under the leadership of Muslim Spanish/Portuguese rulers. “Maghrebis” were known as “Moors” a term which also included Muslim inhabitants of Iberia. Their distant ancestors are the ancient indigenous Berbers of Northwest Africa, peoples living in Africa well before early recorded history dating to 3000 BCE. Interestingly, the Maghrebis descend from people who are Caucasoid Arabs with Sub-Saharan black African ancestry, respected for their striking beauty, and, since the 19th century for their amazing tea.
I see that this glass tea mug, dating form the early 20th century, has a modern version, offered as clear glass, with glass infuser, cut with openings delicately, removable, clear so that you can watch the tea unfurl, made of a glass made with no lead, perfect for “sun” tea for example. Bodum makes a double wall glass with strainer of mesh which fits into the glass and has a silicone lid, but has no handle because the double wall acts as insulation. P.A.’s glass mug has a generous handle, which indicates a hot beverage belongs inside. You can find all kinds of modern-day versions on Alibaba, indicating China drinks tea in the Arabian way.
P.A. your mug is not worth more than $35, but if you can find a suitable size strainer, please try Maghreb tea and write me again to see if the glass “works!”
H.N. from Santa Barbara has an oil portrait of a dark lady in a dark hat, richly dressed, along with a wonderful story of a collection's survival. Over a series of years, H.N. purchased upwards of 20 semi-decaying portraits by Santa Barbara artist Antonia Greene, beginning with a few from the late Robert Livernois, followed by others after some were damaged in the 1992 floods.
H.N. doesn't know much about the artist — he welcomes any insight from local residents. His collection is dated mainly to the 1930s, and all seem to be executed locally. The images he owns are similar to the one you see pictured: portraits of women, full frontal, keeping both eyes on the viewer, in nice dress or at least wrapped in something fine.
H.N. says he has what he believes to be Antonia Greene's self-portrait; it's the only one signed twice — once in red and once in black oil. Interestingly, the other works in his collection are signed AJ Greene or A Greene. This does not surprise me as female artists were seldom thought of as collectible as male artists. H.N. thinks that the artist painted here in Santa Barbara from 1929 to 1957.
Born Antonia Joanna Clara Manruschat in Germany in 1881, the artist came to New York City in 1900 and Santa Barbara in 1929 with her American husband, Winfield Wardell Greene. A son, also Winfield, was born in 1919 and joined the U.S. Army during World War II at 20 years of age.
Delving into the archives at the Santa Barbara Historical Museum, H.N. found newspapers covering the 1930 opening of the Faulkner Memorial Gallery, where a piece, "The Ethiopian," by AJ Greene hung on the wall. She showed in 1931 and 1939; she was also featured in a one-woman event at the Montecito Country Club. I suspect that many of H.N.'s ladies were painted in advance of that show. A gallery sticker on the back gives the artist's address in the 2400 block of State Street.
H.N. writes that his interest in this unknown artist has grown along with his commitment over the years. Fate led him back to the Livernois collection after Robert passed away in 2013. H.N. purchased a few more of his ladies, which he has restored over the years.
H.N., putting a value on this portrait is difficult because you own most of the extant work and no records of sale were found. This is often the case when an undiscovered artist is discovered.
I can suggest a few facts of cultural history to influence your thoughts. H.N.'s collection shows female faces on the eve of WWII. This war changed the way women saw themselves, at home, as workers, as wives, as mothers, as warriors, as lovers — almost every face of female experience. Not only did the type of work change her experience of herself, but the intensity and volume of work increased. If the portraits in H.N.'s collection speak of a bygone "portrait of a lady," that's because the female face was interpreted differently after Rosie the Riveter.
Scholars use words like "evolutionary" when describing the "face of womanhood"; after December 7, 1941, that face changed. H.N.'s portrait shows refinement, confidence, serenity, distance and fine clothing — not to mention a hothouse corsage. Silk ribbons and a touch of lipstick float over a silk blouse and gabardine suit coat; it's the face of a woman well taken care of, with a non-aggressive, calm smile, a direct asexualized gaze.
Contrast this with WWII posters such as "Join Us (Women) in a Victory Job!," where several women are pictured in service uniforms. They smile a sexy, broad, white grin. And serve we did! Hundreds of thousands of women served in non-combat roles; nevertheless, 160,000 lost their lives to enemy fire. Women replaced men in the roundhouses, on the factory lines, in mechanical and munition trades requiring small, dexterous hands.
The silk and fine wool we see in H.N.'s portrait by 1943 would have been either scarce or rationed; a painted black line running up the leg would have replaced stockings.
How fascinating to see a collection of Santa Barbara women's faces pre-WWII. If H.N. were to mount a group show, the value of each portrait might increase as a narrative is built alongside the career and keen descriptive eye of this local 1930s artist, Antonia Greene. Email me if you have any further information on her.
Dr. Elizabeth Stewart discusses how much nineteenth century art is worth in today's market. She also describes what is popular in the current art collecting market.
M.C. asks "What is this?" in the subject line of her email. To which I respond, after seeing a photo of the object: "What's the classic image of Audrey Hepburn seen on the movie poster for Breakfast at Tiffany's? The answer: Holly Golightly with a long cigarette holder at the corner of her luscious lips, her cat perched on her slender shoulder, capped by that distinctive beehive hairdo with tiara. M.C., you have a small, boxed, early 20th century meerschaum cigarette holder, as elegant as the device in Holly Golightly's mouth.
The little piece is decorated with a relief of a carved cross-legged Turkish imp. The imp is dressed in pantaloons and a high black turban. Why a Turkish figure? Turkish tobacco produced the greatest tasting cigarettes made in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Historically, the best tobacco was grown in Turkey, Greece, Bulgaria, Lebanon and Macedonia, all in whole or part contained in the Ottoman Empire. Oriental tobacco is the sun-cured, aromatic, small-leafed Nicotiana tabacum. Second in smoking paraphernalia history only to the 1580 entrance of tobacco to the island of Cuba, tobacco arrived in Turkey just a short time later by European merchants in the late 16th century. A Turkish imp is an appropriate figure to grace M.C.'s early 20th century cigarette holder.
The figure also is indicative of a trend in the 1920s for Orientalism, all things exotic and sinuous. The colors, black and white, are also associated with the 1920s: think Pierrot and Pierrette, black-and-white glamour photos and movies, and the high-contrast interior designs we think of in that era called Art Deco. Females were the icons of style, as opposed to the previous era where patriarchal bearded statesmen occupied front covers of printed media. To be a vixen was celebrated!
When smoked, this little holder heats up and an interesting thing will happen. The color of the meerschaum may change from yellow to orange to red and amber where it is the thinnest. However, the thicker Turkish imp stilling pretty on the pipe stem will remain white. This playfulness in material culture is also indicative of the Art Deco period. Carved Turkish meerschaum pipes and holders were made from Turkish meerschaum harvested on Turkish shores for pipe-carving factories in Vienna. What's meerschaum?
Meerschaum, German for "foam of the sea," is found floating on the Black Sea, actually as little bubbles of the mineral sepiolite. When carved into a pipe, the mineral's porous composition draws moisture and tobacco tar into itself. This discovery made the clay pipe almost obsolete. Although a smoker had to meticulously clean the little pipe, it provided a sweeter smoke than a direct draw from a 19th century unfiltered cigarette, and allowed for a more upscale and pleasant appearance than a wooden or clay pipe.
My guess is that this holder was owned by a woman in the 1920s, indicating a change in the perception and plenitude of female smokers. In the 19th century, only Spanish lower-class women and Japanese prostitutes were the infamous female smokers of cigarettes. But mass production in the late 19th century drove cigarettes to the mouths of all women — with the help of the invention of the safety match. Not only did women smoke, but they carried little sterling match safes. By the 1920s, female smokers increased when perceptive marketing associated the liberalization of women's rolls with smoking. Cigarette holders for females began to be crafted in gold, silver and ivory, often elegantly bejeweled or carved. The 1930s Hollywood glamour photography emphasized the sensuality of female cigarette smokers, often pictured with elegant cigarette holders.
Today, such smoking collectibles are becoming increasingly valuable because of the decline in the manufacture of smoking materials. Rarity and obsolescence increases value. In today's antique market, we see more meerschaum pipes than elegant cigarette holders, especially cigarette holders in such perfect condition as M.C.'s, and hers is in its original little leather box to boot.
Smoking is today a discouraged forbidden pleasure — and retro. Enter the hipster trend of pipe smoking as an explanation of the increasing value of pipes. Bearded hipsters are in part pipe lovers, such that pipes are said to be "beard inspired."
The value of M.C.'s cigarette holder is $500, and falls into the collectible class "tobacciana."
J.E. sends me a treasured many branched Hanukkah menorah that she found (or, I should say, found her) in a thrift store in Santa Barbara. She discovered this treasure in pieces in a battered cardboard box, all dismantled. Many people had passed it by because it looked like pieces of something vaguely silver, but J.E. writes that she took a chance.
Her husband dumped out the box and — low and behold — most of the pieces came together again back at her home on the Eastside.
This is a Continental silver plate menorah, German or Eastern European, 20th century, with a finial of a little bird to the center, elevated on stem with oil can and a missing (the only thing missing) "servant" light holder. The arms (more about this later) are in a style called vine or tree form, and the arms pivot to range all the candles into an equal height line, which we will see has a meaning. The main eight candles by tradition must be on the same plane so that the servant or helper candle can stand above the others. The servant candle is used to light all the other candles on each respective night of the eight-day holiday of Hanukkah.
The little pitcher-shaped vessel is the oil can, a memorial of a special ancient miracle. Tradition states that only the purest of olive oils shall be contained in this little vessel, even if using candles, to remind worshipers of the days when a little cruse of oil lasted for eight days.
In addition, of course olive oil does not mix with any other liquid — a special and symbolic quality — but separates and rises. Olive oil is also beneficial to life.
The vine or tree form of this menorah is also a reference to the olive tree; "pre-candle" early menorahs had small wells for oil. An early Hanukkah lamp of such a form has a wonderful provenance, and J.E. will be interested in this story because there is a dollar figure involved.
The Jewish Museum in London successfully raised funds in 2010 to purchase the notable "Lindo Lamp," the earliest known English Hanukkah lamp and one of the treasures of British Jewish heritage.
In 1709, the young groom Elias Lindo commissioned the lamp for his marriage to Rachel Lopes Ferreira from London silversmith John Russlen. The lamp is a wall-mounted triangle of silver with eight troughs for oil.
Elias' father, Isaac Lindo (1638-1712), had escaped the Spanish Inquisition to the Canary Islands, settling in London in 1670. Isaac, a prominent member of the Spanish and Portuguese Jewish community, founded the Bevis Marks Synagogue in 1701. The Lindo family became prominent supporters of the arts in London for generations.
The Lindo Lamp had been on loan for 76 years to the Jewish Museum when the family asked for its return so that it could be sold. The London Jewish Museum raised more than $370,000 to retain and own the Lindo Lamp.
Dec. 12 is the first night of the 2017 Hanukkah, and since 1979, the White House lights our significant American silver menorah, called the National Menorah. In June 2013, Thanksgiving and Hanukkah coincided on the U.S. calendar and eager marketing folks designed a turkey-shaped "Menurkey" to celebrate what was called in some circles "Thanksgivukkah." Thus we learn, in perhaps an off-color way, the menorah has a long and many-shaped tradition.
Speaking of symbols and shapes, the Hanukkah symbol was added to Unicode Version 8.0 in 2010.
J.E.'s beautiful 28-inch-tall menorah traveled from Eastern Europe, where it was first lit in 1900, all the way to Santa Barbara, albeit disassembled, landing in a cardboard box, where J.E. found it and rebuilt it for her home.
The value of the silver plate piece is $1,000. The only way it could be more valuable to the market would be if the whole piece was made of silver; in this case, because of the place of manufacture (Eastern Europe) the type of silver would have been 800 silver, a little less silver content than sterling (925 silver). If that were the case, J.E., we would be talking $9,000 to $10,000 — and possibly more because of the category of the object, considered collectible and rare.
Many of these pieces of worship did not survive either of the World Wars. Thus Judaica like yours, especially if made of silver, is extremely valuable.
What a lucky and glorious thing that this piece found you.
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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