BB from the Mesa sends me a gigantic (28” x 16” x 18”) carved Ch’an Chu, the legendary Chinese three-legged frog of wealth, carved in jadeite. The stone appears to be similar in color and execution to sculptures found at the Guangzhou Jade Factory and Market in China today, and I suspect it's not antique. BB bought the piece, they told her was Russian jade, at an auction years ago. Not only is the frog typical of images of the Chinese mythical magic money frog, but the myth behind the icon is steeped in Chinese lore involving the boundary crossing frog/toad, the female energy of the moon, water, riches, and their cosmic protection. If you don’t believe that a magic frog can ward off your debts and pay off your bills, read on.
No one knows just how old this symbol is, but a few Chinese myths help tell the story. Anuran (frog-toad family) creatures can live on land or water, notorious as powerful jumpers over obstacles. The frog/toad is identified with female (Yin) energy through the moon, and anyone who has heard the chorus of frogs upon the full moon will attest to the link. The goddess of the moon, Ch’ang O, chasing after the medicine for immortality, left her house and husband, and followed the white tablet of the moon. She achieved her moon-place and immortality, and has left her seal and sign imprinted on the moon’s surface in the shape of a toad/frog. Ch’ang O exemplifies the Ying principle: her husband (when finally immortal) is the sun, the Yang. When they reconcile, and he joins her monthly, the moon is at its most perfect, and the frogs sing the loudest in the silvery glow.
In another myth involving a frog/toad, the ancient alchemist–sage, Liu-hai (10th century) is said to have fished a three-legged toad from a well, who then gave him eternal life: Liu-hai carries this toad immortally on his back with a string of eggs and coins. In another myth of the frog, the Danwu Dragon Boat festival of the Chinese mid-summer homeopathically invokes five poisonous creatures for protection against maladies of the hot summer, such as scorpions, snakes, bees, spiders and toads. So this frog/toad creature protects, reflects the moon, (and silver and water), can surmount obstacles (with an extra leg, that’s even easier), and yet is both fierce and docile, humble and incredibly important (to the bio-system). And can guard us towards abundance and ease.
BB’s money-frog jade sculpture sits atop a pile of coins with square hole centers, I- Ching coins, which ward off evil and disease. He holds a string in his mouth from which hangs threaded I Ching coins; these coins on his back are etched with a bird-dragon motif. The bumps on his back sometimes bear seven gemstones in the shape of a heavenly constellation, reflecting the cosmic energy in all things. If the cosmic breath blows your way, prosperity and protection of riches will follow. He stays there to make sure this happens.
BB’s frog image bears a relationship in Feng Shui, the use of certain material things influences Chi, or cosmic energy, to operate favorably. As that energy is the building block of the cosmos, a human creature can manipulate objects to enhance ultimate energy flow. In the jadeite frog’s case, he harmonizes his owner’s home to protect wealth. Some Ch’an Chu frogs not only sit on money, but some sit on boat or egg shaped ingots, supported on a shaped mirror called a Bagwa divided into eight parts. This Bagwa was created in the cosmos on the back of a huge water creature to ward off bad energy. Thus, the money frog holds his money on top of the Bagwa to protect it from negative flow. The money frog often holds a single coin in its mouth, looking straight ahead with red eyes and a fierce expression. Although BB’s sculpture isn't antique, the story it tells is ancient, and its imagery is mythical. Whatever riches the Ch’an Chu protects for BB, I wonder if he has been potently successful?
The market value for BB’s money frog is mainly its considerable weight in jade, the best child of the semi-precious family ‘jadeite’. Does this Ch’an Chu beckon wealth for BB? BB, a smaller version recently sold in Great Britain for $1,200. I estimate your money frog to be worth $3,000-$4,000.
SL sends me an adorable Back Forest Clock, acquired on a German tourist trip. When SL purchased this little iconic Chalet Clock in 1960, what began in the 17th century as a cottage industry in Germany had become the mass produced hallmark, the horological symbol of Northern Europe. It's because of the ubiquity of Cuckoo Clocks that SL’s clock isn't worth much. But the idea of a mechanized clock with a singing bird sounding its little song in the dark German Forests of the 17th century is fascinating.
SL’s is a “farm” or “chalet” clock, most associated with Switzerland, in the shape of an alpine house complete with water wheel, little windows, and that distinctive sliding snow-style roof line. Yes, the tiptop of SL’s clock has that little cuckoo door, and that little cuckoo is attached to a little bellows that play the distinctive major or minor third of the bird’s call. I've also seen the door of such a clock to open to a rotating wheel of dancing bears, or an angel with a trumpet.
The Black Forest is, well, a real forest, and from these timber stands, as early as 1640, locals supplemented their income with woodcarving of all kinds. The tradition centered upon clock making in the late 18th century at a Benedictine Monastery near Waldau. These first clocks were essentially just a dial with open mechanisms showing through the sides of the clock face, propelled by a stone weight. These clocks, called “Wag on the Wall” were notable in the Black Forest regions because everything inside and outside of the clock was carved from birch or oak. Everything. By the late 18th century 500 clockmakers worked on these clocks with their dials, spindles, escapements, all made of wood. This differs from SL’s 1960 version with its inner workings made of metal.
By the late 19th century, the Black Forest tradition of wooden clock making spread to other heavily forested regions in Northern Europe. Switzerland, the Tyrol, and Upper Bavaria all became places from which to bring back a clock. These mountain forests were inhospitable farming area, but great for colonies of wood carvers.
Innovations, such as flute pipes to sing for the bird, or full music boxes to play the hour, or, at the most extravagant, little interior organs, characterized the Black Forest Clock from 1850-1900. Artisans fashioned small versions of German Train Stations with tiny trains running in and out of the cuckoo’s door. The most innovative clocks were housed in a must-see destination, the Furtwangen Clock Museum, holding some of the Benedictine clocks from the 17th century as well.
SL, you write me that you're tired of having the little cuckoo sing the hours through the night. I have good news, should you want to upgrade. Today, you can purchase a quartz and battery powered cuckoo clock, as far from the original as possible, with plastic interior mechanisms, not at all hand carved wooden workings. However, you can program the digital cuckoo to ‘shut up’ between 11 pm and 7 am! You'll still see a cuckoo in that newfangled clock, but he'll be much more agile, dancing and flying, that is, if you want to spend a little more. Instead of the bellows producing his call, the cuckoo’s song, as a digital playback, can be varied and modulated. Where your clock has those distinctive iron pinecones, one cone for the workings, one for the cuckoo, the new quartz clock has fake weights. You don't need weights with a battery-operated clock.
SL, if you're enamored of all things cuckoo, please look into the Guinness World Record largest existing cuckoo clock. Perhaps book a ticket to visit the Elbe Uhren Park in Triberg-Schonach. You and the kids can wander inside the world’s largest Black Forest Cuckoo Clock. It weighs 6 tons, the cuckoo weights 330 pounds, (keep the kids away when that beast pops out), and the pendulum that powers the clock is 26 feet long. Tours are every half hour. That big clock is the main draw of the clock related theme park, created by brothers Ewald and Ralf Eble, along with 1000 square meters of other great clocks. Of course they offer plenty of cuckoo clocks for sale, should you decide to go digital. The value of your clock from the 1960’s? $400.
D.P. from St. Louis sends me a Macau porcelain set consisting of two vases, a dish and a bowl that she purchased in 1993 for $113. The set is highly decorated, painted with most delicate lifelike peonies. In Chinese culture peonies signify richness, opulence, beauty, honor, and high social status, also a metaphor for female beauty, spring and reproduction. The flower is given for 12th wedding anniversaries. Pictured in full bloom, the peony symbolizes peace. D.P. is one of the few people who have shown me something of value, saying, “This has so many memories I would NEVER sell it.”
Notice the delicate pale enameling and light touch to the floral design. The bottom reads “Not for Food Use/May Poison Food/For Decorative Use Only.” There’s a chop mark with Chinese pictographs and a paper label that reads Macau.
The history of Macau-ware is a short but politically turbulent one, as is the history of any object that reflected traditional cultural values during China’s Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution. These pieces were produced during the Cultural Revolution of the 3rd quarter of the 20th century, during the years of the People’s Republic of China, not a good time to create something of exclusive beauty harking back to the good old dynastic days. Traditional porcelain decoration and trade moved from mainland China to either Hong Kong or Macau, both capitalist economies, away from the Chinese mainland. Macau, which has its own money, the Macanese pataca, Macanese passports, flag and legal system, was a haven of sorts during the “Cultural Revolution” for art that was based on a traditional past, because under Mao Zedong’s People’s Republic of China (1966-76) capitalization and traditional Chinese culture were to be obliterated. Thus, the distance between Macau and the mainland was not geographical but political in the last quarter of the 20th century. These pieces are unique because the mark is not ‘Hong Kong’, Guangdong Province of China, but ‘Macau’, a small peninsula of 11.6 square miles, the Macau Special Administrative Region of the People’s Republic of China.
These pieces reflect tradition, high culture and elegance with their decorative peonies and classic Chinese shapes, yet with a Western flavor, perhaps due to the long influence of colonization. The Portugal settlement of Macau dates to 1557. Until 1999, Macau was one of Portugal’s last surviving colonies. Portuguese is an official language along with Cantonese. Macau’s respect for historical culture extends to the written language: while Simplified Chinese Characters are used on mainland China, the Traditional Chinese characters have been in continuous use as the Macanese standard for centuries.
Thus, when still under Portuguese influence, D.P.’s pieces were produced between 1970-90. I found this date by referring to Gotheborg.com, the invaluable online tool based on the donation in 2000 of a huge collection of “markings” gathered by Karl-Hans Schneider, of Euskirchen, Germany. Jan-Erik Nilsson authored the description of Macau marks including photos of Macau “chops” (boxed pictographs). D.P.’s chop says “Da Qing Tungzhi Nian Zhi Great Qing Tungzhi (1862-74) Period Made.” This, however, does not mean the porcelains date from the 3rd quarter 19th century, but are made in that period style of the Qing Dynasty. The colors are consistent with elegant Macau style 1970’s enamels, as well as the health admonition that states “Decorative Purposes, not for food.” This is also a dating tool because in the 1970’s concerns were raised about the health aspects of certain porcelain glazes.
Interestingly, the term “Period Made,” which is perhaps meant to be intentionally misleading was, in some more honest porcelain houses, replaced with a “Fang” character, which means to “imitate.” D.P.’s pieces imitate the Qing Dynasty style reintroduced in relative safely after the Cultural Revolution ended in the mid 1970’s, because, in the Cultural Revolution’s People’s Republic of China (1966-76) cultural, historical knowledge was viewed as leading to social divisiveness.
Think of the posters, songs and uniforms of the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution: imagery was a propagandist tool in a nation with a high illiteracy rate. D.P.’s porcelains are a quiet reminder that tradition and historicism in art and form lived on through a revolution that was anti-intellectual and high-culture adverse. The value of the set is $600.
J sends me a family gift, a helmet, given to her husband when he was on big business for a small Korean start-up in the 1980’s. Today, that start-up is a multibillion-dollar Korean enterprise. Asian business-people are known to show respect with meaningful gifts to compatriots, and this particular gift is filled with metaphor.
Hats, headgear, helmets of all kinds Asian denote rank. For example, a gat is a traditional wide brimmed hat worn with traditional hanbok (clothing) during the Joseon dynasty (1392-1910). Lower officials wore a Jegwan of gold cloth, or if in mourning, a white cloth. Government officials wore a Samo with extended earflaps.
Hats like J’s, called by the Japanese name “Kabuto,” were found in Koran tombs before the 5th century. The style made its way to Japan and topped the heads of the rising Samurai class. These were combat helmets, worn as a symbol of honor in China, Japan, and Korea.
The height of the Kabuto is said to be those of the 17th century: heavy, protective, and filled with symbolism, they represented a sign of prowess on the battlefield. We begin to understand the relationship between this gift and the combative world of male-dominated big business. J’s helmet, however, is a symbolic Kabuto, made of delicate silks and paper. The back neckguard imitates chain link mail. The workmanship of the mail determined rank, riveted mail for mounted soldiers, interlaced for foot soldiers. The lowest soldiers wore a simple Hatchi, an unadorned helmet.
Kabuto, along with the German Stahlhem, inspired the headgear of Star War’s Darth Vader. His flat back neck guard mirrored the chainmail covering called Shikoro.
To give such a gift to a fellow businessman, a fellow warrior, fighting in the rough world of business, suggested a hearty level of respect given to a brother in arms. To honor J’s husband in the 1980’s, a future highly successful businessman, a young Korean “road warrior,” (to use a phrase I hear to describe a hungry young business-person), offered J’s husband this gift. It has taken J 30 years to ask – why this hat? What did this gift mean?
By the Edo period (17th century), Kabuto use visual language to distinguish a warrior’s family, rank, ferocity, as well as a warrior’s spirit guide. These symbols located at the sides of the head, the back, and the front. Crests, created in papier mache, adorned the front to represent a warrior’s family clan. The crest, called a datemono or tatemono, is represented on J’s helmet as a little lion at the front between the eyes. If these symbols were rendered in a futuristic, mythic, or surreal fashion, they often reached far above the forehead. This type of strange helmet is called an Eboshi Kabuto.
A common spirit animal, the deer, was represented by massive high arched horns, the Kuwagata. We see a small suggestion of Kuwagata on J’s decorative helmet. The deer in Asian mythology is a solar symbol, as well as a symbol that reflects a nomadic culture, a being that connects the earth and the sky. Horns often suggest the missing solar disk held by the two horns.
Kabuto had cheek protectors in the form of wing-like curling ‘ears’ called Fukigaeshi. J’s Kabuto’s ears are made of pierced paper over silk, a nod to the carved wood, metal or bone found on 17th century Kabuto. Fur and feathers often decorated these Kabuto: when mounted, a fully armored and helmeted warrior must have seemed a formidable nightmare.
A small hole at the top of the Kabuto, as we see on J’s helmet, was the seat of the God of War, Hachiman. If the warrior wore a topknot, this hole was functional as well. Designed to echo the design and patterns of the warrior’s armor and cloak, the Kabuto was attached to the body armor by a gleaming rope of silk, elaborately knotted, called a Shinobi-no-o, essentially a strap and a chin guard.
This gift was ‘made-to-order for J’s husband by his Korean compatriot in business, I believe, because this is not a mass produced object. I can therefore only guess at the value, and I am guessing $2,000. J’s family displays it in a Lucite box. Now they know why it holds such meaning. J’s husband, over the years, has followed the growing and now huge profit of his colleague’s business with much interest.
If you are a fan of Kabuto, you may order a baseball cap in this style online!
S.S. from Santa Barbara sends me photos of an Arts & Crafts style table lamp with green slag-glass and patinated cast iron that bears no maker’s mark. It has either been rewired, or it's a copy. Some old lamps retain their original silk cords. Does it date from the first quarter of the 20th century, which would make it valuable, or is it a copy, which we all have seen, from the 1980’s, when Victorian style decorations became the rage? S.S. asks for more information about this type of lighting, once quite revolutionary, both in its containment of the NEW electric bulb, and in the use of colored glass.
Hard to think of this style as revolutionary as we see so many stained glass lamps today. My mom’s kitchen in Illinois had a stained glass Victorian style chandelier with fruit and flowers in ugly colors made from some kind of plastic, hanging over the fake wood Formica table and the green vinyl chairs. The difference in value between a 1980’s stained glass lamp and a 1900’s original can be $10,000 or more. Although we think of the style as Victorian, it's NOT: stained glass lamps developed with the Art Nouveau style and then merged into the more severe geometric style of Arts & Crafts.
The method of making pressed opaque glass for lampshades, like most ‘artistic’ design discoveries for the modern market, was due to a technological accident. Slag glass, which is the correct name of this early style of lampshade, looks different from stained glass. Stained glass is either opaquely, uniformly colored, OR, the color is streaked with white. Slag glass looks like marble, uneven and swirly. In fact, some of the early names of slag glass tell this story: colors were marketed as “blackberries and cream,” "purple (or blue) malachite,” or “lemon yellow giallo.” Slag glass looks like tortoiseshell, sliced thin, or malachite, with those naturally occurring swirls.
The accident that led to slag glass was the freak combination of two early 20th century industrial processes, which occurred in the late 19th century in Gateshead, England, when the young son of a glassmaker threw a bit of detritus from his other job into a vat of molten glass. He pitched in ‘slag,’ which is the stone waste matter that separates from metal during the smelting or refining of ore. At first, the resultant product was used on church windows for accent elements because it could so well imitate marble or stone. The firm of Sowerby patented a recipe for purple malachite in 1878, and experimented with the new development of table lighting growing popular in rich people’s homes for those newfangled light bulbs, putting this slag glass in shades. Each color that developed after purple called for more chemical experimentation; for example, Sowerby’s ‘blue nugget’ called for cadmium to be thrown into the molten glass in 1883.
Entrepreneurs in America discovered the popularity of English slag glass lamps: a factory named Akro Agate produced its own version, a name that references cut agate. Big named glass companies jumped on the craze, and the most expensive slag glass lamps were produced by Tiffany, Roycroft or Steuben. A fine maker’s-marked shade from one of those firms will sell at auction for over $20,000.
Bradley and Hubbard in Connecticut in the first quarter of the 20th century was known for leaded glass geometry in which slag glass was fitted into spreading shades of rich color. Handel in Connecticut was known (1901-25) for dome shades with bottom borders of leaded glass fitted floral petals. Tiffany Studios during this period in New York is perhaps the best-known maker today: the moniker “Tiffany Lamp” is ubiquitous for leaded glass lamps, and I hear the term used for all kinds of stained glass lighting. Yet a ‘good’ (untouched) and valuable leaded slag glass Tiffany Studios lamp will bear, generally, two markings, one on its shade and one to its bronze patinated base, “Tiffany Studios NY.”
S.S.’s lamp is solid and geometric and yet is a middle-class early 20th century parlor version of a more expensive lamp, because the cast iron lies on top of the slag glass, and is not fitted into the leaded geometry, as we see in the expert work of Tiffany Studios lamps of this period. At one time it would have had an interior light bulb that accented the base, and would show off the fact that your home was electrified. It's worth $400.
RP sends me a Hammond typewriter, circa 1905, a mechanical writing device with a keyboard. The history of the typewriter is vital to understanding how we think about words and machines. How did the manual keyboard become ubiquitous?
The keyboard is our number one interface with everyday machines in our lives, yet in the history of mechanical writing, keyboards were not inevitable. The birth of the keyboard owes its debt to the invention of the typewriter, the prototypical mechanical writing machine.
Historians at the Science Museum of London say some form of “typewriter” was invented 52 times in the 19th century. Only about a half of these inventions involved a keyboard. The other form was built around an index. No one person is credited with the invention because many minds and hands contributed to its developmental stage.
The index form is a manually maneuverable ball with character/letters, transferring writing to paper without the horizontal span of hands. The index used a piston to turn the ball. Keyboard inventors adapted a salient feature of the index machines; the circumference of a rotating ball necessitated the grouping together of most used characters/letters. The QWERTY keyboard adopted the expediency of oft-used letters in a group; certain fingers on a spread human hand were stronger, better equipped for predominating character/letters.
The nature of invention does not occur in a straight line built upon one concept. The typewriter was patented as early as 1714, yet the world saw little practical use for automatic writing until as late as 1870, when typewriters began to be used in commerce. These early typewriters did not transfer the character to the paper in print at point of impact: termed “blind typing,” the typist had to “develop” the paper later to see print.
The inventors of the first popular keyboard machine (1867), Sholes, Gidden, and Soule (inventor, mechanic and printer respectively) were so disappointed in sales that they sold their patent. The first producer, the Remington Company, manufactured sewing machines. The Remington typewriters controlled carriage return with a sewing machine style footpad.
The triumph of the keyboard was slow: the Danish Index (writing ball) invented in 1865 by The Reverend Malling-Hansen was still in use in 1909. This index machine was the first to attain writing speeds faster than a professional scribe at 30 words per minute. By 1910, typists and telegraphers could achieve 130 worlds per minute.
Three small countries and two preachers (one mentioned above) ushered in the mechanical “word.” Various permutations in mechanical writing aimed to help the blind and partially sighted to write and see a uniform typeface in real time. In Brazil, Father Francisco Joao de Azevado created a homemade wooden machine with strike-able levers made of table knives in 1861. The “strike” feature wouldn't have been necessary if not for the previous invention in 1808 by Pellegrino Turri in Italy, a keyboard machine adapted to make a carbon copy.
Index machine inventors were at work on speed. William Austin Burt’s “typo-writer” (1829) used a dial with solenoids: his machine created clear characters in many fonts, possible with a changeable index, answering the problem of uniformity so important to legal documents. Uniformity did not depend on the pressure of a finger. The Science Museum of London claims Burt’s invention was the first typewriter documented. A feature of this machine was the lack of inter-meshed typebars (remember those?).
The contest between keyboards vs. index dominance in writing machines was won by 1910; typewriters were standardized with keyboards, designed to be used on desks. A testimony to technology, 36 years later, ENIAC, the first binary computer, was born, using punch cards “read” by teletype, necessitating the computer-keyboard marriage. Look down at your computer attached to a keyboard: now you know how that marriage occurred.
On the heels of the early adoption of keyboards for computing, typewriter inventors turned to a hybrid of index and keyboard technology to maintain a market share: the 1961 Selectric was born, using a manual, electrified keyboard, with an interchangeable index ball. Changing fonts was as easy as changing balls. Selectrics in colors such as burnt red, Pepto-Bismol pink, and moss green, were about to be eclipsed by the PC, operated by the 19th century QWERTY keyboard.
The keyboard, a vestige of an age when manual finger pressure controlled for uniformity, is as fated for oblivion as was the Selectric. Alternatives to keyboards have presented throughout the history of the printed word: the AI of the future may not include the QWERTY keyboard, a reminder of a machine-to-human-musculature meld. Is the next frontier for mechanically produced words a mind-machine meld?
The typewriter, named beautifully in Italian in 1808 as the “scribe-harpsichord,” enabled eyes to see the page via struck keys. Keyboards may be going the way of the harpsichord. The value of this wonderful machine? $1,000 and rising….
H.B. got lucky at the Assistance League Thrift Store, she left that great little shop with a dish for which she gave under $20. She sends me pictures of that octagonal porcelain dish with raised edges, blue and red on a field of white; the center has the famous Japanese motif of the bat and the clouds, stylized into a geometric pattern. The underside of the raised rim features blue tracings painted on the white of rolled scrolls (signifying official letters of State) and chrysanthemums (conviviality). The base features Japanese characters. H.B. wants to know what she has, mentioning two small chips to the rim.
The story begins on July 8, 1853 when Commodore Matthew Perry of the U.S. sailed into Kanagawa, opening the ports of Hakodate and Shimoda, enforcing a treaty establishing trade and the opening of Japanese ports to U.S. merchant trading ships. The Nation of Japan had been closed to outsiders since 1637. The mid 19th century fine goods merchant suddenly produced Japanese ceramics, metalwork, lacquerware and silks for his eager customers. Think of the displays of Japanese wares after 1854 at the European and American Industrial Expositions and World’s Fairs, not the least of which was held at the 1876 Philadelphia Centennial Exhibition. The Japanese government had presented a huge display of antique and modern Japanese material culture, seen by thousands; a rage for anything Japanese hit the U.S., leading to a unique Japanese American hybrid style called the Aesthetic Taste and a vast increase in trade between the US and Japan.
Featured in Philadelphia for the first time was the style of porcelain nabbed by H.B. called Imari-ware. Americans drooled over the bright bold geometric colors of bright iron reds, cobalt blues, grass greens accented with golds. In comparison, American porcelain up to the 1876 show was based on European (French & German) flowery patterns rendered in dainty pastels. A sea change in the world of color and design, Imari colors and the naturalistic, abstracted bird, flower and animal heraldic devices caught the American intellectual aesthetic community by storm. And Imari has never gone out of style.
However, the origin of the Imari style is not purely a Japanese phenomena; the style harkens back to 1542 when Mendez Pinto of Portugal accidentally landed in Japan. He was shocked to find an orderly and gentle culture, but was equally shocked that the Japanese were not Christians. A lively exchange of patterns and colors was exchanged between the thousand-year tradition of Portuguese majolica and Japanese porcelain. Although the Japanese knew the chemical composition of porcelain, Europe did not. So the Portuguese traders brought a certain European sensibility to the Japanese potters so that their wares would be palatable to European tastes, and Imari was born. The Portuguese over the ensuing years endeavored to spread both Christianity and European trade, and the trade at the forefront of the economics was porcelain. Trade was so good that by 1637 the Japanese government kicked out all foreign traders and shut down Japanese borders to foreign travel of both insiders and outsiders.
The name Imari is also an accident, as it is the name of the port on Deshima Island, which although in Nagasaki Harbor, was occupied by the Dutch, who were export traders in the 17th and 18th century. The Dutch shipped bright colored presentation pieces of porcelain to the Bourbons, the Hapsburgs, the Hanovers and the greatest collector of porcelain in the world at the time, Augustus II of Saxony (1670-1733). Augustus, by the way, is one of the reason porcelain was “discovered” or “invented” in his kingdom.
H.B.’s piece looks early 19th century because its design is restrained and elegant. The later 19th century Imari ware porcelains became opulent and complex, bordering on the gaudy. Another clue to its early age is the fact that the Imari designs are hand painted as opposed to the later transferware stenciled designs and heavy gilding. Earlier Imari is more delicate in form, the slip (the clay) is whiter, and the glaze is heavier. As the 19th century wore on, tastes became more Victorian and American buyers used Asian porcelain for the show–factor. Larger scale pieces were in demand, often pieces which by their bulbous shapes featured Japanese design on European forms. The small size also belies an earlier date, as well as the rendering of the chrysanthemum shapes, the emblem of serene Japan. H.B., your porcelain is worth $300-500 and would be worth more if the piece were not chipped.
You might find it odd to see an elephant holding up a thousand flowers with its trunk. That’s the theme of this little Art Deco lamp, sent by DS. She writes that this little piece (91/2”) was a gift from her dad to her mom one anniversary in 1954. She has lit it every night since. She believes her dad bought it at Dane's Lamp Shop in Santa Barbara.
The globe shade is a good example of glass millefiori, one of the oldest decorative glass techniques known. A glass bead millefiori, called a mosaic bead, was found in the 7th century Anglo Saxon burial site at Sutton Hoo. The ancient technique of millefiori was then lost to the world until rediscovered in the 18th century.
Here’s the technique: tiny glass rods pulled lengthwise are bound together, making a glass sheaf or cane, and the multicolored rod ends show up when the sheaf is heated, pulled, and then cut diagonally. By the 19th century these rough canes were made in glass houses in Italy, France and England for export to the US to make little pieces of art like DS’s lamp. These rods could be blown into that globe shape or heated together to make paperweights and vases.
One of the great things I love about writing on material culture is the chance to see beyond the object into the tenor, mood, and philosophy of the time in which the object was made. The 1920’s was an era of the machine, progress, movement, skyscrapers, exoticism, travel, the wealthy, the City, and the spirit of fun. That spirit of adventure took many forms, not the least of which was drugs, booze and sex. Somehow, Nature and the Wild were things to be tamed. Mountains were conquered. This is the era of the National Park, the African safari, the establishment of a Zoo in each large city.
You may notice that the elephant who stars in this lamp is tame: he is balancing a ball, as in a circus act. The idea of nature, tamed, was a theme dearly beloved in the Art Deco period. Animals were an artistic trope of the period, especially those that could be rendered as sleek, massive, or geometric. Often in sculpture, the balance of power was equal between the man and the beast. This was not the case in Classical sculpture that had a healthy belief in the superiority of the natural world.
We learn much about the design of an era when we look at the lines and shapes popular in previous periods. In this case, Art Nouveau predated Art Deco. Art Nouveau's qualities were asymmetrical and organic: a favorite theme of the Nouveau period was the flowing–haired fairy-creature, whose scanty clothing catches on wild landscape features as she frolics. The favorite female of the art deco period is the elegantly lean, beautifully dressed urban lady leading an arched-back animal on a leash. Gone is naturalism: symmetry and mass and strong masculine geometric forms prevail. Mass is flattened. This is the era of early Cubism, dynamically seeing the world as geometry. This is the era of Bauhaus design, the novel uses of glass and concrete.
The world is tamed in Art Deco: Elephants balance on balls, muscular men restrain wild horses. Skyscrapers rise to unheard of heights. Trains break speed records. Cars race across continents. Boxing is the sport of choice. A famous sculpture of the period shows a buff Hercules recumbent holding a panther at bay by its throat. Gazelles, jaguars and Borzoi dogs likewise were tamed by sleek tall sophisticated urbanites. The leash, the balancing act, the playful but nasty imp, the snake charmer, the seductress all point to (human) control of nature in sculptural form.
DS’s lamp plays upon the theme of balance: the tame elephant balances a ball of light, and similar millefiori lamps feature a patinated metal Harlequin imp-girl kicking that ball. Another popular model shows two nude arched-back females facing outwards balancing the ball between the smalls of backs. All these models featured a marble plinth: marble was the stone of choice, slick and shiny.
And the idea of a lamp itself was also a creative experiment in the late 1920’s. Indoor electric lighting was rather a novel feature, so lamp designers became adventuresome with the concept of a lamp.
Ds's little beloved lamp is a period piece that is emblematic of this era as well as the innovative use of electricity as an element of an art piece. The value is $300.
K.R. has two pictures of English cows. These, K.R. are not cows, but oxen, The great-celebrated Durham ox, a castrated bull who became universally admired in all Anglophile countries in the early 19th century.
Your mezzotints tell a story of a peculiar English, early Victorian, way of treating people and other animals. This theme is the concept of breeding: pedigree, circa 1804, the year the great ox was carted all over Britain to thousands of agricultural shows. 1804 was also the year Wordsworth wrote I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud.
The Durham ox perhaps wished to be lonely as a cloud, but he was painted by scores of artists: in 1801 by George Cuit of Richmond (the ox was five years old), then painted by John Boultbee in 1802, and by George Garrard, from which artist K.R.’s print was copied. The inscription reads, “To the Right Honorable Lord Somerville President of the Board of Agriculture, this plate of a Holderness Cow is respectfully dedicated by the Lordship’s obliged humble servant George Garrard.” In 1802, 2000 prints of this beast sold to the English public, as well as porcelain and stoneware emblazoned with his image. Staffordshire created an entire blue and white table service.
The ox represented the pinnacle of breeding, a new science of the time. Born in 1796, he was the third generation bred for “type,” the Shorthorn. To show the superiority of science over raw nature, the ox was bred for massive proportions. He weighed over 3800 pounds, the weight of an average American car. He had the rectangular silhouette of a boxcar. The “ideal” type lives with us still in such animal venues as the Westminster Dog Show. The Durham ox had the “it” factor so sought after at the aforementioned dog show for each particular breed. In the case of the Durham ox, the “it” factor attracted artists painting his bulky likeness.
As a genre, portraits of stock animals, ad nauseam, were an English passion. This was an era when the gentleman farmer represented the top of the English class system embodying the “scientific” principles of husbandry. The best of all breeds was termed the “improved” breed. Another famous painting of the white ox by William Ward states, “The Imperial Tees Water Breed by John Nesham, Esq. Bred and fed of Houghton Le Spring.” How beasts were sired was important as well as what they imbibed. Nature could be manipulated.
Proof of this manipulation of farm animals was the thousands of English prints from the early 19th century, not photomechanical reproductions from the 20th century, which can be worth a bundle. K.R. has two prints, one, a Holderness Ox, and one, a Durham White Ox by William Ward, both after Garrard, at 23” x 18” each. K.R. writes that The Museum of English Rural Life is interested in acquiring the Holderness Ox print, dedicated to Lord Somerville. He asks about the process.
First, K.R. must look at the paper to establish the age of this print. It should be “laid,” little lines formed by wires of the screen through which the paper is sieved. In good condition and the paper white, Christies sold such a Garrard Ox print for $3,300. Secondly, K.R. has to come up with a price. Let the museum know he's done his research and knows the fair market value around $3000.
They will respond in one of two ways. No, we do not buy, we accept tax-deductible donations only. Or, yes, we buy, but that figure is too much. Then the negotiations can begin. K.R. pays for the shipping, insurance (at $3,000) and is beholden to a museum inspection before he sells. He should ask for a contract of artwork lent “on approval” to the museum and look it over with his attorney carefully. K.R.’s other option is to offer it to Christies which has a record of selling prints after Garrard. Keep in mind museums may not pay at all or as much as an auction for works of this price range and caliber, but museums honor the donor in their acquisition catalogues. Even though a Garrard print of the ox has sold for around $3000 at auction, there may be no reserve (the price at which an auction house will pull the piece). This means it may sell for whatever the day brings, and then K.R. will pay about 20% of the selling price back to the house. Good Luck with your OX!
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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