December 18, 2018 is USA National Re-Gifting day. Your personal stuff-whisper discloses RE-GIFTING protocol, along with ideas for foisting away last holiday’s seasons DOGS. Before you send out invitations to your White Elephant Exchange/Yankee Swap/Bad Santa/Ugly Sweater party, read the cautionary tales below.
Amusing tales from clients about the perils of re-gifting:
My Winner: Claudine writes me that her dad, an avid golfer, liked certain balls, tees, and clubs - and no others. Yet his family, for years, had gifted him all manner of golfing gear. Dad had a locked closet in the garage filed with sealed boxes of such golfing stuff. Claudine and her sister had enough one year; they found the key, re-wrapped all the sports gear (about 200 boxes), and stuck them under the tree for Dad. Dad didn't clue up until he unwrapped the fifth re-gifted box on Christmas morning.
My Second Place Choice: Joey writes that his mom, Mrs. Jones, helped him out with a new girlfriend’s gift with a $500 gift card given to Mrs. Jones a year previously from an expensive, trendy Montecito boutique. The styles were much too young for Mrs. Jones, she explained, but perhaps perfect for her son’s new flame. When the new flame purchased $500 of fashion, the clerk said, ‘Happy Holidays, Mrs. Jones!’ - Mom’s name was in the computer system. The girlfriend, overjoyed, took this as a proposal of marriage and rushed to the son’s office to accept.
Third Place: This is a personal story of my great-uncle who one Christmas gave each of us four siblings a hamster, a wheel in a cage, and pellets. By New Year’s Eve, each of the hamsters gave birth to a litter of 10-12 babies EACH. Combined, we now had about 50 hamsters. The eternal re-gift.
Fourth Place: Larry writes that one holiday season, he gave a valuable string of pearls to his longtime girlfriend, who dumped him right after Christmas. (She had the class to return the pearls.) Larry, undaunted, gave the pearls to his new girlfriend next Christmas. She dumped him New Year’s Eve. Larry hocked the pearls.
Honorable Mention: Jackie writes that her sister is a constant re-gifter. Last year Jackie received an opened bottle of perfume. The year before, a much-washed T-Shirt. The year before, “kiddy” style, dress-up jewelry. Not the least, all the gifts were wrapped in paper from the year before that her sister had ironed.sons DOGS, in this issue. Before you send out invitations to your White Elephant Exchange/Yankee Swap/Bad Santa/Ugly Sweater party, read the cautionary tales below.
A Typical Santa Barbara Problem: All of us are friendly with an artist. We often are gifted an original painting. Oftentimes, our décor is wrong for the gift. One client of mine tells her artist friend that her painting is at the framers, but it has been ‘at the framers’ now for 2 years…
And many of us deal with Depression era babies, who were re-gifters before the phrase was coined in the Seinfeld episode “Labelmaker.” My grandmother liked to give fruitcake from the church bazaar, not too bad, except it dated from the year before….
We know what we should not give: monogrammed objects, gift with last year’s cards INSIDE the box, used beauty items, handmade stuff, GPS navigation systems, CD’s, and Bluerays, but what CAN we re-gift without impunity? Should You Be Honest?
If you have a re-gifting party, it’s all out in the open. Here’s the protocol for one such party
December 18 is USA National Re-Gifting Day, and here are the rules:
Happy Re-Gifting Day December 18
JF sends me a ceramic framed clock from his grandfather’s house. What's the history of this flouncy, candy-box colored mantle clock?
Henry J. Davies of Brooklyn, a clockmaker and designer, joined an established clock-making firm in the 1870’s. Connecticut-based Ansonia originally began as a brass metal machine-tooling supplier. Davies invented a ceramic ornate shell covering the workings of a brass mechanical clock. This style took off. Most mantles in the 1880’s sported such a clock with pride.
Davies invited the famous Thomas Edison to Ansonia in 1886. Davies and Edison collaborated on a clock invention combined with a photograph. Although this invention never got off the ground, we know the market demanded elaborate ways to tell time. Sales thrived. Ansonia moved to a larger location in Brooklyn in 1879.
Typical of the safety of late 19th century factories, Ansonia’s New York factory burnt to the ground, at a loss of men and venue in 1880. Undaunted, Davies, now the company’s director, rebuilt on the same site in one year. This factory succeeded so well that by 1883 the company opened sales rooms in Chicago and London.
These overly elaborate clocks were the center of the home, in the center of the mantelpiece, in the heart of many late 19th century U.S. homes. High maintenance, they needed to be wound daily, their noisy ticking audible through the home. These clocks became a treasured gift, the cost equaling an average weekly paycheck. Everyone wanted a novelty Ansonia clock.
The market today does not favor these former beauties. The late Victorian taste for ornate Rococo ornaments in pastel colors is not in vogue. Yet Ansonia in 1886 had 225 different models, all sugary-looking, painted on ceramic shells in confectioner’s colors.
So successful was the Ansonia Clock Company that the grandson of one of the founders, William Earle Dodge Stokes, was eyeing a block in New York on which to build New York’s first air-conditioned hotel, the Ansonia, at 2107 Broadway. Stokes inherited money from his grandfather’s clocks, as well as granddad’s copper mine investments from the 1850’s.
Stokes envisioned the Ansonia Hotel in the elaborate style of Ansonia clocks. The hotel was earmarked for 17-stories in limestone with Beaux Arts style turrets and columns, lavish and Parisian in flavor. Stokes himself was as notorious as his hotel. Two mistresses quarreled with him, both shot him in the legs. He solved this relationship problem by marrying a teenage girl.
The architect for the Ansonia was the French architect Paul E. Duboy, hired in 1897; Stokes and Duboy opened the hotel, which cost $3 million, in 1904. At 550,000 sq. ft., it held 1,400 rooms, 300 suites, ballrooms, a Louis XIV dining room, as well as the world’s largest swimming pool.
JF will be amused that his grandfather’s clock, overblown and unfashionable as it is today, was the standard for decorative art of the late 19th century. If JF has a long look at this grandfather’s clock, he can see the Belle Epoch, or Beaux Arts era, in miniature. Swirling lines, sugary colors, rococo (French 18th century) styling that was also the grand high-class architecture of the day. The Ansonia featured a curated art collection, only outdone by the Grand Fountain that featured nine large seals. Stokes own pet was Nanki-Poo, his personal pig. Hotel’s guests had breakfast procured by the hotel’s rooftop 500 live chickens. Stokes’ wife filed for divorce after he moved 47 chickens into their apartment.
Today, the hotel built by clocks is a high-priced luxury condominium complex, after a turbulent history. The 1919 World Series was “fixed” there. Babe Ruth wandered the halls in his bathrobe, running into his neighbors Enrico Caruso, Toscanini, Stravinsky and Rachmaninoff.
In the 1970’s, the hotel was operated as a “bathhouse” and discotheque; the cabaret there saw young Bette Midler (Bathhouse Betty) and her pianist, Barry Manilow, perform. The hotel was falling into disrepair and subsequently disrepute. Signs of its former glory disappeared, including the dome that recalled an Ansonia clock, until the hotel was declared an historic protected property.
JF will never look at his grandfather’s clock in quite the same light since it served for the inspiration behind the art of an era in which the very privileged, at the clock’s namesake hotel, dined in French splendor while the hotel’s maids refreshed towels, linens, soaps, and stationery three times a day. The value of his clock? $200.
D.K. scoured the town because she’s having family to her new condo for the holidays and she has no dining furniture at all. She shot me a picture of a large dining piece found in a local thrift store, asked if it indeed was cheap at the price of $300. She can make her Christmas Eve buffet work with a long folding table draped with a red tablecloth as long as she has something for serving. She wants something to set off her plates of Christmas cookies and somewhere to light her grandmother’s pair of antique silver candelabra.
D.K., what you have sent me is undoubtedly good quality. It will never fall apart and you will have it all your life, even if your tastes change. You’ll have plenty of storage: there’s two cabinets for china, one long drawer for table linens, and two smaller drawers for silver flatware. The top raised cornice is backed by a mirror that has been replaced from its original, which was more than likely from about 1890. The mirror does not have the telltale ripples of the older mirror-glass, yet the smoother more modern mirror will still reflect the light of those antique candelabra.
The piece is solid oak, with barley-twist columns, flanking each side and echoed in supports for the top cornice. Each cabinet to the base is centered by a griffin cartouche, beloved of the Renaissance Revival period of the late 19th century, and laced with relief arabesques.
$300 is about right, but you can get it for less: you’ll pay for it to be moved, as these beasts weight a ton. The mirror will need to be unscrewed from the back to move it safely. Replacing the mirror will cost more than $300! You’ll search for a replacement bronze bail handle for the drawer.
The oak is in the no-veneer tradition of the American Gold Oak Period, which precedes the more expensive, collectible Craftsman Period.
D.K. asks, “what is it?” She’s undoubtedly young and hasn’t seen many sideboards. “Boards” is the old word for a surface where one dined, harkening back to the medieval manor house tradition of moveable furniture in great rooms, when the servants placed boards upon a pair of trestles. Terms like “room and board” and “chairman of the board” derive from this antique word “board,” to lay a table.
Since a dining table was not a fixture, a medieval dining room needed one sturdy fixed piece of furniture to hold the heavy dishes of communal food during the meal, to be cleared to show the collection of serving pieces. In the medieval days, the sideboard was therefore a status symbol. The English called them “court cupboards:” most had a raised high cabinet surmounting a pair of enormous turned legs. The point was to elevate the wealthy host’s collection of silver and rare Delft or Chinese Export porcelain, usually blue and white.
The French had a version of a sideboard, called a dressoir, from which we get our term dresser. The French dresser was indeed dressed with the host’s rare silver pieces and porcelain, ranging upward on shelves growing higher as the years increased the holdings of the house.
By the 18th century, the famous English furniture-maker Thomas Sheraton suggested, in his 1803 book The Cabinet-maker’s and Upholsterer’s Drawing Book, or, The Cabinet Director that English families would benefit from a sideboard, for privacy. Privacy? Yes, the meal could be laid ahead by the servants. Sheraton’s book was presubscribed by 600 cabinet shops in 1800, and the Neoclassical thin-legged, elegant bow-shaped sideboard became ‘de rigueur.’ One of the subscribers was the New York cabinetmaker Duncan Phyfe, who designed a substantial version for New York mansions. Sideboards featured in the aristocratic descriptions in the novels of Henry James, when the elegant family trails down to breakfast laid on the sideboard to start their idle day.
Today, the market doesn’t care for sideboards, we don’t serve in the way, nor do we show off our silver, china and crystal. No longer do we have dining knick-knacks on display showing how well we eat, like those cut crystal bowls. So sideboards are passé.
D.K., my advice is to offer the thrift store $200, and then hire three men and a truck to get it up your stairs. Once it is in your condo, set with those candelabra for the holidays, you'll be glad you invested in the ancient tradition of having a sideboard in your dining room.
At an estate sale about 20 years ago in Santa Barbara SS’s husband found himself drawn to a little waif with big eyes and great body. And he bought her. She is a chalkware midcentury lamp, about 20” tall: the figure is a young Renaissance troubadour in a brocade short coat and gold pantaloons. She is shod in curled toed boots. Her short-cropped hair frames am impish face with fashionably full pale pink pouty lips. She has a come-hither look in her exotic tilted eyes. She stands holding a pole topped by a glass light globe.
This lamp represents a huge fad which came and went in the early 1950’s, because of a unique combination of art and kitsch. And the fad was based in the conservative 1950’s in a desire for the highly exotic, combined with a sex- charged female form, executed in oil on canvas, or oil on velvet. Not what your mom was allowed to look like in the 1950’s, but exotic and showing some flesh. (Exotic, as in the expression ‘exotic’ dancer.)
The fad for foreign sexy ladies meant clothes were painted in only minimally. Thus in the 1950’s a lighting fad was born: the exotic, kitschy, sexy figural lamp. These often were created in male –female pairs: the Balinese couple, the Zulu couple, the Spanish couple, the list includes any exotic pairing possible, and what has lasted till today is usually the sexy female of the pairs, of course. The males of the pairs weren't as sexy as the ladies. The lamps were cast in in a plaster of Paris that was named chalkware and were painted in the fashionable colors of the 1950’s, and the paint jobs included great makeup and lip treatments. The figure was secondary to the lamp’s function, of course.
A hugely popular early 1950’s trend in portrait painting, heads and busts of sexy, exotic women, with their beguiling eyes inspired these lamps. The man who made the style world famous was born in an obscure village in Siberia in 1903, Vladimir Grigoryevich Tetchikoff. His family had fled the Russia Revolution and settled in China, where Vladimir discovered both exotic women and the theater. One of his first jobs was as scenic painter for the Harbin Russian Opera House. The growing community of Russians in China was dubbed the Shanghai Russians. Tretchikoff married a fellow Shanghai Russian and moved as an artist in an ad agency in Singapore, were he became famous for his portraits of gorgeous Malay women.
During WWII, he joined the British Ministry of Information as an artist. Escaping the end of the war in 1942, on board a British vessel bound for South Africa, he was bombed, and barely survived with a handful of other escapees. Rowing from island to island, they finally settled on Jakarta, where he was picked up and jailed by the Japanese, who realized his potential as an artist. He painted the ladies of Jakarta, and was allowed to keep those images.
The Japanese released him in 1946. He then sailed for South Africa, he published a book of his exotic women, which spawned shows in Seattle, Los Angeles, San Francisco, and finally London, where Harrods picked him up. His shows outstripped Picasso openings.
Of course, the style for full figured exotic females flowed down to the decorative arts, and lamps caught on due to the success of Tetchikoff’s “Chinese Girl,” the portrait in 1952 of an Asian beauty with distinctive blue green skin. One of the most iconic images of the mid-20th century, reproduced in millions of framed prints. In 2013 the original “Chinese Girl” painting sold for over $1 million to a South African Billionaire. Like the other iconic artist of kitsch of the mid-20th century, Margaret Keane, famous for her big-eyed waifs, everyone who liked pop kitsch loved Tetchikoff’s sexy exotic females.
Manufacturer of interior decorative arts heeded the call and took up on the success of Tetchikoff’s exotic females, and a genre was born, the “lady” lamp. Lamp designers such as Lyndall Hart, Marlbro, and Plastart rushed to outdo each other in poses and costumes. Historic costumes, ethnic costumes, clothed or half clothed, these lamps were hot. The most desired of all were those figures based on Tetchikoff’s paintings.
As anything kitsch or midcentury modern, today the market has a committed and determined collectors. SS’s husband’s lamp would sell for $600, but if SS had found the little troubadour’s male partner, the pair would have sold for $1500.
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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