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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