Monday, September 5, 2011

Selling Sterling Silver

A prominent Sterling collector Association has said that so much Antique Sterling is being sold for silver value that current common sterling pieces will become rare.

So if you have a quality piece, whether antique (over 100 years) or just a bit old, you might consider holding on to it instead of cashing in right now.   Rarity is one of the things that always drives prices up in antiques and collectibles.  With the current low interest rates your Sterling might end up being a great long term investment, even if the price of silver goes back down. 

For those with knowledge and investment money there is opportunity. You might consider forming a relationship with a metal buyer to let you look at any silver antiques that come in before they send it for melt.  You might get a rare piece of signed American silver or very collectible piece, such as Tiffany, for metal value.

A metal seller should be happy to sell for actual metal value as they have to send it off and pay for it to be melted. They then do not get their money for period of time.  So most would be happy to sell for what they would get from the foundry for an immediate payment.

Saturday, February 19, 2011


At the latest Appraisal Clinic for the Crocker Art Museum I saw many interesting pieces.

The highlights included:

A yellow ware figural spill and match holder circa 1860 -1870.

Limoge hand painted fish platter and 12 plates.

“Pickard” decorated tea set.

Art plate set by Jean Cocteau. (Similar style to Picasso plates)

San Ildefonso Pueblo black pottery bowl signed Maria and Santana.

Lithographs by John Steuart Curry, and T. V. Richardson,

Paintings by California artists - Henry L. Richter, Dana Bartlett, George Bickerstaff, and Wayne Thiebaud (pronounced Tee-bow).

The Wayne Thiebaud piece was particularly interesting as the Crocker Art Museum had just the night before given a lecture on this famous Sacramento Artist. In the lecture they described how in the beginning of his career he set up a few easels and sold paintings at the State Fair. Then the next day a lady brings in a wonderful Silk Screen painting of his, that at the age of thirteen she bought at the State Fair in the mid to late 1950‘s. Which was obviously worth considerably more than the few dollars she originally paid.

How to tell prints from paintings
As so often is the case I had several people bring in pieces they thought were original art pieces, either lithographs or paintings, that were in reality prints. It can be hard to tell the difference when you do not know what to look for, so I thought I would try to give some examples to help.



The picture at the left is an early doutone print used from 1880's to the mid 20th century. Two photographs were taken thru a screen with the screen slightly moved for the second photo. These were then printed in two different colors, one on top of the other. If you look close you can see the slight square shape the screen leaves to the dots of color. This technique was expanded and is the basis for most 3 and 4 color modern  prints.

The picture to the right uses several mechanical print methods. On the face and hands variable sized dots of color are used to shad the face, hands, and hat. The background shows a common modern mechanical print with a typical “flower” or dot in circle pattern. Many modern prints have this pattern, some with the colors of the circles being different or shaded but showing the same general pattern.

These are some of the most common color print methods that with a decent magnifying glass are easy to detect. And hopefully this can help you avoid buying a print you think is a watercolor or other original art piece. Now there is nothing wrong with prints. In fact many modern artists are selling limited edition prints as the major part of their art sales. However, if you buy these be sure they are a signed limited edition with a number designating how many were produced. Usually shown as 1/100 with the first number being the number of this print and the second being the total number made. The lower total made, the higher the value and the last print made is usually worth more than the first. (The opposite of engravings where earlier pieces bring the premium price.)

Chromolithographs are another confusing color print technique but are easy to explain. Dots of solid color are laid down one on top of the other. With the shading being the overlapping of various amounts of colors. This technique can make very bright vibrant colors that from a distance look like a painting. Early Maxfield Parrish prints are an example of the quality of this technique. Some of the early Chromolithographs used fairly large dots and thus are easy to see up close, even with the naked eye.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Pocket Watches

At a recent appraisal clinic for the Crocker Art Museum I appraised several Pocket Watches and thought that there are some basic facts that might be helpful.

Determining the age of an American antique pocket watch is the first step. Check the manufacturer's serial number, a good reference guide will tell you an approximate date that serial number was used. (The Internet also has this information.)

The serial number on an American watch is on the movement inside the watch. To get to the movement you have to remove the back, it is either a hinged pressed fit or a screwed on cover. The press fit and hinged covers have a small slit opening or tab you can get a finger nail under to pop it open. Some are very tight and a small knife blade can be used but be careful not to scratch the cover. Some watches have double backs with the inner one as an additional dust protector. Sometimes this area is used for a sentiment inscription or gift date. (Not necessarily the same as the manufacture date.) Screw on covers can be tight also, try putting the watch back in the palm of the hand and using that to give a good grip on the whole back while turning the watch.

Older English watches have hallmarks that can be researched to find the manufacturing date. Antique watches made in Europe are more difficult to date. Sometimes they have serial numbers, but often don't. Patent numbers can be used for dating if they are given.

Be aware that the name on a watch's face is not necessarily the name of the manufacturer. Watch manufacturers often printed a retail company name on the dial in return for ordering a large number of them. Mail order and distribution companies did the same thing to have a company “brand” name watch.

Once the back is open the movement usually is marked with the serial number the manufacturer name and sometimes also the model name or number, the number of jewels, and the adjustments.

Determining Value
Manufacturer - who the manufacturer is becomes important to collectors as some made better watches than others are more prestigious, or are just more popular and so some names add value.

Model name or number - some models denote better quality than the average, or are more rare than others and so raise value. Earlier and lower end watches tend to have fewer things marked on them and sometimes you need to compare the movement to pictured movements in a reference to identify it.

Jewels - are actual small rubies and sapphires that are used as bearings. Since they are harder than metal they wear longer and make for a more durable and higher quality watch. There are 17 important wear points so any watch with fewer than 17 jewels is of poorer quality and thus worth less. Some watches have more than 17 jewels these denote higher quality and thus add value.

Adjustments - refers to the positions the watch will be in and still keep accurate time. They are stem up, stem left, stem right, face down, back down, and some times stem down. Later watches might also be adjusted for extreme temperature and spring tension differences. Markings are - adjusted 5 positions, meaning the first five or - adjusted 6 positions when stem down is added. Temperature and wind adjusted are sometimes also on later watches.

Case - the inside of the back case will be marked telling whether the case is made of rolled gold (a form of plating) or solid gold (14kt -18Kt). If it says “warranted xx years” it is rolled gold. It might have a karate mark and say rolled gold which again means it is not solid gold. Most watches are rolled gold which does not decrease the value unless it is worn to the point brass is showing through somewhere. Naturally a solid gold case adds extra value to any watch. Fancy engraving and designs on cases add value as the standard case is fairly plain whether rolled or solid gold.

Railroad watches are a special area of watch collecting - Railroad refers to a standard that railroad companies required to insure accuracy in telling time to help avoid train accidents. These changed over time and by the various railroads. However, a general standard might be - open face, stem at 12 o-clock, Arabic numerals, minimum 17 jewels, adjusted to minimum 5 positions, separate seconds dial, 16-18 size only, maximum variation of 30 seconds per weekly check.

Dial - most dials are a standard white enamel with black numerals and plain arrow hands. Fancy dials and hands add value and can get quit elaborate including painted, enameled, gold or jewel encrusted.

All of these different areas add together and determine value. I hope that gives some help for evaluating that pocket watch just sitting in a drawer that so many people have.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Current Antique Market - End of 2010

With the current economic situation antiques have taken a definite hit in terms of price. This is understandable with fewer people having money available for unnecessary things. And the fact that demand is the major driving factor for the price of antiques. I hate to admit it, antiques are not a necessity, even though I feel they are at times.

The more common items have been especially effected because of high availability and low demand. Those who want to buy can demand and get very low prices as dealers just want to get out from under buying mistakes. Even some less common items are selling for bargain prices as some dealers get desperate for a sale and let items go cheaply to get cash flow to pay a bill.

In the art market items under $10,000 have been slow also, with some auction houses either lowering starting bids or being willing to put unsold items up for sale in a later auction if there are no opening bids.

High end items have been doing well and record prices are still being made. Modern Art is doing especially well right now. A life-size bronze sculpture entitled "L'homme qui marche I" ("Walking Man I") by Swiss artist Alberto Giacometti (circa 1960) has been sold by the Sotheby's auction house in London for 65 million pounds ($104.3 million). This is the highest price ever paid for a work of art at any auction. A September 2010 sale (New Orleans) sold 60 of 64 John James Audubon “Havell Edition” prints from The Birds of America; and achieved 18 world record auction prices; and came in second place in terms of record sales for 28 more of the bird prints. In February 2010 Masudaya's multiaction “Target Robot” brought 3 times the last record price for an example of its type when it sold for $52,900. It was mint with the original box and all shooting accessories. (Tin shooting pistol plus the two rubber-tipped darts in unopened plastic.)

So what does this overall picture mean to the average collector ? Well first there is hope. The high end items show there is still value in antiques and collectibles. But like other things right now they are in a down turn but will recover. So this makes NOW a great time to buy antiques. We all would like to go back in time to the stock market crash and buy some stock at the record low prices in the early 1930's. That is your opportunity right now. I recommend that collectors today use their leverage (willingness to buy now) to gain some investment quality antiques at rock bottom prices. Do not buy low and middle price items unless you get a fantastic deal. Instead buy one high end piece where you would have bought 3-4 low end ones. This has always been the best buying strategy but with the lower prices it has multiplied.

What to buy is always a question people ask me and I recommend buy what you know. Whatever you love and collect buy the very best and finest you can. Be willing to research some new areas though somebody desperate for cash often does not take the time to research and that can make the difference in a good buy and a great buy. I did a recent appraisal where a customer bought several pieces of art because he liked them and then hired me to appraise. The person selling thought they were lithographs and sold the art at a wholesale price based on that value. They turned out to be original water colors and for around $1000 the client had bought art worth $100,000 - $ 150,000. He did not buy all the art available so there may be more of those sitting on somebodies wall right now.

Be prepared to get less for your items right now. If you bought an item at the height of the old market it might be shocking what it will bring in the current market. However, like many dealers you might be better off to sell and take your lumps rather than paying three or four times what it is worth to store it.

There is hope in selling as well. Right now the Asian and European markets are booming! If you have good quality Chinese, Russian, and Early European items, now is a great time to sell. Especially because the Russian and Chinese economies have grown so large compared to what they were, even a few years ago, the wealthy are buying back their countries antiques. They do not want any of the tourist stuff or items exported for our use. They want real antiques made for use in and by people in their countries. But the market is harder to reach as those with deep pockets are not buying on ebay but through the big auction houses. (In the first half of 2010 Sotheby's and Christie's reported an increase in annual revenue by 67% and 140% respectively compared to the first half of 2009.) Look especially for Russian enamel wares and early Chinese jade but be aware there are a lot of reproductions and out and out fakes on the market too.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Art Clinic

I regularly appraise art at public clinic events for the Crocker Art Museum in Sacramento. Having just completed one of these I wanted to share some thoughts on buying and collecting art for the average person who does not have an in-depth knowledge of art or art history.
Naturally some of the art we see are pieces that have been in a family for years and the owners are looking as much for information on how old, who the artist was, and biographical information as value. But often people bring in items they have bought thinking or hoping that it is worth more than they paid. These are often pieces bought at a flea market, a garage sale, an estate sale, or even found at a thrift store. It is this “investment” buyer group I want to speak to primarily in this article.

Several people in this last appraisal event brought in paintings that were clearly made to be decorative paintings to hang behind a couch. These were signed, oil on canvas, nicely framed, landscapes that looked very nice. However their value is in the decorative market rather than the fine art or even collectible market. That means they are not worth very much. (Quick hint - avoid obviously newer paintings that are sized to fit behind a couch. They are most likely decorative not collectible.)

To determine age look at the canvas and stretchers in the back, if the canvas is white, the wood has no darkening from oxidization, and the canvas is attached to the stretcher with staples you are looking at a painting that is less than 30 years old. Look up the artists name at a library or on the internet. If the artist cannot be found I recommend you skip that one. There are a few times doing this will miss a valuable painting but it is about the same odds as winning the lottery and thus a poor buying strategy unless you have special knowledge.

I really recommend those who might be buying art go to museums or art galleries to develop a sense of what valuable art looks like. It is surprising how that can help develop an “eye” for what is collectible, thus worth money, and what is not. You do not have to become an expert, but the more knowledge you have the better a buyer you will be.

One couple really impressed me with the quality of their buying. They had focused on engravings, particularly copper plate engravings. They had some knowledge about this type of art but were far from experts, so they brought them in to affirm the items they bought were as good as they thought they might be. They brought in 5 pieces which included 2 - 19th century engravings and 3 - 16th century engravings one of which was a small but original “Rembrandt”. All were bought at local sales for very low prices. The lowest valued item was in the $400 range and the “Rembrandt” has the potential to be worth up to $10,000 depending on what state it is determined to be in. (Artists had a tendency to make changes, so an engraving “first state” means first design, second, third etc. state means alterations were made. The date when it was printed off of the copper plate also affects value. Those printed in the life time of the artist are the most valuable. However, they can be printed several hundred years later off the original plate and are still considered original works of art. One indication of this is the copper plate shows signs of wear over the years and so the print is less well defined and thus the engraving is worth less.) I believe this one was a fairly early state but I recommended an expert in 16th century engravings at an auction house look at it to determine the exact state, as I see so few of this type of item.

This couple had a good “eye” plus some knowledge and turned a bit of time at sales into a very nice investment. This shows that collectible art is still possible to buy today at bargain prices. So visit those museums, read up on some type of art you like and go out shopping. I guarantee there are still valuable pieces out there to be found.

Monday, November 30, 2009

Spill Holder

I showed an 1840’s flint glass spoon holder to a customer the other day and she asked what I meant by a “spill holder“. After I explained and sold her the piece I decided that others did not know what spills were and so decided to add this to the information on my blog.

In basic terms, a spill holder or “Spill” is a vase or other vessel used before the widespread availability of friction matches to hold items which transferred a flame. Spills predate lamps and "spill" is a derivative of the word "spile" which means a small piece of wood.

We take matches for granted today, but that was not the case in 1850. Matches were first made in England about 1820 by hand dipping individual sticks in phosphorus and sulpher. However, they were hard to find in the U.S. and expensive for common usage. There were match manufacturers in Massachusetts and Philadelphia prior to 1860 but there is no evidence of their wide spread use. To light a stove, candle or pipe most people used splints, spills or tapers to transfer the flame from the fireplace, even if they could get matches.A spill is a twist of paper, sliver of wood, or spiral of wood shaving. A splint, or sliver of wood, was cheap and always on hand, cut from a larger piece using a knife or a spill-plane, although spill planes were not marketed as such until late in the 19th century. An early 19th century writing suggests the paper burned too quickly and ash flew about the house making a most disagreeable mess, but because they could be done with bright colors were more decorative.A taper is a very thin candle-like item with a tiny wick center. The earliest literary references to splints, spills and tapers date back to the 15th century, as do the vases that held them. The glass "spill holder" period is mostly limited to the 1840s and 50s. An abundance of early writings and paintings clearly depict a holder on the mantle with spills sticking out. Some suggest there is no article called a spill holder because no known advertisement, publication, or bill head lists them as such. Even the early inventories from the 17th to the 19th century list the items on or near a mantle (where a spill holder should be found) simply as mantle vases, mantle glasses (other than mirrors), or mantle-piece furniture. So the specific name may be a modern usage. However, It was important at that time to own a holder for spills, if not necessarily one made of glass. From 1700-1870 spill holders were made of wood, iron, earthenware, glass, and even fancy folded wall paper.

It is known that spills/spooners of the flint glass era were made in many of the same patterns that whale oil and kerosene lamps were made in. No less than thirty patterns are known to be represented in spill holder/lamp combinations.A change in mid-Victorian tastes plus the emergence of large EAPG table sets, and the dropping price of the friction match led to the demise of the pattern glass spill holder as such. The 1860s saw the genesis of the table set (usually covered butter, creamer, sugar & spooner). This ultimately lead to a redesignation and change of use of the spill holder to a spoon holder.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Political Collectibles

With the election coming up, it makes me think about all the political collectibles available. Political buttons have been the primary focus of collectors for a long time but recently collecting has expanded into other items as well.

Political buttons originated with George Washington. At his inauguration, Washington & his supporters wore a brass clothing button reading "G.W.-Long Live the President". With the invention of ferrotypes & tintypes, pictures were soon used. These were usually surrounded by a metal frame with a hole punched in it so a ribbon could be attached, & were usually worn on lapels. The 1st celluloid buttons, appeared in 1896 with the campaigns of William McKinley & William Jennings Bryan. These were made by placing a thin celluloid protective covering over a paper design & then wrapping it around a metal disk or pin-back button. Many colorful designs were created in the golden age, usually thought to be from 1896-1916. Button prices are driven by demand so winning candidates and more prominent Presidents generally sell for more. So many different buttons were produced you can find a common McKinley button for as cheap as $10 and a rare jugate (picture of both President and Vice President) as expensive as $400+. E-Bay sold a celluloid political pin-back button of the 1908 Taft-Sherman team for $9,200 not too long ago, and the Teddy Roosevelt and C.W. Fairbanks 1904 pin is worth about $11,000.

In the past other types of political collectibles were ignored and not as desirable. In 1982 I bought a silk Jugate handkerchief of Benjamin Harrison and Morton (1888) for $25 and two of their paper lanterns for $100. The handkerchief is now worth $450 - $550, and the lanterns are worth $1500-$2000 each. As you can see from the prices that has changed, but some items like china and glassware are still considered just interesting items by most current collectors and are thus reasonably priced. From this experience I have learned if you start collecting things before others become interested in them it can pay off investment wise, with a little luck.

Like everything there are some reproductions around. In the 1960-70s the American Oil Co. and Kleenex both made historical pin-backs as giveaways when you bought their products. These reproductions/fakes are usually easy to spot since they are often blurred, and lithographed on metal without a celluloid cover. Also a close examination of the side reveals an inscription like AO-1972 or Repro-1966 revealing date of manufacturing. Many of the originals had paper labels on the inside especially those made by Whitehead & Hoag one of the oldest and largest makers of the original pin-backs.

Since there are so many to choose from, I would recommend concentrating on a particular candidate or time period that you like and build a cohesive collection rather than a pin here and a pin there. If you are on a budget you could concentrate on interesting losers. I think a collection of 3rd party buttons would be very interesting and reasonably cheap to build.

I've seen some very unusual pieces, and political items can show up where you least expect them. I was asked to appraise a “crazy” quilt (random shapes and patterns), where the maker had obviously used old clothing scraps of satins and silks. I recognized old patterns used on ties, scarves, a couple of silk cigar advertising ribbons and there sewn in among everything else was an 1864 silk ribbon for Abraham Lincolns election. I was shocked, that ribbon alone doubled the value of the quilt. You just never know what someone has hidden away in a box or attic. So keep looking, maybe you’ll find one of those brass George Washington buttons in an old jar of clothing buttons.

If you are interested in more recent candidates, there are lots of new options for collecting, now not only buttons but bobble-heads, frisbees and dog toys to name just a few. If the political arena interests you, these collectibles can make very interesting collections. Those of you already collectors in the political realm, I'd be interested to know what pieces you've found and any history that goes with the piece.