A recent 10-minute segment on The Story offered a look into a box of salt and pepper shakers removed from a Florida safety deposit box and sold at auction. “The Tale of Lot 180” is more about people than collectibles. You can listen to it here.
Monopoly it isn’t.
When Garth’s sold a 19th-century, strap-iron jail cell on September 1 as part of the company’s annual Labor Day Weekend Auction, someone went directly to jail. The winning bidder did not pass GO and did not collect $200. Instead, the person paid $3,055 to own the one-room cell that came from Union County, Ohio.
As for accommodations, this was certainly no five-star hotel. At 86 inches high, 62 inches wide and 86 inches deep, there was little room for much more than a cot and a bit of walking space.
It’s odd enough to find one vintage jell cell. Stranger yet is that two were available in little more than a week.
On September 9 in northeast Nebraska, MCHJ Auctioneers and Aumann Auctions sold a two-room, strap-iron jail cell from Pierce County, Nebraska. No dimensions were provided, but the item was said to weigh 12 tons. The double cell, rusted from years of exposure to the elements, realized $2,600.
Dogs’ lives are too short. Their only fault, really. — Agnes Sligh Turnbull
There was no urgent need to get the mail. But, there was the need to put some semblance of normalcy into the day, while I still could. So I walked down the gravel lane, crossed the Pike, pulled a newspaper and several letters out of the box, and headed back to the house. From the top of the driveway, I looked across the yard and could have cried.
This is the only thing I wrote:
Getting the mail one last time, needing to see her there, as if life is still normal. Looking up from the road, and there she is, at the edge of the shed, framed by the front gate. And she looks natural, in her usual spot, seemingly at peace, even in health so ragged her life hangs by the thread I am about to cut.
Three days later it’s the only thing I’ve written about her, except for an antiseptic mention of the facts in my journal that night.
So I turn to the antiques industry, searching auction houses for an image — something that speaks of a dog’s love. I stop looking when I come across the empty dog collar shown above. It’s not what I originally intended to use, but it serves as the perfect symbol of my grief.
We kept the collar. We buried the dog.
Here’s to the most loving dog I’ve ever known. May she rest in peace.
How often does a piece of Classical furniture make you take a second look?
This daybed was offered by New Orleans Auction Galleries on December 11, 2011. In rosewood, the piece had baluster-shaped corner posts that joined at each end, creating a flattened arch. Measuring 29 inches high by 34 inches wide by 80 inches deep, the daybed sold just under estimate at $799. It might not have been the most comfortable thing in the world, but it sure had a different look.
Also in the sale was an intriguing pool cue stand fashioned from salvaged parts, likely around the turn of the 20th century.
In quarter-sawn oak, the stand featured four fluted columns with carved Corinthian capitals, all supporting a marble top and a rotating brass cue holder. At 87 inches high, the classical-looking stand sold well above estimate at $1,968. The auction catalog noted, “We believe this pool cue rack to be masterfully composed of old elements.”
Researching a former state-run facility in my county led me to the most unexpected eBay lot today. The actual item for sale was an elliptical trainer. The seller called it an “epileptic trainer.” Not surprisingly, there were no bids.
This is why I don’t work out in the gym.
Some of you are probably wondering about the previous post, wanting to know the why and the what for.
The why is easy. Because I needed to vent, and Americana Journal allowed me to do just that. The post was a primeval scream of frustration without piercing anyone’s eardrums. It permitted me to ask, “Just what the heck were you thinking?” without stepping on anyone’s toes. It enabled me to sigh heavily and roll my eyes without an audience to witness the exasperation.
Two photos and 20 words. That’s all it took. And I felt soooooo much better.
But, I still have some complaining to do. The why was the easy part. The what for is a bit more complicated. At its most basic level I’d have to say the post was written to highlight the importance of accuracy.
Spend any time at all in the trenches of the antiques industry, and you’ll hear the fretful conversations — questions about how to resurrect the trade, how to increase interest, how to attract new followers and revitalize current participants. Oh, the hand-wringing is intense at times, the angst palpable.
My advice: stop worrying about the big picture. Instead, spend your time and energy perfecting the close-up shots. We once read that the CEO of a major airline was quoted as saying, “If there are coffee stains on the lap trays, our passengers assume we don’t do our engine maintenance.” How true. For years those words of wisdom have been the unofficial motto of the Johnson household, and with good reason. Everything — life, love, happiness, success — when pared down to its essence, is all about the details.
So what does any of that have to do with antiques and Americana? It’s simple. If, for example, one finds it necessary to identify an article of furniture — via price tag, photo caption, or Internet listing — it behooves one to do so correctly. Make a mistake in general classification, and everything else is thrown into question. Suddenly wood type, age, provenance, and value are swirling in a sea of suspicion.
And, it’s not just the hapless dealer who’s affected. Mall owners, show promoters, antiques aficionados — we’re all given a collective black eye. Worse yet, we put up with it. We see the mistakes — surely we see them — but we just shrug and walk away.
Really?! That’s all the better we police ourselves? If the industry wants respect, the industry has to earn it. And if we can’t pass the basic Antiques 101 pie-safe-not-a-pie-safe quiz, then we still have a helluva lot of earning (and learning) left to do.
If your doctor insists your spleen is a lung, you’ll be getting a second opinion… as well as a new medical practitioner. Crikey! Bad things could happen! You’d get off your duff and do something. But call a step-back cupboard a pie safe, and no one seems to care.
Oh, but wait, you say. A pie safe is not that big of a deal, and it’s definitely not a matter of life and death. True enough. But, if Wheelin’ & Dealin’ Bob assures me the green ’07 Toyota Highlander sitting on the lot is a subcompact, you can darn well bet I’m off to make an automotive purchase elsewhere. My point is this: we have standards and expectations in place for even the lowest of the low — the used-car salesman — but we don’t bother when it comes to antiques. Shame on us.
I’ll be blunt. If you don’t know the difference between a pie safe and a cupboard, you’ve got no business working in the antiques trade.
Pay close attention, folks. There’s going to be a quiz.
Ready? Here we go. Which one is the pie safe?
Daughter No. 2 sat on the bench and stared straight ahead, trying not to let her emotions show. I wasn’t so stoical.
We were in the lower level of the Home and Family Arts Building at the Indiana State Fair, surrounded by contemporary artwork from across the state. In front of us was a grand piano. What should have been a relatively quiet room, however, was a cacophony of over-amplified singing by a trio one floor up.
My daughter was scheduled to play piano for 30 minutes — one of the honors awarded finalists in the Young Hoosier State Piano Competition. However, the music from above was overpowering. A volunteer at the building’s information desk told me the trio wasn’t even on the day’s docket. He added that the show was supposed to be over about 2:30 p.m., the time my daughter was slated to play.
When that time came and went, I walked up the steps and caught two of the singers taking a break behind the stage while the third crooned on. I asked when the group would be done, explaining that my daughter was slated to play piano downstairs, and that the ongoing show was amplified to the point that no one would be able to hear my 13-year-old’s performance.
The male singer shrugged his shoulders, a sure sign he didn’t give a damn, and told me they were going to perform for another 20 minutes. And, he added, if I had any complaints, I should talk to the building director, not him. In a word, he was an ass.
The building director offered little help, claiming that the person in charge of the piano competition was told this was not a good time to have any of the contestants play their 30-minute stints. Maybe that was the case. I don’t know. It seemed like everyone wanted to point a finger at someone else, and nobody really cared about the kid downstairs who had earned the right to play for the crowd without the audio molestation of grownups with a sound system on steroids.
In the end, Daughter No. 2 played. The first part of her set was effectively drowned out by the trio. The remainder was overpowered by an emcee during a talent contest that immediately followed the singing. Unfortunately, the piano music seemed like a hindrance to everything else taking place at the time. That wasn’t the case with piano performances the previous weekend, when a mix of classical and popular music could be heard throughout the entire building.
I lost a bit of faith in the Indiana State Fair today because of the incident. The same thing happened last week, after I viewed the antiques entered in the fair’s Open Division. Less-than-stellar judging included a piece of milk glass that won fourth place in the division for China: Decorated Plate.
China. Porcelain. Milk glass. Graniteware. It’s all the same stuff, right? When the so-called experts can’t tell them apart, there’s a problem.
What would greatly improve the display of antiques in the Open Division contest is a bit of information that helps non-collectors understand what they’re looking at and why those items are special. A poster or even comments by the judges would be a welcome addition. For the antiques shown this year, there wasn’t the first iota of information about any of the items or the categories they fit into.
Maybe no one cares. Not about education. Not about getting judges who can tell the difference between china and glassware. Not even about the young pianist who came to play in a quiet room with art-lined walls and found a bunch of adults who, through their own music, shouted down her talents.
I expect better at the Indiana State Fair. A lot better.
It’s okay to start small.
Garth Clark, an internationally respected expert in modern and contemporary ceramics, has first-hand experience when it comes to seeing a collector make the leap from farm league to major league.
When I interviewed Clark for an article on the Modern and Contemporary Ceramics Auction held by Cowans + Clark + DelVecchio on June 4, he spoke about a collector who was a longstanding client. When that person started buying from Clark + DelVecchio, he concentrated on ceramics priced in the hundreds of dollars. One day his habits changed, and the price point raised to more than $100,000. This person had the funds to buy six-figure ceramics, but he probably wasn’t comfortable with the market at first. What he needed was time.
“It tells you how it works,” Clark said. “People get their feet wet and buy a few things, and then they get ambitious. Mark [Del Vecchio] and I always had a huge affection for those people in New York who didn’t have a lot of money but would come in and say, ‘I love a piece. I’ve got to have it. Will you take payments?’ Them spending $200 a month paying off a piece, given their income, was like a millionaire spending $200,000.”
There are two important points here.
First, it’s okay to start small — to spend $300 for a piece of David Leach pottery, a Civil War CDV or a blue-and-white coverlet. Wise dealers don’t look down on such transactions, especially when the client wants to learn, increasing the chances for additional sales in the future.
Second, it’s not just about the money. It’s about passion. Some of the most fervent collectors aren’t affluent, but they are faithful. They spend what they can afford, building a great collection with the finances they have.
FYI: For information on Clark + DelVecchio, see their Web site here. For information on the June auction conducted by Cowans + Clark + DelVecchio, click on the Past Auctions tab at the top of the page on Cowan’s Web site here.