Talking antiques: Winter Antiques Show
We asked exhibitors at the Winter Antiques Show to highlight one exceptional object in their booths and describe it as they might to an interested collector. Here are the things they chose, along with some of their comments.
Edward or Edvard Olson, the carver of this Uncle Sam that dates from about 1925, was born in Sweden in 1887. After coming to the United States he worked for twenty-four years as a machinist at the Puget Sound Naval Shipyard in Bremerton, Washington. The carving of Uncle Sam comes with a period photograph showing Olson at work carving a small horse alongside his Uncle Sam.
Several months ago we got a telephone call from a Dutch notary. The notary asked if I remembered a certain lady for whom we had done an evaluation fifteen years ago. As I did remember her, I was asked to make an appointment at the notary's office. Once there he explained that my late father was mentioned in her will. She so appreciated our kindness those many years ago that she had bequeathed us a puzzle jug that my father had greatly admired. I had not remembered the conversation but I walked away grateful to have this splendid example of a form that is as collectible as it is rare. The trick of drinking out of the jug can only be accomplished with skill and frequent practice in order to avoid an embarrassing and hilarious accident. Here's the secret: You must put the front spout to your mouth and plug the other holes with your fingers. By doing this, the liquid is sucked through the hollow handle into the hollow rim at the top and eventually through the front spout. The fun is in watching people try to figure this out.
Prior to the late 1800s, Eastern and Western aesthetics were seldom paired, and even less often in as seamless a manner as in this cabinet of about 1884. Masterfully crafted from rosewood by New York cabinetmaker Charles Tisch, it features classical marquetry panels of wood and brass, Japanesque fretwork, and a Near Eastern-inspired mashrabiya screen door that bridges the classical elements of the upper cabinet with the Far Eastern designs below. This aesthetic tour de force earned first prize at the 1884 World's Fair, and an identical cabinet, a place in the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
Our zinc model of Diana de Gabii, c. 1850, is one of many replicas derived from the original marble figure excavated by Gavin Hamilton in 1792 at the Borghese estate in Gabii, Italy. The figure was purchased by Napoleon Bonaparte in 1807 and by 1820 was on display at the Louvre. The popularity of this masterpiece grew, and by the late nineteenth century several copies in many mediums had been created.
It is rare to find a Diana de Gabii in zinc. We initially thought the figure was American, but we could not find it in any catalogues of nineteenth-century American zinc makers. Additionally, the fact that Diana de Gabii was not listed in Carol Grissom's exhaustive tome Zinc Sculpture in America 1850-1950 substantiated its rarity and suggested a foreign maker. After examining photographs of our statue, Carol Grissom felt that it was German and not American, based on the quality of the casting and the figure's notched, molded plinth. This type of plinth was often used by German makers, especially by M. Geiss of Berlin. While this model of Diana has not been found in any Geiss catalogue, it is still possible to attribute it to the firm based on the workmanship and the characteristics of the plinth design.
With a central oval bird's-eye view of the Berks County Almshouse within an ornate border, surrounded by eight smaller vignettes of the outbuildings and the State Seal of Pennsylvania, this is probably the most exuberant and detailed almshouse painting extant. It is signed and dated "Charles Hofman painter 1878" on the right. A synthesis of depictive detail, clear chromatics, and compositional harmony, this portrait of the Berks County Almshouse is a vision of clarity, order, and rural tranquility. During the Revolutionary War, General Thomas Mifflin purchased a farm near Reading as a potential refuge should the British capture Philadelphia. On this land the County Almshouse was established around 1825 and operated until the mid-twentieth century. The almshouse inspired the works of Hofman and several other painters as well as the writer John Updike, who described the farm in his 1959 novel The Poorhouse Fair.
This small Windsor "two-seat" settee is an enigma wrapped in a riddle. While the form is known in Philadelphia work, there are several key differences in this example. Dating from about 1790 to 1810, it is made entirely of cherry and maple and was never painted, unlike the vast majority of Windsor furniture. Secondly, the supports of the superstructure are lathe-turned balusters rather than the usual spoke-shaven hickory spindles. The backrest has no rake, which would make extended lounging uncomfortable. This unique Windsor settee probably had a special ceremonial purpose.
What could be more romantic than these rare cruets and tray decorated in the Valentine pattern and including the entwined monograms of two people clearly either married or betrothed? Here we have two flaming hearts on the altar of love, two billing doves next to Cupid's quiver and bow, heavy curtains garlanded with flowers that are drawn back in an act of beckoning to the marriage bed. Such symbols would have been as clear and comprehensible to the educated eighteenth-century eye as are the signals in today's advertisements for alluring fragrances. The cruet set would have been a special commission in the private trade between China and the West. The design is believed to have originated with Lord Anson, who made a famous voyage to China between 1740 and 1744. The lieutenant and eventual captain of his flagship, HMS Centurion, was Sir Piercy Brett, then a talented young artist, who is believed to have assembled some of these elements for an armorial service for Lord Anson while in Canton in September 1743. The design was popular and used for some years in the China trade.
Of this Cape Cod (Eastham, Massachusetts) blanket chest, Brock Jobe, professor of American Decorative Arts at the Winterthur Museum, wrote in Harbor and Home, "With its vibrant painted surface, bold bracket feet, and pristine condition, this chest ranks among the very best examples of nineteenth-century New England painted furniture."
Decoys began to be collected avidly in the first decades of the twentieth century, and their greatest appreciation still comes from two distinct groups, sportsmen-naturalists and collectors of American folk art. By contrast to the more formalized decoys that often command six figures, select examples of American waterfowl decoys, like this curlew of circa 1880, can be found at comparatively reasonable prices. Their value is not calculated by the fame of their maker or the rarity of a particular species, but instead by an evaluation of form, surface, and proportion-the same criteria applied to the best examples of American folk sculpture.
Colonial miniaturist Joseph Dunkerley was uniquely positioned to record the American soldiers and sailors stationed in Boston during the American Revolution. A soldier himself, Dunkerley arrived in Boston with the British Army, deserting soon after to join Colonel Thomas Craft's Company of the Massachusetts Artillery. By 1778 Dunkerley was a civilian, serving as Boston's leading miniaturist. He would work in the war-ravaged city for only ten years before moving on to the prosperity of Jamaica. But he left behind a valuable chronicle of the city's colonial residents: Mr. and Mrs. Ebenezer Storer II (Yale University Art Gallery), Mrs. Paul Revere (Museum of Fine Arts, Boston) and this exceedingly rare image of a Continental Navy officer, circa 1776. The portrait, only 1 7/16 inches high, is set in the original gold case.
Among the most spectacular pieces of furniture produced in the United States during the neoclassical period were the painted and paint-grained tables, chairs, sofas, and a variety of other items made by the firm of John and Hugh Finlay in Baltimore. By definition, painted furniture is extremely fragile, and has usually suffered the ravages of over two centuries. What makes this pair of card tables of about 1825 so rare is that they have survived in virtually perfect condition, and thus provide an unparalleled illustration of how Baltimore furniture of this kind originally appeared. The rosewood graining and painted decoration have survived almost in their entirety.
This Victorian blue enameled 18-karat gold bracelet set with pearls was made in England circa 1860. It is an exceptional piece of classic jewelry that exudes a contemporary aura. Its condition is perfect, making it all the more rare. This is a fine example of what Victorian jewelry was about at its best.
This unusual pair of paintings is based on seventeenth-century prints of the Wall Street area called Exchange Place. The paintings, in oil on canvas from S. N. Dodge Artist & Painter's Supply Store in New York City, were done about 1840. They are vibrantly colored and boldly drawn, resembling the work of such artists as Thomas Chambers. Early painted urban scenes are rare, and the transformation of this dynamic financial center from the seventeenth century depicted here to the twenty-first-century version we know adds dramatic impact.
Jack Tworkov was a founding member of the New York school and is considered among the group of influential artists, including Willem de Kooning, Philip Guston, Jackson Pollock, and Franz Kline, whose gestural paintings of the 1950s formed the basis for the abstract expressionist movement in America. Tworkov is known for the fiery expressionism of his works from the late 1950s and early 1960s, and most of his great paintings from that period can only be found in museum collections. Bar Decoration I is a striking example of Tworkov at his best. It had been in the same collection for over forty years before our unveiling at the Winter Antiques Show.
It is hard to imagine that this accomplished and sympathetic portrait could have been painted by an artist, such as Spoilum, who never left China. It was to China that William Read sailed in 1805, a pioneer in the American trade in Turkish opium. His father George Read was one of the signers of the Declaration of Independence, and later Chief Justice of Delaware. William himself, a cultured and famously calm individual ("Mr Read, why will you not be angry?"), died in Philadelphia at the age of seventy-eight. This portrait descended in the family to Dr. George Clymer, his great-great-grandson.
Made in New England by an unknown craftsman, this unusual Queen Anne maple tavern table is a creative and exaggerated interpretation of a ubiquitous eighteenth-century form. While the tavern table is found in both rural and urban versions with styles generally based on English prototypes, few rural examples in the Queen Anne style are known to have survived. Throughout the colonial period craftsmen in remote areas of New England often diluted the standard English design and followed a more personal interpretation of the form. The unique proportions of this table show the hand, and mind, of a master craftsman. The distinctive elements include a wide overhanging top and the splayed turned legs that end in boldly turned pad feet with dramatic, oversized turned under pads. The table survives in the original red-painted surface and scrubbed top, a testament to the reverence and appreciation afforded it during its long life. The combination of exceptional design and outstanding condition mark this table as a prime example of American furniture as folk art.
The densely painted cornucopias in this fraktur are filled with tulips and flowers, richly colored, and full of motion. A Taufschein (birth and baptismal record) for Maria Anna Husch, who was born on May 25, 1820, the fraktur is attributed to William Henry Munch (1799-1885), first son of fraktur artist Karl Munch. It is from NorthumberlandCounty, Pennsylvania.
Created as a Christmas gift to Nathaniel Currier by his staff, this rare and important hand-colored lithograph dates from 1853. Titled The Road-Winter, it depicts Currier and his wife in their favorite sleigh. The print is the first state, in which the sleigh is yellow.
It is sometimes hard to understand how certain things survive. Our "twist-turned" leather chair was made in northern Europe, probably Denmark, in the seventeenth century. Made of walnut, oak, and pine, it retains its original crosshatched leather, original animal fur stuffing, and its original surface. Chairs of this form made their way across Europe to England and then to New England in the third quarter of the seventeenth century. Early antiquarians referred to them as "Cromwellian" chairs. Patched and torn, and out of favor for over three hundred years, this piece somehow escaped the trash heap-and survives to give us a picture of both life in urban Europe in the seventeenth century and the development of a single form across one continent and onto another.
This dynamic weaving from the northern Caucasus, 1850-1875, shows many of the characteristics associated with a group of rugs now known as Zakatala. This group has become increasingly popular with collectors of Caucasian rugs but is still little understood. This piece contains both the typical dark, almost black, weft towards the bottom with a finer gray weft at the top. The design shows a plethora of references to other Caucasian weaving groups. The general layout may be reminiscent of some Perepedil rugs, but the grand scale seems to be a unique interpretation, exceptionally dynamic and almost mirroring the freely drawn styles of kaitag embroideries. Of particular interest is the central white medallion, whose proportions and scale of drawing appear almost magical. As in the case of most Caucasian weavings, color is paramount and this piece does not disappoint. This is expertly applied in both the large-scale ornament and in the flurry of smaller latch-hook tracery set against the dark field.
During the Renaissance a lucky child might, at his or her Christening, receive an apostle spoon: a spoon with a miniature apostle as its finial. Here is a close-up of a particularly early example, made around 1500, in the reign of King Henry VII. It shows Saint Philip holding his emblem: three loaves of bread. Only 1 3/8 inches tall, the fine modeling makes the figure appear to be a full-sized Gothic sculpture.
Mary Elizabeth Hoffman in 1836 worked the most exuberant and folksy sampler known from Donegal, Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, two years before the township was divided into East and West Donegal. There is a three-sided border incorporating circular flowers and the central panel is filled with a verse, large baskets of flowers, huge birds perched on flowering cornucopias, and a cartouche with the inscription "Mary Elizabeth/Hoffman Work'd/This Sampler In/ The 13th Year of/Her Age AD 1836," followed by numerous initials probably representing family members. The daughter of John and Mary Hoffman, Mary pictured herself beside a monument to her father who died six years earlier when she was six, which is inscribed, "Sacred/Too/The Memory of Jo/ hn Hoffman depa/rted This Life Au/ gust 9th AD 1830/Aged 33 What i/ Have Lost Hea/ven Has Instore."