The Lovely & Disturbing: The History Of Wax Dolls

In The Beginning…

Dolls, the playthings we know today, began their lives as something quite different. Called poppets or puppets originally, they were created as educational tools and for use in religious ceremonies.

wax-roman-masksAs icons, creche figures, totems, effigies, votive artifacts, offerings, masks, and other stand-ins for human figures, they were ritualistically used. Those poppets lucky enough to have survived the ceremonies were often given to children as playthings. Certainly children delighted to have them — for just as use of poppets in religious ceremonies began to wane, dolls started to become the playthings we know today.

These early poppets were like their earlier votive artifact incarnations in two ways.

1910 French P. Imans Full-Size Wax Mannequin Bust DollOne: The form they took. Like the ceremonial poppets, these early dolls were in adult rather than child form. Kid leather bodies were preferred over cloth ones because the leather was much better at forcing the stuffed poppet bodies into the shapely figure of a corseted woman. Something the fashion industry quickly latched onto, using poppets to sell the fashions of the day (until print advertising became a more economical option, anyway). This is at least partly why dolls made prior to the 1850s are not baby dolls.

Two: What they were made from. Wax had widely used in modeling to make the religious effigies and votive artifacts, dating back to 14th century. As dolls grew in popularity, it was only a matter of time before those skilled wax model makers began to see how production of dolls would expand their markets — and income.

Once people could see the beauty of these wax dolls up close, they became quite popular. By the end of the 18th century, wax dolls (wax heads attached to cloth doll bodies by sew-holes on the shoulder plate) were being produced in England, France, and Germany.

Waxing Nostalgic Over Wax Dolls

Wax may not seem to be a great material for making dolls, especially for children. But it makes sense when you compare wax to the other materials available at the time.

Prior to the manufacture of wax dolls, the dolls children had were either ceremonial cast-offs or handmade dolls of wood or cloth. Sometimes the kids themselves made crude little dolls from sticks and the odds and ends adults had cast off as garbage. Remember, there was no plastic or even composition at this time. And wax doll heads didn’t shatter when dropped, like china, bisque, or porcelain dolls.

But the true beauty of wax dolls lies in, well, the wax itself!

For many of us today, all we see are the old, aged, discolored, and cracked wax dolls. But when wax dolls are new, they are incredibly lifelike. Wax can be tinted with beautiful, realistic skin tones. The facial features, like cheeks and mouths, can be enhanced with paint. And when dusted with a fine pumice to remove the shine, the whole surface looks like translucent human skin. Those dolls must have seemed like magic!

Three Basic Types Of Wax Dolls

Antique wax dolls are categorized by the way they were made.

poured-montanari-wax-doll1) Poured Wax Dolls Poured wax dolls, sometimes called “thick wax” or “solid wax” dolls are made by pouring a molten wax blend of bleached beeswax, coloring, other additives into a heated plaster mold, resulting in a entirely wax head.

The eyes were cut open and blown or moulded glass eyes were inserted; a small amount of hot wax was used to fix the eyes in place. The hair is either mohair or human hair, quite often inserted a few strands at a time.

Usually poured wax dolls also have poured wax arms and legs, which were also sewn onto the body.

The majority of these poured wax dolls were made in England. These were the first wax dolls; and the most expensive.

wax over composition doll violet2) Wax Over Dolls These less-expensive, later, dolls were made by dipping heads made of papier mache (and even later, composition) into melted wax. This overlay of wax allowed for tinting and a more lifelike appearance than a standard papier mache head. Manufacturers experimented with single and multiple layers of wax, although the final thickness was normally no more than 3 millimeters thick.

The majority of these wax over dolls were made in Germany and France, however, the English made some wax over dolls as well. One English version is the egg-shaped or slit-head wax dolls. These wax dolls are so named for the middle incision where the doll’s hair was inserted. (This hair, usually human, was then parted and drawn to each side.) These early wax dolls usually had dark eyes, without pupils.

While these wax over dolls were much less expensive than their poured wax counterparts, wax over dolls came in many different styles.

Many of the wax over dolls have mohair wigs, but some dolls had molded bonnets and hairstyles, such as the “Pumpkin-Head” or “Squash-Head” dolls with molded hair arranged in a pompadour style and the Alice hairstyle with headband.

Wax over dolls also had variations in their glass eyes: Either fixed or sleep eyes. Yes, as early as 1825, there were sleep eyed dolls! Often called wire-eyed wax dolls, the eyes were worked by a wire (or string) which came out at the side of the doll’s waist. French versions of these dolls usually have paperweight eyes, while the German dolls have spun glass eyes which are flatter in appearance.

There were also multi-faced wax over dolls. A single head was molded with two or three faces; you turned the head around to change the doll’s face.

Body types can vary widely, including almost any number of combinations of cloth, wooden, leather, composition, or wax over limbs attached to cloth stuffed bodies. Some dolls had the Motschmann floating-joint body.

Some of these early wax over dolls even had the ability to cry by pulling a string!

reinforced-wax-doll3) Reinforced Wax Dolls Reinforced dolls are later dolls which are rather a combination of the other two types of wax dolls. First, a wax doll head was poured — and then the inside was reinforced by using either plaster or strips of cloth soaked in composition. This provided a stronger support layer to the wax.

While most of the reinforced wax dolls have closed mouths, like the other wax dolls, there are examples of reinforced wax dolls having open mouths. This is likely one of the benefits of the supportive reinforcement material. A few of these open-mouthed reinforced wax dolls even had wooden teeth.

Most reinforced wax dolls have wigs made of mohair or human hair, but some of them have inserted hair. Like the other wax dolls, they too have glass eyes.

Reinforced wax dolls had a variety of body types; the most common being a cotton or muslin body, with either composition or wax arms and legs. These dolls were primarily made in Germany.

The Wax Doll Sensation

Most wax dolls are without maker marks. (There were some later wax dolls do have stamps on the torso to identify the maker; but this is rare.) However, we do know of one of the most famous names in wax dolls: Madame Montanari.

montanari-wax-dollMadame Augusta Montanari may be the best known wax doll-maker of all time, but not much is known about her or her wax sculpture studio. We do know that she and her poured wax works first attracted attention at London’s Crystal Palace Exposition in 1851. There she and her winning exhibit of dolls created a sensation that led to imitation, the sincerest form of flattery.

Montanari’s dolls were beautiful. Each strand of human hair on the doll’s head was set directly into the wax with a hot needle and then an iron roller was used to gently but firmly roll over the head. This secured the strands of hair so well that the doll’s hair could be combed without causing any damage or loss.

Her exhibit included male and female dolls — and what is said to be the first baby doll! Many also credit Montanari with creating the first character dolls as each doll was dressed for age and occasion, like an actual person. Eventually, Montanari would create wax dolls for royalty and other wealthy persons, including wax dolls representing some of Queen Victoria’s children. These are called the Royal Wax Baby Dolls.

Very few dolls survive with proof of being made by Montanari, Occasionally, one is found with what is believe to be the Montanari signature on the cloth body. But good indications of an authentic Montanari wax doll are the well-defined fingers, chubby arms of wax (or later, composition), and a more natural-looking down-turned mouth.

Historians are not exactly sure when Montanari passed away. We know she left the studio to her son, who had worked with her making the dolls; but by 1890, the studio seems to have closed. By that time, composition and bisque dolls were so inexpensive that was dolls were on their way out. Montanari’s death seems to also mark the passing of wax dolls.

Spook-Tacular Antique Wax Dolls

It’s October, and with Halloween just around the corner it wouldn’t be right not to mention a few spook-tacular or creepy wax dolls.

As mentioned earlier, one of the earliest uses of poppets was for educational purposes. Among these were the medical dolls, like the ancient Chinese medical dolls. Since the doctors were not allowed to view or touch their modest female patients, the women were given a stick which they used to point at a small, usually ivory, medicine doll to show the doctor where they were hurt. But since we’re talking about wax dolls…

antique-human-anatomical-modelIn the late 17th century, wax modeler Gaetano Giulio Zumbo and surgeon Guillaume Desnoues, collaborated to solve a problem. At this time, there were few bodies available for dissection, and little way to preserve them — which made it difficult to properly educate medical students. However, by using wax modeling techniques it became possible to highlight specific bodily features and structures, painting and marking them, thereby making it easier to isolate and identify them and their functions. And, of course, these wax anatomical models did not decompose (or smell!). They could be stored and used again and again. That made these incredibly detailed wax anatomical models increase in popularity throughout Europe in the 18th century.

Creating these wax medical models was highly labour-intensive: Plaster casts of dissected anatomical specimens were used to produce wax copies. Structures and vessels were painted (others imitated using thread) and then varnished to protect them. The finished pieces were then assembled to provide the illusion of living tissue. Many of these wax anatomical models were so beautiful that they were also sought by museums and private collectors.

Anna Morandi Manzolini, wax sculpture created by the scientist-artist herselfLike Augusta Montanari, there was a female wax sculpture artist at the forefront of these wax pieces. Her name was Anna Morandi Manzolini. She was an anatomical wax modeler during the Italian Enlightenment. During her lifetime (1714–74), she was celebrated for her exacting sculptures of human organs and systems. Crowds of physicians, medical students, and the curious would gather in her home to watch her anatomical demonstrations. Recently, there was a book written about her, entitled The Lady Anatomist: The Life and Work of Anna Morandi Manzolini.

While these wax anatomical models were about doctors trying to save lives, there was another type of wax doll all about death.

Some of you may have heard of the many Victorian mourning practices, or mourning memori, such as postmortem photography and mourning hair art. These may seem morbid, but they were deeply valued traditions involving keepsakes to remember lost loved ones by. Another common practice in mourning at the turn of that last century was that of the effigy or burial doll.

grave-doll-wax-effigy-1860-with-bookWhen a child had passed away, it was traditional for families who could afford it to have a life-size wax effigy of the child made for the funeral. The wax doll would be dressed in the infant or child’s own clothing. Most often the deceased child’s own hair would be used to make the doll even more realistic. These wax dolls usually show the deceased in repose, eyes closed, as if sleeping. The backsides of the heads were made flat so that the doll would lay nicely when laid out to rest.

The effigy doll would be put on display at the wake. Often the doll would then be left by the grave-site. But we do know, from the effigy dolls which still exist today, that in some cases these wax effigy dolls were kept.

Wax effigies of infants would be placed in a crib, their clothes would be changed, and otherwise treated like a real baby. The bodies of these wax dolls would be cloth, weighted with sand to give it a more realistic feel when being held. Other times, the effigy itself would be framed. For older children, just the head and shoulders were created in wax effigy, also with the flat backsides, so that they could be placed in a picture frame. They were the ultimate way to attempt to reject the finality of death of a loved little one.

This practice of effigy dates back even further than the Victorians, to Roman times. But other than effigies made in marble or stone, none are left. In fact, these Victorian burial dolls and effigies themselves are extremely rare.

Some people consider these wax effigy grave dolls and the wax anatomical models to be creepy, if not disturbing. Some consider them history objects; others folk art. Still others think they are rare and valuable works of art.

Image Credits (In Order They Appear): Antique Roman wax masks; French P. Imans Full-Size Wax Mannequin Bust Doll; poured wax doll by Montanari; Wax over composition doll named ‘Violet’; antique reinforced wax doll; Montanari wax doll from Debra’s Dolls via Victoriana Magazine; antique Human Anatomical Model; wax sculpture of Anna Morandi Manzolini, created by the scientist-artist herself; wax effigy child doll.

Tintypes & Seashells

Since we went to that museum auction and got that fabulous antique folk art piece made of tintypes and seashells, I’ve been looking for more…

I found this antique frame of nine photos decorated in seashells…

Antique Sea Shell Display Frame Wall Sailors Valentine Folk 9 Ambrotypes 1860s

And this antique folk art or tramp art “Memory Bottle” has seashells mixed in with all the other buttons and bobs.

Antique Folk Tramp Art Memory Bottle

Image Credits: Drive Back In Time & The Antique Poole.

Pawn Stars Casting (An Exclusive Interview)

Of all the TV shows about antiques and collectibles, we’re still huge fans of History’s show Pawn Stars. So we were thrilled to receive a casting call announcement from the show — and turn it into an exclusive interview with the show’s Casting Director, Martin Hardy!

Pawn-Stars-Wants-You

How does the casting process work?

We are always looking for real sellers of unique, new items and encourage anyone who is interested in selling or pawning an item to contacts us through our casting email: pawnstarstvshow@leftfieldpictures.com. We get hundreds of submissions daily from potential sellers who are looking to sell their items on the show. Our casting department works very hard identifying rare and unique items that we have not shot with before but that also tell an interesting historical story.

Once we receive a great item that we feel is right for the show, we generally notify the seller to grab some more key information about it. Then we present it to the guys at the Gold &Silver Pawn shop to see if it is something that they would be interested in purchasing. Once we get the go ahead from Gold and Silver, we tell the seller their item has been approved and we schedule a date for them to come in.

Is there any compensation for being on the show? Do you pay for transportation, lodging?

Because we use real sellers of real items, we don’t provide any compensation for being on the show. Each seller has the opportunity of making a deal and being compensated for the purchase of their item.

We know that not everyone on the show sells their item; but does a person have to at least be willing to sell? Or can they just want to show off their item, get an appraisal, find out more information, (just meet the Pawn Stars!) etc.

At this time we are only able to cast sellers who are serious about selling their item. Of course they need to be comfortable with terms of the deal they reach with the shop, but we always hope they make a sale. We do not offer any appraisals for anyone who does not appear on the show with that item.

Are there any categories that you are more interested in than others?

At the moment we are really interested in anything that is rare and unique (books, autographed originals, artwork, historical documents and coins etc.)

Should a person get on the show, how much of a time commitment does it require?

Depending on the item, the filming of scenes generally last anywhere from 3-4 hours.

If you have something you think is rather rare and special — or wonder if it is, why not contact Martin and casting team? They’ll tell you if it makes the Pawn Stars grade. And we’ll all learn a little something along the way.  More information is in the casting flyer below (click to see a larger version). You can contact them at pawnstarstvshow@leftfieldpictures.com (and you can mention Inherited Values sent ya!)

Pawn Stars Casting Flyer

155 Years Before the First Animated Gif, Joseph Plateau Set Images in Motion with the Phenakistoscope | Colossal

See on Scoop.itAntiques & Vintage Collectibles

Nearly 155 years before CompuServe debuted the first animated gif in 1987, Belgian physicist Joseph Plateau unveiled an invention called the Phenakistoscope, a device that is largely considered to be the first mechanism for true animation. The simple gadget relied on the persistence of vision principle to display the illusion of images in motion.

Deanna Dahlsad‘s insight:

You have to click to see all these in motion!

See on www.thisiscolossal.com

Lessons From The Maltese Falcon

You may have read the news about the titular movie prop from film noir classic The Maltese Falcon (1941) going up for auction — expected to fetch $1.5 million. The 50 pound falcon statue is valuable not only to those who love film or who are fans of Humphrey Bogart and Mary Astor, but to art lovers as well, for the prop was created by Fred Sexton.

The Maltese Falcon statuette

Guernsey’s, the auction house behind the auction at New York City’s Arader Galleries, provides quite a lengthy piece on authentication of the film prop, which begins with this basic story:

The story of the Maltese Falcon statuette begins the same year the movie was filmed – 1941 – when Huston hired Los Angeles-based artist Fred Sexton to sculpt the prop for his directorial debut. Huston and Sexton were high school classmates and close friends, and the film director collected many of Sexton’s paintings.

In an on-camera interview with Vivian Sobchack in August 2013, Sexton’s daughter, Michele Fortier, discussed her father’s distinctive and familiar signature, and described her childhood experiences amongst Hollywood’s early elite and on movie sets.

Hank Risan owns two authenticated Maltese Falcon statuettes from the 1941 film production that bear Fred Sexton’s distinctive “F.S.” markings and they are widely regarded as two of the most valuable film props in the history of cinema. In 2004, UCLA Professor Richard Walter, a court-approved expert appraiser, supported the high valuations in an eloquent comparison to another highly-prized film prop: one of four pairs of ruby red slippers worn by Judy Garland in the iconic Wizard of Oz, which sold for $666,000 in 2001. “But whatever the slippers’ value,” Professor Walter wrote, “it has to be less than that of the falcons because the slippers are merely one prop, albeit an important one in the movie. The falcons on the other hand are the namesake props that define the picture itself. It is significant in the extreme that in addition to being important props they are also the title of the film.”

“Life imitates art,” stated Mr. Risan. “What’s amazing is that in the film Spade and Gutman discuss the value of the falcon in similar terms. The rara avis has a unique backstory as compelling off-screen as in the film. The black birds are truly objects d’art.”

However, in the auction held today, The Maltese Falcon did not fetch the predicted million dollars or more — in fact, it didn’t sell at all.

The official language for that is “passed” and it happens when the reserve price is not met. While the reserve may have been set too high, this can happen simply because everyone thought everyone else would be bidding and so they assumed they wouldn’t get it. Auctions are rather like elections that way; people stay home thinking everyone else is going to take care of business. But, be it auction or election, those who care ought to show up.

It remains to be seen how long it will take for this Maltese Falcon to show up at auction again.

Profiles Behind Vintage Silhouette Artists Are Shady

I have become completely obsessed. Again. This time, it’s about vintage silhouettes.

vintage silhouette portaits by paul 1934 lady wearing hat

Of course, in general the whole idea of “vintage silhouettes” (from a German village or not) may seem quaint in the 1930s. But remember, by this time it had been roughly a century since the art of silhouettes had been replaced by photographs. Silhouettes were quaint now. And it just goes to show you how we humans have long had a strong nostalgic streak. But there’s more to study here.

While I love the vintage fashionista who was compelled to have not one, but two, portraits of herself done at the 1934 Chicago World’s Fair (and I am quite enamored with her hat — which is either amply feathered or sports an actual bird!), it is the silhouette artist himself which mainly concerns me.

The (roughly) 6 by 4 inch cards of this pair of vintage silhouettes contain the following printed information:

Silhouette Portrait
Cut At The
Black Forest
World’s Fair, 1934
By “Paul”

Why would Paul’s name be in quotes?

Despite the fact that all the information is printed on stock cards, perhaps “Paul” was not one person, but rather there were many paper cutters playing the role of Paul. According to excerpts from letters written by Trudel, a young German Jewish woman who arrived in Chicago in May, 1934, various people worked cutting the silhouettes at the fair. (And *gasp* not all the people in the Black Forest attraction at the World’s Fair were German!)

A couple and a friend from Vienna are cutting silhouettes of people.

…My travel companions from Vienna I see every time I go there. The wife and friend work now in an exhibit called “Black Forest”.

It certainly makes sense, from a manpower point of view, to have multiple artists crafting silhouette souvenirs for fair visitors. However, I still don’t know what significance, if any, the name Paul has to do with cutting silhouettes. Do you?

There is evidence that “Paul” was around creating silhouette souvenirs for folks at other World’s Fairs. At least through the 1964-65 World’s Fair in New York. However, by that time not only were the boards the paper silhouettes were adhered to blacked-out to give the illusion of a a frame with an oval opening, but Paul’s name was given a scripted look (which looks more like a signature — but isn’t, it’s still printed on the paper) and the quotes around his name had disappeared. Also, I’ve also seen silhouettes from World Fairs which had no names or artist identification at all. So it’s more than a bit confusing — to the point where one doesn’t know if “Paul” and Paul are even referencing the same artist (or conceptual artist, as the case may be).

If anyone knows more about Paul, “Paul”, or these silhouettes, please do share. I cannot save (hoard) all these things, but I really, really, really do want to know the story behind old items like this!

Antique Campbell’s Soup advertisng tin sign expected to reach $40,000-$60,000

The lifetime collection of Don and Diane Sayrizi – advanced collectors in many categories, but especially antique advertising – plus consignments from over 100 other advanced collectors from all over the country will be offered Oct. 4-6 by Showtime Auction Services, at the Washtenaw Farm Council Grounds in Ann Arbor, located at 5055 Ann Arbor/Saline Road.


“By far this is the best collection of antique advertising we have ever had the privilege of selling,” said Mike Eckles of Showtime Auction Services, based in Woodhaven, Mich. “We’ve held big auctions in the past, many of which featured advertising items, but never like this. The antique signs, in particular, are highly desirable and would be fine additions to any collection.”

Fashioning standards for industry conduct (Art & Antiques)

Doctors have the American Medical Association; lawyers are represented by the American Bar Association, car dealers, teachers, religions, and even countries have organized representation to promote their best interests to the public and government. Art and antiques dealers, one can categorically say, do not have any form of an umbrella organization that can advocate for its interests.

The many organizations that do attempt to be representatives of the industry are narrow in focus and small in membership. Whether it is the Art and Antiques Dealer’s League of America (AADLA), Antiques Dealers’ Association of American (ADA), National Antiques & Art Dealers Association of American (NAADAA), or the various state and local associations, they all have limited membership, finances, and interests. Individually they are just groups that attempt to create their own exclusivity of membership and can’t look at industry issues, be it a simple standard form of invoice or other business documents that have dealer and customer interests in mind; how about the larger purpose of the public’s image of dealers?

See on art-antiques-design.com

Lomasney Pop Film Art Poster Auction

The Lomasney Collection consists of over 800 hand-painted film posters originally displayed in the The Royal Hawaiian Theater in Honolulu. Painted in gouache on 44 by 28-inch artboard by artist John J. Lomasney (many incorporating actual studio film cells) these posters span over 50 years of cinematic history. The collection was acquired by tennis legend John McEnroe and displayed in his Soho, NYC gallery until McEnroe donated the collection to Lifebeat, Music Fights HIV/AIDS. The organization raises funds to support HIV prevention efforts by auctioning-off the pieces. The most recent offering is at Heritage Auctions, where bidding closes August 4, 2013 at 10:00 PM CT. Below are a few of the pieces up in the latest offering; however, the entire collection can be seen at Lomasneymovieart.com.

josephine baker lomasney JOHN J. LOMASNEY movie art poster sophia loren Yesterday, Today, and Tomorrow Flight from Ashiya The Beatles Come Home 1964

Design Ideas: Auctioning a little house and library chairs

During her lifetime, Mary Griggs Burke, one of the most important private collectors of Japanese art in the world, kept an extra apartment on New York’s Upper East Side, right next door to another where she lived, for her beloved art objects. She died in December at age 96.

But one of her treasures remains at her historic summer estate in Cable, Wisconsin, which was donated to the Chequamegon National Forest. While small, for what it is, the historic cottage is not so portable.

The tiny home had been in Burke’s family since her father bought it in the early 20th century. It was used as a children’s playhouse and remains outfitted with child-sized furnishings. The historic prefabricated cottage will be auctioned by Leslie Hindman Auctioneers in Milwaukee on July 25.

…Also to be auctioned by Hindman on the same date are a selection of chairs designed by Charles and Ray Eames for Herman Miller, which were in use at Milwaukee’s East Side Library until it closed recently.

See on www.jsonline.com

Collectors Are Like Artists; Collections Like Works Of Art

Combining my usual theme of collectors being curators, just like museum curators, with digital or online curation comes this story of New York collector Peter J. Cohen. Cohen snapped up vintage and antique snapshots of women — among other things. Over the course of decades, Cohen amassed some 20,000 photographs taken by amateurs. This particular collection contains 500 portraits of women.

The photographs, taken in the US between 1900 and 1970, each contain three females. Once the collection lived in a box labeled “Women in Groups of Three” in Cohen’s living room; but now the collection is called The Three Graces and it’s part of The Art Institute of Chicago’s collection.

The collection was shown at The Art Institute of Chicago last fall — but as Cohen donated the collection to the museum, they remain at the AIC which has promised to keep the collection together as an historical depiction of 20th century women in America. The AIC’s graciously put up an online gallery of the collection for you to look at, and put out a lovely hardcover book too: The Three Graces: Snapshots of Twentieth-Century Women.

I love how Cohen’s friend, Stephanie Terelak, captures the essence of photograph collection:

The lines of collector, curator, and artist are blurred in this case. Individually, these photographs are worth very little, probably a few dollars on ebay I would guess. But amassed, sorted, and curated in large specific groups, seemingly worthless stuff on ebay becomes art and the collector becomes artist, selecting each piece to belong to a greater whole that our best museums’ curators deemed worthy of their walls.

This can nearly be said of any collection. Collections are works of art, like collages or mixed media projects — or bonsai trees. Often continuously in process, collections are nearly alive with the story narrated by each individual collector’s act of collecting. Each curates — feeds and prunes — for meaning and growth as well as with an artistic eye, to tell stories with objects.

Museum desired collection or not, this is why I love collecting. Not just personally, but professionally too. I love connecting people with the items, objects, and stories they need to complete their collection — or at least assist them in their artistic process.

Is “America’s Lost Treasures” A Lost Cause?

When I first heard about the National Geographic Channel’s new show, America’s Lost Treasures, I was excited. The premise is that folks parade in, Antiques Roadshow style, to have their objects evaluated — not simply for monetary value, but for their historical value — to answer the question, “Could you have a museum-worthy artifact hidden in your house?” The artifacts discovered or uncovered each week then “win” the opportunity to be included in a special exhibit at the National Geographic Museum in Washington, D.C., stated to be sometime in 2013 (though the exhibit does not yet appear on the museum’s calender— which, at the time I write this is scheduled through the end of April, 2013).

While the series has a game show element of competition, the focus appeared to be on the history and museum-worthy value of objects. Sure, there’s a $10,000 prize to with such an honor; but I fell for the idea of the recognition. What collector doesn’t want some validation? And, let’s be honest, a $10,000 cash prize for loaning an object to a museum seems a low price for objects deemed of such great historical value.

But then I watched the show.

Problems erupted everywhere.

Show hosts Curt Doussett and Kinga Philipps are literally talking heads with little, if any, experience in history, antiques, or collectibles. Sure, their enthusiasm is high; but their knowledge is obviously low.

When Phillips meets a couple with antique shaving mugs, she literally gushes and coos her ignorance. Who hasn’t heard of shaving mugs?! I think Old Spice still puts them out at holiday time. OK, maybe not everyone has heard of shaving mugs; but then not everyone hosts an antiques & collectibles history show either. And that’s my point.

And Doussette, who studied music composition and theory at Brigham Young University with the stated intention of becoming a master conductor, may have become overwhelmed with emotion at having the opportunity to fulfill his lifelong dream to conduct at the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra (it was a cool, moving moment), but he continually over-estimates the importance, value, and condition of musical instruments. It’s all rather mind-boggling, really.

And it might be OK, these talking heads who are nearly empty-headed on the subject they are hosting, because there will be experts, right? Well…

Enter curator emeritus Chris Baruth from the University of Wisconsin, Milwaukee, who is the expert visited to authenticate and evaluate a walking stick from the 1893 World’s Fair held in Chicago which contains a map of the fairgrounds. Despite the cautionary comments of the woman who owns the antique walking stick, Baruth rips the fragile old map! And do make matters worse, you can hear Baruth (or perhaps it’s Doussett?) say, “Now what do we do?” While I tried not to cry (or was it faint), Baruth offers to tape it. Really?! Oh. My. Gawd. Thank heavens Doussett promises complete restoration to the owner. You can watch the catastrophe here:

How’s that for damaging your credibility as an expert?

But wait; like a set of Ginsu knives, America’s Lost Treasures has more!

Among the other objects selected as finalists and worthy of expert analysis are a piece of a Japanese Zero from the attack on Pearl Harbor, an antique campaign writing box from the 1700s believed to have been owned by Roger Sherman (the only person to sign each of the four major documents that built this nation: the Continental Association, the Declaration of Independence, the Articles of Confederation, and the Constitution), and Venetian glass mosaics depicting Christopher Columbus‘ “discovery” of America (eighteen feet by five feet panels built on six inches of concrete for the 1893 Chicago’s World’s Fair, presumed lost for at least 40 years).

The piece of metal from the WWII Japanese Zero plane was identified behind its frame and glass via webcam connection — something ludicrous, given the images we are shown of the webcam connection. There is no investigation of the owner’s story; his father’s story is taken virtually at face value. Meanwhile, the descendants of Roger Sherman don’t have it so easy; they don’t have the properly documented provenance of the item passing down the generations in wills and so are removed from the running. I guess one father’s story isn’t as good as another’s.

And at the end, perhaps the greatest injustice of all.

When the piece of WWII Japanese place goes up against the Venetian glass mosaics, the museum curator chooses —

The piece of plane.

I’ve nothing against recording WWII history, but this piece was poorly authenticated to begin with; plus there are museums dedicated to WWII (including the one in Hawaii which said they wanted the piece). And they opt for that instead of those incredible, humbling an huge, antique mosaics made of glass from Venetian glass that came from Murano, Italy; some no larger than a seed, some sandwiched with actual gold. Mosaics which not only have been presumed lost, but which would illuminate parts of history and art which many people know next to nothing about. And isn’t that a large part of what museums are supposed to do? Preserve as well as tell the stories of our past so that they are not forgotten?

That choice was an epic fail.

Gunar Gruenke (owner of the mosaics), I feel your pain. (You can visit the site and donate to help restore the mosaics.)

In many ways, it’s the Milwaukee episode which most encapsulates the train-wreck quality of America’s Lost Treasures. (In fact, the examples given here all come from that single episode!) If you can get through that one, and still find something fascinating to watch, then you’ll like this NatGeo series.

I myself can’t say I like it. I’ve watched three episodes so far, and I may watch more. But I’m pretty sure it’s for all the wrong reasons. …Well, maybe not “all” the reasons are wrong. I do like to see old objects, and learn what I can. But the more I watch this show, the more I feel like an expert. And I know that as a generalist in this business and hobby, that would be a rather silly thing to say. But apparently Shakespeare was right: “A fool thinks himself to be wise, but a wise man knows himself to be a fool.”

America’s Lost Treasures airs Wednesday nights at 9 pm ET/PT on the National Geographic Channel and is produced by Original Productions, a FremantleMedia Company.

Minimalistic Chic Modern & Contemporary Art Auction From The Estate Of Fashionista Janet Brown

Janet Brown: Fashion Tastemaker

While many are excited about the Schiaparelli and Prada showing, there’s an upcoming auction at Freeman’s that fashionistas may also wish to know about.

On Saturday, May 12, 2012, the Modern and Contemporary Art auction contains works from the estate of Janet Brown. Brown was an influential fashion retailer, she and her boutique in Port Washington, N.Y., are credited with bringing forth important designers like Prada — before the designs were famous or even sold in Manhattan. According to The New York Times, “for designers, having their collections stocked by Ms. Brown was often more powerful than staking claim to a floor at Saks Fifth Avenue.”

Because this is an art auction, there won’t be any fashion designer items available. But as a tastemaker, the same unique talent and vision that combined classic design, elegance, premier quality, and avant-garde fashion sense called “Minimalist Chic” is obviously apparent in her art selections.

Among the 18 auction lots (Lots 17-35), there are five figure studies by Auguste Vuillemot (auction estimate $1,000-1,500), and six panels by Louis Waldron, after Andy Warhol (auction estimate $1,500-2,500).

But I think my favorite is the Jacques Villion piece which bears the same title and has compositional similarities to several paintings the artist made in 1921 and 1922 depicting horse racing and jockeys. I love horses and it’s inscribed ‘HAUT’ twice along upper edge.

Gone With The Wind, Ashes To Ashes

The first scene filmed for Gone With The Wind (1939) was the burning of the Atlanta Depot. And it remains some of the most iconic film images of all time.

Shot on December 10, 1938, using some nine cameras — including all seven of Hollywood’s then-existing Technicolor cameras, the 40 acre set was actually many old MGM sets that needed to be cleared from the studio backlot. Flames 500 feet high leaped from old sets, including the “Great Skull Island Wall” set from King Kong. The fire was so intense, Culver City residents, thinking MGM was burning down, jammed the telephones lines with their frantic calls. Ten pieces of fire equipment from the Los Angeles Fire Department, 50 studio firemen, and 200 other studio help stood by throughout the filming; three 5,000-gallon water tanks were used to put out the flames after shooting. This and other costs put the bill for this famous film fire at over $25,000 for a yield of 113 minutes of footage (some of which was later used in other films; for more on this and the special effects in Gone With The Wind, see Matte Shot).

Now it seems fire plays another role in Gone With The Wind; on February 10, 2012, a fire spread through Hudson Self-Storage in Stockbridge, Georgia. Though firefighters extinguished the fire, all 400 storage units and their contents were damaged, sustaining some degree of fire, smoke, or water damage. Among the storage units, was one leased by the Road to Tara Museum, containing rare memorabilia from Gone With The Wind.

While many items remain safe in the museum, such as the priceless signed first editions of the movie script, Frenda Turner of the Road to Tara Museum fears much of the $300,000 collection in storage was lost. Turner said that among the items not currently on display at the Jonesboro museum and stored in the unit included the large oval paintings of Clark Gable and Vivien Leigh seen hanging prominently from the front of the Loew’s Grand Theatre during the movie premier — Loew’s itself caught fire on January 30, 1978, the damage led to the demolition of the historic venue.

Frankly, my dear, we do give a damn.

The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms and local authorities are investigating for signs of arson.

The Emma Pratt Hall Golden Age Of Illustration Collection

When I stumbled into this auction for original Katzenjammer Kids art, I was excited to read the story behind the piece:

Grapefruitmoon Gallery just acquired an important collection of pen & ink original illustration art comic drawings from many of the leading Golden Age of Illustration comic strip illustrators that were received by a persistent young girl named Emma Pratt Hall who lived in Mansfield Mass. She wrote many fan letters requesting doodles from her favorite comic artists of the era, nearly one hundred artists honored her requests. These are all from the years of 1939 – 1940 and many have letters that accompany the drawings. It really is amazing the response she received this collection is outstanding. I would guess she was a persuasive letter writer and by the personalized content of many of the letters she was likely a young girl. Her comic art collection gained her some recognition as she received a press newspaper mention from a Sheffield England newspaper that is not included in this auction – but we included a scan of it the bottom of the listing as reference and provenance.

The date of the newspaper clipping is unknown to me, and I’ve no idea what percentage of Emma’s total collection this is, but there’s a wide variety of pieces, subjects, artists, and styles.

Beyond the incredible provenance, and even that this was a child collecting back then, what’s really fascinating about the Emma Pratt Hall collection is the sad fact that it could not be done today.

Unlike those autograph collections we hear about, folks — including children — cannot just write in and request a signature, a doodle, or anything like that today. Nowadays, fans are lucky if they even receive a stamped-signed photo when they mail their favorite celebrities. But to take the time to respond to an individual’s request for a “doodle” from an artist or illustrator?! No way. The more established or famous the person, the more they are likely to charge for an autograph or reply with a price list of available works. Yet here we have a collection which proves that not only could young Emma make a request of a popular illustrator (for all these illustrators were paid and popular at the time) and have her wish granted, but she’d receive lovely little letters showing how happy the illustrator, comic strip creator, political cartoonist, commercial artist, etc. was to have such a request!

All images via Grapefruit Moon Gallery.

Mothers Say The Darndest Things

Did you ever notice that as a mother you have all these little odd sayings… Weird sing-songy ways of announcing bed time, meal time, to comfort your children, etc. Some of them were handed down to you from your own mother — who may or may not have heard them from her own mother. Somethings you say, you picked up from your children — like when your toddler isn’t forming the words just right, but you understand him anyway and use his words to communicate with him. (Speech therapists do not like that; but we do it now and then!) Other words and sayings are just part of that secret world of parenthood, things we sing or say along the way that become recognizable comfortable traditions of communication.

My mother has a whole slew of words that she’s entirely made up. Words and sayings I didn’t know weren’t real until I used them around others and received only quizzical and comical responses. Embarrassing then; much beloved now.

As a society, we have such expressions too. Quite often you can find these old sayings on antique and vintage prints, like this one, from an art deco 1920s calender, illustrated by L Goddardfeaturing. At the bottom it reads, “Baby is Going to Bye-Lo Land.”

Up until now, I’ve never heard of “Bye-Lo Land.”

Images via Grapefruit Moon Gallery.

Charming, Yes; Charmin, No. (Identifying & Valuing Vintage Prints Of Children)

I’ve been running into a lot of new collectors of vintage and antique things at Listia; I kind of feel like I’m becoming a resident expert, both it terms of being able to help folks and because of the amount of time I spend at Listia. *wink* I don’t normally take the time to give detailed responses, let document (blog), all the requests but this time there was great merit in doing so…

This is the question from Sherry:

Hi my name is Sherry and I saw a comment that ya posted on another auction about ya writing about antiques and collectibles online. I have been in search of someone to talk to about some pictures I have that were left here years back. My nephew was living with me as well as his girl friend. When they broke-up she left plenty behind. My nephew thought I had burnt all that was left. He freaked out and said there were photo’s that cost a lot of money, because they were some of the Charmin Toilet Paper Girls.

By the style clothing that are being worn in the photo’s I can only assume they are from the 50’s – 60’s maybe older. I do not recall commercials from back then, so I have no idea if these are even worth anything. Is there away ya might be able to help me figure these photo’s out? Thank You in advance.

I was pretty sure what Sherry had were prints, but since she had called them photos I was glad she had sent me some scans (some of which I’ve included here).

What Sherry has are vintage promotional prints from Northern Paper Mills aka Northern Tissue. The series of prints was called American Beauties, illustrated by Frances Hook. (You can see her signature printed on the little girl’s shoulder that doesn’t have the kitten on the scan above.) Hook is most known now for her religious works, but her career began in commercial illustration for various advertisements as well as illustrations to supplement magazine stories. Her American Beauties begin to appear in the Northern Tissue advertisements in 1958 as the original Northern Girls. On March 23, 1959, the first rolls of tissue featuring the girls were shipped from the mill and tissue sales skyrocketed —

And prompting the corporate response to sell the prints.

The first American Beauty prints were available as a set of four: one baby girl and three little girls.

Not long after, the company released Northern Towel’s All American Boys, a set of three prints of little boys.

Not much later, Northern asked Hook “if she would take our little “American Beauty” girls and cast them into some fresh new poses” — for both the toilet tissue packaging as well as an additional print set (also four prints).

That would bring the total of American Beauty girl prints to eight. As far as I know, the All-American Boys series remained at three prints. Which brings the overall total of the Northern prints by Hook to eleven. All prints were available in multiple sizes: 11″ by 14″, 8″ by 10″, and 5″ by 7″.

You know I don’t like to discuss monetary values, but this is another opportunity to discuss some collecting basics…

Generally speaking, the larger the quantity of art prints (and anything else) made, the less the value they have. According to Georgia-Pacific, who now owns the Northern brand, “Offers for prints of the girls and Northern Towel’s All American Boys break records with 30 million sets of prints being sold by 1966.” Which means there were and still are a large number of these prints out in circulation.

However, as these pieces are advertising collectibles, they do have some cross-collecting appeal. Again, these prints are a bit less desirable as they were mass produced — as well as more likely to be saved — which means more of them are available.

Like most collectibles, these prints come and go in popularity; which means the prices go up & down. Because they are desired primarily for the nostalgia (“I had those prints in my bedroom!”) or a sense of nostalgia (“I love those vintage baby prints!”), their ability to match decor or gender of child for a specific room, the size of the prints (available wall space), and/or for the appeal of individual images themselves (one may look just like their son or grandson, etc.), prices can vary quite a bit for each print.

And, of course, condition of the print itself matters; not only in terms of tears, creases, spots, etc., but in terms of the color of the prints, such as fading of the colors or tanning of the paper itself which weakens the contrast of colors (and usually the strength of the paper itself). Those prints with spots and damages on the faces especially will likely have no interest (no value). However, someone, on Lista or elsewhere where you have no seller fees, might want these imperfect prints for altered art or collage projects.

Depending upon the condition of the paper, etc., right now they could be worth anywhere from $1 to $9 a piece in today’s market. How do I get that value range? Based on the information discussed above and years of dealing in collectibles — and by getting a “snapshot” of the market by using eBay. I looked at current sales of these prints as well as recent past (closed) auction sales values, searching for Northern American Beauty prints by Frances Hook, and variations on those words. I also checked searches for Charmin print — as a great number of folks mistakenly think these prints were put out by Charmin toilet tissue.

You can check eBay for current and very recently closed auction sales prices too — anytime, for anything. You can also use Price Miner. Checking periodically does take time, but that’s the best way to see if there’s an increase in demand or a decrease in offerings of these prints — both of which will mean higher prices. If and when that happens, you might want to list them for sale. The prices may rise again; a few years ago, I sold individual prints for $10 to $29 each.  You just need nostalgia and or the appeal of sweet charming children to sweep back into home decorating again.

Additional image credits: Vintage Northern Girls Tissue ad via Jon Williamson; American Beauty Portraits Folder via undoneclothing; All American Boys prints photo via jwenck; Northern Paper Mills ephemera abut the prints via With A Grateful Prayer

Ever Wonder Where Those Elvgren Pinup Girl Glasses Came From?

Believe it or not, they were free promotional give away drinking glasses. I’d heard that, but until I found this vintage matchbook, I was still suspicious of the legend.

This vintage matchbook featuring Gil Elvgren’s “Sports Model” pinup on the cover was from Trackside Super Gasoline (2004 Calumet Dr., Sheboygan, Wisconsin). At the bottom “free glassware” is mentioned, and when you open the empty matchbook completely, you see Trackside continues the promotion: “This cover is but one of a series of the famous Elvgren Girls. Bring in a set of all five covers — the five different girls, and receive a set of 5 beautiful Glasses absolutely free.”

Not dated per se; but inside the matchbook it reads “This Offer Expired Jan. 1, 1943.”

This gas station also said they saved you two cents per gallon — savings, free girlie matchbooks, and free pinup drinking glasses?! Today, do we get any of that? No. …With today’s gas prices, we ought to get a free date with a pin up model! lol

I’m selling it on eBay; my other auctions are here.