NewslettersRuby Lane's newsletters are designed to celebrate the antiques and art, vintage collectibles and jewelry communities around the world. Our Past Times newsletter focuses on antiques and collectibles. Our Creative Hands newsletter celebrates fine art and handcrafted jewelry on Ruby Lane. Our shop owners are frequent article contributors, sharing their expertise and their passions for the items they collect and create. Enjoy!
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Ruby Lane's Past Times Newsletter for October 2006
IN THIS ISSUE:
- Collecting Railroad China - Make it a Mint Experience by Jane M. Silvernail, TIme's Treasures Railroad & Country
- Collecting Patriotic United States WW2 Military Sweetheart Jewelry by Carolyn Sunday of From The Love Nest
- October Editor's Pick: It Was A Dark and Stormy Night
COLLECTING RAILROAD CHINA - MAKE IT A MINT EXPERIENCE BY JANE M. SILVERNAIL, TIME'S TREASURES RAILROAD & COUNTRY
You may have noticed that Ruby Lane shops consistently offer in the neighborhood of 500 - 600 "railroad" items for sale - reaching out to collectors in an extremely diversified type of niche collecting that encompasses anything and everything related to railroad artifacts and memorabilia. (Not including model train items - which is a story for another day.) If it was involved with rail transportation, it's highly collectible. So what's the attraction here? Why is "railroad" hot? Certainly, the "romance of the rails" has a lot to do with it -- our desire to return to "the good old days," a way to connect with our past, a way to leave the rush of today's world behind for a short time. Many collectors fondly recall train trips they have made, and collecting provides reminders of the past. History may be a factor: since the early 1800s, trains have played a leading role in the development of transportation in America.
One enduring area of railroad collecting is railroad china - the tableware that rode the rails in passenger dining cars and served customers in railroad station restaurants. Railroad china collecting is challenging because it offers so many different ways to collect: you can settle on a particular railroad line; a particular pattern; a particular area of the country; or even a particular type of piece: butterpats, tea pots, creamers, small platters. Railroad china offers a demanding and stimulating educational experience that will continue as long as you collect. It can be strictly personal or, if you want to make new friends with shared interests, there are groups to be joined and meetings and trade shows to attend. Perhaps most important, collecting offers a way to personally become actively involved in preserving and protecting historical items as you enjoy the opportunity to safeguard and then pass them along to the next generation. Don't shortchange your items -- from a humble $35 coffee cup to a rare $5,000 service plate, each is a fragile part of our history, and once it is gone, it is gone forever and no reproduction can replace it. Collecting railroad china is one way to personally make a positive difference while you enjoy broadening your horizons about our nation's history.
As in so many other areas of collectibles and antiques, it's critical to learn how to protect yourself before you invest. Because railroad china is "hot" (translated by scam artists as "a way to exploit the unwary") if you don't learn how to avoid fakes, you'll get scammed. Don't be daunted: recognizing fraudulent items can be difficult even for experienced collectors and is particularly hard for a beginner. Take advantage of resources to help you learn to recognize not only legitimate ware, but pieces that aren't the real McCoy, because educating yourself is your best defense against people who think nothing of making a buck by defrauding you.
Purchase at least one of the better identification guides dealing specifically with railroad china (we recommend authors Luckin and McIntyre and will be happy to provide a list of sources for these guides, just email us) in which virtually all known authentic railroad china patterns are shown/discussed. Once you have your identification guide(s), study the different patterns along with their rarity/desirability indexes and what companies manufactured them. Carry your book with you on hunting expeditions so you can compare designs and backmarks on pieces you find. Be very skeptical if you find a pattern that does not appear in your book. Although everyone would dearly love to find that one-in-a-million old dish in a pattern that has not surfaced before (and this does happen) chances are it probably will not happen to you.
In addition to these books, check out railroadiana groups and organizations. One of the best is the Railroadiana Collectors Assn. Inc. (RCAI). Their website provides some basics about collecting and a great deal of information about fakes and phonies. If you are lucky enough to attend a trade show, take time to look and learn about the authentic china you will find - and ask questions! Most dealers don't mind helping newcomers (potential customers!) as long as you are courteous enough to wait until they're free to speak with you. There is nothing like being able to hold a piece of authentic china in your hands and look it over, and some show dealers may even display fakes to help educate newcomers!
In general, phony railroad china falls into two broad categories:
1. "Reproductions" are just that - phonies designed to imitate the real thing as closely as possible. These can be hard to discern and many are old themselves. One good defense is to look carefully for new designs applied to old china pieces (is that backstamp over the original glaze or under it and reglazed?) Another is to know manufacturers: for example, the only authentic manufacturer of New York Central "Mercury" tea pots is Syracuse/OPCO China. That "Mercury" logo piece with a Hall China bottom stamp is a phony!) Legitimate reproductions produced by historical associations and others will have permanent identification on them that they are reproductions. These pieces, while not true railroad china, are collectible in their own right. They can also be fun to buy and actually use - while your valuable authentic ware rests safely in the china cabinet!
2. "Fantasy" pieces are easier to spot because they don't mimic any real pieces. These are the patterns you won't find in your book(s) because they are "original designs" that don't mimic any authentic ware. The scam artists know how to apply new, fake "logos" on a piece or add a phony bottom stamp then reglaze and refire the piece. A lot of this type of fakery has been appearing in the last few years. Realize that "crazing" does not happen to authentic restaurant china: those little "sugar bowl, butter pat and creamer" sets with the splashy side logos first were imported from Asia in the 1950s, and currently are straight out of Castle Reproductions at $4.95. I see them frequently in antique shops priced as much as $60! Another type of "fantasy" piece may use a copy of an old, legitimate logo, but reproduce it in a different color on different ware. Common today are fantasy pieces mimicking an authentic Denver & Rio Grande pattern, but the new pieces are blue. If you check in your book, you will discover that the original, authentic ware was produced only in brown - so steer clear of the phony color!
Two last potential pitfalls are the honest but ignorant seller offering what he/she thinks is railroad china, not realizing that it is not (don't be quick to condemn -- this person may be the victim of a scam artist!). And you may encounter a seller who hasn't studied china enough to understand that the word "railroad" is not interchangeable with "restaurantware." The term "railroad" specifically means a piece related to railroad use. It is not a blanket catchall term for heavyweight ware made for commercial use. Be extra careful buying anything from these types of sellers!
Another useful way to learn about railroad china, simply for the hundreds of examples you will find, is to look at online auctions in the "Transportation : Dining Items" category. It's tough to resist the urge to bid, but it's an extremely educational way to increase your knowledge of patterns and learn what prices are being realized by checking final prices of closed auctions. Compare the auction photos with your book illustrations. If an item received no bids, see if you can figure out why (tip: Beware that many online auction sites can be loaded with fakes and phonies). Watch sellers' feedback ratings and try to identify the ones doing the most and best business. Look for sellers offering satisfaction guarantees and return privileges. This is a fairly small group, and after a while you will begin to recognize the same userids coming up over and over. Read item descriptions and compare who appears to be knowledgeable. Don't hesitate to email questions to sellers and see what kind of answers you receive - most legitimate sellers don't mind a few questions as long as you don't plague them. Yet another practice is to watch and see what items appear over and over - if there are "that many," something is wrong and they almost certainly are phony.
Ruby Lane and other online stores also offer railroad china (although the others may not offer the same return privileges as Ruby Lane shops - be sure to understand policy before purchasing anything). Compare any online offering with the information you've gathered from your book(s) and experiences and feel confident before you actually order it. Ask questions of the seller, and especially make sure about terms for returning an unsatisfactory item. It is tough to buy sight unseen, and you should consider the cost of return postage a tradeoff for being able to inspect the item before making a final purchase. Legitimate shop owners want you to be delighted with your purchase, and will do their best to make sure you know up front what you are getting.
PATTERNS Railroad china patterns fall into a number of categories. Easiest to learn about are the ones that carry railroad markings, either as top logos or bottom marks (often both). These patterns can be custom designed, or simply stock patterns on which logos or markings are inserted. "Exclusive" patterns are those designed and produced by china manufacturers specifically for railroad customers; since the railroad bought the rights to the design, it was not sold to anyone else. Exclusive patterns often carry no railroad markings at all and offer some of the most fun to search for, because they can turn up anywhere used china is sold, unrecognized for what they are. To further complicate matters, sometimes only part of a design was exclusive: for example, the peacock/floral center design was owned by the Milwaukee Road and produced for the railroad on Syracuse China's Econo-Rim shape. However, the same bird is found on several other shapes with different rim designs - none of which are railroad. Another fairly common example is the California poppy floral design found on Santa Fe Railroad china: the railroad owned the rights to the floral decoration but only on heavy restaurant weight ware. Railroad collectors who do not know this can be fooled into buying the lightweight, household ware that was produced by the manufacturer with the exact same poppy decoration (but which was sold over the counter as open stock -- never to the railroad, which only controlled the rights to
the pattern in the heavy ware)! Lastly, in an attempt to cut costs, "stock" china was ordered by some railroads along with every other type of customer. Without some sort of verification it is impossible to authenticate whether a particular stock piece actually rode the rails. The best a collector can do is to learn the time period in which the railroad ordered the stock pattern and then buy a "representative" piece from that time period.
Regarding physical appearance, wear and damage, railroad china can be different than other collection interests, because some patterns are so rare they are valuable in any condition - even to a pile of shards. And because most railroad china is the heavyweight commercial ware, manufacturing flaws are less important to collectors who don't equate manufacturing flaws with true "damage." Of course, given two pieces of equal condition, the one without manufacturing defects is preferable. As far as wear is concerned, there is no formal industry guideline, but most collectors tend to follow some version of the following grading system:
GRADING CONDITION MINT - brand new, never used - does not apply to 99.9% of authentic railroad china because unless it's still in the original wrapping it's going to have accumulated some marks from simply sitting around, even if it was not used. Be cautious of sellers offering this term!
NEAR MINT - as close to "mint" as not-new china can be: extremely few or no visible use marks and absolutely no physical damage of any kind. Quite a few railroad pieces fall into this category. We expect they were pilfered from the dining car during one of their first appearances on the table, or possibly walked home with production workers from the factory (and now you know the "rest of the story.")
EXCELLENT - most railroad china seems to fall into this category. "Excellent" means a piece whose condition reflects light use but no heavy wear or serious scratches. You'll find some utensil marks in the wells of plates, light glaze loss around the well rims in saucers. There should be no serious glaze loss from stacking or wear.
GOOD - shows wear that reduces the visual quality of the piece. Experienced collectors tend to shy away from pieces in this condition unless they are very rare. "Good" pieces show significant utensil and wear surface scratching, patches of glaze loss, worn glaze, dull logos and pinstripes.
Once you begin to deal with reputable sellers, you will realize that some grade "harder" than others. The "excellent" of one long-time dealer I know equates with most others' "near mint." Another uses "excellent plus" to advantage.
We hope we've offered useful information to those of you considering railroad china as a collectible. We enjoy it for the personal challenge and the opportunity to meet people as well as preserving small pieces of America's history. Good luck and happy treasure hunting!
We hope you'll visit Jane's shop: Time's Treasures Railroad Country Collectibles.
Photo captions: Photo 1 Above: This Missouri Pacific RR "State Flowers" plate appeals to anyone who appreciates beautiful artwork - note, there are two versions, one for Missouri and one for Texas, depending on the flower placement.
Photo 2 Above: Here is a very hard to find larger milk pitcher from the New York, New Haven & Hartford Railroad. Pieces in this pattern don't have a top logo - the only way to tell it's railroad china is to look at the bottom marking! The last one of these we saw sell at auction went for over $500.
Photo 3 Above: Here's an example of a plate that didn't ride the rails but, since it was commissioned by the Delaware & Hudson Railroad, is collectible in its own right and welcome in any D&H collection.
Additional Resource: You may also want to visit the RCAI's website: http://www.railroadcollectors.org/index.php
COLLECTING PATRIOTIC UNITED STATES WW2 MILITARY SWEETHEART JEWELRY BY CAROLYN SUNDAY OF FROM THE LOVE NEST
My husband has been a collector of unusual militaria and an avid historian for over 25 years. I would attend shows with him now and then, and began to see and fall in love with ladies military sweetheart jewelry. It was not only fun and unusual, but sentimental and patriotic also. I purchased several collectors books on the subject and over the next few years actively sought out and purchased it. When some of my husbands militaria collecting buddies found out that I liked it, they would save it for me and I would buy it.
The pieces are found in silver plate, sterling silver, gold plate, gold filled, and very occasionally, solid gold. Many wooden, plastic, celluloid and non precious metal pieces were used with conservation of precious metals for the war effort in mind. Pieces have a much greater value if they retain original store card, boxes, tags or packaging. "In service" pins were very popular, featuring a star for each family member serving in active duty. One star pins are common, two a bit rarer, three stars or more, quite rare.
In addition to jewelry one can also find compacts, cigarette cases, pillow cases, hankies, postcards, playing cards, flags, banners and pennants. There are several books that I would recommend, but my favorite is Antique Sweetheart Jewelry by Nicholas D. Snider- a Schiffer Book for Collectors with Price Guide. These pieces in my estimation are still quite affordable, and besides being a good monetary investment, more importantly are an investment in our history, and a step back toward a more sentimental and patriotic time.
We invite you to visit Carolyn's Shop: From The Love Nest .
OCTOBER EDITOR'S PICK: IT WAS A DARK AND STORMY NIGHT
It Was a Dark and Stormy Night........
In the late18th century fiction novels were becoming well favored, though they were not always socially acceptable. To fill a growing demand for this form of entertainment, writers began to encorporate oral folk traditions, superstitions and legends, creating ever more thrilling subject matter and settings. Delivering haunting supernatural or preternatural effects in concert with breathless romance and situational danger, the 'Gothic novel' arose; and though frequently denounced in public to be of little moral value, the mysterious and often lurid underpinnings of Gothic fiction became literate society's guilty pleasure. Horace Walpole's "The Castle of Otranto" published in 1764 is thought to have been the first novel appreciably Gothic in nature, and it set standards for the genre.
Requisite for action sequences in Gothic romance novels are that they occur in the dark, in a storm, or in the recesses of a castle, haunted house or secret passageway, or any combination thereof. The hidden alcove that conceals a monstrous secret might be illuminated of a sudden by the flickering candle held aloft in the trembling hand of a pursued and terrified maiden. Though it was not unusual at the turn of the 19th century for families to fail to extend a formal education to female members of the household, many avid readers of Gothic fiction, and a surprising number of its writers, were women. Perhaps this was because Gothic story lines often shocked staid conventional sensibilities. Gothic romances gave secret voice to the truth that terror, passion or longing might lie unseen, beneath a calm and proper, orderly demeanor.
The summer of 1816 was called 'the Year without Summer" because the massive eruption of Indonesian Mount Tambora caused disruptions of weather around the world. It was in the midst of bizarre meteorological changes consisting of dank unpredictable weather, sudden torrential downpours and dramatic lightening, that the Gothic novel many considered to be the masterpiece of its genre, was born. Late in June of 1816 Mary Shelley, age nineteen, began writing her classic Gothic epic, Frankenstein. It would have been a remarkable achievement for anyone, in that the story rests on an incredible body of knowledge. But, having personally received no formal schooling up to that point, as she wrote the book Mary simultaneously studied then current principles of science, politics, mythology and philosophy. This scholarship is steadily brought to light by the interaction of the book's characters as the horrendous story unfolds. Rather than being simply another Gothic tale, Frankenstein explores the elements of humanity itself. It is a study of the hidden components that guide our very nature, the identity that makes us human - the desires to belong, to seek knowledge, to be happy; it is much more than merely a caution against ill-advised delving into the mysteries of biological creation. Published on January 1, 1818, the book was predictably panned by literary critics of the day. Yet, the frightening possibilities suggested in Mary Shelley's creation continue to apprehend
succeeding generations of readers. Since 1818 Frankenstein has never been out of print.
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