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 September 2006
IN THIS ISSUE:
- Collecting Porcelain Figurines ...... What Is The Fascination? by Miriam Barkus of Barkus Farm Antiques
- Collecting Watt Pottery by Mary Kay Hale of Southern Nights Antiques
- September Editor's Pick: A Far Horizon
COLLECTING PORCELAIN FIGURINES ...... WHAT IS THE FASCINATION? BY MIRIAM BARKUS OF BARKUS FARM ANTIQUES
Appreciation of art in all its forms seems to me to be one of the most wonderful differences between people and other members of the animal kingdom. The wonder and the beauty of things in nature; the fantasies in one's imagination; even in the art of comedy, all inspire artists to want to capture and preserve that scene or feeling. It is easy to understand the appeal of porcelain figurines to collectors, especially pieces "in the round" (complete and decorated all around rather than with a flat plain back).
How do people decide on what direction their collecting will take? There is no wrong answer, just different approaches. I believe the most important thing should be one's own passion. With many, it is the love of animals and nature; others collect religious figures; others love opera figures; still to others it is the work of a particular artist, or a particular period of history. (And to others, like me, who react to pieces of totally different types, with no commonality to one another other than high quality!)
Whether you have a very small budget, or are in a position to spend "serious money," why not have a collection with the best chance for appreciation in value? Why settle for damaged or inferior items..... it makes more sense to have one very fine piece than five near worthless pieces, or pieces with little or no chance to appreciate in value.
To help you decide on the direction your collecting will take, first and foremost, look only to those sellers with a reputation for honesty. Don't buy in a hurry. Look through as many collections as you can. Something will leap out at you and touch your senses. (Depending on your mood, you may find yourself feeling differently on a second look.) Be sure there is a guarantee of authenticity, and a refund if you find that the piece is not authentic. Even buyers who are considered astute can make a mistake. I can say that from personal experience!!!
Most collectors find themselves drawn to a particular manufacturer of porcelain. Further, with some manufacturers whose production spans hundreds of years, one can specialize in a particular time period. Meissen, that marvelous German manufactory, is the prime example. I personally prefer Meissen pieces of the late nineteenth century, up to 1924. To me, earlier pieces, although extremely valuable when in top condition, lack the details and beauty of the late nineteenth century and the turn of the century. (Their newer pieces of the twentieth century, starting about 1925, rarely appeal to me either).
Meissen has been counterfeited almost from the start. One must be very knowledgeable in the different marks not only Meissen used, but of those that all the companies who tried to have very similar marks through the years used! But it is not enough to simply learn the different marks. There are also indications of whether the piece was essentially a reject, or if it is an outright forgery. These marks can be found in most of the better German manufacturers, who didn't want substandard pieces equated with those of top quality. One must be extremely careful when buying Meissen because of so many different nuances, gradations, forgeries, etc. It also is a more expensive choice, on the whole, but fine pieces will almost always appreciate in value.
From Germany we must go to Italy. For me, the greatest Italian porcelain sculptor of the 20th Century was Antonio Borsato. His work is incredibly detailed, but with a great sense of humanity and often humor as well. Wonderful colors; slight tilt of the head; long marvelous lifelike fingers; I could go on and on. He was never very prolific, rather producing individual works of art from the same molds; making each piece a bit different from any other. His variety was incredible! There were some very large pieces with over 150 different molds used! Scenes from every day life, with humor in many pieces (e. g. Siesta's Price, etc), as well as moving (e. g. Madonnas). Whatever one might be seeking in subject matter can be found in his work. Exquisite women, humorous scenes, religious figures, hunters, fishermen, birds......... what more could one want??? His work is displayed in the Vatican, and he is often referred to as the Michaelangelo of porcelain sculptors. His work, while varied, was never prolific, and graces many private collections, including that of Henry Kissinger. His work is also displayed in museums. But after he died, some pieces were re-produced and should not have been, in my (never humble) opinion. They are easy for me to spot. Further, I am appalled when I read ads that say "Excellent Condition; just some broken leaves (or fingers, or loss of lace or whatever.)" "Excellent condition" (or "Very Good Condition") should only be used for pieces with
no losses (chips, cracks, fading, and the like) whatever! Condition reports should be accurate. While some pieces justify expert restoration, it is no small matter to find an expert restorer, nor is it cheap! Further, some imitations are beginning to appear. I have over 200 pieces of Borsato, and will only offer pieces with no losses that are absolutely authentic.
Next, the two premier American porcelain manufacturers: Boehm and Cybis. Both are dedicated to accuracy and realism of their figures, but with great variety of subject matter. Both produced limited editions as well as open editions. From flights of fantasy to historical characters, some magnificent pieces have been produced. There is an innocent beauty to many Cybis pieces, especially those from the "Children To Cherish" or "Fantasy" series. Boehm pieces transform a table into a garden..... one can get lost in the flowers, almost hear their birds sing!
Finally, to Spain! No article about porcelain figurines is complete without mention of Lladro; but the high quality Lladro; not that produced with the name of NAO. Again, both limited editions and open editions; both bisque finish and gloss. Lladro is probably the easiest porcelain that one can find out relatively current prices, as Lladro publishes an authorized Reference Guide, with pictures of all of its creations. The last one that they published was the 2003-2004 Edition. It is generally safe to accept their current values, as well as their reported auction prices; in fact, since their prices have consistently appreciated, the Guide is probably understating the value. The only exception would be a closed edition that has no auction records available, or no current pricing. Rare, but worth mentioning. Of course, again one must be confident that the seller is correctly describing condition. I also believe the least you should expect is for the seller to accurately report the listing from the Price Guide!
There are many other porcelain manufacturers. I have presented only my personal favorites, those which I consider the crème de la crème of porcelain sculpture. I have experienced so much joy through the years from the beauty and pride of ownership of porcelain figurine sculptures.
I cannot stress strongly enough for you to be careful when buying porcelain figurines. As a collector first and foremost myself, I have so enjoyed helping other people get started or add to their collections. One of my real pleasures comes from meeting people who appreciate the same things I do! Some people start small, then trade back toward bigger pieces. Layaway is also available and desirable, and a piece may even appreciate before it is even paid off! Email from people who are looking for a particular piece or type of piece is always welcome, as my personal collections are quite large, and I have so many unlisted items that I can list on request.
Most important is your enjoyment of what you buy. Don't make the mistake of buying something you think is a bargain, but really don't like. That deprives you of the pleasure that beauty can bring
We hope you'll visit Miriam's shop: Barkus Farm Antiques, Collectibles and Fine Art.
COLLECTING WATT POTTERY BY MARY KAY HALE OF SOUTHERN NIGHTS ANTIQUES
My sister-in-law, who is very into antiques and collectibles, recently told me that she didn't know there were any decorated patterns of Watt Pottery other than the Apple. There are many. They include Rooster, Autumn Foliage, Cherry, Starflower, Rio Rose, Red Bud, Pansy, Tulip, Dutch Tulip, Apple, Two Leaf Apple, Reduced Apple, Open Apple, and Double Apple, plus others less often found.
I'm not sure how many different molds they made, but there are coffee mugs, casseroles, canisters, salt & pepper shakers, spaghetti bowls, salad bowls, cereal bowls, grease jars, bean pots, cookie jars, several pitchers, many sizes and shapes of mixing bowls, and the list goes on. I think you get the point.
Watt Pottery Collectors have different goals for their collections. Some collect to decorate their homes in true American Country. There is nothing like the Dutch Tulip pattern to warm up a kitchen with its bold patriotic colors. Sit a pair of salt and pepper shakers with a matching grease jar in the Starflower or Apple pattern on your counter top. They will tell your guests that you are a real country cook, even if you aren't.
Others enjoy using their Watt Pottery. We use our cereal bowls almost every day, and when I cook, (which is not so often these days), I love using the mixing bowls. They are light weight and easy to handle. They also keep cold foods cold and hot foods hot. And, I don't have to tell you how cute they are in the process.
Regardless of the reasons that we collect, we all want our Watt to appreciate in value. Here are some tips in that regard:
First, the obvious, do not overpay. Because there is such a range of values due to availability and desirability, i.e., supply and demand, a good price guide is a must. A creamer is a creamer, right? Condition being equal, prices can vary from $50 to $1,000 and higher based only on which of the hand painted patterns it is. Some patterns in some pieces are hard-to-find and some are extremely rare.
Second, properly cleaning your pottery will indeed increase its value. It is amazing how a good cleaning not only makes a piece shine, but will minimize blemishes. If you need a good recipe, I'll be happy to share mine if you send me an email. Some cleaners will destroy your pottery, so please ask first. Also, protect your Watt from dirt and stains as well as moisture that could cause mold under the glaze.
Third, purchase quality pieces within your price range. Watt it is soft white pottery that was typically sold in rural America for everyday use some fifty years ago. Therefore, collectors are tolerant of minor damage and manufacture defects. But, if you purchase a rare piece in poor condition, you may have to find a future buyer who is willing to have it repaired, or pay to have it repaired yourself just to break even. It would make more sense to spend the same money on more common pieces of good quality, as quality pieces are always in demand even when they are not so rare.
I know it has been said many times before, but please be cautious of reproductions. I have seen them in flea markets and antique stores alike. I usually spot them first by the base color being too white, not creamy yellow as it should be. A friend of mine once purchased a pitcher online. When she washed it, the rooster washed off! Watt was painted before it was glazed, therefore there would never be any fading or wearing away of the painting. There are other signs, but new collectors must depend on reputable sellers.
To add to your knowledge and enjoyment, join The Watt Collectors Association. They put out a very nice newsletter and have annual conventions. It is also very affordable.
Just a note on price guides, get one of the books devoted to only Watt, written by collectors. The general collector books may have sections on Watt, but they are not usually very accurate
We invite you to visit Mary Kay's shop: Southern Nights Antiques.
SEPTEMBER EDITOR'S PICK: A FAR HORIZON
Naturalism was a design form of particular interest to the spreading Middle Class of the mid-19th Century. The light elegance of classical forms carried forward to mix to some degree with bolder naturalistic motifs, but the more robust style had indelibly imprinted itself on the decorative arts by about 1860. Flowers, birds, animals and flowing vistas adorned tea services and the dishes on the dinner table. Perhaps nature gained such faithful appreciation at the time because although the Industrial Revolution had brought with it prosperity for a larger share of the population in most major cities, the factories within those cities kept the people who toiled and 'prospered' within them separated from a natural environment. Nature had once been inherent in the lives of all, as much a comfort as an adversary. Now it became property. Acknowledged as residing on a distant horizon and addressed perhaps with a bit of yearning, nature could still be present and touchable in the tangible objects of everyday life.
By the second half of the 19th Century steam trawlers were replacing slower fishing boats that moved by sail. Blocks of ice could be cut and transported, helping to bring large catches of fish to market. Serving fresh fish to guests soon no longer depended on whether or not one lived next to the sea or another body of water. Naturalistically decorated fish sets joined the ever growing list of possessions needed for laying the fashionable table.
Most fine china fish sets of this era depict familiar species, easily recognized by diners almost anywhere, even today. But some makers selected more fanciful images to display on their ware, choosing at times the images of species recently discovered or documented by naturalists. For instance, more than 60 different local fish were documented by Frederick McCoy, the Professor of Natural Science at the University of Melbourne, Australia, in his "Prodromus of the Zoology of Victoria". Noted for posterity within this huge scientific undertaking were such scaly oddities as the Butterfly Gurnard and the Tasselled Anglerfish. Illustrations commissioned by McCoy, and other similarly inclined scientists of his era around the globe, recorded the diverse landscape of their world and the creatures that could be encountered within it. Some species of fish documented in this way, such as the New Zealand grayling, are today gone forever. Antique fish sets originally made only for the seemingly trivial past purpose of suiting a popular decorative style of the moment may, one day, be noted as holding the only extant images of extinct, finny creatures that once, long ago, swam free in a clear dark sea.
This item can be found in Cadillac Jack's Antiques on Ruby Lane.
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