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Ruby Lane's Past Times Newsletter for May 2006
IN THIS ISSUE:
- A Passion for 19th & 20th Century English Platters and Plates by Linda Bolin of Linda's Enticements
- Vintage and Antique Lighting Take Flight by Pia Stratton of Pia's Antique Gallery
- Ladies Compacts: A Union of Artistry and Function by Michelle d'Anjou of The Knic Knac Nook
- May Editor's Pick: Spring Blooms
- Share Past Times with A Friend
A PASSION FOR 19TH & 20TH CENTURY ENGLISH PLATTERS AND PLATES BY LINDA BOLIN OF LINDA'S ENTICEMENTS
While I'd prefer to be humble rather than call myself an expert authority in this area, I have collected and sold 19th and 20th Century English platters and plates for over 25 years. It all started years ago when a dear friend gave me a 19th Century Blue Willow Platter as a housewarming present. This platter started years of searching for other examples of the pattern I liked and gathering other ceramic platters along the way.
Most of the platters and plates I choose to sell are from Staffordshire area in central England. This district has long been known as a major producer of ceramics since the mid 1600's. The china industry became popular in this location because of the availability of clay and coal, which were the main ingredients for making china and firing the ovens. Among the hundreds of factories whose wares are collected, I look for platters from manufacturers such as Spode, Wedgwood, Adderley's, Ashworth Bros., Doulton, Coalport, Ridgeway, Ford & Son, Royal Worcester, Charles Allerton, Minton, Copeland, and J.M.P. Bell. A great resource for researching companies, identifying manufacturer's marks and dating an item is the book " Encyclopedia of British Pottery and Porcelain Marks" by Geoffrey Godden.
An element to consider when collecting platters and plates is the ceramic body types. This is a confusing topic to most beginning collectors. It is complex, but a very brief explanation is that most English China was manufactured in three body types:
- Earthenware – any clay body that is porous until coated with a glaze and fired in a kiln. Earthenware is opaque, that is you cannot see through it. Earthenware is the weakest of the three ceramic types.
- Stoneware – a very strong and durable body that is impervious to liquids. A glaze is applied to the body before the first firing, and during the first firing the body and glaze fuse together to become vitrified, like glass. Stoneware is opaque and heavier than earthenware. Ironstone is an example of Stoneware.
- Porcelain – a vitreous ceramic made from high quality clay. Porcelain is noted for its translucency and glass like surface. The translucency is obtained from the type of ingredients used in making the body paste. There are three types of Porcelain: Bone Paste, Soft Paste, and Hard Paste. The paste type depends on the type and percentage of ingredients used as well as the manufacturing process.
Most all antique platters and plates are going to show some sign of wear due to age, such as utensil marks, light scratches, crazing, and light staining. But, value does go down due to large chips and cracks. These can be a good buy for wall hanging, but not for re-sale. And if it looks brand new, there is a good chance it is a reproduction! A knowledge of manufacturer marks or back stamps usually helps to distinguish antique pieces from new. What attracts me to a particular platter or plate is the design, pattern, and color. A few popular English designs to look for are Blue Willow, Flow Blue Patterns, Tea Leaf, Indian Tree, Chelsea, Oriental Motifs, White Ironstone, and all the wonderful Transferware designs in floral or landscapes. Transfer Printing, still used today, transfers a tissue print from a copper plate engraving onto a surface such as stoneware. The invention developed in the mid 1700's allowed potters to mass-produce dinnerware with intricate designs at an affordable price. Originally, the process was done in blue and white since it was the easiest color to transfer. Soon followed patterns in red, green, brown, black, and purple. In the 1840's, a multicolor process was developed, but the single color with white remained the most popular.
If you wish to start a collection of platters and plates, study decorating magazines to see how decorators and collectors arrange them in homes. Read books on ceramics to find out their history and value. Invest in books and do Internet research for information on what you are interested in collecting. Many guidebooks have a price list, but prices for certain items will vary with supply and demand. The colors blue and white have always been the best seller, but lately brown and white is in demand. Visit museums, and antique stores to see designs and patterns in person. When you can, touch and feel various ceramic bodies to be able to know porcelain from stoneware. Use your hands to feel around the rim of the platter or plate. Look carefully for hidden damage and repairs. It helps to carry a good quality small magnifying glass to read the print marks due to the small letters used in the manufacturer marks. Then, the fun part is to search for your treasure by shopping antique stores/malls, estate sales, flea markets, and auctions.
Individually a platter lends an aura of distinction to any room or becomes the cornerstone upon which to build a personal collection of beauty. A collection of all one color such as an assortment of red and white Mason's platters and plates makes a dramatic statement on any wall. Another example is using a very large Blue Willow Platter as a centerpiece on the wall and surrounding it with a collection of blue and white plates.
An arrangement of platters, plates and framed prints can create a focal point above a chest or entry table. Arranged to ensure visual balance, they can be very effective decorating. Choose a theme such as flowers, fruit, nautical, oriental, or animals. A friend of mine has a collection of platters and plates in her great room consisting of blue and white Staffordshire transfer print platters and plates, each with a cow incorporated in the transferware design, combining two loves: blue and cows! These dishes are above a late 18th Century French server giving a combination formal, yet somehow casual effect to the room as well.
I've seen antique platters (hopefully chipped ones ) outside in the yard decorating a fence as a backdrop in the flower garden. These platters were floral and complimented the real flowers and birdbath in the area. Charming!
In a 1700's farm house with a fireplace in the kitchen, the owner often hung over the mantle a large stillife painting of fruit, then added several antique platters around and above and below the painting. This added lots of color and visual effect.
English Antique Platters and Plates are as popular now as they were 200 years ago. They are always in style for serving food or decorating. They don't have to be in the kitchen and dining areas only. Platters and plates are now found in every room of the house. I have even seen them hanging in the bathroom! Antique platters and plates forge a bond with the past, yet provide pleasure today and for years to come. I've shared them with my daughter and I'm looking forward to giving some to my granddaughter when she starts housekeeping.
We hope you'll visit Linda's shop: Linda's Enticements.
VINTAGE AND ANTIQUE LIGHTING TAKE FLIGHT BY PIA STRATTON OF PIA'S ANTIQUE GALLERY
Suddenly, I can't seem to keep vintage and antique lighting fixtures in stock. They are practically flying out of my shop as fast as I can find and refurbish them. It hasn't always been that way, especially with old lamps. They used to linger in my shop for months, seemingly to become permanent fixtures. Collectors wanted everything else antique from decorative items to furniture, but they seldom bought an "old lamp."
Until recently, I preferred to leave those fixtures as found with the old shade and wiring intact, offering them to my customers as a sort of project. My thought was that they could choose their own shades as a matter of taste along with whether or not to replace the old wiring. This state of mind was due in large part to the fact that I had failed to find someone reliable enough to tackle the project of bringing these old fixtures up to modern safety standards without disturbing the patina of age. I certainly didn't have the time or the knowledge to do it, as electrical wiring has always been a little scary for me. I have been shocked (literally) enough times plugging in old lamps to know that it is something a novice doesn't want to fool with.
While discussing my poor lighting sales with my genius of a husband one day, who is not into Antiques, I asked him what he would have purchased as a carefree bachelor before I came into his life. He said that although he liked the uniqueness of an antique lamp, what was most important to him was that he could walk out of the shop, take it home, and plug it in. Then a light bulb went off in my head (so to speak). If I had been reluctant to attempt to redo an old fixture, why should I expect my clientele to want to do it or, for that matter, be capable of doing it? I have since found that most people who come into my shop either on foot or computer prefer to buy a fixture that they can plug in and enjoy immediately, just like my husband. While they are perfectly willing to embrace an old chest or piece of porcelain with flaws and feature that piece in their home, they want their lighting fixtures to be intact and ready-to-go. Electrical lighting is a very nice modern convenience, and yes there is a reason we don't rely on candles or oil lamps anymore. I figured that my clientele would probably embrace the beauty and uniqueness of older fixtures, if they had the safety and functionality of modern lighting. They expect it to work reliably; look beautiful, and they want to know that although it is old, it is safe and won't reduce their house to cinders.
So I was faced with the challenge of finding a reliable source to refurbish these lamps and lighting fixtures. Coincidentally, one day a young man named David Phillips walked into my shop saying that he was in the process of starting a lighting restoration business. I grabbed him and gave him a few lights to repair, which he promptly got back to me the next day, perfectly restored and working. I was overjoyed-- so much so, that he now rents space in my old building and has an entire business, Lighting Restorations www.lightingrestorations.com where he electrically and cosmetically repairs old fixtures. Needless to say, I don't have any more lamps, sconces, chandeliers, or anything else that has electricity running through it that is not first checked out by him. As a result, my sales in lighting have quadrupled.
As far as lamps go, the possibilities are endless. You can make a lamp out of literally anything and are limited only by your imagination. We've made lamps out of old piano legs, wooden balusters, andirons, chenets, and a single bookend that has lost its partner, even books. We have started to see a trend for larger lamps whereas a year or two ago, smaller lamps were more desired. The vintage polychrome metal figural lamps, popular in the 1930-1960's, also seem to be making a comeback. I have learned to provide attractive shades for these lamps because most of the older shades are just not usable. I usually stick with a neutral colored silk shade although there are some wonderful material and pattern combinations available. Even if the client eventually changes the shade to suit their décor, they are more apt to buy a lamp if a shade is included.
There is also no short supply of wonderful old 18th and 19th century vases and figurines drilled for lamps after the discovery of electricity. Although it pains me to see a porcelain or glass vase drilled for electrical works, what's done is done so we just improve upon it. I much prefer, however, the kind of electrical works that don't disturb the integrity of the object. What better way to showcase a beautiful figurine or vase than to anchor it on a platform, shine a light on it and finish it off with a lovely shade? There are several lighting companies that offer a myriad of suitable lamp parts. One of my favorite companies is right here in Tennessee, B & P Lamp Supply, online at: www.bplampsupply.com
It is a little more difficult to restore old chandeliers, but not impossible, even if it means replacing missing or broken prisms which can be found on a multiple of online sites. Non-electric 18th and 19th century chandeliers can also be wired on the outside with gold or silver colored wire resulting in minimal invasion or alteration to the fixture. I have found that people would rather have an old unique fixture in working order than something new and mass-produced, no matter what the cost. Wrought iron and tole chandeliers have been especially popular in the past few years, and I don't see that trend slowing down. Porcelain hanging fixtures are also hotly desired but harder to find, as most porcelain tends to have been broken over the years, especially the arms. Of course, crystal and glass never go out of style, and I can't seem to find enough of them.
Although we will clean a fixture, I like to leave the old patina or finish as original as possible. I seldom repaint iron or metal fixtures preferring the old rust to a new shiny surface. A little scratch or knick to the enamel is just a testament to its age, a tale of its past and something only time can impart. Why take that history away? My clients are taught to appreciate that fact, but I always stress to them that it will work and that it is safe. Once they are assured of this, the fixture is as good as sold.
The market for antique and vintage lighting is and will remain strong, the older more unique the better, but it has to work and it has to be safe. This usually entails a refurbishing project so keep that in mind when you set out to buy. If you can do this yourself, then all the better. If not, then either purchase fixtures that have already been refurbished or find a good restorer that can be trusted.
We invite you to visit Pia's shop: Pia's Antique Gallery.
LADIES COMPACTS: A UNION OF ARTISTRY AND FUNCTION BY MICHELLE D'ANJOU OF THE KNIC KNAC NOOK
My enjoyment of vintage ladies' compacts and vanity cases came first from an appreciation for guilloché work found on jewelry and watches, that fine technique of decorative engine turning on metalwork. Fabergé first combined the machine turned metal decoration with colorful translucent enameling, creating a lovely glossy finish over these often intricate designs. I've also always been fascinated with well designed and functional space-saving objects, and the history of compact design is filled with examples of such innovations, both successful and failed. In the quest to provide women with a full make-up kit in a 3 inch by 3 inch (or smaller) space, designers have created some remarkable pieces over the last century. Lipsticks inside compact cases in particular have been devised in a myriad of remarkable shapes, including hinged fold-out tubes, and even hidden compartments worthy of a Dick Tracy spy device!
Vanity case and compact collecting seems to never go out of favor. There are always a wide variety of styles and periods to choose from for the beginning collector, and they can usually be found in local antique malls and on-line shops. By their nature, because they were an item handled and used on a daily basis, compacts and vanity cases are often in less than perfect condition, so finding a mint or near mint case can be a real treat for both long-time and start-up collectors. Buying less than perfect pieces, with case scuffing or metal finish wear, small enamel chips, or missing puffs, is acceptable, and many buyers choose these less-than-perfect pieces for their collections while they wait to find the elusive perfect condition masterpiece. (Heavy damage such as deep metal scratches or significant paint loss should be avoided most of the time.) Less-than-perfect cases will cost less too, and can help the beginning collector become familiar with different materials and period styles without spending a bundle.
Compacts come in all sizes and shapes, with individual names for each category. I like the whimsy in the aptly named "flapjacks", large (usually 4" across or more) flat powder cases which reached the height of their popularity in the 1950's. One of my favorite compacts from my own collection (since sold) was a flapjack, an unsigned pink-enameled gold case with a bas relief stylized bird in flight, clutching a wiggling caterpillar in its beak. To top it off, the caterpillar was studded with collet set aqua blue rhinestones.
The vanity case is a compact with multiple compartments for rouge or other items. One vanity style which is reflected in its name is the pillow or cushion case, a 2" or so metal body which is square and "poofy" in the center, shaped much like a throw pillow, with compartments on both sides. Other design shape names include the envelope case, for its front flap clasp, and the widely available Kamra, named for its resemblance to early slimline cameras.
Purses and carry-alls are the larger cousins of compacts and vanities, and were most in fashion mid-century, after World War II. Some were shaped like a conventional purse or handbag with compartments, while others were essentially a metal box with a handle. The interiors held an array of full size lipstick tubes, cigarettes, hankies, face powder, rouge, keys, coins, papers - whatever the designer may have decided a lady needed. The idea, I think, was to replace the actual purse and for some occasions that might have been useful, but carry-all cases never made a real inroad in the vanity marketplace. For some reason they always make me think of Joan Crawford in Mommie Dearest: cold, efficient, and a bit dangerous!
Then there are the rare finds in the world of compacts which fetch high prices and can be crown jewels for a serious collector's display case, such as the unusually shaped designer compacts referred to as "whimsies" or novelty cases. Included are figural folding vanity tables, chairs, and pianos from Volupté and other makers; the famous Salvador Dali designed "Bird In Hand" case by Elgin American; the Volupté hand shaped case which came with several varieties of lace and bejeweled detailing; exquisite guilloché decorated chatelaine style sets; and some military novelties, such as Army and Navy officer hat shaped powder compacts. Another area of rare finds are the non-metals (early plastics, paper, and wood) made during and just after World War II. My own favorite in this category are wooden cases, which can be especially hard to find in good condition with painted decoration intact.
More easily acquired are those novelty souvenirs from tourist destinations: Florida, New York, Las Vegas, and Hollywood are commonly found examples. These are not rare, but are quite fun, with their bas relief decorations, incised road maps or enameled tourist scenes. The Art Deco era of the 1920's and ‘30s was a time when small vanity cases were particularly popular, and there are many gorgeous examples to be found. Silverwork case decorations, the ubiquitous leaping gazelle, and the artistic designs of Richard Hudnut are a good place for the beginner to start an impressive looking but fairly inexpensive collection.
Quality names to look for are Elgin American (or initials E.A.M. - not the later Elgins made in Japan after 1963), Volupté, Evans, Deauville, and La Mode. More traditionally styled cases - gold and silver metals adorned with rhinestones, mother-of-pearl, or incised florals -are also more moderately priced, and can be found under the names Rex, Wadsworth, Zell Fifth Avenue, Pilcher, Elgin, and others. Cases with decorative paper case tops, faux guilloché, plastic, or petit point are usually affordable and easily located for the beginner.
Echoing the feminine touches of the powder and rouge case are other dresser items such as powder jars, hair receivers, mirror, comb and brush sets, and perfume bottles. All of the above are guaranteed to catch my eye when I see them offered at a local auction house or on-line antique mall. And all can be found in a wide variety of materials, styles, and prices. From affordable spun aluminum combination music box/loose powder jars, to pricey 19th century French painted porcelain full dresser sets, ladies boudoir items convey a sense of order and elegance we don't always take time for in today's more casual world. But my first love is still the ladies' vanity case of pre-World War II, with its breathtaking array of art nouveau, deco, and art moderne case designs, and the amazing arrangements of powder, rouge, lipstick, and/or coin compartments devised for these diminutive pieces.
As an antiques and collectibles dealer, I have a growing library of reference books on many areas of collecting, and one of my favorite books on any subject is "The Collector's Encyclopedia of Compacts, Carryalls & Face Powder Boxes, Identification and Values" by Laura M. Mueller. Her book is a great place to start researching and enjoying the wide variety of designs. Not only does it provide a comprehensive history of compact design and manufacture, and a breathtaking array of photographic examples, but Ms. Mueller writes with wit and enthusiasm on the subject, making it a pleasure to take the trip through compact history, from the petite and feminine loose powder tins of the late 19th century to the imposing (and even dangerous looking!) carry-all cases of the 1950's.
We invite you to visit Michelle's Shop: The Knic Knac Nook.
MAY EDITOR'S PICK: SPRING BLOOMS
Archaeological evidence suggests that some 60,000 years ago Neanderthals picked and bestowed flowers upon individual members of a their clan as perhaps a sign of esteem. No one can say if bouquets of flowers would commonly have been decorative adjuncts to the genteel cave dwellings of the day, artfully arranged in vessels of bone or horn, gracing otherwise drab family dining rocks. But significance for the floral bouquet persisted, just the same. The most humble villagers of ancient Egypt tended their dooryard flower beds, and in the Orient a long time line can be traced in which the beauty of flowers was magnified through thousands of years of art.
For modern Homo Sapiens, giving someone a bouquet of flowers can act as an expression of high regard, even as it did for the ancients. Bright blooms can cheer the shut-in, elderly or ill; they can help us to apologize, or remind someone that they are loved.
But, what of the vessels made through the ages to contain and help nourish the gathered flowers? Ephemeral blooms must fade and eventually disappear from all but memory. Consider the companion to transient bouquets: the amphora, the urn, the vase. These can, and often do, remain behind on the table.
The container in which flowers were once arrayed can have an extraordinary nature - and a history - all its own. It can rest in proud display, continuing to please the eye. It can soothe the soul, as well, if reminding one of happy times long after the flowers of that day are gone. Unlike the blooms it may have once held, a beautiful vase can pass from human to human, or from one generation to the next, with no diminution of its glory.
Picture attributed to Douglas Quaresma 20th Century Designs.
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