Popeye Reed sandstone Indian bust, sold for $823 at Cowan’s Auctions in May. Image courtesy Cowan’s Auctions Inc.

Cowan’s Corner: Inside track for Outsider Art

Popeye Reed sandstone Indian bust, sold for $823 at Cowan’s Auctions in May. Image courtesy Cowan’s Auctions Inc.

Popeye Reed sandstone Indian bust, sold for $823 at Cowan’s Auctions in May. Image courtesy Cowan’s Auctions Inc.

If you are looking for an attention-grabbing, unusual and unique field to collect, Outsider Art might be just what you are seeking. First coined after World War II, Art Brut or “rough art” was the term used to define art created by those with mental disorders, in solitude and from pure creative impulses, with no interference of social concerns. Over time the definition has broadened, with artists who are outside the tradition of academic art falling under the umbrella of Outsider Art. The genre is characterized by highly original works made by individuals whose inspiration comes from personal experiences rather than formal training. Outsider Art is also referred to as 20th-century folk art, contemporary folk art or self-taught art.

Outsider Art is almost exclusively comprised of sculpture and paintings. Though traditional art mediums such as oil paint, watercolor, canvas, wood and stone are used, much of this art is not created in traditional ways. Artists use found or easily accessible materials such as plastic, cardboard, discarded wood or metal, organic materials such as tree roots and mud, combined with house paint, plaster, or colored marker pens. All can be sources of inspiration and tools for the artists’ creations.

The genre has grown in popularity over the last 40 years, with the works of recognized masters such as William Edmondson, Martin Ramirez, Howard Finster, Sam Doyle and Bill Traylor commanding prices in the thousands. Important public and private collections house pieces by these artists and others, and as such, collectors should be prepared to pay accordingly. Sources known to handle these works, such as collectors, dealers and auction houses, should be consulted when pieces become available for sale. However, this is an exciting field in that despite its popularity, Outsider Art is still available and affordable for just a few hundred dollars.

The key to collecting is study and patience. “Honing the eye,” by viewing works first-hand in museum collections, exhibitions and galleries, is just as important as reading one of the many books written about the field. Having a passion for what you buy and buying the best quality you can afford make collecting a fulfilling experience. Many of these works can be colorful, textural, bold, interesting and mysterious; in some cases this can describe a single piece. Outsider Art will show you many one-of-a-kind perspectives on the world, and the adventures you have while seeking pieces and learning about artists will produce priceless memories.

altWes Cowan is founder and owner of Cowan’s Auctions Inc. in Cincinnati, Ohio. An internationally recognized expert in historic Americana, Wes stars in the PBS television series History Detectives and is a featured appraiser on Antiques Roadshow. He can be reached via email at info@cowans.com. Research by Roxanne Argenbright.


ADDITIONAL LOTS OF NOTE


Charlie Willeto rare animal carving, estimated to sell for $2,300-$2,500 in October. Image courtesy Cowan’s Auctions Inc.

Charlie Willeto rare animal carving, estimated to sell for $2,300-$2,500 in October. Image courtesy Cowan’s Auctions Inc.


Painting by Richard Burnside, estimated to sell for $100-$200 in October. Image courtesy Cowan’s Auctions Inc.

Painting by Richard Burnside, estimated to sell for $100-$200 in October. Image courtesy Cowan’s Auctions Inc.


‘Timberwolf’ by Levant Isik, estimated to bring $100-$200 in October. Image courtesy Cowan’s Auctions Inc.

‘Timberwolf’ by Levant Isik, estimated to bring $100-$200 in October. Image courtesy Cowan’s Auctions Inc.


‘Find the Missing Man’ diorama in a bottle, sold for $1,725 at Cowan’s in March 2008. Image courtesy Cowan’s Auctions Inc.

‘Find the Missing Man’ diorama in a bottle, sold for $1,725 at Cowan’s in March 2008. Image courtesy Cowan’s Auctions Inc.

This Gallé Cameo art glass vase is estimated to bring $400-$600 is Cowan’s July 31 Continental Fine and Decorative Art Auction.

Cowan’s Corner: Ancient art glass makes a cameo at auction

This Gallé Cameo art glass vase is estimated to bring $400-$600 is Cowan’s July 31 Continental Fine and Decorative Art Auction.

This Gallé Cameo art glass vase is estimated to bring $400-$600 is Cowan’s July 31 Continental Fine and Decorative Art Auction.

Art glass sprang from a revolution in glassmaking in the mid 1800s, when glass blowers began experimenting with different colors, patterns and textures. The subsequent melding of artistry and technique resulted in a wide variety of beautiful handmade objects. One of these art glass techniques was known as Cameo glass, or art glass with small sculpture designs executed in low relief, creating a difficult and time-consuming process.

Cameo glass techniques were first used in early Roman era and the results were nothing less than magnificent. The famous Portland vase, which took 10 years to complete, is such a product from this era. A highly skilled Roman gem-carver likely created it around 30 B.C. The vase was made of violet-blue glass, and surrounded with a single continuous white glass cameo, depicting Roman and mythological figures. This vase has served as an inspiration to many a glassmaker from about the beginning of the 18th century onward.

After the Portland vase was broken while on display in the British Museum, John Northwood, a Stroubridge glass designer and manufacturer was commissioned to replicate the famous vase. It took three years to complete and received rave reviews, which helped establish him as a fine glass engraver. Northwood started to produce other pieces of Cameo glass, for the demand was evident that it was indeed an accepted and desirable form of collectible art. This then began the revival of cameo glass, which was suited equally to Neo-Grec taste and the French Art Nouveau.

Due to the onset popularity of Cameo glass in the late 1800s, other English glass manufactures followed Northwood’s revival of glass carving. By 1890-1899 many of the top European glass companies and designers were producing Cameo glass. George Woodall, Stevens and Williams, Thomas Webb & Sons, Joseph Locke, Emile Gallé, Daum and others were among the list of prestigious glass carvers. Cameo glass is the result of two or more layers of glass having been laminated together by means of acid and hand-tool carving, the final pattern on the outer surface is left in high relief by removing the surrounding area.

The Cameo art glass market was well received and the demands for production by British glass manufactures continue into the 20th century. Today the interest in early Cameo glass is still strong among collectors. The skill involved to produce a piece of Cameo glass is well appreciated and respected. Daum, Gallé, Val St. Lambert, Thomas Webb & Sons, and Woodall are just a few names that are associated with fine Cameo art glass and thus bring a respectable price at auction. In today’s auction market a 5-inch Daum Cameo vase would sell for approximately $1,000 and an exceptional wheel carved Cameo vase could sell for $5,000 or more.

Avid collectors who can’t wait to add to their growing collection of Cameo glass and even novice collectors can see the beauty and realize what it took to make that glass vase. From the hours designing, the skill in carving, the finished product, no two Cameo glass vases are alike, each being individually created. It is an art form from early history that will always be appreciated.

altWes Cowan is founder and owner of Cowan’s Auctions Inc. in Cincinnati, Ohio. An internationally recognized expert in historic Americana, Wes stars in the PBS television series History Detectives and is a featured appraiser on Antiques Roadshow. He can be reached via email at info@cowans.com. Research by Janet Rogers.


ADDITIONAL LOTS OF NOTE


A Legras Cameo art glass vase is estimated to bring $1,000-$1,500 in Cowan’s July 31 Continental Fine and Decorative Art Auction.

A Legras Cameo art glass vase is estimated to bring $1,000-$1,500 in Cowan’s July 31 Continental Fine and Decorative Art Auction.


A Pair of enameled Cameo glass barber bottles sold for $160 in Cowan’s 2007 Shaving Mugs and Barbershop Collectibles Auction.

A Pair of enameled Cameo glass barber bottles sold for $160 in Cowan’s 2007 Shaving Mugs and Barbershop Collectibles Auction.

A rare British Tom Thumb ‘The American Man in Miniature’ handbill realized $180 in Cowan’s 2004 Spring Historical Americana Auction. Image courtesy Cowan’s Auctions Inc.

Cowan’s Corner: Little people hit the big time

A rare British Tom Thumb ‘The American Man in Miniature’ handbill realized $180 in Cowan’s 2004 Spring Historical Americana Auction. Image courtesy Cowan’s Auctions Inc.

A rare British Tom Thumb ‘The American Man in Miniature’ handbill realized $180 in Cowan’s 2004 Spring Historical Americana Auction. Image courtesy Cowan’s Auctions Inc.

We are all familiar with the phrase “big things come in small packages,” and in the case of famed showman P.T. Barnum’s tiniest performers such as General Tom Thumb, the paraphernalia created at the height of these miniature celebrities’ careers often comes in small, yet valuable packages that can draw a great deal of interest among collectors of American and circus history.

Although Barnum featured a variety of acts and “human curiosities,” including giants, dwarves, magicians, albinos and exotic women at his American Museum in New York City as well as in his tours and traveling circus, Tom Thumb was one of Barnum’s smallest, yet most popular performers. Born Charles Sherwood Stratton (1838-1883) in Bridgeport, Conn., Tom Thumb was discovered by Barnum, a distant relative, around the age of 5. After learning how to sing, dance and impersonate famous people, Stratton went on his first tour of America alongside Barnum, which turned out to be a major success. The following year, Stratton journeyed to Europe, where he appeared twice before Queen Victoria, thus making a name for himself both nationally and internationally.

In 2004, Cowan’s handled a rare handbill advertising one of Tom Thumb’s engagements during his first trip to England in 1844. Featuring a depiction of the small star standing before Barnum and his parents, the broadside describes Tom Thumb, weighing only 15 pounds, as the “American Man in Miniature,” yet lies by saying he is 13-years-old, when in reality, he was only 6 at the time. This fine handbill brought $150 at auction, and comparable advertisements for Tom Thumb among other unique celebrities can bring between $50 and $200 at auction, making them affordable items for beginning collectors.

Photographs of Tom Thumb and fellow performers have frequently appeared at auction and in Internet sales over the years. Some of the most well-known photographs document the marriage of Tom Thumb to another dwarf by the name of Lavinia Warren in 1863, capturing the highly-publicized ceremony as well as the wedding party, which included Commodore Nutt, another mini Barnum performer, and Warren’s even smaller sister, Minnie. Barnum actually hired famous Civil War photographer Mathew Brady to produce the photographs of the wedding to sell to the mass market. Some photos even feature facsimile signatures of the wedding party on the back. A beginning collector can purchase carte-de-visite photos of Tom Thumb’s wedding, as well as comparable images of Barnum’s miniature celebrities for between $25 and $50.

In June, Cowan’s is featuring an archive of Tom Thumb collectibles that once belonged to his personal valet, B.F. Sellers, and the highlights include Tom Thumb’s miniature topcoat, vest, pants, gloves, wool cap and fine leather boots, manufactured by the Queen of England’s boot makers. This rather petite, yet remarkable group, valued at $10,000-$15,000, may appeal to the more passionate Tom Thumb collector, but it is still quite a sight to behold for those interested in the history and stature of this 19th-century celebrity.

Although it might be difficult for you to get your hands on an item from his wardrobe, it might be less challenging to obtain photographs, broadsides and ephemera related to Tom Thumb plus other well-known miniature Barnum performers, such as Commodore Nutt, Admiral Dot and Major Atom, and with Barnum’s 200th birthday coming up on July 5, it would only be fitting to invest in these tiny pieces of history.

altWes Cowan is founder and owner of Cowan’s Auctions Inc. in Cincinnati. An internationally recognized expert in historic Americana, Wes stars in the PBS television series History Detectives and is a featured appraiser on Antiques Roadshow. He can be reached via e-mail at info@cowans.com. Research by Katie Landrigan.


ADDITIONAL LOTS OF NOTE


This group of P.T. Barnum ephemera sold for $390 at Cowan’s 2006 Spring Historical Americana Auction. Image courtesy of Cowan’s Auctions Inc.

This group of P.T. Barnum ephemera sold for $390 at Cowan’s 2006 Spring Historical Americana Auction. Image courtesy of Cowan’s Auctions Inc.


Three Tom Thumb Wedding CDVs sold for $30 at Cowan’s 2009 Firearms, Indian Art, & American History Auction. Image courtesy of Cowan’s Auctions Inc.

Three Tom Thumb Wedding CDVs sold for $30 at Cowan’s 2009 Firearms, Indian Art, & American History Auction. Image courtesy of Cowan’s Auctions Inc.


These CDV images are from an album that belonged to Tom Thumb’s personal valet. Typically these individual carte-de-visit photos bring $25-$50 apiece at auction. Image courtesy of Cowan’s Auctions Inc.

These CDV images are from an album that belonged to Tom Thumb’s personal valet. Typically these individual carte-de-visit photos bring $25-$50 apiece at auction. Image courtesy of Cowan’s Auctions Inc.


Tom Thumb's boots, kepi, pants, topcoat, and vest are estimated to sell for $10,000-$15,000 in Cowan’s 2010 American History, Including the Civil War Auction this month. Image courtesy of Cowan’s Auctions Inc.

Tom Thumb’s boots, kepi, pants, topcoat, and vest are estimated to sell for $10,000-$15,000 in Cowan’s 2010 American History, Including the Civil War Auction this month. Image courtesy of Cowan’s Auctions Inc.


Tom Thumb's boots, kepi, pants, topcoat, and vest are estimated to sell for $10,000-$15,000 in Cowan’s 2010 American History, Including the Civil War Auction this month. Image courtesy of Cowan’s Auctions Inc.

Tom Thumb’s boots, kepi, pants, topcoat, and vest are estimated to sell for $10,000-$15,000 in Cowan’s 2010 American History, Including the Civil War Auction this month. Image courtesy of Cowan’s Auctions Inc.

Model 1896 McClellan saddle rig, complete with the saddlebags, lariat, and carbine boot for a Krag carbine, estimated to sell for $3,000-$4,000. Image courtesy Cowan’s Auctions.

Cowan’s Corner: U.S. Cavalry saddle accoutrements

Model 1896 McClellan saddle rig, complete with the saddlebags, lariat, and carbine boot for a Krag carbine, estimated to sell for $3,000-$4,000. Image courtesy Cowan’s Auctions.

Model 1896 McClellan saddle rig, complete with the saddlebags, lariat, and carbine boot for a Krag carbine, estimated to sell for $3,000-$4,000. Image courtesy Cowan’s Auctions.

Collectors of relics from American history, especially those interested in American militaria, may find a unique collecting opportunity in the accoutrements associated with the U.S. Cavalry. The scope of collecting in this field is large and can include flags, headgear, uniforms, firearms and sabers. The Cavalry is synonymous with the horse, and just collecting saddle-related items is a large category of interest in itself. The Indian Wars era (1866-1898) was the high point in the history of the U.S. Cavalry, and collectors compete enthusiastically for items from that period.

The U.S. military suppliers were obviously required make items that we commonly associate with the Cavalry, such as saddles, stirrups and bits. However, the suppliers also needed to make peripheral items, to be used during the campaigns, which attached to the saddles. Even today, many of these items are available in the market for collectors who are seeking them.

Indeed, when one looks at a historic military saddle on display in a museum, one may at first be bewildered by all of the articles that go with the saddle; there seems to be an excess of arcane objects hanging from it. For a collector with a modest budget, these “peripheral” items allow him to accumulate separate objects that can be used to create a complete “rig,” just the way the saddle would have looked while in use more than 100 years ago.

Attached to the sides of the saddles would be conveyance items such as saddle bags for carrying provisions, saddle holsters, saddle scabbards, and carbine boots. A collector should look for the “U.S.” stamping on the leather that is proof that the item was U.S. military issue. Other more esoteric items include picket pins, tent covers, rain jackets, canteens and even lariats. Some of these may not have the “U.S.” markings, but would have been essential items for the soldiers.

Underneath the saddle, saddle blankets were used to protect the horse’s coat from constant rubbing. These blankets were usually made out of wool and sometimes would have the Cavalry unit’s designations on them. A “shabraque,” a cover designed to go over the saddle, is a rare accessory and were not in common use by the U.S. Cavalry. Gen. Robert E. Lee was presented a shabraque during the Civil War by the ladies of Richmond, Va. Lee, being a gracious man, accepted the gift, but used it only one time in his career, at a military review.

Behind the saddle, a valise would be attached for carrying provisions. The “Grimsley leather horseshoe pouch,” carrying a spare horseshoe and nails, was the “emergency roadside kit” of the day.

Cavalry accoutrements provide a range of material for everyone – from the novice to the sophisticated collector. For the beginning collector interested in American military history, they can be a unique and affordable niche on which to focus; having a goal of constructing a complete “rig” can be a fun lifelong pursuit.

altWes Cowan is founder and owner of Cowan’s Auctions Inc. in Cincinnati. An internationally recognized expert in historic Americana, Wes stars in the PBS television series History Detectives and is a featured appraiser on Antiques Roadshow. He can be reached via email at info@cowans.com. Research by Joe Moran.


ADDITIONAL LOTS OF NOTE


M1885 leather U.S. saddlebags, displaying the U.S. stamp and maker’s name, sold for $633 in April 2009 at Cowan’s. Image courtesy Cowan’s Auctions.

M1885 leather U.S. saddlebags, displaying the U.S. stamp and maker’s name, sold for $633 in April 2009 at Cowan’s. Image courtesy Cowan’s Auctions.


Two rifle scabbards sold as a single lot for $403 in November. Image courtesy Cowan’s Auctions.

Two rifle scabbards sold as a single lot for $403 in November. Image courtesy Cowan’s Auctions.


A 1908 service saddlecloth is estimated to sell for $500-$700. Image courtesy Cowan’s Auctions.

A 1908 service saddlecloth is estimated to sell for $500-$700. Image courtesy Cowan’s Auctions.


Considered rare, a Civil War officer’s shabraque is estimated to bring $2,000-$3,000. Image courtesy Cowan’s Auctions.

Considered rare, a Civil War officer’s shabraque is estimated to bring $2,000-$3,000. Image courtesy Cowan’s Auctions.


Cavalry officer’s saddle valise from the late Indian Wars is estimated to sell for $500-$700. Image courtesy Cowan’s Auctions.

Cavalry officer’s saddle valise from the late Indian Wars is estimated to sell for $500-$700. Image courtesy Cowan’s Auctions.

A fine example of an etching and aquatint by Karl Bodmer, published in his travels, depicts rich details. It sold for $6,750 in June 2008 at Cowan’s. Image courtesy of Cowan’s Auctions Inc.

Cowan’s Corner: Images of the American Indian

A fine example of an etching and aquatint by Karl Bodmer, published in his travels, depicts rich details. It sold for $6,750 in June 2008 at Cowan’s. Image courtesy of Cowan’s Auctions Inc.

A fine example of an etching and aquatint by Karl Bodmer, published in his travels, depicts rich details. It sold for $6,750 in June 2008 at Cowan’s. Image courtesy of Cowan’s Auctions Inc.

During the early part of the 1830s, Western expansion was in full force. Following the Treaty of Greenville in 1795, Ohio was admitted as the 17th state in 1803, and was rapidly settled. The push west continued. The Missouri and Mississippi rivers became major conduits for exploration and further settlement; trading posts were established, regular army patrols conducted, and expansion increased.

At this time, a surge of visual material related to the American Indian tribes began to surface. This sudden appearance was largely due to the work of two artists working separately, albeit under parallel circumstances. Karl Bodmer (Swiss, 1809-1893), George Catlin (American, 1796-1872).

The monumental (and unlikely) figures of this movement, Karl Bodmer and George Catlin, came from very different circumstances – Catlin the purely American capitalist and relentless self-promoter, Bodmer the reserved, quiet Swiss printmaker and draftsman. Each produced an enormous body of work that survives, amazingly, in original form and in the form published prints.

George Catlin began his artistic career as a miniature portrait painter in Philadelphia, common work for an artist attempting to make a living. Catlin became fascinated with Native Americans after witnessing a delegation of Native Americans in Philadelphia. In 1830, Catlin joined a diplomatic mission up the Mississippi River. From 1830-1836, Catlin took five trips, resulting in an abundance of original portraits, landscapes and cultural studies. St. Louis was his base of operations, and paintings were stored there until Catlin felt he had amassed enough material to market back East.

Catlin was a gifted promoter, and often remarked that the American Indian tribes were rapidly disappearing, highlighting the rarity of his paintings. By 1838, Catlin had fully cataloged his collection and displayed them in his great Indian Gallery in New York. Unable to sell his entire collection to the United States government, Catlin took his gallery on tour through Europe, and eventually sold his collection, to a wealthy Philadelphia collector. Amazingly, the collection of original paintings survives today. If the Smithsonian purchased the works as Catlin had originally intended, the collection would have almost certainly burned in the 1865 fire that consumed the Smithsonian.

Catlin’s North American Indian Portfolio was published in 1844. Each with 25 color plates these volumes were inexpensive and accessible to the common collector. Most of these are broken out, or divided into single plates and framed. They regularly surface on the market and are in demand. Catlin’s originals are primarily at the Smithsonian or in institutional hands.

Karl Bodmer, Swiss born draftsman, was selected to accompany German explorer Prince Maximilian zu Wied on a scientific expedition to North America, specifically to document the native tribes, geography, and various animal and plant species. From 1832-1834, Bodmer’s group traveled along the Missouri River, recording their findings. Bodmer explored the same period as Catlin and produced an enormous body of work, primarily watercolors, focusing on American Indian subjects and their art, utensils and cultural ceremonies, as well as landscapes. Bodmer’s work was incredibly precise, and is viewed by scholars today as being a more accurate representation of the various American Indian tribes.

Upon returning to Germany, Bodmer became engaged in the printing process. Eighty-one illustration plates were designed as hand-colored etchings and aquatints, to be incorporated into Prince Maximilian’s Travels in the Interior of North America, published in London in 1839. Like Catlin, Bodmer’s prints usually surface on the market today as individual plates. His entire collection of original watercolors now resides at the Joslyn Art Museum in Omaha, Neb.

In today’s market, both Bodmer and Catlin works on paper command strong prices at auction. Though numerous plates were produced, they are rare to find them in good condition, and they are some of the first examples of American Indian subjects produced in printed form.

altWes Cowan is founder and owner of Cowan’s Auctions Inc. in Cincinnati. An internationally recognized expert in historic Americana, Wes stars in the PBS television series History Detectives and is a featured appraiser on Antiques Roadshow. He can be reached via email at info@cowans.com. Research by Graydon Sikes.


ADDITIONAL LOTS OF NOTE


This lithograph depicting a ‘Bear Dance,’ a plate from 'Catlin's North American Indian Portfolio,' sold for $1,300 in Cowan's June, 2009 Historical Americana auction. Image courtesy of Cowan’s Auctions Inc.

This lithograph depicting a ‘Bear Dance,’ a plate from ‘Catlin’s North American Indian Portfolio,’ sold for $1,300 in Cowan’s June, 2009 Historical Americana auction. Image courtesy of Cowan’s Auctions Inc.


‘Indian Utensils and Arms,’ is a good example of Bodmer's thorough and scientific approach, from the view of an artist/ethnologist. It sold for $1,200. Image courtesy of Cowan’s Auctions Inc.

‘Indian Utensils and Arms,’ is a good example of Bodmer’s thorough and scientific approach, from the view of an artist/ethnologist. It sold for $1,200. Image courtesy of Cowan’s Auctions Inc.

This shelf clock, made by Terry & Andrews, is an example of single feature, the lancet arch. It sold for $330 in Cowan’s April 2007 Auction. Image courtesy of Cowan’s Auctions Inc.

Cowan’s Corner: Gothic style – revival or survival

This shelf clock, made by Terry & Andrews, is an example of single feature, the lancet arch.  It sold for $330 in Cowan’s April 2007 Auction. Image courtesy of Cowan’s Auctions Inc.

This shelf clock, made by Terry & Andrews, is an example of single feature, the lancet arch. It sold for $330 in Cowan’s April 2007 Auction. Image courtesy of Cowan’s Auctions Inc.

Gothic style conjures images of extreme costume – black draping coats or gowns, spiky ornament, blackened eyes, a la Adams Family, but Gothic and the style enjoy a much richer, deeper, longer and more sophisticated history than its connotation among young adults going for dark shock valuue.

Gothic, or the French style, as it was known initially in the 12th century, was ecclesiastical architecture and pertained to the form and structure of medieval churches. Its predecessor, Roman architecture, was noted for the Roman arch – a half circle supported by columns at either end. Gothic arches were pointed, and in churches, buttressed to keep them stable. The whole idea – remember this is church architecture – was creating a tribute to the Creator, so the successor to Roman architecture went with height and heavenly light – vaulted arches, stained glass windows, ennobling height, all designed to inspire adulation.

In the 15th and 16th centuries, characteristics of the Gothic architecture manifest in the decorative arts – furniture, metalwork, textiles and ceramics – and there was an enormous vocabulary of ornament from which to choose. The lancet arch, which appears to be praying hands, is most prolific. Tracery, or the support structure for Gothic glass windows, is often used as a design background, rather a structure imperative. Trefoils, or quatrefoils, carved piercings or openings for light, are another. Crockets, or the stylized emulation of flowers or leaves, used to decorate spires, is yet another.

Gothic elements were not limited to churches in succeeding centuries, but found their way into domestic architecture and the smallest objects of domestic life, such as frames, boxes and tableware, which can be collected today. The 18th-century English writer Horace Walpole romanticized the look of all things Gothic with his celebrated home Strawberry Hill, near London, long before his Victorian counterparts revived it, yet again, in the 19th century. The Victorians crossed the Atlantic with carpenter gothic, a residential architecture enjoyed in New England, the South and throughout the Midwest.

In the Gothic style, ornament can be complex and heavy, or it can be one overriding feature of the object. Most often found are Gothic style side chairs, which are great examples of the verticality of the style and lighting through carved openings. Smaller, more esoteric objects of the style, such as wall sconces, shelf clocks and silver tablewares, can be found at reasonable prices.

In the 20th and 21st centuries, the Gothic style survives both in ecclesiastical and domestic architecture and in the decorative arts – its vocabulary subdued, its charms unabated. For interested collectors, the pursuit is in finding the ornamental vocabulary in both new and antique objects. The Gothic is a survival style, and doesn’t require horror movie staging or blackened eyes and dark clothing to appreciate its charms. It is a style that lends itself to being combined with the Rococo, or Chinoiserie – it doesn’t have to be historically correct, and in fact, most pieces today have little historical reference. In furniture, the Gothic style sometimes requires a certain ceiling height, but in small objects, all that is necessary is an appreciation and understanding of the vocabulary.

Research by Diane Wachs.

 


ADDITIONAL LOTS OF NOTE


A 19th-century Italian icon in a gilt carved and gessoed frame is estimated to bring $2,000-3,000 in Cowan’s Feb. 20 Fine and Decorative Art Auction. Image courtesy of Cowan’s Auctions Inc.

A 19th-century Italian icon in a gilt carved and gessoed frame is estimated to bring $2,000-3,000 in Cowan’s Feb. 20 Fine and Decorative Art Auction. Image courtesy of Cowan’s Auctions Inc.


A group of American Gothic-revival side chairs, circa 1840-1860, is estimated to bring $400-600 in Cowan’s Feb. 20 Fine and Decorative Art Auction. Image courtesy of Cowan’s Auctions Inc.

A group of American Gothic-revival side chairs, circa 1840-1860, is estimated to bring $400-600 in Cowan’s Feb. 20 Fine and Decorative Art Auction. Image courtesy of Cowan’s Auctions Inc.


This pair of 19th-century Gothic sconces, a harkening back to Medieval gargoyles with light emanating from lancet arches, is estimated to bring $800-1,000 in Cowan’s Feb. 20 Fine and Decorative Art Auction. Image courtesy of Cowan’s Auctions Inc.

This pair of 19th-century Gothic sconces, a harkening back to Medieval gargoyles with light emanating from lancet arches, is estimated to bring $800-1,000 in Cowan’s Feb. 20 Fine and Decorative Art Auction. Image courtesy of Cowan’s Auctions Inc.


This table caster in silver plate shows Gothic lancet arches combined with elements of the Rococo. It sold for $1,150 in Cowan’s June 2008 Fine and Decorative Art Auction. Image courtesy of Cowan’s Auctions Inc.

This table caster in silver plate shows Gothic lancet arches combined with elements of the Rococo. It sold for $1,150 in Cowan’s June 2008 Fine and Decorative Art Auction. Image courtesy of Cowan’s Auctions Inc.

An example of an affordable, practical furnishing, this 19th-century mahogany Sheraton gaming table sold for $330 in Cowan’s Feb. 7, 2009 Fine and Decorative Art Auction. Image courtesy of Cowan’s Auctions.

Cowan’s Corner: It’s a buyer’s market except at the top

An example of an affordable, practical furnishing, this 19th-century mahogany Sheraton gaming table sold for $330 in Cowan’s Feb. 7, 2009 Fine and Decorative Art Auction. Image courtesy of Cowan’s Auctions.

An example of an affordable, practical furnishing, this 19th-century mahogany Sheraton gaming table sold for $330 in Cowan’s Feb. 7, 2009 Fine and Decorative Art Auction. Image courtesy of Cowan’s Auctions.

After enduring a dismal year, the antiques trade is due for a rebound in 2010. Or is it?

The recession of the last 18 months has severely affected the market for antiques. Most auction houses sales are down about 25 percent to 30 percent, and many longtime dealers have cut back on their purchases. The complaint: No one is buying.

This mantra belies that fact that top quality antiques of all sorts changed hands at record prices last year. The real trouble lies in the middle to lower part of the market. Dealers and auction houses found few buyers willing to spend anything more than nominal sums for average antiques. In part this is a direct reflection of the economy. For most of us antique collecting is a luxury; we don’t have to buy that Sheraton table.

There are other factors involved, however, that have worked to drive down the prices of the “middle market” antique. Perhaps the most important is eBay. Since its inception a mere decade ago, this online auction juggernaut has brought to the market hundreds of thousands if not millions of antiques. The law of supply and demand dictates as a commodity becomes more plentiful, its desirability – and price – will fall.

Demographics continue to play another major role in the diminishing value of many antiques. If you’re a collector who visits shows and auctions, you already know that the average age of most antique collectors continues to climb. There simply aren’t enough young folks in the market.

This triple play of economic woes, eBay, and demographics has lead to lowering prices and diminishing interest. I’m not, however, about to predict the fall of the antiques business. In fact, I’m bullish on the business and even more excited about the new year.

If you’ve ever thought about collecting antiques, or using them to furnish your home, now is the time to buy. Most dealers are anxious to make a sale, and I’m continually astounded at the great bargains that can be had at auction. If you’re a savvy buyer, 2010 will be a terrific year to add to your collection or purchase an antique.

You’re unlikely to find many bargains at the top, however. Prices for the best will continue to climb, and while we may not read as much news about multimillion dollar pieces of art trading hands as in the past, world records will fall for art by Modern and Impressionist art, and Old Master paintings.

If you’re looking for great buys of Arts and Crafts furniture, Rookwood pottery, and 20th-century design, 2010 is likely to be a great year to buy. Each of these classes has experienced a slowdown in the last few years. Middle market historical photographs of the Civil War and the American West are also becoming more affordable. If you’re a china and glass collector, spectacular buys abound.

altWes Cowan is founder and owner of Cowan’s Auctions, Inc. in Cincinnati, Ohio. An internationally recognized expert in historic Americana, Wes stars in the PBS television series History Detectives and is a featured appraiser on Antiques Roadshow. Wes holds a B.A. and M.A. in anthropology from the University of Kentucky, and a Ph.D. in anthropology from the University of Michigan. He is a frequently requested speaker at antiques events around the country. He can be reached via email at info@cowans.com. Research by Graydon Sikes.


ADDITIONAL LOTS OF NOTE


A compelling CDV portrait of an unidentified Civil War officer brought $235 in Cowan’s June 24, 2009 American History Auction. Image courtesy of Cowan’s Auctions.
A 19th-century Japanese Imari dish and a Rose Medallion platter sold for an affordable $106 in Cowan’s Oct. 2, 2009 Fine and Decorative Art Auction. Image courtesy of Cowan’s Auctions.

A 19th-century Japanese Imari dish and a Rose Medallion platter sold for an affordable $106 in Cowan’s Oct. 2, 2009 Fine and Decorative Art Auction. Image courtesy of Cowan’s Auctions.


Truly exceptional objects continue to realize outstanding prices. This Winchester Model 1886 Takedown Rifle made for John F. Dodge set a record for the most expensive firearms sold in Ohio when it brought $450,000 in Cowan’s April 29, 2009 Historic Firearms and Early Militaria Auction. Image courtesy of Cowan’s Auctions.

Truly exceptional objects continue to realize outstanding prices. This Winchester Model 1886 Takedown Rifle made for John F. Dodge set a record for the most expensive firearms sold in Ohio when it brought $450,000 in Cowan’s April 29, 2009 Historic Firearms and Early Militaria Auction. Image courtesy of Cowan’s Auctions.

16th- or 17th-century scene, Adoration of the Magi, unidentified Old Master copy, sold for $3,680 at Cowan’s.

Cowan’s Corner: Old Master copies and icons – an opportunity in today’s market

16th- or 17th-century scene, Adoration of the Magi, unidentified Old Master copy, sold for $3,680 at Cowan’s.

16th- or 17th-century scene, Adoration of the Magi, unidentified Old Master copy, sold for $3,680 at Cowan’s.

No matter the economic climate, a Rembrandt or Titian painting will generally hold its own when brought to auction. As the economy causes bumps and slides in the art market like we’ve experienced in the past year and a half, the newer markets are the first to be affected. Specifically, in the latest downturn, the contemporary art market took a major hit. Impressionist and modernist sales also experienced fluctuations. Design pieces, art pottery and other categories that have multiple examples also suffered. But original paintings by the “Old Masters,” loosely defined as established artists from the 14th– 18th centuries, are always heavily collected. The theory is they’ve been collected for centuries and they’ve survived all the economic upturns and downtowns several times over, so they must be a stable investment.

Aside from the “Old Masters”, whose subjects were primarily Biblical, other art with religious subject matter is easily collectible today. A vast number of Old Master copies were produced by artists in the 19th century. These examples regularly surface on the market and can be had oftentimes for under $1,000. Essentially, these works are paintings executed by a student artist, usually while viewing an original piece by one of the Old Masters. In the 18th and 19th centuries, it was common practice for an artist to stroll into a museum or church with brush and canvas, and copy another work. Studying the “Old Masters” was a rite of passage, encouraged for artists to gain a sense of their predecessors. These student projects surface regularly on the current market. They are typically never signed (why sign a painting that, after all, is not a subject conceived by the artist?), and are readily identifiable as copies of well known works. Some great Old Masters were copied more than others. Still more were published in lithographs, engravings or etchings and were widely distributed.

Religious icons are another great collecting opportunity today. Nineteenth-century icons were produced in large numbers, especially by the Russians and Greeks. These are usually painted on a heavy wood panel, often with silver or gilt designs along the perimeter, and with the central painting depicting a Biblical scene. These icons sell anywhere from $100 to $1000.

Although we’ve seen a downturn in the market for paintings and icons with religious subject matter of late, this trend has made for good collecting opportunities. After all, an original 19th century painting is still an early object with a history. It can be enjoyable to research and identify the original works from which Old Master Copies derive—usually housed in European museums. The Biblical scenes in icons can also be readily identified. The market is such today that a collection can be amassed at an affordable level for a beginning collector.

About the Author:

altWes Cowan is founder and owner of Cowan’s Auctions, Inc. in Cincinnati, Ohio. An internationally recognized expert in historic Americana, Wes stars in the PBS television series History Detectives and is a featured appraiser on Antiques Roadshow. Wes holds a B.A. and M.A. in anthropology from the University of Kentucky, and a Ph.D. in anthropology from the University of Michigan. He is a frequently requested speaker at antiques events around the country. He can be reached via email at info@cowans.com. Research by Graydon Sikes.

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ADDITIONAL LOTS OF NOTE


The Crowning of Thorns after Carlo Maratti (Italian, 1625-1713), an 18th-century copy, discovered in a Kentucky monastery and sold for $920 at Cowan’s.

The Crowning of Thorns after Carlo Maratti (Italian, 1625-1713), an 18th-century copy, discovered in a Kentucky monastery and sold for $920 at Cowan’s.


A large 18th-century copy of The Vision of St. Francis after Domenichino (Italian, 1581-1641), brought $345 at Cowan’s.

A large 18th-century copy of The Vision of St. Francis after Domenichino (Italian, 1581-1641), brought $345 at Cowan’s.


A 19th-century Russian icon of Mother and Child sold for $345 at Cowan’s.

A 19th-century Russian icon of Mother and Child sold for $345 at Cowan’s.

Mathew Brady's portrait of Maj. Gen George A. Custer captures the essence of the soldier's flamboyance and charisma. The carte-de-visite sold for $2,700 in 2007. Image courtesy of Cowan's Auctions.

Cowan’s Corner: Making a stand with Gen. Custer items

Mathew Brady's portrait of Maj. Gen George A. Custer captures the essence of the soldier's flamboyance and charisma. The carte-de-visite sold for $2,700 in 2007. Image courtesy of Cowan's Auctions.

Mathew Brady’s portrait of Maj. Gen George A. Custer captures the essence of the soldier’s flamboyance and charisma. The carte-de-visite sold for $2,700 in 2007. Image courtesy of Cowan’s Auctions.

For the uninitiated, a natural first question is likely to be: “What in the world is Custeriana?” In the lexicon of the collector, Custeriana is anything and everything related to the life and death of George Armstrong Custer (1839-1876). Custer was a flamboyant U.S. Cavalry officer who, along with 210 troopers, died at the Battle of the Little Big Horn on June 25, 1876. Custer’s demise came at the hands of the combined forces of Lakota, Northern Cheyenne and Arapaho Indians.

Almost immediately after his death, controversy arose about the battle. Some say Custer blindly led his troopers to massacre despite having reliable reports that he was outnumbered. The mystique surrounding Custer never faded and today anything related to his Civil War or Indian Wars career is highly collectible, with rare items fetching astronomical sums. Custer memorabilia includes photographs, weaponry, military gear and battle artifacts, among other items.

Custer was born in New Rumley, Ohio. Early in his life his family moved to Monroe, Mich., where he spent much of his boyhood. He attended West Point, where he was a lackluster student, and graduated last in his class – just in time for the Civil War.

During the war Custer quickly became known for his daring and flamboyant personal appearance. He favored personally designed uniforms and grew his hair to his shoulders. As a Cavalry officer Custer was fearless, dashing into battle at the head of his cavalrymen, often directly into the fire of an enemy position. Entering the war in 1861 as a lieutenant, he was rapidly promoted, and by 1863, at the tender age of 23, he held the rank of brigadier general. Thanks to extensive press coverage Custer developed a national reputation.

After the Civil War, Custer was appointed lieutenant colonel in the 7th Cavalry and assigned to Fort Riley, Kan., in 1867. In 1874 he led an expedition into the Black Hills of present-day South Dakota and triggered a stampede when he announced gold had been discovered. The wave of prospectors into the Dakotas triggered inevitable encroachment on lands that had been set aside for Indians during an earlier treaty with the government. Citizens’ demands for protection set in motion events that ultimately led to the Battle of the Little Big Horn.

Custer was never shy about being in front of a camera. Therefore, it’s not surprising that photographs are collectors’ most common encounter with the life of this iconic soldier. Custer’s letters and autographs are highly desirable, especially those written during his time on the American Plains.

Collectors also prize anything related to the 7th Cavalry, particularly photographs or possessions of the troopers who were killed alongside Custer at Little Big Horn. This interest naturally also extends to Custer’s foes. Many of the Indians who participated in the battle lived to have their photographs taken again and again, all to satisfy the endless public curiosity about Custer and the greatest military defeat in U.S. history.

Custer memorabilia is popular among collectors nationwide. Cowan’s Auctions, in fact, has handled a number of important items related to Custer and the Indian Wars. Some of these have included historical documents, photographs, military artifacts and weaponry.

altWes Cowan is founder and owner of Cowan’s Auctions, Inc. in Cincinnati, Ohio. An internationally recognized expert in historic Americana, Wes stars in the PBS television series History Detectives and is a featured appraiser on Antiques Roadshow. Wes holds a B.A. and M.A. in anthropology from the University of Kentucky, and a Ph.D. in anthropology from the University of Michigan. He is a frequently requested speaker at antiques events around the country. He can be reached via email at info@cowans.com.


ADDITIONAL LOTS OF NOTE


William H. Illingworth photographed Custer with a grizzly bear the general shot on the Army's expedition to the Black Hills in 1873. This stereo view card sold for $3,000 in 2005. Image courtesy of Cowan's Auctions.

William H. Illingworth photographed Custer with a grizzly bear the general shot on the Army’s expedition to the Black Hills in 1873. This stereo view card sold for $3,000 in 2005. Image courtesy of Cowan’s Auctions.


Currier and Ives titled their hand-colored lithograph ‘Custer's Last Charge.' The 11 1/2- by 15-inch print sold for $650 last year. Image courtesy of Cowan's Auctions.

Currier and Ives titled their hand-colored lithograph ‘Custer’s Last Charge.’ The 11 1/2- by 15-inch print sold for $650 last year. Image courtesy of Cowan’s Auctions.


Custer's Indian Wars camp chair was given to noted frontier photographer David F. Barry. Deaccessioned by the Douglas County, Wis., Historical Society, the chair sold for $49,500 in 2005. Image courtesy of Cowan's Auctions.

Custer’s Indian Wars camp chair was given to noted frontier photographer David F. Barry. Deaccessioned by the Douglas County, Wis., Historical Society, the chair sold for $49,500 in 2005. Image courtesy of Cowan’s Auctions.


Anheuser-Busch memorialized ‘Custer's Last Fight' with this dramatic chromolithograph in 1896. In its original frame, which measures 34 by 44 inches, this print sold for $1,600 last year. Image courtesy of Cowan's Auctions.

Anheuser-Busch memorialized ‘Custer’s Last Fight’ with this dramatic chromolithograph in 1896. In its original frame, which measures 34 by 44 inches, this print sold for $1,600 last year. Image courtesy of Cowan’s Auctions.

Four Russian pilots' badges and leather box with Imperial Russian Coat of Arms, estimated to sell for $5/7000 in Cowan’s Nov. 4, 2009 Fall Firearms and Early Militaria Auction.

Cowan’s Corner: Early aviation wings take flight with collectors

Four Russian pilots' badges and leather box with Imperial Russian Coat of Arms, estimated to sell for $5/7000 in Cowan’s Nov. 4, 2009 Fall Firearms and Early Militaria Auction.

Four Russian pilots’ badges and leather box with Imperial Russian Coat of Arms, estimated to sell for $5/7000 in Cowan’s Nov. 4, 2009 Fall Firearms and Early Militaria Auction.

Early WWI aviation collecting is an exciting and popular field. Collectors are drawn to aviation because it was new, dangerous, and filled with unlimited possibilities for technical advancement. At the inception of WWI there were only five airplanes in the American Military Aviation department. By the war’s end this number jumped to 2,500 airplanes.

The field of early aviation insignia collectibles is fairly large in scale. In addition to the aviation wings there are also collar, sleeve insignia and other aviation cloth insignia with corresponding symbols to denote pilot’s divisions and units. Because WWI aviation wings are scarcer than their WWII counterparts, a beginning collector should be prepared to pay a premium for WWI wings.

The earliest American aviation wing was created when the U.S. War Department’s General Order #39 was issued for the first Military Aviator’s badge on April 17, 1913. The first badges had an eagle clutching two Signal Corp flags and was entitled “Military Aviator.” They were manufactured by the U.S. Ordnance Department at Rock Island Arsenal in Illinois. These rare first issue wings were originally made of 14-karat gold. The inspiration for the badge was the “Expert Rifleman’s Badge,” which was intended to be used as an award badge and not a qualification badge.

Usually the more common WWI wings were struck from one piece of silver, embroidered with silver wire and the gold “U.S.” was applied to the shield. These badges had pins, safety catches or screw posts for attachment to uniforms. WWI badges have symbols and letters that designate the bearer’s position in the military. To distinguish between experienced aviators and junior aviators, the right wing was omitted from the junior aviator’s badge. The half-wing form of badge was discontinued after WWI.

Independent jewelry stores created badges for two years during WWI, though most of the early badges were made by one of the dozen large manufacturing companies. These jewelry-store badges are hard for a collector to identify because each one has individual characteristics. However, advanced collectors can identify the jeweler who made these badges by inspecting their unique, individual style.

Dallas Wings from WWI, made for pilots and crew at Kelly Airfield in Texas, the largest military airfield at during the war, are highly sought by collectors, possibly because of their associations with Charles Lindbergh, who graduated from the Kelly Advanced Flying School in 1925. 250,000 men were organized into aero-squadrons in 1917 and 1918 associated with Kelly Airfield.

During WWII, large medal manufactures such as Balfour and Jostens flourished. WWII wings are mass produced and slightly less ornamental, and are therefore generally of lesser value than earlier WWI wings. Wings are still produced today for commercial and military purposes, but lack the craftsmanship of their earlier counterparts, thus making the WWI wings even more desirable.

One can start to collect early aviation wings by going to local military shows that hold conventions throughout the country. Auctions and antique shops are additional possibilities. As always, a collector should beware of the numerous fakes and reproductions that are on today’s market.

Research by Joe Moran.

altWes Cowan is founder and owner of Cowan’s Auctions, Inc. in Cincinnati, Ohio. An internationally recognized expert in historic Americana, Wes stars in the PBS television series History Detectives and is a featured appraiser on Antiques Roadshow. Wes holds a B.A. and M.A. in anthropology from the University of Kentucky, and a Ph.D. in anthropology from the University of Michigan. He is a frequently requested speaker at antiques events around the country. He can be reached via email at info@cowans.com.


ADDITIONAL LOTS OF NOTE


U.S. military aviator's badge, 1913 pattern, estimated to sell for $5/7,000 in Cowan’s Nov. 4, 2009 Fall Firearms and Early Militaria Auction.

U.S. military aviator’s badge, 1913 pattern, estimated to sell for $5/7,000 in Cowan’s Nov. 4, 2009 Fall Firearms and Early Militaria Auction.


WWI 1/2 observer's wing, estimated to sell for $1,200/1,600 in Cowan’s Nov. 4, 2009 Fall Firearms and Early Militaria Auction.

WWI 1/2 observer’s wing, estimated to sell for $1,200/1,600 in Cowan’s Nov. 4, 2009 Fall Firearms and Early Militaria Auction.


WWI jeweler-made bombardier's wings, estimated to sell for $800/1,200 in Cowan’s Nov. 4, 2009 Fall Firearms and Early Militaria Auction.

WWI jeweler-made bombardier’s wings, estimated to sell for $800/1,200 in Cowan’s Nov. 4, 2009 Fall Firearms and Early Militaria Auction.


WWI Dallas wings, estimated to sell for $800/1,200 in Cowan’s Nov. 4, 2009 Fall Firearms and Early Militaria Auction.

WWI Dallas wings, estimated to sell for $800/1,200 in Cowan’s Nov. 4, 2009 Fall Firearms and Early Militaria Auction.