Before Lakeside picked up Barrel of Monkeys, the game was called Chimp to Chimp. Photo by the author

An American classic, Barrel of Monkeys opens up about turning 50

Before Lakeside picked up Barrel of Monkeys, the game was called Chimp to Chimp. Photo by the author

Before Lakeside picked up Barrel of Monkeys, the game was called Chimp to Chimp. Photo by the author

NEW YORK – Everyone of a certain age remembers playing the game Barrel of Monkeys. The author provides a behind-the-scenes account of how the popular 1960s game came to be.

When Pixar featured Barrel of Monkeys in all three Toy Story movies, it was proof that this celebrated toy was not only iconic, but still a whole lot of fun. It’s hard to believe that it has been hanging around us since early 1965, and yet, 2015 will mark Barrel of Monkeys’ 50th year in stores. As popular as it is, finding facts relating to this classic game’s origin is nearly impossible.

Milton Dinhofer, now 91, provides the missing links regarding this nostalgic toy’s evolution. After earning his engineering degree at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, Dinhofer went on to design the recognizable monkeys found in those plastic barrels today. Dinhofer didn’t work for a big toy company; it was at his Long Island home where he toyed with his many game ideas.

Leonard Marks, the Barrel of Monkeys inventor on file, was a schoolmate of Dinhofer’s. Marks told Dinhofer in 1961 that he had an idea for a game – an idea that came to him while waiting to sell his line of greeting cards to a small mom-and-pop shop. Dinhofer recounts the story Marks told him: “As he waited for the shop’s owner [Robert Gilbert], Marks started fiddling with [an open box of] snow-tire-replacement-chain links that were on the counter – hooking them together. Later when the owner approached to look at Marks’ greeting cards, Marks was still playing with the links.” Dinhofer adds: “Marks was so interested in playing, he hadn’t realized so much time had passed. He said to the owner, ‘this would make a great toy.” Gilbert then said to Marks he was friends with a successful toy promoter named Milton Dinhofer.” Marks immediately reached out to his old school friend.

Dinhofer had already had two major toy achievements to his credit. He created what he believes to be “the first full-size wearable space helmet.” His helmet made the covers of both The Saturday Evening Post (Nov. 8, 1952 issue) and Collier’s magazine (April 18, 1953 issue). Prior to that, he invented, designed and successfully brought to market Sip-n-See. This was a line of twisted plastic drinking straws with characters on them. Dinhofer says it was not only the “first twisted straw,” but also the “first plastic drinking straw” on the market. It provided an alternative to the glass and paper straws being sold at the time, and Dinhofer says it sold over “five million pieces.” One of those straws would influence the design of Barrel of Monkeys.

Recounting his first business meeting with Marks, Dinhofer said: “Marks brought a pile of his links over and started playing with them.” They are in Dinhofer’s possession today and are red, s-shaped links made from a one-quarter-inch plastic rod. Each link has pinched ends for connecting. Dinhofer said that as he watched Marks play with the links, he thought to himself, ‘monkeys!’

“I told [Marks] he had a winner …  I would develop it and he should sell it … We signed an agreement that night.” Asked why he chose monkeys, Dinhofer responds: “What else would you make them? Monkeys came to my mind instantly.” Dinhofer modeled the monkey’s arms after his Sip-N- See cowboy straw which had s-shaped arms just like a link.

“Our first step,” Dinhofer explained, “was to have a patent search made. Many linking games were disclosed but nothing with animals.” Dinhofer said that while none of those patented toys were successful, he still believed in theirs. It would take Dinhofer three months to go from a sketch to a functional monkey – in other words, likable and linkable. “We had to have 10 to 15 perfect pieces in order to see how they played,” he said, adding that the biggest challenge in designing them was the monkey’s balance. After that, he said, “I researched monkey photographs and made numerous sketches until I got a cute face down on paper.” Dinhofer selected a body he liked from another of his sketches and then hired a professional model maker. A. Santore of A.S. Plastic Model Co. carved, under Dinhofer’s supervision, one perfect sample. Dinhofer then found a company that would make a beryllium mold from Santore’s monkey and run sample monkeys from it. Looking at Dinhofer’s first-run monkeys, one sees that they look exactly like Lakeside Toys’ 1965 debut version. The only difference between Dinhofer’s monkeys and today’s is that shortly after the toy’s release, more hair was added to their bodies.

Next Dinhofer had to name it. “More fun than a barrel of monkeys,” was a common phrase in the ’60s that dated back to at least the 1800s. But that was not where Dinhofer and Marks got the name for their toy. Dinhofer disclosed, “I also have one package…with the name Chimp to Chimp on it.” Chimp to Chimp was Barrel of Monkey’s initial name and like BOM, it had 12 monkey playing pieces. Twelve monkeys “seemed just right,” said Dinhofer. “Three to 12-year-olds had to stand to link all 12.” Thus too many links would require actually lifting the children higher to accommodate the growing chain of monkeys – a situation where more wasn’t necessarily better. Asked if Chimp to Chimp monkeys came in a cardboard tube like Lakeside’s 1965 version, Dinhofer says: “Lakeside had more experience at $1[retail prices]. I had designed very expensive packaging. It was much more expensive than the cardboard can that Lakeside used and much more expensive to load.”

At last Chimp to Chimp was ready to be shown to retailers. Dinhofer says, “Marks showed to Woolworth’s … it was the biggest chain with 2,100 stores. They liked it but wanted a guarantee that we would put it on TV for 13 weeks (approximately $150,000-$275,000 worth of commercials).” TV advertising was becoming the norm, but was impossible for Marks and Dinhofer to agree to Woolworth’s deal; it was too expensive and too risky for them to chance a failure. After that, Marks told Dinhofer there was no further interest from retailers. Marks moved on and partnered with another man named Herman Kesler.

In 1969, Dinhofer met James R. Becker at Lakeside. Becker would eventually become Lakeside’s president and go on to help pioneer global licensing as we know it today. But at the time, Becker was a vice president and still relatively new at Lakeside. Through Becker’s recounting, Dinhofer came to learn how Lakeside picked up Barrel of Monkeys from Kesler and Marks. In 1964, Kesler called Zelman Levine, the chairman and president of Lakeside Toys, and set a November meeting in New York City. At the meeting were Levine, Becker and Lakeside’s soon-to-be national sales manager, Stanley Harfenist (Harfenist was trying to bring the Gumby toy line to Lakeside, which he eventually did in February 1965. Harfenist then went on to become Lakeside’s general manager.)

Becker told Dinhofer that Kesler walked into Levine’s room and just as Marks had done with his links at Dinhofer’s, Kessler uncupped his hands, dropped the monkeys onto a table, and started to link them together. Becker also said that the phrase “more fun than a barrel of monkeys” was brought up at that meeting by Becker himself. Zelman Levine immediately approved the item, and Zelman took all the samples back with him to Minneapolis.

Dinhofer’s legal documents show Kesler and Marks signed an agreement with Lakeside on Jan. 29, 1965. Dinhofer also has royalty statements showing gross sales beginning in the first quarter of 1965. He speculates that if Lakeside used his original mold, that would explain how the toy got to market so fast after contracts being signed. Lakeside also used similar packaging to their already successful Pick-Up-Sticks game, which probably sped up the release process. Dinhofer’s news clippings show that that by April of 1967, Barrel of Monkeys was No. 2 on Toy and Hobby World magazine’s “Toy Hit Parade” chart. Coincidentally, at No. 3, was BOM’s future Toy Story co-star and eventual Hasbro-brand mate, listed simply as Potato Head.

Today BOM is part of Milton Bradley under the Hasbro umbrella. As one of Time magazine’s “All-Time 100 Greatest Toys,” (2011) prepares to turn 50, Dinhofer can’t help but reflect. Taking it all in, he shares: “I had a lot of talent. Too bad it took me 50 years to realize it.”

But thanks to Dinhofer and many other talented people, Barrel of Monkeys has successfully run without batteries for almost half a century. Why is it so successful? Is it the barrel, the monkeys or the links? Maybe it’s the game’s simplicity? It certainly doesn’t hurt that it brings a smile for under $10. Quite possibly, it was just a perfect storm of ideas, people, timing and luck.

Whatever the reason for BOM’s longevity, after hearing Dinhofer’s recounting, one can’t help but imagine a big 50th bash with monkeys swinging from chandeliers, barrels of champagne flowing, and Dinhofer photoBOMbing us all. At the very least, we can raise a glass and toast to him and all who put those monkeys in a barrel, and those barrels into tiny happy hands. And when Milton raises his glass, may he be beside his favorite links – his family, his children, his great-grandchildren, and his great-great-grandchildren, because, truly, what could be more fun than that?

Tracy Leshay 
is the granddaughter of Milton Dinhofer.


ADDITIONAL IMAGES OF NOTE


Before Lakeside picked up Barrel of Monkeys, the game was called Chimp to Chimp. Photo by the author

Before Lakeside picked up Barrel of Monkeys, the game was called Chimp to Chimp. Photo by the author

These are the original links Marks brought to Dinhofer. With them are Dinhofer's original drawings that the links inspired him to create. Photo by the author

These are the original links Marks brought to Dinhofer. With them are Dinhofer’s original drawings that the links inspired him to create. Photo by the author

Dinhofer's Sip-n-See straw sold over 5 million pieces. Photo by the author

Dinhofer’s Sip-n-See straw sold over 5 million pieces. Photo by the author

Leading toys from the April 3, 1967 ‘Toy and Hobby World’ magazine. Photo by the author

Leading toys from the April 3, 1967 ‘Toy and Hobby World’ magazine. Photo by the author

Barrel of Monkeys inventor Milton Dinhofer. Photo submitted

Barrel of Monkeys inventor Milton Dinhofer. Photo submitted

Covers of leading magazines featured the toy space helmet designed by Dinhofer. Photo by the author

Covers of leading magazines featured the toy space helmet designed by Dinhofer. Photo by the author

This colorful low vase in the murrine romane technique is one of the highlights of ‘Venetian Glass by Carlo Scarpa: The Venini Company, 1932-1947’ at the Metropolitan Museum of Art through March 2. A similar vase was exhibited at the Venice Biennale in 1936. Private collection. Photo courtesy Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Feature: Carlo Scarpa’s architectural approach to glassmaking

This colorful low vase in the murrine romane technique is one of the highlights of ‘Venetian Glass by Carlo Scarpa: The Venini Company, 1932-1947’ at the Metropolitan Museum of Art through March 2. A similar vase was exhibited at the Venice Biennale in 1936. Private collection. Photo courtesy Metropolitan Museum of Art.

This colorful low vase in the murrine romane technique is one of the highlights of ‘Venetian Glass by Carlo Scarpa: The Venini Company, 1932-1947’ at the Metropolitan Museum of Art through March 2. A similar vase was exhibited at the Venice Biennale in 1936. Private collection. Photo courtesy Metropolitan Museum of Art.

NEW YORK – “Venetian Glass by Carlo Scarpa: The Venini Company, 1932-1947,” the current exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, is accompanied by a comprehensive catalog filled with new research. The show and scholarship provide a treasure trove of valuable information for collectors of 20th century glass. As examples of Scarpa’s glass appear at auction this year, buyers will have a greater appreciation of the complex process involved in taking the designs from drawings to completed works.

Born in Venice, Carlo Scarpa (1906-1978) falls into that long tradition of architects who ventured at times into designing furniture and decorative arts for interior settings; fellow countryman Gio Ponti (1891-1979) and American Frank Lloyd Wright (1867-1959) are other good examples. While Scarpa continued to practice architecture – most surviving projects are in and around the city where he worked – it is his 13-year collaboration with Murano glassmaker Paolo Venini that is celebrated in the exhibition.

Sheena Wagstaff, the MMA head of Modern and Contemporary Art, said: “We have the great fortune of partnering with the prestigious museum Le Stanze del Vetro to take up a once-in-a lifetime opportunity to bring to New York glass works of extraordinarily high caliber, that have never before been seen in any American museum. Visitors will encounter beautiful, translucent, and ethereal glass vessels, created from Scarpa’s radical pushing and expanding of glass-blowing techniques to their absolute limit.”

Viewers visiting the show of nearly 300 works will be dazzled by the vivid colors and intrigued by the variety of forms and textures that sprang from Scarpa’s architectural approach to glassmaking. There is no substitute for the visual impact of all that beauty. In a review, the New York Times suggested, “If you are open to it, this exhibition can radically reshape your ideas about form, beauty, originality and art for art’s sake.”

The exhibition was adapted from an earlier one at Le Stanze del Vetro, a gallery in Venice devoted to the study of modern glassmaking, and continues in New York until March 2. As an added bonus, the Metropolitan has displayed nearby works from Europe and Asia that influenced Scarpa’s designs, such as ancient Roman mosaic glass and Chinese porcelain vases.

Collectors, however, will consider the massive and highly detailed catalog the gift that keeps on giving, because in its pages editor and exhibition curator Marino Barovier and his panel of scholars explain why and how each piece was created. Many individual catalog entries are accompanied by Scarpa’s original design drawings. The glass exhibits are grouped into over two dozen technical groups with descriptive Italian names such as Pennellate – brushstrokes. This profusion of decorative methods is further testimony to the architect’s prolific creativity. While some styles come up often at auctions and shows, pieces in less well-known categories are true eye-openers.

Most familiar to collectors will be the vases in the 1938 Rigati (striped) and 1940 Tessuti (woven) techniques, both of which employed multicolored glass rods. Corrosi 1936-1938 featured forms with a surface textured by emersion in acid. Some examples from this series are characterized by decorative relief attachments – sweeping ellipticals or button-like bugne or bosses. Less common is a 1940 group, Laccati neri e rossi, which imitates the black and red lacquer of Chinese objects.

The catalog presents revealing biographical information on Scarpa’s career including an opening essay by MMA Curator Nicholas Cullinan, who helped organize the exhibition. “The Wholeness of Inseparable Elements: Clarity and Form in the Work of Carlo Scarpa” orients the glass creations within the architect’s entire body of work. The curator points out how difficult life was for artists during the rise of Fascism in Italy: “The fact that Scarpa was able to advance his bold ideas in architecture and design without the sponsorship of Benito Mussolini’s regime is a remarkable accomplishment that should not be overlooked.”

After World War II, Scarpa focused on the task of reconstruction. Cullinan writes, “During the remarkable postwar period of renewal and restoration in Italy Scarpa’s extraordinary architectural career blossomed.”

Specializing in 20th century design, Wright Auctions is unique in offering annual sales dedicated to Italian Glass, and Scarpa’s works have been an important component. As one catalog entry noted, “ … perhaps more than any other glass designer of his time, Scarpa created pieces that were both shockingly modern and of enduring classical beauty.” As can be seen from the accompanying illustrations, the June 2013 auction included rare examples made during the architect’s years at Venini which realized exceptional prices, and the upcoming sale on May 20, 2014 will offer more lots designed by Scarpa.

In a recent interview, President Richard Wright said, “We’ve been most active in that market. Last year’s sale had some exceptional Scarpa pieces, and we’ll have our third stand-alone glass auction in May.” Prices in 2013 ranged from a simple mezza filagrana bowl at $2,750 to a highly desirable pennelate vase that brought an impressive $74,500.

Based in Chicago, Wright has added gallery space and consignment offices in the historic Parke-Bernet building on Madison Avenue in New York City. After visiting the Scarpa show at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the auctioneer said, “The exhibition is a tour de force – it’s really impressive. There are so many exhibits that I really respond to, including some very rare mosaic pieces that are truly experimental. In the Met show, they show Roman mosaic glass from their collection nearby Scarpa’s versions, variations and inventions.”

Wright continued, “He also made Chinese- inspired vessels which are sublime. When they’re at their best, they have all the beauty of perfect Chinese porcelain – form and color and proportion, all in harmony. That speaks to his talent – the fact that he can work in such a range of styles and do so successfully. He had an ability to absorb all of these ancient techniques of glassmaking and make them relevant in the 20th century. He’s a big part of the reawakening of that craft movement. He trained as an architect and he had a wonderful sense of proportion and incredible sensitivity to materials.”

For more information about the past and future sales of Italian glass at Wright, go to www.wright20.com to view the online catalogs.


ADDITIONAL IMAGES OF NOTE


This colorful low vase in the murrine romane technique is one of the highlights of ‘Venetian Glass by Carlo Scarpa: The Venini Company, 1932-1947’ at the Metropolitan Museum of Art through March 2. A similar vase was exhibited at the Venice Biennale in 1936. Private collection. Photo courtesy Metropolitan Museum of Art.

This colorful low vase in the murrine romane technique is one of the highlights of ‘Venetian Glass by Carlo Scarpa: The Venini Company, 1932-1947’ at the Metropolitan Museum of Art through March 2. A similar vase was exhibited at the Venice Biennale in 1936. Private collection. Photo courtesy Metropolitan Museum of Art.

From 1932 to 1947, Carlo Scarpa (1906-1978) served as artistic director at the Venini Glassworks, where he developed innovative techniques that reinvigorated Venetian glassmaking. Scarpa (right) is shown with glassmaker Arturo Biasutto at the factory in an archival photo from 1943. Archivio Storico Luce. Photo courtesy Metropolitan Museum of Art.

From 1932 to 1947, Carlo Scarpa (1906-1978) served as artistic director at the Venini Glassworks, where he developed innovative techniques that reinvigorated Venetian glassmaking. Scarpa (right) is shown with glassmaker Arturo Biasutto at the factory in an archival photo from 1943. Archivio Storico Luce. Photo courtesy Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Among his works with relief decoration, Scarpa designed a series featuring swirling elliptical patterns and an iridized surface. A beautiful deep blue rilievi vase, circa 1935, doubled its high estimate to sell for $81,700 in Wright’s Italian Glass auction in June 2012. Courtesy Wright Auctions.ç

Among his works with relief decoration, Scarpa designed a series featuring swirling elliptical patterns and an iridized surface. A beautiful deep blue rilievi vase, circa 1935, doubled its high estimate to sell for $81,700 in Wright’s Italian Glass auction in June 2012. Courtesy Wright Auctions.

While the world was at war in 1942, Scarpa and Venini produced a rare series of glass forms that look like they were decorated with brushstrokes or Pennellate of color. Collectors pay a premium for examples of this technique; this small vase sold for $74,500 in June 2013. Courtesy Wright Auctions.

While the world was at war in 1942, Scarpa and Venini produced a rare series of glass forms that look like they were decorated with brushstrokes or Pennellate of color. Collectors pay a premium for examples of this technique; this small vase sold for $74,500 in June 2013. Courtesy Wright Auctions.

Glass in the a fili technique, decorated with horizontal thread-like colored bands, was first exhibited in Venice in 1940. This narrow-necked vase, almost 9 inches high, brought $41,250 at auction in 2013. Courtesy Wright Auctions.

Glass in the a fili technique, decorated with horizontal thread-like colored bands, was first exhibited in Venice in 1940. This narrow-necked vase, almost 9 inches high, brought $41,250 at auction in 2013. Courtesy Wright Auctions.

The Scarpa-Venini collaboration also produced glass designs for chandeliers and lamps. A pair of 1936 Diamonte table lamps, model 9034, realized $18,750 at auction in April 2013. Courtesy Wright Auctions.

The Scarpa-Venini collaboration also produced glass designs for chandeliers and lamps. A pair of 1936 Diamonte table lamps, model 9034, realized $18,750 at auction in April 2013. Courtesy Wright Auctions.

This deep green vase with an iridized corroso surface is decorated with bugne or bosses in relief. The circa 1935 work, signed inside the lip ‘Venini Murano,’ sold for $30,000 last year in Chicago. Courtesy Wright Auctions.

This deep green vase with an iridized corroso surface is decorated with bugne or bosses in relief. The circa 1935 work, signed inside the lip ‘Venini Murano,’ sold for $30,000 last year in Chicago. Courtesy Wright Auctions.

Architect Carlo Scarpa collaborated with fellow architect/designer Marcel Breuer on the marble Delfi table, produced as part of Simon Gavina’s Ultrarazionale collection in 1968. An example sold for $23,750 in 2012. Courtesy Wright Auctions.

Architect Carlo Scarpa collaborated with fellow architect/designer Marcel Breuer on the marble Delfi table, produced as part of Simon Gavina’s Ultrarazionale collection in 1968. An example sold for $23,750 in 2012. Courtesy Wright Auctions.

Clockwise from top left: Vivid greenish-blue radiant cut .92 carat diamond, vivid yellowish-green 1.01 carat diamond, vivid purple .81 carat diamond, rare fancy red diamond. All images by Zach Colodner, courtesy Optimum Diamonds.

Chasing rainbows: The intense competition for colored diamonds

Clockwise from top left: Vivid greenish-blue radiant cut .92 carat diamond, vivid yellowish-green 1.01 carat diamond, vivid purple .81 carat diamond, rare fancy red diamond. All images by Zach Colodner, courtesy Optimum Diamonds.

Clockwise from top left: Vivid greenish-blue radiant cut .92 carat diamond, vivid yellowish-green 1.01 carat diamond, vivid purple .81 carat diamond, rare fancy red diamond. All images by Zach Colodner, courtesy Optimum Diamonds.

SAN FRANCISCO – Sotheby’s in Geneva made auction history last month when it sold the Pink Star – a 59.60-carat oval cut pink diamond – for $83,187,381, a world auction record for any diamond (or gemstone or jewel, for that matter). Sotheby’s David Bennett called the stone “a true masterpiece of nature.” Four bidders competed for the stone, the largest internally flawless, fancy vivid pink diamond ever to be certified.

If you have ever looked at a fuschia wildflower and marveled at its impossibly bright color, consider the spectrum of naturally occurring colored diamonds: from yellows and browns — the most common colors — to pink and blue, to deep greens, purples and reds—the most rare. While colored diamonds are usually muted in tone, some rare specimens are so candy-vivid you can’t believe they are not treated. There is even a diamond known as a “chameleon” that, as the name suggests, actually changes color.

For 20 years, before retiring recently to work in the auction business, Josh Cohn was a colored-diamonds specialist with the Gemological Institute of America, the non-profit organization that sets the standard for grading gemstones. At GIA, Cohn would examine stones to grade them and determine whether their color occurred naturally or synthetically. The GIA analysis of colored diamonds encompasses aspects of clarity, color and place of origin for certification. Treated stones are also graded. (The Institute’s website is a superbly illustrated source of information about, and images of, colored diamonds: http://www.gia.edu.)

“Some of the naturally occurring colors can look highly artificial, and some treated diamonds have more subtle colors; without advanced testing, you can’t tell if stones have been treated,” says Cohn.

Causes and Origins

Of the known causes in natural colored diamonds, color can be influenced by radiation or trace elements, such as nitrogen or boron, interacting with the crystal during its development. Artificial treatment processes including radiation and high temperature /high pressure (hpht) are used to quickly replicate the color effects that take tens of millions of years to come about naturally. Again, cautions Josh Cohn, you can’t discern treated stones with the naked eye or even through a loupe. The best way to guarantee the diamond you are buying is through a report from an accredited laboratory, such as GIA.

Different diamond colors are associated with different mine locations throughout the world. The famous Hope blue diamond is thought to have been mined in India at the Kollur mine some three centuries ago. Mr. Cohn, who now works as a consultant for Morphy’s auction house in Pennsylvania, says developments in mining technology have more recently opened deposits of colored diamonds, such as the deep pinks from the Argyle mines and the bright yellows found in the Ellendale Mines, both olocated in Western Australia. The Pink Star/Dream was mined in 1999 by De Beers in Africa.

“The Golconda mines in Southern India were once known as the best source for pink diamonds, but other mines have come to the fore.” said Cohn.

Auction Market

The market for colored diamonds has been extremely strong over the past year, culminating with the record-setting sales of November. One day before Sotheby’s sold the Pink Star/Dream, Christie’s offered a fancy-vivid orange diamond, at 14.82 carats the largest known to exist. The pear-shape orange diamond (also known as a “fire diamond”) eclipsed its estimate of $17/20 million to fetch $35.5 million at Christie’ in Geneva.

In April of this year, the pink Princie diamond, found centuries ago in the Golconda mines of southern India, was bought by a telephone bidder at Christies in New York, for $39.3 million. The diamond’s provenance included ownership by the super-wealthy royal family of Hyderabad.

Colored diamonds in the middle range also have elicited intense bidding this year: at Leslie Hindman Auctioneers, in April, a 7.85-carat vivid fancy yellow diamond ring with an antique cushion cut outstripped its estimate of $150,000-$200,000 to realize $542,500.

Colored Diamonds in Museums

Those who wish to see colored diamonds up close have several options. The storied Hope Diamond, on display at the Smithsonian’s Harry Winston gallery (part of the enormous collection of gems and minerals that is part of the institution’s Natural History Museum) is probably the most famous colored diamond of all. It’s a 42.5-carat blue diamond whose popular history includes, according to the museum’s online catalog: “a stint in the French crown jewels, a daring theft, two re-cuttings, an English king, a wealthy American socialite, a bit of mystery and a curse or two.”

The DeYoung Red Diamond, at 5.03 carats, is one of the largest natural fancy dark red diamonds known. It was gifted to the Smithsonian by a Boston jeweler who acquired the rare and extremely valuable stone as part of a collection of estate jewelry, wherein it was wrongly identified as a garnet.

Another amazing blue diamond on display at the Smithsonian is called the Blue Heart, a heart-shape 30.62 carat blue diamond taken from a South African mine in1908, as a rough stone of 100.5 carats.

In San Francisco at The De Young Museum, an exhibition of Bulgari jewelry on display through February 2014 includes some beautiful examples of fancy yellow diamonds. A trio of tremblant brooches, so-named because of the setting that allows some of the diamonds to tremble slightly, thus increasing their radiance, are modeled on sprays of flowers. A beautiful single-flower brooch has delicate, curling petals, shaded by pave diamonds that range from white, to pale yellow, to brighter yellow at the tips.

A Colorful Future for Diamonds

The momentum for large colored diamonds offered at auction seems undiminished. Sotheby’s December sale includes a 51.75 fancy vivid yellow cut-cornered square diamond ring, estimated at $2.5/3.5 million. No doubt we will see other examples as the important winter and spring sales unfold.

Search for colored diamonds in upcoming auctions at www.LiveAuctioneers.com.


ADDITIONAL IMAGES OF NOTE


The Pink Star (re-named The Pink Dream by buyer Isaac Wolf, a diamond cutter), a 59.60-carat fancy vivid pink diamond sold at Sothebys, Geneva on November 13, 2013 for $83 million, a world auction record for any jewel. Pre-sale estimate $60 million. Image courtesy Sothebys

The Pink Star (re-named The Pink Dream by buyer Isaac Wolf, a diamond cutter), a 59.60-carat fancy vivid pink diamond sold at Sothebys, Geneva on November 13, 2013 for $83 million, a world auction record for any jewel. Pre-sale estimate $60 million. Image courtesy Sothebys

The Orange: a fancy vivid orange diamond of 14.82 carats sold at Christies Geneva on November 12, 2013 for $36 million against a pre-sale estimate $17/20 million. Image courtesy Denis Hayoun Diode SA Geneva

The Orange: a fancy vivid orange diamond of 14.82 carats sold at Christies Geneva on November 12, 2013 for $36 million against a pre-sale estimate $17/20 million. Image courtesy Denis Hayoun Diode SA Geneva

A vivid greenish-blue radiant-cut .92 carat diamond. Zach Colodner image, courtesy Optimum Diamonds

A vivid greenish-blue radiant-cut .92 carat diamond. Zach Colodner image, courtesy Optimum Diamonds

A vivid yellowish-green 1.01 carat diamond. Zach Colodner image, courtesy Optimum Diamonds

A vivid yellowish-green 1.01 carat diamond. Zach Colodner image, courtesy Optimum Diamonds

A vivid purple .81 carat diamond. Zach Colodner image, courtesy Optimum Diamonds

A vivid purple .81 carat diamond. Zach Colodner image, courtesy Optimum Diamonds

A rare fancy red diamond. Zach Colodner image, courtesy Optimum Diamonds

A rare fancy red diamond. Zach Colodner image, courtesy Optimum Diamonds

Bulgari flower brooch, 1968; platinum, emerald, white and yellow diamonds. Image courtesy FAMSF

Bulgari flower brooch, 1968; platinum, emerald, white and yellow diamonds. Image courtesy FAMSF

A fancy deep-blue 5.3 carat diamond set in a Bulgari “Trombino” ring, sold in April 2013 for $9.6 million at Bonhams in London to buyer Graff Diamonds of London. Pre-sale estimate $1.3/1.9 million. Image courtesy Bonhams

A fancy deep-blue 5.3 carat diamond set in a Bulgari “Trombino” ring, sold in April 2013 for $9.6 million at Bonhams in London to buyer Graff Diamonds of London. Pre-sale estimate $1.3/1.9 million. Image courtesy Bonhams

A hand-colored albumen print mounted on card shows Lt. William Miller Owen and his brother Pvt. Edward Owen as they appeared in their Confederate uniforms around 1861 at the beginning of the Civil War. Both rose in rank during the conflict. The pair sat for the photograph in New Orleans at Guay's Temple of Art, a gallery on Poydras Street. With its strong local appeal, the image brought $7,050 at the Neal Auction Co. in 2007. Courtesy Neal Auction.

American Civil War photographs: art and history

A hand-colored albumen print mounted on card shows Lt. William Miller Owen and his brother Pvt. Edward Owen as they appeared in their Confederate uniforms around 1861 at the beginning of the Civil War. Both rose in rank during the conflict. The pair sat for the photograph in New Orleans at Guay's Temple of Art, a gallery on Poydras Street. With its strong local appeal, the image brought $7,050 at the Neal Auction Co. in 2007. Courtesy Neal Auction.

A hand-colored albumen print mounted on card shows Lt. William Miller Owen and his brother Pvt. Edward Owen as they appeared in their Confederate uniforms around 1861 at the beginning of the Civil War. Both rose in rank during the conflict. The pair sat for the photograph in New Orleans at Guay’s Temple of Art, a gallery on Poydras Street. With its strong local appeal, the image brought $7,050 at the Neal Auction Co. in 2007. Courtesy Neal Auction.

The rapid development of affordable photographic techniques in the mid-19th century was a technological innovation that affected every level of society. By the time of the American Civil War, photographs had an impact on family relations, battlefield strategy and national politics. Scenes of conflict—once portrayed as heroic in paintings and drawings—were now revealed with tragic realism, and even 150 years later, the viewer cannot help but be moved by the images.

Historians and collectors have a valuable new resource, the scholarly catalog Photography and the American Civil War, which accompanies an exhibition of the same name organized by the Metropolitan Museum of Art. After an initial run in New York, which will end Sept. 2, the show will travel to the Gibbes Museum of Art in Charleston, S.C., Sept. 27 to Jan. 5 and the New Orleans Museum of Art, Jan. 31 to May 4, 2014. The exhibition was timed to coincide with sesquicentennial of the Battle of Gettysburg, a turning point in the war, which took place July 1-3, 1863.

In the volume, Jeff L. Rosenheim, the MMA’s curator in charge in the Department of Photographs, writes that the attack on Fort Sumter on April 12, 1861 spurred the popularity of family photos: “Lincoln’s order for militia to protect and preserve the United States government was heeded across the North, and was a boon to photographers from Massachusetts to Michigan. Similarly, in the South it was a catalyst for Confederate militiamen to seek their portraits before heading off to serve their equally new leader, Jefferson Davis. The result of this military activity was the creation of an unparalleled mass national photographic portrait of men and women of all means, of large and small families, and of groups of soldiers.”

Soldiers carried photographs of wives and sweethearts into battle, while the women who waited back home had an image of their absent warrior nearby. Most common images were tintypes printed on sheet metal or ambrotypes printed on glass; both were often mounted in decorative cases with embossed borders. Small carte de visite prints on paper were another easy way to carry a photo. Women and men often carried lockets with a cherished image inside. People began to share photos when they met, much as we do today.

Rosenheim explains, “It was a matter of practicalities more than aesthetics. If a soldier had the cash and wanted only a single picture, he paid for an ambrotype or a tintype and within a few minutes departed the studio, near camp or in town, with a handsome cased image; if he wanted multiple examples of his portrait, or had lost most of his cash the night before in the last hand of poker, he bought a carte de visite or a dozen copies thereof. If he chose the carte de visite, he had to return the picture gallery later in the day, or on the next day, since the photographer had to print the negative in the sun and then mount the miniature portrait on card stock. The next stop for the soldier often was the post office.”

Soldiers put on a brave face for these images; they look young, alive, and ready to fight. Almost all are in blue or gray uniforms, some obviously homemade. Whether they sit or stand at attention, many display weapons—rifles, small arms, swords and even large knives.

The Civil War also saw the broad use of field photography at major battle sites, which illustrated what type of damage these armaments could do. Stark images of the dead and wounded gave families back home an accurate view of the results of modern warfare, which had an effect on political sentiment on both sides of the conflict.

Perhaps the best-known name in Civil War photography is Mathew Brady (circa 1822-1896), who had opened a daguerreotype portrait studio on Broadway in New York City in 1844, when he was a young man. But Rosenheim notes, “By the time of the fall of Fort Sumter, Brady was less a photographer than an entrepreneur who managed what we would call today a picture agency, which operated much like the Associated Press. He hired the best photographers, worked all the picture outlets (newspapers and magazines), and hobnobbed with influential politicians and the social elite.” Many of the historic images he exhibited in 1862—and took credit for—had actually been taken by Alexander Gardner (1821-1882), one of his team of photographers, who eventually left Brady to establish his own studio.

Photography and the American Civil War is illustrated with over 250 images from the Metropolitan’s extensive holdings and other public and private collections. Rosenheim’s research provides new information on the history of the photographic process, the photographers who labored to chronicle the war, and the effect their images had on American life. As the exhibition travels and more collectors have access to the catalog, this information will prove valuable to buyers and sellers in the auction market who focus on material from the “War between the States.”

In many cases, Civil War portrait photographs have been carefully preserved in family albums and come to auction complete with the names of the sitters and their regiments. They may also be attached to archives of letters or military records, a fortunate circumstance that increases their value for historians. Certain auction houses specialize in sales that focus on historical and political memorabilia.

Cowan’s Auctions in Cincinnati, Ohio, presents American History sales several times a year, which include vintage photography. The interest in history and archaeology comes naturally to founder Wes Cowan, who holds a Ph.D. in anthropology, a subject that he taught at Ohio State University. Cowan grew up in an antique-oriented household and had a strong interest in early photography, particularly stereoscopic views.

Katie Horstman, director of American history at Cowan’s, was in charge of the extremely successful American History auction this June. Highlights included an albumen print of Abraham Lincoln with Gen. George B. McClellan and his staff on the battlefield of Antietam in October 1862, taken by Alexander Gardner, which brought $15,275, and a print titled “General R.E. Lee and Staff” made by Matthew Brady’s Washington, D.C., firm in 1865, which sold for $19,975.

“There were over 150 lots of Civil War photography,” notes Horstman. “Some of our consignors are individual private collectors, who have been accumulating things over a long period of time. The first part of the June sale consisted of carte de visite images of Civil War soldiers, primarily out of Maine, and many of those in this sale were involved in the Battle of Gettysburg in some way.” These came from the estate of a single collector who focused on Maine regiments. Other consignments for the history sale come from institutions which are deaccessioning items or from dealers’ inventories.

Horstman continues, “The buyers range from private collectors to dealers, some of whom may be buying for institutions. Our next live American History Auction will take place on Nov. 15, 2013, and we are currently in the process of accepting consignments for the sale. It will feature early historic photography, with a focus on Civil War cased images and paper photographs.”

Tennessee is known as the Volunteer State, a claim that goes back to the Revolutionary War when the Overmountain Men from the Appalachians fought in the Battle of Kings Mountain. At Case Auctions in Knoxville, images of soldiers with a local connection often bring a premium. President John Case says, “We get excellent prices for Tennessee-related items; they bring more than I would have expected. When we get them, I think folks recognize the rarity, and the lots bring pretty strong bidding from institutions and private collectors.”

Case continues, “An important sale that comes to mind is the McCammon Archive that sold for $10,400 (est. $4,000-$5,000). It had his tintype image accompanied by his letters.” The letters, which were written by Union Capt. Oliver Pinkney McCammon to his future wife, A.E. McCall, of Blount County, Tenn., over the course of the war, document important military actions, political concerns and general conditions in the camps.

Citing an important lot sold in 2011, Case says, “We also had a tintype of Sirenius Mort, who was a Union lieutenant and came from a family of East Tennessee potters. That went to an institution for $5,290 (est. $700-$1,000)—but that was because we knew who he was and he was also a potter. His family was split in its loyalties; his other brothers went and fought for the Confederacy. Union images tend to bring as much sometimes as the Confederate ones because we were so pro-Union in East Tennessee.”

He emphasizes that families are willing to part with such photographs and accompanying material because they know they will be documented in the catalog and become available to historians. Case says, “I have a lot of ambrotype Confederate soldiers coming up in January.” Sometimes the smallest details add to the value, as was the case with one lot destined for that sale: “When you looked at the image of the soldier with a magnifying glass, you could see that he had a star on his buckle. That changed everything because that meant he was from Mississippi and that commands double.”

Jeff Rosenheim wrote an article about the landmark exhibition he organized, “Photography and the American Civil War,” in the March/April 2013 issue of The Magazine Antiques, which states why these portraits are so important: “The show examines the role of the camera during a cataclysmic period in American history and attempts, as much as is possible, to effect a balance between North and South, and between what we know and what we do not. Formal field portraits of well-dressed officers are tempered by more intimate likenesses of common soldiers, Rebels and Yankees, in whose eyes and body language rest much of the pathos of the war.”

 


ADDITIONAL IMAGES OF NOTE


A hand-colored albumen print mounted on card shows Lt. William Miller Owen and his brother Pvt. Edward Owen as they appeared in their Confederate uniforms around 1861 at the beginning of the Civil War. Both rose in rank during the conflict. The pair sat for the photograph in New Orleans at Guay's Temple of Art, a gallery on Poydras Street. With its strong local appeal, the image brought $7,050 at the Neal Auction Co. in 2007. Courtesy Neal Auction.

 

A hand-colored albumen print mounted on card shows Lt. William Miller Owen and his brother Pvt. Edward Owen as they appeared in their Confederate uniforms around 1861 at the beginning of the Civil War. Both rose in rank during the conflict. The pair sat for the photograph in New Orleans at Guay’s Temple of Art, a gallery on Poydras Street. With its strong local appeal, the image brought $7,050 at the Neal Auction Co. in 2007. Courtesy Neal Auction.

‘Photography and the American Civil War,’ a landmark exhibition organized by the Metropolitan Museum of Art, will travel to Charleston, S.C., and New Orleans. In this quarter-plate ambrotype with applied color, an unknown artist has photographed Capt. Charles A. and Sgt. John M. Hawkins of the Georgia Volunteer Infantry, 1861-1862. David Wynn Vaughan Collection; photo Jack Melton. Courtesy the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

‘Photography and the American Civil War,’ a landmark exhibition organized by the Metropolitan Museum of Art, will travel to Charleston, S.C., and New Orleans. In this quarter-plate ambrotype with applied color, an unknown artist has photographed Capt. Charles A. and Sgt. John M. Hawkins of the Georgia Volunteer Infantry, 1861-1862. David Wynn Vaughan Collection; photo Jack Melton. Courtesy the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

This large albumen print titled ‘General R.E. Lee and Staff’ was made by Matthew Brady’s firm in 1865, not long after Appomattox. A “holy grail” for Confederate image collectors, the photograph sold for $19,975 at Cowan’s in June. Courtesy Cowan’s Auctions Inc.

 

This large albumen print titled ‘General R.E. Lee and Staff’ was made by Matthew Brady’s firm in 1865, not long after Appomattox. A “holy grail” for Confederate image collectors, the photograph sold for $19,975 at Cowan’s in June. Courtesy Cowan’s Auctions Inc.

The four young Kentucky cavalrymen armed with sabers paid $4 for this half-plate ruby ambrotype before they went to war. Their names are written in pencil in the case. The well-preserved image brought $15,275 at a Cowan’s auction in 2009. Courtesy Cowan’s Auctions Inc.

 

The four young Kentucky cavalrymen armed with sabers paid $4 for this half-plate ruby ambrotype before they went to war. Their names are written in pencil in the case. The well-preserved image brought $15,275 at a Cowan’s auction in 2009. Courtesy Cowan’s Auctions Inc.

This Civil War tintype of Union soldier Sirenius M. Mort had extra value because the sitter was a member of the important Mort pottery family of Jefferson County, Tenn. The lot sold for $5,290 in 2011 at Case Auctions. As was often the case at the period, the photograph was mounted in an attractive embossed gutta-percha case for home display. Courtesy Case Auctions.

 

This Civil War tintype of Union soldier Sirenius M. Mort had extra value because the sitter was a member of the important Mort pottery family of Jefferson County, Tenn. The lot sold for $5,290 in 2011 at Case Auctions. As was often the case at the period, the photograph was mounted in an attractive embossed gutta-percha case for home display. Courtesy Case Auctions.

Civil War photographs often descend in the family of the subject and may be attached to important historical material. This locket with circular tintype of Capt. Oliver Pinkney McCammon (OPM) of the 3rd East Tennessee Cavalry was part of over 120 items, mostly letters of correspondence between Capt. Pinkney and his future wife during the war years of 1861-1865. The complete archive brought $10,440 in June 2012 at Case Auctions in Knoxville. Courtesy Case Auctions.

 

Civil War photographs often descend in the family of the subject and may be attached to important historical material. This locket with circular tintype of Capt. Oliver Pinkney McCammon (OPM) of the 3rd East Tennessee Cavalry was part of over 120 items, mostly letters of correspondence between Capt. Pinkney and his future wife during the war years of 1861-1865. The complete archive brought $10,440 in June 2012 at Case Auctions in Knoxville. Courtesy Case Auctions.

Today, this pocket globe from the Holbrook Apparatus Manufacturing Co. of Wethersfield, Conn., 1830–59, might be called a learning toy. To a young student in the 19th century, the three-dimensional paper and wood map was a prized possession that extended his knowledge of the world. Image courtesy Winterthur Museum; Bequest of Henry Francis du Pont.

Explorers, cartographers put America on the map

Today, this pocket globe from the Holbrook Apparatus Manufacturing Co. of  Wethersfield, Conn., 1830–59, might be called a learning toy. To a young student in the 19th century, the three-dimensional paper and wood map was a prized possession that extended his knowledge of the world. Image courtesy Winterthur Museum; Bequest of Henry Francis du Pont.

Today, this pocket globe from the Holbrook Apparatus Manufacturing Co. of Wethersfield, Conn., 1830–59, might be called a learning toy. To a young student in the 19th century, the three-dimensional paper and wood map was a prized possession that extended his knowledge of the world. Image courtesy Winterthur Museum; Bequest of Henry Francis du Pont.

WINTERTHUR, Del. – Before global positioning satellites photographed the earth from outer space, paper maps were the cutting-edge technology that connected man with the world around him. What lies beyond the river? How do I get to the next settlement? Where does one country end and another begin?

To find the answers, explorers undertook perilous journeys through mountains and across oceans, taking measurements and drawing physical contours. This painstakingly assembled data, once analyzed, ensured that ever more accurate maps could be published and distributed.

“Common Destinations: Maps in the American Experience,” an exhibition running through Jan. 5 at Winterthur in Delaware, brings together more than 100 rarely seen exhibits dating from the 1750s to the 1870s. The maps and objects, drawn from the permanent collections of the famous museum and its research library, illustrate how cartography influenced daily life on this continent.

The exhibition was conceived and curated by Dr. Martin Bruckner, associate professor in English and American literature at the University of Delaware, who also has secondary appointment in the Center for Material Culture Studies. He is the author of The Geographic Revolution in Early America: Maps, Literacy, and National Identity (UNCP, 2006).

He stated, “Then, as today, American took pride in building unity out of diversity, and maps helped a fledgling nation forge common bonds and foster good citizenship. Visitors will see how men used maps at home and abroad; how women and children engaged with maps to nurture family ties; and how maps became the social glue that would bind a people of strangers into a community during times of change and development.”

In a painting by Edward Savage (1761-1817) which is closely tied to the exhibition theme, George Washington and his family examine the new plan for a national capital city. In 1791, the president had asked French-born architect Pierre Charles L’Enfant (1754-1825) to submit a grand design, and his unusual grid plan with diagonal avenues intersecting north-south and east-west streets at circles and plazas is very much in evidence in the layout of modern Washington. Today the work would be done with a computer program, back then the plans were laboriously drawn by hand using drafting instruments.

One of the themes explored in the show is how mapmakers were working out a balance between artistic elements—the decorative cartouches and flourishes—and the developing interest in even greater scientific accuracy in the content of the maps. Serious map collectors have been among the most enthusiastic visitors since the exhibition first opened in April.

Many more will come later this year for a scholarly conference at Winterthur on Oct. 11-12 featuring presentations by distinguished academics and a series of workshops with curators and conservators. By fall, “Common Destinations” also will be available as an online exhibition at www.winterthur.org, so that many more people have access to the material.

Catharine Dann Roeber, Winterthur curatorial fellow who worked with Dr. Bruckner on the exhibition, said, “There are wonderful maps in the show, but the emphasis is on how people interacted with maps and learned from them and incorporated them into their daily life. There are objects you would not normally see if you were just looking for the ‘greatest hits’ of American map-making.”

She continued, “One of the main things that Dr. Bruckner was trying to do was bring in the story of how maps were used and experienced by all types of Americans. So we have wonderful map samplers and one of the Westtown School needlework globes. We have paper maps that were made both by schoolgirls and schoolboys. There are ceramic objects that have images based on the cartouches from maps, so it’s really a multimedia exploration, not just the flat maps that people are used to seeing.”

She notes, “One of my favorite objects is a wonderful little pocket globe that was intended to be part of a kit for schoolchildren for learning geography. It’s called the Holbrook Apparatus. It’s a little globe that splits in half, so you have the world on the outside and a flat map on the inside.”

Some of the most recent objects in the exhibition come from the 1876 Centennial Exposition in Philadelphia, which revived public interest in American history and antique artifacts. Roeber says, “Philadelphia was an important center for map production. By the 19th century, a number of the printing houses were turning out maps in great numbers. At the Centennial Exposition, there were a number of these printing houses that were featuring maps for schools and institutions and town halls. We have some wonderful images of that.”

In the marketplace, rare maps can bring startling prices. Not long after the continent’s discovery, an early 16th century map commissioned from a group of scholars by the Duke of Lorraine first labeled our land mass “America,” a name derived from explorer Amerigo Vespucci (1454-1512). Christie’s referred to this as “The Million Dollar Map” when one of four known examples sold for more than that sum in 2005. The only extant large version of this map was acquired by the Library of Congress 10 years ago.

Marc Fagan, director of consignments, prints and maps at the Neal Auction Co. in New Orleans, is an expert on antique maps, particularly those of regional interest. From Texas to Florida, the young United States vied for territory with European powers. The great port city of New Orleans and the vast Louisiana territory were under both French and Spanish rule before being purchased in 1803. As sovereignty and physical borders constantly shifted, new maps had to be printed to reflect the changes.

Fireworks erupted on the floor at Neal’s annual Louisiana Purchase Auction in November 2009. Dating to 1858, a rare copy of Norman’s Chart of the Lower Mississippi River from Natchez to New Orleans after Marie Adrien Persac (American/Louisiana, 1827-1873) came up for sale with an estimate of $18,000/25,000. The map records the divisions of land along the river with owners’ names and features vignettes of New Orleans, Baton Rouge and plantations with a decorative border of cotton plant and sugar cane motifs. After spirited bidding, the important document was purchased for $316,000.

Fagan says, “That is one of the most famous maps regionally, and it is rare. In general, there are various reasons why people like maps. It might be the aesthetics, the rarity, the importance of them—whether they show something for the first time—and the condition. That map had it all. It was the first one to come up—no one knew when another one came up. It was aesthetically very pleasing. And two guys wanted it.”

Many of the historic maps sold at Neal’s emerge from old Southern collections. The expert explains, “A lot of times there will be several maps in a collection—two, three, four—that have been passed down. A man starts a collection and his family doesn’t want them for some reason. Or single maps will come out of a house. Whenever you have success for one thing, it draws consignors, particularly with the information available on the internet.” Potential consignors can easily find out the results for similar material in past sales, and they give the auction house a call.

Fagan is always on the hunt for historic maps from the Americas and Europe. He adds, “We’ve had globes, I love globes. We sold a good pair of English floor globes five years ago for about $75,000.” On his want list are early detailed county maps and city maps, which “are very difficult to come by.” Past catalogs can be viewed online at www.nealauction.com, and Neal sales are great destination auctions because of the food and entertainment possibilities nearby in the Garden District and French Quarter.


ADDITIONAL IMAGES OF NOTE


Today, this pocket globe from the Holbrook Apparatus Manufacturing Co. of  Wethersfield, Conn., 1830–59, might be called a learning toy. To a young student in the 19th century, the three-dimensional paper and wood map was a prized possession that extended his knowledge of the world. Image courtesy Winterthur Museum; Bequest of Henry Francis du Pont.

Today, this pocket globe from the Holbrook Apparatus Manufacturing Co. of Wethersfield, Conn., 1830–59, might be called a learning toy. To a young student in the 19th century, the three-dimensional paper and wood map was a prized possession that extended his knowledge of the world. Image courtesy Winterthur Museum; Bequest of Henry Francis du Pont.

The Washington family gathers round the new plan for a national capital city drawn up by Pierre L’Enfant. This painting by Edward Savage, the keynote image of the ‘Common Destinations’ exhibition, is a perfect illustration of the role maps played in American public and private life. Image courtesy Winterthur Museum; Bequest of Henry Francis du Pont.

The Washington family gathers round the new plan for a national capital city drawn up by Pierre L’Enfant. This painting by Edward Savage, the keynote image of the ‘Common Destinations’ exhibition, is a perfect illustration of the role maps played in American public and private life. Image courtesy Winterthur Museum; Bequest of Henry Francis du Pont.

This 1858 copy of ‘Norman's Chart of the Lower Mississippi River from Natchez to New Orleans’ after Marie Adrien Persac sold in New Orleans. The map shows divisions of land along the river with owners' names and is decorated with artistic vignettes of the region. Two dedicated bidders drove the price well beyond the modest $18,000-25,000 estimate to a spectacular $316,000. Image courtesy Neal Auction Co.

This 1858 copy of ‘Norman’s Chart of the Lower Mississippi River from Natchez to New Orleans’ after Marie Adrien Persac sold in New Orleans. The map shows divisions of land along the river with owners’ names and is decorated with artistic vignettes of the region. Two dedicated bidders drove the price well beyond the modest $18,000-25,000 estimate to a spectacular $316,000. Image courtesy Neal Auction Co.

Printed in the United States in 1825, this map shows the city and suburbs of New Orleans according to an 1815 survey conducted by Jacques Tanesse. City maps are sought after by collectors and historians, and this plan framed by vignettes of city buildings sold for $16,133 at Neal’s in 2011. Image courtesy Neal Auction Galleries.

Printed in the United States in 1825, this map shows the city and suburbs of New Orleans according to an 1815 survey conducted by Jacques Tanesse. City maps are sought after by collectors and historians, and this plan framed by vignettes of city buildings sold for $16,133 at Neal’s in 2011. Image courtesy Neal Auction Galleries.

This 1718 map by Guillaume de l’Isle, published in Paris, shows the full extent of the French territory of ‘La Louisiane’ bordering the cluster of American colonies on the East Coast. The important document brought $13,743 at Neal’s last November. Image courtesy Neal Auction Galleries.

This 1718 map by Guillaume de l’Isle, published in Paris, shows the full extent of the French territory of ‘La Louisiane’ bordering the cluster of American colonies on the East Coast. The important document brought $13,743 at Neal’s last November. Image courtesy Neal Auction Galleries.

Who owned what in North America looked very different when John Disturnell of New York published this ‘Mapa de los Estados Unidos de Mejico … ’ in 1847. The historic map brought $107,550 at Neal’s in 2011. The map was an important reference in negotiating the Treaty of Guadalupe-Hildalgo, which established the border between Texas and Mexico. Image courtesy Neal Auction Galleries.

Who owned what in North America looked very different when John Disturnell of New York published this ‘Mapa de los Estados Unidos de Mejico … ’ in 1847. The historic map brought $107,550 at Neal’s in 2011. The map was an important reference in negotiating the Treaty of Guadalupe-Hildalgo, which established the border between Texas and Mexico. Image courtesy Neal Auction Galleries.

After spending many hours stitching this circa 1815 sampler globe, young Ruth Wright a student in Westtown, Pa., would have known her geography. The sampler map is one of several in the Common Destinations exhibition at Winterthur. Image courtesy Winterthur Museum.

After spending many hours stitching this circa 1815 sampler globe, young Ruth Wright a student in Westtown, Pa., would have known her geography. The sampler map is one of several in the Common Destinations exhibition at Winterthur. Image courtesy Winterthur Museum.

Not long after the Revolutionary War, John Wallis in London published ‘The United States of America Laid Down From the Best Authorities, Agreeable to the Peace of 1783,’ a copy of which is on display in Winterthur’s current map exhibition. Image courtesy Winterthur Museum; Bequest of Henry Francis du Pont.

Not long after the Revolutionary War, John Wallis in London published ‘The United States of America Laid Down From the Best Authorities, Agreeable to the Peace of 1783,’ a copy of which is on display in Winterthur’s current map exhibition. Image courtesy Winterthur Museum; Bequest of Henry Francis du Pont.

Curtis was able to establish a rapport with his subjects, which made possible relaxed and candid portraits, such as this image of ‘A Cree Girl’ wrapped in her rabbit fur cloak, on view at the St. Louis Art Museum. Courtesy St. Louis Art Museum.

Curtis captured vanishing world of Native Americans

Curtis was able to establish a rapport with his subjects, which made possible relaxed and candid portraits, such as this image of ‘A Cree Girl’ wrapped in her rabbit fur cloak, on view at the St. Louis Art Museum. Courtesy St. Louis Art Museum.

Curtis was able to establish a rapport with his subjects, which made possible relaxed and candid portraits, such as this image of ‘A Cree Girl’ wrapped in her rabbit fur cloak, on view at the St. Louis Art Museum. Courtesy St. Louis Art Museum.

Native American images by Edward Sheriff Curtis (1868-1952) continue to bring strong prices in the auction market. A vintage platinum print of one of Curtis’s classic images, The Vanishing Race, brought $10,890 in the High Noon Western Americana Auction on Jan. 26.

His photographic career and relationship with tribal peoples has been the subject of extensive scholarly research and literary exploration. On view through June 16 at the St. Louis Art Museum, “Edward Curtis: Visions of Native America” examines the photographer’s monumental endeavor to document tribes in the early decades of the 20th century.

At the age of 12, Curtis built his first camera with the aid of a manual. In 1891, the young man and his family moved from Minnesota to Seattle, where he became part owner of a photographic studio. Under normal circumstances, Curtis might have become just another successful commercial photographer in a local market. Many made a good living taking carefully posed pictures of engaged couples and infants now buried in family archives.

Curtis’s interest in the natural world set his feet on a different path. While engaged in photographing scenic views of the Puget Sound for a contest, he took a portrait of a Native American mussel and clam digger, Princess Angeline (Kickisomlo), the nonagenarian daughter of Seattle’s Chief Sealth. Not only was Curtis’s work awarded a gold medal in the competition, his efforts to record tribal life – before it changed irrevocably – became the driving force behind his creative work.

On the E.H. Harriman expedition to Alaska in 1899, Curtis began to develop new skills as an amateur ethnographer. After returning home, he traveled throughout the country, taking photographs of Indian tribes. Although always strapped for funds, the photographer captured revealing portraits of tribal members and documented important ceremonies, dwellings, artwork and scenery around the settlements.

Soon, Curtis conceived a grand idea for a massive publication of his photographs with accompanying text. In 1904, he received an important commission – photographing the American president’s sons. His plans for the Indian study received a boost when he had an opportunity to discuss the project with an enthusiastic Teddy Roosevelt.

Finally in 1906, railroad magnate John Pierpont Morgan agreed to supply $75,000 as start-up money toward preparing and printing The North American Indian, a set of 20 volumes with 1,500 photographs. Over 200 complete sets were printed, and Morgan received 25 as part of the agreement.

Curtis labored on the project for over 20 years in a race against time to capture as much information as he could, even though Native American life was already rapidly changing as tribal members adopted 20th century technology. Scenes were undoubtedly staged at times, and some have criticized his decision to remove modern elements – such a clock – from the images. But his entire focus was on recording what remained of traditional tribal culture while it was still possible.

Eric Lutz, associate curator of prints, drawings and photographs at the St. Louis Art Museum, explained the goals of the current exhibition, which he co-curated: “I think what makes this show unique is the way we’re showing two sides of Curtis. We’re saying, you can’t just take a photograph at face value. You really have to think about the context in which it was taken.

“How much historical truth do we read into these images? And how much do we need to know about the context to understand it better? When most people look at Curtis photographs, they’re not automatically aware of the fact that most of the Indians had been moved onto reservations at the time those pictures were taken. These profound changes had already taken place by the time he did this project.”

Photographs taken by Curtis for The North American Indian, both portraits and landscape views, frequently come up for sale in the auction market at a variety of price points. Most common are examples of the photogravure prints which accompanied the set’s many volumes; prices start in the $150 to $500 range, with value depending on condition and the desirability of particular views.

Lutz explained the process: “Since he was very prolific as a print maker, there is a lot of his material out there. All the ones we have on display are photogravures – the photographer makes a printing plate from the negative in order to be able to reproduce it in quantity. When he made a printing plate, he could actually work on that plate to change the image if he wanted to take out a detail or heighten a feature. He liked to have that control over the image, which the process gave him. He could reproduce the image by the thousands. If you had to do that by hand, it would take forever.“

The Saint Louis Art Museum had been given around 2,000 Curtis images by a generous donor. Lutz admitted that it took some time to choose the small number on view: “There were some images that we knew ahead of time we wanted to show, ones that brought up a lot of interesting issues we wanted to talk about. For example, we wanted to show examples of his early portraiture versus later portraiture from the 1920s – the changes over time. In our case, because I was working with the curator of Native American art here, we showed images that brought up certain questions. Curtis had a very complex life. How did he go about doing this gigantic documentary project? We highlight some of the successes and some of the failures he had as a photographer.”

One of the curator’s personal favorites is A Cree Girl, a girl wrapped in a rabbit fur robe with natural scenery behind her. The young woman seems at ease in this candid rather than stiffly posed image. The movement of tree branches in the background gives a sense of motion to the picture. As he took more and more photographs, Curtis became better at quickly establishing a valuable sense of rapport with his subjects.

In addition to still photographs, Curtis made sound recordings and moving pictures on the reservations he visited. Always struggling to raise money to fund long-term projects, Curtis put together touring shows featuring hand-colored lantern slides and filmed sections accompanied by music.

Around 1916, his photographic studio began to produce artistic gold tone or “Orotone” prints on glass. A negative chosen from his extensive inventory was used to print an image on a glass plate coated with silver gelatin emulsion. The plate was then covered on the back with gold-colored pigment. The completed prints were sold with a protective ornamental frame, which added to their decorative appeal.

The technique was popular at the time, and Edward Curtis made thousands of gold tone prints from his catalog of Native American photographs. He felt the process gave the photos more depth and transparency than traditional reproduction methods. The glass plates are fragile, however, and many were accidently destroyed over the years, so the surviving examples often bring higher prices than prints on paper. In the recent High Noon Western Americana Auction, a framed gold tone print of The Vanishing Race brought $5,747.50 and another framed view of Canyon de Chelly sold for $7,260.

Dozens of biographical volumes discussing Curtis’s life and work are available. A new assessment – Short Nights of the Shadow Catcher: The Epic Life and Immortal Photographs of Edward Curtis (2012) by Timothy Egan – is available in print and e-book formats. Christopher Cardozo has written many books on the artist including Edward S. Curtis: The Women (2005) with Louise Erdrich and Anne Makepeace.


ADDITIONAL IMAGES OF NOTE


Curtis was able to establish a rapport with his subjects, which made possible relaxed and candid portraits, such as this image of ‘A Cree Girl’ wrapped in her rabbit fur cloak, on view at the St. Louis Art Museum. Courtesy St. Louis Art Museum.

Curtis was able to establish a rapport with his subjects, which made possible relaxed and candid portraits, such as this image of ‘A Cree Girl’ wrapped in her rabbit fur cloak, on view at the St. Louis Art Museum. Courtesy St. Louis Art Museum.

A vintage platinum print of one of Curtis’s classic images, ‘The Vanishing Race,’ brought $10,890 in the High Noon Western Americana Auction on Jan. 26. A gold tone print of the identical view in its original frame brought $5,747.50 in the same sale. Courtesy High Noon American Auctions.

A vintage platinum print of one of Curtis’s classic images, ‘The Vanishing Race,’ brought $10,890 in the High Noon Western Americana Auction on Jan. 26. A gold tone print of the identical view in its original frame brought $5,747.50 in the same sale. Courtesy High Noon American Auctions.

This 1924 photogravure print of tribal elder Mitat-Wailaki is part of the exhibition ‘Edward Curtis: Visions of Native America’ on view through June 16 at the St. Louis Art Museum. Courtesy St. Louis Art Museum.

This 1924 photogravure print of tribal elder Mitat-Wailaki is part of the exhibition ‘Edward Curtis: Visions of Native America’ on view through June 16 at the St. Louis Art Museum. Courtesy St. Louis Art Museum.

This gold tone print of a mounted party passing through Canyon de Chelly sold for $4,800 at Klein James’ Seattle Auction Gallery last April. Another gold tone image of the same view brought $7,260 at the recent High Noon Western Americana Auction. Courtesy Klein James Auctions.

This gold tone print of a mounted party passing through Canyon de Chelly sold for $4,800 at Klein James’ Seattle Auction Gallery last April. Another gold tone image of the same view brought $7,260 at the recent High Noon Western Americana Auction. Courtesy Klein James Auctions.

Curtis also performed the valuable service of documenting native arts and crafts being made in the early 20th century. This selection of patterned baskets is one of 40 Curtis photographs used to illustrate ‘Weavers of the Earth: Native American Baskets,’ an exhibition through May 12 at the Memphis Pink Palace Museum.

Curtis also performed the valuable service of documenting native arts and crafts being made in the early 20th century. This selection of patterned baskets is one of 40 Curtis photographs used to illustrate ‘Weavers of the Earth: Native American Baskets,’ an exhibition through May 12 at the Memphis Pink Palace Museum.

‘The Vanishing Race,’ a photogravure image from ‘The North American Indian,’ with the autograph signature of its photographer Edward S. Curtis in the right corner brought an $1,800 hammer price at Cottone Auctions in March 2012. Courtesy Cottone Auctions.

‘The Vanishing Race,’ a photogravure image from ‘The North American Indian,’ with the autograph signature of its photographer Edward S. Curtis in the right corner brought an $1,800 hammer price at Cottone Auctions in March 2012. Courtesy Cottone Auctions.

 

 

 

 

‘Survival,’ a watercolor and crayon on paper work signed and dated 1993, brought $1,300 last fall. Courtesy Slotin Folk Art, Gainesville, Ga.

Thornton Dial: Transcending the boundaries of self-taught art

‘Survival,’ a watercolor and crayon on paper work signed and dated 1993, brought $1,300 last fall. Courtesy Slotin Folk Art, Gainesville, Ga.

‘Survival,’ a watercolor and crayon on paper work signed and dated 1993, brought $1,300 last fall. Courtesy Slotin Folk Art, Gainesville, Ga.

The art world has divided its creative cast into artists with academic training in their craft and what might be called spontaneous artists, who paint or sculpt or fashion works just because they feel compelled to do so. The latter are often labeled as outsider, visionary, folk, or simply self-taught artists, and at times they have been judged by slightly different standards from their formally schooled counterparts.

Thornton Dial can be accurately defined as “self-taught,” but his work has transcended such limiting categories. His drawings, paintings and constructions have crossed over into the broader contemporary art field, while retaining the emotional resonance of his historical and cultural influences.

“Hard Truths: The Art of Thornton Dial” is a traveling exhibition organized by the Indianapolis Museum of Art, which presents 70 of the artist’s best works, including 25 on view for the first time. The show will be on display at the New Orleans Museum of Art through May 20; at the Mint Museum in Charlotte, N.C., June 30 to Sept. 30; and at the High Museum of Art in Atlanta, Nov. 3 to Jan. 13.

In an interview before the opening in New Orleans, Joanne Cubbs, the IMA’s adjunct curator of American Art, addressed the pluses and minuses of the “self-taught” pigeonhole: “Like a wide assortment of other artists who work outside the familiar conventions of the established art world, Dial found himself characterized as a ‘folk’ or ‘outsider’ artist.

“Accepted and understood through the lens of these categories, Dial’s work gained important recognition. But at the same time, he has fallen prey to the problematic notions that frequently accompany these terms, to their fetishizing of difference and to their often false characterizations of his art as naïve, innocent or insular.

“Because Dial’s complex and large-scale paintings and sculpture so closely resemble forms of mainstream contemporary art, there has been even further confusion, and he has experienced some extreme highs and lows in the art world’s critical reception and understanding of his work over the years.”

Now in his early 80s, Thornton Dial was born in Emelle, Ala., in 1928 and lived through the cultural changes experienced by blacks living in the South during the 20th century. Cubbs said, “Dial’s art is filled with a vocabulary of repeating symbols that provides clues to the work’s richly layered meanings. He uses the tiger as an avatar of African American struggle and the ability to land on one’s feet despite the imbalances of injustice in a racist world.”

Dial was employed for almost 33 years as a welder for the railway carmaker Pullman Standard Co. and labored at other jobs in the construction field, in the course of which he gained physical skills that have been utilized in his artistic compositions. He always made things, but little survives from his early years. Cubbs explained, “It is true that, until the mid 1980s, Dial maintained a certain amount of secrecy about his work. Fearing reprisals from whites and even fellow blacks who might resent or misunderstand his social commentary, he reportedly hid, recycled or buried many of his earlier creations.”

As folk and “outsider” art emerged as a collecting field in the 1980s and 1990s, Dial’s work gained institutional attention. He was one of the artists included in “Self-Taught Artists of the 20th Century,” a 1998-1999 touring exhibition with a comprehensive catalog organized by the Museum of American Folk Art in New York City.

Dial has produced much new work in the intervening years, as can be seen in the current “Hard Truths” exhibition. Ranging from sensitive charcoal drawings on paper to elaborate assemblages of found materials, these works have helped him break out of the constrictive “self-taught” label and attracted the attention of the broader art market.

Folk art expert Steve Slotin presents two annual auctions in his special field. Next up is The Spring Masterpiece Sale on April 21-22 in Buford, Ga. He is also the director and founder of Atlanta’s Folk Fest, Aug. 17-19, which will include 100 galleries and dealers from around the country.

Slotin has strong opinions about his specialty area: “For a long time this art has been kept out of the mainstream art community. Self-taught art is the most important visual culture America has ever produced.” He particularly cherishes the freedom of American folk art from European academic influence.

He continues, “There are probably about 10 folk art exhibitions traveling the country right now. This is the one true American art form—being shown at museums and being sold at auctions—that’s still affordable to collect. Now a lot of these pieces have gone way up in value, but this is a from-the-ground-up art field where the prices are not set by the artist but by the market.”

In addition to “Hard Truths: The Art of Thornton Dial” in New Orleans, “Bill Traylor: Drawings from the Collections of the High Museum of Art and the Montgomery Museum of Fine Arts” is on view in Atlanta through May 13. Another touring exhibition, “Stranger in Paradise: the Work of Reverend Howard Finster,” will be at the Akron (Ohio) Art Museum through June 3.

“We always have examples of Thornton Dial’s work in our auctions,” Slotin points out. “Since we focus on folk art masters, he’s always been one of the artists included. We’ve tried to seek out some of the best pieces available. Some of the smaller pieces are affordable for any collector, even those just getting into folk art. But we occasionally get in large constructions and more important pieces, and they will go to the high-end folk art collector.”

Slotin has observed the growing appeal of Dial and other folk artists to mainstream collectors: “We’ve always had the self-taught art collectors collecting Thornton Dial—always. Because Thornton Dial and a lot of material in the self-taught art field is in the midst of crossing over into the contemporary art field and the mainstream art field, I’ve seen people who don’t typically buy self-taught art from us, buy a piece by Thornton Dial or Bill Traylor or other artists in this area.”

He added, “Dial does have a recurring theme in his work involving tigers and other animals with a lady, particularly in his work over the last two decades. It’s very attractive, and there’s symbolic meaning behind it all. Each piece is always a little different. We will have quite a few works in the April auction. There should be a whole page of the catalog dedicated to him.”

On a concluding note, Joanne Cubbs, curator of the current exhibition said of the artist: “Although his work can be dark, it also expresses the hope that we will somehow find our way through that darkness. Every image of social injustice is actually a call for our betterment. Within each evocation of struggle and ruin, there is always the underlying possibility of human transcendence, moral striving and spiritual regeneration. A unique merging of aesthetics, history, social conscience and metaphysics, Dial’s work moves the discourse of contemporary art into remarkable new territory.”


ADDITIONAL IMAGES OF NOTE


‘Survival,’ a watercolor and crayon on paper work signed and dated 1993, brought $1,300 last fall. Courtesy Slotin Folk Art, Gainesville, Ga.

‘Survival,’ a watercolor and crayon on paper work signed and dated 1993, brought $1,300 last fall. Courtesy Slotin Folk Art, Gainesville, Ga.

This Dial construction titled ‘The Comfort of Moses & Ten Commandments,’ circa 1988, brought $5,000 at a Slotin Folk Art auction in November. Courtesy Slotin Folk Art, Gainesville, Ga.

This Dial construction titled ‘The Comfort of Moses & Ten Commandments,’ circa 1988, brought $5,000 at a Slotin Folk Art auction in November. Courtesy Slotin Folk Art, Gainesville, Ga.

Organized by the Indianapolis Museum of Art, ‘Hard Truths: The Art of Thornton Dial’ is on view through May 20 at the New Orleans Museum of Art before traveling to the Mint Museum in Charlotte, N.C., and the High Museum in Atlanta. This 2004 work, ‘Stars of Everything,’ is composed of paint with fiber, wood, metal and plastic scraps. Collection of the Souls Grown Deep Foundation. Photo by Stephen Pitkin.

Organized by the Indianapolis Museum of Art, ‘Hard Truths: The Art of Thornton Dial’ is on view through May 20 at the New Orleans Museum of Art before traveling to the Mint Museum in Charlotte, N.C., and the High Museum in Atlanta. This 2004 work, ‘Stars of Everything,’ is composed of paint with fiber, wood, metal and plastic scraps. Collection of the Souls Grown Deep Foundation. Photo by Stephen Pitkin.

Tigers are a favorite subject in Thornton Dial’s work. This ‘Tiger Pouncing on Nude Lady,’ a paint on paper work, sold for $7,000 in April 2012. All results quoted are hammer prices; buyers pay an additional 15 percent premium. Courtesy Slotin Folk Art, Gainesville, Ga.

Tigers are a favorite subject in Thornton Dial’s work. This ‘Tiger Pouncing on Nude Lady,’ a paint on paper work, sold for $7,000 in April 2012. All results quoted are hammer prices; buyers pay an additional 15 percent premium. Courtesy Slotin Folk Art, Gainesville, Ga.

Thornton Dial’s work is filled with images of women. ‘Driving for Safety,’ a pastel and graphite image on paper, sold for $4,000 at auction in November. Courtesy Slotin Folk Art, Gainesville, Ga.

Thornton Dial’s work is filled with images of women. ‘Driving for Safety,’ a pastel and graphite image on paper, sold for $4,000 at auction in November. Courtesy Slotin Folk Art, Gainesville, Ga.

Dial’s sculptural constructions can dominate a room. ‘A Man & His Gator’—paint on plywood and found stump—measures 66 inches by 65 inches. The work sold for $1,050 last year.

Dial’s sculptural constructions can dominate a room. ‘A Man & His Gator’—paint on plywood and found stump—measures 66 inches by 65 inches. The work sold for $1,050 last year.

Another work in the current traveling exhibition, ‘Construction of the Victory,’ 1997, is a composition of found objects and paint on canvas on wood. Collection of the Souls Grown Deep Foundation. Photo by Stephen Pitkin

Another work in the current traveling exhibition, ‘Construction of the Victory,’ 1997, is a composition of found objects and paint on canvas on wood. Collection of the Souls Grown Deep Foundation. Photo by Stephen Pitkin

Thornton Dial, 2002. Photograph by David Raccuglia.

Thornton Dial, 2002. Photograph by David Raccuglia.

This silver-gilt Faberge cigarette case with an inscription dated 1913 sold for $120,000 in last November’s highly successful offering of Russian art at Jackson’s. The cover bears an image of the Tsar’s Falconer after a painting by Franz Rouband (1856-1928). Courtesy Jackson’s International Auctioneers.

Russian enamels: brilliant color, dazzling artistry

This silver-gilt Faberge cigarette case with an inscription dated 1913 sold for $120,000 in last November’s highly successful offering of Russian art at Jackson’s. The cover bears an image of the Tsar’s Falconer after a painting by Franz Rouband (1856-1928). Courtesy Jackson’s International Auctioneers.

This silver-gilt Faberge cigarette case with an inscription dated 1913 sold for $120,000 in last November’s highly successful offering of Russian art at Jackson’s. The cover bears an image of the Tsar’s Falconer after a painting by Franz Rouband (1856-1928). Courtesy Jackson’s International Auctioneers.

The technique of enameling, in which colored ground glass is fused to metal by firing, dates back to ancient times. Although originally devised as a substitute for precious or semi-precious stone inlays, enameling became a highly-sophisticated art form in its own right.

Many countries produced fine enamel works, but the workshops in Russia – especially those of the 19th and early 20th century – created vividly colored examples that are eagerly sought-after by collectors. The country stood at a cultural crossroads, absorbing influences from East and West.

The catalogue Russian Enamels: Kievan Rus to Faberge, which accompanied a 1996-1997 exhibition mounted by the Walter Art Museum in Baltimore and the Hillwood Museum in Washington, is a classic reference for collectors. The volume includes examples ranging from a Greek 2nd century B.C. bracelet found in the Crimea to precious treasures from the workshops of Carl Faberge.

The late Anne Odom, then Chief Curator at Hillwood, wrote: “The quintessentially ‘Russian’ enamels were the result of a melding process that had been going on for centuries, mixing Turkish, Persian, and Western styles that had entered the Russian design vocabulary in the 17th century. By the end of the 19th century they had been fused into a style that today is popularly recognized as Russian.”

Collectors and connoisseurs of enamels have a lot to celebrate. In addition to works in the permanent collections of the two museums, the exhibition mentioned above included loans from a mysterious private collection. This source has recently been revealed as the collection of Jean Montgomery Riddell, who passed away in 2010 at the age of 100.

The Riddell collection – more than 260 examples of enameled Russian silver – has been bequeathed to Baltimore’s Walters Art Museum. A case of representative pieces, including the tankard illustrated here are already on display, and the museum plans a touring exhibition with catalogue within the next few years.

William Johnston, Walters’ Senior Curator at Large, wrote the introduction to the 1996 catalogue and is now working on the Riddell project. The curator met Mrs. Riddell many years ago, when she came to the museum. He remembers, “The Walters is quite strong in Russian decorative arts, including enamels, silver, and ivories. I took her around, and she asked if we would be interested in her collection. We went down to her apartment in the Washington, D.C. area and she showed me around, and then we kept in touch over the years.”

The collector’s husband, Richard J. Riddell, had begun to collect Russian enamels during his work for the United States government. With his collection as a foundation, Jean Riddell began to enlarge her holdings through acquisitions from well-known dealers at home and abroad.

Johnston continues, “Jean Riddell formed what was regarded as the largest collection anywhere of Russian enamels. She bought a few earlier representative pieces from the 17th and 18th centuries, and she also bought some St. Petersburg Faberge. But what she concentrated on were the Moscow enamels of the late 19th century and the early 20th century.”

These Moscow pieces include tea wares and boxes decorated with traditional Russian motifs by noted artisan Feodor Ruckert, exquisite painted plaques from the Stroganov Institute, a striking kovsh made by Ivan Khlebnikov, and plique-a-jour pieces from the firm of Pavel Ovchinnikov. The Russian Enamels catalogue recommended above has an excellent glossary which explains complex enameling techniques such as champlevé, cloisonné, filigree, and plique-a-jour.

Auction prices for these enamels have soared in recent years, as wealthy Russians have actively participated in the international market. When Soviet politicians were more concerned about factories and harvests, decorative arts flowed to Europe and the United States. Now western collections formed in the 20th century are coming up for sale, and Russian buyers compete vigorously to buy back fine examples of their national heritage.

Jackson’s International Auctioneers in Cedar Falls, Iowa has become an outstanding player in the global market. One of the firm’s specialties is Russian material including icons, porcelain, silver, and enamels. Their November 2011 auction totaled $4.5 million, thanks in part to a miniature Russian triptych of the Kazan Mother of God, which sold for $240,000.

Stars among the enameled lots included a silver-gilt box with a painting of a warrior on the cover, marked by Feodor Ruckert of Moscow, 1908-1917, which sold for $132,000, and a hexagonal box of the same period from Faberge’s Moscow workshop decorated with a portrait Tsar Ivan which brought $84,000.

James L. Jackson, the auction house’s president, has become an expert in the Russian market. He notes that small treasures like the personal icons and decorated boxes are highly prized by Russian buyers, not only as additions to their own collections but also as gifts to friends.

He explains, “Believe it or not, these are the kind of things they give – something small and portable. When you have that much wealth, what is $100,000 here or there? He acknowledges that the Russian market has become an important part of Jackson’s business: “That’s been growing and growing and growing. Fifteen or twenty years ago, there were very few people who could speak fluently about Russian icons and knew the major players – collectors, sellers, dealers, museums, what have you.”

Having catalogued so much Russian material, Jackson finds he has become the go-to man on the subject: “The fruit that it bore was that people of every ilk – major collectors, museums, universities – began to call me, because I’m of the old school where you share knowledge. There are some serious American collectors, to be certain, but I would say all of the major works in the last sale went back to Moscow and St. Petersburg.”

Jackson is already looking forward to the next sale of Russian material on May 22-23, 2012, which will include important material from private collections including more icons from Dr. John Sinsky. LiveAuctioneers.com will provide the Internet live bidding.

Meanwhile, collectors can follow the progress of the exhibition of the Riddell bequest at www.thewalters.org. Enthusiasts also can look forward to the Hillwood Museum’s upcoming exhibition, “The Style that Ruled the Empires: Russia, Napoleon, and 1812,” on view February 14-June 2, 2012. Copies of the Russian Enamels catalogue are available at www.hillwoodmuseumshop.org.

Visit Jackson’s International online at www.jacksonsauction.com.

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ADDITIONAL IMAGES OF NOTE


This silver-gilt Faberge cigarette case with an inscription dated 1913 sold for $120,000 in last November’s highly successful offering of Russian art at Jackson’s. The cover bears an image of the Tsar’s Falconer after a painting by Franz Rouband (1856-1928). Courtesy Jackson’s International Auctioneers.

This silver-gilt Faberge cigarette case with an inscription dated 1913 sold for $120,000 in last November’s highly successful offering of Russian art at Jackson’s. The cover bears an image of the Tsar’s Falconer after a painting by Franz Rouband (1856-1928). Courtesy Jackson’s International Auctioneers.

Only two and a half inches high, this personal icon of a guardian angel was made by the distinguished Moscow workshop of Feodor Ruckert, 1899-1908, and was sold in 2010 for $36,000. Courtesy Jackson’s International Auctioneers.

Only two and a half inches high, this personal icon of a guardian angel was made by the distinguished Moscow workshop of Feodor Ruckert, 1899-1908, and was sold in 2010 for $36,000. Courtesy Jackson’s International Auctioneers.

The Hillwood Museum in Washington, D.C., is filled with Russian treasures gathered by wealthy collector Marjorie Merriweather Post. Among the enamels is this magnificent kovsh made in the early 20th century by Mariia Semenova, who took over her father’s workshop in Moscow. Courtesy Hillwood Museum.

The Hillwood Museum in Washington, D.C., is filled with Russian treasures gathered by wealthy collector Marjorie Merriweather Post. Among the enamels is this magnificent kovsh made in the early 20th century by Mariia Semenova, who took over her father’s workshop in Moscow. Courtesy Hillwood Museum.

This tankard made by the Moscow firm of Pavel Ovchinnikov, 1888-1896, is part of the Jean M. Riddell collection of over 260 Russian enameled objects recently given to the Walters Art Museum in Baltimore. Collectors can look forward to a catalogue and traveling exhibition of the works. Courtesy The Walters Art Museum.

This tankard made by the Moscow firm of Pavel Ovchinnikov, 1888-1896, is part of the Jean M. Riddell collection of over 260 Russian enameled objects recently given to the Walters Art Museum in Baltimore. Collectors can look forward to a catalogue and traveling exhibition of the works. Courtesy The Walters Art Museum.

This tall gilded silver covered cup is decorated with double-headed Imperial eagles. The masterwork, bearing marks for a Moscow workshop circa 1885, brought $105,600 at Jackson’s May 2010 sale. Courtesy Jackson’s International Auctioneers.

This tall gilded silver covered cup is decorated with double-headed Imperial eagles. The masterwork, bearing marks for a Moscow workshop circa 1885, brought $105,600 at Jackson’s May 2010 sale. Courtesy Jackson’s International Auctioneers.

This fine silver-gilt kovsh with shaded enameling in the Pan-Slavic taste, Moscow 1908-1917, brought $26,400 when Jackson’s sold the lifetime collection of Dr. James F. Cooper in May 2010. Courtesy Jackson’s International Auctioneers.

This fine silver-gilt kovsh with shaded enameling in the Pan-Slavic taste, Moscow 1908-1917, brought $26,400 when Jackson’s sold the lifetime collection of Dr. James F. Cooper in May 2010. Courtesy Jackson’s International Auctioneers.

A scenic view of Moscow surrounded by enameled foliage decorates this silver-gilt cigarette case by Feodor Ruckert, circa 1900, which brought $60,000 at auction last November. Courtesy Jackson’s International Auctioneers.

A scenic view of Moscow surrounded by enameled foliage decorates this silver-gilt cigarette case by Feodor Ruckert, circa 1900, which brought $60,000 at auction last November. Courtesy Jackson’s International Auctioneers.

The Monkey sprinkler brought $9,000 at a recent auction. Photo provided by John and Nancy Smith.

Vintage lawn sprinklers are collectible garden art

The Monkey sprinkler brought $9,000 at a recent auction. Photo provided by John and Nancy Smith.

The Monkey sprinkler brought $9,000 at a recent auction. Photo provided by John and Nancy Smith.

PHILADELPHIA (ACNI) – A mass-manufactured symbol of suburban living, the lawn and garden sprinkler has moved from the tool shed to the collectors cabinet. Like many other products of late 19th and early 20th century industrial design, the well-turned sprinkler is now appreciated as a piece of sculptural and cultural beauty.

Andy Durham, of Annandale, Va., has a collection of more than 80 sprinklers, mostly steel and iron watering implements made from the late 1800s to the 1950s. The joys of collecting were instilled in Durham as a boy, when he’d visit his grandfather, a collector of holly trees, fluorescent minerals, and books on Quaker history.

Durham’s first obsession was horticultural books. Then, about 15 years ago, he picked up a metal sprinkler for $5 at a garage sale, and used it to keep his lawn green. “It dawned on me one day that this is an antique,” and he began searching a new marketplace called eBay for other early sprinklers, a logical collecting progression for Durham, a landscape architect.

He learned that sprinklers were an offshoot of the first pressurized water and fire-suppression systems invented in the 1870s. They were initially used in buildings and utilized public water systems and individual water tanks. They moved out to agricultural use, and then to the growing landscape and public park movements. As the front lawn and home garden became an important component of the middle-class suburbs, the sprinkler industry saturated the market.

In the early 1880s, Durham explained, the designs were practical, intended to do a job on a farm or lawn. “There was a burst of creativity in the first decades of the 1900s. There were many manufacturers involved, and that allowed for expression of styles and shapes.”

Durham appreciates a wide range of sprinklers stylistically, he said, but is most interested in the heavy, detailed metal pieces, some of which boast beautiful scrolls and lion claw feet. One of his favorites was made by the White Showers Company of Detroit. It has a brass piston and carefully crafted cast iron parts. White Showers went into operation before the Great Depression, made a limited number of sprinklers, and went out of business after the market crash.

The 1940s saw the introduction of Bakelite, the early plastic, in sprinkler design. Exciting space age designs were launched in the 1950s. But the manufacturers incorporated aluminum and cheaper plastics, as the well-crafted metal sprinklers became too expensive to produce and ship.

Durham said collectors can find smaller examples for as little as $20, and “nicer ones in the hundreds of dollars.” Finding sprinklers at garage sales, flea markets or even antique shops has become a challenge, “but if you click on eBay you can still find dozens,” he said.

Durham’s collection includes examples of how sprinklers were portrayed in advertising, from postcards used by traveling salesmen, to full-size pages in 1940s Life magazines, capitalizing on the mail-order trend.

One of the popular collecting categories is figural sprinklers. The Firestone Rubber Company featured a line of upright, silk-screened figures on sheet metal that included the Sambo character, a clown and monkey, explained Durham.

A highly sought figural sprinkler is the Cowboy, a 30-inch-high figure whose lasso spins around and drops down as he waters the lawn. There were fewer than 100 made, Durham said, and may sell for as much as $4,000 now.

Figural sprinklers are the focus of John and Nancy Smith, of Barnesville, Md., whose more extensive collections include banks and doorstops. “We love figural cast iron,” explained John, “and lawn sprinklers really lent themselves to figural designs.”

But not very many were made in cast iron. The Smiths count 18 different figural sprinklers in that medium. “And searching for those with great original paint was a challenge. They were used, so they had a tendency to rust,” John Smith said.

The Smiths began collecting cast iron sprinklers in 1971, and made their first purchase – a wood mallard – for $35. Today, that duck can bring up to $2,000. One of the most graceful sprinklers, the Mermaid, has gone from $200 in the 1970s to $8,000 now.

“What happened,” John Smith explained, “is that they have a folky look, so folk art dealers are buying them. They are commanding a great deal of money these days. The Monkey sprinkler sold at auction recently for $9,000. A folk art collector bought that one.”

The cast iron figurals were mainly produced in the 1920s and 30s, Smith said, by some of the same foundries that made the doorstops he and his wife collect. “The 20s and 30s were tough times, and they created the sprinklers to make some extra money.”

The early cast iron sprinkler companies included the English manufacturer Nuydea, National Foundry of Massachusetts, and Grey Iron of Mount Joy, Pa. Nuydea produced the Frog on Globe, as well as sprinklers with ducks and cardinals in the 1920s. Other companies made turtle and alligator models and a two-faced man.

“Bradley and Hubbard, one of the ‘Cadillac’ casting companies, made tremendous forms on sprinklers, including a wood duck and mallard,” Smith said.

While Andy Durham can find his objects of desire online, the Smiths hunt for figural sprinklers at antique shows and auctions and through dealers of figural cast iron. “But in the condition we like, they are getting very difficult to find. They’re starting to get rare.”

Visit John and Nancy Smith’s website to view their collections and sale items at www.castirononline.com.

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Copyright 2011 Auction Central News International. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

 

 


ADDITIONAL IMAGE OF NOTE


The Monkey sprinkler brought $9,000 at a recent auction. Photo provided by John and Nancy Smith.

The Monkey sprinkler brought $9,000 at a recent auction. Photo provided by John and Nancy Smith.

The Mermaid is a sprinkler with style and grace. Photo provided by John and Nancy Smith.

The Mermaid is a sprinkler with style and grace. Photo provided by John and Nancy Smith.

Bradley and Hubbard, one of the premier metal casting companies, produced this Mallard sprinkler. Photo provided by John and Nancy Smith.

Bradley and Hubbard, one of the premier metal casting companies, produced this Mallard sprinkler. Photo provided by John and Nancy Smith.

The sitting frog was made by Bradley and Hubbard. Photo provided by John and Nancy Smith.

The sitting frog was made by Bradley and Hubbard. Photo provided by John and Nancy Smith.

One of the early sprinkler manufacturers was Nuydea, which produced the Wood Duck. Photo provided by John and Nancy Smith.

One of the early sprinkler manufacturers was Nuydea, which produced the Wood Duck. Photo provided by John and Nancy Smith.

Nuydea also made the colorful Frog on Globe. Photo provided by John and Nancy Smith.

Nuydea also made the colorful Frog on Globe. Photo provided by John and Nancy Smith.

The charming Cardinal on Branch was designed by an unknown manufacturer. Photo provided by John and Nancy Smith.

The charming Cardinal on Branch was designed by an unknown manufacturer. Photo provided by John and Nancy Smith.

Firestone and other companies produced a series of figural, sheet metal sprinklers. Photo provided by Andy Durham.

Firestone and other companies produced a series of figural, sheet metal sprinklers. Photo provided by Andy Durham.

The Space Age influenced the style of sprinklers made in the 1950s. Photo provided by Andy Durham.

The Space Age influenced the style of sprinklers made in the 1950s. Photo provided by Andy Durham.

Pete Prown, with his Ibanez Professional. Image courtesy of Pete Prown.

Vintage electric guitar market rocks steady

Pete Prown, with his Ibanez Professional. Image courtesy of Pete Prown.

Pete Prown, with his Ibanez Professional. Image courtesy of Pete Prown.

An estimated 2.7 million guitars are purchased in the U.S. every year, many of them by aspiring rock idols and guitar heroes.

A small percentage of the instruments that change hands are older examples going to self-described “guitar junkies” like Pete Prown, gear editor for Vintage Guitar magazine and a collector for 25 years. According to Prown, this is an excellent time for collectible guitar buyers, and the market has been active.

In October, actor Richard Gere raised $936,000 for humanitarian charities by selling off his 107-piece collection, including solidbody Gibson and Fender models owned by blues legend Albert King and reggae artist Peter Tosh. Individual guitars by other rock icons have gone much higher. Eric Clapton’s instruments have sold for a half-million dollars each at charitable auctions, and a Jimi Hendrix guitar can go for a cool million.

Even if you can’t afford an axe wielded by Hendrix, “it’s a great time to be a buyer in the vintage market,” Prown says. Classic rock guitars had soared to astounding prices in the last decade, but the bubble burst around 2007. The benchmark electric guitar is the 1959 Gibson Les Paul Standard, which had attracted bids of up to $500,000. In recent years, these Les Pauls have dipped to $150,000 or less. A solidbody 1960 Les Paul went for $98,500 in the Gere auction.

And there are many more affordable choices for those who don’t have a movie- or rock-star budget.

Prown, a Philadelphia-area collector, began by pursuing products of an “underground upstart” company called Ibanez Guitars, based in Bensalem, Pa., when he began playing in the late 1970s. He chose his quarry from the 1978 Ibanez catalog, which became the bible for a particular group of collectors. “There’s definitely a cult for Ibanez that has grown over the years – almost all are guitarists of a certain age when the light went on. We wanted something weird looking and different from the traditional-looking Fenders and Gibsons of the previous generation.”

Among his first acquisitions was an electric-acid-green, limited edition Ibanez Jem endorsed by Steve Vai, a hard rocker who played with David Lee Roth and Frank Zappa. Prown also has an Ibanez Professional, a.k.a. the Bob Weir Guitar because it was played by the Grateful Dead musician. “It has the vaunted Tree of Life mother-of-pearl inlay,” Prown says of the decorative neck.

One of Prown’s “blue chip” underground guitars is a 1987 Paul Reed Smith Custom 24, a gorgeous mahogany guitar with a “flamey” maple top. Smith started his business while he was in high school in the 1970s in Annapolis, Md. He operated out of a tiny shop until 1985, when he opened the first or several factories on Maryland’s Eastern Shore.

“He’s like the Henry Ford of recent guitar markers,” Prown says of Smith, “a very personable, down-to-earth guy, and a complete guitar junkie.”

Prown has accompanied Smith to the company’s “body blank shop,” where he’s seen the guitar maker pull out slabs of wood from the racks, tap on them, and determine which will make a fine instrument.

“They take a chunk of mahogany and glue a piece of maple on top, so you have this big rectangular sandwich. But it’s a sculpture, and inside it is a guitar,” Prown explains. The blank is inserted into a box, where a computerized router will carve the precise specifications entered by the designer.

The Paul Reed Smith guitars are known for their excellent construction, but also for their detailed handwork. Inlaid mother-of-pearl Chesapeake Bay seabirds fly between the frets of the Smith guitars. “He’s the Chesapeake guy,” Prown says.

On a recent trip to the Chicago Music Exchange, one of the high-end guitar boutiques, Prown added an acoustic 1948 Epiphone Spartan to his collection. An archtop with “f holes,” like those found in a violin, the Spartan was a standard design for jazz guitars of the postwar period.

“One of the reasons why this guitar sounds so good is because it’s old. You can make the wine metaphor – it ages. The more you play it, the more the wood vibrates and resonates and opens up,” Prown says. “Which is another reason why old guitars are desired: they sound good.”

So there’s the look and the sound that make the guitars desirable. The third criterion is the “vibe,” Prown says. “What does it evoke?”

Prown’s taste has mellowed from ’70s hard rock to ’50s jazz and blues. “But you don’t want to play old jazz on a crazy electric guitar,” he says as he pulls out a “real blue chipper,” a 1956 Gibson Les Paul Custom “Black Beauty.”

Les Paul, who died last year, became one of the preeminent guitar stars of the ’50s by bringing the worlds of jazz and pop together. “He was one of the first electric guitar players and probably the first guy whose name was on a solidbody electric guitar as an endorsement.”

With its black finish mahogany body, white trim, ebony fingerboard, and gold hardware, the Black Beauty was the perfect complement to the tuxedoed jazz musician. Prown flips the guitar over to show proof of its aged pedigree: belt-buckle scratches. “Old guitars have belt-buckle wear.”

The Black Beauty sold for as much as $40,000 seven years ago; it can be found for $25,000 today.

Besides shops like the Chicago Music Exchange, collectors can buy great instruments from like-minded dealers at the Great American Guitar Show, a twice-yearly gathering in Oaks, Pa., or at the shows in Arlington, Texas, and other cities around U.S., Prown says.

He also directs collectors to Vintage Guitar magazine, which provides dealers’ price lists and an annual price guide.

Boston-based Skinner Inc. Auctioneers & Appraisers offers high-quality guitars at its sales. David A. Bonsey, Skinner’s director of fine musical instruments, explained that the auction house tends to deal in mainstream manufacturers, like Fender, Gibson and Martin, but Paul Reed Smith products are also mainstream these days.

While guitar prices at auction “have not gone down at all,” Bonsey says, “there is not as much of a feeding-frenzy mentality as there was before 2007.” Up until that year, the vintage guitar market rose steadily. “When the economy hit the skids, the instruments were not devalued – they are still what they are – but prices did undergo a self-correcting market change. On average, prices dropped 25 percent.”

Gibson acoustic guitars appeal to a more conservative clientele and the prices have been “less volatile,” Bonsey says. “There are so few of the really great ones. And the acoustic guitars may have more of a magic about them, more mystique. I haven’t seen prices fall for them, but sales have slowed down for mid-range guitars.”

For collectors looking for what’s around the corner, Bonsey suggests archtop electric guitars. “People are not buying a lot of them, maybe because they don’t identify with their smooth jazz sound.”

There has been a surge of interest in “roots-type guitars” made by Silvertone, Harmony and Kay, Bonsey says. “There may be a certain cheese factor. Some of these old guitars have become very attractive as visual objects and for their funky appeal.” Those mid-range guitars that have gone for a couple of hundred dollars are now commanding over a thousand.

Bonsey also has seen renewed taste for lap-steel guitars. “Musicians are coming up with new sounds, sort of the next generation of what Duane Allman was doing – these hyper-technical guitar licks. That market will continue to grow,” Bonsey says.

Prown, too, has watched young musicians steer the vintage guitar market. “All of today’s younger bands like this kind of vintage rock look, the Beatle-y kind of guitars, and yhey’re weaving it into modern rock. They’re not playing Beatles stuff on it, but to them it’s kind of cool and ironic” to use a 1960s instrument in a new way.

Prown has seen another big change in the evolution of guitar collecting. The Les Paul that cost $300 in 1971 and is worth 10 times as much now is rarely seen on stage or in studios. “It used to be a guitar you played; now it’s a museum piece.

“The bittersweet thing is, people are buying guitars that never get played. Unlike some collectibles, a musical instrument is a practical antique. It’s meant to be played, to make music, not to squirrel it away.”


ADDITIONAL IMAGES OF NOTE


The 1956 Les Paul Custom, also known as the “Black Beauty,” was a conservative design that matched the inventor’s tuxedo. Image courtesy of Pete Prown.

The 1956 Les Paul Custom, also known as the “Black Beauty,” was a conservative design that matched the inventor’s tuxedo. Image courtesy of Pete Prown.

 The 1979 Ibanez Iceman was one of the highly collectible instruments of underground guitar collectors. Image courtesy of Pete Prown.

The 1979 Ibanez Iceman was one of the highly collectible instruments of underground guitar collectors. Image courtesy of Pete Prown.

The 1987 Ibanez Jem appealed to a younger Pete Prown’s hard-rock tastes. Image courtesy of Pete Prown.

The 1987 Ibanez Jem appealed to a younger Pete Prown’s hard-rock tastes. Image courtesy of Pete Prown.

A group of Pete Prown’s acquisitions from more than 25 years of collecting. Image courtesy of Pete Prown.

A group of Pete Prown’s acquisitions from more than 25 years of collecting. Image courtesy of Pete Prown.