NewslettersRuby Lane's newsletters are designed to celebrate the antiques and art, vintage collectibles and jewelry communities around the world. Our Past Times newsletter focuses on antiques and collectibles. Our Creative Hands newsletter celebrates fine art and handcrafted jewelry on Ruby Lane. Our shop owners are frequent article contributors, sharing their expertise and their passions for the items they collect and create. Enjoy!
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Ruby Lane's Past Times Newsletter for January 2007
IN THIS ISSUE:
- January Editor's Pick: Glory
- The Antiques Business: Past, Present and Future by Maureen Weber of Antique-O-Rama
- Collecting Antique Porcelain by The Stowes of Porcelain Kingdom
- Sewing Tools Are Special Tiny Treasures by Beth Pulsipher of Red Moon Antiques
JANUARY EDITOR'S PICK: GLORY
In ancient times, glass was created through rough, laborious methods. But when most of the rest of the world was still mainly forming it only into beads or small vessels, functional glass windowpanes had been installed in public buildings in the Roman city of Pompeii. Mosaics, traditionally a decorative composition made up of small squares of glass, were also to be found installed in that city, as well as elsewhere in the Roman Empire. Since early glass was mostly only blown or cast in small pieces (the forty by twenty eight inch frosted windowpanes of the public baths in Pompeii not withstanding) it seems a natural progression that windows and mosaic work would join at some point. Eventually, ornamental mosaic work windowpanes began to appear.
For hundreds of years glass windows remained an expensive luxury and for a time were restricted to church use. Early Christian churches employed mosaic compositions for ecclesiastical windows as a way of illustrating biblical tales to illiterate parishioners. The aim, perhaps, was to let windows illuminate, in more than one sense of the word. Ecclesiastic creation ushered forth the desire for secular installments of stained glass. Successful experimentation in coloring the body of the glass eventually allowed greater expression by talented artists, like L. C. Tiffany, whose mosaic landscape windows were often as highly sought by churches as by the domestic market.
In concert with light, the remarkable properties of glass has many uses. Housed in a microscope, we use glass and light to examine the secret details of diminutive life forms of which we would otherwise be unaware. Chambered in a telescope that refracts light, glass helps us view very distant stars that dance beyond our own and we can contemplate the nature of eternity. Transmitted light, as much as any carefully arranged motif of colored glass in a frame, has always been the intrinsic glory of stained glass windows. Morning light, streaming through the glass, and suddenly there can be a glorious garden in the foyer. In the middle of winter.
Glass item from Harp Gallery Antique Furniture on Ruby Lane.
THE ANTIQUES BUSINESS: PAST, PRESENT AND FUTURE BY MAUREEN WEBER OF ANTIQUE-O-RAMA
Since our business values things of the past, I thought it might be fun to take a look at where we've been and where we're going.
I've been a "dealer" i.e. - a buyer and seller of antiques and collectibles and a general line of "stuff" for over 30 years. I started out just buying things and dragging them home. There was no "I woke up one morning and decided to be an antiques dealer" epiphany. I simply started collecting things, lots of things, which I loved. Then on day, I knew I had to do SOMETHING when I had friends over and said "Oh, here, let me move the table (Art Deco Blue Mirrored Top - a beauty) off the sofa so you can sit down. Of course, when collecting became more important than food, I knew I was hooked. (I had purchased some fresh peppers and put them down along with the treasures I had bought and promptly forgot all about them until a few weeks later. Luckily, they were easy to find.) I knew I was in big trouble at that point.
Shortly after that, I decided to make a change. I had a real job with a paycheck and taxes taken out and health insurance and all those other boring things that you have when you work for a large company. But then one Sunday I did the 26th Street Flea Market ( I never heard anyone call it The Annex) in NYC and I made some money selling all those wonderful things I had bought over the years. Wow! This is great, I don't have to work for a living anymore. HA! No, getting up at 2 AM to drive to the City, being out in the blistering sun, freezing cold with gusts of wind that could and did carry whole tables full of merchandise across the lot wasn't work. Perhaps a better name is insanity with a large dose of masochism. But this was fun and I didn't have to punch a time clock or dress up or do any of those nasty things we all have to do when we "work" for a living. This wasn't work - this was fun.
And you know what, it really was fun. There was a hustle and bustle in the Good Old Days of this business that was exciting. Yes, there was lots of schlepping tons of things around and long hours and slow sales when you really needed some money but I was in control of my destiny and as crazy as things got, I still preferred that over having to "do as you are told."
My next milestone was Brimfield. This was the Big Time. At Brimfield, tons of money changes hands yet somehow every dealer goes home without any in their pockets because they spend the whole wad (and sometimes even more!) on Goodies they just have to have. "How can I pass this up, it's such a good deal."(so what if I can't pay the rent or buy new tires? I CAN still get another month out of these Kojack treads, right?) Looking for new venues to sell, I did the very first Pier Show - we waited for hours in line just to unload - no one's fault, just the way it was then and part of the Fun of being an antiques dealer. Those were the Good Old Days.
As my reputation in the business grew, I had the opportunity to do many estate sales in New Jersey. One day, in late November, many years ago, I was setting up for a sale when there was a knock at the door. Nothing new there, someone was always trying to get in early. But in this case, it was the next door neighbor. Now, in these situations, a neighbor never comes over and asks for the cup of sugar or can of beans that they have loaned the dearly departed. No! It usually went something like this: "Excuse me, but I live next door and I just wanted you to know that the 18th century tall case clock in the corner belongs to me. It's just here until the painters are finished with the living room." And I'd say something like "Uh-huh, I understand but you'll have to contact the executors or the estate attorney on that matter." And off they'd go in a huff. In this particular instance the neighbor said - "I just wanted you to know that George's ashes are in the bedroom and I didn't want you to throw them out." Oops, poor George, I didn't know what that bronze obelisk thing was. I had turned it over and over, shaking it, trying to pry the top off. Oh, Dear! I put George in the hall closet where he would be safe (from me, no doubt) and for all I know he's still in the closet. (Pun intended)
A big part of what I miss about this business is the comradery of the dealers. Sharing artery clogging fried food and coffee so bad it would put hair on your chest and take paint off of cars really brings people together. War stories shared, the ones that got away, the painting Joe bought for $100 and sold for $1,000 and then spent $10,000 trying to do it again. Well we live, but learn - never! This was really Fun and.... I didn't have to work for a living!
This brings up a common belief that all of the dealers I know share. It's that elusive thing out there, waiting for you, the Big Hit, the million dollar painting, of what have you. And this has and does happen (not to me, however), But.... but ....someday, someday it will be my turn. I just know it, I can feel it in my bones. Even if it doesn't, it's the thrill of the hunt that matters. I'm sure some of you have watched the Lovejoy Mysteries series (the TV show was SO much better than the books, besides Ian McShane was just t-o-o-o cute!) That heart stopping feeling when you KNOW you've found something wonderful and rare. Something that calls your name like the Mythical Sirens of the Sea, hard to explain to those without the "gift", that gut feeling is something you either have or you don't. It's very close to falling in love, your heart thumps, your eyes glaze over, your throat gets dry (of course it could just be all that awful coffee you just chug-a-lugged down, but we won't go there).
In the late 1960's and early 1970's, shopping malls decided to have Antiques shows in January/February between the January White Sales and Washington's Birthday Sales. OK, we didn't do a ton of business at these venues but it was indoors at the worst weather time of the year - at least here in the northeast part of the country - and we did do some business and got a few house calls (the Nirvana of the business) and this was Fun and.... I didn't have to work for a living.
Fast forward to the 1990's and Wow! Here comes the Internet. This is fabulous. I can sit here all day and type my little fingers down to the nubs. Forget the fact that in the early days computers were expensive, as were digital cameras and all the costly programs and services needed. Not to mention all the extra technical gadgets we all felt we MUST have in order to be successful (which in the end, turned out to be expensive but terrific paperweights. Oh, well.).
To be honest, the Internet has hurt the business in some ways - it has made anyone and everyone a dealer, and brought down the prices of many items by flooding the market with lots of inventory. On the other hand, a dealer's marketplace used to be limited to their geographic region. Now with the internet, it's global and this is a very, very good thing. I've sold things on Ruby Lane to buyers in Japan, Gibraltar, the South Sea Islands, Russia, Greece and all over the world. I often wish I could hand deliver these items - "Oh, I was just driving, sailing, swimming by and thought I'd drop your purchase off." Many Brick & Mortar /Mom & Pop shops are gone now, replaced by multi-dealer shops which isn't necessarily a bad thing, just evolution in an ever changing world. But I do long for the days when dealers would come in sit down and ramble on about almost anything they had on their minds. I sure do miss the Good Old days and remember this is fun and ....I don't have to work for a living!
In parting, just let me make one more statement - I LOVE selling on Ruby Lane, it IS fun and easy and no matter which way the wind blows in this business, I intend to stay here as long as Ruby Lane will have me. I'd better get busy now - not back to work because I really don't have a job - and list some of those wonderful treasures I've unearthed here in my very own archaeological dig (formerly called a Living Room).
Good wishes and success, Maureen Weber
We invite you to visit Maureen's shop: Antique-O-Rama.
COLLECTING ANTIQUE PORCELAIN BY THE STOWES OF PORCELAIN KINGDOM
Porcelain was very popular at the turn of the 19th century, and is being rediscovered all over again by collectors in the 21st century. Fortunately for collectors, there is an ample supply in all price ranges. Discovered by the Chinese, the formula for producing porcelain eluded the Europeans for centuries, until finally in the early 1700's, a young alchemist discovered how to make it, and the first porcelain factory in Europe, The Meissen Factory, was started. Up until that time, fine porcelain imported from China was more expensive than gold, and way beyond the means of the average person. As the "secret" formula spread across Europe, more porcelain factories sprang up, and by the 19th century porcelain was being shipped to the American market by hundreds of importers. Entire regions were devoted to the production of porcelain, notably, the region of Limoges, France, and many others. There are three types of porcelain: soft paste, hard paste, and bone china. The English were prolific at producing bone china, and still produce most of it today. Collectors are most likely to find hard paste, or true porcelain, which does not craze or crackle with age.
Today's collectors are looking for fine examples, and they have a wide range from which to chose. China painting was an extremely popular pastime for men and women alike around the turn of the 19th and early 20th centuries. Examples to look for are well painted, and may or may not be signed by the artist. Limoges is enjoying a renaissance of sorts right now, it is extremely popular and prices are steadily rising. Factory decorated pieces will have several marks, an under glaze, or factory mark, denoting the factory where it was produced, and an over glaze, or decorator's mark, if the piece was also painted there. Collectors also look for an artist signature, which if it is one of the famous, listed Limoges artists, can dramatically increase the value of the piece. The same is true for Pickard decorated pieces. Professional artists usually signed their work in a conspicuous spot on the front. There are many unsigned pieces as well as pieces signed by unknown, amateur china painters. Thousands of "blanks," or undecorated porcelain, were imported to America for painting by professional and amateur artists alike. Look for well painted examples which show a real talent for china painting, as these are the ones that will hold their value and appreciate over the years, regardless of who painted them.
There are many other examples of hand painted porcelain from hundreds of other porcelain factories with merits of their own. These examples are just now being discovered and avidly collected. Many of these pieces are completely unmarked as to the factory that produced them. Some are marked only with the country of origin, notable examples include Bavaria, Germany, and Austria. Bavarian porcelain examples are still very reasonably priced in the marketplace and prices will undoubtedly rise as collectors "discover" it and demand increases. Several objects in porcelain are extremely popular with collectors right now, recent trends we have noticed include porcelain talc shakers, cache pots, and rare porcelain tussie mussies.
Not all porcelain was hand painted, and many factories specialized in decalomania, or transfer decorated pieces. Perhaps the best known of factories that used transfer decoration was the RS Prussia factory, a prolific producer of German porcelain in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Early examples from the RS Prussia factories were decorated with "outline transfer" which was hand painted or embellished after the transfer was applied. The larger, more elaborate transfers used after the 1900's also had some hand painting over the transfer. The RS Prussia factory also produced some of the most artistic and elaborate molds of the period, especially during the Art Nouveau era around the turn of the 19th century. They also used a variety of different marks, and thousands of pieces were unmarked, giving the educated collector a real advantage in the marketplace if they can identify unmarked pieces. Unfortunately, RS Prussia is also one of the most reproduced porcelain factories, complete with a variety of fake marks, so collectors have to be extra careful when acquiring new pieces. Always buy from a reputable dealer, and remember most of the RS Prussia molds and decors are well documented in reference books, as are the authentic marks used by them.
For the porcelain collector, there is a vast market available to collect. Look for pieces in excellent, undamaged condition, unless the example is extremely rare and the damage is minimal. Professional restoration is available, and for some pieces, restoration will bring the piece back up to value as if it had never been damaged. If you are collecting for yourself, you may be more inclined to forgive a chip or flake here and there than if you are buying for investment purposes. Buy the best examples you can afford, and of course buy what you love because if you love it, others will too.
Antique porcelain was fired in a coal powered kiln, this is evident in pieces that show coal flecks in the finished product. Whether you collect examples from one factory, (RS Prussia) or region, (Limoges or Nippon) specific objects, like teacups, or just porcelain in general, there are hundreds of reference books available. Research your chosen field and become an expert on recognizing its attributes. Invest in a loupe, and learn to differentiate between hand painted and transfer decorated porcelain. Transfers will show up under a loupe as tiny little dots, whereas hand painted examples will show brush strokes. The mixtion technique used both transfer decorating and hand painted embellishments. If you collect porcelain produced by a certain factory or region, educate yourself on the marks used and learn to spot fake marks. Remember that not all porcelain was marked, and items made prior to the McKinley Tariff Act of 1891 may not have the country of origin as part of the mark. The style and décor of a piece also gives clues to when it was made. Above all, enjoy the "hunt", you never know what you may find, which is what makes collecting so much fun!
We invite you to visit The Porcelain Kingdom.
SEWING TOOLS ARE SPECIAL TINY TREASURES BY BETH PULSIPHER OF RED MOON ANTIQUES
So many of my customers have been long time collectors, some of them for several decades. They've filled their homes with their collections, and now no longer have room for more of their favorite things. Or, they are advanced collectors who have just about everything they want in their primary collections, and rarely find fresh additions to what they collect.
But they still love to hunt for antiques, feeling the rush and adrenaline flow each time they attend an antiques show or visit an antiques shop. No room for full-sized antiques anymore, but one can't just give up such a fun thing to do as antiques hunting!! What's a girl to do?
The answer is simple - find something different and new-to-you to collect. Especially, look for something small, which doesn't take up much display room. Antique sewing tools are an excellent example. It takes just a small area to display a lovely assortment of them, and they come in all different styles, ages and price ranges. It's easily possible to spend anywhere from $10 to $50 per sewing tool; if your budget isn't tight, you can always find fabulous and unusual sewing tools available for up to $1000 or more.
What's fun about sewing tools is that one can enjoy buying all different kinds for a wide-ranging collection, or one can specialize in a particular category, like thimbles, tape measures, pin cushions, advertising items, or sewing kits, just to name a few possibilities. One can specialize in Victorian-era sewing tools, or concentrate on Art Deco vintage tools. They look wonderful grouped together as a display on a shelf or table, making an impact as a fine collection of antique ladies' tools. More than one hundred years ago, Victorian ladies often displayed their finest sewing tools - monogram-engraved gold thimbles, hand-carved Black Forest sewing kits, sterling repousse tatting shuttles - on the table next to their favorite comfortable sewing chair. At that time, it was a sign of wealth to have a collection of expensive sewing tools, as ladies often would sit and sew as they entertained guests on a quiet Sunday afternoon.
So when my customers are looking for something new to collect, I often suggest that they consider antique and vintage sewing tools. There's a price range for everyone, there's many unusual kinds from which to choose, and there's enough still to be found that you won't be bored locating them at shows and shops.
A few hints might be helpful in shopping for vintage and antique sewing tools:
- Sewing items were in their biggest heyday during the last half of the 19th century through the 1920's. This is the time period in which some of the best quality tools were made. But many one-of-a-kind sewing items were made before the 1850's, while during the 1930's there were many colorful and quite different tools made in the Art Deco style.
- Consider buying a few reference books on sewing tools. There are many dozens of them, covering a huge number of different sewing tool categories. Some are generalist books that give a strong overview of sewing tools (the now out-of-print "bible" for sewing tool collectors is "An Illustrated History of Needlework Tools" by Gay Ann Rogers), while other books are specifically written about tape measures, or thimbles, or chatelaines, or any of a couple dozen specific sub-collecting categories. Building a small library of sewing tool books will help you identify your finds, and often give you an idea of their age, rarity and value range. Put titles of the specific sewing tools books you desire on your birthday and Christmas lists, and soon you'll have a handy and useful library.
- Be cautious of reproductions, especially in sterling. There are many sterling thimbles, thimble holders and needle cases which are currently being made in Thailand and other countries which are true sterling, but definitely new. They often are sold in on-line auctions with no verification of age, and many new collectors are drawn in by low bidding prices. Experienced collectors recognize these new sewing items, and don't bid on them. If there are few bids and the price seems too good to be true, it's a strong possibility that it's brand new sterling. One of the best ways to determine if a tool is new is to check the on-line auction's "Completed Listings", which will show pictures and final prices of previously sold tools. If you see several which look like the same sewing tools being listed over and over, beware. New sterling sewing items can be purchased from wholesalers by the gross for very small amounts of money, and unscrupulous auction sellers continuously list them, using the same photos and descriptions. After a while, you'll recognize them for what they are - new, cheaply manufactured, and hugely mass-produced.
- Buy from respected, reputable antiques dealers who can answer your specific questions about the sewing tools they are selling. Most antique sewing tools specialists know a lot about what they are selling, and can offer honest information about age and history of the tool in which you are interested.
- Ask for a detailed receipt when buying a sewing tool. That receipt should state the dealer's name and address, and give a description of the item, its age, and the price you are paying. The more information, the better. Ask the dealer to guarantee the authenticity of your sewing tool, with return rights should it be a reproduction. If you learn after purchase that you've bought a reproduction, you'll want that receipt!
- English and Continental sewing tools tend to be fancy in style. American sewing tools lean towards practical and folky. Some collectors like really early American sewing tools from the 1790's through 1850's - they are usually simple, hand-made tools whose appeal lies in their one-of-a-kind designs and their fine construction.
- When determining quality, look for sewing tools which show appropriate wear, but the less the better. If it looks brand new, be cautious. Sewing tools were used regularly, and were often stored in sewing boxes. Most show signs of use and age - they may be tarnished, or show wear at the locations where fingers came into contact. They were well-loved tools whose original owners often used daily, so it's reasonable to expect to see some marks or minor fabric loss.
At the moment, one of the hottest sewing tools is the tatting shuttle. From the late 1800's through the early 1900's, tatting lace was handmade and used to decorate just about everything from tea towels, to elaborate christening dresses, to bed linens. Nearly every ladies' magazine had tatting patterns which could be mail ordered - from beginner patterns to advanced designs, there was a tatting pattern for everyone. These patterns are still very desirable today amongst tatting shuttle collectors, and bring a higher premium than knitting or crochet patterns.
Many collectors are also "tatters" themselves - they love the satisfying feeling of accomplishment in making their own lace. These collectors regularly use their vintage tatting shuttles. They receive pleasure over and over from their collections - not only do they have a great time searching for new additions to their antique tatting shuttle collections, but they enjoy their pretty treasures by actually using them in the art of hand-making lace.
No matter which kinds of sewing tools catch your eye, you won't be disappointed in locating them. When you are at an antiques shop or show, be sure to check every showcase, small or large. Sewing tools are tiny, and are almost always kept under lock and key. As you wander, do take a few moments to ask a dealer if they have any sewing tools. It's possible they don't have them on display yet, or maybe you just missed seeing them.
You can almost always find an interesting collection of sewing tools in my Ruby Lane shop, Red Moon Antiques. They are one of my specialties - I've been a sewing tools dealer and collector for more than 25 years. Feel free to email me at email@example.com with any sewing tools questions you might have!
We invite you to visit Beth's Shop: Red Moon Antiques.
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