Archive for September, 2010

Collecting West German Pottery: Thoughts, Philosophy, and History by Forrest D. Poston

September 7th, 2010 by

The thought for the day in the Oprah newsletter for February 6, 2006 read, “Your home should replenish your senses and feed your soul.” Few companies or even eras offer as many ways to achieve that goal as does West German pottery. The forms and glazes on West German pottery are fascinating enough, but when you consider the soil from which such vitality and whimsy grew, the story takes on another dimension.

Work backwards through history and we have the economic struggles and political tensions of the 1970′s, the cold war of the 1960′s and 1950′s. We have WWII, the Nazi repressions, and for Germany and much of Europe, the slow recovery from WWI. That takes us to the time of the Bauhaus school, one of the most influential design schools of all time, an enduring, worldwide influence currently visible in Jonathan Adler’s designs.

The Bauhaus school represented modern, forward thinking, not exactly something the Nazi party favored. The pottery portion of the school closed in 1925, followed by the rest of the school in the early 30′s. Energy and resources were soon poured into the war, but the end result was psychological, emotional and physical rubble. Surely any art that could grow from such soil would echo Edvard Munch’s The Scream.

Instead, there came forms such as Ruscha’s shape 313 designed by Kurt Tschörner, elegance mixed with exaggeration, perfect proportions that please the eye and tickle the senses. Decorations ranged from cute mixed with innocence to geometric designs that somehow mixed a sense of challenge with a sense of humor. It certainly made marketing sense. Instead of Calgon, it was “Pottery, take me away.”

Through the 1950′s and into the early 60′s, the most popular designs echoed the Art Deco period, particularly the vitality of that era plus the insistent innocence that later infused “Happy Days”. However, unlike the angular, geometric forms of the Art Deco period, many of the early West German forms featured gentle curves, just not quite where you expected to find them. While some forms maintained a classic look, asymmetry gave others the look of caricature.

From around 1965 into the mid 70′s, forms and colors grew more exaggerated and more intense without losing that fine sense of proportion and whimsy. In a paradox typical of this pottery, soothing earthtone glazes were popular at the same time, sometimes on the same piece with a vibrant orange or other lively Pop Art shade. Lava glazes and other textural elements added another level of variety and complexity.

Beginning in the early 70′s, a weak economy began to take its toll, and factories closed. By the mid 70′s, it was clear that the special drive that grew out of repression was losing momentum, and one of the great eras in art pottery was coming to a close. But the more I’m around the better pieces, the more I believe that the spirit that enabled art and artists to survive was poured into the pottery, and the vitality went not only into a range of creativity possibly unmatched for breadth and depth but into the designs and clay.

This art became not only the result of vitality but about vitality, and that strength and energy come out in the pottery even now, radiating into the room. Even the sense of whimsy underlying so much of the art is about survival because without the perspective supplied by humor survival becomes about hardness, not hope.

Ways to Collect West German Pottery

Some collectors have stumbled into the W. German field by buying an item or two at the low-risk cost found at yard sales or thrift shops. Others have seen some sweet items available but can’t quite decide to take the chance. Quite often the question is, “where do I go from here?” What does it mean to collect West German pottery? That’s a big question for a novice in any collecting category, but it’s even bigger when the field is virtually untraveled with no well-worn paths to follow and no books acting as maps, not even a good idea of what the choices are.

The beginning point is the same in any collecting field: start according to your taste, budget, and experience. As with any good philosophy, the idea is simple and straightforward. It’s the application that’s hard. Budget is the easiest part for most of us, those who consider the term extra money an oxymoron. Still, just because we’re broke doesn’t mean we don’t need beauty around us.

Rule number one is buy the best you can afford. Sometimes that means buying one really good piece, sometimes buying two or three fairly good pieces. It also means don’t go wild and buy a bunch of poorly done pieces just for the sake of quantity. Even though the most widely available items are the tourist pieces, there are better and worse pieces even within that category.

For inexperienced collectors, there’s a sub-category of vases with gold glazes that makes a good entry point. Several companies did items with gold-highlighted glazes. In this case, that means gold glaze, not just gold that’s painted on. A gold glaze can be rather tricky, so there’s value in the difficulty as well as the appearance.

Most of the vases in this category are relatively small (3-6″) and often have fairly traditional, classic forms. Prices on these tend to be low, particularly compared to the aesthetic value, and even when W. German items become more widely known, many of the simple versions will stay within relatively easy economic reach. However, there are also nicer items within the category.

The potential value on the gold glazes is based on form, glaze complexity, and size. The odd, exaggerated forms represent the period and will generally be more prized by mid-century collectors. Glazes with more complex, usually abstract, patterns will also command a higher price. Collectors of American art pottery will find some items reminiscent of Weller Cloudburst.

Collectors in this field can work up from fairly mass market items to the finer versions. Makers include Bay and Carstens, but the Jaspatina glaze from Jasba is among the best. Items over 8″ appear to be uncommon, and glazes combining red and gold among the most uncommon. Most of the gold-glazed work dates from 1956 to the early 1960′s.

While much of the W. German work is unusual in form and decoration, collectors can often find connections with other fields to bring a sense of familiarity that may help collectors determine just where they’re tastes and preferences lie within the W. German field. For example, many W. German items have archaic decorations and coloring that fit well with a southwestern theme.

Even glass collectors will find connections, especially those who collect Blenko or Pilgrim. The strong colors and emphasis on large items will make those collectors feel right at home. Collecting through such comparisons also opens intriguing cross-collecting possibilities.

I’ve found that many collectors get a bit fixated on a particular item or style, but playing glass off of pottery or one style with another can create surprising combinations with a feeling all their own. I know one collector who puts her 1970′s Pop Art vases alongside her utilitarian crocks and is delighted with the result. Perhaps the idea just brings out the child in me, going back to happy hours spent combining blocks in every combination possible and mixing in other toys just to see what happened.

Several companies also used a motif that I call a heartstripe, an irregular, horizontal band of contrasting color around the center of the vase. These stripes are most often found in orange or red, which suggests a vitality emanating from the center. In some cases, the stripe is bound top and bottom by a lava glaze that creates a geological look and opens numerous philosophical readings for those so inclined. Scheurich, Carstens, Steuler, and Hutschenreuther were particularly fond of this motif.

It’s also possible to collect by shape or glaze. Many of the shapes were produced for a fairly long period and can be found in numerous glazes. Two particular examples are Ruscha shape 313 (designed by Kurt Tschörner) and Scheurich shape 271 (designed by Hans Siery). Both shapes are fairly easily found, but coming up with all the glazes could be a lifetime project. Ruscha 313 was produced for about 30 years and 50 or so different glazes.

Perhaps the only way I don’t suggest collecting is by name. In W. German pottery, it’s rather difficult anyway since both the company and the designer are so often still unknown. However, the real problem is that collecting by name has a tendency to run up the cost without relationship to any real value. At the moment, pieces attributed to Bodo Mans sell higher just because of the name, and the ironic part is that this name value comes from Mans’ connection to France and Picasso, an odd reason to buy German pottery.

Some of the Mans designs are certainly attractive, but others are much less so, and there’s serious doubt about some of the attributions. On the other hand, I’m personally fond of designs I’ve seen by Cari Zalloni, so there can certainly be connections between collector and designer. The trick is to always consider the piece, not just the name.

In some respects, collecting should be done much like child raising, with a mix of freedom and control. A good collection really is much like a living thing, growing in often unexpected ways and sometimes needing to leave some things behind. Fortunately, with a collection you can sell or give away the items that no longer please you as they once did, a method not generally approved of with children.

Still, you don’t have to worry about getting your collection “right”. You will change, and so will the collection and your relationship with it. Be willing to take some chances (within the limits of your budget) and buy a piece that speaks to you even though it doesn’t seem to fit right now.

Even with the pieces you have at home, think of them like the blocks you played with as a kid, moving them around, always trying new arrangements just to see how the relationships change. Try the soothing items in one room and the eye-poppers in another, then try mixing them. You may be able to create a sense of story depending on how items connect.

Most importantly, make sure that your collection makes you happy. You should enjoy walking into the room more because of the pottery. And be sure to slow down enough to let the pottery speak. Let yourself be soothed by that gentle curve or be revitalized by that orange heartstripe.

Antiquing in Buenos Aires by Bob Frassinetti

September 2nd, 2010 by

Rare and incredible objects, furniture, books, toys, artworks… all those antiques and collectibles you dream of can be found in Buenos Aires.
Once upon a time Buenos Aires was a very small port city with very little population surrounded by one of the world’s most fertile lands. Not too far away there were several other populations with very different traditions to the Spaniards who had populated this portside area. As the city grew and the Porteñan society evolved many Europeans chose Argentina to be their home. They immigrated with all their possessions from every corner of the old continent. This flow from Europe to Argentina first began in mid 19th century, and has never stopped till now. At the same time, as the world evolved –wars, economical possibilities, inspiration, were many of the causes that help other people chose our country as their own.
All of these new immigrants that were coming from Europe (Western and Eastern), Middle East, Asia and Africa, as well as many other Latin American countries, brought with them all kinds of objects, from paintings to mirrors and combs, from decorative items to all kinds of furniture, and so on.

This brief history of immigration in Argentina might help those that don’t know our country to understand a bit about the eclectic variety of items that can be found in this beautiful city that is Buenos Aires (specially Buenos Aires because it has always been the main gate to our great and beautiful country). Many of them were brought in immigration ships, many others were sent to these families from their homelands, some others were imported, and some other ones were the result of business among relatives who lived in their homelands and these new immigrants that were building a life in our Pampas. Those valuable family objects some times due to hard economic situations, or may be because there was no one to inherit them, have taken a path towards flea markets, auctions or antiques shops.

During the last few years there has been a huge turn in our economy, the peso (local currency) has lost much of its value in relation to the dollar and the Euro, this situation has impacted in many areas of our everyday life. On the dark side one of the biggest consequences of this economic shift has been an intense flow of goods towards all kinds of markets, in order to keep on with a certain lifestyle. Therefore many families have found themselves in a situation were they had to sell many of their family’s goods. On the bright side this new valuation of the peso has made of Argentina a more appealing place to visit for foreigners, since its much cheaper than many other big international metropolis though still shows all its splendor in its culture, art, fashion and good sense of living.

Our local flea markets, open fairs and antiques shops are open history books that show this turns in our lives.

Plus, these are excellent places to shop for those items all art lovers dream of, as well as an excellent opportunity for art dealers that wish to offer their regular clients high class items at reasonable prices.

One of the most beautiful open air markets in the city is in the historical neighborhood of San Telmo, that’s open all day during Sundays, from very early in the morning to late in the afternoon. Surrounded by countless antiques shops that open their doors to the public all week long, this fair is just beautiful, with very good quality items… Bargaining is always an interesting possibility when acquiring these type of objects, always a plus to get what you want at the price you want to.

In the outskirts of the city, the Solano fair is one outstanding market where if you have a sharp eye for antiques you can find absolutely amazing treasures. Since this fair is very much for locals you can find all from old clothes, semi used house goods, and whatever people had and needed to sell… Its always better to visit this outskirts out of the tourists path fair with a local, best if you know what you want but don’t have much time and your Spanish is not very good.

Back to the city, one excellent flea market is the Dorrego Market, in the heart of Palermo, very nearby a great restaurants area, this market has all kinds of items. Its just a matter of walking around and talking with the local people that are very kind and would gladly help you in your quest.

On the other end of the city, during the weekends there’s an other kind of flea market in Peru abajo. Located in the beautiful residential area of Acasusso you will find this fair has all kinds of decorative items and furniture, one of its specialties are chandeliers at very reasonable prices… High class and good prices, one excellent combo!

These are the most representative fairs and markets in BA. There’s nothing you can’t get, you name it, they have it… And of course, these are excellent sights when touring through the city of tango, ‘cause there are many different street shows that weekly chose those locations to show their art: tango, puppeteers, street theatre, live music, plus all kinds of local street food to enjoy during your walk, there’s no way that can go wrong!

Bob Fressinetti is a writer and antique enthusiast living in Buenos Aires

http://www.frassinetti.biz

New Orleans Auction Gallery Two-Day Major Estates Auction

September 1st, 2010 by

Auction Sept. 11th & 12th, 2010

Featuring: Antique Furniture, Fine Art and Chinese Jade & Ivory Carvings

Gold and silver coins found in hidden suitcases attract strong bidding in Stephenson’s Aug. 20 auction

September 1st, 2010 by

SOUTHAMPTON, Pa. – It was a story that might easily have been written for television – but in this instance, it was strictly nonfiction. While assessing her late father’s possessions prior to sending a consignment off to auction, a Philadelphia woman made a fortuitous discovery in the garage of the family home. There, amongst the garden tools and bric-a-brac, she came across several weighty suitcases that had long been stashed out of sight. Thinking they might contain old clothes or discarded household articles, the woman was taken completely by surprise when she opened the cases to find a horde of valuable old coins, many of them silver and gold.

“Nobody knew about the collection. Her father had never told anyone about it,” said Tom Wakeley, general manager of Stephenson’s, the company that auctioned the coins on Sept. 20 at their suburban Philadelphia gallery.

The collection ended up being “a tremendous success” at auction, Wakeley said, garnering $88,000 inclusive of 10% buyer’s premium.

“At this sale we had more live bidding than we did absentee and phone bidding because there were a number of nice pieces of gold in the collection. Buyers of gold coins like to inspect them and judge the condition for themselves,” Wakeley explained. Ninety-five percent of the 417 lots offered were purchased by in-house bidders.

Nineteenth-century gold coins of various denominations were offered in the sale, including an 1899 $10 gold piece (lower right), which sold for $660. Stephenson’s Auctions image.

Top-selling specimens included a 1907 $2.50 gold piece that realized $632.50 and an 1899 $10 gold piece that made $660.

A wealth of silver was available to bidders, as well. Seven Morgan half dollars from the early 20th century were sold as one lot for $1,430; while a book containing 27 silver commemorative half dollars from the mid-20th century finished its bidding run at $2,640 – quite an impressive result for coins whose total face value was a mere $13.50. Wakeley commented that condition was what drove the price on the grouping. “The half dollars were in uncirculated or even brilliant uncirculated condition, and that’s what collectors are looking for,” he said. “With money being so tight, collectors won’t spend a lot for average-condition coins, but if a coin is pristine, the money will come out.”

Other highlights of the Aug. 20 sale at Stephenson’s included an 1849 Seated Liberty silver dollar, $715; a book of 21 early 19th-century half cents, $1,017.50; and an exceptionally nice, unopened proof set containing each U.S. coin minted in 1950, which sold for $660.

A grouping of Barber dimes from the late 19th century/early 20th centuries sold as one lot for $1,210. Stephenson’s Auctions image.

Wakeley commented that, compared to buyers of other types of antiques, collectors who purchase coins at auction will cut to the chase. “At some auctions, bidders will hold out in hopes that the auctioneer will open a lot at a lower price, but at a coin auction, if the auctioneer asks for $25 and the coin is worth $500, they’ll just yell it out,” Wakeley said. “They already have the value figured out according to the price of silver or gold. That helps the auction go a little more quickly, too.”

Stephenson’s will conduct its next coin auction on Oct. 1, 2010, and will offer part II of the same collection featured in the Aug. 20 sale. For additional information, call Stephenson’s Auctioneers at 215-322-6182 or e-mail info@stephensonsauction.com. Visit Stephenson’s online at www.stephensonsauction.com.