Is Rare Book Collecting Done for Profit or for Fun?

February 14th, 2011 by

Contributed by – a membership-based service specializing in providing identification & appraisal advice on antiques & collectibles.

Rare book collecting, once the privilege of the squire with a baronial library and the staff to tidy it, is becoming the province of the literate Everyman. The signs are persistent.

Attendance at auctions is rising, the number of book dealers increasing. Membership in the Antiquarian Booksellers Association continues to grow. A few years ago, there was only one book collectors’ fair in the United States; today there are tens of major ones and many more smaller ones. If a bellwether of the widened and deepened interest were needed, one could find it in the appearance of three Gutenberg Bibles within one single year, each for sale in the $2 million price range. Normally, said John Fleming, a noted New York dealer, a Gutenberg turns up about once in a decade. Mr. Fleming called the triple surfacing “an imponderable coincidence,” but others took it as an omen – as one of the indicators pointing toward increased action at all levels of book collecting.

There is no single factor to explain this upsurge. Some say it is based on a heightened awareness of our literary and historical heritage, but dealers with longer memories say it is a natural reaction to long years of drought. After the boom years of the 1920s, capped by the spectacular 1929 sale of composer Jerome Kern’s collection, which netted almost $2 million, the Depression set in with a vengeance. Prices plummeted. Noted buyers, pressed for cash, became sellers; such buyers as there were maintained a low profile; it seemed frivolous to spend substantial amounts for books when so many needed bread. In the war years that followed, serious collecting continued to be more or less in limbo. Thus a vacuum was created, a vacuum that has filled gradually over a fifty-year period, matching the increase of popular interest in all cultural areas. En route, the overall picture of a “book collector” was found to have changed.

Collectors on the scale of J. Pierpont Morgan, Henry C. Folger, Henry E. Huntington (who spent $4.5 million with the legendary Dr. A.S.W. Rosenbach – the flamboyant book dealer from the early part of this century – alone) were mainly gone. “Most of the famous American bibliophiles have died,” said H.P. Kraus, a leading New York dealer, “and few big ones have come to take their place.” Those who have taken their place are much more modest in aim, reach and resources: young people, professionals (doctors, teachers, architects). They have some money and a desire to do something with it, something special but not spectacular. There are those who argue that this is just as well, since assembling a really complete and important collection today is not feasible. For instance all the quarto editions of Romeo and Juliet are in institutions. What’s the sense in a man’s starting to collect Shakespeare when he knows in advance there’s a lot he can’t get?

People ask whether it is possible to put together a library like the Morgan. After all, there is excess and duplication in other libraries. All it takes is money and devotion. New libraries can be built. Dealer H.P. Kraus, acting as agent for the University of Texas, claims to have offered $60 million for the complete library of Dr. Martin Bodmer of Geneva, an offer apparently insufficient to the Swiss collector, because he turned it down. His library was given instead to the city of Geneva.

Collections of considerable magnitude are still being assembled – and disposed of. Knowledgeable people speak of the William H. Scheide and Robert H. Taylor collections with hushed respect. And still warm in the memory is the dispersal in 1977 of the Jonathan Goodwin collection of mainly modern first editions. That sale netted a million dollars, and in it the first books of two poets, William Carlos Williams and Ezra Pound, went for 16,000 and $18,000 respectively. Interestingly, Mr. Goodwin began his collection by poking around in secondhand bookstores, where he picked up a couple of Faulkner first editions, among other works, for three and four dollars apiece.

Books can fade from fashion and prices go down as easily as they go up. Virtually every dealer can cite chapter and verse on the hazards of buying for profit. The most commonly mentioned case of the ephemeral value of a given author is that of John Galsworthy. In the 1920s an early Galsworthy could go for as high as $1,500. A 1970s catalogue offered a first edition of The Forsyte Saga for thirty-five dollars. Other of his titles could be had for as little as ten dollars. The market for some of his contemporaries who also once had great vogue is likewise down: James Branch Cabell, Joseph Hergesheimer, Christopher Morley, James Barrie.

The situation is not new, of course. At the 1929 Jerome Kern sale, Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s first book The Battle of Marathon – privately published in an edition of fifty – was bought by Dr. Rosenbach for $17,500. Within a decade two copies of the same book could be had for $5,000 each. In the nineteenth century, the great library of Richard Heber, consisting of 150,000 items, was disposed of over three years and yet did not come near returning to him the £100,000 he had spent in assembling it.

The future value of many books is clouded; taste and demand fluctuate. Today Faulkner, Fitzgerald and Hemingway are very high. Among other contemporary writers, John Updike, Eudora Welty and Christopher Isherwood have a strong following. How will each rate in, say 30 years? In addition to having to be prescient about “in” writers who may wilt with time, the collector has to cope with late bloomers. It’s commonly accepted that the collection of John Quinn – an American lawyer with avant-garde taste in art and in books – was ahead of its day. Its dispersal in 1923-24 was a disaster, in terms of profit for Quinn’s heirs. It was at this sale that the indefatigable Dr. Rosenbach bought the manuscript of James Joyce’s Ulysses for $1,950, an incredibly low figure in terms of Joyce’s now recognized artistic importance. A measure of what the dealer had in hand can be gathered from the sale in 1972 of a published copy of the book for $8,000.

There can also be still more whimsical fluctuations: in the early 1970s a first edition of Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter sold for a mere eighty-five dollars. Only a few years later, the book sold for $625. The truth seems to be that although good and “complete” collections do go up in value, and that books of genuine literary and historical importance almost have a floor to sustain their price, the real key to every great collection is personal involvement. Collectors must have, of course, a healthy interest in the value of their collections, but also the wisdom to see profit as a bonus, not an aim. Some great collections have often centered on individual figures: Wilmarth Lewis’s collection of Walpole, Donald and Mary Hyde’s Johnsonia, Edward J. Beinecke’s Stevensons, Frazer dark’s Hawthornes come to mind. It is hard to believe that they were interested in the cost of what they had put together.

And although it is true that Arthur Houghton received ten times as much for his Gutenberg as it had cost him, he sold it because his insurance company asked that he keep the book in a vault, and he saw no purpose in owning a book he could not keep around. It was also personal reasons rather than the condition of the market that spurred Jonathan Goodwin to sell his collection of moderns; it was a bonus that in some cases he received almost ten times more for an item than he had paid for it.

Personal involvement, even when dealing with modest, far from rare materials can yield superlative results. A case in point is that of Frances Steloff, for many years owner of the famous Gotham Book Mart, a literary stomping ground in New York. Miss Steloff is no critic and has said so; but for fifty years she had an almost gut reaction to the literature of her own time, some of it avant-garde. She seemed to possess an uncanny knack for collecting those writers who would appear of greater and greater importance as the years went on. She also took a serious view of motion pictures, theater and the other performing arts, especially dance. She acquired the items she chose for her collection more than reasonably – the books at list price or less and the magazines at subscription rates. When she sold the store to Andreas Brown in 1968, her cache ran to 200,000 items. And when Mr. Brown decided that the store was not the place to keep the material, he sold it to New Mexico State University for just a shade under half a million dollars – and this without the literary manuscripts and correspondence.

A similar example can be cited from the seventeenth century. Starting in 1640 George Thomason began to gather tracts, broadsides, pamphlets and every sort of document relating to the English Puritan Revolution and the establishment of the Commonwealth. He did this for twenty-one years, assembling material that was common, fugitive and, in the eyes of many, trifling. The gathering finally totaled 23,000 items and has subsequently become one of the richest resources for the study of the period. It is now in The British Library in London.

Today, areas of interest to collectors have broadened. The old, basically literary patterns – such as concentrating on eighteenth- and nineteenth-century first editions, on Shakespeare or on incunabula, as books printed before 1501 are called – have been expanded to include early books of geography and exploration, music (especially scores by the great composers) and the history of science. The Victorian period, including books in their original Victorian bindings, has become fashionable, and the classic private presses – Doves, Ashendene, Kelmscott – are holding their own.

People are continuing to collect modern first editions and modern private-press books, though some say that there are too many of each and that some are too expensive. Signing sessions at readings and at book stores have made author-autographed books common, so collectors now seek presentation copies, on the order of, say, the Portrait of the Artist as a Young Dog by Dylan Thomas, in which the author wrote for a friend, “Bow wow from Dylan Thomas.”

One of the more entertaining aspects of recent book collecting is that the collector can, in effect, invent his own specialty. One man collects all texts of a Greek lyric poet, in the classical Greek and in all translations. One couple concentrates on books that have been made into movies. Collecting cookbooks is becoming common, but what about the young super-specialist who goes after Swedish cookbooks, printed in France? There is no place a collector cannot start. Or, in the words of Henry James, books should be collected with “passion at the height of perception.”

CARE, CLEANING and CONSERVATION METHODS for ANTIQUE METAL WARE: Useful tips in restoring Antique Lamps, Clocks, Ormolu, Spelter, Bronze etc

February 11th, 2011 by

Contributed by – a membership-based service specializing in providing identification & appraisal advice on antiques & collectibles.

NOTE 1: Any form of cleaning or restoration of antique metal objects may necessitate the use of various chemicals, many of which are poisonous. Even if by themselves they are not, sometimes combinations of them can produce fumes that are harmful and occasionally lethal. Therefore, it cannot be emphasized too strongly that no cleaning should take place in a confined area or in close proximity to food. All of the methods described below should be performed very carefully and with every safeguard that can be made available.

NOTE 2: Not all antique Metalware items should be cleaned and no general diagnosis can be applied. Each individual object must be subjected to individual attention. Obviously what is suitable for a pair of antique brass candlesticks of the 19th century, for example, is not applicable to a considerably earlier object such as a Sheffield silverplated tray. Also, the use to which an item will be put is an important consideration; for example, is your Georgian antique Coffee or Tea Set or your pair of collectible candlesticks going to be used or are they purely for display or to be kept as cabinet pieces? If used for food or drink still more difficulties will arise. All items should be handled with extreme care until you have discovered your own abilities and the techniques that you can manage. In early stages of experimentation in cleaning and polishing you should practice on articles of no great value and, broadly speaking, the more antique an item is the less you should clean it or even handle it.

The information in this article is of a general nature: if you have a piece of antique metalwork that you value a great deal or that is of such merit that it needs extra careful handling, the advice of a museum or of a specialist expert should be sought. There are so many different blends of base metals used on antique metal ware that the cleaning methods applicable to some will do more harm than good to others. There are also certain individual pieces of metalwork, which, because of their very nature, require specialist treatment. At all times it should be aware that in cleaning an antique metal ware item, your aim should be to clean and restore an object as near as possible to its original condition.

There are, however some exceptions to this rule: one is the case of an object of some age which has acquired a permanent and pleasing patina, an antique or collectible Lamp, for example, or a medieval candlestick or bowl, which has become dark green, brown or black with age. If there is no deterioration of the metal, then this patination should under no circumstances be disturbed. A sparing application of a good quality transparent wax polish carefully removed with a silk cloth should not do any damage to a patinated object and will improve the surface.

Another example of an antique which does not benefit from the attempt to restore it to its original state is a piece of old Sheffield plate which shows signs of wear. The color of the metal showing through the silver – this is known technically as ‘bleeding’ – is to some collectors a point in its character. In any case, replating by modern electroplating will never give back the original color. The charm of antique Sheffield plate lies in the mellow color of the old silver, nowhere near as white as modern electroplating. In its own lifetime, if there were a fault or if, through heavy usage, Sheffield plate had to be repaired, this was done by French Plating. This method of restoring antique Sheffield plate uses a very fine silver foil that was laid over the worn part and made to adhere by a little gentle heat or by burnishing. French Plating is rarely used by craftsmen nowadays. Only when a piece of antique Sheffield plate has completely lost all its original plating and is reduced to an entirely copper appearance is it perhaps permissible to electroplate and then merely in order to restore it to something like its original state, especially if it were used for food.

In general, the first step in the care and conservation of an antique piece of metalwork is the removal as far as possible of whatever is causing deterioration, such as rust in the case of iron and steel, then thorough cleaning and polishing followed finally by the application of waxes or lacquers to help to delay decay.

It is impossible to arrest decay on antiques completely: all one can do is to delay it for as long as possible. As in any other form of antique a moderate even temperature is required, and it is necessary to avoid extreme cold or damp. These are in effect the main essentials of what is known in an antiques museum as ‘conservation’. What techniques and practices you use and how you tackle the work depends largely on whether the metal is brass, steel or pewter and of course the composition of the actual item.

Antique Iron and Steel

With antique iron or steel objects, which are frequently found in a rusty state, the first step must be to remove this rust. Any that is loose may be removed with a wire brush and then, if the object is fairly small, boiling in caustic soda will remove a great deal of what remains. CAUTION: Do not let this mixture come in contact with your hands or your eyes. If an accident should occur, wash any skin surface that has been exposed lots and lots of clean fresh water.

For a larger object it is necessary to soften the remaining rust by soaking the item for several hours in paraffin oil or in one of the commercial derusting oils. However, most chemical derusters tend to leave a dull matt-grey surface, which the original antique piece rarely had. They are excellent, however, for treating antiques which are going to be painted a dull black such as wrought iron lamps or railings.

Another general method is to use a fine grade of emery cloth and oil. The emery cloth may be wrapped round a shaped stick for getting into the various contours of a pattern. The oil will help to prevent too many scratches. If you use emery paper dry you will get a very scratched surface indeed. Use the mildest emery that will do the job, and when you think you are near to finishing, cut it to a yet finer one. Coarse emery should not be used except in very bad circumstances. Never clean too heavily upon a raised surface as you will tend to blunt the pattern.

Having cleaned the item to the degree you want, wash with methylated spirits, dry with clean cloth and place it, wrapped in a piece of newspaper, in some form of heated cupboard (an airing cupboard is ideal) and leave it there for two to three days to drive out any damp that may be in the metal. If you are not going to put it to practical use, at this stage seal with lacquer or wipe over with an oily rag. Some antiques collectors wax polish their ironwork: if your house is very dry this is quite a good finish. The great enemy of iron and steel is of course damp, and this will cause rust very rapidly. As in almost every other form of antique metalwork, a dry atmosphere is the most beneficial. If the atmosphere is damp and there are chemical impurities or salt in the air, you should periodically wipe the piece over with a slightly oily rag. From time to time, inspect antique iron or steel specimens for signs of rust.

Antique Wrought Ironwork

Some specimens of antique wrought ironwork may be rather large, as for example gates or window grills. Remove as much loose rust as possible with a wire brush, clean off with emery paper, seal with a derusting fluid and finally paint with a dull black paint. For a really fine piece of antique wrought iron, the treatment should be left to an expert.

Antique Cast Iron

In the case of antique cast iron objects, usually of the 19th century and which are now very collectible, there are two treatments. They can be either cleaned of all loose rust, dried and painted black, a very good treatment for any form of antique iron item, or they can be sand-blasted by a professional. This gives a sort of silvery effect. The object should then be lacquered.

Georgian or Victorian Cut-Steel

The cleaning of an antique piece in cut-steel must be approached with great care, and if possible each little facet should be cleaned separately. Please use extra care and be patient because it is important that the edges of cut-steel do not get dull. This applies to all examples of cut-steel from large objects such as Georgian andirons to small pieces such as a buckle, an antique buttonhook or a collectible corkscrew. The great glory of cut-steel is its many facetted surfaces, and these should be kept as crisp as possible.

Antique Brass and Copper

The age-old method of half a lemon and salt is excellent especially for a flat surface such as an antique tray. Apply, rinse off, dry carefully and clean with an impregnated wadding, polishing finally with a soft cloth. A piece of old silk is ideal; manmade fibers such as nylon tend to scratch the surface. Sometimes with deeply engraved or repousse decorated antiques, extensive cleaning in the past may have clogged the pattern with the remains of old dry polishes. This should be removed with a little methylated spirit and a stiff brush and then cleaned with impregnated wadding as described above. This wadding is less likely to leave traces of cleaning material behind.

Another method for an antique brass article is to wash it in a mild ammonia solution and then to clean with either oxalic acid and salt or vinegar and salt. Following this treatment, it should be washed with water, polished and lastly lacquered.

To save cleaning, and consequently to preserve antique metal ware, a modern technique much used by museums is to lacquer with a cellulose lacquer specially made for brass or copper. This should most certainly be carried out with any early or rare pieces and for pieces with fine crisp edges. The item should first be thoroughly cleaned, either as above and finished off with a succession of cloths until none is soiled, then cleaned with acetone. This should not be done in a confined space or near a flame because this liquid is very volatile. Cotton gloves should be worn to avoid fingerprints which would show under lacquer. Note: rubber gloves should not be worn as some types are destroyed by acetone. When cleaned, the piece should be lacquered with a good cellulose lacquer painted on slowly and liberally with slow easy strokes and avoiding bubbles. Do not worry too much about brushmarks since these usually disappear in the drying. If the piece has been previously varnished or lacquered, this can be removed with paint stripper, following the manufacturer’s directions, then treated as above. If the object is not handled too much, this type of lacquer will last for some years.

Antique Bronze

Antique bronze pieces, either in the form of a figurine or a really antique goblet or lamp, have normally over the years acquired an all-over patination, ranging through many shades of brown to green. If this patination is breaking up and there are spots of a brighter color, as for example bright green, action should immediately be taken to stop this because this efflorescence is the change in the surface of the metal which is known as ‘bronze disease’. It is extremely difficult for the amateur to treat and a museum or a specialist antiques restorer should be consulted at once.

As a temporary measure, if it is quite definitely active and the collector is unable to get professional help quickly, the light powder should be brushed off and the piece kept as dry as possible. To clean a normal bronze, wash it with a very mild soapy solution, dry thoroughly and then apply a little fine wax polish.

Antique Ormolu

Ormolu was frequently used for antique candelabra, antique candlesticks, on handles of andirons, antique desks and other antique furniture and small ornamental pieces in general. The gilt was applied in various ways, but with some forms of inferior ormolu, it was only a thin layer of gold lacquer painted over finely finished and polished brass. This method was frequently used by English craftsmen copying the French. Cleaning should be tackled with great care; gold at best is a very soft metal and harsh cleaning will remove it. As a first step in the cleaning of an ormolu antique piece, choose an inconspicuous area and observe the effect of cleaning on this. Use warm water to which has been added a mild solution of household ammonia and a good quality soap-based washing liquid. If no ill effects can be seen, continue with this cleaning for the complete piece. If a stronger cleaning mixture is needed, add more ammonia. Work in a current of air and wear protective gloves.

To clean ormolu mounts on antique furniture, carefully remove each from the piece of furniture, making a note of its original position. Save the pins, nails or screws that were used to fix it. It is a good idea to make sketches of mounts; the fixing pins can then be stuck through the equivalent holes. This is not just good advice: it can be very necessary as antique mounts were individually made and will not always fit into another position. Once removed, they may be dealt with as described above. If ormolu needs regilding, consult a professional Metal Plating Specialist. Modern gilding by electroplating is rather bright and produces a shade different from that of the old antique ormolu. On the other hand, the old technique of mercury-gilding (fire-gilding) is very expensive and gives off poisonous fumes. Very few craftsmen use this method, but for a superb piece it is worth trying to find a firm specializing in it. Never use a gold paint or lacquer because under no circumstances does this give the right appearance.

Antique Pewter

If you collect this interesting metal, your first and immediate problem is whether to clean your pewter bright or to leave it patinated to a dull natural sheen. Some pewter collectors prefer it in a bright state, whereas others like the quiet soft gray color. In most cases, antique pewter, if in reasonable condition, should be left as far as possible undisturbed.

If the metal has deteriorated through neglect or by being exposed to extremes of heat and cold, and obviously needs attention, it should be conserved with extreme care. Any dent or damage of that nature should be dealt with by an expert.

On the subject of cleaning antique pewter there has been an amazing variety of methods advocated over the centuries. A few of the standard cleaning techniques are based on methods used as early as the 17th century. During the period that pewter was in common use for food and drink, it was kept bright by a very mild abrasive, such as crushed eggshell, fine sand etc., was washed in soapy water, rinsed in clean water and dried. Then, if not being used at once, wiped over with an oily rag. If pewter purchased today is bright and clean and the intention is to keep it that way, clean the piece with impregnated wadding, polish with a clean cloth and olive oil or a similar oil.

If pewter is not kept polished, it gradually dulls down over the years, by a process of oxidation, to a soft gray sheen, much admired by many collectors of antiques. This patination is certainly attractive and to preserve it, the piece should be kept very slightly oiled all over with olive oil. Oil of any description seems to revive antique pewter by penetrating into the metal.

Unfortunately, due to the nature of pewter, its susceptibility to extremes of heat and cold and the consequent corrosion that can develop, this attractive metal is often purchased with bad oxidation or patches of what is known as pewter disease. This must be treated or the piece will be ruined. Great care must be exercised in this treatment both for the metal and also the person handling it, as the materials used are often poisonous or harmful to the skin.

If there is heavy corrosion (or pewter disease) one of the following methods may be of some use.

1. Add one pound of caustic soda slowly to four gallons of cold water, using an iron container. Heat the mixture slowly. Place some hessian or canvas in the bottom of the container and lay the pewter piece on it. Keep the mixture boiling for some hours, examining at intervals. If this shifts the corrosion, remove from the mixture, rinse thoroughly in warm water and clean with a fine abrasive such as crocus powder, rotten-stone or very fine emery powder and paraffin, finishing with powdered chalk or plate-powder. Lastly, oil the piece.

2. Another method, for perhaps a less corroded piece, is to wash in a strong mixture of soap and soda, then cover the whole surface with a watered-down solution of hydrochloric acid applied with a rag on a stick. The strength should be 60% water and 40% hydrochloric acid. (Warning: always add the acid to the water, never the water to the acid.) Leave on for a short while, then rinse off. Reclean with fine emery powder and oil. Wash, first in soapy then in clear water, and polish.

3. Another recipe for cleaning is: 2oz caustic soda, 2 oz lime, 6 oz common salt. Dissolve this in three quarts of warm water. When dissolved, add the mixture to two gallons of cold water. Leave the piece of pewter in this solution to soak and finally clean with fine emery powder and oil.

Also useful as a cleaning agent is oxalic acid, either used neat or watered down. Rub in with fine emery powder, rinse off and polish, then oil.

After using any of these methods of cleaning, a prolonged soaking in paraffin oil for several days will do no harm and should revive the metal.

For general cleaning, if this is necessary, the safest method is to use very fine abrasive powders such as rotten-stone or crocus powder or a very fine emery powder. Put on with an oily rag and work in a circular motion to avoid obvious signs of scratching. Grades of ‘fine’ emery paper, liberally drenched in oil, may be used for cleaning but must be used with care. Always use the finest grades and again rub in a circular motion to try and avoid scratches that show. The piece can be finally cleaned with a little white spirit or methylated spirit, dried and then oiled.

All antique pewter will remain in good condition if kept behind glass. When properly cleaned it can remain in a good display cabinet for at least a year, and this of course is the best way of preserving it. A good display of cleaned antique pewter may be seen in the American Museum in Great Britain. Pewter should never be stored in an oak display case or on oak display racks as this wood contains acid fluid, which reacts against any metal of the pewter-spelter-lead group. An open oak dresser, against which it is often seen, is less dangerous to the metal as the collector would polish both dresser and metal fairly frequently and so prevent corrosion.

Antique Lead and Zinc (Spelter)

The above remarks also apply in the main to lead. Objects in this metal that you may come across are antique tobacco-jars or small lead figurines. Zinc is also known as Spelter. Antique Zinc objects of the 19th century are frequently found and are often in a very dirty and distressed condition. It is possible that a stiff wire brush and a little oil will get these articles up to quite a high degree of polish. Wash the pieces in hot soapy water using a stiff brush; on no account use caustic or any soda. Clean with a wire brush and oil, and polish with an impregnated wadding. Finally clean with acetone or methylated spirits and, if you wish, lacquer. If you prefer not to lacquer them, some 19th-century antique pieces can be cleaned once a week with impregnated wadding without doing much harm.

Antique Tole, Pontypool, Barge Ware and Japanned Tin

Extreme care must be taken to preserve and not destroy the existing paintwork. You might find it useful to try a mixture of one-third white spirits, one-third methylated spirits and one-third linseed oil. This is a good and fairly harmless cleaning agent for antique paintwork. Apply with a cottonwool pad to a small corner of the object and see what results you get. If you are satisfied that you are not attacking the paintwork, clean the whole surface and apply a little good quality wax polish. If the piece is in definite need of paint restoration, try to find a competent professional antiques restorer who will take the job on. The restoration must never alter the feeling of the original piece and the object should not be entirely repainted. As much as possible, the original antique paintwork should be preserved. Do not attempt to paint it yourself unless you are experienced and competent, and then be careful not to overdo the restoration or the spirit of the original will be lost.

A final note: Please use extreme care when cleaning your antique metalwork, both for your own sake and also for that of the metal collection. Please always bear in mind of the varying compositions of the individual metals and the state of decay in which an individual antique item may be found. Never rush into cleaning a piece. Never hesitate to consult a museum or a specialist on any problem that may arise.

Seeking Passionate Pickers for The Untitled Antiques-Collectibles Competition!

February 9th, 2011 by

The Untitled Antiques- Collectibles Competition!

The producers of a major cable network show are seeking “pickers” with the most honed hunting skills, the sharpest eye to determine trash from treasure, and the most effective negotiating chops to seal the deal. The Untitled Antiques-Collectibles Competition is a new show that transforms the cutthroat world of antiques and collectibles picking into a competitive game.  In every episode, antiques lovers compete in teams of two in a race to track down and acquire valuable items hidden along the back roads, barns, and forgotten corners of America – we even provide the shopping money. The team with the most valuable loot at the end of the day wins the competition.  They get to keep their lot of items and the lots of the other teams – its winner take all! If you think you have what it takes to pick the most valuable treasures and get the best price, both you and your partner can fill out our online application at:

Or please email us at :

Cleaning Your Fine Cut Glass & Crystal

February 9th, 2011 by

Image: McKinley Hill Antiques

Contributed by – a membership-based service specializing in providing identification & appraisal advice on antiques & collectibles.

There is as much difference in the color of glass, meaning only transparent colorless glass or crystal, as there is in the color of diamonds. The beauty and value of antique Glass or Crystal, just like in the case of Precious Stones, are measured very largely by its perfection.

Fine antique glass should be of a purity that practically renders it invisible without any trace of yellow or green cast or opacity. Sometimes it will have a slightly bluish white color. Antique Glassware that otherwise seems clear with respect to its color when seen by itself will often appear at a decided disadvantage when placed beside a really fine piece.

Modern detergents and the use of a good bottle brush will generally suffice for removing the usual discoloration caused by the contents of decanters, cruets, perfume bottles, etc. Where cloudiness or stain persists, many remedies have been suggested and tried with varying degrees of success. Among them:

  • The use of Polident (used for cleaning false teeth)
  • Liquid Plumber (used for clearing clogged drains – highly caustic and requires careful handling)
  • Adding uncooked rice to vinegar and shaking vigorously
  • Using a tea bag with vinegar and letting it soak for 24 hours
  • Allowing chopped potato peel with a small amount of water to stand in a bottle overnight

Oiliness may be removed with alcohol left in for about 15 minutes. In each instance, the item should be thoroughly rinsed and dried afterwards. Strips of cloth may be inserted into bottles to dry them and then removed with a heavy wire or hook.

To obtain the best results, polishing was done in three stages. First, it was done with wooden wheels fed with pumice, stone and water; then brush or wool wheels with the same preparation, and lastly cork or felt wheels with finely compounded putty powder. About the turn of the century, the acid bath, quicker and less expensive came into use for polishing. It was hand-burnishing, however, that gave the superb brilliance down to the smallest detail.

Working the lather into the cuttings with a soft brush, or toothbrush will enhance the brilliance of the deeper and more intricate incisions. The glass should then be dried without draining on a soft towel. When perfectly dry, the cut surfaces should be gone over again with a clean dry brush. A soft, lint free cloth should then be used to give it a high polish.

Antique Glass which continues to cloud up after cleaning and rinsing is known as “sick glass.” It is caused by the formation and separation of crystals due to imperfect fusion of the metal or too high an alkaline content in the making. It can be professionally polished off and then “glass wax” applied if the area can be reached. Frequent applications of the wax will be helpful in delaying further deterioration. Unfortunately, this remedy is usually not practical where it is needed most – in the cleansing of bottle type containers.

The use of ammonia or strongly alkaline soaps on antique Glass or Crystal should be avoided. Extreme and sudden changes of temperature may also be harmful. Before using ice-cream platters, punch bowls, sherbet glasses or other pieces designed for frozen foods or chilled beverages, the glass should be allowed to stand for a few minutes in a cold place or held under a jet of cold water.

Cut glass with sterling silver mountings was once very popular. To this very day, many people consider the use of sterling articles with cut glass as the basis for the most elegant table settings. However, each section must be carefully cleaned using a different ‘set of rules’.  In general, in cases of antiques that are made of a mix of different materials, please be careful so as not to have certain chemicals or cleaning agents suitable for one material come in contact with other parts.

For information and useful advice on cleaning Metal items, including Antique Sterling Silver or Antique Silverplate, please see another article on under the “SILVER & JEWELRY” section.

You can also read the article, CARE, CLEANING and CONSERVATION METHODS for ANTIQUE METAL WARE: Useful tips in restoring Antique Lamps, Clocks, Ormolu, Spelter, Bronze etc, right here on the blog!  We’ll be posting this article next so be sure to come back for these useful tips!

What Our Dealers Are Saying About

February 7th, 2011 by

Hi Mark

This is Barbara from I was wondering if I could update my listings on your site with the attached feed in googlebase format. If so, will we lose the ‘order of display’ on our listing page? I have added around 400 or so more items with pictures.

Thank you for your referrals, we have had many sales due to your site.

Hope you are having a great year.

Barbara Dietrich

Happy Birthday To Us!

February 3rd, 2011 by turned a year on Feb 1st 2011!  Thanks to all of our vendors for helping us to build our site into one of the best antiques sites on the web!  We’ve had more than 15oo dealers join in the fun so far, and we’re always looking for more.  We’re excited to offer over 80,000 items for sale on, but that number increases every day as more and more vendors sign up to be a part of our growing family.

To all of the people that visit looking for the perfect gift, trying to spruce up their home with a beautiful antique, or simply out of curiosity, thank you for coming!

And for everyone, vendors and antique aficionados alike, we’ve recently added a few features to our home page that we think you’ll enjoy!

- First, check out the Deal Of The Day – Each day we’ll offer a new deal from a vendor that is eager to give you a beautiful antique for a steal!

- Next, feast your eyes on the Cool Antique Of The Week – Each week we’ll show you something interesting from the site that is available to be purchased and fawned over by it’s new owner!

- And finally, have some fun with What Is This Antique? – Each week we’ll choose a new and interesting, if not a bit obscure, antique to feature for this game.  Take a guess, or several guesses, at what you think it is, and then each Monday we’ll publish the list of guesses submitted by everyone, along with the actual name and description of the antique. strives to offer a wide variety of beautiful and interesting antiques, collectibles, and fine art pieces.  We’re looking forward to another stellar year where we add to our already impressive list of vendors and push our inventory to over 100,000 items!  So Happy Birthday To Us!  We’re looking forward to another fantastic year!

Leslie Sacks Fine Art

October 9th, 2010 by

Fine Art Show on Oct 9th 2010

Transporting Your Antiques & Valuables

October 5th, 2010 by

When it comes to moving your irreplaceable antiques and valuables, you should be very careful in choosing a company to transport the items for you.  Careful consideration and a little investigation before making your decision will save you the emotional trauma of seeing your formerly pristine antiques arrive damaged, not to mention the grave financial loss you will inevitably suffer as a result of the moving company’s poor handling of your precious items.

To begin, search only for companies that specialize in the shipping of antiques and fine art.  These companies train their employees in the proper handling, crating and transport of priceless pieces.  Furthermore, many of these companies provide temperature controlled shipping facilities as well as temperature controlled storage units if necessary.  For added piece of mind, many offer tracking services for your shipment.

A great way to find a local moving company that fits your needs is to contact museums or historical preservation societies to see which companies they use to move their collections.  You can also find a listing for several such companies right here on; just look under Services – Shipping and Storage.  Once you’ve come up with a few alternatives, you should verify their reputations by contacting the Better Business Bureau to see if any of the companies you’re considering have had customer complaints.  Those that have should be taken out of consideration.

Another way to verify a moving company’s reputation is by asking for references.  You can generally see client testimonials on a moving company’s website, and although reading these is comforting, it is best to speak with auction houses, vendors or other businesses that have used the mover’s services.  By speaking with professionals in the antiques and valuables industry and getting their feedback on a prospective moving company, you can be assured your priceless pieces will arrive safely.

One last, but very important, thing to check is the insurance coverage the company provides.  It is imperative that you carefully examine their policy.  Pay special attention to the section that discusses the coverage for any damage that diminishes the value of the antique or valuable.  It is important to note that homeowner’s insurance coverage may include moving insurance or additional insurance coverage.

Once you’ve chosen a moving company, prepare an inventory list that includes descriptions, photos, appraisal values and copies of receipts for each item you’re shipping.  When the movers arrive be sure to get a Bill of Lading that includes a complete inventory list (this should match your personal list exactly), as well as the mover’s name and address.  Carefully examine the Bill of Lading to be sure that each item has been accounted for.  Never sign a Bill of Lading that you believe to be incorrect.

Finally, after your precious cargo has arrived at its new location, be sure to have each item unpacked and reassembled.  It is at this time that you must inspect your valuables for any damage.  If you find damage has occurred during transport, note the damage on the Bill of Lading, point it out to the movers and take photos.  You should then contact the moving company to verify your claims have been reported.

If you take the time necessary to find an exceptional moving company, your irreplaceable antiques and valuables will arrive safely to their destination.  Save yourself the staggering financial loss and inevitable heartache of damaged goods by doing a little extra leg work up front.

-Michelle Grimmett

Phoenix & Consolidated Collectors launch Facebook page

September 28th, 2010 by

Announcing a Facebook page for Phoenix and Consolidated art glass. It is a place to share information about the glass designed by Reuben Haley and introduced in 1926. it includes information on the Ruba Rombic Art Deco/Art Moderne line introduced in 1928. This Facebook page should be of interest to collectors, dealers and museums with an interest in the glass from these companies. Click the link below to go to the Facebook page.

Phoenix & Consolidated Art Glass Facebook page

Facebook page content

It will include discussion of glass from the Consolidated Lamp & Glass Company of Coraopolis, PA that introduced a line of art glass in January 1926 that many have called American Lalique. Their glass lines were designed by Reuben Haley and including the crowning achievement in American Art Deco or Art Moderne glass Ruba Rombic. That line was introduced in January 1928 but had a very short production life as the Great Depression happened the following year — 1929.

It will also include discussion of the Art Glass introduced by Phoenix Glass Company of Monaca, PA. in the 1930′s. You can also expect to see pictures from members collections as well as announcement of auctions where Phoenix & Consolidated Art Glass is offered. Please join us — click the link below to go to the Facebook page.

Phoenix & Consolidated Art Glass Facebook page

This Facebook page is was created and is being maintained by Jack D. Wilson, author of Phoenix & Consolidated Art Glass 1926-1980 and founder of the Phoenix & Consolidated Glass Collectors Club.

Antique Lamps and Lighting

August 24th, 2010 by

A treatise on American antique lighting and lamp fixtures should begin with a history of lighting methods. Here’s a backward look at lighting in the U.S. divided into roughly four chapters:

  • Electrical wiring has been a standard part of building design since about 1920.
  • Between 1880 and 1920, modern homes and buildings were typically wired for a combination of electricity and gas—Gas lines in the walls of a house fed the lamp fixtures, and electrical wiring wound along the pipes. Both options were usually made available, since in the early years of electricity, power sources would often fail for months at a time.
  • Because Edison perfected the incandescent bulb in 1880, lamps wired for electricity don’t date before that time. Prior to the gas/electric combination, modern buildings created between 1820 and 1880 were lit by piped gas.
  • Before 1820, kerosene and oil antique lamps were the norm, complimented by candles, the earliest and simplest form of American lighting.

Knowing the lighting options available during a historical period, we can better understand how these options influenced the style and design of that period’s antique floor lamps, hanging lamps and antique chandeliers. The most beautiful and collectable American antique lamps can usually be associated with the following five periods/styles:

Arts and Crafts, 1905-1935: Frank Lloyd Wright is a name often associated with this period, though Arts and Crafts or “mission” style fixtures pre-date him by several years. This style is characterized by square glass shades, square oak lamp bases, and square oak frames. The parallel dowling seen on mission-style furniture is often reflected in lamps through the use of brass or copper tubes. Arts and crafts lamp designs are simple, geometric, humble, and functional.

Georgian Revival, 1905-1930: The word “Georgian” refers to an earlier form of English architecture, but it’s used here because Georgian furniture styles—including lamps and lighting– were making a comeback at this time.

This is an important epoch for antique lamp collectors, since the period gave rise to the Art Deco styles, crystal chandeliers, and “art glass” perfected by famous companies like Tiffany, Handel, and Stuben. Beginning around 1915, wires could be enclosed in safe cloth covering, which allowed them to be strung through a chain. This allowed electric antique lamps to be hung from above for the first time. Gas-electric combination fixtures gave way to chain-hung electric fixtures in large numbers during this era.

Victorian, 1880-1915: The Victorian period, possibly the most beautiful period in the history of antique lighting fixtures, documents the elegant transformation from kerosene and oil, to gas-electric combinations, to fully electric pieces. Victorian pieces are distinguished by curving brass shapes with intricate embellishments and detailing.

When searching for authentic Victorian pieces, make note:  These antique light fixtures were not hung from chains, and they were often designed to connect to the fuel/lighting source by tubing, not wires.

Eastlake Victorian, 1870-1900: Table and wall lamps from this period were fueled by kerosene, oil and gas. Also sometimes called “Italianate”, these pieces are characterized by their classical motifs—women in togas, urns, coats of arms, and animals. The functional parts of these lamps are usually made of iron or brass, and the detailing often includes slate, cut glass, or marble. Lamps of this era were not wired for electricity, and were usually designed to accompany Eastlake-style farmhouse furniture. (Envision heavy, veneered wood carved in parallel grooves).

Federal, 1700-1810: The most elegant and collectible pewter, brass, and silver pieces from this period were designed to hold candles (earlier) and whale oil (later, around 1800.) Colonial/founding-father-style candle lanterns, candelabras and candle chandeliers are very popular today. If you’re looking for authentic pieces, check for wax residue and evidence of hand crafting. And be aware that genuine fixtures from this era, though beautiful, are quite rare.

By Erin Sweeney