Archive for August, 2012

Early American toys, trains and firefighting vehicles raced past their estimates at Noel Barrett’s May 21 ‘Something for Everyone’ auction

August 28th, 2012 by

Lionel 408E standard gauge train set with electric engine, four compartmented coaches and original boxes, sold via the Internet for $35,395.82. Noel Barrett Auctions image.

NEW HOPE, Pa. – Prior to Noel Barrett’s richly varied May 21, 2011 “Something for Everyone” sale, some collectors speculated that the whimsical clockwork veggie man on the catalog cover might take the blue ribbon on auction day. While the cheeky, 16-inch papier-mache Halloween figure did surpass expectations to sell for $16,520 (all prices inclusive of 18% buyer’s premium); it was a modestly estimated Lionel train set that took the express journey to the top of prices realized.


The Lionel 408E standard gauge set with electric engine and twin Bild-A-Loco motors pulled four compartmented coaches identified as 412 California, 413 Colorado, 414 Illinois and 416 New York, the latter being an observation car. All of the cars – which were finished in tan and chocolate brown with cream window frames and peacock-blue accents – came with their original boxes. The set drew numerous competitors, with an Internet participant claiming the lot for $35,395.82. The bidder eventually drove six hours to Pennsylvania to collect his prize.


“It was an exquisitely rare train set in that particular color scheme. The selling price was a very nice surprise for the consignor and proved yet again that, in today’s marketplace for antique and vintage trains, it’s the collectors who call the shots,” said auction company owner Noel Barrett.


Trains proved to be the sale’s strongest suit. An American-profile Carette gauge 1 #2350 steam loco and tender featured in Paul Schiphorst’s book The Golden Years of Toy Trains had been entered in the sale with a $12,000-$15,000 range. But with energy to burn, it powered its way to a $29,500 finish.


Marklin Central-Bahnhof train station #2651, hand painted with candlelit interior and furnishings, $23,600. Noel Barrett Auctions image.

Superbly hand painted and designed for illumination by candlelight, a Marklin Central-Bahnhof train station #2651 was outfitted with a table, chairs and benches. Its sumptuous details included etched and stained glass windows, doorway arches, a canopy and ticket-queue rail. Perhaps the best preserved of all known examples, the perennially popular German train station achieved $23,600 against an estimate of $10,000-$15,000.


Toys with a firefighting theme “never suffer a shortage of interest,” Barrett remarked. A case in point was the salesman’s sample fire ladder wagon made by Seagrave Co., the oldest continuous manufacturer of fire apparatus in America – and still in existence. The 50-inch-long sample fire wagon from the 1890s included an array of ladders, fire axes, extinguishers, lanterns and fire buckets. It settled just short of its high estimate at $10,030.


Fire pumper model, spirit fired and believed fully functional, 21 inches long, weight 32 lbs., $8,260. Noel Barrett Auctions image.

A mechanical marvel replicating a spirit-powered fire pumper was described in Barrett’s catalog as “one of the most amazing…we have seen.” Fully functional, it included double-pump pistons, valves and a flywheel crafted from brass and iron, with nickel-plated wheel rims and other components. Estimated at $6,000-$7,000, it blazed to $8,260.


Early automotive advertising showed its muscle in the form of a self-framed Marathon Tires sign depicting two anxious couples in a red open tourer, navigating a narrow, craggy ledge. Retaining an original paper label on verso from the famed tin sign maker Kaufmann & Strauss, the 22¾ inches by 19¾-inch advertisement applied the brakes within estimate at $16,520.


George Brown painted-tin horse-drawn omnibus stenciled “Broadway & Central Park,” $12,980. Noel Barrett Auctions image.

Several highly desirable American painted-tin toys were offered in the May 21 auction. Two of the best were attic finds. Discovered in California, a Fallows 1886 (patented) Buffalo Hunter, whose design includes a pair of rocking buffalo on a wheeled base, surpassed its $2,000-$3,000 estimate to realize $7,670. A George Brown horse-drawn omnibus stenciled “Broadway & Central Park” was a fresh find from a Long Island home. It had a smooth ride all the way to its above-estimate $12,980 destination.


A third 19th-century American toy highlight in the sale was the Hull & Stafford “America” clockwork locomotive that came directly from the collection of Disney animator and train collector extraordinaire Ward Kimball (1914-2002). Made of stenciled tin and wood with cast-iron wheels, it was one of only two toy trains retained by Betty Kimball (1912-2010) when her husband’s incomparable collection was consigned to Barrett’s in 2004 and 2005. “The Hull & Stafford ‘America’ was always one of Betty’s favorites,” Barrett noted. Estimated at $3,000-$4,000, the charming, primitively styled red and yellow locomotive was a crowd favorite. It ended its bidding run at $11,800.


Set of McLoughlin paper litho on wood Brownie ninepins, $7,670. Noel Barrett Auctions image.

Other standouts included a set of McLoughlin paper litho on wood Brownie ninepins $7,670 (est. 2,000-$3,000) and an Erzgebirge painted-wood village consisting of 12 structures and numerous accessories, all housed in a bentwood box, $5,310 (est. $700-$1,000). An antique Parisian perfumery came to the auction podium stocked with a multitude of miniatures that included various fragrances in glass bottles, powders, soaps and pomades arranged on mirror-topped counters and on vanity shelves. The deluxe emporium was also accompanied by a shop attendant: a well-dressed, bisque-head doll outfitted in fashionable turn of the 20th century attire. Estimated at $2,000-$3,000, it clinched a winning bid of $4,425.


Barrett’s next sale is planned for the weekend of Nov. 16-17, 2012.


To contact Noel Barrett, call 215-297-5109 or email Visit Barrett’s website at

Maybe it’s Time to Restore That Cherished Piece of Fine Furniture

August 23rd, 2012 by

by David J. Currie

President, David J. Currie Upholstery

Many of us have a favorite sofa, wingback chair or love seat that we wouldn’t think of parting with, but really needs some repair. Maybe the fabric is worn or the wood finishing has tarnished or the cushioning has gone flat. Or maybe, tucked away in the spare room or attic is a cherished antique or family heirloom that you have always wanted to restore, but didn’t quite know how to go about it.

There is a significant difference between repairing and restoring furniture. With a repair we are achieving functionality of the furniture piece, ensuring that it will now work as originally intended. Replacing broken or squeaky wood members, torn upholstery and flattened or disfigured cushioning would be included here. This can bring on a new life for an otherwise well-worn or even beat-up piece of furniture.

Simple repairs on furniture can sometimes be done at home by someone who is handy with tools, re-gluing a broken chair leg or replacing a screw or bolt. But repairs involving refilling cushioning or replacing upholstery should be left to a professional upholsterer.

With fine furniture and antiques, one may desire to go a bit further, into restoration of the piece. The main goal of restoration is to bring back the original appearance of the furniture, as well as its functionality. Furniture restoration can be as simple as a light cleaning to remove disfiguring dirt or grime, or it may include an almost complete rebuilding or replacement of the piece. Restoration can even extend into conservation of the furniture, which is aimed at preserving the piece against future deterioration.

Restoring furniture properly not only requires extensive technique and an understanding of the history of the item, it is also an art form.

For many people, there is little value in an antique that is unusable or not able to be displayed, but most would still like the item to reflect an aesthetic that shows its age. An over-restored item can actually take away from its originality and perceived value.

Restoration of wooden furniture can involve a number of steps such as paint stripping to reveal the natural wood, sanding to remove knocks and scratches, joint repair and gluing, the reduction or elimination of warping and bowing of individual frame wood pieces and other steps as needed. All wood surfaces should then be sealed with a deep coat of penetrating preservative to protect the old, and usually, dry wood. In the finishing process, it is generally desirable to match the original patina of the wood.

The patina is the natural sheen on wooden furniture produced by age, wear and polishing. Harsh stripping can remove this naturally-aged finish. If the original patina-look is not desired, then a finish which retains the essence of the piece and its time period should be created. Producing an aged finish requires a fair degree of skill, however. The finish also acts to preserve and protect the furniture. When the finishing is done, the piece can now be reassembled or put through whatever reupholstering is needed.

Reupholstering fine furniture and antiques usually involves complete restoration. Beginning with the removal of all of the old fabric and padding right down to the frame, any necessary repairs can now be done and reconstruction can begin. Traditional padding materials and techniques are used to ensure authenticity. This includes the installation of fresh webbing, retying or replacing coil springs, burlap, hair pad, cotton padding, buttons and tufting, channel backs, and adding any new cushioning required to restore the original shape and usable state to the furniture. The right selection and matching of fabrics, leathers and patterns is critical to a properly finished or restored piece.

Each piece of furniture is unique, and should be worked to achieve the finished product desired. When restoring fine furniture, and particularly antiques, it will be found that each piece has its own individual character, history and challenges. Therefore, no two pieces are handled with exactly the same procedures. Techniques will vary somewhat to accommodate the individual needs of each piece of furniture.

The complete restoration of a furniture piece usually results in far better quality than what is commonly available on the market today. Custom upholstering, for example, that provides an unlimited selection of fabric textures, styles and colors to choose from is far superior to any ready-made factory furniture.

Furniture restoration, professionally done, not only ensures that a piece retains or increases its perceived and monetary value after restoration, but more importantly it creates a beautiful and functional piece of furniture that can add character, color and renewed life to a room. And that, many will agree, is the real beauty in restoring a cherished piece of fine furniture.

About David J. Currie Upholstery

David J. Currie Upholstery has been servicing clients in the Western New York area since 1980 and is skilled in all facets of furniture repair, restoration and conservation. It provides expertise to antique and fine furniture owners, including private clients and antiques dealers.

Currie Upholstery services include replacing fabrics and cushioning, polishing and repairs, period and hand-rubbed finishes, touch-up and color matching, chair repair and re-gluing, French polishing, reconditioning existing finishes, gilding and frame repair, faux finishes, hardware and metal polishing, furniture refinishing, stain removal, mold and mildew removal, repairs to chewed furniture, and inlay and carving repair. The shop provides free estimates and in-home consultations, and no-charge pick-up and delivery.

For more information on David J. Currie Upholstery, please contact David Currie; Phone 716-374-3632; 332 South Elmwood Avenue, Buffalo, New York 14201; email;

Know Your Top Hats

August 22nd, 2012 by

Collectible antique hats come in all varieties, including the perennially popular cowboy hat (I have a Stetson that I plan to give to my granddaughter someday) and the beautiful and often very feathery products of the Victorian and Edwardian eras, arguably the golden ages of ladies millinery.  I’m also a huge fan of the bowlers and derbies, which, as I understand, are making an only partially ironic comeback right now. I’m a little excited about this rumor.

But for the moment, let’s take a look at another venerable classic: the top hat. Top hats made their first appearance in paintings and written records during the early 1790’s. It’s possible that something similar in style to the top hat, with a tall cylindrical crown and modest brim, existed in Russia before this time, since certain members of the Russian Imperial army were wearing uniform top hats by 1803.

In the US, the style rose quickly in popularity and by the 1820’s the look was almost universal. The appeal of the top hat is credited to its straight, formal lines, its suggestion of authority, and the fact that it makes the wearer look taller. Until about 1850, the most expensive hats for upper class gentleman were made of beaver fur, and more accessible hats were made of rabbit fur or a kind of felt. Though in truth, many of these “beaver” hats were actually made from the skins of a variety of animals that were being trapped and hunted on the wilderness of the American frontier during this time, like muskrat and fisher. After the 1850’s hats were more often made of “hatter’s plush”, a kind of silk– Possibly because beaver populations were dropping.

By the middle of the 19th century, the top hat had evolved several slight variations including the following:

  • The stovepipe hat: This hat was tall at the crown, with a brim that was flat and perpendicular.
  • The chimney pot: This was similar to the stovepipe, but the cylindrical part of the hat had a convex curvature. Original hats in this elegant style are not easy to find.
  • The ladies riding hat: Women wore top hats for formal or cross country riding. Also known as a “side-saddle hat”, the riding hat has an upward-curving brim. Sometimes you can find these hats with original veils still attached. Ladies hats were often designed with a kind of silk bandeau inside, to hold pinned-up hair together. They were usually manufactured by men’s hat makers rather than ladies milliners.
  • The men’s riding hat: Riding hats for men also typically had an upward curling brim.
  • The opera hat: In 1823, a hat designed by Antoine Gibus appeared on the scene. Top hats were requisite formal wear for a night at the opera during this time, but they impeded the view of the person behind the wearer and they were easily squashed and damaged in cloak rooms. The Gibus hat (or chapeau claque) was a collapsible hat that folded down onto itself via a set of invisible springs. Once collapsed, it could be safely stowed under a seat. The Gibus opera hat is possibly the most delightful gentleman’s hat ever created, as all good magicians know, but there are very few of these in decent condition on the market today.

Top hats had more or less disappeared by the 1920’s, having been replaced by bowlers and fedoras. It’s worth noting that many surviving collectible antique hats that have remained in good condition are in unusually small sizes. A wearably-sized original Gibus hat or Knox ladies riding hat with a veil– if you can find either of these– are top hat treasures, and will probably be priced accordingly.

By Erin Sweeney


Antique Jewelry: 19th and 20th Century Gypsy Jewelry

August 8th, 2012 by

The Gypsy people, also called Roma or Romani, can trace their origins back more than 1000 years to the Indian subcontinent. Gypsy bloodlines and cultures have since proliferated across Europe and most of the rest of the world. During the early part of the 20th century, many Gypsy families arrived in the United States, bringing with them their culture and of course their possessions, which tend to showcase the Roma’s unique skill with intricate metalwork. This skill is easily recognized in a form of rare and now highly valued antique jewelry.

Metal smelting, plating, and shaping skills were believed to have developed among the Roma more than a millennium ago and have since been passed down from one generation to the next. As a result, the most beautiful and prized antique jewelry of this century is often set in or composed of various metals, specifically copper and gold. Gold cuff bracelets and earrings, gold belts, and gold medallions made by Roma are often more valuable then the gold used to make them– worth more than their weight, so to speak. But there are other reasons why these pieces are so sought after, many originating in aspects of the Roma culture and lifestyle.

For example, as a nomadic people, Gypsies historically limit their possessions to what they can carry or wear, so jewelry has become a form of wearable currency. But this exposes items to damage and loss and so, as generations go by, truly antique jewelry can become harder to find. The Roma also traditionally bury possessions with their owner upon the owner’s death, the possible exception being a single ring given to the owners oldest daughter. Jewelry belonging to a deceased person cannot be sold, and even as these restrictions have changed and lifted over the years, it still remains taboo to sell this jewelry within the Roma community. All of these factors contribute to a general attrition of truly authentic antique jewelry displaying Roma metalwork. The current rarity of these items can also be traced to the 1930’s and the great depression which left many families in financial circumstances that forced them to pawn or melt antique jewelry pieces down in order to sell the gold.

A few features to look for when evaluating antique jewelry with Gypsy origins: First, the metalwork. Gems and stones are often set in the pieces, but Gypsy owners typically preferred to invest in gold, since gold is more difficult to counterfeit. Intricate wirework, or filigree, is also a common feature of authentic Gypsy pieces.
Keep an eye out for Gypsy motifs as well, the most popular being horseshoes, hearts, and the head of a beautiful woman in profile, often referred to as “the Gypsy queen.” If you happen to own antique jewelry displaying these images, keep in mind the Gypsy belief that such pieces are good luck to own, but bad luck to sell. This also, of course, escalates the pieces in both rarity and value.

– Erin Sweeney

Buyer Beware: Tips for Furniture Buyers – by Marko Kareinen

August 7th, 2012 by

At first glance, this looks like an authentic Empire chest. It is a fine intarsia decoration, old-looking fittings, good varnish etc. To a new collector, this would appear to be made around 1850 but buyer beware.  This is a new product!

This chest is actually made around 1950.

How can you tell?  A closer look behind the chest is the giveaway.

The back of the chest and the bottom of the drawers are made of plywood.

Plywood is an older wood, but a real Empire chest would have a solid back and the drawers would be solid also.

Below are a few images to help you identify old from new:

Take a look at the back – does this look like a solid back?

Here is a reproduction drawer base in plywood.

Here is an old drawer base. (Neo Renaissance chest 1890 ) It is made of solid wood.

Selling Your Antiques Online -By Reyne Haines

August 3rd, 2012 by

At some point in time collectors are faced with the need to deaccession, or pair down their collections.   They often tire of their earlier purchases, deciding to upgrade to more rare, or one of a kind pieces. Sometimes they shift gears altogether, collecting a completely different artist, or era.

Selling your antiques online has both risks and rewards.  It offers you great opportunities to get in front of large audiences and obtain a good bang for the marketing buck.  After all, what could be better than getting to enjoy something for a while, then sharing it with some else by selling it for a profit?  For the addicted, this generally affords you the opportunity to purchase another great item, perhaps even more rare and expensive, which starts the process all over again!

As always, marketing your items is very important.  For this, you’ll need really good pictures!  Since the buyer is unable to hold the item in hand, you’ll also need to provide thorough descriptions.  Be open to answering questions from inquisitive buyers.  Price your items based on your research and current market conditions.  Keeping a list of which client bought what type of item can prove handy in the future when selling similar things.

There are many venues you can use to sell your collectables.  So which ones are best?  That depends on what it is you have to sell.  There are sites like eBay and Craigslist which work well for certain items,  but would they really offer the serious collectors for your Tiffany glass collection?

Other venues exist to help your efforts.  Google “selling antiques online” and you will find over a million results for auctions, online antique malls, and collectors clubs that might help you get in front of the right kind of buyers which should bring you more opportunity.

When working with online auctions or an online mall, it is important to know a few things.  First, do they deal in items like the ones you have?  Second, you should find out what kind of agreements they have between buyers and sellers.  Ask how they settle the purchase and what fees could be charged to you.  Finally, what kind of protection do they offer for both the buyer and the seller?

Remember, do not ship your item until payment has been received.  If you accept credit cards, be cautious when accepting credit cards from certain countries. You may not want to sell your entire collection to the Nigerian prince offering to pay you with his credit card.  PayPal is often the safe method for accepting credit cards if you do not already have merchant status in place.

Whether you use a popular online auction or mall, or create a web site yourself, you should be knowledgeable and exercise a sound strategy when offering your antiques.  In today’s world it isn’t just “caveat emptor” but also “vendo cum cautela” (sell with caution) as well.

How to Identify Fake Antiques

August 2nd, 2012 by

As antiques aficionados, most of us appreciate authenticity and are drawn to items that have provenance or –at the very least– are as old as they are purported to be by the person trying to sell them. But now and then an item may be sold under a false pretext, and it can save us money and heartbreak if we recognize this before bringing it home.


“Fake” versus “Not Very Old”


There are two ways one may be led into buying an antique with a lower value than advertised. One is the circulation of an actual “fake”, a counterfeit “Tiffany” lamp, “Chippendale” chair, or “1923 Rolex” watch, for example. These kinds of fakes (except for the watch– more on that later) are actually very difficult to create and pass off as the real deal. It takes an intense degree of craftsmanship and attention to detail to pull off a scheme like this, especially when it comes to wooden furniture, so you don’t see these kinds of things very often. All the same, here are a few tips to keep in mind:

  • Some deals are too good to be true. If the price of an item seems way too low, feel free to buy it, but don’t count on being able to resell it as an authentic piece.
  • If you’re trusting a label or watermark to tell the truth, it’s best to have some experience with that particular maker so you know exactly what the correct version looks like. Joining collectors clubs or similar social groups can expose you to experts and help build your knowledge and confidence.
  • Sometimes pottery and ceramics have minor defects and are sold as “factory seconds.” In this case, the maker will often strike out the signature. If you believe you’re looking at a factory second, buy at your own risk. The manufacturer has disowned the item, and you can’t prove the authenticity of the piece when you sell it, but you may still find pleasure in owning it.

“Not Very Old”

Some misleading items are simply recently-made pieces that are passed off as old. An item sold as a colonial table or an 18th century German cuckoo clock may have been made in a factory last week. Here are a few ways to tell.

  • Over time, wood changes shape along the grain. The length stays the same, but the width varies. If a round table is still perfectly round, it may not be very old. Square shelves that fit imperfectly in cabinetry, gaps, slight buckling, and a general misshape are all good signs.
  • Check the woodworm holes and the joining pegs. Tiny cracks should not radiate from the wormholes, and the joining pegs should stand out slightly from the surrounding wood as it shrinks back with time.
  • Dovetail joints should be a bit rough. Uniform cuts suggest a 20th century factory.  Rougher, uneven cuts suggest handwork.
  • Check patterns of grime and wear. The piece should show more distress in the places where it’s been touched most over the years, like on the arms of chairs and the handles of things. Uniform wear is a bad sign.
  • Read the description carefully. Items sold as “in the style of” or “inspired by” are not claiming to be antique. These are perfectly legal and legitimate imitations of antique items.

A Few Additional Tips

Remember that “authentic” can be a purely philosophical distinction. Antique items have been popular for thousands of years. “Fake” antique tables were bought and sold during biblical times. If you come across one of these, I’d hold onto it.

By the same token, if a wooden table is made from the boards of an old barn, is it old? As the buyer, you are allowed to decide. But it’s harder to dictate these terms when you become the seller.

When an item becomes appealing to speculators, fakes abound. Show caution when buying something at the peak of popularity.

Use your nose. Real silver has a very distinctive smell. So does old wood in the enclosed space of a drawer or cabinet.

Repair and patchwork are also subjective matters, but they diminish official resale value. Be especially cautious of patchwork when it comes to items with many small parts, like watches and clocks. One modern replacement spring mechanism may render a watch inauthentic, and may be very difficult for non-experts to detect.

By Erin Sweeney