In this series, the UAA team will list some of the interesting items that we have found in auctions, antique shops or eBay. We neither own the items or have the capability of examining the items in person in most cases. It mainly serves as an inventory record of what interests us (not necessarily in terms of value or investment opportunities) and possibly how much it fetches (if the result can be obtained). If you are serious about some lots, please contact the auction houses, dealers or eBay sellers directly.
1. Kaminski Auction, Dec 28, 2009. Lot 4236 Chinese cultural revolution banner
Although propaganda posters under red iron curtains are hot, especially after the exhibition “Art and China’s Revolution” in 2008 at the Asia Society, I have always been dubious about the true value of such banners or posters. It is ironic that the commonest print always becomes the scarcest. Anybody can buy a Whistler etching, but try to find a Victorian matchbox or a Chinese cultural revolution banner! The scarcity of such items, not their immediate visual pleasure that has given them a special niche in the market.
Similar to the experience for another banner that were auctioned in the same auction house in July, 2009, I am very curious about the dating of the banner. A Cultural Revolution banner does not necessarily mean that the banner was made in the Cultural Revolution period. 1849 does not make any sense for Chairman who was born in 1893. The Opium War happened nine years earlier. Neither is clear about the year 1971. In the age when a wrong word used in a speech will put one in jail or even cost one’s life, such mistakes would hardly happen on propaganda materials. (From the picture, the red color seems to have withstood aging and fading very well while the cloth itself looks being preserved carelessly. ) I would ask about the provenance if I were the potential buyer.
2. The Music of the Federal Era, Boscobel Restoration’s Barrel Organ CD
At one time you had to hire a servant to crank the barrel organ to hear this music. This organ is housed in Boscobel, a Federal-era home that overlooks the Hudson River in Garrison New York. At one time the organ was turned for guests touring the home, but in recent times recorded music played on a cd replicates the sound. The barrel organ consists of pieces of music encoded onto the barrel using metal pins and staples. Pins are used for short notes, and staples of varying lengths for longer notes. We were told on the tour these were sometimes called “hurdy gurdys.” While true, they were mistakenly referred to as such. A hurdy gurdy is a different instrament also operated by the turning of a crank. The cd is a great way to bring a little of the Federal era and Boscobel home. It’s available in the gift shop at a cost of $9.95.
3. Kaminski Auction, Dec 28, 2009 Cattle in Stream Painting, Lot # 4065
Here’s a very affordable way to add an air of sophistication to your living room. You may think good antiques are expensive, but that’s not always the case. This seems like an exceptional painting and the estimates are low because the painter is unknown. If you’re looking at it as an investment, it might not be the safest way to go. Most people collecting antiques today do so not to make money, but because they enjoy them. Moreover, antinges and art, even by unknown artists will maintain their value better than a brand new painting on canvas. You may also enjoy the hours of research and inspection trying to determine who the artist was. If you are able to come up with an attribute, everything changes. That can’t happen with something from the mall.
4. Handel lamp base with Van Erp shade, Kaminski Auction, Dec 28, 2009, Lot 4110
While the auction description says this is a Van Erp shade, the lamp is by Handel. I don’t know if they were sold together or assembled later. My hunch is they a married later in life. Philip Julius Handel established the Handel Company in Meriden, Connecticut in 1876 and specialized in reverse painted lamp shades considered a less expensive alternative to the Tiffany. Handel bases were most commonly made of a zinc alloy, spelter with a bronze patina or finish. More rarely are they found in bronze. Both handel lamps. At auction, both names, Handel and Van Erp command premiums above the estimates given here, it remains to be seen what both in one lot can do. Here’s an Antiques Roadshow episode that features a Van Erp lamp.
5. Don Swann, Artist proof, etching of Monument Hill, Baltimore
Samuel Donovan [Don] Swann (1889-1954) studied art in Munich and in Rome but lived and worked in Baltimore. The focus of most of his etchings was historic Americana, particularly views of Maryland and Washington, DC. In 1939, Swann issued an illustrated book, Colonial and Historic Homes of Maryland, dealing with 18th century Maryland. The forward for the book was written by F. Scott Fitzgerald.
This is an artist proof. I have checked this particular etching with the numbered print and has found some interesting difference. For example, the upper left corner is darkened to indicate the sky, this was probably done by the artist who intentionally left somewhat a slim film of ink (manually) on the plate which was subsequently transferred to the paper. The commercial etchings tend to have a very dramatic sky while this one looks calmer. A close examination of the middle ground snow also indicates that he was in the process of burnishing to better suggest the snow on the top of bushes. If you don’t like the numbered prints issued by the publisher, an artistic proof is more or less one of the kind, mostly done or monitored by the artist, which in general leads to a better market appreciation. Link to item
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I purchased this etching, among others by Don Swann. Mine is # 300 of 320. Admittedly, it was a production from his plate but was signed by his son, Don Swann, Jr. for the purpose of validation. I took pride in owning numerous etchings of Baltimore origin.