Friday, 27 March 2020

Glass with class: Jack in the Pulpit vases

It’s not just owning a collection of antiques that’s fun. It’s also the enjoyment of hunting for new acquisitions, specially in a new saleroom or location, to say nothing of the excitement of finding something special.
     Adding immensely to the experience is the fellow collectors you meet along the way, some of the encounters adding rich memories to the journey.
    Like the chap we met at an antiques fair who claimed he was “a world expert on Victorian fairings” – crudely potted hard paste porcelain knickknacks that were either prizes or else penny purchase at country fairs.
     He reckoned he’d once discovered a fairing so rare, he had been able to sell it for enough money to buy two first-class plane tickets to New York. We came across him later that day at a church jumble sale, his wife’s arms laden with second-hand clothes. Clearly, similar rarities had evaded him.
    Then there was the lovely retired couple we chatted to over coffee. He was, he said, a collector of “Jack in the pulpit” glass and he had cabinets full of the things, to the point where his wife had insisted some had had to go.
    He’d kept the best, though, and in the pause in the conversation that followed, it was obvious he was waiting for us to ask what a Jack in the pulpit glass was. His disappointment when we didn’t was palpable, but we refrained from boasting about a couple of our own, one of which is particularly lovely.
    What we hadn’t given much thought to was where the name came from, although once you know, it’s obvious, specially if you’re a gardener.
    Jack in the Pulpit, or Ariscema triphyllum, is a plant that originated in woodland in North America where it was used by the native population as a food source and as a medicine to treat sore skin. However, in its raw form, it is highly poisonous and should not be touched without wearing gloves.
    The plant flowers perennially, the old fashioned “pulpit” being formed by a leafy hood beneath which is “Jack”, the spiky, erect flower’s reproductive part. At first glance, it looks like a Sunday-morning preacher ready to give his sermon to anyone passing by.
    Given its American roots (sorry!) it’s perhaps not surprising that one of its admirers was arguably that country’s greatest glassmaker, Louis Comfort Tiffany (1848 -1933) who first saw it on his Long Island, New York, estate. As a result, many credit him with being the first to use its name to describe a particular style of glass vase modelled after the plant’s shape.
    I’m not so sure, though. His vases appeared in around 1900, but English glassmakers Stevens & Williams were making similar products half a century earlier. Since then, a myriad of other makers followed and Jack in the Pulpit glassware continues to flow from today’s producers.
    With their slender, sometimes curling stems and coquettish twist to the tip of the “pulpit”, the shape screams Art Nouveau, a decorative arts design period from about 1890-1910 that took its inspiration from nature.
    Louis Comfort Tiffany (1848-1933) was the son of Charles Lewis Tiffany, the New York fancy goods retailer and one of America’s most influential Art Nouveau artist-craftsmen.
     Louis trained as a painter but turned to the decorative arts in 1879, establishing a firm of interior decorators in the city which boasted the American writer Mark Twain among its most prestigious customers.
     However, his international fame was secured as a glassmaker and designer, producing everything from stained glass windows to breathtakingly beautiful lamp shades.
     His vases were made form iridescent glass, produced with a technique he patented in 1894 called favrile, a name derived from fabrile, meaning handmade or belonging to a craftsman.
     Several glass firms made iridescent glass in the early 1900s, but Tiffany's soft, incandescent sheen of lustrous favrile glass, inspired by colours found on excavated antique Syrian and Roman glass, was unique.
     Tiffany’s Jack in the pulpit vases were made in different sizes and colour combinations, achieved by dissolving salts of rare metals in molten glass and keeping them in an oxidised state in the kiln to produce chemical reactions.
     Some were also sprayed with chloride, which made the surface break up into fine lines that picked up the light. Gold lustre is said to have been made from gold coins dissolved in hydrofluoric acid.
    Needless to say, such glassware is financially out of reach for most but the wealthiest of collectors but the interestingly, we found a golden iridescent “Tiffany” Jack in the Pulpit vase decorated with at an upmarket antiques fair last month. It was priced at £285.
     The dealer selling it was quick to point out, however, that the base had been engraved with the Tiffany name in the distant past by some devious chancer. In fact, the vase was made in the Loetz glassworks, founded in 1836 in the Southern Bohemian town of Klostermühle, today part of the Czech Republic. Hence the price.
    Jack in the Pulpit-style glassware has been made in both opaque and in colours such as cranberry, milk, peachblow, and “Vaseline” yellow, more correctly termed uranium glass and the list of makers worldwide who have produced and are still producing it is lengthy.
     But what of Stevens & Williams? Established in Stourbridge in the West Midlands in 1776, the glassworks at Moor Lane, Brierly Hill passed from Richard Honeybourne to Joseph Silver in 1824 and subsequently to William Stevens and Samuel Williams, who each married Silver’s daughters.
    Stevens & Williams was founded in 1847 and became noted in particular for producing quality decorative glass, using techniques such freehand engraving, acid etching, enamelling, and cameo cutting from about 1880 under the direction of John Northwood and his protégé Frederick Carder.
     The firm patented “Damascened” glass in 1885, which featured silver or copper design surfaces; “Jewelled” and “Pearl Satin” glass, the latter looking like mother of pearl, and, in 1888. “Moss-Agate” glass, which gave the effect of crazed semi-transparent alabaster.
     Interestingly, Carder made his name in America where he co-founded the famed Steuben glassworks in Corning, New York
     Stevens & Williams became Royal Brierley Crystal in 1931 following a visit by the Duke and Duchess of York and is now owned by Dartington Ltd.

Friday, 7 December 2012

Menus and their holders can be tasty collectables

Menu-10I’m on a diet, so there’ll be no stuffing myself with turkey, Christmas pudding and brandy butter or lashings of ginger beer this festive season. Thankfully we’ll be on a beach, so the temptation won’t even be there, which is just as well because will power was never my strong point.

It’s one of the reasons why I don’t fancy a winter cruise. According to reports that filter back from various other family members who have tried it, most of the time is spent in one or other on-board restaurant. Apparently, we’re told, it’s quite possible to eat right around the clock.

‘Twas ever thus. In 1947, dinner in First Class aboard the Cunard White Star flagship RMS Queen Elizabeth went as follows: for starters, it was oysters on the half shell, followed by clear turtle soup, turbot for the fish course and timable of ham. Main course was roast sirloin of beef accompanied by braised onions, fresh broccoli, globe artichokes and hollandaise sauce. Potatoes were “boiled, roast snow and Parisienne”.

Pudding was a choice of Seville soufflé, charlotte russe or praline parfait, or one could stick with the ices: vanilla, Neapolitan or pistachio. And to finish: fresh fruit, coffee and “Scotch Woodcock”. How do I know? Simple, among my cache of printed ephemera, I have a copy of the menu.

A couple of printed menus sold last week were out of my reach, though. Henry Aldridge and Son, the Devizes auctioneers who lead the world as auctioneers of Titanic memorabilia, secured a bid of £64,000 for the rarer of the two, pictured above. It listed the 24 dishes including roast Surrey capon, fresh lobsters, “Hodge Podge”, roast beef and ox tongue, served at the first luncheon served in First Class on board Titanic on her maiden voyage out of Southampton on April 10, 1912.

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Friday, 30 November 2012

Give festive gifts with historic charm this Christmas

collect-9My mission this week is to help you find Christmas presents for the collectors in your life: for Gran, a nice hand-blown English drinking glass for her egg nog; a first edition classic for Grandpa; an impressive gold necklace or gem-set brooch for Mum; an antique handmade golf club for Dad; and the kids? Well virtually any plaything from the past would be perfect.

But all that’s old hat. Why not buy each of them a Christmas collectable? Let’s face it, there’s plenty of choice and since it’s a festival that’s been going for a while now, celebrating Christmas is not something that’s going to go out of fashion.

The idea was planted in my subconscious the last time I went to Florida for my summer holiday. There’s something distinctly odd about shops that sell only Christmassy kitsch all

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Friday, 23 November 2012

My heart belongs to Chiparus Dolly Sisters

Dolly-3THIS magnificent bronze and ivory figure by the great Romanian-born Art Deco sculptor Demetre Chiparus may not be unique – numerous editions would have been cast – but the two exotic vaudeville dancers it depicts surely were. They were the Dolly Sisters, the original dolly birds, alluringly naughty legends in their own lifetime on both sides of the Atlantic, who drove their fabulously rich suitors mad with desire.

The Prince of Wales, the future Edward VIII, and his close friend Edward “Fruity” Metcalfe were both reported to have had affairs with the identical twins. Media magnate William Randolph Hearst and entrepreneur “Diamond” Jim Brady were captivated, while Harry Selfridge, the widowed American founder of the Oxford Street store, was said to “bat the Dolly sisters back and forth like ping-pong balls” between himself and newspaper tycoon Max Beaverbook.

Selfridge’s indulgence knew no bounds, He squandered millions on the twins who were

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Friday, 16 November 2012

Mourning jewellery–poignant and highly collectable

mourn-10Queen Victoria ruled for almost 64 years, the longest in British history. The last 40 of them were spent in mourning for her beloved husband, Prince Albert, who died in 1861. And when she declared that mourning nationally should be for “the longest term in modern times”, it became not just a ritual but a fashion. Ironically, dressmakers and jewellers had a field day (as, no doubt, did undertakers).

So, while it may be a bid morbid, this week’s missive is all about collecting memoriam or mourning jewellery. Time was when such pieces commemorating the death of a loved one were treasured and passed down through the generations, but after the carnage of two world wars, relatives were often only too relieved to rid themselves of anything relating to death. The secondhand market became flooded with the stuff and only now is it being appreciated by a new generation of collectors.

It was the upper classes who made the most of mourning, a widow naturally bearing the burden more than most, although her children suffered too. Special bonnets, heavy “weeping veils” of black crepe, and gowns – her “widow’s weeds” – covered her almost entirely, which the rules demanded should be worn for at least a year and an a day and sometimes as long as four years after a loved one’s death. The universal colour was, of course, black.

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Friday, 9 November 2012

Chocks away! What better way to spend rainy days than collecting first editions of Biggles’ adventures

Biggles-4I am grateful to Roger Harris to sell for  his assistance in writing this post.  Roger is the publisher of and, both of which I recommend highly.

HOW I hate the rain. Every time we plan to  go somewhere or do something, it pours. Even  Bonfire Night was a washout. There was a time, though, when I prayed for rain: I hated double sport lessons. If it was wet, they were spent in the library, where Biggles books were my refuge.

Roger Harris is another Biggles fan but with different, more painful, memories than my own. As a great admirer of the pilot-adventurer immortalised by author Captain W.E. Johns, Roger collected around 60 of the books but then sold them all for the grand sum of £12. That was in 1979. “Twenty five years later it would cost me in the region of £12,000 to buy them all back,” he told me ruefully.

Biggles-2At first he could afford to buy only pre-1942 first editions without their original dust wrappers. He now owns a first edition copy of every Biggles book published since 1942, all in their original, unclipped dust wrappers showing their original price. It took him 10 years to find a first edition of the first Biggles book “The Camels are Coming”.

I didn’t dare ask him what they set him back, but having watched a first edition copy of “Biggles Flies South”, published in 1938 sell for a sky-high £1,000 in a

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Friday, 2 November 2012

The potted history of collectable Victorian pot lids

potlid-1oWho among readers of this weekly missive collects Staffordshire pot lids? Clearly no one who was at a sale I watched the other day because not one of 16 lots of the things, mostly with two lids in each lot, found a buyer prepared to pay the - generally - £80-120 per lot that the auctioneer was expecting.

Let’s assume the reserves were on the low estimate. Is £40 too much to pay for a colourful, ready-made (and often ready-framed) little work of art that once had collectors falling over themselves to own? Answer: a resounding yes. Fashions change and just like the Clarice Cliff vase that I know cost its owner £450 and she let go in the same sale for £260, it’s very easy to get caught out and left to count the cost.

Which I suppose means that now is the time to buy Staffordshire pot lids. They will probably never be cheaper. Read on and perhaps by the end, you’ll know what you’re looking for.

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