Armoire de Collage

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Saturday, October 29, 2016

The Semantics of the Antique Business

Every hobby, industry, and interest has its own nomenclature, and the antique business is no exception. Let’s start with the word antique. Unless a dealer is solely concentrating on the purchase and sale of items that are one hundred years of age or older, theoretically they’re not an ‘antique dealer.’

The term is used loosely because a dealer will handle some items that are old enough to be genuine antiques, but not all of their merchandise will qualify as an authentic antique. Where the semantics get muddled is in the descriptions of the rest of the merchandise, so to clarify them…

An antique is any work of art, decorative object, item of jewelry, mechanical device (i.e. clock), or piece of furniture, created or produced one hundred years prior to the current year. An exquisite example would be American brilliant cut glass. The Brilliant Period lasted from approximately 1876 to 1914. Golden oak furniture manufactured in the early 1900's and sold widely through the Sears, Roebuck & Co. catalog business, would be another, but not Art Deco furniture which wasn’t produced until 1925 when the the Exposition Internationale des Arts Décoratifs et Industriels Modernes (International Exposition of Modern Decorative and Industrial Arts) was held in Paris that year. Within the next decade, it too will achieve ‘antique’ status. This is significant because the value of items doesn’t just increase incrementally when it reaches 100 years of age, it often increases exponentially, contingent on the demand and the economy. As successive generations grow up without being introduced or appreciating the works of craftsman long since gone, the lower the demand will be.

Items less than 100 years old are referred to as vintage, but should be used in context with the item, as in ‘1960’s vintage clothing.’ Most dealers are in agreement that vintage should only apply to items that are at least twenty years old. Some say the item should also have some redeeming value and interest to collectors. Twenty-year old paper bags do not.

Which brings us to the term collectible. A collectible doesn’t need to be 20+ years. It just has to be an item valued and sought by collectors. Many numbered figurines, sports memorabilia, and limited-edition toys are highly collectible, but not vintage or antique. A word of caution. Limited edition items can be released in volumes high enough to saturate the market thus devaluing them. Case in point, the bane of collectibles, those adorable Beanie Babies.

Here’s where the water gets really murky...Retro versus Repro. The difference between these two is based primarily on intention. Retro is imitative of a style, fashion, or design from the recent past. It’s the dealer’s intention to provide a quality item that represents a previous era to customers seeking that item. Mid-century furniture is often referred to as Retro, but in fact, it’s vintage. Furniture made to look like it’s from the 1950's would be correctly identified as Retro.

Repro, for reproduction, is made to represent an older item, but is marked or even distressed, to give the illusion that it’s from a previous era. The intention of the seller is to deceive in order to obtain a higher price for the item. Collectors are advised to do their research. Learn the difference between the old and the reproductions. Many reference books on collectibles have a section on reproductions that have been produced. It’s often been said that the first thing you should add to your collection is a good book about the item you’re interested in collecting.

As stewards of antiques and collectibles, a certain amount of responsibility goes along with seeing that they’re cherished for years to come, not disposed of with little regard as to their value. At some point the torch has to be passed to the next generation, to quote John F. Kennedy. In addition to passing down antiques and family heirlooms, share your knowledge and the nomenclature, to educate the recipients and cultivate their interest in antiques.

#Antiques #Vintage #Collectibles #Retro #Repro

Miniature Decanters fill a unique collecting void

If a little is good, a lot is better. That’s especially true of miniature liquor decanters. There’s something fascinating about these miniature works of art that collectors just can’t resist.
Called nips and minis, they typically contained a shot or 1.5 fluid ounces, and are often referred to in size as 4/5. They range from approximately three to five inches, and although small, some command big prices.  

Several companies who manufactured them include Garnier, Grenadier, Hoffman, Lionstone, Luxardo, Schafer, and Ski Country. At the high end and considered some of the most beautiful are the Ski Country decanters designed by Barbara Foss. Her Native American series decanters, produced from 1974 until 1983, are the most prized, but her birds and wildlife decanters are equally as beautiful. Ski Country released them in limited quantities in specific locations, which certainly drives up their value. The Native American decanters are in the hundreds of dollars.

As for all the others, the presence of a tax stamp indicates bottles from the early 1980's and older. The tax stamps changed over time which aids in dating the decanters. Prevalent bourbon distillers issued limited edition miniature decanters that often mirrored their full-size decanters, among them were Jim Beam and  Austin Nichols Whiskey Wild Turkey Bourbon.

Others were very prolific. Dugs Nevada issued a brothel series of miniature decanters, and even the KLM, the flag carrier airline of the Netherlands, has done their part to contribute to the miniature decanter collector market. Since the 1950s, every World Business Class passenger is presented with a a Delft Blue miniature, Dutch house, filled with Dutch gin known as genever. Every year on October 7, the airline celebrates the anniversary of KLM’s founding in 1919, by presenting a new house.

On average, these smaller decanters typically start at around ten to twenty dollars, but decanters produced by exquisite china manufacturers like the 200-year old English company Royal Dalton, would be considered high end. The Sandeman black decanter pictured top left in photo, is just one example. It’s approximate value is $40.

Sets are always difficult to find, like the miniature skeleton decanter with skull shot glasses, and the rare Scheibel Obstwasser chess set, which is valued at $100 (also shown in photo). The miniature crystal set by Galway (bottom left) goes for $300.

Also pictured are a couple of porcelain miniatures by Beswick for Beneagles Scotch Whiskey...a squirrel, circa 1979, and the Loch Ness Monster believed to be a newer decanter. The unique Michters Whiskey King Tut gold miniature decanter dates back to 1978. All three are valued at between 15 and 20 dollars.

It would be an oversight not to mention the miniature liquor bottles. When full they sell for their retail value, when empty, between one and three dollars. Although not valuable, they have an irresistible charm and are certainly easier to locate in area antique shops and online, than most of the decanters mentioned above. All would make great Christmas stocking stuffers and a wonderful way to toast the holiday season.

#Decanter  #Liquor  

Sunday, June 29, 2014

Antique and Vintage Costume Jewelry Collecting online

The fun in collecting antiques is sharing your beloved collection with others who are as passionate about the items you collect, as you are. There’s no more passionate group than the 1000+ members of the Antique and Vintage Costume Jewelry Club who showcase their treasures on their Facebook page by the same name. (

The site is so much more than a ‘show and tell.’ Many of the members have written books on the different costume jewelry manufacturers of the early to mid-1900s, when costume jewelry was in its heyday. A by product of the Great Depression, costume jewelry was originally produced by fine jewelers who applied their expertise to crafting more affordable jewelry, which is why so much of it has weathered the test of time.

The popularity of accessorizing ensembles with showy costume jewelry spawned numerous cottage industries, and evolved to high-volume manufacturing under names like Coro, Monet, Napier, and Trifari. And there wasn’t a fashion designer at the time, who didn’t have her own line of jewelry to compliment her designs. Their jewelry commanded high prices just like their fashions. Elsa Schiaparelli and Coco Chanel were, and still are, considered among the high-end of costume jewelry designers.

Many costume jewelry designers focused solely on their craft, producing exquisite jewelry that could pass for real, like Eisenberg, or perfecting the enameling and stone placement process like Boucher...Marcel Boucher, who was a French jeweler who traveled to the United States and studied under Pierre Cartier as an apprentice.

Many of the the large manufacturers carried different lines to reach niche markets, producing rhinestone brooches, figurals, bangle bracelets, and even holiday jewelry. All of this you can view on the Antique and Vintage Costume Jewelry Facebook page. New collectors can ask questions, get advice, and share photos of their favorite pieces. It’s reminiscent of the days when friends would dig through each other’s jewelry boxes at slumber parties, ooing and aahing over each other’s treasures. The one thing you can’t do on the site is buy and sell, but the magnificent collections displayed on the site didn’t materialize from thin air. Collectors are always interested in growing their collections, adding a missing piece to a set, or getting a favorite piece in every conceivable color. Thus the Collectible Jewelry Exchange was spawned.

The Collectible Jewelry Exchange Facebook page is the sister site for the collectors willing to part with jewelry by selling, trading, bartering, etc. ( The odds of finding a matching earring or a brooch to a set, are extremely good. If one of the 175 members doesn’t have the item, they probably know a source.
But to play in the big game you need to know the rules, and here are the rules. Everyone who participates should make an album of their items. This makes the site less cluttered, by shopping in sellers’ albums. Each album title is the name of the seller, to make it easy for buyers to locate specific sellers. Descriptions need to be specific as to size, color, stones, approximate age of the piece, and the price. Photos should show the front and back of the items, and any unique characteristics. Payment, shipping methods, and shipping charges should be included in the description as well. Sellers are advised not to ship until money is received, and has cleared the bank. Sellers are required to provide sellers  with tracking information. In all cases - trades or selling, participants must exchange working phone numbers and email addresses. All details should be confirmed offsite by email.
SITE DISCLAIMER...Transactions via trade, exchange, or outright sale, are between two parties privately. The creator of the page is not responsible for arrangements made regarding the transactions. The site serves only as a message board and is not responsible for negative outcomes or unhappy customers; that is to be handled between the two parties. Members are cautioned that if either party has fallen through on their end of the bargain, except in provable personal emergencies, they will be banned from the site, so email trails are essential!
After an item is sold, the seller should remove it from the album. NO SINGLE PHOTOS ARE ALLOWED ON THE SITE AND WILL BE DELETED FROM THE FACEBOOK PAGE.
Newcomers to the site are cordially welcomed. The majority of the Facebook ‘Friends’ are among the most authoritative sources on antique and vintage costume jewelry, and are always willing to part with their knowledge...much more so than their collections.

Thursday, February 27, 2014

The fruits of our efforts...Antique dealers should mimic customers' buying habits

Antique dealers who mimic their customers’ buying habits are more likely to realize the fruits of their labor. The modern-day collector is more likely to be a collector with a purpose, than a collector of sets and groupings of like items. With the passing of the Greatest Generation, there are few collectors left who collected with a passion, adding to their sterling silver flatware, their china pattern, or buying groupings like crystal bells, china tea cups, etc.

Based on observations of current shopping trends in antique shops, the modern collector is more intent on shopping for decorative items based on a theme, or in a specific color, and more likely selecting items that are utilitarian which can be used for a purpose and not just for display.

Making note of this shift in the antique market will enable dealers to shop more effectively for today’s buying trends. Instead of buying entire collections at an estate sale, selecting just the best or most outstanding items in each of the sets, will provide customers with quality and uniqueness.

By artfully displaying the merchandise by color or theme might incite customers to buy more. Case in point, the Spring Antique Mall changes their counter display based on the season or holiday. This corner location at their check-out counter has become known as the ‘sweet spot,’ because of the number of sales made from the clever counter displays. On occasion, the entire display has been purchased.

Examples of collecting by theme would be a fruit motif (as shown in the photo), birds, or Orientale. Not unlike the Victorian era which embraced the rose theme in upholstery, window coverings, and even wall paper. As opposed to collecting large groupings of like, but dissimilar items, today’s buyer is more likely to purchase based on a particular aesthetic like Country French, primitives, or mid-century modern, i.e. the mid-50s. Even the popular man’s cave is an eclectic collection of unlike items.

Collecting by color opens up an even broader mix of product. The collector is more likely to purchase across different eras if the color is right. Pink is a consistent best seller, as well as blue.

As the collector generation passes away and passes their beloved collections of multiple items to their heirs, they’re showing up in volume in the antique malls to collect dust. Dealers should be as discriminating in their buying as their customers are. Resist the temptation to buy whole lots of like items. Buying and ‘clustering’ items when displaying them, will increase the opportunity for more consistent and ‘fruitful’ sales.

Saturday, January 4, 2014

Coffee...Good to the last drop, Coffee antiques...Good to the last penny

As you sip your morning cup of fresh, hot coffee, you might be interested to know that coffee collectibles are becoming as popular as the beverage itself. The spread of local coffee houses by a national chain, has fueled the interest,not only in coffee, but everything coffee-related. Ironic that a beverage that is believed to have first been cultivated as early as 575 A.D., has spawned a collector frenzy that’s not but about a decade old. Originating in Arabia, coffee was first introduced in the United States by Captain John Smith, the founder of the  Colony of Virginia, in 1607, but tea was the beverage of choice. Two centuries later an unjust tax on tea resulted  in a protest dubbed the “Boston Tea Party,” making the United States a nation of coffee drinkers from that day forward. Collectors of coffee antiques are as passionate about their collections as they are about their coffee. And if you   think the price of coffee is high at the corner coffee shop, you should see the prices on coffee collectibles. The   most primitive, wooden coffee mills start at over $100, but most are twice that price, subject to age and condition.Double wheel table mills are $500 at the low end; the floor models start at $1000. The presence of a brass hopper will typically double the price. For the novice collector, coffee advertising pieces and packaging items are more affordable, then graduate to coffee pots and makers. Some collectors swear that the best cup of coffee is the one their 1950s General Electric percolator makes (as seen in photo to the left). Just a word of caution. Coffee antiques require space and can  become overwhelming, thus the reason collections on a grand scale are usually found in coffee shops and restaurants. Their collectible of choice is usually the urns and servers. As for the beginner, start with a beautiful porcelain coffee cup to enjoy your morning brew. A porcelain cup and saucer will cost on average, $30-60 dollars. A bone china cup and saucer less...approximately $20-30 dollars. To brew a great cup of java add one heaping tablespoon of coffee to each half-pint of boiling water. On a larger scale,use one cupful of coffee to three pints or six cupfuls of water. The purists take it plain, but have cream and sugar on hand for all others. Although the majority overwhelmingly enjoy their coffee hot and fresh-perked, it’s enjoyed in many variations...iced, Irish Coffee made with Irish whiskey, sugar, and topped with thick, unwhipped cream, and this recipe for a “Coffee Frostie”: 2 cups brewed coffee, chilled 1 pint of Blue Bell Homemade Vanilla ice cream (or substitute coffee-flavored ice cream) Blend coffee and ice cream, then pour over ice cubes in tall glasses or an over-sized coffee mug Makes 3-4 servings. Substitute frozen coffee ice cubes The most conclusive book on coffee antiques is a book by the same name…”Coffee Antiques,” by Edward C. Kvetko & Douglas Congdon-Martin. It includes grinders, mills, coffee makers and servers, advertising pieces, and even roasters, and also provides prices. Fortunately for the coffee antique collectors, the economic downturn kept prices from escalating for a few years, but as these items become older, the economy will not have a bearing on their value. Prices are expected to rise as the popularity of coffee continues to grow.

Friday, December 20, 2013


'Traincipation'...the anticipation children experience waiting for dad to get the electric trains out and set up for the holiday season. The electric train is probably the toy most synonymous with Christmas. Originally intended as a store front display to draw customers into the stores, the "Electric Express" became the most requested item, spawning a toy business that reached $25 million in sales per year, at its peak in the 1950s.

The original train was produced by Joshua Lionel Cowen in 1901, who founded the Lionel Corporation the previous year to produce electrical novelties, such as fans and lighting devices. The electric train remained at the top of the Christmas wish list for many years, until the Great Depression. It was considered an extravagance at the time as the most expensive locomotives cost as much as a used Ford Model T.

Unfortunately the Great Depression was followed by World War II, and Lionel ceased toy manufacturing in 1942, to produce nautical items for the United States Navy. The decade following the war, 1946-1956, was the Golden Age for Lionel. The colorful Santa Fe "Warbonnet" paint scheme introduced in 1948 (the Lionel 2333 diesel locomotive) became a bestseller. Model railroaders soon shifted to the smaller, more detailed HO scale trains, complete with paraphernalia that included buildings and landscaping. Th HO gauge and slot car racing sets were the rage in the 1960s, but never reached the popularity of the O-gauge trains. The more affordable plastic, molded cars (as opposed to metal castings and folded sheet metal) didn't significantly increase profitability, but provided a more realistic-looking train layout.

The former Lionel factory in Irvington, New Jersey, and the Hillside, New Jersey factory, were virtually the front and back doors of the same building. On April 14, 2004, a fire destroyed the former Lionel train factory located in Irvington. The old Lionel factory in Hillside where trains were manufactured in the early 1920s to 1969, survived.

The decline in model railroading le to bankruptcy, and although the value of the company dropped, the prices of the older O-gauge trains skyrocketed. Pre-WWII trains, based on condition and completeness of the train set, will start at $500 and go up. In 2006, Lionel's electric train became one of the first two electric toys to be inducted into the National toy Hall of Fame. Although no longer a popular hobbyist pastime, many of these vintage Lionel O-gauge trains are still pulled out during the holidays and set up as an integral part of the Christmas display...the purpose for which they were originally intended.

Thursday, October 31, 2013


Decorations are the finishing touch for a Halloween party and most are reasonably priced, but vintage Halloween decorations prices will scare the BOO out of you. Originally sold in the ‘five-and-ten cent’ stores early to mid-20th century, Halloween decorations were mostly made of inexpensive materials like cardboard, wax, or paper mâché, because they were intended for one-time usage. The disposable age was practically ushered in by this merchandise manufactured for Trick-or-Treaters.
So popular are these rare and hard-to-find collectibles that price guides have been published about them, and condition is everything. To ensure paying a fair price for your treats, two authoritative books on the subject are: "Halloween Collectibles" by Dan and Pauline Campanelli, and another book with the same name by Mark B. Ledenbach. Both are full-color, well-categorized, complete with price guides.
Die-cut cardboard decorations by Beistle made in the U.S., like jointed skeletons and black cats circa 1920s-30s, are some of the most popular collectibles. Depending on size and condition, they can go for hundreds of dollars. Another ephemera collectible… postcards.
“Halloween postcards outsell all other holiday postcards, if you can find them,” said Tracy Bradford, an antique dealer at the Spring Antique Mall and a member of the Tomball Postcard Club. “Postcards by John O. Winsch and Rafael Tuck are the most desirable, but any Halloween postcard is going to be highly collectible.”
The prices can be startling for other collectibles that were originally low-cost items like accordion-pleated tabletop decorations and paper mâché pumpkins for collecting candy. On the high end are tin horns, rattles, and clickers, manufactured from the 1920s to the late 1950s. Prized for their colorful and spooky graphics, the pre-WWII noisemakers were made in Germany; post WWII tin noisemakers were manufactured in the United States. As time goes by, the prices will continue to escalate for those that have weathered the test of time without rusting. It’s not unusual for tin horns in excellent condition to sell for over $100 in antique stores.
See related article "Bring out yer dead" at

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Bring out yer dead

Nothing brings out the ghouls like Halloween. Among seasonal holiday collectibles, Halloween reigns supreme. Antique dealers will tell you the scarcity of Halloween collectibles is due in large part to the materials they were made from...paper mache’, cardboard, and wax. Halloween collectors are often the same niche market that collects funeral and mortuary items referred to as ‘Postmortem Collectibles’ or ‘Mortuary Memorabilia.’ Likewise, these items are rare and thus highly prized.

According to antique dealer and 34-year licensed mortician and embalmer, James King at the Spring Antique Mall, the most popular collectibles are photographs that depict the deceased in coffins in the 19th century. The earlier photos were sepia; and later in black and white.

“Photographs of black individuals are especially rare,” said King. “Photography was very expensive at that time. Only someone of substantial means could afford it. Depending on the condition, these photographs can be valued at over $1000; closer to $1500.”

In King’s private collection of mortuary memorabilia is a unique photograph of a ‘little person’ in a coffin, referred to at that time as a ‘midget.’ Also hard to find…old catalogs with caskets or funeral attire that a bereaved family could choose for their loved one. King has a 1916 catalog with funeral clothing, and a 1929 casket catalog, in his personal collection (top right of photo).

Old embalming instruments would be second to photographs, according to King. Probably not as obvious to the lay person, but for a funeral professional or a serious collector of the macabre, these items would not only be instantly recognizable, but highly prized. Also in King’s private collection is an early 1920’s metal hip joint replacement (bottom left).

Other mortuary collectibles include casket plates (several in photo), cremation urns, and advertising collectibles, all of which King has collected over the years, including a kitchen metal match holder that advertises…”Furniture, Carpets, Oil Cloths, Shades, and Undertaking & Embalming.” (In photo middle right). Ash trays are pretty prolific. Crucifixes and crosses are more popular with the home décor market, and some items serve well for utilitarian purposes, like coffin handles for towel racks.

Ephemera (paper) advertising collectibles are priced on condition, but lower in value. Examples would be cabinet cards which were handed out at funerals bearing the name, date of death, and age of the deceased, and also included a prayer. Calendars, matchbooks, hand fans, and holy cards, are plentiful and reasonably priced for the entry level collector. 

“At the high end are skulls and skeletons,” said King. “A skull is valued at over $2500. A full, articulated and strung skeleton is worth over $15,000.”

King has a greater opportunity than most to locate mortuary memorabilia, traveling the country holding seminars for first responders, city emergency managers, and hospitals, on the subject of mass fatalities. He’ll be addressing a group of morticians on this subject in October, at Houston’s National Museum of Funeral History located in north Houston at 415 Barren Springs Drive. The museum houses the country’s largest collection of funeral service artifacts.

“It’s an excellent place to learn about the fascinating history and evolution of the funeral business,” added King.
The museum also plays host to corporate events and parties. Almost assuredly the occasion would be lively, and reportedly, organizations are dying to schedule events there.  For more information, visit the National Museum of Funeral History website at and ‘Like’ their Facebook page at 

See related article "Trick or Antiquing" at

Sunday, August 11, 2013

The History of American Glass at the 2013 “Vintage Glass & Antique Show & Sale”

The fascination with glass has continued to grow since the development of this creative art form which can trace its origin back to ancient Egypt. Considered one of the most popular of the antique collectibles, this is evidenced by the 39th Annual Houston Glass Club’s “Vintage Glass & Antique Show & Sale,” which will be held again at the Fort Bend County Fairgrounds, August 16 through 18. One of the antique industries longest running traditions, and certainly one of Houston’s more popular events, the glass show features everything made of glass, from one-of-a-kind art glass, to high-volume, low quality glass produced for the masses during the Great Depression.
Believed to have been developed in 3500 A.D, the earliest known glass objects were beads, and were considered a luxury item. They say what goes around, comes around. The popularity of glass-bead jewelry and Daichroic Glass jewelry, has spawned a large number of cottage industries, and will once again, have a huge presence at the show.
Glass making In the United States first began in Jamestown Island, VA, in the form of windows, and evolved to produce drinking vials and bottles, but was eclipsed by the Massachusetts settlements of Boston and Cambridge which produced fine glassware until the Civil War. After the war. the industry re-emerged in Boston, Connecticut, New York, Pennsylvania and Ohio, to produce some of the most spectacular glass with ornately cut designs that it was and will be forever remembered, as the American Brilliant Period, which lasted from 1876 to 1917.

Aside from the fact that cut glass was expensive and only affordable to the affluent, the industry of approximately 1000 glass cutting shops dissolved because the Lead oxide, an essential ingredient in glass made for cutting, was needed for more military usage in the country’s next major military campaign…The Great War (WWI).
Other glass forms emerged, but never of the level of craftsmanship of the American Brilliant Period cut glass. But because the glass was not just ornamental, it became and still is, wildly collectible for its beauty and because it’s utilitarian. Depression glass manufactured during the Great Depression, and sold at low cost or distributed free as promotional items, experienced a resurgence in popularity in the 1960s-70s, and remains highly popular. A higher quality glass referred to as ‘Elegant Glassware of the Depression Era,’ was sold in the department stores as an alternative to fine china. It distinguished itself for its clarity and brilliant colors; some of which was elaborately etched or embellished with gold or silver trim.
Art glass is an art form in and of itself…one of a kind hand-blown pieces, collected for their artistic design and decorative qualities. Unlike cut glass of which many pieces were signed, fabulous artisans will go undistinguished because most of these works of art are not signed. Definitely a cross-over collectible because it’s prized as much by glass collectors as it is by the home décor market.
All the above will be on display and available for sale at the vintage glass show. For those who have eclectic collecting taste, the show is adjacent to the annual antique show which will feature everything from A to Z. This is a show with something for everyone, and a definite must see. Aside from the collectors, it’s a great opportunity for students of history to see and talk with the antique dealers who not only participate in the business for their love of antiques, but to preserve our country’s culture.
The Fort Bend County Fairgrounds are located on US 59 to Hwy 36, ½ mile south of Rosenberg. The show opens Friday, August 16, from 2 p.m. - 7 p.m., and continues Saturday from 10 a.m. - 5 p.m., through Sunday, 11 a.m. - 4 p.m. The $10 admission on Friday, is good for all three days; admission on Saturday and Sunday is just $6. The air-conditioned venue will have food and drink concessions, and parking is free. For more information, view the Houston Glass Club’s website at Houston Glass Club

Saturday, June 22, 2013

Trunk Showing

Traveling was a bit more cumbersome in the good ol’ summertime. You didn’t just throw a few things in a bag. Planning for a vacation was thorough and methodically packed in a trunk. Storage trunks date back thousands of years, but they reached a pinnacle of popularity when the mankind traversed the globe by rail and ship. They were an essential extension of the wardrobe and a family’s belongings. Based on the consistent sale of trunks in antique shops, they still are.

Originally used for vacations or trips abroad, today trunks are sought after by antique collectors and the home décor market. Their versatility for storage, combined with functionality as an occasional or coffee table, makes them a best buy. Also referred to as a traveling chest, the trunk differs from storage chests due to the rugged construction designed for frequent handling. Most trunks in antique shops date from the late 18th to the early 20th century, and were generally made out of pine and embellished with leather or metal on the corners and sides, for added protection from damage. Some of the more popular and prevalent styles are as follows:

- Saratoga trunks manufactured prior to the 1880s, were manufactured with numerous compartments and heavy metal hardware.

- Dome-top trunk, also referred to as camel-back or hump-back, has a high, curved top. These trunks date from 1870s-1900s, and are the most common found in antique shops. They took up considerable space when traveling because they couldn’t be stacked. The “steamer” trunk became more popular for traveling.

- Steamer trunks, named for the location of storage in the cabin of a steam ship, or "steamer." They were also referred to as flat-tops and first appeared in the late 1870s, although most date from the 1880-1920. Cabin trunks, which are sometimes called "true" steamer trunks, were today's equivalent of carry-on luggage. Most were built with flat-tops and had inner tray compartments to store the owner's valuables deemed too precious to keep stowed away in the main luggage train or berth. They were low-profiled and small enough to fit under the berths of trains or in the cabin of a steamer, hence their name.

- Wardrobe trunks generally must be stood on end to be opened and have drawers on one side and hangers for clothes on the other. Many of the better wardrobe lines also included buckles/tie-downs for shoes, removable suitcases/briefcases, privacy curtains, mirrors, make-up boxes, and just about anything else imaginable. These are normally very large and heavy as they were used for extended travel by ship or train.

- Hat trunks or ‘half-trunks’ were square shaped trunks popular in the 1860s to the 1890s. They were smaller and easier to carry, usually having a handle directly on top of the lid. A favorite of women due to the smaller size, and thus were also referred to as a "ladies'" trunk. Not as common as the Saratoga or Steamer, in fact, rather "rare" to find.

- Footlockers are typically metal trunk-like pieces of luggage most often used in the military. Designed for ruggedness instead of aesthetics, and generally without the numerous compartments.

Several other styles also existed, but were less common and thus harder to find. The trunks listed above were the most prevalent for a bride’s trousseau, and world class travelers. The current price on antique trunks averages between $200 and $400, depending on condition.

Eventually the trunk was supplanted with matching pieces of luggage in assorted sizes. Luggage has also become popular for storage; especially in shelving (see top left in photo collage.) A utilitarian and functional investment.

Friday, May 3, 2013

Militaria…for Memorial Day wear their colors

Although ‘Militaria’ includes both military services and police, the four military branches of the United States is what most collectors are looking for when they use the term. Law enforcement collectibles are sought after by a different classification of collectors, almost always those in law enforcement, or associated with it like family members. 

Militaria artifacts are diverse and include firearms, swords, uniforms, headgear, medals, insignias, and patches, but also books on military campaigns, photographs, war posters, propaganda, and gift items with military insignias on them. Collectors often favor a particular military branch, one they align themselves with for one reason or another. And the items rarely find themselves back on the secondary market. They become part of a family’s cherished mementos. 

With the passing of time, collectibles from older military campaigns like World War 1, become harder to find, thus more valuable. Surprisingly, World War II souvenirs are among the most prized, even though the generation that fought this war is nearing the end of their lives. It’s the next two generations that are primarily doing the collecting, mostly men…the sons and grandsons of WWII veterans. Regretfully, there’s only a small interest in Korean War artifacts, and even less interest in items from the Vietnam war. Not because they’re not as old, but because they involved conflicts in specific regions. Major wars involving the nations of the world fighting for world peach, just garner more interest. 

The high-end collectibles like firearms and swords aren’t as affordable. It also takes a keen eye and a lot of knowledge to recognize reproductions. More affordable are the medals and patches, which is a large segment of the military collectibles. Their condition and rarity sets the prices.

There are not a lot of sources available, but one good reference book is “American Military Patch Guide: Army, Army Air Force, Marine Corps,Navy, Civil Air Patrol, National Guard,” by James L. “Pete” Morgan. It too,comes at a hefty price: $225 new on Amazon; $82 used. A sound investment though, for serious collectors.

Price points on militaria depend on the item and rarity, and as with any antique or collectible…condition. Collectors

just beginning to acquire items in this fascinating area of history can start out with patches of which some are reasonably priced. Expect to pay approximately $5 - $25 for most military patches, $25 - $50 for uniform clothing, and weapons are whatever the public will bear. The price on paper items is contingent on the subject matter.

With Memorial Day approaching, dealers might see an uptick in sales as proud Americans might want to honor our veterans who have fought so bravely in the military campaigns to preserve our freedom. Show your appreciation by wearing their colors. 

Sunday, March 24, 2013


Antique dealers are always trying to detect the latest trends in collecting so that they can concentrate their efforts and finances on inventory that will be of interest to their customers. There are several ways to research what is currently trending.

Global events are a definite driving force. The resignation of Pope Benedict XVI, and the appointment of a new pontiff, Pope Francis I, to head the Catholic Church, has created an interest in religious goods. Medals, figurines, and prints of St. Francis of Assisi have immediately been sought after in antique malls. At the Spring Antique Mall a couple of customers were wearing charm necklaces consisting of religious medals and crosses that they had made themselves.

Popular shows like the Antique Pickers, has been a driving force in the home décor market. Whether to decorate the man cave or a pub, vintage signs in particular, have been highly collectible since the television show began. Beer and brewery signs are especially popular, but so are defunct oil company signs like Amoco and Philips Petroleum Company. Even the world’s leading energy company, ExxonMobil, has a large following of collectors. The company’s early to mid-1900 logos and acronyms…Humble Oil & Refining Company, ESSO, and ENCO, have spiked at the Spring Antique Mall, more than likely to the due to the corporation’s plans to relocate in Spring, Texas, in the spring of 2014. Their new ExxonMobil campus is just one mile north of the mall.

Holiday collectibles usually show an upward trend, Valentine’s and St. Patrick’s Day, not so much, however, Easter collectibles like hand-painted eggs, vintage paper mache eggs and rabbits, have been selling. Why do some holidays like Christmas, Halloween, and Easter, out-sell the others? Typically those holidays when entertaining will take place, will result in the sales of merchandise…i.e. Christmas parties, Halloween costume parties, family reunions in the spring at Easter. Antique dealers might focus on these events and not so much on the others.

The trend of ‘retro-cycling,’ a term coined this writer, is used describe the reinvention of antiques and collectibles into a different use, other than originally intended, continues to grow. This has opened up a large new market for antique dealers, who previously could only rely on the discriminating collector. Customers are on the hunt for unique items they can reinvent for their home environments. This market is so large that dealers are even going to the extra effort and expense to do the ‘retro-cycling’ in order to move the inventory more quickly.

Future trends are the hardest to predict. The west coast trend of mid-century furniture and home decor (mid-1950s) moved east a couple of years ago and remains popular in area antique shops. As mentioned in the February issue of Antique & Collector’s Guide, the popularity of the period program, Downton Abbey, has created a demand for fashions and furnishings of the early 1900s. Now that the program has evolved to the 1930s, a trend to the Art Deco aesthetic could be the next popular market.