Chinese Export Silver: When East Meets West

Chinese export silver goods are sought after by many collectors.  They represent an unusual confluence of Western and Eastern design.   Chinese export silver as a term refers to Chinese goods made from silver specifically for Western buyers.

Chinese Export Silver Toast Rack mark of Wong Shing
Chinese Silver Toast Rack, circa 1820-1860
Early Trade Period

When trade began on a large scale between European nations and China (around 1745), Chinese artisans saw a huge influx of buyers looking for Western-style goods.  Luckily for Chinese artisans, silver was cheaper in China.  By the end of the 1700s, this was especially true.  Mexico was pushing for independence, causing disruptions to the previously fruitful silver mines there and in South America.  These disruptions made the price of silver in the Western world skyrocket.  The labor costs were also lower and the ability to create silver goods was not hampered by the strict trade rules maintained by the Chinese emperor and Queen Elizabeth.  This made it easy for Chinese silversmiths to create Western-style goods at a fraction of the cost.  Most of this production took place in the port city of Guangzhou, also known as Canton.  In the early trade period, Chinese artisans crafted imitation Western goods that mimicked both the form and design of Western goods.  Early goods even had marks on the bottom meant to imitate hallmarks.

Middle Trade Period
Chinese Export Silver Pitcher with Bamboo Design, Mark of Hoaching
Chinese Silver Pitcher, circa 1825-1870

By the mid-1800s, Chinese artisans had begun adding Chinese motifs to their goods.  Classic British designs now had popular Chinese symbols like bamboo trees, dragons, and lotuses.  These symbols had strong power in Chinese culture.  Other common images that denote a silver piece as likely Chinese in origin are chrysanthemums, plum blossoms, orchids, phoenixes, peonies, and irises.  The marks on the bottom identified the silversmiths with a combination of Latin lettering and logo-like pictures.

Late Trade Period

By the late trade period, ranging from the end of the 19th century through the mid 20th century, artisans introduced more Chinese influence into their pieces.  The forms were increasingly ornate and included almost exclusively Chinese motifs and concepts.  The Chinese companies that created these silver artworks also began working with Western firms like Tiffany & Co. in New York.  This period dragons used as handles and feet, and lotus flowers as the bowls of silver items.

Chinese Export Silver, Mark of Wang Hing with British Import Marks
Chinese Silver Bowl, 1895

 

One of the most comprehensive collections of Chinese export silver is located nearby in New York City at the I.M. Chait Gallery.  The gallery and auction house helped define the field of Chinese export silver and were pioneers in categorizing it.  At Mark Lawson Antiques, we can help identify your silver, whether it’s Chinese export or other types of silver.

Art Deco: 1920s Filigree Jewelry

1920s Art Deco 18K White Gold Filigree Jewelry Diamond Bar Pin

Origin of Filigree

Filigree jewelry has long been popular, with found samples in southern Asia dating to a few thousand years old and gold filigree flourishing in the Fatimid era of Egypt.  Originally, filigree was made with delicate threads of precious metals being hand-manipulated by jewelers into intricate designs.  This process took a lot of time and required expert craftsman.  This made filigree jewelry very expensive.  With the growth of industrialization in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, the production of filigree jewelry became faster and more inexpensive than ever.  This led to an explosion in the manufacturing of In the 1920s, filigree jewelry was used to show off.  The 1920s were a time of opulence; flagrant displays of wealth were not only common but encouraged.

1920s 18K White Gold Filigree Diamond Solitaire Ring

 

Factory Filigree Jewelry

In the early twentieth century, many pieces of filigree were made through the use of die-cut stamps.  Automation allowed intricate designs to be punched from solid sheets of metal.  This decreased both the time and expertise needed to create astounding pieces of filigree jewelry.  Stamped filigree jewelry is distinguishable from handcrafted pieces because the edges of the open spaces are sharper.  They are closer to 90 degree corners, unlike the rounded edges of hand crafted filigree.  The automation of the creation of filigree led to a huge number of filigree jewelry pieces being created.  This increase in production was also due in part to the onset of the Art Deco movement.  The geometric designs of filigree mirrored the abstract geometry of popular Art Deco design like that seen in the Chrysler building.

 

Why Gold?

Art Deco Solid White Gold Filigree Ruby Stick Pin

 

The most common metal used to create filigree jewelry in the 1920s was 18k white gold.  It was soft enough to stamp with intricate designs but strong enough to hold the delicate designs.  Additionally, the white gold color complemented the diamonds that were frequently added to the jewelry.  Filigree was common in everything from rings to panel bracelets to necklaces. Filigree pieces retain their value not just because of the charming aesthetic appeal but also due to the continued fascination with the Art Deco designs and rising gold prices.

 

Value for pieces can vary based on age, condition, maker, karat level, and the intricacy of the design.  We at Mark Lawson Antiques love well-made filigree jewelry.  If you have a piece you’d like to sell, call us at (528)-587-8787 or send an e-mail to marklawsonantiques@gmail.com to make an appointment at either our Saratoga or Colonie locations!

 

Additional Resources

Fatimid Jewelry, Metropolitan Museum of Art.  A history of jewelry, especially filigree jewelry, in Fatimid Egypt.

Art Deco Jewelry Appraisal, Antiques Roadshow, PBS.  An appraisal of a stunning Art Deco necklace.

Edwardian Filigree (a decade prior to Art Deco), Gemology Institute of America.  A survey of Edwardian filigree jewelry at the turn of the century.

Opening at the Met: ‘The Art of London Firearms’

Flintlock pistol, made by Wogdon & Barton.

The Metropolitan Museum of Art is opening a new exhibit featuring exquisitely crafted firearms, highlighting the abilities of British gunmakers.  The exhibit, entitled ‘The Art of London Firearms’, features seventeen separate firearms, each made in London.  Instead of rifles and long guns, the focus will be on pistols dating from the mid-eighteenth century into the early nineteenth century.  Included is a pistol made for the Prince of Wales, King George IV of England.  The pieces are pulled from the Metropolitan’s permanent collection and many of them have never been on display.

In the period encapsulated by the show, a group of gunmakers with workshops on the outskirts of London and became fierce competitors.  This competition led to rapid design growth, paring down Baroque design elements for simple, elegant, and efficient design.  These gunsmiths include Durs Egg, John Manton, and Samuel Brunn.

 

 

When: The exhibition opens January 29, 2019 and lasts until January 29, 2020.  For more information visit the exhibition website.

Where: It will be in Gallery 380 of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, located at 1000 5th Avenue in New York City and is open Sunday through Thursday from 10AM to 5:30PM, Friday and Saturday from 10AM to 9PM.

Pair of flintlock pistols, made by Samuel Brunn.

Admission is $25 for adults, $17 for seniors, $12 for students, and free for children under 12.  New York State residents have the ability to choose what to pay.  This exhibit and all others are included in museum admission. There are also multiple membership options available.

 

Well-made firearms have always had collectible value and can be sold for a tidy sum.  When not in museum exhibits, guns like these are often in personal collections.  Collectors can find more information on the sale of these and other types of firearms here.

Andrew Clemens

The Remarkable Sand Art of Andrew Clemens

Andrew ClemensWhen viewing a work of sand art by Andrew Clemens it is almost impossible to imagine how someone could create such a thing. To perfectly manipulate individual grains of sand in a bottle to illustrate words and images is unheard of. However, Andrew Clemens, a 19th century artist, mastered a technique to do just that, creating remarkable objects that are highly sought after today.

Born in Iowa in 1857, Andrew Clemens suffered from encephalitis at the age of 5 resulting in permanent deafness. From 1870 to 1877 he spent his time at the State School for Deaf and Dumb only returning to his family during the summers. It was then that Clemens began developing his unique talent of creating intricate worlds in colored sand. He would collect various colors of sand from Pictured Rocks, a National Lakeshore on the coast of Lake Superior in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan best known for it’s colorful sandstone cliffs. Clemens would use a self-engineered stick with a small scoop at the end to pour sand into the jar and then a pointed stick to move the grains into place. In the July 29, 1875 issue the North Iowa Times wrote of his craft:

Andrew Clemens“On Saturday we had the pleasure of viewing the handiwork of Andrew Clemens, who is engaged in bottling the various colors of sand from Pictured Rocks. One jar of this sand, representing the forty odd colors, weighing twenty pounds, we particularly admired as displaying the skill and ingenuity of the young artist who has arranged the various colors in an attractive, artistic and skillful manner. […] The young artist was just fourteen days engaged upon this one jar […]”

Upon completion, Clemens would seal the bottle and adhere a label to the bottom detailing the origin of the sand, his name and location. Few of these magnificent creations exist today due their fragility. However, those that have come up to auction have sold for high amounts.

Andrew ClemensThe pictured work of sand art by Clemens c. 1890 sold at Skinner in 2016 for $81,180. On one side is a carefully crafted eagle holding an American flag surrounded by geometric patterns, while on the other is a dove above a floral motif with a continuation of the colorful all over design. The object far exceeded the estimate of $8,000-12,000 proving that collectors vie to have one of his works in their collection. The wonderful sand art has also been featured in two episodes of the PBS series Antiques Roadshow. Discovered at the 2002 Hot Springs, AK event, a man brought “colored sand in a jar” that had been presented to his Great Grandfather from two of his friends. Wes Cowan appraised the object by Clemens for an auction estimate of $4,000-$6,000. The clip can be watched here. More recently, an Andrew Clemens work of art was featured on a Harrisburg, PA episode that took place in the summer of 2017. Appraiser Allan Katz informed the owner that the one-of-a-kind jar would retail for $30,000-$50,000. The clip can be watched here.

Sadly, Andrew Clemens died of tuberculosis in 1894 at the age of 37. His sand art is remarkable. It took patience, precision, and perfect technique to craft such objects that have yet to be recreated today.

View of Round-Top in the Catskill Mountains

‘Thomas Cole’s Journey’ at The Metropolitan Museum of Art

On January 30th the exhibition Thomas Cole’s Journey Atlantic Crossings opened at The Metropolitan Museum of Art. The exhibition celebrates one of America’s leading landscape painters, Thomas Cole (1801-1848), who first immigrated to the United States 200 years ago. He continued to cross the Atlantic multiple times, including a return journey to England in 1829-1831, a trip to Italy in 1831-1832, and another trip to America, specifically New York, from 1832-1837. Designed to highlight these travels the exhibition is arranged in six sections including, Industrial England, American Wilderness, London: Imperial Metropolis, Italy: The Grand Tour, Consummation, and Cole’s Legacy.

Dudley, Worcestershire
Dudley, Worcestershire, ca. 1832

The first gallery, Industrial England, contains works that give insight into the world in which Cole grew up. He lived in England at the height of the Industrial Revolution as the factory system and machine processing were on the rise. Urban life was booming and this can be seen in the art of those before him. Included in this gallery is Dudley, Worcestershire by Joseph Mallord William Turner (1775-1851) which depicts the new industrialized city. From the point of view of a busy canal port, we can see smoke stacks in the background and pollution entering the atmosphere. In viewing landscapes such as this we can see the harsh juxtaposition between the place that Cole grew up and the tranquil nature scenes that he later painted.

View of Round-Top in the Catskill Mountains
View of Round-Top in the Catskill Mountains, 1827

In 1818, Cole and his family immigrated from Liverpool to Philadelphia and later, in 1825, relocated to New York. Already yearning to be a painter, Cole took lessons and studied historical greats. During his first summer in New York he took a steamboat up the Hudson River where he began his exploration of the American landscape through painting. The great 1827 oil painting View of Round-Top in the Catskill Mountains is a prime example of the style that Cole has become so well known for. Devoid of all human interaction his landscapes were the opposite of the England in which he was raised. Cole’s relationship with the American wilderness would influence generations of artists to come.

Effect for Newstead Abbey, Nottinghamshire, England
Effect for Newstead Abbey, Nottinghamshire, England, 1830

Cole arrived in London in the summer of 1829 to study the artists of Europe and paint the land of his birth. There he created works of art that boldly contrast his quiet landscapes of America. Effect for Newstead Abbey, Nottinghamshire, England, an 1830 work, completely lacks color. The clouds in the sky are dark and dangerous, the figures in the foreground appear as silhouettes. The work greatly contrasts View of Round-Top in the Catskill Mountains but echoes paintings by his predecessors, such as the earlier discussed Dudley, Worcestershire by J. M. W. Turner.

Interior of the Colosseum, Rome
Interior of the Colosseum, Rome, 1832

In the summer of 1831 Cole traveled to Italy where he resided in Florence, the Tuscan countryside, and Rome. It was in these places that he expanded his skills by focusing on the human figure and sketching while visiting important classical and Renaissance landmarks. In Interior of the Colosseum, Rome the viewer enters the great Colosseum, desolate and overrun with green flora. It is in this painting that Cole combines his interest in England and America as the man made structure of the Colosseum is reclaimed by nature.

Progress (The Advance of Civilization)
Progress (The Advance of Civilization), 1853

In 1832, Cole returned to New York and worked heavily in the Catskills to produce some of his most iconic works that would continue to influence generations of future artists. He took on students and established a tradition of landscape painting later know as the Hudson River School. The pictured oil on canvas by Asher Brown Durand painted in 1853 shows Cole’s legacy. Progress (The Advance of Civilization) speaks directly to the environmental issues tackled in his works — the left side is peaceful wilderness juxtaposed by the figures on the right and enhanced by the title. Cole painted to illustrate the beauty of the wild Earth and as manifest destiny, the expansion of the United States throughout America, increased in popularity the importance of his works grew.

Cole died at the age of 47 leaving a great legacy to be remembered and studied by painters and scholars for decades to come.

The exhibition will run until May 13, 2018. For more information visit the exhibition website here.

A catalog was produced in conjunction with the exhibition and can be purchased through the Met store.

‘Alphonse Mucha: Master of Art Nouveau’ Opens at The Hyde Collection

This past weekend The Hyde Collection opened the exhibition Alphonse Mucha: Master of Art Nouveau which is on view through March 18, 2018.

Alphonse Mucha 'JOB'Alphonse Mucha (1860-1939) was a Czechoslovakian artist who worked in Paris and established himself as a leader of the Art Nouveau movement. Preceding Art Deco, Art Nouveau was a visual, architectural, and decorative style popular from the late 1880s until the First World War. It featured highly-stylized forms inspired by those found in nature, such as curving plants and flowers. Beautiful women with long hair and seductive looks are frequent central characters.

Mucha trademarked these characteristics throughout the work which varied from advertisements, posters, and paintings to jewelry and wallpaper designs. The women were reminiscent of those found in Neoclassical paintings with long dresses that appear to be robes; flowers often form a halo around their heads. Text frequently played an important role in his poster works, such as in the 1896 color lithograph for Job cigarette paper. Here, a woman with long, sweeping hair holds a cigarette in her hand as smoke rises in a natural, curving zig zag form. ‘JOB’ is partially hidden by the female figure’s hair which extends out of the central poster and into the border inspired by mosaic work.

Alphonse Mucha: Master of Art Nouveau includes lithographs, drawings, books, posters, portfolios, and ephemera selected from the Dhawan Collection. It is curated by Gabriel Weisberg, Professor of Art History, University of Minnesota, Twin Cities and organized by Landau Traveling Exhibitions. It has previously traveled to other venues, including the Carnegie Arts Center in Turlock, California and the Dayton Art Institute in Dayton, Ohio.

Alphonse Mucha 'The Slav Epic'Located a half hour North of Saratoga Springs, The Hyde Collection was founded by Charlotte Pruyn Hyde in 1952 to exhibit “the permanent collection and to promote and cultivate the improvement of the fine arts.” The core collection acquired by Hyde and her husband includes works by artists such as Pablo Picasso, Sandro Botticelli,Rembrandt, and Peter Paul Rubens. There is also a modern and contemporary collection with works by artists including Sol LeWitt, Robert Rauschenberg, and Josef Albers. The Hyde Collection is a unique institution in the Capital District. They are open Sunday 12 PM – 5 PM and Tuesday-Saturday 10 AM – 5 PM. General admission is $12 and seniors are $10. It is free for members, students with ID, children under 12 and active military.

To learn more about Alphonse Mucha please visit the Mucha Foundation website.

To learn more about The Hyde Collection please visit their website.

Adore & Adorn: Vintage Native American Silver Jewelry

Native American Jewelry Sterling Silver Turquoise Squash Blossom At Mark Lawson Antiques, we appreciate and enjoy style, artistry, and craftsmanship. Though we are fortunate enough to see an array of beautiful antique items every day, we take special delight in evaluating and buying Southwest Native American jewelry. This traditional type of jewelry developed in part through contact with Spanish Colonials of Mexico and trade with early European fur trappers. Of course, Native Americans always hand-crafted bodily adornments, but it was not until the 1850s that they began to really work with silver as a medium to create jewelry.

A Brief History of Native American Silver Jewelry Production

The earliest known artist was a Navajo man named Atsidi Sani (c1830 – c1918). He was a noted ironsmith who also learned how to work with silver. Atsidi Sani realized the potential of the jewelry industry and taught his sons the trade. It was a popular livelihood because it fulfilled the desire to create beautiful objects while also financially providing for families. The profession remains very much a family or community based industry today.American Indian Jewelry Native American Turquoise Engraved Cuff Bracelet Sterling Silver

The introduction of the railroad in the American Southwest in the 1870s/80s allowed for a rise in tourism. Soon, Native American jewelry became a very desirable souvenir. Trading posts and souvenir shops sprang up all over the Southwest to keep up with the tourist demand. Silversmithing was suddenly a thriving industry on many reservations. The collectible value and demand for the jewelry has waxed and waned over the years, but Native American jewelry remains an outstanding example of handicraft and skill.

Common Examples of Styles & Makers

The majority of the Southwestern jewelry that folks bring in for us to buy are products of the Navajo, Zuni, Hopi, and the Santo Domingo Pueblo (Kewa Pueblo). Native American Jewelry American Indian Stone Inlay Turquoise Onyx Mother of Pearl Bolo Tie HopiThe lion’s share of silversmiths are Navajo, but each group has their own style and design motifs.

For example, the jewelry of the Zuni tribe is characterized by their fine lapidary work, which includes cluster pieces, mosaics, and inlay. The Hopi are known for their overlay work, and the Santo Domingo Pueblo most notably for their stone and shell beadwork and mosaics. The silver work of the Navajos focuses more simply on the silver itself and engraving rather than on other features such as stones or inlay. Even though each tribe is noted for a certain design style, the use of motifs was fluid and could have been crafted by any one of the Southwestern groups. Signatures certainly help in terms of identification of artist. Additionally, signed pieces sometimes add a premium to the overall value of the jewelry.

Some of the more famous vintage Native American jewelry makers include:

  • Charles Loloma (1921-1991), Hopi. Hallmark: Impressed stylized signature “Loloma”
  • Kenneth Begay-Navajo. Active from 1948-1962. His nickname is “Father of Modern Navajo Jewelry”. He worked for almost 20 years at the famous White Hogan Gallery. Hallmark: KB
  • Ruth Ann Begay-Navajo. Hallmark: RB
  • Richard Begay-Navajo. Hallmark: RB
  • Tommy Singer-Navajo specializing in chip-inlay jewelry. Tommy learned the craft from his father. Hallmark: T. Singer
  • Raymond C. Yazzie-Navajo

American Indian “Pawn” Jewelry

“Pawn” is a subset of collectible American Indian silver jewelry. The term “Pawn” dates to the 1880s. It refers to a system within the reservation through which silversmiths could pawn their personal jewelry at trading posts in exchange for cash or goods. Sometimes the original owner was not able to buy back the pawned jewelry within the agreed time. American Indian Pawn Turquoise inlay Belt Buckle Signed SIn those cases, the trading posts were free to sell the pawned goods. For many Native Americans, the pawned jewelry was of more value than just personal adornment. It was a form of portable wealth and an amulet to protect health. This trade system was a sad testament to the often economically lean times of Native American life on the reservation. It is rare to come across a true piece of documented pawn jewelry.

The types of Native American jewelry that we typically see and buy include cuff Vintage Sterling Silver Navajo Signed BY Bracelet American Indian Native American Jewelrybracelets, necklaces (often Navajo Squash Blossom motif), rings, bolo ties, earrings, concha belts, and belt buckles. The most common decorative accents are turquoise, coral, shell, and spiny oyster shell. It is important to remember that some vintage and modern Southwestern style jewelry is not always Native American in origin. If you think you have pieces of vintage Native American jewelry and would like to find out their value, we would be happy to help.

If you have any questions, or would like to schedule an appointment for a free evaluation, call us today at (518) 587-8787. We have offices in Saratoga Springs and Colonie, conveniently located for our clients in the Albany, NY and surrounding Capital Region.

 

Additional Resources:

Examples of Native American Silver Jewelry in Museum Collections, Smithsonian Institution of the National Museum of the American Indian

Resource for Common American Indian Maker’s Marks/ Signatures, Native American Jewelry Artists
& South West Shop Hallmarks

Toys on the Move: Mechanical Tin Lithographs

Antique c1900 German S.G. Gunthermann Tin Litho Wind-up Toy Car & Driver

 

 

Wind-up tin lithographs are wonderful examples of the type of collectible toys that clients bring to Mark Lawson Antiques. The most common kinds that we see are automobiles, motorcycles, amusement park rids, popular entertainment characters, and robots. Wind-up mechanical toys have surprisingly uncomplicated inner workings but their form and decoration are incredibly variable. It is this variability and their amusing charm that make tin lithograph toys so desirable and collectible.

A Brief History of Tin Lithograph Toys

Tin toys were first introduced in the mid-19th century and were decorated in detail by hand. Eventually, the technology developed to the point where offset lithographs were used to print the decorations onto rubber rollers, which was then applied to the tin surface. TheVintage 1920s/30s German Tippco Tin Litho Wind-Up Two Seated Motorcycle Toy colorful, and durable toys were a great deal less expensive to produce and ship than those made from cast iron and wood. Given this improvement, by the 1920s, manufacturers were able to mass produce the toys for an eager audience.

At the turn of the century, Germany led the field in mechanical tin lithograph toy production. France and England also had major manufactures, but were unable to reach the meteoric levels of those in Germany. Across the pond, American companies had a slow start, but, due in part to anti-German sentiment following World War I, eventually became major players in the market.Rare Antique c1900 German Lehmann Tin Windup Toy Bicycle Motorcycle

Companies on both sides of the Atlantic advantageously produced toys based on popular characters and celebrities of the day. Newspaper comic strip and movie characters were especially popular inspirations. Walt Disney related toys may be the most prominent example of media influencing the direction of mass toy production. World War II was a turning point for most European tin lithograph companies, as the raw materials were diverted to the war effort. These companies never regained their foothold in the business and Japan eventually surpassed all to become the largest selling country of manufacture.

Collectible Brands

Vintage 1930s Marx Merrymakers Wind-up Mouse Band Tin Lithograph ToyWe are happy to see all kinds of mechanical tin lithograph toys, but these are some of the more collectible brands to look for:

  • Ernst Paul Lehmann (German)
  • Louis Marx Toy Co (American)
  • Girard (American)
  • Chein (American)
  • Courtland Manufacturing Company (American)
  • Strauss (American)
  • KO (Japan)

 

Value

Vintage 1950s Tin Friction Japanese Toy Sci-Fi Space Adventure RobotThe collectible value for tin litho toys depends on maker, condition, type, and relative rarity. If you have the original box, the value goes up exponentially. Generally, the hand painted tin toys are very rare and will get premium prices. Wind-up robots will also garner much collectible interest. We make no secret of it: we love to see (and play with) tin lithograph toys so feel free to call us at 518-587-8787 or email at marklawsonantiques@gmail.com to set up an appointment today.

 

Additional Resources

Civil War Era Tin Wind-up Horse Drawn Carriage, Smithsonian Institution National Museum of American History

Charles Lindbergh Spirit of St. Louis Tin Toy Airplane, Smithsonian Institution National Air and Space Museum

1950s Red Rosko Spaceman Astronaut Tin Toy, Smithsonian Institution National Air and Space Museum

 

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