Monday, May 25, 2009

The Exquisite Needlework of Appenzell Embroidery
by Lynda Kolski (01/05/09).

Some of the finest white-on-white hand embroidery comes from a small town at the foot of the Alps in northeast Switzerland. Named for the town where it originated, Appenzell embroidery has been produced since the late 1700s.

These towels are nice examples of Appenzell embroidery, although because they are only floral without any figures, they are not as highly desired.
Through the 18th and 19th century, this exquisite needlework was done by hand by thousands of women working at home. The industry flourished during the early 1900s, when some of the best work was produced. Today, there are only a few embroiderers who continue to do this fine, time-consuming needlework. Strolling down the main street of Appenzell today, by the many early homes, you can look up at the rows of windows that provided bright daylight for the upstairs workshops and imagine the women bent over their embroidery hoops creating beautiful heirloom pieces.

Buratto work fills the center of the flower.
Appenzell is usually done on a fine Irish linen fabric with linen embroidery thread. The background consists of Buratto work, which is a grid or net type of needlework. True Appenzell embroidery will have lots of tiny five-petal flowers. The embroidery consists of a very fine satin-stitch embroidery and delicate seed stitches that are so tiny and exquisite, it’s hard to imagine it was done by hand. In fact, often women doing the embroidery worked under a magnifying glass. The satin stitching is used as a filer for various parts of the embroidery from full figures to the smallest flourish, or as a fine scallop along the border. Although Appenzell is considered whitework, often pieces will have a soft gray, silver or light blue shadow, which accents the fine stitching. In addition, the borders often are highlighted by a row or two of fine hemstitching.

Notice the tiny seed stitches in the bottom center of this towel.
Figures are commonly found in Appenzell embroidery, ranging from Victorian couples in all their finery to hunt scenes, or, less commonly, battle scenes. Sometimes children are depicted, or just a man or woman’s head. Pieces with figures are more desirable than, for example, a piece with just an urn of flowers, which is another common theme.
Appenzell embroidery is becoming harder and harder to find. It is also difficult to accurately identify a piece of true Appenzell, since similar types of work were done in other parts of Europe, particularly during the early 20th century. The most accurate way to verify a piece as true Appenzell is if it still carries the original label or tag. Since most labels were removed, however, it’s rare to find a piece with the label still attached. Most textile experts refer to pieces as Appenzell-style or Appenzell-type if the origin cannot be documented.

Delicate, five-pedal flowers are characteristic of Appenzell embroidery.
Lynda Kolski is a Worthologist who specializes in early linens and textiles.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Hey buddy, got a light?
by Alan M. Petrillo_
A Dunhill 1950s Standard Unique Table Model, silver plated and engine turned with an engraved name on the base. All photos courtesy of International Vintage Lighter Exchange.
At one time, when smoking cigarettes was much more popular than today, nearly every other person carried either matches or a cigarette lighter.

While there are a lot fewer smokers today than in years past, vintage cigarette lighters still are attracting attention, but now as collectibles.
Rich Weinstein, owner of the International Vintage Lighter Exchange in Hendersonville, N.C., (, says that cigarette lighters have been collected for more than 60 years, often because people simply liked them.

A very rare Ronson 1930s Kingcase with Watch, done in Tortoise Enamel and Dureum Plate.

“Smoking was so popular back then that it was a necessity to have lighters, whether they were carried in your pocket or placed on tables in your home,” Weinstein said. “What seemed to have sparked the interest in collecting came after the advent of butane lighters, which changed the look and functionality of fire-making devices. When something seems to be going out, people become nostalgic for the ones they remember and start searching for ‘vintage lighters.’”

Weinstein noted that with lighters, as with most mechanical devices, one can follow the changes over time that they went through, how the advances in technology affected them and “marvel at the ingenuity of the people who designed them.”

Yvonne Saldate-Auld, owner of the Atlanta Antique Gallery in Chamblee, Ga., (, considers reminiscence as playing a large part in collecting vintage lighters.

“Like many other collectibles, vintage lighters are popular because they remind people of a bygone age,” Saldate-Auld said. “In addition, people admire the craftsmanship of older lighters, and when the lighters are made in the shape of animals, airplanes and other objects, they have a broad crossover appeal with other collectors.”

Weinstein believes that Zippo lighters have attracted the most attention from collectors.

“There are thousands of Zippo collectors worldwide and Zippo has its own club that helps promote the collecting of their lighters,” he said. “Second in popularity is Ronson, a lighter with an extremely long history dating from the early 1900s through the 1980s. There are many collectors who specialize only in Ronson lighters.”

Weinstein said that one of the greatest achievements in Ronson collecting was the publication of a book written by one of the foremost Ronson collectors, Urban Cummings.

“His 1993 book, ‘Ronson — The World’s Greatest Lighter,’ spans Ronson from 1913 to 1966, and these were the most prolific years for Ronson,” Weinstein pointed out. “The book helped collectors all over the world understand and enjoy the history of Ronson.”

The third most popular lighter among collectors, Weinstein said, is made by Alfred Dunhill of London. Best known for their art in lighter manufacturing, Dunhill catered to the elite as well as the regular smoker.

For the elite, Dunhill produced thousands of lighters with artistically-crafted enameling by some of the great craftsmen of their time, many of which were adorned with watches and made of precious metals. For those interested in Dunhill, the book, “The Dunhill Petrol Lighter, A Unique Story” by Luciano Bottoni, has more than 500 color photos and plenty of information on Dunhill lighters.

Mathew McLoughlin, a cigarette lighter collector and dealer associated with Saldate-Auld’s Atlanta Antique Gallery, said that cigarette lighters can run the gamut from simple flint and spark wheel mechanisms to the piezo ignition system lighter.

“Lighters with advertising slogans are very sought after by collectors,” McLoughlin said. “Companies used cigarette lighters to promote other products and gave lighters away as promotional items. Collectors are always keen to acquire these lighters to complete their collections.”

Another popular style with collectors, he pointed out, is the novelty lighter. Such lighters come in many shapes, some whimsical, such as toys or animals, and some even emit flashing lights.

“It’s interesting to note that several states have banned the sale of new novelty lighters since they appeal to children and pose a potential hazard,” McLoughlin said. “This will likely make vintage novelty lighters more sought after.”

McLoughlin noted that after the Second World War ended, the sale of lighters was led by the Japanese lighter industry.

“Between 1945 and 1952, all lighters produced in Japan were marked ‘Made in Occupied Japan,’” he said. “Today, these lighters, like the trench art and early Zippos, are regarded as relics of an era in recent history and are highly prized by collectors.”

Weinstein of International Vintage Lighter Exchange believes that fine collectible cigarette lighters are becoming harder to find.

“Each time one is bought, it reduces the availability,” he said. “Since there is a finite amount of these, scarcity is inevitable. It’s much harder to find a great, old lighter these days than it was 20 or 30 years ago.”

However, he’s sold some rare and exotic lighters in recent times, including a Dunhill enameled lighter with attached cigarette case that sported an enameled scene of Napoleon and Josephine that went for more than $15,000.

Another of his more memorable lighters sold was an extremely rare Dunhill table lighter with attached cigarette box in sterling silver called the Dunhill Pagoda that sold for $6,500. Also, Weinstein sold a rare Ronson lighter hidden in a walking stick for $3,500.

“But remember,” he pointed out, “most lighters will sell in the $20 to $100 range, so this hobby is available to many.”

Friday, May 8, 2009

Transferware china: Blue Willow is just the beginning
May 06, 2009
by Mark A. RoederSummary

Detail of transferware pattern. All photos submitted by Mark Roeder.

Transferware china is among the most beautiful china ever produced. It’s highly collectible and often highly valuable, but affordable pieces can still be found. Just what is transferware? Transferware is any pottery with decorative elements applied by transferring a pattern from a copper plate to paper and then to the pottery itself. Transfer prints are found on china, ironstone, and porcelain. There are tens of thousands of transferware patterns, but one of the most recognizable and most common is Blue Willow.

While blue is the color most commonly associated with transferware, it was produced in other colors. Some of these include red, pink, purple, cranberry, brown, black, green, yellow, gray and various shades and combinations of these colors.

While highly collectible today, transferware was originally a cheap alternative to expensive imported pieces from China. It first appeared in the late 18th century, but became extremely popular in the 1820s and 1830s. Transferware has been made continuously since that time. Most of the transferware found today was produced in the last 50 years, but earlier pieces are out there. The earliest transferware I’ve located dates to the 1820s or 1830s. This isn’t surprising as earlier transferware was produced in much smaller quantities. As a general rule of thumb, the earlier the piece, the higher the price, but this doesn’t always hold true. Condition plays a large role, of course. I purchased a damaged, unmarked, transferware cup dating from the 1830s at a local auction for $8. The price was low because the cup had a couple of old chips and a crack. I purchased it for the beautiful transferware pattern in lavender. The cup had no handle, which is typical of early cups.

Like many, my first introduction to transferware was Blue Willow. The pattern is the most widely recognized and probably the most common as well. I was attracted to its deep blue color and attractive pattern. While many pieces of Blue Willow were out of my price range, others were far more affordable. I own some vintage pieces from as early as 1910, but most of my collection is of far more recent vintage. The beauty of Blue Willow is that old and new can be easily mixed. I actually use a set of this transferware china as my everyday dishes. I purchased an eight place setting of newer Blue Willow at an auction for only $50! That’s far cheaper than most new sets.

The Blue Willow pattern tells its own story. There is more than one variation of this tale, but each tends to flow along the same lines. As the tale goes, long ago, a Chinese Mandarin, lived in a wonderful pagoda under an apple tree on the right side of the bridge seen in the pattern. He was the father of a beautiful girl, who was the promised bride of an old but wealthy merchant. The girl, however, fell in love with her father’s clerk. The lovers eloped across the sea to the cottage on the island. Her father pursued and caught the lovers and was about to have them killed when the gods transformed them into a pair of turtle doves, seen at the top of the design.

The Blue Willow story is a nice tale, but it has no real basis in fact. The pattern was not created to tell the story. Rather, the story was told after the pattern was designed. The tale isn’t Chinese either. According to different sources, it is either British or American in origin. The tale is no more than a 19th century merchandising scheme. Blue Willow itself didn’t even originate in China. It was created in England. An estimated 90 percent of older Blue Willow was made in the Staffordshire county of England, but it was also produced in other areas of Great Britain. The British Isles do not have a monopoly on Blue Willow. A great many pieces produced after 1930 were made in Japan and various other parts of the world.

Blue Willow is only the beginning, however. Over the years I’ve purchased pieces from several of the tens of thousands of patterns available. There are some real buys out there, especially if one doesn’t mind a bit of damage. At a local auction, I picked up two 19th century soup bowls in the Asiatic Pheasants pattern. Both bowls were cracked, but still useable and I got the pair for only $2! I use these as cereal bowls on an almost daily basis. Using such damaged pieces allows me to actually use antique china without the cost or worry of breakage that comes with undamaged pieces. If they were in excellent condition, my bowls would cost upwards of $40 each.

Dating transferware can be difficult. Many of the early pieces are unsigned. Many patterns made in Great Britain between 1842 and 1883, however, were registered with the Patent Office in London. The registration marks on the reverse of these pieces can be dated. British transferware made between 1890 and 1920 usually has “England” printed on the back. After 1920, the mark became “Made In England,” I’ve noted that older transferware often has richer and more plentiful color than later pieces. Manufacturers of more recent pieces tend to skimp on the amount and quality of color. This varies greatly with the manufacturer, of course, but it is another clue to age.

Values for transferware vary greatly. Early or rare pieces can run into the thousands of dollars. Price tags in the hundreds are not uncommon, but there is a great variety of transferware available in the under $100 price range. Common pieces of recent vintage, such as plates, can be quite affordable. I’ve often sold such pieces myself at flea markets for $10 or less and I regularly spot similar examples for under $25.

Transferware can be found anywhere other antiques and collectibles are located. One good source is the household auction. Very early or rare pieces don’t usually turn up at such sales, but this is a good source for more common pieces. They can sometimes be purchased in partial sets for very reasonable prices. I’ve spotted a few good buys on eBay, too, and as usual, eBay offers quite a selection. Keep in mind the cost of shipping and insurance if buying on eBay, however, as they can significantly added to the cost. Don’t expect to find great bargains, as they are definitely the exception and not the rule. Don’t let price tags in the low hundreds scare you off, though. While much transferware is quite costly, there are a great many affordable pieces out there.

Transferware is some of the most beautiful china available. Single plates and serving pieces are great for display. Partial sets are attractive on plate racks and in china cabinets. Don’t forget to make use of your transferware pieces, too! Damaged examples, common items, and pieces of recent vintage are all wonderful for everyday use.

Whether you collect a china cabinet full of transferware or just a few pieces, you’ll find it a beautiful, nostalgic, and useful collectible that will bring you pleasure for years to come.

If you haven’t collected transferware before, give it a try. I guarantee it will add to your collecting enjoyment.

Mark A. Roeder is the author of two nationally syndicated columns on antiques, Successful Antiques Collecting and Spotlight on Antiques & Collectibles. His expertise comes not only from researching antiques, but from collecting, buying, and selling them for more than three decades.