Early Americans saved family history with decorative Frakturs

August 2022

ANTIQUE DETECTIVE

Early Americans saved family history with decorative Frakturs

by Anne Gilbert

Frakturs show family history in pictures

These days when we get a printed birth or marriage certificate, we put the document in a drawer or bank document box. It was a far different matter back in the early 18th century. There was no bureau of vital statistics. The result was the appearance of documents called “Frakturs” by the German Americans who immigrated to America at the time. They settled around Berks County, NY, and Lancaster PA (and later, to York County, NY). Their colorfully illustrated documents were framed and hung on the wall.

Frakturs are now considered an art form. When examples recently came to a Pooks and Pooks June auction, price results ranged from $2,000 to $7,000. They were from the collection of Donald and Patricia Herr. Many are in museum collections in America and around the world as folk art.

Historically, the first Fraktur typefaces originated in Germany in the early 16th century. The word “fraktur” refers to the broken appearance of the Gothic or Old English style of printing. The correct pronunciation is “frock-tour.” The first examples were horizontal and later became vertical.

In America, the immigrants continued the German tradition of making Frakturs. Highly ornamental, hand-drawn and colored, they were done by the educated members of the community, which included schoolmasters, clergymen or itinerant artists. The schoolmaster had to do legal papers of births, baptisms and marriages.

Their illustrations came from a variety of sources such as textile pattern books from European countries. Also popular were illustrations of stylized birds and animals. Other subjects were adapted from heraldic drawings, including unicorns and mermaids. Many had elaborate borders with scroll work or bird wings. An unusual border depicting Adam and Eve was used on birth certificates by George Frederich Speyer (1714-1801).

Frakturs required skill just to make paper and create the proper illuminated inks, tints and dyes. Examples were not always signed. A signature by a known artist raises the value. Two important Pennsylvania Fraktur artists who signed were Henrich Lehn and David Herr. Their colorfully illustrated Frakturs can fetch $7,000 or more at auction.

Many Fraktur artists were itinerant. They often prepared their documents before traveling and created the artwork, leaving blank spaces to be filled in by the buyers. The results were framed and displayed. 

Learning the ABCs, graphite, and watercolour

A parrot image Fraktur by David Herr.

A parrot image Fraktur by David Herr.
(Image courtesy of Pook and Pook Auctions, Pennsylvania)

 

The invention of the printing press made the early Fraktur techniques almost obsolete. During the Victorian eras, colorful Frakturs were popular; however, some were still being created in the 1920s. There are many artists continuing the craft today.

CLUES: While usually angels were used on religious Frakturs, there was an exception. Berks County Fraktur artist David Peterman, who worked from the early 19th century to 1870, used figures of women. During the years, he changed their hairstyles and clothing to the fashion of the times.

To learn more about Fraktur and New York artists, check out books by June Lloyd, New York historian.

Anne Gilbert has been self-syndicating the ANTIQUE DETECTIVE to such papers as the Chicago Sun-Times and the Miami Herald since 1983.
She has authored nine books on antiques, collectibles, and art and appeared on national TV.
She has done appraisals for museums and private individuals.

Commemorative collectibles depict historical events

July 2022

ANTIQUE DETECTIVE

Commemorative collectibles depict historical events

by Anne Gilbert

Commemorative items for Collectors

The recent celebration of Queen Elizabeth II’s Platinum Jubilee has created many commemorative items for collectors. There are t-shirts, coffee mugs and cushion covers, to mention only a few.

Famous people from presidents to inventors and celebrities have been immortalized as collectible objects — George Washington, Benjamin Franklin and Martin Luther King Jr. among them.

Historical events from battles to Charles Lindbergh’s solo, nonstop transatlantic flight to actors and musical groups have been and are being made by limited editions companies such as The Bradford Exchange. While early examples are mostly in museums, many still come up at auctions. Who knows how many are awaiting your discovery?

Historically, commemorative and jubilee souvenir items go back several hundreds of years. European and American history used plates, figurines and a variety of ceramics and glass to display political and cultural events and causes.

The earliest British Jubilee commemorative item is a Delftware plate made late in the reign of Queen Elizabeth I in 1600. In 1680, a commemorative mug was made during the reign of Charles II.

Developments in manufacturing techniques allowing images and designs to be transferred to pottery in the early 19th century were created in 1760.  A Worcester pitcher was made commemorating the death of King George II. One side showed his likeness, the other one of his naval battles. A current price offering one is $9,000.       

Learning the ABCs, graphite, and watercolour

A souvenir cut paper rose depicting historic monuments.

A souvenir cut paper rose depicting historic monuments.
(Image courtesy of Museum City of New York)

Learning the ABCs, graphite, and watercolour

A George Washington pitcher

A George Washington pitcher. (Image courtesy of The Chipstone Foundation, Foxpoint, WI)

George Washington and Benjamin Franklin were two favorite subjects for Wedgewood potters in the 1800s. Franklin’s trip to England, when he received the Copley Award for his experiments on lighting and electricity, were honored by Stafford pottery figures.
Queen Victoria’s Golden Jubilee in 1887 offered a variety of commemorative collectibles such as ceramics, woven silk pictures, wallpaper and pipes.

By the middle of the 19th century, important commercial events were happening, creating a growing market for commemorative items. The Crystal Palace’s “Great Exhibition in Hyde Park, London, England” (1851) was the first World’s Fair to exhibit items relating to culture and industry. It included a great diversity of souvenirs, with images ranging from medals to mugs and thimbles.

Not to be outdone, in America, New York City created “The Crystal Palace of Industry Works of All Nations” in 1853. Like the London version, it was made of iron and glass.

Unfortunately, the floor was made of pitch pine. Somehow it caught fire and burned to the ground on Oct. 5, 1858. Currier and Ives created a colorful print depicting firemen fighting the blaze.

The most interesting souvenir is known as “The Rose.” Made of a flat piece of cardboard, it opened again and again in the form of petals, each petal depicting a steel engraving of points of interest. When closed, it was in the form of a colorful full-blown rose. Hundreds were made and printed around the world.

The year 1893 marked the opening of the Columbian Exposition in Chicago. The souvenirs depicted images of Christopher Columbus and various exhibition buildings and events.

Chicago’s World’s Fair in 1933 and New York’s World’s Fair in 1964 created many types of souvenirs still available and inexpensive. The Union Pacific exhibit handed out aluminum coins to promote the use of metal in their new trains.

Commemorative items often had a dark side. In Great Britain there was a serious Abolitionist movement beginning in 1783 to end slavery in the United Kingdom and the world. In 1833, an act of Parliament in most British Colonies was passed, freeing more than 800,000 enslaved Africans in the Caribbean, South Africa and Canada.

There were many abolitionists and an Abolitionist Society had created drawing of a black man in chains and the words, “Am I not a man and a brother?” Josiah Wedgwood, England’s most famous potter, convinced his friend, Thomas Clarkson, a member of the Society, to create a medallion that incorporated the image. It became the most famous portrayal of a black person in all of 18th-century art. A medallion was sent to Benjamin Franklin who was then president of the Pennsylvania Abolition Society. The image was reproduced not only on crockery but fashionable objects from bracelets to being inlaid in gold on snuffboxes. The Wedgwood medallion is and was the most famous image of a black slave in all of 18th-century art.

Anne Gilbert has been self-syndicating the ANTIQUE DETECTIVE to such papers as the Chicago Sun-Times and the Miami Herald since 1983.
She has authored nine books on antiques, collectibles, and art and appeared on national TV.
She has done appraisals for museums and private individuals.

Some surprising facts about early American folk art portrait artists

June 2022

ANTIQUE DETECTIVE

Some surprising facts about early American folk art portrait artists

by Anne Gilbert

Paintings and prints of family ancestors, whether they are American, Chinese, English, or from another country, continue to be popular collectibles. They can be formal or folk-art style, done in oil, watercolor, or pastels. Prints are also currently popular at bargain prices. Price can be determined if they are signed, unsigned, or attributed to the artist.

The portraits done by American itinerant artists, known as “folk artists” or “naive” painters, can also be priced for thousands of dollars. They worked usually in the Northeast, moving from place to place. Many began their livelihood painting furniture and signs.
Folk art painters of the 18th and early 19th centuries created their own stylistic techniques that help identify many of their unsigned pieces.

Ammi Phillips (1788-1865), Wm. Matthew Prior (1806-1873), Horace Bundy (1814-1883), and Rufus Hathaway (1770-1822)  are among the most important documented. Prior is of special interest since he was an abolitionist who also painted portraits of African-Americans. Hathaway was a physician.  But what about Joshua Johnson (1763-1824)?

Johnson is one of the few documented African-American portrait folk artists in the late 18th to early 19th centuries. After he received his freedom, he was listed as a portrait painter or limner in Baltimore city directories beginning in 1796. Remaining examples are of white people. His painting of “The Westwood Children” is part of the National Gallery collection. Eighty-three of his paintings are recorded.

While many American women did folk art paintings at that time, their subjects were usually family and friends. They are mostly undocumented. An exception is Mary B. Tucker (1824-1898). She began doing watercolor profile portraits at age 16.

Learning the ABCs, graphite, and watercolour

Learning the ABCs, graphite, and watercolour

Learning the ABCs, graphite, and watercolour on paper, Mary B. Tucker, artist. (Image courtesy of Folk Art Museum, New York)

CLUES:

One major difference in formal and folk portraits is the concentration on faces. Bodies, arms, and hands seem misshapen in the folk portraits. Backgrounds for the most part were draperies, solid colors, or window-framed landscapes.  The portraits created in the naïve style were a status symbol even in the 18th and early 19th centuries when done for the upper and merchant American classes. During the 1876 Philadelphia Centennial, thousands of “Colonial ancestor portraits” were created in oil and watercolors. Fast forward to the 1976 Bicentennial, when once again folk art portraits became popular and collectible. The result was a lot of faking as well as “fixing.” Many fakes were made and sold as “in the manner of” or attributed to William Matthew Prior. Age cracks were painted on in a dark color with a fine brush. A new product even came out that added a crackled look.

Sometimes signatures were added to an old painting. Warts and crossed eyes were removed. Charming pets such as dogs and were added to increase the value. They still are being passed off as authentic. Get a certificate of authenticity before paying big bucks.
Prints of the most popular folk art portraits are bargain-priced — some as low as $25.

Artists are still working in the folk art style if you would like family portraits done in that style.

Anne Gilbert has been self-syndicating the ANTIQUE DETECTIVE to such papers as the Chicago Sun-Times and the Miami Herald since 1983.
She has authored nine books on antiques, collectibles, and art and appeared on national TV.
She has done appraisals for museums and private individuals.

Mustache sentiment cups make trendy bargains

May 2022

ANTIQUE DETECTIVE

Mustache sentiment cups make trendy bargains

by Anne Gilbert

Take a look — Mustaches and beards are seen everywhere! It couldn’t be a better time to give a second glance to gifting or collecting antique and vintage mustache sentiment cups. You probably aren’t familiar with them, but beginning in the mid-19th century they were a “hot” necessity. They have never stopped being made around the world and were part of the sentiment cup gift craze that began in the 19th century.

Sentiment cups had a variety of greetings. “Merry Christmas” was a favorite. Other popular greetings were “To a friend,” “remember me” and “a friend.” Among the most collectible are those with a copper luster glaze and applied-raised motifs, such as fruit and flowers.

Their decoration technique was often done during the hand painting hobby in America during the first few years of the 20th century. They were also made in sterling silver by companies such as Tiffany.

Historically, the mustache cup was invented in 1860 by an Englishman, Harvey Adams. The cup had a ledge with one semicircular opening against the side of the cup. The mustache stayed safe and dry on the guard. The new invention was soon available all over Europe and America. Companies such as Royal Crown Derby, Limoges, and Royal Bayreuth; others created their own versions.

From 1860 to 1916, the British Military actually required all of the military brass to wear mustaches as an image of authority. Since mustache wax was applied to keep mustaches stiff, drinking hot liquids would melt the wax, causing it to drip into the liquid. The rimmed mustache cup solved the problem.

Antique Victorian mustache cups

Antique Victorian mustache cups

Antique Victorian mustache cups and saucers (Image courtesy of Violet & Valley Antiques)

Mustache spoons

Mustache spoons were created at the same time to keep men’s mustaches from getting entangled with soup vegetables.

The earliest made in America were marked with names, leading buyers to think they were made in England, since English ceramics were popular at the time.

Between 1920 and 1930, mustaches went out of style. As a result, few cups were made.

CLUES:

In the 1970s reproductions of Victorian mustache and sentiment cups were made in Japan. They were marked on the bottom, in red, R.S. Prussia.

Currently, prices are under $50, so it’s a great time to start a collection.

Anne Gilbert has been self-syndicating the ANTIQUE DETECTIVE to such papers as the Chicago Sun-Times and the Miami Herald since 1983.
She has authored nine books on antiques, collectibles, and art and appeared on national TV.
She has done appraisals for museums and private individuals.

The history of animal cracker containers and other tins

April 2022

ANTIQUE DETECTIVE

The history of animal cracker containers and other tins

by Anne Gilbert

 

Chances are that you or someone in your family have eaten animal crackers and loved every bite. Perhaps you are even a collector of the tin boxes they came in. They have been woven into our culture in many ways. One example is the song sung by Shirley Temple in 1935, “Animal Crackers In My Soup.” “Animal Crackers” was also the name of a 1938 Marx Brothers film. In 2017 they were part of an animated film by the name “Animal Crackers” as magical animal crackers.

The original tin box design depicted four caged wild circus animals. However, in 2018 the animal rights group PETA forced a design change that now shows five wild animals together, free in an African landscap.

The tins are an important part of advertising tin box history that began in England in 1877 with the development of colorful lithography. By the end of the 19th century, companies were hiring artists to showcase their products on tin. Early designers often depicted popular fads and fashions from mid-Victorian through the Art Nouveau to Art Deco eras.

By the late 19th century, animal-shaped crackers or “biscuits,” in British terms were imported to America. They became so popular that bakers in America began making them by 1871, Animal “biscuits” were made in 1902 by The National Biscuit Co. They became officially known as “Barnum’s Animals” after the then-popular Barnum & Bailey Circus. Fifty-three different animals have been depicted since 1902.

In 1948, the company changed the product name to the current name of “Barnum’s Animal Crackers.”  Currently, several American companies make animal crackers and sell them in a variety of tin containers.

 

animal crackers old design tin

85th anniversary original design tin

The 85TH anniversary original design of the animal crackers tin. (Image courtesy of Jametek@gmail.com.)

Collector Interest

Collector interest took off in the 1960s. At that time, there were still plenty of authentic and unusual examples to be found. When small grocery and drug stores closed to make way for supermarkets and drug chains, old advertising items, including tins, were tossed.

Many of the early collectors were young, “hip” advertising executives. They saw it as a great career-collectible that tied in with their work. By the 1970s reproductions of early novelty, tins appeared.

CLUES:

Prices are modest, usually in the $25 range. However, the 1987 anniversary tin box in the original design can cost more than $100. Now is the time to add to a collection.

Anne Gilbert has been self-syndicating the ANTIQUE DETECTIVE to such papers as the Chicago Sun-Times and the Miami Herald since 1983.
She has authored nine books on antiques, collectibles, and art and appeared on national TV.
She has done appraisals for museums and private individuals.