On October 30, 2011, Skinner will offer the first part of the Early Photography collection of Rod MacKenzie in our American Furniture & Decorative Arts auction. Read Part I of this series to learn more about Rod MacKenzie’s sophisticated taste as a collector. MacKenzie’s extensive knowledge of American history, particularly of the Civil War, is represented by dozens of extraordinary images of military officers and soldiers. The collection includes portraits of soldiers of all types: officers, dashing men in uniform, and images of heart-breakingly young men headed off to war. In looking at these images, we feel tantalizingly close to the battlefield and to the figures taking part in military history. Notes tucked behind case liners, such as “taken at Newbern, No. Carolina 1863 WLW Private C. E. 44th Mass,” bring us in even closer.
Tag Archives: Americana
Daguerreotypes are a reminder of a time when photography was very different from the “point-and-shoot” instant pictures of today. Now, you carry a camera in the cell phone in your back pocket everywhere you go. Then, photographers were purveyors of state-of-the-art technology.
In fact, the 19th century photographers who made these long-exposure images were referred to as daguerrean artists, and quickly supplanted the portrait painters of the day. The artists “images,” particularly daguerreotypes, were valued for their clarity and honesty in representation.
A few months ago, I wrote a blog post titled “Welcome to Grunge School: Where you Learn to Leave Original Surface Alone.” Those of us who have been immersed in the antiques world our whole lives all know horror stories of wonderful relics that were lost to naïve or over-exuberant refinishing or repainting. Here is a story that was left as a comment on my blog post. It makes me cringe to read it.
A new exhibit at Old Sturbridge Village, “By the Fireside,” opens this weekend on September 10, 2011 to display a strong collection of overmantel paintings, fireboards, andirons, and more. For a look back in time at daily life around a 19th century hearth, read Part I of the interview. In this post, we’ll take a look at some of the exhibit highlights.
In most homes today, a big screen TV or entertainment system gets the place of honor in the center of a living room or family room. Two hundred years ago, things were different. The room was called a parlor, and burning at its center for most of the year in New England was the hearth.
On August 13, in association with a highly regarded collection of Vermont Decorative Arts being offered at auction at Skinner the following day, we were lucky enough to welcome Philip Zea, who presented the lecture, “Cabinet Furniture in All its Variety: Vermont Craftsmanship, 1780-1850,” to about 70 attendees. Mr. Zea is President of Historic Deerfield, a noted scholar in the field of American Furniture and Decorative Arts, and an authority on the history of Vermont cabinetmaking. His well-received, informative, and often amusing talk can be heard here.
I’ve always been attracted to antique mirrors, and have been collecting them for quite a while. One time, my mother came to an auction preview I’d put together as director of the American Furniture & Decorative Arts department at Skinner. She was in her nineties at this point, and not a stranger to blunt questions. She took one look at an antique mirror on the wall, and asked, “Why would anyone want that?” It was a Queen Anne mirror with totally untouched surface. The glass was reflective, but so foggy and misty from age that it wouldn’t really be useful as a mirror. Still, it was worth thousands of dollars.
When you see a nice rooster or running horse weathervane with great original surface, you might comment, “What fabulous folk art!” In reality, most antique weathervanes that collectors buy and sell were actually manufactured in large quantities and marketed to the general public. These weathervanes do not fit the traditional definition of folk art, or objects made by a person who wasn’t academically trained working in an isolated area.
The chair pictured here, you may realize, used to be about three and a half inches taller than it is now. For some unknown reason its long-ago owner, whether by necessity or choice, lowered it. Maybe it became water damaged or rotten. Maybe one foot cracked and weakened and the easiest way to make the chair’s other legs useful was to just even ‘em all out. Maybe the owner wanted his child to be able to sit in it more easily.
One of the guiding principles behind understanding the value of antiques is the notion of “good, better, best”— the idea that seemingly similar pieces can vary in quality, construction, and history. These differences often result in a wide range of prices for the same kind of item. Understanding the “good, better, best” principle, and knowing as possible about a particular piece will ensure that as a buyer, you don’t pay too much, and as a seller, you estimate your antique accurately so that it sells well at auction.