Ever been fooled by a fake or fantasy collectible? It can happen to anyone, even experts.
Two Ohr pottery vases recently were withdrawn from a sale at Sotheby’s, the prominent New York auction gallery. The assumption of most observers is that the vases were spotted as fakes before the sale began. Experts say that George Ohr (1857-1918), a potter from Biloxi, Miss., claimed he never made two pieces that were identical. The vases in the sale were the same except for their glazes.
There also were other problems with the two pieces — the thickness of the pots and the texture and appearance of their glazes. George Ohr pottery is extremely popular with art pottery collectors, and is very expensive. He is known for the originality of his work: He crumpled, pleated or stretched clay into odd shapes. Glazes were multicolored and irregular, often with flaws. Although he worked from 1883 to 1906, his work looks very modern.
Recently, many fake pieces have been offered online and at shows because collectors can be fooled by trusting the mark, not the pot. Fakes had the correct incised mark, “George Ohr,” in either his cursive handwriting or block letters. Be cautious. Authentic Ohr pottery was offered at major auctions at least five times last year. Prices ranged from hundreds of dollars for very small pieces to a large vase that sold for the record price of $84,000. A 4-3/4-inch bulbous vase with a twisted body section and a mottled blue glaze sold for $3,075 at the Rago Arts and Auction Center in Lambertville, N.J., this summer. If you are not an expert, be sure to have an expert look at any expensive piece you plan to buy, or go to a well-known, respected auction house or dealer.
Q: I have a spinet desk, the kind that has a fold-back top and looks like a spinet piano. I inherited the desk from my mother, who bought it from the H.E. Shaw Co. of Grand Rapids, Mich. But I don’t know when she bought it, and I’d like to know how old it is.
A: The H.E. Shaw Furniture Co. was in business from 1919 to 1933, so your desk is 75 to 90 years old. Shaw made oak, walnut and mahogany desks, including spinets, as well as secretaries and dining-room sets. The company specialized in Colonial and Revival styles.
Q: I inherited a large framed poster advertising Ayer’s Sarsaparilla. It’s in pretty good condition. What can you tell me about the company and my poster?
A: Dr. James Cook Ayer (1818-1878), of Lowell, Mass., was the world’s most successful producer of “patent medicines.” (Patent medicines, widely popular during the second half of the 20th century, were medically questionable concoctions that contained a large portion of alcohol or addictive drugs.) Ayer’s first recipe, introduced in 1841, was called Ayer’s Cherry Pectoral. It was a mixture of morphine, ipecac, herbs and wild-cherry syrup that was marketed as a cure for “pulmonary ills.” Ayer’s Sarsaparilla was first made in 1848. Sarsaparilla, a mixture of vines, roots, bark, clover blossoms, juices and alcohol, was sold as a cure for syphilis, boils, acne, piles, tumors and tuberculosis. Ayer was a genius at advertising, and so were his heirs. Your large poster, in excellent condition, could sell for close to $2,000. Ayer’s heirs also were good at diversifying the company by buying up sawmills, textile mills, paper mills and even iron mines. They were not good at managing their family’s fortune, though.
The man entrusted with handling their money recently was charged with defrauding the Ayer family of more than $20 million.
Q: My dishes are marked “Losol Ware by Keeling.” Can you tell me how old they are?
A: Losol Ware was made by Keeling & Co., a pottery in Staffordshire, England, founded in 1886. Early products were mainly blue-and-white wares. Losol was made from 1912 until the pottery closed in 1936.
Q: A patron at the library where I work has a 1906 Harry Coleman brass wind bugle made in Philadelphia. He would like to know if it has some collectible value.
A: Harry Coleman made band instruments and was also an arranger and publisher of music for band, orchestra and piano. He was John Philip Sousa’s publisher for about seven years. Coleman’s exhibit of cornets and military band instruments won an award at the 1893 Columbian Exposition in Chicago. Some of his “brass wind” instruments are listed for sale under the brand name “Artist” in a c. 1880 retail catalog. Coleman also wrote several self-help books on playing the cornet. One of his instruments sells for a few hundred dollars today.
Tip: Gold or silver lace may tarnish. Sometimes it can be cleaned by rubbing it with a brush dipped in warm white wine.
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