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Antique Collectible

Rose Mary
By Rosemary McKittrick
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Important Devil's Face Jug, Javan or Davis Brown, circa 1940, 19 inches high. Sold for $24,150. Photo courtesy of Skinner Auctioneers
How do you avoid the costly blunder of selling your antiques at a fraction of their worth? Last time we talked about the factors involved in making smart decisions like condition, age, supply-and-demand and rarity. Let’s continue with provenance.

Provenance is simply the history of ownership. Every antique you pick up has a history. So, what’s the big deal?

When you can document where an object has been over time and who owned it, you have a solid provenance. That provenance can add credibility and value to the object.

Take Andy Warhol’s cookie jars as an example. Warhol’s collection sold at Sotheby’s, New York, in 1988, for over $247,000. It was estimated to bring less than $7,000.

These are the same cookie jars you and I grew up raiding. Bidders were willing to pay top-dollar for the privilege of owning one that belonged to Warhol. That’s the power of provenance.

But, you’ve got to have the documentation in hand. Nobody’s going to take your word for it. Provenance might be a letter attached to the back of a painting, or an old sales receipt. Even when provenance is established, the value of a piece will ultimately lie in its own merit.

That brings us to quality. The idea of something being valuable merely because it’s old is shortsighted. No matter how old something is, the value still depends on quality. Age is really a secondary issue in antiques.

The best works of art, painted by the best artists, will generally command the highest prices in the marketplace. It’s a good argument for buying the best you can afford in any category.

Still unsure? Need some additional objective measures of value? Try auction catalogs and price guides.

You may stumble upon boxes of auction catalogs as you poke around flea markets and auction previews. Take time to look through them. If you want current values, these catalogs are some of the best resources around.

Many auction houses will do at least a few cataloged auctions yearly. They’ll also issue a post-sale result list of the items sold in the auction. Objects are pictured in these catalogs with descriptions, dimensions, condition and sale estimates. This is a great way to build your reference library.

Art and antique price guides can also be helpful, if they’re current. That’s the important distinction. The marketplace changes all the time and so do values. I suggest price guides with readable-size print, and lots of pictures. Check the library. You’ll be surprised what’s available on loan.

At some point, you’re going to have to trust your gut reaction to things. If it’s a great Victorian oak table, you’ll always remember the feeling you had the first time you looked at it. The way your heart raced. Remember that experience and bring it to everything you consider buying.

Q. I have a dollhouse that dates to around 1900. Could you discuss dollhouses in a column? Charlie Wright, Pittsburgh.

A. Most American dollhouses available now were made since the late-19th century.

In the early-20th century, a number of American manufacturers produced dollhouses. R. Bliss Manufacturing Co., A. Schoenhut & Co., Tynietoy, Tootsietoy, N.D. Cass Co., and Morton E. Converse & Son.
The oldest American company and probably the most important is Bliss. Founded in Pawtucket, R.I., in 1832, Bliss produced dollhouses from 1895 through the early-1900s. Easy to spot, the company’s name usually appears over the front door.

When they first came on the market the cost for a Bliss dollhouse was $5 or less. Today you can spend thousands. Collectors appreciate the attention to detail and lithographed designs in these old beauties.

The Schoenhut Company of Philadelphia started in the toy business in 1872 and like Bliss eventually produced dollhouses. They’re best known for their 1 1/2-story bungalows.

For more information on dollhouses, contact "Doll Castle News," P.O. Box 247, Washington, N.J. 07882. This is a magazine specializing in dollhouses and related items.

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