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Antique Collectible

Rose Mary
By Rosemary McKittrick
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Nautical items sold on 10/99. Photo courtesy of Maritime Antiques Auctions
“For whatever we lose (like a you or a me) it’s always ourselves we find in the sea,” the poet E.E. Cummings said.

For many of us the sea and its full-rigged sailing ships, tugboats, passenger steamers, and fishing schooners hold a special fascination. They speak of an existence on the brink of mystery, a life open to losing sight of land, trusting for a safe arrival back home.

When ancient sailors lost sight of land they used dead reckoning to steer their vessels. The direction was noted as well as the distance, and they basically retraced their course to return home.

With all the navigational devices available today, this is still the essential method in use.

The nautical treasures of navigation like the ship’s wheel, sextant, telescope, compass and chronometer as well as the ship’s figurehead, journals, tools, work boxes, chests, anchor lights, lanterns, binnacles (the stand holding the compass), paintings, and sailor’s carvings have become the backbone of today’s nautical collections.

Almost anything from steam or sail vessels built before the end of World War II interests collectors. That extends to newer vessels for some. Simple objects like rigging fittings all the way to mid-19th century weather instruments apply.

Before World War II, almost nothing was saved. If ships were not wrecked the workable gear was used for other vessels.

The last captain might keep her binnacle, but everything else was scrapped. Some 19th century seamen spent as much as five years on a whaling trip with endless idle hours devoted to making nautical art like scrimshaw (bone carvings) and model ships in bottles.

Value in nautical items depends on age, condition, overall quality of an object, historical significance, and the location of the market. The demand for nautical items in today’s market has given birth to many maritime reproductions.

Ships wheels, lanterns, binnacles, and telegraphs are common in hotel lobbies and restaurants. Several exact duplicates, and the appearance of newness give them away as copies. But this is tricky because some brass objects are artificially aged with chemicals.

Weight can be an additional gauge of authenticity with metal objects. Reproductions are often made with lighter metal than the original pieces. If you get used to handling older pieces, you’ll feel the difference.

On Oct. 23, Maritime Antiques auction in San Rafael, Calif., offered a selection of nautical collectibles for sale.

A wooden ship’s gimbal barometer made by “Slade & Keast-Boston,” sold for $1,320.

A Russian 56-hour gimbal chronometer, running condition, with original ratchet key, realized $660.

A copper marine light, 17-inches high, brought $154.

An authentic Russian deep-sea diver’s helmet, brass and copper, reached $880.

An oil on canvas painting of the vessel “Lake Ontario,” signed W. Thomas 1897, 12 inches by 20 inches, sold for $1,430.

Q. Enclosed you will find four photos of a sofa. We were told it is 100-years-old. Could you give us any information on the piece? Sandy? Pittsburgh.

A. What you have is an American Eastlake Victorian sofa from the 1880’s. Eastlake was named after the English artist-critic Sir Charles Lock Eastlake. His 1868 book Hints on Household Taste in Furniture, Upholstery and Other Details had a real impact on 19th century decor.

He favored sturdy furniture with simple rectangular lines, but elaborately overlaid with incised decoration. He disliked the machine-cut curves seen in furniture. Thus, his home furnishings are rectilinear.

What people appreciate about Victorian furnishings in addition to the look is the sturdiness. Victorian is probably the least fragile furniture made since the Elizabethan era.

The size and mass-production process made this possible. The new power driven machines of the era produced strong joints, and could work with durable woods like rosewood.

The condition of the frame and wood are important. Few upholstered pieces maintain their original coverings, and people expect to reupholster. The sofa you have is worth around $400-$600 based on condition.

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