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Rose Mary
By Rosemary McKittrick
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Puppets capture the essence in us, the horror, laughter, awkwardness and the sadness. Photo courtesy of William Jenack Auctioneers
What do George Bernard Shaw, Paul Klee, Josef Haydn, Wassily Kandinsky and George Sand have in common? They all dabbled in puppetry during their careers.

It’s an age-old art form. An art form that embraces our urge to write songs and sing them. To dance. To sculpt. To paint. To tell stories. Through puppetry a drawing comes to life before our eyes, moving and talking.

Puppets capture the essence in us, the horror, laughter, awkwardness, and the sadness.

If you look close, it’s all there. An uncomplicated version of who we are.

Throughout the world Punch and Judy are two of the most famous puppets. The husband-and-wife team provided much of the street entertainment in 19th century England.

The personality of Punch has evolved over hundreds of years. His hooked nose and humped back endeared him to audiences around the world.

Punch even made history. On Saturday, May 26, 1962, a celebration was held at St. Paul’s Church in London marking the 300th anniversary of Punch’s first performance in England. Forty puppeteers gathered for the service and a mass performance outside.

If you visit St. Paul’s, you’ll see a plaque affixed to the wall reading: “Near this spot Punch’s puppet show was first performed in England and witnessed by Samuel Pepys 1662.”

On Sept. 16, 1995, William Jenack Auctioneers of Chester, N.Y., offered a collection of 19th century puppets, featuring Punch and Judy and their troop.

“Being English, I can remember Punch and Judy puppet shows at garden fetes and seaside resorts very well,” said Rene Dellarocco of Jenack Auctioneers. “All the characters have a distinct part in the story. Perhaps, the best remembered is ‘Crocodile,’ who threatened to eat Judy, and when he appeared all the children in the audience were encouraged to scream and warn her.” The collection, including the stage, brought $800.

Age, origin, condition and design figure heavily into valuing puppets. You’ll see four distinct types. Hand puppets, rod puppets, shadow puppets and string puppets, or marionettes. Sometimes combinations appear, like finger puppets or ventriloquists’ figures. The simplest and one of the oldest are the hand puppets. They date back to the 10th century B.C. in China.

As you peruse the flea markets you may come across “grannies” made by Deborah Meader. During the ‘30s, Meader made these hand puppets by the hundreds. You might also uncover hand puppets created by the German stuffed animal maker Steiff. The value on these puppets in good condition continues to climb.

A few performer-craftsmen that collectors treasure are Rufus Rose, Tony Sarg, Paul McPharlin, Remo Bufano, Ralph Chesse and Martin and Olga Stevens. When puppeteers meet at annual gatherings these marionettes are often bought and sold.

Q. I would like some information about an old picture frame. The picture in the frame dates back to 1917. The frame itself is wood with oval glass. Sandie Tota, Pittsburgh.

A. Interest in old picture frames continues to grow. Sometimes frames can be more valuable than the works of art in them.

In today’s art market there is a direct correlation between the value of a painting and that of its frame says Eli Wilner and Mervyn Kaufman. Their book Antique American Frames covers the subject in depth and provides illustrations that show you exactly what they mean.

“When the right frame is put on a painting and the two are harmonious, a resonance occurs,” the authors say. “The two become one; there is no separation.”

Old glass is important and many purists search for it to use with their old frames. The curved glass can be hard to find and is desirable for that reason. A typical frame with curved glass from around 1917 would fetch about $50.

Things to look for in valuing frames are condition, fancy hand carving, age, size, gilding, and attractive form. All of these will add to the desirability.

In the early-20th century, the Buck’s County area of Pennsylvania served as a big frame-making center. Frames by the hundreds came out of New Hope built by Frank Harer.

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