Art Deco: From buildings to ceramics

If you follow me on Pinterest, you know that I love art deco architecture. The style we know as art deco is said to originate in Paris ca 1920. Personally, I think there’s evidence of a general movement towards art deco a bit earlier around the world but that’s a different discussion altogether! Art deco is up and coming in the antique world. It’s quite affordable to get into the pieces. In 5-10 years they will all be real antiques, so it’s not the worst time to get more into art deco. But! Telling art deco from midcentury can be hard! Especially if you’re younger and you lived through neither of the two periods traces. 😉

So, art deco. Art deco begins where art nouveau leaves off. Art nouveau, to summarize it quite vulgarly, is an over-romanticization of the styles of the 19th century imbued with a newfound fondness for nature and bright colors. Art nouveau isn’t really my market… I pay attention when the prices are low enough but I haven’t set out to learn more on the subject. Soon I will and I’ll post about it! Sorry to so quickly bastardized it for these present purposes.

And just as I’ve gotten off subject, so too did the stylists of the 1910s and 20s. They were too busy paying attention to the quickly changing world of art to keep up with the exhaustive nature of art nouveau. There are some areas of absolutely amazing blending between these two and there exists a sort of naturalized art deco that’s near the end of art nouveau. There’s a strong vein of this influence in American art pottery around 1910 but you see it in painting and architecture. If you look enough, there’s even a good connection between the arts & crafts period and the later art deco period. Hey, off track again!

What is art deco? Art deco is a commitment to using simple shapes, lines or forms to create complex, pronounced design. This represented a marked shift from what was largely a floral or natural ornamentation used in the previous periods. Though it seems quite a dramatic shift, art tends to strongly influence commercial goods and the art deco period is no exception. One nice part about the art deco period is that since the world was a lot less commercialized than it is now, the commercial production of these objects isn’t nearly as soulless as it is today. That being said, I’m sure many artists of the time viewed it with a similar distaste as many of ours do today when companies copy their work.

My familiarity in artists of the period is Piet Mondrian. Mondrian left a treasure trove of writing along with his painting work and I went through a lot of his work during college. I would guess from his writings that the surroundings of art deco architecture would be good changes to the environment. And while architecture is a bit different than a lamp, I think that with sufficient vintage we can view the two as more similar and especially useful in seeing the form. What Mr. Mondrian would think of the bourgeois nature of selling art, antiques and artifacts is a different story… Anyway, let’s start with architectural art deco. The Chrysler building in New York City is a great example here.

You can see the way the simple forms play on the traditional shape of the building. The same thing is done to other objects as adornment.

Now, I’ve actually seen small commercial copies of lamps like this that probably happened right at the end of the period. They would also happen again in the midcentury modern period. It is important to differentiate between the two as they are different eras. MCM takes, borrows and build upon the art deco tradition just as the artists of the 50s and 60s take, borrow and build from the artists of the early 20th century.

There are key differences.

  1. Art deco tends to be simpler than MCM
  2. Art deco focuses a bit more “finishing” the design, more concern with symmetry
  3. Art deco pieces are typically made of a high quality
  4. Art deco pieces are older and will have more patina
  5. Art deco pieces tend to be made in USA or Europe
  6. Art deco isn’t necessarily a revolution on “what the object is” it’s more for decoration

That’s enough on art deco vs midcentury modern. Number 6 leads me to where I wanted to go next. With the midcentury period, there’s a strong undermining in the necessity to design something any which way at all! Phones distort, chairs become non-symmetrical things out of Dali paintings and other strange things happen to the objects themselves. The difference can be no more visible than in something I picked up this past weekend.


How funny is that? I was not expecting to find something that would illustrate this prior to writing this post. What do we have here? Well, I purchased this in farm country and it’s a well used butter crock made by Ruckels in Illinois ca 1930. It has a strong art deco design to it with the pattern of three block lines. Now, I realize this probably seems pretty standard to most people unfamiliar with crocks or antiques. “It’s just some lines” you might say. However, the lines change everything. It gives us a good date. Makes it easier to identify a maker. They actually say quite a bit. This is a great period piece and worth a solid amount. Without those lines and the same age, the item would be worth less than half what it is.

So, there’s no “revolution” going on in the concept of a crock here. It’s solid art deco with lines used for adornment. Most art deco pieces were still meant to function in much the same manner as the objects that came before them. They were just adorned differently.

Thanks for reading!

Silver Silver Silver.

I like sterling silver. No, that may be an understatement. I love sterling silver. I’m not too sure whether it stems from the rich cultural history of the metal or that it has a solid price floor by weight but sterling silver is awesome. Someday I’ll be that old dude at the market with a case full of sterling silver objects. Not yet, but probably sooner rather than later.

This week has seen some amazing silver finds. It always shocks me what you can find mis or un-identified if you look enough. I will showcase some of my finds here. It started with the item below.

O la la I thought. Well underpriced and ready to go. Grabbed this 20th C sterling compact and continued on my way. Little did I expect it would get better and better.

Great! Some modern sterling designer jewelry! Love it when stuff like that shows up. Always a good hit with buyers despite its lack of true age. Not my favorite to sell, but they sell. So that’s a plus. Did I mention it got better?

Ooo. Now that’s really moving more towards a serious collector’s market. Scissors are a bit more interesting than a compact or a modern brooch. They have good stylizations on them and they have a maker’s mark that puts them at the early side of the 20th century, USA-made. Nice.

These sugar tongs are the real deal. They date to 1818 and are of the Georgian period. The silhouette of King George III sits below the other hallmarks. How they were left where I found them and immediately purchased them I do not know. I can only hope for more of those instances in the future!

Business is good.

Quick update.

Am trying to get into the habit or writing more frequently for this site. The Pinterest, Instagram, Twitter and Facebook portions are all doing well, the blog could be doing better. Things are building together and its inspiring to watch. Needless to say, it’s a lot of work and each gets neglected from time to time. However, busy-ness away from social media typically means selling is going well, which it has been. I am getting close to moving beyond a hobbyist and onto launching my own branded site. Fun fun stuff.

For now, I’ve got some posts planned for the near future.

  1. Road trip: What’s left is a few shop profiles, more stories, an item profile or two. And a summary.
  2. More on ceramics; what are art deco ceramics is up next.
  3. Silver silver silver.
  4. Thoughts on the future of the antiques market.

Going to work on one of the items before I head out. Maybe it’ll be online!

Curiosity for ceramics: Small Rookwood

As I try to “move up” in the collecting world, I find I can buy better out of antique stores. Here’s a small Rookwood piece that I bought recently on vacation.

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This lil pink and green beauty comes from one of the best names in American art pottery. I’m just starting out with the in-depth parts of the higher-end pottery market so I don’t have too much more to add here. I’ll happily add contributions if people want to contribute facts. What I know is that I got it at a good price.

Profile: North Dakota School of Mines

North Dakota School of Mines is a rare pottery that was made in the early 20th century. It is a fringe collector-base that will pay handsomely for the pieces. I had the luxury of seeing one in person at a phenomenal antique store I was at not too long ago. This is the antique that the experts are looking for when they’re flipping over ceramics to see the underside.

Personally, I have no North Dakota School of Mines pottery. It’s a tragedy that I’ll correct someday when I have a better display to setup for my own objects. I have to say, these are some of the most beautiful pieces of thrown pottery I’ve ever seen. Most are well over the $300-400 range with the highest end values soaring into the tens of thousands. Here are some examples to get yourself familiar with this school that I’ve saved to boards on Pinterest. Many thanks to the users who have uploaded these images online for the world to see! Pinterest is a great place to learn more about antiques if you’re in an isolated area.

Here you can see the influences of the region coming into these early 20th century pieces. These pieces tend to use crisp colors sometimes using slight gradients to display a natural effect.

More natural styles from the North Dakota School of Mines.

Regional influences. Pieces like this with buffalo or wolves are some of the most desirable.

Starting to look a bit more like some of the other well known names at the time.

Overall, though, North Dakota School of Mines has one of the most unique styles of pottery. Living up in this region of the world as a collector, I am constantly reminded of the isolation that existed here even through the middle of the 20th century. This region over 100 years ago was a very different place.

Curiosity for ceramics.

Something that differentiates me as a collector is that my interests are in arbitrage – I view my collection as an investment. You could say I collect “arbitrage,” which is the difference between what something can be found for and what it’s worth. Right now I think my best piece is an artwork I bought for a dollar, it’s worth a few thousand.

This year has changed up my collecting a bit. The more I learn and pay attention to market trends, I’m unable to ignore trends. You could say arbitrage has led me to ceramics. Ceramics are growing more bullish than they have been in recent years. The young boomers who still have disposable income, large homes to fill and interest in maintaining the past are buying ceramics. It’s not the market that it was years ago but the arbitrage is here.

Ceramics. It’s something I can’t quite explain. The longer that I’m in the antiques trade, the more I learn about the traditional goods market. Spending a year as a clerk really taught me so much about consumers in the market. What they’re looking for, how they shop and why they buy are incredibly important considerations. And I tell you they are looking for ceramics.

Ceramics are weird, though. It’s not the easiest thing to just step into, I didn’t really consider buying ceramics until I was years into the hobby.

Here is the first piece of pottery that I did sell.


20th Century Reproduction Chinese Vase

It was a mid 20th century reproduction with an unattempted or undone lamp feature on it. It sold for a great amount and went to a collector in Japan. That was a proud moment of my early days in the hobby. And this was a great piece – made easier for me to see because of its Asian origin.

American and European pottery has been a lot harder to learn for me. I was lucky to have a dealer friend who was knowledgable about art pottery. There is no substitute for an in-person expert on art pottery. If you want to learn more, go to an antique store and ask the clerk to show you the art pottery. Be careful, though, the knowledge is growing more and more scarce. Learning from the right person is key.

More recently I came into a piece that deserves better documentation. It was a piece of trademark Lettuce Leaf by New Milford Pottery Co or Wannopee Pottery.

This piece dates to 1900-1903, when the New Milford Pottery Company closed. Made of majolica, it is formed in the manner of a lettuce leaf. It is a center-piece, salad bowl or what-have you. That makes it quite rare. Single plates go for anywhere from 20-50$ a piece. I sold this on auction extremely quick as I bought it very, very cheap.

That was a good sale. It was also something that I wouldn’t have noticed without spending time in the antique store. There was a day where this eccentric older gentlemen brought this small lettuce lobster creamer to the counter. It was marked near fifty dollars. He bought it without negotiation or complaint. These days, you remember sales like that.

Well, the little lobster was something my dealer friend had picked up. Great, she’d help me get to the bottom of that! Well, that’s when she explained the whole “lettuce” collecting and the later addition of the lobster in the 20s through the 50s. I was flabbergasted at first, sat on the knowledge for nearly a year before this majolica plate popped up in my field of vision.

My family knows this plate as “that damn lettuce plate” now. Everyone has a similar reaction, that it can’t possibly be worth what it was! When I bought it, I even showed it to my wife and told her, “what do you want to bet that this darn lettuce plate will be the best thing I sell all month.” She laughed and we got dinner. A week later the plate had sold. So far it is living up to expectations.

Trades in Travel – P2 Suburban Illinois

Day two of buying featured a different array of stores. And beyond just telling the tales, I will do item profiles for specific pieces that were bought. I don’t know. Sometimes I wonder what I’m doing with this blog and I think that the antique market is just so poorly catalogued online that maybe that’s where I’ll end up contributing some serious work. I have no shame in telling people what things sell for, not what I think they’ll sell for but what they’ve actually sold for(either by me or through publicly available information) – I’m not big enough to make anyone pay for my info yet! Haha.

Anyway, day 2 featured some garage sales and a great antique gallery that I’ll profile some other time, too! At the first sale we went to, we had to wait in line, which was a bummer. I like to arrive late so that I don’t have to wait but c’est la vie.

The two of us finally were allowed in and we were shocked at the beauty of the house. It was tacky, probably put up in 1968 but it had that real strong vintage rambler feel to it. It couldn’t have been a rambler, though, it was huge. There was a dance-floor in the basement and beautiful Japanese furniture was spread through the house. It was a museum of mid 20th century American taste where everything was for sale.

I managed to grab two prized asian cloisonne and I held them tight to my chest for the rest of the sale. An elderly man was outlining the figures on them with his hands, he muttered, “so unique,” and “very interesting,” a few times. I did see him again leaving the sale with 8-10 other pieces of cloisonne. I took it as a good sign that he had to look at mine before he probably never saw them again. They are beautiful and will get their own profile.

So I’m picking up lovely asian artifacts and admiring a beautiful early 20th century Japanese desk, what could make it a better morning? My shopping partner has managed to find a 60s repro of a Tiffany lamp made in Korea. Retail price for original Tiffany? About $12,000. Retail Price for her vintage repro? About $460. Cost that day? $35. I don’t normally give repros a stamp of approval but I’ll be keeping my eyes out for Tiffany fakes now.

So it’s been a pretty good run so far, I’ve got a new brown 1950s NYC Fedora that I picked up on the cheap, the sun is shining and overall life is good. The day went on in a sort of similar fashion. Got some great stuff at the next sale. Witnessed a true artifact, touched it and pushed the boundaries for enigmatic travels of antique objects. Staring right at me was an antique remake of a Ming dynasty throne chair. It was beautiful. Its long shaped wood subtly announced with its precise craftsmanship that the person in this chair was not like the others.


The Qing dynasty remake of the Ming dynasty chair was marked at $1400. This is the point where I would normally start to sweat. Doing all sorts of ridiculous, illogical maths in my head to reach the sad conclusion… no, it’s not worth the $600 I don’t have to hustle this chair. I thanked it for coming into my life, allowing me to see it, touch it, consider it and walk away from it. I don’t know if I’ll ever touch one of these again. Truly remarkable. Again, when and if we meet again, I hope I am able buy you.

I’ll leave it there for now and pick up at inventorying the trip so far and the wonderful antique mall we visited.

Syndicating a web presence

Antiques, oh antiques. I once worked in a stop that you’d swear it was still 1988. Tickets were written by hand, receipts made on carbon copy paper and the cash went into an envelope at the end of the shift. Being a social media native, this drove me nuts. I couldn’t handle the amount of squandered opportunity that a shop running like this had… the value in digitizing some or even any of its store activities were immense. They were losing money… not because as they think, “People don’t like antiques anymore,” but because they don’t have their goods visible where people are buying them.

These days I’ve got a loose connected network of social media sites devoted to antiques. Most of my selling takes place on a single, online auction site. But that is going to change this fall as I try to move out from just being a lone collector to running a syndicated web presence off my brand. I’m young, how young? Too young to be in the antique market… but here I am. In a different life, I imagine that I’m a scientist of some sorts or a computer programmer. The way the dice landed in this life, I’m a philosopher, teacher and an antique/vintage expert.

So, all this writing is actually a test. What am I testing? Well, I’m going to test embedding my pinterest boards onto this page because of that whole “syndicated” concept that I’m working towards. Links together eventually creates traffic. Traffic is good, traffic means sales.

Here’s my first board, which are my own collections:

And here is my second board. This one is to help people learn more about the top of the antique market:


Make sure to follow me on pinterest, too! :]

Trades in travel – P1 Wonderful Wisconsin

Recently had the opportunity to travel across the midwest for work and I came into some beautiful finds along the way. It was a long drive that I was splitting up by staying with family. That family member is also down to peruse the wares, so I had two solid days of buying before I would be mostly working and exhausted in a hotel for a few weeks. Needless to say, some amazing items were found in those days.

I have been a bit onto a roll with this whole professional collector thing, so that’s the reason that I’m even at this point… too young to ignore my social media instincts and too young to get myself into a shop at the moment. It works, I’m a low overhead type. So here we begin, the first stage of the wordpress for my collection.

The drive took me through Wisconsin, Illinois and minor parts of other US states. Wisconsin was magic. I finally stopped at a store I’ve been looking at from the highway for years, it was amazing. I’ll detail the shops individually. I like the idea of reviewing when I’m on vacation, doesn’t give up my local secrets. Here’s what I saw early in that day I will never forget.

I love thrift shops. The antique world isn’t too fond of the locale but our difference is partly because I’m so persistent. Maybe one day when I’m richer I won’t do thrift shops. Who knows!

Anyway, my first stop was at a thrift shop about 2 hours into the drive. I found a lot of cheap varied china, nothint mind-blowing but great bill payers. An atomic style set of bowls, some 1930s this and that. There’s plenty of room for a strong profit in each of them. Good start.

Making my way a tad further, I found a nice vintage vase made by a California potter at the pictured store and then I made my way to the shop by the highway. Picked up two nice pieces of Roseville, one bad piece and a damaged piece of Red Wing. Damage aside, the prices sure were right and two I plan to keep anyway. One will sell for far more than I paid for all four, nearly 20x the cost of the four. Good buy.

Magic happened outside the antique store by the highway. I went inside and I couldn’t believe it. Not only had I just bought some great stuff but this store was beautiful. It is one of my favorite shops in the world. As a dealer who is very interested in high quality wares, I was in heaven. In the middle of Northern Wisconsisn, there is an amazing museum of objects antique. Residing in the gymnasium of a school built during Woodrow Wilson’s presidency are glass cases full of American art pottery made in the midwest at the same time. The place is stunning. Roseville, Rookwood, Newcombe and so much more. I actually saw a Dakota School of Mines piece there. Next time I go by, I hope to buy it.

The unfortunate thing about my visit was that I was so jittery from all the good buys I had just made that I could not seriously focus. Had a good time with some of the inhouse dealers and then tookoff back on the road.