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1860's figural 14k gold hat pin made in the form of a General's presentation sword quillon

1860's figural 14k gold hat pin made in the form of a General's presentation sword quillon

One of the things that I like about history is that it puts the ridiculousness of the modern world in perspective.  I’ve been reading The Grapes of Wrath lately (I don’t know how it took me this long either…) and wow, Steinbeck is almost prophetic in his discussions about unions and economy and our fate after being disconnected from the land.  When I feel like the world can’t possibly go on in this crazy fashion for long without imploding, it comforts me to read about things like McCarthyism and Hoovervilles and hatpins.

That’s right, hatpins.  You think the world is crazy now?  In 1908, legislation was actually passed at the state level – in multiple states! – regarding the length of women’s hatpins.  (You could have a hatpin that exceeded the legal permissible length; you just needed to apply for a permit first.)  Why the sudden concern with the lowly, unobtrusive hatpin?  Because those crazy suffragettes might use them as a weapon!  I’m completely serious – I couldn’t make this stuff up.

It’s kind of hard to imagine the kind of woman who would wear a “Puss in Boots” hatpin using it to put someone’s eye out.  I think you’d probably want to be much warier of someone with a griffin or a bear.  (And, of course, a woman who could afford the Tiffany examples pictured above could pay someone else to poke your eyes out….)  Regardless, hatpins offer a variety of beautiful display opportunities today, and they’re popular with collectors.  Because women at virtually all levels of society wore them, you can find them at virtually all price points (although it’s likely that as hats declined in fashion that many hatpins were either cut down or reworked into other pieces of jewelry for every-day wear) and in a range from simple to elaborate.  So keep an eye out (wrong expression maybe…) because valuable ones frequently end up unidentified and mixed in with miscellaneous boxes of jewelry!

-By Hollie Davis, Senior Editor, p4A.com

19th century finely-painted and gilt silk and ivory Neoclassical folding fan

19th century finely-painted and gilt silk and ivory Neoclassical folding fan

18th and 19th Century Decorative Fans

Fans have been used since ancient times for cooling and more recently as an accessory for flirtation and fashion. Out of style by early in the 19th century, they reappeared as a fashion must have after their use at a ball hosted by Charles X at the Tuileries. Decorative fans come in two types-folding or leaf type, and rigid type, called Brise.

Folding fans of the 18th & 19th Century

Folding fans are constructed in one of two ways. The uprights, (called sticks, ribs or blades) are sandwiched between two layers of some pleated material (called a leaf, or mount) or the sticks are glued to the back of the mount.

Brise Fans

A Brise style fan is one in which there is no mount. Instead, the sticks are wide enough to overlap when the fan is opened. The sticks are bound together with ribbons of silk or satin. Feather Brise fans became popular late in the 19th Century.

Parts of a Fan

Leaf (or Mount) These can be made of a variety of materials, from inexpensive to elegant. In the 18th & 19th Century fans leaves were paper, vellum, or fabric. During the 18th century particularly, the finest vellum was made from unborn kid, and called, for reasons that nobody today knows, “chicken skin.” Fabrics used for mounts included silk, silk faille, lace, and silk gauze. Mounts were decorated with painted pastoral, historical of mythological scenes, or decorated in flower or geometric patterns with applied sequins, tiny bits of silk, or ivory.

Stick, (Rib, or Blade) Sticks were fashioned of wood, ivory. Wood sticks were sometimes veneered with mother-of-pearl or tortoise-shell, or in the case of Chinese fans, coated with lacquer and gilt. They could be plain and smooth, or intricately carved and pierced. Sticks for Brise fans were woven together with silk or satin ribbons. These ribbons are plain or embroidered.

Outer Guards are the shaped pieces that protect the fan when it is closed. Thees are thicker and wider than the other sticks.

Rivets or Pins are the pivoting fasteners that hold the sticks together at the bottom of the fan, and sometimes included a carrying loop or silken tassel.

-Reference note by p4A Contributing Editor Susan Cramer.

Reference & Further Recommended Reading:

To search the Prices4Antiques antiques reference database for valuation information on hundreds of thousands of antiques and fine art visit our homepage www.prices4antiques.com

Singer & Co. black-painted and gilt-decorated cast iron treadle-base, belt-driven sewing machine

Singer & Co. black-painted and gilt-decorated cast iron treadle-base, belt-driven sewing machine

Singer Sewing Machines-everyone has them, few want to buy them. . . . Since almost everyone wears clothes, the automatic sewing machine may have been one of the most important inventions ever, yet surprisingly few of even the oldest antique models are valuable.  Here’s why.

Brief  History of the Sewing Machine

There is some disagreement about the first sewing machine.  It may have been patented in 1755 by a German inventor or in 1790 in England, in the form of a machine designed to make footwear.   Balthaser Krems patented a machine in1810, an Austrian tailor in 1814, and Americans John Dodge and John Knowles in 1818.  The thing these sewing machines had in common was that none of them actually worked.  It wasn’t until 1830 that a French tailor, Barthelemy Thimonner developed a viable sewing machine that impacted the way clothing was made.  Thimonner had a shop full of sewing machines which he used to manufacture uniforms for the French Army, exciting the wrath of fellow tailors who, fearing for their livelihoods, ransacked his shop and destroyed his sewing machines.

Early Sewing Machines by Elias Howe & Isaac Singer

In America, Walter Hunt developed a machine, but Elias Howe, Jr. was first with a workable, although prohibitively expensive model. Howe’s sewing machine worked well but had to be crafted entirely by hand, which put it outside the economic reach of most of its potential customers.   Isaac Merrit Singer produced a viable sewing machine by offering an improved version of an existing model that while affordable was subject to regular breakdowns.

American Sewing Machine Manufacturers

By the mid 1850’s, there were dozens of companies in this country making and selling sewing machines, including Grover & Baker Co, the Florence Sewing Machine Co, The American Buttonhole, Overseaming & Sewing Machine Co, Wheeler & Wilson, National, New Home, Graybar, Wilcox & Gibbs, Merrow Machine Co, Davis, and Singer.

Collectible Sewing Machines

For collectors, the value in old sewing machines has most to do with rarity and condition.  As the most successful models were produced in factories by the thousands, only the oldest, hard to find, aesthetically pleasing, or models that represent important technological advances are eagerly sought after, and command high prices. While Singer is the most widely recognized manufacturer, its products are the least collectible except for the earliest examples such as the model #1 and the Turtleback, both of which are hard to find.  Singer sewing machines, regardless of age and aesthetics, are with a few exceptions, rarely worth more than a few hundred dollars at best. The Singer Featherweight is prized for its functionality rather than its collectability and is still used happily by quiltmakers. Collectors also enjoy a wide variety of manufacturers made mini-versions of their sewing machines.

Reference: Country Living: Innovation and Design: What Is It? What Is It Worth?, by Joe L. Rosson & Helaine Fendelman, c 2007, House of Collectibles.

-by p4A contributing editor Susan Cramer.

To search the Prices4Antiques antiques reference database for valuation information on hundreds of thousands of antiques and fine art visit our homepage www.prices4antiques.com

A 19th century American pieced and appliqued quilt, red and white Touching Stars

A 19th century American pieced and appliqued quilt, red and white Touching Stars

Handmade Heirlooms Can Last for Generations; Tips for the preservation and care of beautiful and fragile handcrafted works of the quilt makers’ art.

History in Fabric

Quilts are like a fabric scrapbook of family history handed down from generation to generation.  With the proper care and storage, these beautiful hand-worked heirlooms can last for years.

Quilt Analysis

To determine the proper care and storage regimen for your quilt, first make a thorough examination of the quilt.  Note any spots or stains. These should be dealt with before storing, as even the tiniest food stain will attract hungry insects.  Inspection should include determining the fabric content of the quilt top, backing, and applied decorations.  Crazy quilts, in particular, are apt to contain wool and wool fibers.  Check for damaged or missing stitches, which should be repaired by an expert before storing.

Quilts & Lighting

All fabrics, and especially quilts, must be kept out of direct sunlight, which can not only fade colors (blue is particularly prone to fading), but weaken the fibers and cause deterioration.  Not only should quilts be out of the sun, direct fluorescent light can be harmful as well.  Quilts are most safely stored in low-light or even dark areas and out of the path of reflected light.

Quilts & Climate Control

Quilts do best in a constant temperature of between 55 to 65 degrees, which means they need to be kept out of the basement and attic as well as your married daughter’s childhood bedroom that you never use because it’s too hot in the summer.  It’s also important to control humidity, which should be a constant 50 percent.  High humidity causes mold and mildew that stain fabric.  Humidity that is too low causes dry rot.

Quilts & Pests

Your quilts make a cozy haven for mice, squirrels and other small mammals, so it is important that the area be secured against such invasions and inspected with some frequency.  Insect pests prefer dark and undisturbed locations such as the back of a closet in an infrequently used room.  Check for signs of insect life before storing your quilts.  Moth crystals are effective, but should never come in direct contact with the quilt as long term exposure to chemicals can damage the fibers.

How to Clean Your Quilts

Quilts of recent vintage and high cotton content can be cleaned in a washing machine.  Inspect the quilt carefully fist, making sure there are no tears, broken stitches, or shredded areas which will all be made worse from machine washing.  Use a large or commercial washer on its most delicate cycle for its shortest duration along with a small amount of a mild (formulated for babies) detergent.  Wash in cold water, and rinse until the rinse water is clear enough to drink.

You can air dry your quilt outside. Place the quilt on your lawn atop a clean white sheet.  Put another sheet on top to prevent stains from blowing grass and leaves, family pets, wildlife, and passing birds.  Sturdy, recent vintage quilts can be dried in the sun when covered with a sheet, but avoid direct, mid-day, midsummer sun.

If a quilt is older consider vacuuming it if you have a vacuum with gentle suction.  Vacuum your quilt through a fiberglass screen (available at hardware stores) making sure that the rough edges of the screening material do not tear the quilt.  If your quilt is very old, very delicate, very precious, or very valuable, check with a Conservator or other expert before using any cleaning method.

How to Store Your Quilts

Quilts are best stored flat and unstacked.  If you don’t have the space, they can be rolled and folded with the following precautions. If you’re storing them in a cedar or blanket chest, avoid contact with the wood.  Quilts should be carefully wrapped in acid free tissue, white cotton sheets, or washed, unbleached muslin.  Roll or fold your quilts in the aforementioned materials carefully padding any folds with extra tissue or fabric.  Never store your quilts in plastic bags or storage bins, and be certain to refold them periodically or the fibers will weaken along the fold lines.

-Article by p4A contributing editor Susan Cramer.

Sheraton two-drawer stand, probably from Fairfield County, Ohio, 1820 to 1840

Sheraton two-drawer stand, probably from Fairfield County, Ohio, 1820 to 1840

The iconic images of the Midwest – the ever-moving pioneer, the isolated communities, the Mississippi River and all its tributaries – are the exact things that make Midwestern decorative arts such a challenge to study!  With people always on the move and goods shifting up and down river communities and influencing tastes, finding enough “diagnostic features” to create an identified pool of objects and to make firm attributions is a challenge in many areas.  These factors make the research being done in Fairfield County, Ohio all the more fascinating and important, because the findings there illuminate not only Lancaster, Ohio and the surrounding countryside, but also help shed a little light on many of the long-held ideas about the American Midwest.

On the Fairfield County, Ohio Decorative Arts website (http://www.fairfielddecarts.com), Deward Watts, a local independent researcher and collector, is piecing together his accumulated knowledge from years of ferreting out objects, tracking down genealogy, and sorting out local history.  Focused on the craftsmen and artisans of the area and the objects they created prior to 1850, the site is organized into six categories: clock makers, furniture makers, gunsmiths, silversmiths, and weavers.  Watts acknowledges that the lists are undoubtedly incomplete, but they include all those he’s uncovered in more than a decade of research and, whenever possible, objects from the makers are shown with the details of their personal histories that have been gleaned from newspapers and public records.  What the site hopes to do is draw attention to the region’s decorative arts, to create a database of objects attributed to the region, and to hopefully allow others to use the resource to identify other Fairfield County objects.

Ohio jacquard coverlet. George Heilbronn, Lancaster, Fairfield County, 1852

Ohio jacquard coverlet. George Heilbronn, Lancaster, Fairfield County, 1852

The Prices4Antiques database includes a number of examples of the objects attributed to Fairfield County, Ohio, and quite likely, an even greater number of objects from Fairfield County for which no attribution has yet been made.  And, through our sponsorship of the Midwest Antiques Forum, this sort of focused, independent research is exactly what we hope to encourage.  Much of the area of Midwestern decorative arts remains a puzzle, but the work Watts and others are so passionately devoted to doing is certainly helping to put more pieces on the table!

-Hollie Davis, Senior Editor, p4A.com

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