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Hattie Klapp Brunner (American, 1889-1982) watercolor and gouache on paper painting, fall Amish auction scene, signed and dated '62 in lower left.

Gouache {sometimes referred to as body color and pronounced “gwash”) and watercolor paintings are often not clearly distinguished as being different, perhaps because making the distinction just based on a visual examination can be difficult, perhaps because both techniques are often used in the same work, but they are different in fundamental ways. They share the same binding agent but there is far more pigment in relation to water in gouache. Gouache, unlike watercolor paint, is opaque and sometimes to heighten the effect of this opacity, chalk or some other white pigment may be added. All the additional pigment and decreased water makes gouache much heavier – and they mean that gouache covers more quickly, dries more rapidly, and that it has to be used in more direct, less subtle ways than watercolor, as it does not offer the bleeding, shading, and layering abilities watercolor does.

Because of the solid, “flat” appearance of gouache when dried, it is very popular in designs like posters for commercial illustrations. Gouache is also used frequently in connection with watercolor, perhaps most notably in hand-drawn animation where gouache provides the solid, dramatic color needed for characters and watercolor allows for subtler, softer background elements.

While it is by no means a common medium, gouache offers certain advantages (en plein air artists tend to favor it because of the rapid drying) and it also was frequently used for studies for larger works. Matisse, Magritte and Klee are among the well-known artists who have worked in gouache, but it dates back centuries with forms of it documented in ancient Greece, in ancient Egypt and in the illuminated manuscripts of Europe. It has a role in a wide variety of painting styles and historical traditions.

 A Northwood, Carnival glass vaseline Heart & Flowers plateAs I’ve discussed here before, terms commonly get conflated and misused, only to end up with a much wider application than is accurate. “Vaseline glass” is yet another example of this. More properly termed uranium glass, this glass has had uranium added to the mixture that is then melted down, colored and formed into glassware. Most pieces have only trace amounts, definitely less than 2% by weight, of uranium, although some pieces were nearly 25% uranium by weight. Uranium glass normally appears on the yellow-green spectrum, depending on the influences of the uranium and other colorants used, but regardless of the color in natural light, it fluoresces in a vibrant green shade when placed under ultraviolet (“black”) light.

The “Vaseline” part was originally applied to a particular pale yellowish-green transparent/semi-transparent shade of uranium glass as it was thought to look like the 1920s version of Vaseline and other petroleum jelly, but over time, it’s come to be used, particularly in the US, for uranium glass in general and sometimes, particularly sloppily, even for any glass in that same yellow-green color range, regardless of whether or not it fluoresces. Properly, it is simply a subtype of uranium glass, as are custard (pale yellow), jadite (pale green) and Depression glass (which is also pale green but transparent/semitransparent vs opaque/semi-opaque). (Depression glass is, clearly, another one of those terms, as it often is applied to any glassware, particularly any colored glassware, produced during the years of the Depression.)

There’s nothing new about uranium glass, as archaeology dates it back to 79 AD and it was also used in European glass production for centuries, but it really began to boom in the 1800s, reaching its peak during the late 19th century and early 20th. Uranium glass production, table- and housewares, had slowed considerably by the start of World War II, but when the use and availability of uranium was heavily restricted and controlled during the end of the war and throughout the Cold War, the manufacturing of uranium glass took a dip that it never really recovered from, although there are still those today who work with uranium glass.

As with all glass, color, condition, maker, pattern, and form all play a role in the value uranium or vaseline glass brings at auction.

A Tennessee Sheraton tiger maple bedstead, highly figured maple with poplar secondary, head and footboards with pitched pediments and finely turned posts; together with a walnut and cherry trundle bedWhen many people see trundle beds, they think of Little House in the Big Woods. They may also think of impoverished people, frontier living, too many people and not enough room. In reality, trundle beds have been around far longer and have a very different tradition in history.

But first, to define them: trundle beds (also sometimes called truckle beds) derive their name from little wheels or casters that allowed them to be “trundled” out of the way. (The word has its roots in an Old English word, trendan, which means to revolve.) They’re simply smaller, lower beds that can be pushed or “trundled” under the larger, main bed, leaving space free during the day or during longer periods when an additional bed isn’t required.

While as mentioned some of the strongest associations tend to be with the 19th century and frontier life, a transition they may have gradually made during their use in America, but in Europe, trundle beds were actually in use as early as the 1600s and were actually in use in more prosperous homes, where they were occupied by servants. For example, Samuel Pepys, he of the exhaustive diaries, occasionally mentions that their servant slept in their room on a trundle bed. The European tradition of a trundle bed is rooted in the homes of those wealthy enough to have personal servants – maids and valets – who slept at hand during the night, in case the fire needed fed, the chamber pot needed emptied, etc. Trundle beds were tucked away and easily hidden in the heavy drapes and bed curtains on the beds of the prosperous.

They were occasionally used that way in wealthy homes in America too, and it isn’t hard to imagine an invalid or a woman late in pregnancy desiring to have a servant close at hand during the night, but they also quickly found use in smaller homes. There they were typically rope beds with corn or straw mattresses and for a time, they enjoyed a warm sort of nostalgia, a sense of home and a close and loving family, but as families began to prosper and the middle class emerged, houses grew larger, trundle beds were required less frequently, and a stigma even began to attach to them in some ways.

As for their value at auction, well, beds of any sort can be a hard sell. You have to be particularly committed to making accommodations for old rails – replacement rails and a platform, mattress overhanging the sides of the frame, etc., and that’s only truer for beds that are so low to the ground. However, when they are paired with another bed of strong value, when they are part of a prestigious collection, and/or when they have old paint with a good, pleasing color, then they can still bring several hundred dollars at auction.

An early 20th century Ohio Statue of Liberty sewer tile bust. Dated 1918 with original black pigment on crown.Since the dawn of time, as long as there have been people, there has been…sewage. And for almost as long, we’ve apparently been concerned with it. There is concrete (or clay, at least) evidence of this dating back as far as 4000 B.C.E. Babylon, known for many things – gardens, law, sin…., was also known as the birthplace of pipe, pipe that was formed of clay and baked.

Nearly six thousand years later, we still hadn’t changed pipe all that much. In the 19th century, sewer pipes were still typically fashioned by hand, glazed inside and out with a salt glazing, and then fired to the point of vitrification (when temperature fluctuations break molecular bonds and change the molecular structure). They held up well too, with examples of clay pipes being in active use for 100-150 years!

This type of pipe, sewer pipe, was actually used for a number of applications, including garden furniture and urns, chimney caps, planters, birdhouses and more. The most popular however are perhaps the pieces known as “end of day” objects, things the potters in the tile and pipe factories would hand-model from small amounts of leftover clay at hand as they were wrapping up their work for the day.

These pieces, which reflect the very essence of folk art – defined at least one way as pieces made by untrained artists without profit in mind, are often unique and highly prized by collectors. With the popularity of Staffordshire pottery dogs, seated spaniels molded in sewer tile are very common. Animals in general are very popular with lions, frogs, cats, pigs and squirrels appearing fairly regularly. Most pieces are unsigned, although even those with signatures are usually from unknown artists. The collectible value of sewer tile end of day pieces is influenced, like all pottery, by the condition, but the most significant factors are the originality of the piece and the detail with which it is rendered. More common forms like banks and planters can start at as little as $50, but unique pieces, like the Statue of Liberty pictured here (which, along with the garden furniture link are interesting records because they show what we try to do – linking items that have sold multiple times so you can see the sale history), can bring $4,000 or more. Dogs by George Bagnall, who operated in Newcomerstown, Ohio and is one of the few known sewer tile artists, can also be an exception, fetching several thousand dollars at auction.

EnameCloisonne enamel phoenix candlesticks on standsl (sometimes known as porcelain enamel, most properly termed vitreous enamel) is a very old technique, one which was used among the ancient Persians, Greeks, Celts, and Chinese, and refers to the process of fusing powdered glass to a base (normally metal, but also quite frequently a ceramic base, sometimes even a glass one, is used) by firing it to temperatures between 1,380-1,560 degrees Fahrenheit. At this temperature, the glass powder melts and vitrifies. (Vitreous has multiple meanings, at least two of which apply in this sense – glass-like and a shiny nonporous surface.) The powdered glass is either grounded colored glass or ground glass with pigments, normally metallic oxides, added.

For most of its history, enamel has been used for decorative purposes – decorative objects like vases, urns, boxes, etc., and for jewelry. In the 19th century, manufacturers began producing industrial and household items that have also come to be referred to as enameled: bathtubs, sinks, washing machines, cookware.

There are a number of distinct techniques for applying enamel, but some of the most common decorative methods are painted, cloisonné, plique-à-jour, champlevé, and basse-taille. Painted enamel is exactly what it sounds like – painted onto a flat metal surface. Cloisonné enamel is enameled with the same material, but in cloisonné, a surface design is prepared with a design in a metal framework – not unlike a stained glass window – that is soldered to the surface and enamel is filled into those spaces. Cloisonné was originally a technique of inlaying precious and semi-precious stones into the surface of an object and enamel eventually replaced the stones but the concept of metal framing remained. Plique-à-jour is when a stained-glass-like frame is used, but not applied to a solid metal surface, leaving the back exposed and allowing light to shine through. Champlevé is a more cost-effective method and more suitable for larger works, where instead of applying enamel freehand to a surface or creating the framework cloisonné requires, the design is stamped, pressed, or etched into the surface of the metal and then the resulting compartments are filled with color. (Limoges enamel, in the earliest days, during the 12th century, were champlevé, with a later transition to the more straightforward technique of painted enamel.)  Basse-taille, the one that is perhaps superior in artistry, is where the relief design is accomplished by the kind of craftsmanship that forms fine silver – engraving and chasing work to create relief designs and voids that are then filled with enamel.

Enamel is wonderfully durable and can be applied to virtually any metal. The finished product is scratch-resistant and, unlike paint, it’s won’t fade from exposure to light. Enamel works owe most of their vulnerability to the metal on which they are applied, because if the metal bends, the enamel surface will, of course, crack.

Enameling has been done for so long on so many surfaces and with such varying levels of skill that it’s difficult to make generalizations about the value of enamel-decorated pieces. Age is a significant factor, with older pieces typically having greater value, particularly if they are from high points in the art’s history – ancient China, early Limoges, etc. The subject or style of the decoration and the degree of detail and design in the work (cloisonné pieces often command large prices for these reasons as well) can also play a significant role in value.

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