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19th century Pennsylvania Folk Art cut-work piece with eagles, horses and doves

19th century Pennsylvania Folk Art cut-work piece with eagles, horses and doves

Just about any culture with paper has a form of paper-cutting decoration, but establishing much of the history is tricky because of the fragile, ephemeral nature of paper.  Still, we know that China and Japan were practicing paper-cutting very early, and the usage depends on the culture.  In Japan, paper-cutting was used to create decorations for the home, while in Jewish and Eastern European cultures, the cuttings often had a religious theme.  The cut-paper objects that survive are very collectible, and among the most collectible are German examples called scherenschnitte, which means “scissor cuts.”  The Germans evolved a technique that depended heavily on folding the paper, and as a result, these designs often have a great deal of symmetry.  The skill traveled to America during the colonial era amongst the Pennsylvania German settlers and moved westward as they did.

Because of their ephemeral nature, scherenschnitte works are already rare.  When you add the price-boosting popularity of folk art and excellent condition, prices can be very strong for a typical Pennsylvania example (pictured above) with good condition and provenance.  Smaller examples in common forms like animals and snowflakes can often be found for less.  Color is often added to enhance the details, as is the case with this example.  Cuttings by known artists also bring good prices, as the delicate details allow scholars to draw some connections if not actually identify the artist, and more modern pieces by artists like David Ellinger (read our reference note) are always popular when they appear at auction.

-Hollie Davis, Senior Editor,

Feather Christmas tree on revolving musical stand

Feather Christmas tree on revolving musical stand

The tradition of bringing a tree into the home and decorating it was first criticized by the prophet Jeremiah.  Oliver Cromwell later preached again the “heathen tradition,” but of course, we know how things turned out for him….  Later, Christmas trees were criticized for different reasons – environmental ones!  It’s a little hard to imagine now, but in the early 20th century, railroads and other changes in industry had resulted in rapid deforestation, thereby opening the door for artificial trees.

The first artificial trees produced for the mass market were feather trees, and they are still very collectible.  Feather trees are just that – trees made of feathers.  Goose feathers, with one half stripped away, were dyed and then wound around small sticks or wires.  After being bound off with wire, these “branches” were fitted in holes drilled in a central wooden dowel that acted as the trunk.  They were mostly sold in white or shades of green, but were also available in more exotic colors like this blue one.  As they evolved, some came with small berries (that cleverly served the dual purpose of providing a solution to the tricky wrapping at the end of the branch), while smaller versions appear in the hands and packs of Santa figurines.  Fancy versions, like the one pictured above, often had musical rotating bases.  After that, the mass market machine kicked into drive, and aluminum, PVC and fiber optic trees couldn’t be far behind!

Originally published on December 4, 2009

Aside from digital photography, there likely has been no greater innovation to the antiques marketplace in the 21st century than the online auction.  In its relatively short life, just over ten years, the online auction has gone from being a novelty to being absolutely essential to the trade in antiques, art, and collectibles.

Most everyone is well acquainted with eBay, the personal auction site that has, since the mid-1990s, allowed individuals to buy and sell everything from weathervanes to Pez dispensers to vintage Indian motorcycles.  However, in what now seems a distant memory, eBay was the driving force in bringing the online auction to the traditional antiques trade.  Between 2002 and 2008, eBay, at first partnering directly with brick-and-mortar auction houses, and then later utilizing intermediaries Live Auctioneers and ArtFact, brought millions of lots to a global bidding platform.  It no longer mattered whether you  were in Massachusetts, Ohio, Wyoming, or even London or Tokyo, you could bid on, and buy, items being sold at auction houses around the world.

When, in 2008, eBay announced that it would be closing its virtual saleroom to traditional live auctions, the marketplace nearly panicked.  Smaller and regional auction houses had grown substantially based the reach that eBay provided them.  The panic quickly subsided, however, when Live Auctioneers and ArtFact assured both buyers and sellers that they could step in and provide a bidding platform that would rival that of eBay.  By mid-2009, the marketplace had relaxed—both companies had built virtual salerooms and most auction houses saw very little reduction in their internet bidding.

Online bidding has become such a mainstay in the antiques marketplace, and in fact, such a critical aspect of it, that more recently, many traditional auction houses have abandoned their physical saleroom, in whole or in part, and now hold “online only” auctions.  Additionally, new auction companies have formed that exist solely in the virtual world.

There are two primary types of online auctions: a traditional “live” auction with real-time bidding, and a timed-bidding auction when bidding is scheduled to end at a specific time.  In a live online auction, internet bidding is typically one component of the auction (which generally includes a saleroom full of bidders, and others bidding via absentee and telephone bids), though some auction houses are holding auctions that function like traditional live auctions, but internet bidding is the only method of participating.  In this type of live auction, the internet bidder, most often working through ArtFact or LiveAuctioneers, can leave absentee bids online or bid during the auction by clicking on a “Bid” button during the sale of each lot.  Here, a member of the auction house staff is stationed in the saleroom, relaying bids from the internet to the auctioneer, who opens and closes each lot in the traditional manner.

Most frequently, auction houses wishing to hold online auctions, choose the timed-bidding format.  In these auctions, bidding is open for a set period of time, typically a week or more, and then bidding closes at a set time.  In most cases, either individual lots or groups of lots, end at predetermined times, usually a few minutes apart.  For example, lots 1-10 may close at 8:00 pm, with lots 11-20 closing at 8:05, lots 21-30 at 8:10, etc., until all the lots are closed.  With pre-determined ending times, much like on eBay, bidders will be competing with “snipers.”  Snipers are those who attempt to get their bid placed in the final few seconds of the auction, thereby preventing anyone else from outbidding them.  To counter this, many timed-bidding auctions employ a system where a bid placed in the final moments keeps the lot open until a set period of time (sometimes thirty seconds, a minute, or five minutes) has elapsed with no bids.  In timed-bidding auctions, the opening and closing of lots is done entirely by the computer software—no human auctioneer is required.

Whether sitting at home in front of the television with a laptop, or sitting under a tree in a park with a smartphone, ever-advancing technology is making bidding at auction easier than ever.  The internet has  profoundly changed the antiques and art marketplace, and although it is unlikely that traditional live auctions will ever disappear, online auctions will likely become the preferred method to sell more and more categories of antiques. has always covered live auctions with an online component—it’s hard to find auction that aren’t online these days—and as online only auctions are becoming an increasingly important segment of the auction marketplace, will cover many of those too.

Some auction houses have utilized the online only format to expand their auctions of some categories (American Indian art, militaria, historical ephemera) to include lower-valued examples.  Other auction houses often use the online only format to expand their offerings into new categories (movie posters, antique stock certificates, sports memorabilia).  In either case, these auctions allow a great opportunity to add both more breadth and depth to the database.

We’re so excited about the third Midwest Antiques Forum, to be held in Cincinnati, Ohio, April 26-28, 2013! We have a great lineup of speakers, talking about everything from archaeology and yellow ware to the Lincoln home and the War of 1812. And, in addition to a great slate of speakers, we also have some great “extras” this year, including a reception at Main Auction Galleries with auctioneer Jay Karp and a tour of the Taft Museum’s exhibit, Local Exposures: Daguerrotypes from Cincinnati Collectors, with Wes Cowan, who has such knowledge and enthusiasm for early photography. And, if you’re interested, extend your trip and enjoy springtime with the additional optional trip to Georgetown and Ripley, Ohio and Maysville, Kentucky. Check out the details of the schedule at and make plans to see us in Cincinnati. Spring will be here before you know it!

Also, if you’re an appraiser, remember that we’re offering continuing education credits to members of ISA, ASA, and AAA. It will be a great time to connect and learn along with your colleagues.

If you’ve got questions send an e-mail to or give us a call at the Prices4Antiques office at 937.426.7573. Can’t wait to have so many wonderful scholars in the same room discussing Midwestern decorative arts, so please make sure you join us!

This summer Prices4Antiques, along with Garth’s Auctions, sponsored an antiques writing contest: “Biography of an Object”. This was a unique opportunity for writers of all ages to spark life into a selection of decorative and fine art objects, even some found in the p4A database! We will be posting the 3 first place essays here on our blog.

A Seat of Distinction
By Elaina C. of Xenia, Ohio
First Place: Child’s Division, Age 12 and Under

“Bang, bang, bang!” The carpenter hammered my intricately carved front legs on. I was filled with pain as he did it, for having one’s body parts screwed and hammered together is not a comfortable experience. The carpenter, I
discovered, had a habit of humming and talking himself as he worked and usually said things like, “Where did those nails go?” and, “Beautiful work, if I do say so myself!” What the carpenter didn’t know was that I could hear every word he said.

The next morning was dismal and rainy. Since the workshop was dark already, the carpenter lit some candles for light. Suddenly, a candle toppled to the floor and a pile of sawdust caught on fire. The carpenter untied his apron and beat the fire with it. The flames died down, and flickered out. The carpenter rushed over to me and examined me closely. Thankfully, there wasn’t a burn in sight.

At sunrise, the carpenter burst into his workshop and cried, “What a beautiful chair you are!” All day he hummed happy tunes, and his work was fast paced and efficient. “You’re going to be done this evening.” He said with a smile. Everything from my maroon upholstery to my clawed feet had been made with carefulness. Both the carpenter and I were pleased with the way I turned out. “Today is the day you are to be delivered,” the carpenter told me as he marched in at 5:00 the next morning. You would think he would be sad to part with the best work he had ever done, but he was actually happy to let someone use such a beautiful specimen for a good reason. I wondered who would own me. Would I live in a house with children? Would it be noisy or quiet? I certainly hoped I would be well‐kept. But neither he nor I would know until later what a wonderful purpose I was destined for.

At 7:00 that morning, I was delivered to a little house in Philadelphia. I was glad Philadelphia wasn’t far away, for the bumping of the wagon was loud and uncomfortable. When we got to the house, a quiet, red‐headed man was there to greet us. “Thank you very much for delivering this to me,” he said. The next evening, Thomas Jefferson sat down in me, and, at his desk wrote the opening line, “When in the Course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another…”

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