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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, p4A.com

Thomas Jefferson [autograph/autographed] signed land grant, document signed, partially printed on vellum, May 2, 1803, signed by Thomas Jefferson as President (1801 to 1809) and James Madison as Secretary of State (President, 1809 to 1817).If one wants to collect signatures of America’s founding fathers, land patents are a great place to start! A land patent sounds complicated and technical, but it is simply the name for the transaction and resulting document of a land title when it is issued to the first purchaser of land from a sovereign entity. Usually the sovereign entity in question is the United States government, but in some instances, there are people who hold land in the U.S. that was originally granted by, for example, the king of England, as King George gifted land to a number of early settlers in return for services, just as the United States would later create military districts to gift land in exchange for service. When land was purchased, it was not formally patented, meaning made irrevocably the property of the owner, until it was paid for.  (Land patents are sometimes referred to as land grants, which is technically incorrect almost all of the time. Land grant is typically seen used in association with institutions, such as the land grants that were given to form a number of early Midwestern universities.)

Land was gifted in huge quantities, tens of thousands of acres, after the American Revolution when the new government was looking to alleviate war debts. Some Revolutionary War veterans took land in payment for military service while others would get land patents after purchasing land in the Northwest Territory from the government. The earliest land patents were handwritten and later partially printed documents were adopted, where the clerks could simply fill in the blanks with appropriate name, reason for the patent, and the description and location of the land. The final document was signed by the president of the United States and his secretary of state.

This means many early land patents bear the signatures of the founding fathers – Washington, Jefferson, Madison, Monroe, even Patrick Henry signed some as governor – so they can be highly collectible. Obviously the popularity of the signer weighs on the value (a Jefferson land patent, for instance, is worth more than a James Monroe), but the location can also be a factor, as a patent associated with what is now a highly populated area might have a larger pool of potential buyers than one for a more remote area. Occasionally the patentee can influence the value, if it’s someone who is also well-known, as can an interesting or unusual aspect of the patent. As always condition is important. Folds and fading are expected, but the quality and clarity of the actual signature are crucial. (Any documents, if displayed at all, are best framed with UV glass or acrylic and all acid-free materials – and hung out of direct sunlight.) Collectors should proceed with caution however, as some land patents were signed on behalf of the president by secretaries (particularly true during and after Andrew Jackson’s administration), and secretary-signed documents of any kind are worth a small fraction of those signed by presidents themselves.

Lincoln funerary wreath, Ohio, dated April 29, 1865. Floral and foliate wreath mounted in its original shadow box frame, and the backing paper reads, "This Wreath lay upon the Breast of Abraham Lincoln while his body was lying in State at Columbus, O. April 29, 1865."

Although many people know that Abraham Lincoln was assassinated on April 15 and that this year marked not only the sesquicentennial of the end of the Civil War but also of his death, fewer know that this past weekend was the 150th anniversary of his final funeral (which was reenacted in Springfield, Illinois). Yes, his final funeral, as there were more than a dozen ceremonies held as his casket made the long trip back to Illinois by train. Had he lived, John Wilkes Booth would most likely have been horribly disappointed, because although his assassination attempt was successful, the near-immediate consequence assured Lincoln a permanent place in both the annals of history and of martyrs.

While there are many photographs and documents from Lincoln’s presidency, following his death, the country, still reeling from the end of the war, began to memorialize, indeed almost deify, him.  Newspapers from New York to Cleveland to St. Louis carried reports of his death, as did broadside reports of the assassination.  Photographs of the Lincoln home in Springfield draped with mourning sprang up everywhere.  The assassination was memorialized by Currier & Ives. Much of this was in progress even as the funeral train, which was depicted in engravings as well, carried his body back to Illinois, stopping in New York City, Albany, Buffalo, Cleveland, Columbus, Chicago, among other places, before the final service in Springfield.

Before long, all Lincoln ephemera became precious, including campaign banners,broadsides and ballots.  He began to be immortalized on all sorts of everyday objects from samplers to Staffordshire pitchers and fountain pens to bookends.  His bust was carved into everything from scrimshawed walrus tusks to cane heads to bookcases.  Even a scrap of carpet from the room where Lincoln gave his second inaugural address was preserved, and things regularly turn up from his various funerals, from funeral wreaths to photographs from the various cities’ ceremonies. Collectors should take care to educate themselves and beware of fakes and forgeries, because the popularity of Lincoln and his related ephemera has never faded.

An early 20th century painted sheet iron frame made from remnants of the battleship Maine with photographConstruction of the U.S.S. Maine was authorized in August of 1886, and she was launched in 1889 and commissioned in 1895.  After several years spent patrolling the East Coast and Caribbean, orders sent the Maine and her crew to Cuba in response to continued civil unrest on the island.

Three weeks later, on the morning of February 15, 1898, the battleship Maine lay in Havana harbor. Just after the playing of Taps, Captain Charles Sigsbee recalls, “I laid down my pen and listened to the notes of the bugle, which were singularly beautiful in the oppressive stillness of the night. . . . I was enclosing my letter in its envelope when the explosion came. It was a bursting, rending, and crashing roar of immense volume, largely metallic in character. It was followed by heavy, ominous metallic sounds. There was a trembling and lurching motion of the vessel, a list to port. The electric lights went out. Then there was intense blackness and smoke.”

Later investigations determined that the ship’s powder stores detonated, ripping off the forward third of the ship.  Such a significant breach caused the ship to sink rapidly, but tragedy occurred almost instantly for the many enlisted men sleeping in the forward section of the Maine.  Most of the Maine‘s crew died instantly, with 266 men killed in the explosion and another 8 men dying later from injuries.  Officers, who were quartered in the rear of the ship, fared better, with 18 officers among the Maine‘s 89 survivors. Most of the dead were recovered from Havana’s harbor and were buried in Havana, but almost two years later, in December of 1899, the bodies were disinterred and reburied in Arlington National Cemetery.

The explosion brought about the “Remember the Maine!” battle cry and helped precipitate the start of the Spanish-American War in April of 1898, but numerous investigations, both in the period and years later, have attributed the cause to one of two accidental causes.  One theory is that a external mine in the harbor detonated, most likely accidentally, while the other generally accepted theory attributes the explosion to spontaneous combustion of the Maine‘s own coal supplies.  In either case, the explosion was likely unintentionally and triggered a second, larger explosion by detonating the ship’s powder stores.

Maine-related memorabilia is rare, but appreciated by collectors of historic material when it finds its way to auction. In the aftermath, several companies attempted to capitalize by the patriotic surge the event created, so Maine-related advertising has collectors, but the real money is typically reserved for items related to the Maine in the months before the explosion or pieces created by survivors.

A Centennial Exhibition Stock Certificate for 50 shares issued to John S. Lippincott on October 7, 1875 by the Centennial Committee in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

One of my favorite things on Facebook is the Grandiloquent Word of the Day, although it tends to make me lament how dull language is these days. (Victorians in particular did lovely – and yes, sometimes torturous – things to language.) But every now and then, I do come across some relatively new colorful addition, like scripophily. This very modern word (1970s or so) means exactly what you’d think it means: a “phily” (love) of scrip, or tactlessly put, that paper that still isn’t worth anything. Except that sometimes it is!

Scripophily is a subset of numismatics and while factors like how the industry may have changed, the value of the stock, and, as always, the condition, may influence an auction estimate, scrip is typically desirable for three reasons: the historic context (like stock from the Portsmouth Whaling Company), the artwork – both subject and color (there are beautiful engravings on many stock certificates, especially those associated with the railroads), or the signatures (folks from Pat Garrett to Marcus Garvey to Harry Houdini put their autograph on scrip). Scripophily as a hobby has been growing since the 1970s, and while typically, the older the scrip, the greater the value, take heart – modern financial scandals and crises (think Enron) have given dollar value to stock certificates that might otherwise only be good for wallpapering the attic!

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