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

A staddle stone, American, 19th century. Tall, mushroom-shaped stone.Staddle stones take their name from the Old English stathol which means a support or the trunk of a tree. These nifty little pedestals that seem to defy the laws of physics have been used for hundreds of years as the elevating bases for granaries, beehives, game larders, hayricks, and even small barns – any outbuilding that might warehouse things prone to attracting pests. Staddle stones occasionally appear in other places, but are most common in England and in parts of Spain.

Early staddles were made of wood, but stone proved to be not only far more durable but also more stable when it came to holding up under the weight of the finished structure. (While stone is the most obvious choice, there are a few extant examples of cast iron staddles.) The stones themselves were made from whatever was available and thus appear in a variety of sandstone and granite, as well as other stone. Interestingly, the design of the stones varies regionally, both the base and the top, with the bases ranging from cylindrical to triangular to rectangular with varying degrees of tapering and the tops also exhibiting regional variations and even designs.

The key requirement is that the top is flat enough to support the corner of the structure soundly while also overlapping the base stone in a “mushroom cap” far enough to make a “squirrel baffle” of sorts, preventing any climbing rodent from making the transition from the base to the side of the structure and the hay or grain it contained. Elevation has the added advantage of increasing air circulation and preventing the damaging effects of moisture. If such buildings required steps, either a more temporary and portable option, such as a section of log, was used or the top step was simply omitted, assuring a gap large enough to deter rodents was still present.

For collectors, evidence of the stone’s age and wear consistent with a long-time connection between the base and the top are key to value (perhaps because they are also key to detecting fakes). Staddle stones with good age (collectors even like to see evidence of moss or lichen) can easily fetch several hundred or even a thousand dollars.

A magnificent causeway binding: Dickens, Charles, Dealing with the Firm of Dombey and Son. London; Bradbury & Evans, 1848.Robert Rivière (1808 to 1882), born the son of a drawing master and the brother of artists, apprenticed as a bookseller and binder in London. In 1829, he established himself as a seller and binder in Bath, and in 1840, he removed to London and focused solely on bookbinding. His skill was recognized by both nobility and royalty, receiving commissions from Queen Victoria, exhibiting at the Crystal Palace Exhibition, and binding a special edition of the Crystal Palace Exhibition catalog presented to royals from throughout Europe. He was also chosen to rebind the Domesday Book.

Rivière and his wife, Eliza, had two daughters, and in 1880, he went into partnership with his grandson, Percival Calkin, and changed the firm’s name to Robert Rivière and Son. The firm continued in operation until 1939 when it was purchased by noted bookseller  and binder George Bayntun (1873 to 1940). After struggling through World War II, during which much of the staff AND the binder itself served in the war effort, the Bayntun-Rivière firm was appointed, in 1950, Bookseller to Her Majesty. The firm is still in operation today, and still produces exceptional bindings entirely by hand.

Books bound (or rebound) by any incarnation of the Rivière bindery are highly sought after, and can command significant prices at auction. They are typically of colorful morocco (goatskin) and elaborately gilt-stamped, sometimes including pictorial designs on the boards. One of the most popular types of Rivière binding is referred to as a Cosway  binding because they include inset miniature portraits on ivory inspired by the noted British miniaturist Richard Cosway (1742 to 1821). John H. Stonehouse (1864 to 1937) developed this binding at the bookselling firm of Henry Sotheran and Company. He selected Rivière to create the bindings and Mrs. C.B. Currie to execute the miniatures, beginning in the early 20th century.

Most Rivière bindings are stamped, and based on the stamp, they can usually be dated as follows:

“Bound by R. Rivière, Bath” refers to 1829 to 1832

“Bound by R. Rivière” refers to 1832 to 1840

“Bound by Rivière” refers to 1840 to circa 1860

“Bound by Rivière & Son” refers to 1880 to circa 1939

“Bound by Bayntun & Rivière, Bath, England” refers to 1939 and later

Maria Martinez San Ildefonso blackware [pottery] bowl, vasiform with high rounded shoulder gunmetal finish with [decoration of] Avanyu slithering along shoulder; signed Marie on base, circa 1925.Avanyu (sometimes Awanyu) is a deity of the Tewa people. The Tewa are Pueblo Native Americans who share the Tewa language and live around the Rio Grande River north of Santa Fe, New Mexico among the pueblo communities of Nambé,
Pojoaque, San Ildefonso, Ohkay Owingeh (San Juan), Santa Clara, and Tesuque. San Ildefonso and Santa Clara are in particular known for their pottery, which often has depictions of Avanyu.

Avanyu is the guardian of water and represents how important water is to the native peoples of the desert, with the flowing movement of its body suggesting the flow of water and the zigzag of the tongue symbolizing lightning. The serpent, often depicted with plumes or horns, appears in cave drawings in New Mexico and Arizona and remains a common decorative motif on the pottery of a number of Southwestern tribal potters. It’s been suggested that Avanyu might be related to Quetzalcoatl and other feathered serpent gods from Mesoamerican cultures.

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.

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