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THIS AND THAT - By Terry and Kim Kovel


Not everyone would want this antique sofa from New Brunswick, Canada. It is a piece of unique and attractive folk art by a talented maker. It took time to collect and mount all the shells, and a bidder paid almost twice the estimate to buy it for $4,613.

Seashell Sofa


“I’ve never seen one before, so it must be valuable!” is a common comment made by collectors. But rarity doesn’t always add to the price. Fame, beauty, workmanship, even usefulness adds to the dollars paid for an unusual piece. A recent Skinner auction in Boston sold an 1840s-shaped sofa that was completely covered with shells -- not fabric -- as upholstery. The frame was made of wood and trimmed with rope. It probably was not a comfortable seat, but a unique conversation piece.


The sofa came from New Brunswick, Canada, likely from a seaside town. A talented original artist painted the wood red, then added mussel, clam, scallop, cockle, quahog, snail, starfish and other shells as well as pottery shards. The seat was covered in net. The sofa’s price was estimated at under $2,500, but it sold for $4,613. No doubt the buyer liked the ocean and had an independent taste in furniture.


This Phonolamp was invented by Thomas Edison. It is a lamp with a phonograph as the base. Both work. It sold for $1,967.

Edison Phonolamp


Phonographs were invented in 1877. The early ones had one needle for recording and another needle for playing. The music was recorded on tinfoil-coated cylinders using a needle to make tiny lines that, when played with the other needle, made sounds. Thomas Edison, the inventor, founded his own company to make phonographs. He also invented movies, the light bulb and many other things, but failed to create a cement that could be used to make a case for the phonograph. And he never succeeded in making motion pictures with sound or creating a new way to mine iron ore.


His phonograph company was successful for a while, and he even designed a combination phonograph-lamp in about 1920. The lamp was made to be kept on a table in the living room so the whole family could listen. Many versions were made in the popular styles of the day. A design called a Phonolamp was made about 1920. It had an electric motor, metal case and an embroidered lampshade. These combination lamps soon went out of style but are liked by phonograph collectors. A rare, working Phonolamp recently was sold in a German auction for $1,967.


The signing of the Declaration of Independence is shown on this Chinese Export punch bowl. The pattern must have been inspired by an 1817 American painting, even though the men on the bowl look Chinese. It sold for $5,228 at auction.

Fourth of July Inspires Chinese Punch Bowl


Be careful when using old reference books. Modern research methods, excavations and old documents that were unknown for years have led to changed histories. The Chinese Export porcelain dishes that picture the signers of the Declaration of Independence originally were thought to be made about 1820 when they copied an 1817 painting by John Trumbull. The men posed while signing the document had Chinese faces, because the decorators probably had never seen a Caucasian man. Full sets were made in this pattern. Collectors and museums paid high prices for examples in the 1950s to 1970s.


When the existing examples were studied, slight differences in the decoration led to the belief that this design was made for much of the 19th century. It probably was available during the 1876 Philadelphia celebration of the Centennial of the Declaration of Independence. This led to lower prices, but large or unique pieces remain popular and high priced. A punch bowl with a diameter of 11 1/2 inches sold several years ago at a Skinner auction in Boston for $5,228. It pictured 13 blue stars, the men in groups, and a spread-winged eagle with a body that looks like the Union Shield.


This 32-inch-high Rookwood faience fountain featuring a child and a dolphin spouts water from the dolphin’s mouth into a pond. The water recirculates thanks to a pump, and when the water evaporates either a hose or rain refills it. It cost $2,300 at a Brunk auction in North Carolina a few years ago.

Rookwood Fountain


Flowers were an important part of the lives of Americans from the 1880s to 1950s. Technology had advanced to a time when pottery could be made in multiples in molds and large kilns. New types of plants had been introduced to the country, flower arrangements were a sign of wealth and good taste. Formal gardens were important.


Collectors can find many flower vases by Rookwood, Weller, Roseville, Grueby, Fulper and many other important factories. And urns, flower vases, wall pockets, flower frogs and even chairs, benches, garden ornaments and fountains were popular. Life-sized frogs, rabbits, turtles, squirrels, even deer, dogs, elves and large mushrooms were created to display outdoors. Talented artists made the expensive garden fountains. Many were sculptures of groups of children with birds, fish, plants, shells and large rocks. The Rookwood Pottery started making architectural pottery fountains in 1902 that were groups about 3- to 5-feet high, with water pouring from rock crevices or mouths of large fish.


Today, a Rookwood fountain can sell for $3,000 to $8,000, depending on the artist, subject and condition. It is not unusual to have many chips, stains even firing cracks in a fountain after years outside, but it still sells for thousands of dollars. It also pays to get expert repairs that will raise the value and add to the life of the fountain. A Rookwood fountain sold by Brunk auctions a few years ago brought $2,300 even though it was damaged. Wear and tear on a garden piece adds to the romance and aged look. Check the backyards of house sales or even houses for sale for overlooked fountains and birdbaths or ornaments. You might find a forgotten treasure.

This is a French vase that looks like a globe. It was made in the 1930s at Longwy, a French company. The vase has a name, Atlas, a maker who was a famous artist and an auction price of $4,063.

Globe Vase


The ancient Greeks figured out that Earth was round in about 500 B.C. But the oldest surviving globe showing our planet was made in 1492 by Martin Behaim of Germany. The first globe to show America was made about 1507. Early globes were made of paper glued to a sphere. The paper was cut into “gores,” the shapes needed to completely cover a sphere. Because the globe surface was curved, the map had a distorted picture of a flat Earth. Many globes have been made, and many are decorative as well as useful.


Dating most vintage globes is easy, because each time there is political upheaval and countries change boundaries, the maps and globes also must be changed. A Rago auction in New Jersey sold a 12-inch Longwy vase shaped and decorated like a globe. It was made by Maurice-Paul Chevallier (1892-1987), the director of the French company after 1930. The vase is named Atlas. The countries are not marked on the globe -- just the land masses and oceans -- so it will always be current. It sold for $4,063.

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