Archive for the 'Antiques' Category

Why Lacquer?

October 11th, 2013 | posted by Justine D'Ooge

Used to decorate various objects, lacquer has come to be admired for it smooth, polished finish.  The beauty of this versatile material has been heightened with flecks of precious metals, materials such as tortoiseshell and ivory, and has even been set with hardstone and shells.  What many may not realize, however, is lacquer’s utilitarian roots.

Japanese Lacquer Tray.  Circa 1900.

Japanese Lacquer Tray. Circa 1900.

As early as 4,000-3,000 BCE sap was being harvested from the lacquer tree, rhus verniciflua, and used to protect everyday objects.  Finished lacquer is not only impressive in its appearance, but also in its durability; once the complicated task of polishing and burnishing lacquer is completed, it results in an impermeable surface, one that is resistant to moisture, alkali, and even acids.  Less elaborate versions of this tray, for instance, could be used daily without fear of it being ruined.

Turning extracted sap into the fine product you see on pieces such as these is serious business.  In Japan, by 701 AD, laws were made determining how many lacquer trees a household was allowed to grow.  Don’t mistake this to mean that the lacquer industry was easy money! There are over twenty steps required between the preparation of an item’s wood base and the finished work, and this is after the sap is tapped, stirred in the sun for evaporation purposes, and kneaded extensively.  Artisans that worked with lacquer had to be adept with a variety of tools as a myriad of stones, charred woods, and cloths were used throughout the polishing process.

Meiji-Period Lacquer Document Box

Meiji-Period Lacquer Document Box

 Just as porcelain became known as “china” in the West, lacquer became known as “Japan”.  This nomenclature took hold when the appetite for these objects grew following the arrival of the first Portuguese sailors there in the late 16th century.  The time-consuming nature of the process, however, meant that lacquer pieces were never exported at the same rate as porcelain, making these items highly collectable.  No other objects hold quite the same fascination, and luster, as lacquerware- they are true marvels of nature, as refined by man.  Click here to see more lacquer objects.

Life Before Barometers

September 27th, 2013 | posted by Justine D'Ooge

It is amazing that settled agriculture is considered to be a major contributing factor in humans’ shift towards civilization, yet instrumental meteorological observations did not begin until the early 17th century.  From farmers to fishermen,

Stick Barometer By John Bennett

Stick Barometer By John Bennett

humans relied on knowledge gathered from generations of observations to predict the weather; maxims such as “Red sky at night, sailor’s delight.  Red sky in morning, sailor’s warning” were our guides before Doppler radar.

Barometer by Worthington of London

Barometer by Worthington of London

Instrument-based predictions that are indispensable to us now (especially for those of us that are put in the crosshairs every hurricane season) were begun in earnest with the thermometer developed by Galileo Galilei.  Even though the Italian physicist Evangelista Torricelli is credited with inventing the barometer in 1643, this original invention by Galileo did also, in fact, respond to atmospheric pressure just like a barometer does.

It is hard to overestimate the importance of barometers in pre-Industrial Revolution society.  In the early years of their use, we relied on them heavily for planning day-to-day routines; even the most modest of homes had some manner of this instrument.  However, few barometers dated before the 1770s, the early part of this significant point in human history, remain today, making this Georgian barometer from circa 1750 quite the find. Crafted by the leading London instrument-maker John Bennett, this exceptional barometer is known as a “stick” barometer.  While many attempts were made to improve upon the barometer’s  form, the stick barometer proved to be the most reliable.

Another fine example of a stick barometer is this one by the esteemed Worthington & Allan.  While the barometer by John Bennett bears a sycamore veneer, this piece from circa 1825 is crafted with another luxurious choice: Cuban Mahogany.

Nowadays you may rely on the news or your phone to stay updated on the weather, but nothing compares to the elegance of these barometers.  Without taking up much wall space, you have both a graceful form made from the finest of woods, and a functional reminder of what life was like centuries ago.

The Incredible Spherical Puzzle

August 6th, 2013 | posted by Deborah Choate
Chinese carved ivory tazza with the addition of a puzzle ball, Circa 1820

Chinese carved ivory tazza with the addition of a puzzle ball, Circa 1820

If you were to hear the word “puzzle,” the first thing that would probably come to mind would be the countless jigsaw puzzles that you solved throughout your childhood. Puzzles; however, come in many shapes and sizes and serve various purposes aside from entertainment. One characteristic that all puzzles share is a unique quality of mystery and their presentation of a mathematical or logistical problem.

Throughout history, the Chinese have been known for creating beautiful works of arts and crafts. The Chinese puzzle balls of the early 19th century are perhaps the most mysterious and nuanced crafts ever created. Even though these tiny treasures are not meant to be solved like a normal puzzle, they are called “puzzle balls” due to the mystery and puzzling explanation behind their making. Technically speaking, they can be solved by aligning all the holes from each layer together; however, due to their fragility and delicate material it is recommended that they be used simply for decorative purposes.

Carved from a single piece of ivory, the ball is comprised of a series of nested spheres that move independently.

Carved from a single piece of ivory, the ball is comprised of a series of nested spheres that move independently

Chinese craftsmen paid much attention to detail when crafting these delicate masterpieces. Puzzle balls are typically made of ivory and have 3 to 7 layers of concentric, hollow spheres. Using a small “L”-shaped tool, the artist would start with a solid ball of ivory, jade, wood or any other ductile material and carefully drill his way through to the center. He would then hand carve various holes within, working his way up, ultimately dividing the solid ball into many layers. This process required a great amount of time and of course, an incredibly steady hand.

The final result would be a ball containing multiple layers of unique smaller spheres within. While each layer would have its own unique design or symbols, the outermost shell showed the most extraordinary amount of craftsmanship and beauty while also telling a symbolic story. Loaded with important symbolism and charm, these puzzle balls were often used as good luck charms for Chinese royalty and nobles. A painstaking and costly process is required to create just one of these elaborately ornamented treasures; therefore, ivory puzzle balls are highly sought after by collectors today.

Each brilliantly carved figure stands atop a Chinese puzzle ball with a lotus blossom base

Each brilliantly carved figure stands atop a Chinese puzzle ball


These puzzle balls are truly amazing to see up close. Come stop by our gallery today to see one in person! Whether it’s our puzzle ball chess set or incorporated at the base of our carved ivory tazza, you will certainly be blown away by the incredible attention to detail found in each ball.

Bringing the Outdoors into Your Living Room

July 19th, 2013 | posted by James Gillis
Circa 1910, 27 1/2" diameter x 69 1/2" high

Circa 1910, 27 1/2″ diameter x 69 1/2″ high

Are you the type of person who is inspired by the aura of natural light? If you answered “yes”, then you share the same passion as Louis Comfort Tiffany. Tiffany was an American artist during the Art Nouveau period best known for his stained glass works such as the lampshade seen here. His distinct style emphasized organic forms and geometric designs, which often depicted beautiful, outdoor landscape scenes. Tiffany was fascinated by bright colors and the natural light of the outdoors; therefore, his goal was to create stained glass lampshades that would bring the beauty of the outdoors into peoples’ homes year-round.

Each lamp was carefully handcrafted using the copper foil method, which allowed the individual pieces of stained glass to adhere together creating a delicate masterpiece. While this process took patience and time, it is the reason why no two Tiffany lamps are alike. Each lampshade tells its own story and has its own distinct style; a feature that makes it truly a one of a kind collector’s item.

The Ultimate Souvenir from the Grand Tour

July 6th, 2013 | posted by Phillip Youngberg
Circa 1845, 35 ½" diameter x 29 ½" high

Circa 1845, 35 ½” diameter x 29 ½” high

Travel during the late 16th century all the way through the early 19th century was considered a privilege and a symbol of wealth shared only by those who were fortunate enough to afford the luxury.

During this time period, young, upper-class, European men would embark on a Grand Tour of Europe after having finished their academic studies. These young men would spend time traveling throughout Paris, Venice, Florence, and Rome visiting the great masterpieces of art and architecture that they had studied throughout their time in school.  During their Grand Tour, they would also gather unique souvenirs along the way as a means of capturing the beauty and glory of each destination. Often times it was common for a young traveler to gather rare pieces of marble or granite that were unique to each specific region that he had visited. He would then bring these specimens back home with him after completing his Grand Tour and have a local artisan craft a ‘souvenir table’ for him.

In this incarnation, the final result is an ornate table decorated with micromosaic scenes framed by rare marble and granite samples.  These tables not only served as personal souvenirs for the traveler but were also symbols of great wealth and knowledge. Anyone who visited the traveler’s home would see this table and be able to tell just how worldly he was, based on the amount of unique marble and granite samples he had collected along his journey.

Click here to learn more about this incredible piece.

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