Antiques & Collecting: Galle’s art nouveau pottery the cat’s meow
Emile Galle is a famous artist, a leader of the Art Nouveau movement in France in the mid-1800s. He started his art while working at his father’s furniture and pottery factory. By 1877, he managed the factory and started making clear glass.
He soon developed a style of his own making vases of heavy, opaque colored glass in layers that he carved into plants and flowers. He called it cameo glass. In 1878, his exhibit at the Paris Exhibition made him famous, and he promoted Art Nouveau designs in his glass and in the marquetry on his furniture.
By 1885, he founded a workshop for furniture and made pottery. Many modern collectors only know about Galle’s cameo glass, yet his pottery and furniture are often sold at shows and auctions. Furniture can be identified by the script name “Galle” as part of the marquetry design. The heavy faience (pottery) vases have thick walls, curved patterns and rounded edges and rims. Each is colorful and decorated with natural shapes of plant life.
But little is written about his seated faience. Each cat is about 12 inches high and 7 inches wide. Most are glazed yellow, although some are blue, black or green with small scattered hearts and circles as decorations. A few have elaborate drawings of flowers covering the body. Every cat had glass eyes and a grin.
Morphy Auctions sold a signed pair of yellow Galle figurines with scattered hearts and circles on a yellow background for $1,476 despite minor damage. At first glance they look like two cats, but one is a frowning bulldog. We wonder why cats are almost the only animal figure he made.
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Q. I have a picture of Tom Mix that was signed personally to my uncle Ronald. Might this have any value?
A. The value of an autograph depends on the fame of the person who signed it, rarity and condition. Handwritten, signed letters usually sell for the most money, an autograph on a piece of paper or card, or cut from a document, for the least. A picture that is inscribed, personally autographed to someone and signed, is usually worth less than a picture with just the signature. An autograph signed in pencil isn’t as desirable as one signed in ink. Tom Mix (1880-1940) was the most popular Western star of his era, starring in over 200 films from 1910 to 1935. Most were silent films. He had his own radio show beginning in 1933. He died in 1940 when his car overturned in a crash. If you want to sell the autographed picture, you should contact an auction that sells autographs and celebrity memorabilia. A photo card of Tom and his horse, inscribed to someone, sold at auction for $250, other pictures for $2,000.
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Q. My mother-in-law wants to sell a Van Briggle lamp she got at the factory in Colorado many years ago. It has a matte, turquoise-colored figural base of a woman holding a jug on her shoulder. The matching shade has butterflies on it. How do I help her sell it?
A. Van Briggle Pottery started in Colorado Springs, Colorado, after 1901. The factory closed in 2012. This lamp is called “Damsel of Damascus.” The figure represents Rebekah, who appears in the Bible with a jug of water on her shoulder. Abraham’s servant was sent to the well to choose a wife for Isaac and was told to choose the damsel who would let down her jug and give him and his camels water to drink. This lamp was made in the mid-20th century. It sells for about $150-$200, but you’ll probably only get half the retail value.
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Q. We have a Patent Magneto-Electric Machine for Nervous Diseases. It’s in a wooden box. We’d like to know the history and value of this machine.
A. The electromagnetic machine is a quack medical device popular in the late 1800s. The patient held a metal cylinder in each hand while the operator turned a crank to deliver a mild shock to the patient. The flow of electricity was regulated by the speed at which the crank was turned. Some claimed it could cure diabetes, heart disease, cancer, tuberculosis and other diseases. A Davis & Kidder’s Patent Magneto-Electric Machine for Nervous Diseases, patented in 1854, sold at auction for $360 in 2018.
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Q. My mom had some paintings from her childhood and before I dispose of them, I’m trying to determine if they have any value. Where can I go to see if they are worth anything? These would be from the 1930s or ’40s.
A. If the paintings are signed, search the artist’s name on the internet to see if other paintings by that artist have sold. You can also contact dealers who sell paintings to see if they have heard of the artist. Prices for paintings by artists that aren’t well-known depend on the desirability of the subject and the skill of the artist. That said, some people buy paintings just because they like the colors and need something that size to fill space on a wall. If they are paintings, not copies (prints), they would have to be seen by a knowledgeable person to be appraised.
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Q. I have a Confederate bond, uncut and without foxing, on acid-free mount. It’s dated March 1864 and the coupons pay every six months through 1894. The bond promises 6% interest. Each coupon is individually numbered and signed by RO Tyler. What is this worth?
A. The Confederate government issued millions of dollars of bonds to finance its war effort, beginning in early 1861 and continuing until 1865. Robert Tyler, the son of the former President John Tyler, was the Confederate Register of the Treasury. After the war, the Confederacy didn’t have the money to pay off the bonds, and they became worthless pieces of paper. Their value today as a collectible depends on design, rarity of the signatures and condition. Most sell for $100-$150.
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TIP: Spray glass cleaner on a cloth, then wipe the glass on a framed print. Do not spray the glass because the liquid may drip and stain the mat or print.
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Terry Kovel and Kim Kovel answer questions sent to the column. By sending a letter with a question and a picture, you give full permission for use in the column or any other Kovel forum. Names, addresses or email addresses will not be published. We cannot guarantee the return of photographs, but if a stamped envelope is included, we will try. The amount of mail makes personal answers or appraisals impossible. Write to Kovels, The Journal, New Ulm, King Features Syndicate, 628 Virginia Dr., Orlando, FL 32803.
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Current prices are recorded from antiques shows, flea markets, sales and auctions throughout the United States. Prices vary in different locations because of local economic conditions.
Bookends, horse standing by stall door, cast metal, bronze color, pair, 6 1/4 inches, $75.
Rosenthal fish tray, fish, clams, pond, acanthus leaves, coral, gold trim, 14 x 9 inches, $220.
Dresden vase, double courting scenes, iridescent maroon border, gold highlights, two gold handles, 8 1/4 inches, $290.
Coralene vase, gold highlights, blue flowers, green leaves, orange background, 1909, 5 inches, $320.
Indo Bakhtiati rug, orange field, geometric medallion, ivory border, 8 feet 9 inches x 11 feet 10 inches, $560.
Sampler, tree of life, serpent, flower and vine border, fruit basket, animals, yellow, green, c. 1820, 16 1/2 x 16 1/2 inches, $580.
Galle cameo vase, pink and white background, green leafy overlay, signed, 7 3/4 inches, $830.
Berkeley Mills “Prairie” sofa, square, cantilevered armrests, two seats, block feet, 27 1/2 x 90 inches, $960.
Porcelain group, woman playing mandolin, man playing cello, dancers, courting couples, continental, 15 1/2 x 22 inches, $1,540.
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