‘Folk art’ showcases skills of its creator

  • By Terry Kovel
February 23, 2013
This unique floor lamp is an expensive piece of folk art. It brought $27,600 at a November 2012 auction held at Guyette, Schmidt & Deeter of St. Michaels, Md.

“Folk art” is the confusing name given to some things made by untrained artists. From the 1930s into the ‘50s, antique collectors might have called these pieces “primitive” or named them for a region, like “Pennsylvania German style.” By the 1950s, some daring collectors were searching for woodcarvings, painted chests, sculptures and paintings that lacked the realism of a scene or portrait by a trained artist. Everything was handmade.

Today folk art includes not only informal handmade items, but also commercial pieces like iron doorstops, carousel horses, store signs, weathervanes and some toys.

By the 1960s, there were homemade and factory-made folk art lamps assembled from bottles, metal fire extinguishers, milk cans and store tins. Other lamps were made by Boy Scouts, prisoners, soldiers or housewives using patterns in craft magazines.

Driftwood, unsophisticated pottery, walnut shells and even antique toasters were used to make lamps. But the most popular and pricey appear to be constructions made of old cigar boxes, Popsicle sticks or hammered brass bullet casings. Today, top prices are paid for lamps made of small glued pieces of carved wood that show the skill of the maker.

Another style is “tramp art,” made from chip-carved pieces of cigar boxes. The ice pop, invented in 1905, was named “Popsicle” in 1924. The wooden sticks from the icy treat were probably used for crafts from the beginning. Boxes of unused sticks were available in stores by the 1950s. Prices are based on the originality and talent of the lamp’s maker and how eager a collector is to own the unique piece, so they can range from $25 to thousands of dollars.

A one-of-a- kind 1910 floor lamp by an unknown artist sold last fall at Guyette, Schmidt & Deeter, a Maryland auction house, for a surprising $27,600, well over estimate. The 5-foot-tall lamp was made of carved and stained pine and cedar. The wooden shade and center column are covered with carved and applied birds and designs.

Q. I would like to know the order of marks on items made in Japan. Which is oldest, “Nippon,” “Made in Occupied Japan,” “Made in Japan” or just “Japan”? Does it make a difference if the mark is red, green, black or another color?

A. Most pieces marked with the name of a country were made after 1891, when the McKinley Tariff Act was passed. Pieces from Japan were marked “Nippon,” the transliteration of the Japanese word for Japan. After 1915 the words “Made in ...” usually were added. Beginning in 1921, U.S. Customs required country names to be in English, and the word “Japan” was used instead of “Nippon.” Items marked “Made in Occupied Japan” were made between February 1947 and April 1952. After that, just the word “Japan” was used again. According to experts on 19th- and 20th-century Japanese ceramics, the color does not help date a mark. Red, green and black were used most years. There is no explanation for when other colors were used.

Q. I recently bought a desk and chair at a thrift store for $29. The front of the desk pulls down to reveal a storage compartment. There is a sticker under the desk that says “Ferguson Furniture, Hoboken, N.J.” Can you tell me how old it is?

A. Ferguson Brothers Manufacturing Co. was founded in 1898 by Harry and Louis Ferguson. The company was incorporated in Hoboken in 1900. It was run by members of the family until 1953, when it was sold to Sun-Glo Industries. Ferguson made inexpensive reproduction furniture and “furniture novelties,” including cedar chests, cellarettes, folding screens, folding tables, humidors and smoker stands. Your set sounds like a bargain.

Q. My Wonder Woman hand mirror from Avon is in its original box marked “DC Comics Inc., 1978.” The handle of the mirror is in the shape of Wonder Woman and the mirror is surrounded by her lasso. I have treasured this for years and have never used it. Is it worth anything?

A. The Wonder Woman mirror cost $7.50 when it was introduced. The value of your mirror in its original box is about $25 today.

Tip: Dust mites are the subject of many articles today. The more humid the environment, the more quickly the mites multiply. Dust mites eat dust particles, then turn to paints and glazing materials on wooden pieces. The only way to prevent damage is to clean regularly and vacuum with a machine that heats up enough to kill the mites.

Current prices

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.

• Trivet, “Good Luck to All Who Use This Stand,” cast iron, six- pointed star, 8 x 4 inches, $35.

• Tent curtain, Turkish, diamond design, red field, c. 1940, 28 x 49 inches, $214.

• Andirons, brass, double-lemon top, 19 x 22 inches, $295.

• Toy wagon, wood, Goodwill Soap stencil, side handle, 31 x 19 inches, $325.

• Hampshire Pottery vase, green matte glaze, shouldered, 4 x 7 inches, $336.

• Toy robot, Astroman, plastic, glow-in-dark head, walks, bends, red, black, box, c. 1962, 4 x 11 1/2 inches, $403.

• Candlestick, Charles X, gilt bronze, marble socket and shaft, 15 1/2 in. pair, $1,075.

• Cloisonne jardiniere, flower vases, lappet bands, cobalt blue ground, wooden stand, Chinese, 34 inches, $1,250.

• Tiffany silver vase, Art Deco, trumpet shape, line sides, flowers at base, domed, round foot, c. 1950, 11 inches, $1,500.

• Pier table, neoclassical, mahogany, marble top, columns, mirror, shelf, c. 1810, 36 x 36 inches, $5,795.

Write to Kovels, King Features Syndicate, 300 W. 57th St., New York, NY 10019.



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