Yearly Archives: 2010

Restore China and Glass: DIY or Leave It To The Experts?

18 December 2010

Watch the dealers in an auction room full of antique china and glass.  Their fingers are everywhere.  They fondle and stroke plates and cups, goblets and glasses.  They are especially concerned with the edges where chips so often occur.  the broad surfaces of plates may yield their secret flaws when held up to the light.  Nowhere else in the antique world do you see such a constant search for perfection.You won’t see it in furniture collector’s and dealers.  They celebrate wear and tear.  The lowliest patch of grime and grit is elevated to the lofty status of “patina.”   Most areas of collecting carry on this ethic to some degree.  But glass is meant to sparkle.  You wouldn’t eat off of dirty plates so why collect it and put it on display.  We like to have it whole and blemish free.

Life happens and unless it is locked away for all time our precious bits of china may fall victim to breakage.   China and crystal are often family heirlooms soaked in memories and not easily discarded.  Repairing these items can be a difficult task ending in a thing of beauty degraded to a faded dream.  Before repairing these items take the time to think through your process. Assess your skills realistictly and use the right adhesives.

white glues don’t do much for smooth nonporous surfaces.  I have found that cyanoacrylate or “super glues” are overrated for this type of job.  I like epoxy because it give one the time to bring pieces together and reposition them more precisely if necessary.  always try to arrange a system of clamps to provide a bit of pressure to the mating surfaces.  With epoxy it need not be excessive pressure as long as good alignment of the objects with no gaps can be achieved.  Squeeze-out or smudges can be cleaned up with denatured alcohol.

If the do-it-yourself approach takes you out of your comfort zone or if you wish  to preserve as much of an object’s value as possible then consider handing it over to a china repair expert.  In homemade repairs one often sees that parts were glued together well but small chips were not recovered.  The result is something like a break in dark colored areas where the lighter ceramic shows through.  Experts use special ceramic fillers and dyes to patch cracks and create seamless repairs that are almost impossible to see.  Glass and crystal repair is even harder to perform satisfactorily by yourself.  In a professional repair shop, chips in crystal are ground and polished for a completely invisible repair.  They take advantage of non-yellowing epoxy formulations to glue broken pieces of glass together.  Some even provide materials or repair kits so that if you still want the satisfaction of making a repair at home it can be done with superior materials as well as expert guidance.

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Christmas at eBay and Into the New Year

11 December 2010

Tis’ the season to sell things on eBay.  Head on over and tale advantage of the spirit of buying.  Even my poor contribution has experienced an uptick. It’s a great time to clear out some inventory.  Keep in mind that people buying gifts are wanting to get them shipped in time for Christmas.  You may be tempted to think that all the action takes place in the days leading up to the holiday.  I have had very good runs of sales in the week after Christmas.  I attribute this to the popularity of giving money as gifts.  A lot of people receive cash they can spend on themselves.

Don’t forget to stimulate buying with cheap or free shipping whenever you can.  Ship items promptly as customers seem extra sensitive to shipping issues at this time of the year.  Expect some customers to want their items shipped to family or friends as a gift.  I recently shipped a beer tap handle to Florida for a buyer who lives in California.  Good luck and Merry Christmas to all!

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History Lives in Auction Houses

30 November 2010

Auction houses display historic artifacts from the momumental to the mundane.  Spending time at auction is like being in a class room where everyone has come to participate.  You can learn much and often enjoy the simple emotion of amazement.  So many times I have seen things at auction that I dimly recall reading about.  Seeing a tangible object associated with an important person or event stirs the memory, engages the imagination and brings history to life.

I am not alone in the auction as history point of view.  Rosemary McKittrick writes about auctions at her website, Live Auction Talk.  She has been writing about art and antiques for over 20 years.  Her site archives over 800 articles covering a broad array of categories.   The depth of her experience and keen eye for the story behind the story shows clearly in her articles.  Typically they focus on a particular item that has come up for auction with a description of the historical personality who owned it.  Her research is very good and filled with educational nuggets of information.

Rosemary looks at auctions all over the world to find the story behind historic objects as they come up for sale at auction.    As she says:

“It could be Harry Houdini, Bob Dylan, Truman Capote, Amelia Earhart, Babe Ruth or William Randolph Hearst. I tell their stories through the handcuffs they’ve owned, books they’ve written, songs they’ve sung, planes they’ve flown, empires they’ve built and homeruns they’ve hit—all of which sold on the block.”

Her story on Baron Von Richthofen (The Red Baron) includes interesting details surrounding his untimely demise.  I’m a pilot and dedicated aviation history buff and had forgotten this story.  It’s nice to have it back in my memory bank.  One of his silver beakers commemorating a victory in aerial combat sold at auction for $28.000.

These articles contain some great research on auction prices realized.  Don’t pass up this kind of resource.  Rosemary gets it in one when she says, “When the bidding stops and the hammer falls, the value of an item is set. The buyer, not the seller, sets the price. This simple distinction cuts through all the chitchat about what art, antiques and collectibles are really worth.”

Go to Live Auction Talk and sign up for her free weekly subscription.  It includes an article on the 8 essentials of collections.  It will tell you exactly what needs to be at the forefront of your thinking every time you enter an auction house.  It’s brilliant stuff and lots of fun.

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Invisible Mending With Shellac Sticks

19 November 2010

You can pick up some real bargain furniture from a variety of sources: auction, estate sales, knocking on doors and being a pest or even cruising alley ways to see what people have left for the garbage man.  This can yield  some amazing pieces of trash which can be turned into something less trashy for profit.  Finding real Chippendale, Sheraton and early colonial furniture that will make millionaires get in line does not happen to the likes of me.  However, good solid American furniture classics from the late Victorian era onward are tucked away in basements, barns and sheds of all sorts.  It’s the old furniture that was in Granny’s parlor. Unloved and uncared for, when it sees the light of day it usually needs some help to make it pay for it’s keep in your little corner of the antique mall.

There are a lot of resources available to the restorer to deal with a host of issues.  Finishes on wood break down in time and ill treatment can leave a piece of furniture with dents, dings, gouges and other mechanically introduced impressions.  Sometimes they add to the look of age in way that adds value, especially in primitives.  Classier furniture may want to have some attention payed the bruising.  There are various ways to fill holes and cracks in wood.  All of them work best on a raw wood surface.  If you are stripping and staining you can effect a basically invisible repair with wood putty.  some old-timers have used a mixture of sawdust and glue.  That usually doesn’t work as the glue tends to reject new stains.

The king of hole fillers is the shellac stick.  This type of repair goes back to the day when shellac was the primary clear finish on most furniture.  A filler made from the same material as the finish is naturally compatible.  It can accept shellac coatings without making itself known.  The application of shellac sticks involves a heat source and a knife like applying tool. I used to use an electric burn in knife but you can also use a palette knife and an alcohol lamp. It takes a bit of practice and experience to get the right amount of shellac where it’s meant to go. To protect the surrounding finish from the heat of the knife there is a product called burn-in balm that does the trick.  Basic directions for application techniques can be found at Shellac.net.

Once you have the process dialed in it will become readily apparent how useful this method is.  A primary advantage is the wide range of color choices available for matching up to grain or existing stain color.  Behlen’s makes at least 21 shades including variations on maple, oak, mahogany, walnut, cherry, and pine. A seven inch stick costs about $4.00 and goes a long way.

The next time you bring home a furniture piece that needs a bit more care than a quick rubdown with Old English polish, remember the time-tested shellac stick.  With a little practice you can make defects disappear and keep a classic beauty from becoming firewood.

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Book Collecting Warms a Sailor’s Soul

2 November 2010

Old books are a lifesaver on the stormy seas of circumstance. This is especially true as the autumn mornings descend icily on sailors that are landlocked for the coming season.  It is time to seek comfort in book-lined anchorages where time is suspended like a boat in a gale hanging on the crest of a wave.  Somewhere beyond the multitude of whitecaps is a blue sky and a kinder wind.

There are various kinds of book collector.  The antiquarians are seeking the oldest and rarest volumes.  Speed readers tend to get through a volume and then pass it on to someone else.  I like to savor a book and will reread some if they are particularly useful, meaningful or well written.  Selling books is interesting because you can get an insight into a person by what they choose to read.

A niche market grows from niche interests.  If you are a stamp collector you will like selling stamps.  If you are a sports fan, sports memorabilia, autographs or trading cards are will suit you.  I am a sailor.  You can get an idea of the depth of my interest by looking at my other blog: Seaward Adventures.  Although I have always followed a broad array of interests sailing is the one that never wanes in my worldview.  Back in 1985 I spent a year of my spare time and a lot of money getting my private pilot’s license.  I have an interest in aviation that goes back to my childhood. My passions have been expensive ones and in deciding between boats and airplanes the winner has always been sailboats.

Books are at the foundation of all my interests and so it is with sailing.  They teach, entertain and encourage like loyal friends.  Thus, I have always been a collector of books on my favorite subject.  Life sent me in directions which have caused me to leave behind a large library of precious friends but I am making an effort to recover them.  In the world collecting few things are as ubiquitous as books.  The opportunity to find new treasures or replace old ones is everywhere.  There are used bookstores in every city.  Antique malls always have a loose selection of old books and often some very good dealers in printed matter.  Flea markets and estate sales teem with boxes of books to be had at dirt cheap prices.

There are many classic stories of the sea, from Moby Dick to Mutiny on the Bounty. Everybody knows these from school but the wider body of work is immense.  Fiction is just a part of the whole.  There is a vast array of real life accounts of voyages short and long.  There are instructional books on sailing, navigation, boat-building, seamanship,  pirates and more things naval than I care to contemplate.

Certain classics have been in print for many years.  Ashley Book of Knots is a big heavy book.  It is formatted in an encyclopedic style showing every conceivable way to use rope From the practical to the irrelevant.  If you are into marlinespike seamanship it’s an essential text.  When I settled into life in Washington state it was the first book in my new library.

Maritime history in our country has had no stronger preservationist than Howard I. Chapelle (1901–1975).  He roamed the country documenting and measuring traditional working craft that were disappearing from the waterways.  His books are part history and part studies in naval architecture.  I have been rummaging through these volumes since electronic cigarette brands I was a high school student hiding out in the library.  The Search for Speed Under Sail, The History of the American Sailing Navy, Boatbuilding: A Complete Handbook of Wooden Boat Construction, and American Small Sailing Craft: Their Design, Development and Construction are essentials of which I am still missing two.  As money allows it will be easy enough to pick them up on ABE books.  Fortunately they had a long print run.

L. Francis Herreshoff (1890-1972) is one America’s premiere yacht designers.  He published several of my favorite books, The Common Sense of Yacht Design, Capt. Nat Herreshoff: The Wizard of Bristol, The Writings of L. Francis Herreshoff, Sensible Cruising Designs and An L. Francis Herreshoff Reader. The Compleat Cruiser: The Art, Practice, and Enjoyment of Boating is one of the most engaging and informative books on cruising under sail ever written.  Some would find the book to be very outdated but if you are paying attention you will learn more than you expected about anchoring, boat designs and simple navigation tricks. Such tricks might save your bacon when the GPS goes unexpectedly silent.  I will never understand why the same people who will deny the existence of a holy God will put blind faith in battery powered electronics in a salt water environment.

For the kind of entertainment that can only be had in the pages of fiction I have always preferred C. S. Forester’s Horatio Hornblower series. These 11 novels tracing the career of a British naval officer during the great age of fighting sail ring with authenticity as well as drama.  I have read the whole series at least five times.  I also like to have a shelf full of Alexander Kent’s Richard Bolitho novels.  More ripping yarns from a British pen.  Many people like the more modern equivalent in the Aubrey-Maturin series by Patrick O’Brian but I have never quite warmed up to the characters.

A favorite part of the nautical book genre is books that review various sailboat designs or feature the work of a particular designer.  They are usually illustrated with photos and plans.  Prime examples are Good Boats, More Good Boats and Still More Good Boats by Roger C. Taylor.  It’s a little like motorheads who can tell you the make and year of any car you see on the road and can give you an opinion on it’s performance.  In my head is a catalog of boat designs built up over more than 40 years of absorbing everything I could about sailing vessels.  Wooden boats take precedence but I don’t discriminate against other materials. The best boat I have owned so far was fiberglass.

The best of vintage nautical books have either great engravings or maps bound in.  One of my other collecting passions has always been maps.  This goes hand in glove.  The art of navigation begets the art of topography.  I cannot see a detailed chart, old or new, without concluding that it springs from an artistic sensibility as well an applied science.  I give all the credit to God for creating both the canvas, the paint and the brush.

Nothing makes me feel more secure and at home than to be snuggled up among my books.  A chill is coming and the soul must have some fuel.  Literature can be a beacon to a sailor, even on dry land, as snow falls softly amid the ranks of sleeping hulls in the Wintry boatyard.

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Sell Your Antiques Before They Grow Roots

18 October 2010

An antiques dealer spends as much time searching for stuff to sell as they do actually selling.  The skill is in acquiring desirable merchandise.  Some merchandise is immediately salable.  Some of it needs a little work. Well, maybe a lot of work.  For twenty five bucks you get a walnut buffet at the local low rent auction house.  The six 1/4 inch holes drilled randomly on the front of an otherwise attractive example of reproduction Sheraton furniture seriously detracts from it’s value.  You’d be surprised what you can do with some shellac sticks and a melting iron.  A little work can lead to the satisfaction of a sale.

Some items are beyond help.   They take root in your stand at the antiques mall and defy all efforts to shift them.  When I first started in business I was very impressed at the auction prices brought by blanket chests.  I managed to find three nice ones.  One of them was shellacked the others were grain painted.  Both were old with good original finish and patina.  They were not exceptional, especially in central Pennsylvania’s Amish country but they were genuine items in acceptable condition.  I had three and sold two.  The third one which was the one I personally liked the best became a fixture in my stand for three years.  I eventually marked it down 50% and it still didn’t sell.  The chest became a gift to my mother who was the only one other than myself who seemed to love it.

Fads Fade

Our buying choices often come from the desire to have the latest hottest item.  When Martha Stewart talked about her Fiesta Ware on television the value of the stuff went through the roof.  Before that it was considered dead common and dealers didn’t give it much of a look.  Some people bought it up as parts of box lots and stuffed it away in barns or garages.  When I got into my first antique mall I was probably the only one who didn’t have a shelf full of the brightly covered stuff.  I never did see much of it get sold.  The trend had already peaked and I suspect much of the inventory is back in the barns.

Timing is everything.  It takes a listening ear and good instincts tempered by experience, which takes time, which is everything.  See the circle here?  There are no college degrees in antique marketing, that I know of.  As time goes on you learn that a good solid niche market with customers who are interested in long term collecting is worth far more than a ride on the popularity roller coaster.  Just ask the sellers of Beanie Babies who missed the window of opportunity on that one.

A Costly Business

Capitalism 101: A price that is more than the traffic will bear is bound to put the brake on sales.  Do I really need to belabor this one?  Sell it for more than you paid for it but slightly less than what the other guy is charging.  Competition is good for the soul.

What trips your personal trigger

Probably your interest in some particular thing is at the root of your going into this business.   For me it was furniture.  As a life-long woodworker and student of the history of design I felt that restoring quality antique furniture would be an interesting way to make a living.  That was where I started in antiques.  It was hard to drum up work in the beginning and as I was spending a lot of time at auctions anyway I accumulated a pile of stuff that was interesting to me and looked like a fair bit of inventory for an antique mall stand with eBay on the side.  before long I was selling on eBay with the mall and furniture restoration on the side.

The greatest discovery I made was that the business was an outlet for my own interests flavored by my own tastes.  Some of my interests were aviation, sailing, militaria, books, prints and engravings, tools and scientific instruments.  Before starting the business I was barely aware of some of the sub categories like Victorian trade cards or Tobacco cards.  These subjects called out to me as I encountered them in shops, flea markets and estate sales.  I bought a little at first and found they sold well.  So I took the cue and bought a lot.  If that sounds like it isn’t rocket science it’s because it’s not.

At the same time I was looking at what others in the market where selling and trying to emulate their success.  Sometimes this worked out but at other times it didn’t.  Usually it didn’t work when I was trying to sell purely on the “copying success” formula with things that I didn’t give a rat’s hind end about.  I tried selling glass but I had no love for it and hated cleaning it and worrying over breakage.  It made little sense for me to bother with it.  My girl friend loved the stuff and she took over that end of the business in my antique mall stands.  She did much better with it and enjoyed the profits.

I guess there is a type of dealer who can simply play the antiques game in a coldly analytical fashion like playing the stock market in tune to a clever algorithm.  That’s not me and it’s not most of the dealers I’ve known.  As you ramble about in search of movable goods if you don’t have a passion for an item don’t waste your time on it.  Love the things you sell as much as the things you collect for yourself.  Send them away to good loving homes long before the roots begin to grow.

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You’re Not Getting Older, You’re Getting Collectable

10 October 2010

Aging creates value in a wide array of commodities.  Sometimes it’s an organic process like in wine, cheese or lasagna on the second day.  Everything has a special value when it’s brand new.  It will never again be as clean and bright, smell so good or make the same crystal clear sounds. Once the original luster of an object begins to fade depreciation sets in at a terrifying pace.    A magic age, defined at one time as 100 years, is reached and the depreciation stops and value can rise once again even though there has been no physical improvement in an object.

The 100 year mark is not as hard and fast a rule as it used to be.  I think this changed when collecting became accessible to the masses with the growth of the middle class.  When I was a kid we repainted or stripped and stained old furniture all the time.  Now we preserve the patina and grumble at anyone who would dare fill a scratch.  Antiques have been manufactured for quite a long time with the judicious application of chains, bricks and even the occasional shotgun.  The secret of the “distressed look” con was let out of the bag when furniture makers by the score started turning the stuff out direct from the shop to the showroom.

The patina distress/factor has always seemed to me to be disingenuous except in cases were an object has genuine historical significance or practical utility.  I can’t relate very well to Chippendale furniture that is better suited to a museum setting than my dining room.  However, I can feel connected to an object that wears it’s age well because it has proven it’s usefulness and is within it’s own field hard to improve own with modern substitutions.

I see this happen in the area of antique tools.  Because I have been a woodcarver and cabinetmaker by trade woodworking tools are best known to me.  I currently work in a modern production facility.  We have some excellent tools powered by all the electrical power we care to use in a day’s time.   They are for the most part very precise and I carry a digital caliper that reads to three decimal places.  But some jobs simply don’t need that kind of hair splitting accuracy.  Chisels and block planes still make their appearance and handle some jobs quickly and with no setup time needed.

I don’t wish to disparage any particular manufacturer of tools.  A lot of the old marques are log since dead anyway.  I have two block planes from the same manufacturer and one is significantly better than the other.  You guessed it the 70 year old model fits my hand like well packed snowball and the blade holds it’s edge longer and resharpens better than the newer one.  The newer model is also made in a foreign land although it bears the name of an old line American corporation.  I guess I could go on a rant over that but i won’t.

My time in antiques reinforced the idea that a tools value is in it’s performance, not it’s name.  A respect for good materials similarly lends itself to the character of quality.  In chisels especially steel is the determining factor of usefulness.  For a while stainless steel was everywhere.  Lot’s of claims were made about edges that would stay sharp for a very long time.  Of course nothing stays new forever and resharpening the stuff is tedious and best done with special (i.e. expensive) equipment.  Give me some good high carbon steel which holds it’s edge well and sharpens like a razor.  I treat my tools with great care so rust is not an issue.

Tools that will work when the power goes out still have their place.  I have a great old miter saw that is sort a monster.  I call it my “cordless radial armstrong” saw.  I don’t actually use it much but occasionally it has it’s uses and can perform in some very remote places.

The most ancient tool I have is an old gimlet.  This item is as simple and uncomplicated a method for making a hole in wood as you can get.  It is a classic antique item.  It shows the wear of many years of use and a wooden handle that has real patina.  The kind of patina that comes from perspiration, skin oil and some quantity of good old dirt.  The gimlet has been buffed and polished over a long period of time to a luster that is genuine and true.  It exemplifies the very best aspects of an historical artifact.  This small work-a-day tool says only what can be read for certain from it’s visual appearance. No lies emanate from it and it always get’s the job done when the workman is willing.

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eBay Free Listings

8 October 2010

eBay needs you!  That seems to be the message.  One would assume that the current state of the economy is not treating eBay any better than it is treating the stock market.  A persistent theme in these economically challenging time is  that all the devaluing of stocks, companies, commodities and the roof over your head creates a “buying opportunity.”  That is true on the basis of one man’s misfortune is another man’s ca-ching!  It is , however, the basis for a viable economic strategy in today’s world.

The latest opportunity in the world of eBay is yet another free listing period, the biggest one ever.  The online auction is beating the bushes for sellers. From September 28, 2010 until January 7, 2011 you can list items for free—no Insertion Fees, regardless of the starting price of the item.  They must be listed Auction-style with no reserve price. The latest promotion has a cap of 100 listings per month and applies to sellers who do not have an eBay Stores subscription.

There is another promotion for fixed price listings: one cent insertion fees.  That one is a shorter period from October 9 to 15.  I might give that a try as my auctions aren’t doing well.  Hopefully we will soon see the ramp up to the holiday shopping season.  Keep your fingers crossed and find some good merchandise.

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Find it, Fix it, Sell It – Your Done

25 September 2010

The antiques business always seemed exceptionally busy.  That was my perception anyway.  I had a schedule that never quit.  The good part was that I could control the pace well enough to keep the activity level bearable.  It helped to find tools to make my time more productive.  Quickly, some of those tools were a computer and printer,  price guides and catalogs,  reference books, a vehicle with good gas mileage and a basement suitable for stuffing like a Christmas goose.

Antiquing is part carefully laid strategy and part getting stuck with a bewildering array of things you may not be able to (a) identify (b) restore or (c) get rid of.  Clearly defined areas of interest go a long way toward establishing a productive business model.  Life is easier when you can confidently separate your eenie’s from your meenies and your mineys from your mo’s.  It is inevitable in the trade that you will often buy a group of items to get a hold of just one gem.  Naturally the gems go to the head of the class. They are either sold in very short order or they  are stored in a place and manner such that they will be rediscovered within your life time.  Think inventory control.

Reach into those musty auction boxes and you will find things that are either worn or broken.  Have a garbage can handy.  Identify each item to establish if it is worth the time and materials to restore.  Be careful with genuinely old items, especially furniture, which gains value from patina. Classic example: wooden benches.  Almost any old wooden bench with six peeling layers of paint and worn edges where the bare wood shows through can be sold in an antiques mall or flea market.  Price it low and move it fast. If you can tighten up wobbly legs that’s probably as much restoration as you will need to do.

Most furniture that is post 1930 is not precious museum quality stuff.  Restore it enough to make it attractive in the shop.  Your primary tool here is Old English furniture polish and a rag.  A badly crazed shellac fish can be re-amalgamated with a careful aplication of denatured alcohol.  Throw on a wax finish and you are good to go.  It does great on old oak desks that get surplussed out of old schools and goverment buildings.

Find some handy instructions on the technique and practice on an old piece of waterfall furniture.  Your first effort will not be spectacular but for the right price it will still sell for more than the five bucks you gave for at it a garage sale.  A handy source of materials, tools and general supplies is Thomasnet.com. You probably won’t need a fork lift or titanium sheet but they can guide you to companies with almost anything you need in finishes, solvents, tools, etc.  Their listings under varnishes give 220 results.  There is a ton of information much of which is on a larger scale than you need but keep in mind that even a small shop now a days has requirements for workplace safety and sound environmental practices.

Modern collectibles often do not fall into the patina equals value zeitgeist.  Barbies and Star Wars action figures are best presented as new, even better if they are still in the original box or packaging. Certain niches lend themselves to a lot of tinkering and repair such as model railroading.  Trains have a lot of small parts and electric motors.  there is a marketplace devoted to model trains old and new.  Those Lionel and Marx trains-in-a-basket that surface in estate sales are like a goldmine. If you have the skills to put a deader into running condition or even just reattach all the wheels floating loose in the bottom of the box then your time can indeed become money.

The best part of antiquing is the discovery of buried treasure.  Arghh! We be pirates here.  So look lively and keep a weather eye out for more booty. Once you’ve found it, identified it, and fixed it up it’s time to either keep it as your own or get rid of it.  Either way a little bit more of the world gets sorted out and maybe a little jingle goes into your pocket as well as your step.

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Antiques Between the Pages and Beyond

21 September 2010

When the going gets tough the tough go to the library or the book store.  This has been my motto since childhood.  I was the kid who at the back of the school bus who was called variously Four Eyes, Professor or Book Worm.  I did not like the former.  The second one was acceptable but the latter was a point of pride.  I am an unapologetic reader and lover of books.  This part of my personality directed a portion of my antiques business.

People often say “it’s nothing personal, it’s just business.  However, for me business is personal.  My personality and interests drive me in any business I am involved in.  I love wood and have been a professional woodcarver, I am currently a cabinetmaker.  I worked as a courier for a medical laboratory for 20 years mostly because I love being on the road day after day.  The best part of being a paralegal which I hated because I couldn’t set my moral convictions aside was the opportunity to spend time in law libraries.

The digital age seems to threaten the printing press and bindery.  It may be that paper itself will become a forgotten artifact.   Maybe, I still haven’t seen the paperless office that used to be a sort of techie mantra.  A cashless society won’t surprise me but paper will hang around a little longer.  It is undeniable that print publishing is going to go through more than it’s fair share of changes.  But then it always has.

Format Follows Function

A glossy high quality specialty magazine or coffee table book has little resemblance to a parchment or papyrus manuscript of antiquity.  At bottom they perform the same function.   The sound that emerges from our mouths becomes a part of the past in the instant of being spoken.  it becomes Intangible but still virtual.  It’s preservation occurs not by speaking but by hearing.  Communicating with the written word developed because it froze the virtual and made it actual, able to be understood consistently by all who beheld it.  Well, that’s the theory.  Wars have been fought, fair ladies have been won,  divorces have begun, both evil and good men have risen and fallen,  fortunes won and lost all because of a few words on a document or in a book.  For a prime example read Barbara Tuchman’s The Zimmerman telegram.

Publication has gone from simple scraps of paper to leather bound volumes to slick color covers in perfect bindings.  The various ways of bringing together a collection of pages has served every ages technologies and material resources.  The rate of distribution took a quantum leap courtesy of Mr. Gutenberg.  Lithography brought us into the graphics age.  Offset printing and photography just blew out all the stops.  It’s been a long road to get to the point where ink is not something that can spill and make a mess on your desk.  Ink is just another electronic idea.  Comic books or quantum mechanics, all have spun from analog to digital expression.

This Place in Time

Our chronological vantage point is advantageous to observers of history.  I appreciate the new technologies but still get a warm feeling when I hold a fat volume with calf binding.  Marbled endpapers are high art as are good quality engravings.  Once upon a time people appreciated the craftsmanship in good bindings.  I am not an expert in antiquarian books but I delighted in buying and selling them.  Books also fit my model of niche marketing.  Specialty subjects proved surprisingly profitable. I lucked into a couple of books on slide rules by Isaac Asimov.  They have great collectible value and if you find them in a boxed assortment at a flea market you are sure to get them for next to nothing.  Operations manuals for vintage aircraft have a lively trade amongst people who can afford to pay premium prices.

Of course everyone knows about the high value of first editions.  As a result you usual find them at inflated prices.  The only one I found memorable was in a box lot of children’s books I almost gave away.  It was a first edit ion Dr. Seuss, Cat In The Hat.  It went on eBay for $400.00.  Condition is vital in well known titles but I found that to be less true of books with an esoteric subject matter.  In some cases the content is as collectible as the paper and ink.  Historical data is a commodity unto itself.

Art and books have a long standing relation.  Pre-twentieth century books often have wonderful maps and engravings that are more valuable when separated from the book.  Because of this we have the practice of book-breaking.  Destroying a great old book just to get the prints out to sell individually is a terrible practice.

Books have always been my friends.  They are good company and are always well behaved.  The libraries I have known and the booksellers I have haunted are another subject which I will cover the next time I sit down to share my digitized thoughts with you.

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