Today’s post comes from Emyl Jenkins, author of the popular Sterling Glass mysteries The Big Steal and Stealing with Style. Jenkins’ heroine Sterling Glass uses her appraisal skills to navigate the tricky—and often dangerous—world of antiques.
The author herself is a longtime antiques appraiser who has worked at two auction houses and written numerous books and articles on antiques, as well as a syndicated column.
We asked Emyl to share her expertise and appraise some Algonquin staffers’ “treasures.” Enjoy! Oh, and if anyone wants that “classic” Batman VHS, let’s talk.
Just about any antiques expert will tell you the most frequently asked question is probably, Just what is an antique? As Sterling Glass would tell you, there are three different definitions of an antique.
Within the legal system, an object has to be 100 years old to be termed “antique.”
To museum people and connoisseurs, “antique” refers to pieces made before tools and machines ushered in the age of mass production. They say the Industrial Revolution brought the downfall of craftsmanship and true artistry. Using that criterion, antiques pre-date the1830-1840 era.
And then there’s the last definition: Antiques are anything that belonged to your grandparents.
But within the broad antiques world, there’s another very important word: collectible. Pieces that people want to collect that are no longer being made today—items like the early Barbie dolls, old movie posters, wooden toys made in the 1960s, even old computers and calculators—these are all “collectibles.” So what if collectibles aren’t true antiques, or even tremendously valuable? Like antiques, they have a place in our lives and in our hearts.
And as for those Algonquin treasures…
Algonquin: This Southern gem is an ivory-colored porcelain plate with a floral border and gold edging. It is the sole surviving plate of a set of twelve (hey, the moving box was a lot heavier than it looked). Is it worth holding on to this single plate for posterity…or cold, hard cash?
Emyl: Your very pretty plate was made by J & G Meakin, a well-known English company well known for its dinner services. The pattern,“Granville,” was popular at the turn-of-the-century in both England and America, so though Meakin is no longer in business, chances of your single plate ever becoming really valuable are pretty slim. On the other hand, part of the fun of antiquing is the thrill of the chase. Who knows when you may find other pieces in the same pattern at very affordable prices.
Algonquin: What can you tell me about these three blue bottles bought by my grandmother in the 1950s or ’60s in Indiana? One depicts bales of hay, a hay rake, and a thresher, and the other shows a horse and has ‘Horse Bitters’ written across the top. The vase may not belong in the set.
Emyl: It can be very hard to distinguish truly old bottles from reproduction ones and even experts are oftentimes fooled. Having said that, without actually seeing and examining them, my best is that these are reproductions of early bottles. Check out www.bottlebooks.com/reproduc.htm. It may well be that your horse bitters bottle is the very bottle they list as “Horse Shoe Bitters, Collinsville, Illinois,” available in a variety of colors including cobalt blue. About the vase, you’re right. Though it might have been bought at the same time, it could never be mistaken as an antique.
Algonquin: I bought my hefty necklace that’s oft-described by friends as my “bling-bling” at a pretty thrifty price. Now I thought I’d find out whether all that bling has any real worth! The back is stamped with “Barrera for Avon.”
Emyl: The Jose (and) Maria Barrera line has long been recognized as a leader in high-style jewelry. Avon went to a lot of expense to have notable designers such as Barrera, Kenneth Jay Lane, and Louis Feraud of Paris create special pieces for them that looked far more expensive than they really were. These days Barrera’s designs are often featured by Neiman-Marcus and can run into the many hundreds of dollars. But your particular necklace, which was made in both silver and gold tones, usually sells today in the $25-$75 range.
Algonquin: This is a working copy and movie sleeve of the ORIGINAL Batman movie from 1989. Though the case is in worn condition, the quality of the tape itself is outstanding. With the recent renaissance and rampant success of the Batman franchise, thanks to Batman Begins (2005) and The Dark Knight (2008), I’d wager this first edition Michael Keaton treasure has astoundingly appreciated in value.
Emyl: There’s little question that Michael Keaton’s Batman has become a true classic. But because there were so many VHSs produced of the movie, scores of them are offered on eBay and can be found in used video and book shops. I’m afraid your tape and case, especially since it is worn, has a value of whatever someone will pay you for it.