Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Antique Tokens of Love & Friendship

Antique Tokens of Love & Friendship

                                                                         by Peggy McClard

Nineteenth century women were quite demonstrative with their love and friendship. They presented friends of both sexes with tokens of friendship such as small paintings, poems, cut and woven hearts and hands, pressed flowers, braided locks of hair. These gifts were added to the memory book which the gift recipient almost certainly had at home. Friendship albums were offered for sale, often bound in leather by book merchants, sometimes with the owner's name or monogram engraved in gold onto the leather cover. Young ladies filled these albums with paper and fabric cuttings of hearts and hands embellished with woven or otherwise arranged hair of friends and family.

Woven hearts and hands embellished with hair were traded as 19th century tokens of love and friendship. The double lobed heart has been the symbol of love since antiquity, showing up in Cro-Magnon pictograms and early Egyptian paintings. European immigrants brought the heart as the symbol of romantic love to America where they added two other symbols, the heart and hand and the heart in hand which both symbolized the heart's guidance of the hand's actions. This beautiful and sensitive image of love shows up in highly collectible Christmas, New Years, and Valentine greetings and declarations of love.

Because hair does not disintegrate if it is properly protected, American women made it a symbol of abiding love as well as deeply felt loss. Mothers kept locks of their children's hair and unmarried women often gave locks of their hair to suitors as tokens of love. Locks of sitter's hair were often added to miniature portraits. A popular nineteenth-century women's periodical described hair ". . . at once the most delicate and last of our materials. [It] survives us like love. It is so light, so gentle, so escaping from the idea of death, that, with a lock of hair belonging to a child or friend we may almost look up to heaven and compare notes with angelic nature, may almost say, I have a piece of thee here, not unworthy of thy being now." Shaw, Robert, "United as this Heart You See: Memories of Friendship and Family", Expressions of Innocence and Eloquence Selections from the Jane Katcher Collection of Americana, Ed. Jane Katcher, David A. Schorsch, Ruth Wolfe. Marquand Books, 2006. Page 101 (quoting Leigh Hunt, Godey's Lady's Book (May 1855)).

Symbolism was extremely important to 19th century women who used it extensively in their tokens of friendship and love. Clasped hands symbolized "hands in trust forever" and this symbol is found on many friendship and love tokens of the period. Many poems and paintings included the request "remember me." A single heart symbolized the source of the soul. A basket signified wealth and riches of the maternal body; a box was a feminine symbol, a receptacle. A butterfly suggested the flight of the soul. An interlocked chain indicated communication. An anchor represented hope. A clock meant the passage of time and sometimes represented death. A dove meant purity or peace; a swan meant love and purity. A flower cast down with petals strewn below might indicate death. A dog represented fidelity. A cornucopia meant abundance. Color was also incorporated to change the symbolism of some flowers. A deep red rose meant bashful shame. A white rose represented sadness; a yellow rose meant "let us forget", a red rosebud meant pure and lovely and a white rosebud was for someone who was too young to love.

Calligraphy drawings made their way into friendship albums atop handwritten poems and on handmade calling cards that might include a beautifully flourished dove above a scripted name. Young women often painted beautiful symbols of affection on small round papers that were intended to be set inside the cover of a father or husband's watch so that he would think of the giver every time he checked the time. These small watchpapers were done in watercolor on paper (often with saw-tooth cut borders) and as small embroidery pictures. Sea moss was pressed into letters and small pictures to add to the memory albums. Flowers, birds and butterflies were painted in watercolor and then meticulously cut out so that they could be applied to larger paper in compositions that might also include a poem or the woven or looped hair of a loved one.

Friendship might also be pledged in the form of a puzzle in which the intersection of connecting shapes symbolized the vow on constancy. A knot (a familiar theme in love puzzles) represented linkage, bonding, connections without beginning or end.

Today we value these love and friendship tokens as memories of the past and a hope for the future. The pictured token is taken from a friendship album and is inscribed "Mrs. Preston Present from M.M.B." It contains the hair of Martha Hill, aged 18 months and Patience Hill, aged 12 years. This rare token also includes small cut paper hands and hearts, Dresden tape and fraktur-like watercolor painting.

Visit to see more photos and my current inventory of 19th century love and friendship tokens.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Antique Silhouettes

Miniature portraits had been the rage of aristocracy whom had worn portraits as jewelry since at least the 15th century. But for 300 years, the expense required for a full color likeness to be commissioned had restricted the availability to the wealthy and kept the ordinary person from acquiring portable likenesses of their loved ones. In the late 18th century, shade portraiture became popular with the masses because it represented a cheaper alternative to full color portraits. Although the black profile was made popular by the masses, its popularity soon reached across income levels back to the aristocracy. Wealthy patrons commissioned silhouettes to be painted and encrusted with precious stones in jewelry and snuff boxes. Royalty commissioned porcelain dinner services with silhouettes. Common folk filled albums with silhouette likenesses of family and friends.

Originally called "Profile Shades" or "Shadows" in England, the French coined the term à la Silhouette as a derogatory reference to Louis XV's former French Minister of Finance, Ètienne de Silhouette, who was considered a cheapskate. When de Silhouette left his government position, he reputedly retired to a farmhouse which he decorated with home-made paper cuttings. In the 19th century, the great master silhouettist, Augustin Edouart, felt that the term "shade" was derogatory to his art and began using the term "silhouettist" to describe himself. The term became popular and carried forward to today.

Antique silhouettes may be found in 4 general forms: (1) Painted on paper, card, vellum, ivory, silk, or porcelain; (2) Painted in reverse on glass; (3) Hollow cut, usually with the aid of a machine but, very rarely, by hand (for this type of silhouette the figure is cut away from the paper thereby leaving a negative image—the paper outline is then backed with a contrasting color of paper or fabric); and (4) Cut freehand with scissors or knives and then pasted to a contrasting (usually light-colored) background (referred to as cut & paste). Early 18th century profiles were all black, taking their form from the solid black shadow of the unadorned individual. Towards the end of the 18th century, artists began to distinguish their works with the barest of bronzing. As the 19th century progressed, the audience demanded more elaborate decoration and the artists obliged with embellishment that became more prominent, depicting jewelry, lace collars, and elaborate hairstyles. In America especially, a group of mostly unidentified artists cut wonderfully naïve hollow cut profiles atop painted or lithographed stock bodies. On both sides of the ocean, artists of the 19th century sometimes applied their cut or painted silhouettes on lithograph or watercolor backgrounds which bring even more attention to the regal simplicity of the shade portrait itself.

The heyday of silhouette cutting in America was 1780-1855. Antique silhouettes are fun to collect and display. You might focus your collection on silhouettes of a certain type (i.e. hollow cut heads with painted bodies), of a certain origin (i.e. American-cut), a particular artist (i.e. Edouart or Master Hubard), or of one type of sitter (children are especially popular, or perhaps ladies with large hair combs). I suggest you read as much as you can about silhouettes and look at many at antique shows and museums. Many legitimate reproductions of 19th century silhouettes were made in the first quarter of the 20th century. Now that those 20th century silhouettes have some age, they are often sold as 19th century. A collector needs to learn the tell-tale signs of reproduction silhouettes and the subtle differences between 19th and 20th century paper.

Condition is an important issue when buying any antique—antique artwork such as a silhouette is no different. Look for browning of paper (signs of acid or sun damage), water stains, foxing (small light brown spotting of the paper, likely caused by a fungal growth), brittle paper, and gluing of silhouette backing paper to acidic materials such as wood or cardboard. Although I will seldom turn down a rare silhouette in poor condition, a collector should always factor in the devaluation of any piece into the price paid for the item. The cost of even a rare silhouette must be adjusted according to its condition.

Framing is another important component of the value of an antique silhouette. Collectors prefer frames of the same period as the silhouette. An original frame in fair to poor condition is likely to help a silhouette hold its value better than a newly minted frame. If you want to reframe your antique silhouette into a new frame, consider keeping the original frame, glass and all backing to follow your silhouette into the future. It will likely increase the price you or your descendents will get for the silhouette many years down the road.

Enjoy your antique silhouettes but keep them out of direct sunlight or you will watch them become brown practically before your eyes. As with any antique and especially any antique paper, it is best to keep them in a climate controlled environment (the rule of thumb is that if the temperature and humidity keep you comfortable, your antiques will be comfortable) and away from outside walls. I realize that it isn’t practical for most home decorating to avoid hanging any artwork on outer walls, but try to avoid walls that tend to heat up on a regular basis (such as those which absorb hot afternoon sun). Hanging antique paper artwork in a bathroom is an invitation for moisture and mildew damage.

Visit for a list of recommended books (some of which I offer for sale) and more information about silhouettes and silhouette artists. I am very excited about a new silhouette book that is due to be released in the United States in September, 2009. I’ll be carrying the new book through my website and encourage you to order one as soon as it is available!

Monday, December 8, 2008

How To Value your Antiques

by Pamela Wiggins

Determining the value of an antique or collectible means more than locating an item in a price guide or auction results. In fact, that's just the beginning of the valuation process. There are a number of factors to consider when deciding how much your antiques are really worth. With a little effort, patience and learning about your favorite antiques categories, along with these guidelines to point you in the right direction, you can learn to value it yourself like an appraisal pro.

1. Don't Overlook a Mark
Whether we like it or not, items stamped with a manufacturer or designer's mark are often worth more than identical pieces with no signature. Use a magnifying glass or jeweler's loupe, if necessary, to make sure you don't overlook a mark that may add value and assist you with further research. With hand painted and hand crafted pieces, finding an artist's signature in addition to a manufacturer's mark is a boon. Be sure to examine each piece carefully for these valuable identifying signs.

2. Consider Condition
One of the most important factors to consider when you value an antique is condition . Even when you locate an item in a price guide, if your piece isn't in comparable condition the point is moot. Take all flaws into consideration including chips, cracks, excessive wear, tears, stains and missing components. Is it a minor nick or major crack? Basically, look for anything that keeps your antique from being in like new or "mint" condition and take that into consideration when determining value.

3. Is It Common or Rare?
There are times when an extremely rare antique with condition factors will still be worth quite a good sum. For instance, if you determine that you own a piece of Newcomb pottery with a hairline crack, it may still be worth quite a nice sum. However, if you own a cracked piece of Frankoma pottery, it probably won't hold much more than decorative value. If you're not sure about how rarity plays into the area you're researching, check with an expert in that field before discarding a damaged item.

4. Old Doesn't Always Mean Valuable
Much of an item's value lies in the buyer's demand. There are many items over 100 years old now that aren't in high demand. Take birthday greeting postcards from the early 1900s as an example. Many many of these postcards survived over the years making them too common to hold much value. On the other hand, if you own a hard to find Santa Claus postcard of the same age, it's likely worth more. There are times when a single Santa postcard can be worth $75 or more to an avid collector or dealer.

5. Is it Real or Fake?
If an item has been in your family for many generations and you know the provenance, you can feel reasonably sure you're dealing with an authentic antique. But if you purchase an item at a shady flea market, many times you'll have to authenticate it before you can truly determine the value. Look for telltale signs of wear and age, along with discrepancies in marks and signatures. Subtle details can often provide clues to the true age of an object. Use black light testing as a place to start.

6. Has It Been Restored or Repaired?
Professional restoration can add value to a rare antique, but amateur repairs affect value negatively in most cases. It's important to evaluate a piece to discern whether it has been haphazardly repaired or the original value-adding "patina" has been removed. If glue is present, solders are easily detected, or chips have obviously been ground down, an antique or collectible should be valued accordingly. Minor repairs may not affect the value of a piece at all. Ask an expert if you're not sure.

7. Does It Have Salvage Value?
Just because an antique or collectible is broken or damaged doesn't necessarily render it totally worthless. Many dealers will buy items they can repair or use for parts to repair other pieces. Severely damaged antiques are sometimes transformed by those clever at makeover projects, or crafters will purchase them for supplies. Depending on the extent of the damage and the item's relative usefulness, it may still hold some value. It's wise to check around before banishing it to the dumpster.

8. Consider Current Market Influences
If you've located an item in a price guide or auction results, does the information reflect current markets? Prices for antiques and collectibles can fluctuate widely and quickly depending on current demand. Prices may drop down to pre-demand levels once the boom has passed, or they may remain high due to diminished supply as dealers have difficulty replenishing inventories. It's important to watch the markets in your favorite collecting categories and stay on top of value-affecting trends.

9. Ask an Expert Friend for Advice
Many times when you're watching Antiques Roadshow, appraisers will indicate they've consulted with their colleagues when determining values. This happens in the non-televised world, too. Don't be afraid to ask a well-versed friend or a dealer you trust for their opinion. Sometimes your educated judgement will overrule what they've shared, but it's good to get the advice of others when you're feeling a bit uncertain about valuing an item, especially those seldomly seen on the secondary market.

10. Think About Common Values for Common Pieces
Appraisers most often value antiques based on the median value rather than the highest or lowest prices realized for similar items. There are times when a piece will sell very high at auction, but the same item will bring a more moderate price at an antique show. In the same vein, items aren't valued based on a bargain garage sale buys either. Rarities are more difficult to value, however. The most recent selling price may be a good indicator of expected market.

Visit Pamela at

Saturday, December 6, 2008

How evolved

Relocating to Houston in 1999 toting my passion for antiques, I began scouring the myriad of antique shops in Houston and surrounding areas. I quickly became lost in every area of the City. Was the Sam Houston Parkway the same as Beltway 8? Katy Fwy, I-10? Or was I truly directionally dyslexic?

Over the years, as my Mapquest folder grew, I began compiling a list of shops, their location and specialties.
One day I awoke to an “Ah ha” moment and realized there must be others that could benefit from this data – and viola, Houston-antiques was born. is a unique, Comprehensive Directory as it offers 5 different ways to locate shops: by Alphabet, Category, City, Direction, Zip Code and also by Services.
Our commitment is to keep the site current, tracking new and closed shops.

We hope offers guidance on your quest for that can't-live-without treasure.
If you have any questions or comments, please add to this blog, or contact me at