SMART COLLECTOR

Online price guides focus on higher-end goods

Posted Jan. 12, 2012, at 3:11 p.m.
Both photos show mechanical music machines that sold recently at Bonhams Los Angeles. The one resembling a tall case clock sold for $8,125. The other, a Wurlitzer style orchestrion, brought $23,750.
Courtesy of www.bonhams.com
Both photos show mechanical music machines that sold recently at Bonhams Los Angeles. The one resembling a tall case clock sold for $8,125. The other, a Wurlitzer style orchestrion, brought $23,750.

Q: I can’t find any prices for my Westwood Ware of California bowl, plate and pair of candleholders. Can you help?

A: I certainly can, but first some history is in order. The 1940s and ’50s were the heyday of independent and studio potteries in California. Potters who created during that exuberant period are now celebrated for quirky, individualized wares.

The genre called California pottery has become a collector specialty.

Specific pieces by certain potters of the period have become must-haves, while others are relegated to the back shelves.

Some buyers collect examples from the gamut of California pottery, while others zero in on favorites.

The giant of California mid-century art pottery was Sascha Brastoff, who produced everything from artistic chargers to ashtrays. Vernon Kilns and Metlox Potteries became known for signature dinnerware. Kay Finch was celebrated for her figures. And many, many small workshops produced pottery figurals, whimsies, planters, “Oriental” designs, cookie jars, you name it.

Known for the gold blobs that often decorate pieces, Westwood Ware is not in the top rank. There are fans, but prices run low. That’s why our reader cannot find them; Westwood has not reached the status where it is included in price guides and references.

Smart collectors know that when an item is low ticket, searching for values on an online database can be iffy.

When/if you think value might be modest, start by checking active and completed sales on eBay. We found a Westwood Warecigarette box and matching ashtray starting at $14. There were no completed sales, so we moved to worthpoint.com, a database that includes older eBay results.

There we found an identical set, sold for $16.

Next, we keyed liveauctioneers.com, a site that covers coming auctions and results. There was one Westwood sale, a 10-inch vase that brought $2.

The messages are clear: Westwood Ware generally sells for under $25, most sales happen online, traditional auction is probably not the way to sell, and when searching for results on such items, skip databases that cover higher-end goods.

Q: I want to sell nine California Dresden figurines by Avis. During storage, color changed in the lace. I attempted washing one in mild, warm, soapy water, as suggested on the Internet, with no success. Is there a way I can restore the lace?

A: An image sent showing part of the collection features ceramic Dresden-style full-length figures of period ladies wearing fancy period dresses. All of the gowns are decorated with applied lace. Several ladies carry parasols; one is seated on a fancy bench.

California Dresden by Avis was another California pottery operating in the (late) 1940s and ’50s. Designer Avis Wright specialized in applying a ceramic finish to real lace, which was used to adorn her ladies and rarely, men.

“Pretty” is the word for Avis figures, and her innovation of ceramicized lace was a huge novelty at the time. Gilding and hand-painted details were additional touches.

Over time, white laces have aged to a brown color. Some pieces show more change than others. This is not a flaw, and it is permanent.

Collectors recognize that it goes with the territory. Look on the sites mentioned above to see examples.

What does affect value is two gold paper labels affixed to each piece. One is the maker’s. Another, glued above the larger label, has the name of the design and a mold or model number. Having both labels intact enhances value.

Using sites mentioned in the earlier query, we checked prices. On eBay’s completed sales, we found a pair of vintage busts with labels that sold for $80. An online shop sold a single 8-inch bust in mint condition, with browned lace, for $85. A large ballerina figure with still-white lace tutu brought $25, and another fancy bust brought $50.

Having white lace did not boost value for the ballerina, but perfection paid off for one bust.

Finally, don’t believe all advice found on the Web. If washing with warm, soapy water sounds good, try it first with a cotton swab, in an inconspicuous place. Dipping is a good way to lose paint when you don’t know the material.

Auction Action: When Bonhams Los Angeles sold a private collection of mechanical music machines from the area, a circa 1915 Wurlitzer style CX Orchestrion in an art glass panel cabinet brought $23,750. The 93-inch-by-62-inch behemoth has a multichanger roll, violin and flute pipes, piano, drum and bass drum, plus triangle and wood block mechanisms. Plus an 88-note keyboard.

A late 1800s symphonion housed in a 7-foot-plus walnut tall clock case brought $8,125 and sold with seven 13-inch discs.

Collector Quiz

Q: In textiles, what is the mola? With what country is it identified?

A: The mola is a multilayered, intricately cut and sewn textile panel made and worn by the Kuna women of Panama. Each is representational and many tell a story. Source: “The Mola: Traditional Kuna Textile Art” by Edith Crouch (Schiffer, $59.99).

Danielle Arnet welcomes questions from readers. She cannot respond to each one individually, but will answer those of general interest in her column. Send email to smartcollector@comcast.netor write Danielle Arnet, c/o Tribune Media Services, 435 N. Michigan Ave., Suite 1400, Chicago, IL 60611. Please include an address in your query. Photos cannot be returned.

 

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