May 21, 2018
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There’s no set rule about when to buy or sell

Photo courtesy of
Photo courtesy of
The 18th C. elephant automaton clock sold for $2.5 mill. recently at Sotheby’s London.
By Danielle Arnet, Tribune Media Services

Q: How do I determine current value for a piece by glass artist Kent Ipsen? He was from the area where I live, and he died fairly recently. I have this signed and dated piece from 1976. Should I sell now or hold onto it for a while longer?

A: First, let’s nail the answer for that second question. If I knew the trick on when to buy and when to sell antiques/collectibles/objects d’art or anything else, I wouldn’t be writing this column. I’d be out buying or selling.

And if I did say that I knew and you followed my advice and took a huge loss as a result, that would make me six kinds of a no good, right?

Seriously: There’s no set rule on when to buy or sell. The best that each smart collector can do is make an educated, independent decision. First, learn the object. Next, study the market. Then, and only then, decide.

Many of us buy craft or art objects from regional artists and artisans. What makes this reader’s piece unique is that the artist who made it achieved significant recognition during his lifetime. Before his death this February, Ipsen exhibited in the Corning Museum of Glass and the Smithsonian, among others.

Most significantly, market-wise, his works have sold well at auction. I suggest our reader key Enter the artist’s name to see pages of results from varied auction houses.

This year alone, sales ranged from $50 paperweights to $5,000 for a large glass sculpture. Glass objects and vases averaged $125-$350.

From the camera angle, we can’t see if the red piece in a photo sent is a vase or art object. An auction house glass specialist will know if it is a desirable representation by the artist.

I suggest approaching the auction houses mentioned on “live.” Contact information is on the site. Describe the piece and send clear photos or images shot from several angles. Include the marks and information on how/when you acquired the piece. See what they say, then make a smart decision.

This is a good time to point out that, as with all markets, auction results are cyclical. Today’s value is not guaranteed to automatically rise with the passage of time.

Q: I worked for a doctor who told me that while at a rest stop, he encountered a man who needed money because his truck had broken down. He offered to sell the doctor these writings that he said were written on goatskin. They were given to me some time later. Can you give me information and value?

A: That’s quite a story! These days, many would run the other way when approached in this way.

Seen in photos sent, the framed pieces are individual manuscript pages from early songbooks. The blocky passages are notes.

Before paper, quantities of medieval manuscripts were hand copied on animal skins by cloistered monks. Most were songbooks. Goatskin is best known, but other skins were used.

Some folios were works of high art, embellished with gold and fine miniature paintings. Those are in museums.

So many ordinary songbooks were made that loose pages are fairly common. Worse, manuscript pages have been faked. Some fakes are old, and look quite real.

Finally, condition is paramount. For standard pages, any amount of damage is death.

A look at results on “live” will be instructive. We found only one page similar to the reader’s, and it sold for under $25.

Bottom line, the pages must be seen by a specialist. I’m thinking that because they are attractively matted and framed, value is as decorative pieces.

Auction Action: An 18th-century gilded elephant automaton clock that sold for $2.5 million recently at Sotheby’s London was made for the Asian market by a celebrated English clockmaker, and was once owned by a Shah of Persia.

Automatons (a moving mechanical device, often in the shape of real things) were a rage then. Here, the gilt elephant goes into action every third hour, playing music, waving its tail and trunk, and flapping its ears.

Beautiful, intricate automaton clocks and timepieces were created by English and European master watchmakers for the royal courts of China and India. When they come to market today, the timepieces sell big. This pachyderm went to an Asian collector.

Collector Quiz:

Q: Can you match the patterns of Depression glass with their date(s) of production?

1. Fenton Silver Crest a. 1930s

2. Imperial Lace Edge b. 1932-1940s

3. Hocking Mayfair c. 1941-1951

4. New Martinsville Moondrops d. 1943-1980s

5. Heisey Lariat e. 1931-1937

A: Answers are 1-d, 2-a, 3-e, 4-b, 5-c. Source: “Colors and Patterns of Depression-Era Glassware: 2nd Ed.” by Doris Yeskeand Lyle Fokken (Schiffer, $14.99).

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 or 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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