Q: More than 30 years ago, I rescued a beautiful plaster bust from the trash at a public library. The name “Barthe” is scratched into the back of the base. From my research, I am assuming that it might have been created by Richmond Bartha. I don’t know how to determine if the bust has any value. If so, who would be interested in it?
A: Titled “The Negro Looks Ahead,” the bust of a young boy is by Richmond Bartha. The scratched name is misspelled.
To clue readers, Mississippi-born Richmond Bartha (1901-1989) was a leading sculptor of the Harlem Renaissance. The bronze original of this bust is in the Amon Carter Museum of American Art in Fort Worth, Texas. Modeled in 1940, the bust portrays a young African-American male.
The reader’s plaster copy dates from a time when public and school libraries, schools at all levels and institutions had varieties of sculptural copies and replicas perched on every available flat surface. One was likely to find everything from ancient Egyptian figures to Roman senators, the great poets or copies of the Elginmarbles peering down at them.
But times and tastes change. Note that our reader found this bust in a trash heap. The plaster facsimiles just went out of style.
Enough time has passed that some of the better copies have surfaced at auction. In 2006, a Sotheby’s auction of historic plaster casts from the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York realized $502,530. One relief brought $51,000.
Between old art casts and dated museum copies, there is a niche for the copies. To answer the reader’s question, yes, there could well be value in her find. It may be modest, but it’s there.
We found eBay sale results that ranged from a $65 bust of Bacchus and Hercules to a head of the Virgin from Michelangelo’s “Pieta” for $100.98.
As a copy of significant African-American art, the reader’s facsimile could do well. I suggest posting it in an online auction, listed at a price you can live with.
Q: What can you tell me about today’s market in my ironstone pieces?
A: I’m not sure that all wares seen in images sent are ironstone, but they are ceramic. We don’t have a view of the bottoms, but I’ll bet they’re stamped Ernest Sohn Creations.
A giftware designer of the last mid-century, Sohn designed for Red Wing pottery and Glidden. In 1951, he started a showroom in New York City.
Ernest Sohn Creations was established in the mid-50s. In short order, the label earned design awards from MOMA.
Working in ceramics, wood and metal, the prolific Sohn specialized in high style mid-century design.
His ceramics, known and collected by fans of mid-century design, were made by Hall China.
Several of the reader’s pieces are included as sold items on liveauctioneers.com and worthpoint.com. “Auctioneers” shows a coffee pot with sugar bowl sold at auction for $35. In 2010, a black, rarer version of the set brought $58.50.
A white teapot (the reader has a coffee pot) sold for $28. Unusual pieces sell highest: a ribbed ceramic ice bucket brought $129.99. An egg-shaped container in the reader’s collection should be especially attractive for the same reason.
No one knows if Sohn’s designs will appreciate in the future. But as recognizable mid-century design, you can bet there will no doubt always be a market for his wares.
Auction Action: When Bertoia Auctions in Vineland, N.J., recently sold off a noted collection of antique tin and cast iron toys totaling $1.3 million, the sale highlight was a $19,550 cast iron Popeye Patrol toy featuring the cartoon sailor on a motorbike. Made by Hubley, a noted maker of cast iron doorstops, it was copyrighted in 1928. The painted toy with rubber tires was never played with. It still has its original factory tag and pull string with a wooden ball at the end.
Intended as a display piece only, it was spotted in the Hubley New York City showroom by the late Bill Bertoia, who had to have it. Later sold to a known private collector, the toy proved irresistible to bidders.
Q: We wrote that Hall made Sohn’s china pieces. Can you match other makers with companies that sold their output? Some were short-lived arrangements.
1. Fenton a. Rosenthal
2. Fostoria b. Sears, Roebuck
3. Beacon Blankets c. Martha Stewart
4. Wheeling Decorating Co. d. Lenox China
5. Fenton e. L.G. Wright Glass Co.
A: Answers are 1 – either d or c, 2 – e, 3 – b, 4 -a, 5 – either d or c.
Danielle Arnet welcomes questions from readers. She cannot respond to each one individually, but will answer those of general interest in her column. Send e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org 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.