SAVING STUFF

How to Care for and Preserve Your Collectibles, Heirlooms, and Other Prized Possessions

by Don Williams, Senior Conservator Smithsonian Institution and Louisa Jagger

a book review

As Don Williams humorously writes in his introduction:

Saving Stuff” is about preserving and maintaining “the museum of you”. This museum is made up of the objects that have special value for you. I can’t stop an earthquake, flood, or alien invasion, but I can share how to prevent most homegrown catastrophes as well as how to go about saving stuff: comic books, wedding dresses, baseball cards, furniture, stamps, papers, film, pictures, records, DVDs, CDs, doll houses, flags, and weird and wacky things like Cousin Cecil’s African water buffalo head or your private collection of sheep’s eyeballs kept by your grandfather in mayonnaise jars. In this book I will show you how to save almost anything you want.”

At the time of publication, the author was the Senior Conservator of the Smithsonian Institution. His years of experience in the conservation and preservation of objects, mark him as an expert in his field.

His writing collaborator, Louisa Jagger, is a “saver of stuff” and the stories she shares revolve around common mistakes she has made in caring for her own collectibles, mistakes she hopes she can help the reader avoid.

According to the author, this book is not meant to be read from cover to cover. It is important to read through Chapters 1 and 2. There the reader will find basic important information about how to care for objects in general.

The following 13 chapters consist of in-depth discussions covering a particular category of collectible as well as how to care for and preserve each object. Since each type of collectible has its own section within the category chapter, the reader can turn to the chapter to find the information he or she is most interested in without having to read through the entire book.

Williams includes a Risk Chart for Collectibles at the end of Chapter 1. Each category of collectible — paper, glass and ceramics, wood and baskets, textiles, metals, photos, paintings, watercolors, pastels, plastics — is listed and across the page are the risks for damage from which the object would be most in danger. The risks, depending on the object, include light, insects and mold, handling and misuse, contaminants, normal use, temperature and moisture.

He also includes puppies and kittens (and children) who “…inflict 90 percent of the damage on collectibles as compared to grown-up pets. As a note of encouragement, pet’s manners often improve with age. Kid’s manners do, too.”

Included in these two chapters are ideas on how to decide what you would like to save.

Williams says, “People save stuff for sentimental as well as for financial reasons. Deciding what is a collectible is all about what is important to you.”

Unless you have unlimited space and resources, you can’t save everything, and so most people are forced to make choices. Once choices are made, don’t feel guilty, because it is okay to sell, give or throw stuff away.

The author stresses the importance of prioritizing to compile a list of objects. Two worksheets for this purpose are included at the end of Chapter 2. On Worksheet 1: Why It Is Important to You and on Worksheet 2: Everything You Know.

 Completing Worksheet 2 is vital because it asks the questions who, what, when, and where.

Who owned it? Who made it? How did you acquire it? Do you plan to leave it to someone?

What is its value?  What did you pay for it and do you have the original bill of sale? What is it made of? What is its condition?

When was the object made and when did you or your family acquire it?

Where did it come from and are there marks to give you clues to its origin or maker?

A list like this would also provide valuable information to family heirs, to appraisers for purposes of valuation, and to insurance adjusters in the event of damage or loss due to earthquake, fire or flood.

Interwoven throughout the chapters are Don’s Tips, where the author shares his vast experience and knowledge of preservation and includes “everything from debunking old wives’ tales to novel uses of everyday materials around the house.” From never wrap your silver in Saran Wrap to never use furniture polish, as well as an interesting comment on the “mythology of cedar chests”, are among the many useful nuggets of information.

He advises when it is necessary to get a second opinion. Williams states: “If you are faced with the unenviable task of sorting through a garage, attic or basement filled with family stuff, you might be wise to have an appraiser take a quick walk-through with you to advise you on what to keep and what is really ready for the dumpster.”

The final section of the book is entitled Resources and contains a complete A to Z list of what the author describes as Your Saving Stuff Tool Kit.  Everything anyone would need to maintain and safely keep every kind of collectible is briefly and clearly described. A list of suppliers where all of these tools can be found is also included.

Saving Stuff, as stated on the back cover of this comprehensive guide, “is for both the serious collector and the sometimes sentimentalist. With step-by-step instructions, detailed illustrations, tips for making the things you use every day last, and stories about how the Smithsonian takes care of our national treasures, Saving Stuff is the only book you need to take care of the stuff you love.”

Source

Saving Stuff: How to Care for and Preserve Your Collectibles, Heirlooms, and Other Prized Possessions

Don Williams and Louisa Jagger, Fireside Book, Simon & Schuster. New York, 2005, 365 pages, ISBN 9780743264167

Other Sources

 Downsizing the Family Home.  What to Save, What to Let Go

Marni Jameson, Sterling Publishers. 2016

Moving On: A Practical Guide to Downsizing the Family Home

Linda Hetzer and Janet Hulstrand, Downsizing the Home Press. 2004, Kindle Edition. 2013

Let It Go: Downsizing Your Way to a Richer, Happier Life

Peter Walsh, Rodale Books. 2017

Downsizing the Family Home: What To Do With All the Stuff

Interview with Linda Hetzer and Janet Hulstrand for Next Avenue by Jill Yanish, Forbes Magazine. March 27, 2014

Don Williams retired from the Smithsonian in December of 2012 after 30 years as Senior Furniture Conservator. He purchased a large barn in Illinois, dismantled it and re-assembled it in the rural Virginia mountains. He now resides at the Barn on White Run where he offers classes and workshops. He writes articles and books, researches historical craft and artifacts, and constructs and conserves furniture and decorative arts. He also makes and sells tools and supplies for restoration, conservation and construction.

Palm Springs and Mid-Century Modernism

Mid-century modern room

As early as the 1920s, the Coachella Valley, and particularly Palm Springs, became known for the dry clear climate and mild warm winters which were so helpful to those recuperating from serious respiratory conditions. Wealthy people from all over the country, wishing to escape the winter snows and cold, soon began to value the area for relaxation and fun and as a place to enjoy the stark beauty and contrast of the scenic wonders the desert offered.

Soon the area became a get-away playground for the Hollywood elite and the stars created their own burgeoning movie colony here in the desert. Palm Springs became a safe retreat from the prying eyes of the “paparazzi” of those days. The stars could stroll down the main streets and enjoy themselves in the restaurants and watering holes in relative comfort confident in being fairly anonymous.

Even though numerous spas and resorts sprung up to accommodate the visitors, many of the “snowbirds” and movie stars began to build second homes. Because these homes were not the primary residences of the occupants, the owners felt that they had more freedom to take architectural risks in the designs. The uniqueness of the desert landscape and environment and the luminous, rich, clear and strong light required an architecture that was sophisticated and understated – one that would blend with the spectacular austereness and palette of the desert.

The desert was a blank canvas to the architect, open to creative and innovative approaches in new lines, angles, and textures that worked with the environment. It inspired artists to work with, blending and contrasting, the natural materials in abundance around them.

Dolly Faibyshev states in her book Palm Springs Mid-Century Modern, that Palm Springs has one of the largest concentrations of mid-century modern architecture in the country. Many of the most famous architects of the period were inspired by the desert environment. With commissions from film stars, private wealthy patrons, and corporations, architects of the caliber of Richard Neutra, Donald Wexler, John Lautner, Paul Williams, William Krisel, and A. Quincy Jones, among many other notables, were able to envision, design and play with new and innovative architectural features.

The style emphasized creating structures with broad generous windows and open floor plans, all to the intention of opening up interior spaces and bringing the outside in. The novel post and beam design eliminated the need for heavy and bulky support walls in favor of walls that seemed to be made of glass. The idea was one of “clean simplicity and integration with nature”. In mid-century designs, function did not follow form, it was as important as form.

The mid-century modern movement in the United States was an American reflection of the International Style and the Bauhas movements which had held sway in early 20th century modern architecture. In the 1940’s, the term was used to describe a dissatisfaction with the prevalent styles in modern architecture and a reaction to the lack of variety of Mies van der Rohe and LeCorbusier. Surface ornament and historical references began to re-emerge and influence decorative forms. The International Style’s architectural orthodoxy was challenged by these new approaches. Mid-century design was used in residential structures with the “goal of bringing modernism to post-war American communities.”

The deserts of Palm Springs offered architects and designers fertile and virtually untouched ground for their experimentation with and development of fresh and innovative forms of design. An outstanding example is the work of A. Quincy Jones, the architect and designer of the Walter Annenberg estate, Sunnylands.

mid-century modern chair, style of Bertoia

Palm Springs celebrates its heritage with Modernism Week, February 15-25, 2018, a very popular and always sold-out event. Fortunately, there is a Fall Preview from October 19-22, 2017. Although also a popular event, it gives a brief overview of the full two-weeks taking place in February. The Mission of Modernism Week is to celebrate and foster appreciation of mid-century architecture, design, art, fashion, and culture. A list of events and tours can be found on the site modernismweekly.com. Tickets can be purchased online and are for sale now. The online store also offers many books, prints, photographs and objects relating to the event and to all aspects of mid-century modernism.

As a personal property appraiser, it’s important to recognize mid-century modern furniture and decorative art.  Many of the important designers are highly collectible, and the values for those items have increased over the last several years.

In other events this month, a four-month long showcase of Latin-American and Latino Art entitled Pacific Standard Time: LA/LA is being launched on September 17, 2017. Fifty museums in Southern California will offer free admission on that day. According to the website pacificstandardtime.org, the exhibit is a far-reaching and ambitious exploration of Latin American art in dialogue with Los Angeles. Led by the Getty, it is a collaborative effort from Arts institutions across Southern California. Further information can be found on the website as well as on laist.com.

SOURCES

Julius Shulman: Palm Springs; Michael Stern and Alan Hess, Rizzoli 2008

Desert Modernists: The Architects Who Envisioned Mid-Century Modern Palm Springs, published in collaboration with Modernism Week and Palm Springs Life 2017

Palm Springs Mid-Century Modern; Dolly Faibyshev, Schiffer Publishing, 2010

LA Times Article on Fall Preview: August 1, 2017

moderrnismweekly.com

pacificstandardtime.org

Mid-century modern furniture on 1stdibs

Links to mid-century modern in Palm Springs at Swank Modern Design

 

Modern Italian blown glass vase, style of Venini

The Grand Tour – Then and Now

Carved shell cameo brooch

Tourism really hasn’t changed very much over the last 300 years. Traveling for pleasure, knowledge, and acquisition had its beginnings in the 17th century. Those travelers on the classic “Grand Tour” and modern-day tourists have much in common – a willingness to be inspired and enlightened by the art, beauty, and culture embodied in the famous cities of Europe, and eventually as travel methods improved, around the world.

The emphasis in education, particularly for young people of wealth and privilege, was steeped in Classical literature, art and architecture. At first Italy and France were the goal. The desire to see firsthand all they had studied gave rise to what we today call the “gap year – two or even three years then – and the tradition known as the Grand Tour came to be.

Antique print of Pompei theater, southern Italy. Original, created by Wolfensberger and Radcliffe, was published in Florence, Italy, 1842, Luigi Bardi ed.

It soon became the fashionable thing to do before settling down to fulfill the familial duties waiting for them at home. Enduring the extreme rigors, the weeks and sometimes months it took to get somewhere, and the perilous dangers of travel in those days was part of the adventure. In the days before photography, it formed the basis for the sketches, letters, diaries and eventually books they wrote about their experiences as well as the lessons they learned on their journeys. They collected art, sculpture, literature, and decorative objets d’art and shipped it all home to fill their country estates and London townhouses.

What to do and where to stay, what and where to eat; the best routes for traveling, the best merchants from whom to buy, the best artist studios; the best entertainment, and the visual wonders, natural and man-made were all experiences communicated to family, friends, and future travelers. Sound familiar? Now we have up-to-date guidebooks, Instagram and the Internet to communicate our favorite images, ideas, and experiences.

In the words of Matt Gross, of the Frugal Traveler, a New York Times Blog:  “Even though the basic contours of the Grand Tour were established in the 17th century – as a kind of finishing school for affluent young gents – it has mutated to meet the shifting demands of generations of travelers.”

Now bargain fares and “If it’s Tuesday, it must be Belgium” type tours are available to everyone, not just the privileged few. Colleges have instituted semesters abroad where students study and immerse themselves in the arts and culture of the country under the auspices of the university.

Eiffel tower souvenir

All travelers, and especially those who have traveled the world, enjoy collecting objects that reflect the countries they have visited. Many of them find themselves in a similar situation as this woman.  She has traveled all seven continents and has filled her home with dozens of artworks and objects displaying her interests. When asked if she had cataloged her possessions, she replied: “Oh. No, I haven’t ever thought about it as they are really only of value to me.” She was advised when the time came, her family and heirs were going to be left with the very stressful task of figuring it all out.

An excellent source for organization to aid future heirs as well as estate and insurance appraisers is On the Record – Creating a Road Map for Your Family. Amy Praskac, owner of On the Record has compiled a comprehensive website on all aspects of record keeping. She also has a blog filled with valuable information and ideas on how to gather and store records for safekeeping.

This summer, an event of note allows “travelers” to embark on a “grand tour” of Europe without getting on an airplane. A major festival of the arts going on in Southern California (July 7- August 31) is the 2017 Pageant of the Masters in Laguna Beach. The theme this year is aptly titled “The Grand Tour”.

 According to the website: “A pageant ticket becomes your passport on the Grand Tour to experience spectacle, music, stories and grand illusions as masterpieces come to life. …a breathtaking theatrical journey through the centuries in search of unforgettable art.”

For some first-hand observations about the Grand Tour, there are several very enjoyable books by such famous authors as Mark Twain, Henry James, Edward Gibbon, and Francis Bacon, whose advice to travelers in 1625 is still relevant today. And of course, lots of fun movies to watch.

19th century table inlaid with porcelain plaques.

As an appraiser, I have had the opportunity to examine several 19th century souvenirs of The Grand Tour including sets of plaster medallions with Classical scenes, prints depicting ancient ruins, carved cameo shells and micro mosaics.  I’ve even seen tables inlaid with stone, mosaics and porcelain plaques.

 Sources

Grand Tours and Cook’s Tours: A History of Leisure Travel, 1750-1915. Lynne Withey.  William Morrow, 1997.

 Italy and the Grand Tour. Jeremy Black. Yale University Press, 2003.

 Ladies of the Grand Tour. Brian Dolan. Flamingo, New Ed Edition, 2002.

 The British Abroad: The Grand Tour in the Eighteenth Century. Jeremy Black. Sutton Publishing, 2003.

 Websites

 The Grand Tour of Europe in the 17th and 18th Century   thoughtco.com

 9 Books and Films Inspired by the Grand Tour. Google Arts and Culture. 

 Frugal Traveler – A New York Times Blog

 On the Record – Creating a Road Map for Your Family.  

Art Deco 1925-1940 …. Looking to the Future.

Radio with art deco streamlined styling.

The predominant motif in Art Deco design was the appearance of “Speed”. Streamlined sweeping curves based on aerodynamic principles – a symbol of forward movement.

The pessimism – some critics considered it decadence – that pervaded society at the end of the 19th century was replaced with a sense of optimism and excitement. People looked ahead to the new century witnessing the industrial progress that was giving them hope for an economic and social revival.

The term “Art Deco” derived from the 1925 Paris L’Exposition Internationale des Arts Decoratifs et Industriels Modernes. The purpose of the exhibition was to “unite art with industry”. The concept was to embody the ideas of this modern age with a complete break from the past. The work of designers was not to imitate earlier historical periods. They could, however, draw on ancient designs for inspiration, as long as the artisans adapted the designs in the modern style.

Gathering from diverse sources, we see motifs from Mayan and Aztec cultures; Egyptian themes that coincided with the discovery and worldwide interest in King Tut’s tomb, and interest in the striking patterns and colors inherent in African and Japanese art.

Walnut art deco dining table

The cost of fine handcrafted objects was out of the reach of many. Exotic woods, and other expensive materials made this new design form available only to the very wealthy. A need was created for production of machine-made objects in quantity, cost-efficient, modern looking and affordable to all; items that were not only functional, but beautiful in their simplicity.

Streamlined designs were applied to cars, trains, ships, and objects whose purpose was certainly not forward movement. Buildings, gas pumps, refrigerators, vacuum cleaners, radios and gramophones, kitchen utensils, toasters, ceramics, pottery and glassware, clocks and wall sconces, and other everyday items all displayed this new form of design. Striking geometric patterns, bold and contrasting use of color, symmetry, lack of frills and of anything faintly romantic defined the style.

Art Deco concepts permeated all things in the 1920s and 1930s – architecture, fine art, cinema, graphics and advertising posters, and in fashion design for both men and women.

Bakelite and other new synthetic materials were particularly well-suited to the mass production of Art Deco jewelry. Now anyone regardless of their social position could afford the trendy and decorative pieces that were now available to all.

Sleek-looking metals, stainless steel, aluminum and chrome appeared in even the most common household items. The cocktail shaker became the symbol of fashionable sophistication in many middle-class homes. If you enjoy the “Thin Man” movies or any movie from the 1930’s, spot the cocktail service that was always present as part of the set decoration.

Walk into a home department at Macy’s, and you will most likely see a display of Fiesta Ware. Still popular with its simple, streamlined forms in brilliant colors, it was introduced by the Homer Laughlin China Co. of West Virginia in 1936.The line was noted for its Art Deco styling which featured concentric circles and a variety of bright colors and shapes. It was discontinued in 1972 due to changing tastes in dinnerware styles, but was reintroduced in 1984 with new glazes and colors. Popular again, Fiesta Ware is considered to be the most collected brand of china in the United States.

An organization devoted to the preservation of Art Deco in all its forms is the Art Deco Society of Los Angeles. They are sponsoring a festival aboard the Queen Mary in Long Beach, California from August 18-20. It will be a weekend of total immersion in the Art Deco era. They are also planning their annual Avalon Ball in January in the Casino on Catalina Island. The Catalina Casino on Avalon Bay, built in 1929, is a remarkable example of Art Deco design. Information and many interesting articles on preservation as well as other topics and events can be found on their website.

The theme of the 1933 Chicago World’s Fair – “A Century of Progress” sums up the underlying ideas of the period known as Art Deco:  Science Finds, Industry Applies, Man Adapts.

Art Deco survived into the early 1940’s when it evolved to mid-century modernism.

One of the most interesting assignments I’ve had was to appraise a large collection of Art Deco period furniture and posters for insurance purposes.   Identifying the exotic veneers was a challenge.

Sources

Definitive Guide to the Decorative Arts of the 1920s and 1930s. Alastair Duncan.

Harry N. Abrams New York, 2009.

Art Deco 1910-1939. Charlotte Benton, Tim Benton, Ghislaine Wood, Editors

V & A Publications. London, 2003. (Victoria and Albert Museum)

Art Deco Society of Los Angeles. www.adsla.org

Art Deco. Young Mi Kim. Friedman/Fairfax. Architecture and Design Library

Art Nouveau and Art Deco Jewelry. Lillian Baker. Collector Books Paducah, Kentucky, 1981.

Websites

History of Art Deco. Bryan Mawr College. www. brynmawr.edu

Art Deco. The Art Story – Modern Art Insight. www.theartstory.org

Art Deco. Wikipedia.

Art Deco perfume bottle

Caring For Cut Glass

The American Cut Glass Association has a very informative website.   In addition to membership information there are tips on identifying cut glass, dating and patterns.

There are several free articles from past issues of their journal “The Hobstar”.  Among them are two articles by Vickie Matthews.

The Care and Cleaning of Cut Glass” has tips on handling, washing and displaying.  Since I’m located in an area prone to earthquakes, I especially like the suggestion of using a neutral wax or gel product sold at antique shops, hardware stores or on-line.   These products can be removed without harming the glass or signatures.

Packing and Shipping of Cut Glass” has tips on wrapping, boxing and using various shipping services.  Many of these tips can be used for transportation of glass, china or collectibles in general.

One of the best places to view cut glass in Southern California is the Historical Glass Museum in Redlands.   They have an entire room dedicated to American Cut Glass.  Located in a Victorian house, they have many other types of American made glass; the largest collection West of the Mississippi.  Check their website for upcoming lectures.

ANTIQUE and PERSONAL PROPERTY APPRAISALS

Antiques and Personal Property Appraisals

Kathi Jablonsky, ISA CAPP is a full time Certified Appraiser of Personal Property.  Designated with the International Society of Appraisers in Antiques, Furnishings + Decorative Art.  Nineteen years of personal property appraisal experience, since 1999.  Generalist appraiser specializing in estates, collections and large donations.  Specialty in art glass.   Member of the Desert Estate Planning Council, Decorative Arts Trust, Foundation For Appraisal Education and Art Alliance For Contemporary Glass.

760-205-2582 (Palm Desert); 619-670-4455 (San Diego)

Serving the Palm Desert and San Diego, California regions.  Willing to travel for large projects.

Reference: The Collector’s Handbook

The Collector’s Handbook, 10th edition  is written by James Halperin, Gregory Rohan and Mark Predergast in conjunction with Heritage Auctions.  Updated in 2016,  it contains sections on administering, estate planning, evaluating and selling your collection.  There are good references in the appendices as well.  At 181 pages, there is a wealth of information and advice for collectors and their heirs on how to protect their investment.

There are discussions in several chapters about the importance of having your collection appraised for different reasons including insurance, planning, donation, selling, estate tax or division.  It also mentions the importance of using professional and qualified personal property appraisers.

The book is available by free download on the Heritage Auctions website (registration required) or by hard copy for a nominal fee.  I highly recommend taking the time to download and keep a copy of this handy reference book.

Resource:

The Collector’s Handbook,

2016 Revised Edition, Ivy Press, Inc.

 

 

 

Death, Debt, Divorce, Disaster – The 4 D’s

We don’t like to think about it, but there are several situations where our art, antiques and collectibles will be affected in a major way.   Life’s events have a way of separating us from our possessions.

The Canadian Chapter of the International Society of Appraisers recently posted a good article on the subject titled “Not Till Death, Debt, Divorce Do We Part” by Julia McLaren.   It discusses the first three D’s and how proper planning and use of professional appraisers can assist during these times.

I would like add a fourth “D” to the list ….. disaster.  Our beloved objects can be damaged or in the worst case scenario, destroyed.  I discussed this subject in an earlier post titled  “Protecting Your Valuables from a Disaster”.

Protection of your collection and planning for the future is essential.  By having an inventory and professional appraisal, you can make informed decisions regarding insurance, donation, division or liquidation.  At the end of every episode of the TV show “Strange Inheritance” they remind us “you can’t take it with you”.

Collecting the Olympics

The fanfare, emotion and sports competition of the 2012 Olympics has passed.  Many collectors have found a way to extend the excitement year round by collecting Olympic memorabilia.  

You can start out inexpensively by collecting pins, coins, stamps and mascots from recent years.   Some collectors progress to a higher, more expensive level including medals and torches.  There’s something for every interest and budget.  To narrow down the choices begin collecting by category, year, country or sport.     

I have a modest Olympic collection of my own, and display many items in my office.  It started off when I worked at the 1984 Olympics in Los Angeles.   I was stationed at the USC Olympic Village where I was able to trade pins with the athletes and collect small souvenirs.  Over the years, I have added items from other olympics to my collection.  However, I realized that the pins I collected directly from the athletes in Los Angeles mean the most to me because of their personal connection.     

As an appraiser, one of the most exciting opportunities I’ve had was to appraise a silver award medal owned by an olympic athlete.   It was an insurance appraisal and it gave me the opportunity to examine the sales comparison approach (what similar items have sold for) versus the cost to reproduce the medal.   

If you still want a unique souvenir from the London Olympics, you can purchase something at the Official London 2012 Auction website.   They are auctioning off everything from game used equipment, to ceremony props and torches to help defer the cost of putting on the games.   

 

Appraiser of Olympics Memorabilia in California
Appraiser of Olympics Memorabilia in California

 

RESOURCES

Official website of the Olympic Movement

Olympic Collectibles and Collecting Olympic Memorabilia

Ingrid O’Neil Sports & Olympic Memorabilia

Olympin  – Olympic Collectors Club

Olympic Games Memorabilia and Collectibles

Top 10 Most Expensive Items of Olympic Memorabilia