Dan Ruth - Among the Collectors

Dan Ruth - Among the Collectors

Saturday, February 22, 2014

Antique Jewelry & Collectibles Shopping Lessons Learned

After weeks of slush and cold, there was a break in the weather and I decided to go shopping.  I hadn't been to the Antique Garage since the snow started falling at the beginning of the month.  Not only was it a beautiful day, I seemed to have tremendous train luck as well and although I arrived at the Antique Garage somewhat late in the afternoon, I still managed to score some incredible finds.  What happened later at the market was a truly astonishing for me, and a lesson for anyone who reads this.

First off, there was a gentleman who was selling two very large EAPG decanters.  These weren’t your typical crystal decanter from Eastern Europe intended for wine, these two were certainly American pressed glass, they were very heavy, were intended for whiskey and they were gorgeous.  Because of a discussion about patterns recently on one of the Facebook Carnival Glass collector pages, I knew that one of the decanters was Cambridge’s “Wheat Sheaf.”  It seemed that the online gentleman purchased a green Carnival Glass whiskey decanter in this very pattern and as luck would have it, the decanter wasn’t marked.  It wasn’t a reproduction, it was actually old, authentic Carnival Glass and it was indeed a pattern that has rarely been seen in any color, let alone in green.  I believe it may very well have been the only whiskey decanter documented by collectors in green, because the gentleman had purchased it from one of the original owners for a very high price.  
Northwood's "Memphis" & Cambridge's "Wheat Sheaf" EAPG whiskey decanter.
The decanter I found today however, was in clear glass and like many whiskey decanters that show up at flea markets, it was missing the stopper.  Whether in Carnival Glass or EAPG, I still believed the piece to be rare, so I purchased it, along with another beautiful decanter for five dollars each.  Did I tell him I knew the pattern?  Not in a million years.  The Cambridge decanter alone should sell for $80-110.  That wasn’t a bad score for my first time back at the flea market since the winter storms hit. 

Around Christmas time, a gentleman showed up at the Antiques Garage, that I had never seen before.  He was selling polished crystals, silver plate, ornate rococo items, large pieces, candlesticks, porcelain, paintings etc.  I had purchased several pieces of silver plate from him last year and they truly were wonderful, wonderful items.  Both were highly aesthetic and in incredible condition.  I was glad to see he had returned.   On his shelf he had several items that interested me.  There were a few pieces of cut crystal, a few larger bronzes and my new downfall: Victorian white bisque porcelain vases.  They were nothing to him but everything to me.
Victorian white bisque porcelain miniature vases.
I’ve been building a small collection of white bisque corn items at home, in fact I guess you could say that a whole corn corner was growing in my cabinet, including several white bisque corn vases, two Imperial Carnival Glass corn bottles, a Northwood Carnival Glass corn vase and a green EAPG corn creamer.  These bisque corn vases that I found today however, we’re more ornate.  One vase had thick stalks going up each side and the other, had two peculiar groupings of grapes on either side.  I purchased the two vases, along with another beautiful white bisque vase in the shape of a woman’s hand, holding a cupped flower.  I purchased all three for $40.

Then there were the rings.

Directly in front of me was a woman asking to see the seller’s jewelry.  He pulled out a small tin and proceeded to show her some items.  I noticed through the corner of my eye that they were two gentlemen’s rings.  I wear rings a lot and I collect them.  Me likey.  I really wanted to examine them but I couldn’t get a good look and I didn’t want to be rude (yet).  What I really wanted was for the woman to walk away and never come back, but she didn’t.  She started haggling with the seller, who then took out a gram scale.  He weighed the two rings and quoted her price of $175 for the two.  The woman started looking at the rings again, this time through a loupe.  She started complaining that they were both 10K gold and didn’t weigh very much.  Then she broke a flea market golden rule.  She said that she thought the rings were “ugly.”  Wha??  She just insulted the seller.  Sayonara bargins for you.  At this point, I really wanted to just grab the rings out of the woman’s hands and push her out of the way, into an oncoming rolling rack of used vintage clothing (y’all know how it is).   Instead, she finally mumbled something about never getting $175 for the rings and she turned to walk away.  I quickly pushed by her as she exited, knelt down to the seller who was sitting in a chair, and politely whispered to him that I’d like to see the two rings. 

What do you see?

Both of the rings were intaglio-carved Hematite gentleman Cameo rings and they were both stunning.   The smaller of the two was surrounded on all four sides by gold rosettes and although both rings were indeed 10K gold, they both seemed to have a hue of Rose gold to them, placing them both, squarely around 1910-15.  The larger of the two rings had a fancier setting and was complimented on both sides by cushion cut Diamonds.   

They had all the bells and whistles and it was now clear that both rings were from the early 20th century and for their age, were in immaculate condition.  Antique gold rings tend to bend unmercifully into ghastly shapes when not properly cared for, but these two rings were superb.  I saw no chipping in the stones, I saw no bending, no dents, no major scratches, gouging, nothing that would make me want to put the rings down.  Both came in vintage cases and although both cases displayed damage, they were both very cool.  How could this woman have called these two gentleman’s items “ugly?”   The answer was obvious to me and it should be to you as well, if you buy at flea markets.   She was clearly calling the rings “ugly” to color their value and to make them seem less than they were, so she could get a better price, which she didn’t.  By calling into question the weight of the gold, she also didn’t know the other golden rule of buying antique jewelry at a flea market.  If you find a piece of antique jewelry at a flea market or jewelry store that’s in good condition, you’re not going to want to purchase it for its melt value.  You purchase it for its age and aesthetic.  Sellers know this.

Years ago at Jozef and Sons, my favorite Greenpoint, Brooklyn jewelry store, I had brought in a handful of old antique jewelry items and wanted Jozef to weigh the pieces and tell me what they were worth.  He simply told me, “my friend, these pieces are antique.  You’re not going to want them for their melt value because they’re worth much more as they are.  Leave them be.”  I never forgot that.  So today, I purchased the two “ugly” antique rings for $175.    

Both cleaned up beautifully and thanks to my Uncle Don Sellers’ book, “Trademarks of the Jewelry and Kindred Trades, Fourth Edition 1922,” I discovered that a company named Baskin Bros., here in New York City, manufactured the smaller ring.  The larger ring with the diamonds has a maker’s mark “JF” but I couldn’t find the maker in the book.

Still, when faced with the question of spending good money, a buyer has to look at all the options.  The woman at the flea market today was going to take the rings, rip out the stones have the gold melted down and walk away with her $120 melt value.  As it turns out, both rings are in remarkable condition neither have issues, and I’ve already identified the manufacture of one of the two and will keep looking for the other.  Whether I keep them or sell them remains to be seen, because neither fit me.   I do know however, that in a retail setting, the Baskin Bros. ring would easily fetch $235.00 and the larger ring with the diamonds, $575.00. 

Do as much research on your collectibles as possible.  Stand up against the destruction of legitimate antique items.   Buy for the love of the aesthetic, not just for metal melt value.   Keep your antiques safe and only pass them on, into caring hands.