Taking The Time

Collector Chats

April 12, 2019

Some years ago in the magazine Art and Antiques, there was a wonderful column on what was not hot in the antiques world. While I have since lost the article in our myriad of moves, the general gist of it was that there are big broad categories of antiques that are not collectible. The author suggested that these might be good places for people to begin their budding collections.
Broadly speaking, the categories of out-of-fashion antiques broke into two areas. First are those areas that simply are out of fashion; seventeenth century English oak, American Empire, lusterware and the like were in this category. They had been once highly collected but had fallen away because of changing tastes.
The second category consisted of items about which the research and knowledge were very esoteric. It was not to say there were no research books (or websites today), but rather that accessing the materials, viewing original items and then having a big selection to buy were all challenges. Items in this category included pattern glass, Japanese prints, and Islamic art.
I was thinking about the latter category the other day, as it is an area that still remains the purview of experts rather than casual collectors. I enjoy Japanese prints immensely and have put together a collection of them for my youngest daughter for her future home. We got interested in them as a family when we visited the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts and saw a collection of them on exhibition there. The work was exquisite, and I was intrigued that the tradition spanned so many centuries. While I knew that I could not find early examples, there were plenty from the 19th and particularly the 20th centuries that appealed to me.
Our first shopping foray into buying came during a trip to Savannah, Ga., when a kind dealer let us pick out a baker’s dozen prints that we purchased and brought home. Since then we have added other examples to the collection found in a wide range of places. The books on the subject still remain inaccessible to me, but I have built up a lot of interest in the subject by visiting museum collections and learning about the various periods and styles. Valuing Japanese prints is a challenge, and I am sure that I have made mistakes in my collecting. Still, the pleasure of collecting the items is immense, and I think we probably have done better than not.
I don’t encourage this kind of collecting for the novice. For every interesting Japanese print, I see dozens of prints that were probably purchased for under a dollar in airport gift shops, etc. Most are easy to spot, but many more have some age to them and can fool the eye so easily.
So if you are thinking about a new area to collect. I would encourage you to look for opportunities in those areas where a little extra research and study may pay off.

Peter Seibert, a native Pennsylvanian, grew up in the antiques business and remains closely tied to auction houses, collectors, and dealers. Professionally, he has served as a museum director and public historian in Pennsylvania, New Mexico, Virginia, and Wyoming. He holds a Master of Arts in American studies from Penn State and has authored two books and numerous articles on decorative arts, interior design, and history.
Peter Seibert

Peter Seibert

Peter Seibert, a native Pennsylvanian, grew up in the antiques business and remains closely tied to auction houses, collectors, and dealers. Professionally, he has served as museum director and public historian in Pennsylvania, New Mexico and Virginia. He holds an M.A. in American Studies from Penn State and has authored two books and numerous articles on decorative arts, interior design, and history.

 

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