Artists sometimes only make one kind of art, perhaps keeping to painting, sculpture or jewelry. But many try all kinds of art before they find the one that is best. Self-taught Peter Hunt (1896-1967) started painting thrift shop furniture with peasant designs in 1929. His colorful pieces sold quickly in Cape Cod and became so fashionable that they were sold in the furniture departments of Macys, Gimbels and other well-known department stores. Old boxes, school desks, strollers, toys, buckets, trays, fabrics and more were decorated. Hunt was handsome, charming and clever, and he sold his folk art to important socialites, including Helena Rubenstein, who promoted his work. He also wrote cookbooks and how-to guides so amateurs could copy his style. His painting is compared to early Pennsylvania German or Norwegian Rosemaling. His painted designs were signed with “Anno Domini,” the last two numbers of the year, and his cursive signature. Sometimes he added French phrases to the decorations. But the fad only lasted till the 1960s, and he died penniless. Peter Hunt’s art is being collected again. This Hunt dollhouse, painted inside and out, sold at a recent Eldred auction for $240. A large piece of furniture could bring over $1,000.
Q I haven’t been able to identify the maker of my silver water pitcher. The mark includes the initials “L.B.S. CO.” and “E.P.N.S.” and a cross, a crown and a shield. I presume the interior is aluminum because it’s very lightweight. It looks very modern. Do you have any idea who the maker is and the time period? What can I expect as to its value?
A This mark was used by Lawrence B. Smith Co. of Boston, Massachusetts. The company was founded in 1887 and made silver and silver plate serving pieces. It went out of business in the late 1950s. The letters “E.P.N.S” stand for “electroplated nickel silver.” Sterling silver is solid silver. Nickel silver doesn’t contain any silver but is an alloy made of about 20% nickel, 60% copper and 20% zinc. In electroplating, an electric current is used to deposit a thin layer of silver onto the base metal. The process came into commercial use about 1840. Modern silver plate trays are almost impossible to sell and have no melt down value since they aren’t solid silver. Your silver plate pitcher might sell for about $50 to $75.
Q I have a set of dinnerware with a circular mark on the bottom. There is a bird in the middle and the words “Dishwasher & Microwave Safe” and “Made in Japan.” Can you tell me anything about the maker or age?
A Japanese marks are hard to identify if they use a picture without words or initials that would give clues to the maker’s name. The words “dishwasher” and “microwave” help tell the age, however. Dinnerware marked “dishwasher proof” was made beginning in 1955. Dinnerware marked “microwave safe” was made about 1970 or later.
Q I have a painting by Woodi Ishmael dated 1969 and titled “Trail-Blazers in the Sky.” It was presented to my husband, who was a Major General in the U.S. Air Force, with a plaque honoring his “loyal support to the Air National Guard, the United States Air Force and the United States of America.” Can you tell me anything about this painting or the painter?
A Woodi Ishmael (1914-1995) was born in Kentucky, studied at the Cleveland Institute of Arts and the Art Students League of New York, and taught at Troy State University in Troy, Alabama. The painting pictures the 1st Aero Company, part of the New York National Guard, preparing for flight. The Company was the first aviation unit mobilized into federal duty and made the first mass “cross-country” flight of military planes in 1916. Twelve planes flew from Mineola, New York, to Princeton, New Jersey, on Nov. 18 and flew back to Princeton on Nov. 19. The painting was made 50 years later. Original paintings must be seen by an expert to determine price. Reproduction prints of this painting have been made. Some collectors would want the plaque since it adds to the history. Some would take it off the frame.
Q I have a clock made by the New Haven Clock Co. The case is metal, 15 inches high, with a dark finish and traces of blue paint. On the bottom is an Art Deco woman, positioned so she appears to be holding up the dial as an orb. I’ve just had the movement repaired and cleaned and it is in good working order. Can you help with a value?
A The New Haven Clock Co. was founded in Connecticut in 1853. The company mass produced brass clock movements for the Chauncey Jerome Manufacturing Co., one of the largest clockmakers in the world at that time. Jerome went bankrupt and was bought by New Haven Clock Co. in 1857. The curvy lines and the figural image of a semi-draped maiden with flowing hair on the base of your clock suggest it is Art Nouveau, not Art Deco, in design and made in the late 19th to early 20th century. The case is made of “white metal,” an alloy used as a base for a plated or painted finish. Working versions of your clock with gilt finish have sold from $200 to $240.
TIP: Spool-turned furniture or “Jenny Lind” pieces with sharp corners are older than those with rounded corners.