Steve Duke Presents Tradio Gems: Folk Art and Reproductions
(Excerpts from Tradio)
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I had some people come in and show me a picture of a folk art piece. Folk art would be stuff that was done back in the early 1900’s by no one particularly special. Sometimes there were people who specialized in this, but they would put wood pieces together and carve them and paint them and things like that. You know, not a large manufacturing company. And people do collect this. The fact that it’s crude and it’s not real great looking, as far as the quality on it, it’s become quite collectible. Especially the painted pieces that still retain the color of the paint on them adds a lot of value to the piece.
So I had a gentleman show me a rocking chair. But it was more of a kid’s rocker. And it was formed in the shape of a locomotive. And you sat on it. It was placed on rockers and a kid would rock on this thing. And the picture was really cool.
And I said to him, “You know, I’ve had stuff – folk art – before, but I’m not familiar with this. I have a friend of mine – he’s from out of town who specializes in that, out of Pennsylvania. And we’ll be more than happy to give you a call when he’s in town and let you bring that over.”
He also had a picture of a small bronze done by a local artist, kind of unusual. And I said, “When you bring your train over, why don’t you bring your bronze over. I know you keep it in the bank. I’d like to take a look at that also.”
My buddy came in town and I gave him a call and the gentleman brought his items over. The one thing that goes through my mind all day long, because this is what we do all day long – is people come in and say, “What is this worth?” It was interesting for me to watch someone else go through the same type of thought process that I wind up having to go through every day.
As we looked at this train for the first time, instead of just a picture, I picked up on certain things. And I watched Will go through this and pick up on certain things. And it was very, very interesting. The first thing we did, we turned the train upside down and looked on the inside. We kind of looked at the construction, the way it was made.
And what we also looked at was the type of wood that was used to manufacture this thing. Most of your folk art pieces were made out of pine or walnut, some maple – some kind of soft, deciduous wood. Because it was easier to carve. It was easy to work with. And it was extremely plentiful in the early 1900’s. To be able to pick up this wood from the mills and build pieces with it was fairly inexpensive.
That was sort of the whole gist of the primitive type of thing: It was fairly inexpensive to produce for the gentlemen who were carvers. It was easier to work with the soft woods. This whole thing kept the cost of an item like this down. Because it’s what we sort of call a whimsical type of item. It wasn’t anything that people really needed, but it was cool, so they bought it.
Well, we looked at this train/rocker and the first thing that Will says is, “You know, I don’t believe this is American. For the simple reason, it’s not a soft wood. It’s a hard wood, probably European. Or somewhere in the Islands.” We looked at the grain on it and the construction and that didn’t gibe automatically.
This gentleman had someone look at a picture of this who is an appraiser on a road show and the fellow said, “It should be worth a couple thousand dollars if it’s real. I’d have to really see it. But it’s probably about a hundred years old, by the picture.”
Well, the more we looked at it, the one thing I looked at were the nails that held it together. If it’s a piece from the early 1900’s, the nails are going to be a lot different than the nails that we get today. And even though the nails were rusted, the heads of the nails were rusty, they had a – if you look at it – it was a no-slip type of a surface with the little mold mark on it, so that when you’re hitting it with a hammer, the face of the hammer sort of holds to the nail, so that you can hit it in easy.
This is something that came out twenty, maybe twenty-five years ago, an idea that they came up with in the making of nails. Well, if this piece was a hundred years old, then it wouldn’t have these type of nails. And it didn’t have just one that had been replaced, all of it had been done with the same type of nails. It wasn’t really enough rust… The heads of the nails were rusty, but it didn’t extend into the wood whatsoever. As a piece, evidently, the reason it was rusted was that there had been moisture. Well, the moisture would have continued into the wood and the rust would have continued into the wood. But the heads of the nails weren’t rusted into the wood. The heads of the nails were just rusty appearing.
When we looked at the paint on the piece of folk art, we noticed there were parts that were really worn and there were parts that weren’t worn. The entire hue of the paint was all worn. Which meant that it was painted at one point in time. It was all sanded down to make the paint look much older than it actually was.
Now when we look at a piece like this, there’s going to be wear and tear on it. Which, if it’s painted and a kid sat on it, their butt is going to be in one particular part of that rocking chair. And the paint is going to wear off more in that particular area than overall on the train.
Well the front cow-catcher was worn as if it had been out driving. And the seat where the child sat was about the same wear and tear as the entire train was. So we were able to deduce the fact that this had been painted and had been sanded to look like it was old. Didn’t really have original wear and tear on it. It was the wrong kind of wood. The nails were incorrect. Which told us that it was probably a reproduction, maybe twenty, twenty-five years old. A very cool piece, but not a thousand or two thousand dollar item as it would have been, had it been a hundred year old item.
So this was the way the day started. It’s always amazing to me when someone brings a piece in and they really don’t have an idea what it is, but they’ve spent serious money to buy it because they didn’t do all the work that I’m explaining to you that we just did.
They looked at it. It’s cool. And in their mind, it’s got to be an old, antique piece because it looks like it’s old and antique. It even had worm holes in it. And when I say worm holes, a lot of the old wood pieces you’ll find had worms that would actually eat into the wood. Unfortunately, you can make that same effect if you take a small Dremel tool and drill bit and then drill in different areas and paint over the top of it. It looks like wormwood.
So this gentleman had bought this piece feeling he had really hit a home run on that one. It was something rare he had never seen before. I had never really seen one. Will had never seen one. Which, you know, after thirty-seven years, and Will’s been doing this for over forty years, neither one of us had ever seen this, and he certainly deals in the primitives more than I do. You’re going to see pictures of it in auction catalogues, you’re going to see it somewhere. It may not be right in front of you, but as much reading and informative material as a dealer gets, to find something they’ve never ever seen before is pretty unusual.
So we began telling the gentleman the problems with this particular item, the first thing people do is get extremely defensive. “Well, I think it’s an old piece and you guys are probably wrong!” Well then, the more you explain to them, now they’re no longer defensive, now they’re actually starting to listen to you. “Well, I’m going to need a second opinion on that.”
It’s funny to see the thought process that these people go through. I’ve had people tell me that I was a complete idiot, after I’ve explained to them my opinion of that particular item. Some of them have come back and said, “You know, Steve, I just wanted you to know you were right on such and such.” Other ones have gotten second, third and fourth opinions and they all came out with the fact that they weren’t what it was supposed to be. And they put it in their house and enjoy it and it’s fun.
That’s like this gentleman said as he was leaving, “I got a grandson on the way and at least he’ll be able to play with it.” Well, that’s cool. It’s a very neat thing and if it was a thousand dollar item I don’t think I’d let the grandchild play with it, but you know, it’s probably a hundred dollar item, two hundred dollar item. So it’s something the kid can grow up with and enjoy. And after his children get it and his children’s children get it, he could bring it back and I’d probably buy it as an antique, but I don’t know that I’d be around.
Then we pulled out his bronze item and looked at it and it had an artist’s signature on it. The one thing that I try to do is I’ve got a lot of reference material that shows different artist’s signatures. The artist that he had specialized in illustrations and sculptures and bronzes. But he specialized in dinosaurs and wildlife. This particular piece was more of a boot with a ram’s head on it. Which would have been really unusual for this gentleman to do. It was an unusual signature on the bronze, which was unlike anything that I’ve been able to find.
The casting itself probably wasn’t done in a foundry. It was what we call sand casting. It was cast actually in sand, as opposed to in plaster, that they would cast a normal bronze in. The patina was different than anything I’d ever seen this gentleman do. We talked about patina. Patina is the process where, over a period of years, a metal piece will oxidize.
Even some of your old wood furniture will oxidize, it turns darker over a period of years. Depending what it was subjected to. You know, if somebody was a smoker, and you look at a piece of furniture, it’s going to have nicotine on it. If it was just subjected to, an old piece, you know homes were heated by fireplaces – a certain amount of soot is deposited on the wood portions of a piece of furniture.
So everything sort of gets this patina on it. Well, in bronzes, the patina can be caused by an acid wash. What they do is they will actually take an acid and brush it on the particular statue that they’ve made. A lot of times it will give it a grey appearance or a greenish appearance. Sometimes chocolate in color. One way that we’re able to detect a lot of the reproduction bronzes, they’re all this chocolate brown color. Again, this was done with an acid.
Most of your bronzes weren’t painted with any kind of an acid and they just naturally pick up this patina. Some parts of it could be this nice rich chocolate color, some of it have a nice golden color to it. But usually it’s mottled. A little bit of color here, and a different color somewhere else. The bronze that I looked at was all one color. It was sort of a goldish color.
The more you looked at it, the more you could see that some areas, the deep crevices were darker. This tells me that it was acid washed. Why are the cracks darker? Because the acid sat on these cracks – deep, deep cracks for a longer period of time than simply wiping it on and wiping it off some of the other surfaces. It wasn’t finished like a professional would have done.
Another thing that we look at on a bronze is the finish on the bronze itself. What I mean by that, the bronze is casted. Basically, when you cast a bronze, the bronze comes out with a nice smooth texture all over the piece. Now, if it’s supposed to look like a dinosaur, it’s going to have scales, it’s going to have little pit marks and indentations, because this is what the sculptor made in the masterpiece, before it was casted. When I say masterpiece, it doesn’t mean – he could have been making a masterpiece, but the masterpiece is what we refer to as the plaster casting, the wax that they’ve carved and any of the details put into that wax and then it’s cast in bronze.
Well, when I looked at this bronze, what we saw were file marks. Which means to me, someone has taken a file, and there were some rough spots on this casting and they’ve taken the file and filed on it to eliminate the extra slag or the extra pieces of metal that were sticking up after the casting. You know, a professionally done casting is not going to have this problem. And they’re certainly not going to leave file marks on a really fine piece of bronze.
Now the idea was possibly this was a commissioned piece and it was one of a kind, so it didn’t have a foundry mark where it was made. This is a possibility. If it was a cast, commissioned piece, which means that someone said to this artist, “I love your work. I want you to do this for me.” And they said, “Fine, I’d be more than happy to do that. And I’m going to charge you a lot of money for that work.” And the person said, “That’s fine with me. I don’t care, because I love your work.”
Well, when the work comes out and you’re going to charge a lot of money for it, and someone’s a connoisseur of what they’re getting, you’re not going to leave file marks on this bronze. It’s going to be smooth, it’s going to be well-finished, it’s going to be well-tailored. And it’s going to look like a very, very professional type of a casting.
This one didn’t have that fine, fine finish on it. It didn’t have the normal finish that this artist puts on his bronze items. So again, this told me that this was a more modern bronze. It wasn’t done by that particular artist.
When I looked at the signature, the signature was scribed into the metal work. When an artist does a casting and they’re going to sign it, they actually sign the wax mold that that particular thing is casted out of. So you’re not going to see scribe marks, you’re going to see where it looks like somebody actually took a pen or a pencil or a piece of wood, and – if you ever wrote in a piece of clay, you’ll notice that sometimes it balls up around the edges where you’ve made your signature, or whatever design you’ve put in that clay.
When I looked at the signature on this particular piece of bronze, my mind said, “Wait a minute, this is not right. It’s scribed in. It’s not really indented enough, it can’t possibly be the right thing.”
And after going through all this in your mid, you sort of regurgitate all this information back to the owner of this particular piece. And again, they may say to you, “You’re an idiot. You don’t know what you’re looking at. You’re wrong and I don’t agree with you.” And that’s fine. It’s when someone will tell you this who’s theoretically an expert in it, and you have an item, and they tell you all the things that are wrong with it and they say, “But I’m going to help you out and if you’d still like to sell it, I’ll pay you this for it.” At that point, I would have to say to you, you might want to get another opinion. Because if it’s not right, it’s just not right. And there’s probably no real reason to buy it.
Now I’ve bought damaged antiques before and I’ve told people, “This doesn’t have a lot of value because it’s damaged, but I enjoy this type of thing and to me, I could care less if it’s broken. I can mend it and it’s still attractive and I can live with it.” But I never sat there and said to someone, “This is definitely 100% not original. It’s definitely not the right artist. If it was real, it’s a thirty thousand dollar bronze, but I like it and I’ll pay you fifty bucks for it.” If that’s what you’re hearing, you need to take it to somebody else to get another opinion on it.
But if someone’s told you that it’s definitely not genuine, doesn’t have a lot of value to it, but as the owner of it, you like it, by all means, keep it. And if you feel that I’m wrong, go out and get another opinion on it.
I had a gold coin come in the other day as well. It was a three dollar gold piece. These were made in the 1850’s, into the 1860’s. It was only used for a very short period of time in our coinage history, and they’re rather valuable. They have about two hundred dollars worth of gold in them, as a piece of gold. But as a coin, depending on its condition, they’re going to be worth anywhere from $450 to thousands and thousands of dollars, depending on its condition.
Back in the seventies, I encountered a lot of these coins. What happened, people from Lebanon came over to the States and bought up a lot of our gold coins. They bought up the one dollar gold coins, the two and a halfs, the fives, the tens and the twenties. Took them back to Lebanon, made molds off of them and casted them in 22 karat gold.
Now if we did that, it’s against the law, because we’re counterfeiting. But the way the law is written in Lebanon is, as long as you’re not reproducing a coin of the realm, or a coin of their own country, it’s not against the law to make this coin. It’s basically not against the law to counterfeit them. And no, they have done that in our country as well, and a lot of times, usually what they are supposed to do by law is put on there, “copy” somewhere on that particular reproduced coin.
You’ll find a lot of manufacturers don’t do that. But theoretically in 1976, they passed a law that said they were supposed to. Lebanon turned around and sent a lot of these coins back into our country. Many of them were bought by dealers and put in jewelry. Well, there’s nothing wrong with that, I mean they used to make two and a half dollar coin rings and five dollar gold piece coin rings and pendants. And they looked beautiful. The coin was brilliant uncirculated. It was great looking.
What happened, a lot of people would buy these pieces who felt that they were knowledgeable, because they weren’t aware of the fact that these coins were counterfeit. And they said, “Jeesh, this coin ring is only two hundred dollars and that coin in that condition has got to be worth five or six hundred dollars, so I’m going to buy it.” And lots of times they didn’t even really care. It was just a really attractive piece of jewelry and the manufacturer was able to reproduce it for a whole lot less than if they were using the genuine coin. It had no numismatic value, or coin collector value to it.
This lady came in with various gold coins, but the one that she had looked up on the Internet was this three dollar gold piece. She said, “I know this is a very valuable coin and I know what it’s worth!” After I looked at it, I said, “Well, what do you think it’s worth?” She said, “I know it’s worth two thousand dollars!”
I went in the safe and pulled out one that I could show her that had been graded and what we call “slabbed.” We had it encapsulated in plastic and it had been graded by an independent grading company that said this was what we refer to as “MS63,” a Mint State 63 coin, which was a brilliant uncirculated variety of this particular coin.
I put that next to hers and I said, “Now this is a couple thousand dollars for a coin like this. Yours is worn. It’s been in a piece of jewelry – you can see around the edges here where a mounting had been squeezed too hard and left indentations in four little spots on the back of the coin. But the good news is, it really didn’t hurt your two thousand dollar coin, because it’s not genuine.”
And with that, she went into an angry tirade about how I was trying to rip her off, and I didn’t know what I was talking about and “You guys are thieves!” This and that. And I decided, let her go on with her tirade, and I said to her, “Ma’am. Let me explain a few things to you.” And I pulled out a book that shows counterfeit coins and what you look for. Explained to her that here was a coin that was supposed to be from the 1850’s that was supposed to be brilliant uncirculated, and yet there was wear in a bunch of different places, but the hair was nice and shiny and there was detail in it that was the highest spot of the coin.
What does all this translate into? Well, the design on a coin, the high points on a coin, if it was the head of Lady Liberty or if it was the hair on an Indian, if it was the horns on a buffalo, the highest points on a coin are going to wear first. They’re going to get flat and they’re going to show signs of wear before the lower points of that coin are going to show wear.
Now her coin was exactly the opposite. The low points showed wear, the high points had detail in them, which tells me it had never been in circulation, other than to be worn as a piece of jewelry. The weight was incorrect on it and some of the little details that we look for around the edges of the coin were incorrect.
You know, I gave her a price for the gold value of her coin and she said, “Well, that’s totally ridiculous,” slammed her purse with her other coins, and left. About three hours later, she came walking back into the shop – a completely different person, whole different persona – and said, “Steve, you know I was in a little while ago.” And sometimes I do my thing and I say, “Oh I’m sorry, I don’t recall.”
But this time I said, “Yeah, I remember. Did you just come back to tell me I was a thief again? Is that what you want to tell me?” She said, “Well, I took it to three different dealers and they all said that this wasn’t a real coin.” I said, “Do say!” I said, “You just came back to tell me that? I appreciate that.” She said, “No, I came back to sell it to you.” I said, “Well, why would you want to sell it to me? I was trying to rip you off.” She said, “Well, they all three told me it wasn’t genuine and they all made offers according to the gold value, and you were about thirty bucks higher than they were.”
I said, “And the reason I’m thirty bucks higher is, I’m going to turn around and put it in a piece of jewelry and label it that it’s a copy, it’s not a genuine three dollar gold piece. But someone’s going to want it as a piece of jewelry. It’s already got damage on the back of it that doesn’t really affect it one way or the other.
I said, “Now, do you want to sell any of the other stuff that you have?” And she proceeded to pull that stuff out and I’m sure she’d already gotten prices on it. And her two and a half dollar gold piece was genuine, her five dollar gold piece was genuine, her one dollar gold piece wasn’t genuine – which she’d already heard three different times.
The reason being, when these coins were made in another country, a lot of them were shipped over here to give them a chance to make extra money. And your one dollar gold piece and your three dollar gold piece, for the percentage of gold in those, compared to their numismatic value, is a large return. They could turn around, back when they were made and a one dollar gold piece maybe had fifteen, sixteen dollars worth of gold in it. But they could turn around and sell that coin for fifty dollars. That’s a big return on your money.
Your three dollar gold piece, when that was first made probably had about eighty to ninety dollars worth of gold in it, and they could turn around and sell that for a hundred and fifty to two hundred dollars. If it was sold to a dealer who didn’t know about it, they could be sold for five hundred to seven hundred dollars.
So a lot of the coins that had numismatic value were counterfeited in other countries and sent back over here. This is why you’ll encounter a lot more counterfeit coins in the lower denomination or the rare numismatic pieces. You’ll see twenty dollar gold pieces and ten dollar gold pieces again, and when they were made, they still carried a numismatic value above the gold price, but this is why we find that a lot of these things, like I told you before on any kind of collectible – as soon as they become collectible, and they’re worth a premium, there’s always going to be somebody out there counterfeiting it or duplicating it and hoping that they’ve got an unknowledgeable collector who’s going to buy that particular piece.
Then to finish the day off, someone brought in a piece of pottery, and it was a Roseville piece, which was quite collectible quite a few years ago. Five or six years ago, a lot of the Roseville pieces brought big money. They’re still collectible. And they weren’t expensive pieces of pottery when they were made. There were various pieces of Roseville pottery that were done that were extremely rare, because they didn’t go over big. They had different artists that worked for Roseville that tried to make these different lines, they weren’t popular, they were discontinued, so they’re very scarce.
A lot of the stuff we see is very common with flowers on it and trees and different finishes. It’s still collectible. It doesn’t bring the crazy money it used to, but it’s still desirable pottery. Saying that, ten years ago, we had stuff done in China. And it would be marked “Roseville” on the bottom side of it. Most of the Roseville signatures will be raised on the bottom side. A lot of the counterfeit stuff is impressed into the clay.
But the biggest thing was, when they did their painting on it, the painting was done really well. It was done by hand. The counterfeit stuff now is sprayed on, so when we look at it, you see what we call overspray. Rather than very nice clean details, we find that it’s a little bit blurry. Besides, if they painted the stem of a piece of a dogwood tree, the genuine stuff is very articulate. It’s done nicely. There’s no overspray, it’s not out of the lines, so to speak.
The newer stuff is sprayed on, then they put a glaze over it, it’s fired. It looks very similar. The weight is pretty close on it. But again, it’s just sloppy. That’s the only thing I can say to you that we look for on pieces of Roseville, they’re sloppy-looking.
And you know, this person told me what they had, and this and that, and I explained to them what they actually did have. And I went into my office and pulled out an article that showed how these are done and they sat there and read it and read it. Then they said, “You know what? After reading this, I think you’re probably right.”
I said, “Well, it’s nice to have someone tell me that I’m not a complete idiot today. But this is what I would go by. It’s nothing that I could use.” and we shook hands and lo and behold, they went out to the car and brought two other pieces of Roseville in that were genuine. It turns out they’re what we refer to as “pickers.” They run around to the garage sales, and carport sales and different antique shops, hopefully buying pieces that they can turn around and sell to another dealer at a higher rate.
And I bought the other two pieces of Roseville from them, and I made a new acquaintance. They made a new contact for disposing of items, and it was a very good relationship.
At Westchester Gold and Diamonds, we deal in a lot of different stuff – all kinds of collectibles, rare items. Some of them not so rare. We deal in coins, we deal in scrap golds, silver. We deal in fine items. We’re always looking for great quality pieces. We’ll always pay a big premium for them.
If you’re not sure what you have, you’re only going to get a chance to sell it once. Stop by and see us. We would love to take a look at any of your items that you’re not sure of.
I’m Steve Duke, the owner of Westchester Gold and Diamonds. We’ve been talking a little bit about some collectibles and how to determine whether things were genuine or not. With that, we’re going to take a quick break and return to Tradio.
Stop by and see us. We are in the Baer Plaza behind ABC Liquors. Westchester Gold and Diamonds is located at 4200F Tamiami Trail, Port Charlotte, FL 33952.
Call (941) 625-0666.
Westchester Gold and Diamonds provides services including custom jewelry design, repairs, appraisals and other jewelry and antiques related services. Westchester Gold and Diamonds is open 10 a.m.-6 p.m., Monday through Friday; 10:30 a.m.-4 p.m., Saturday and by appointment at your home or bank.
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Have Questions about your antiques, estate jewelry, collectibles or old treasures?
If you have questions for Steve Duke to answer about your jewelry, antiques or collectibles, just send a photo of the item and your question directly to Steve Duke at WGDiamonds@HotMail.com and Steve will research it for you and you may be contacted to participate in an upcoming Tradio episode. Be sure to include your name, email and phone number along with your question and email it to: WGDiamonds@HotMail.com