Archive for April, 2010

Variations on a Theme- Delft

Posted in Delft with tags , on April 19, 2010 by dutchnduchess

As an Amsterdamer, I’ve gone through phases not liking Delft at all to becoming a specialist in it.  I’ve become a top seller with almost 100 percent rating on internet auctions with Delft comprising many of my over 5000 listings.  I’m always amazed at how much there is to learn on this topic. 

Many of our customers add Delft not as a collected item per se but just as a decorative accessory or two. Most choose blue and white , the most popular colors associated with Delft.  Some are even surprised to find out that Delft can be multi-colored or polychrome. 

delft_beer_steinPolychrome can mean that up to 16 colors have been used in the glazes on one item. The glaze can affect price bases on its rarity or because it can help to accurately date the item.  The use of  “manganese” adn the way it is applied or stippled before firing  creates a uniquely textured purple red surface and is considered very dear to collectors.
There are many forms of Delft in terms of silhouettes. Some of which signify a ballpark age…  a plate  can have  a plain rim, a yellow edges rim,  more depth in its center more like a bowl , ( but is not one),  a scalloped rim resembling ‘rick-rack’ with a miniature fluted, ruffly edge. Turn it over and it can have repairs that are desireable in the form of staples. There are several locations where Delft was made and certain artists can be traced to a particular factory, sometimes identified by a mark  or because of the obvious lack of one.
It’s really a world on its own –and a face to which I have grown very accustomed and deeply admire. [shown left: Delft Beer Stein, 17 century with manganese glaze]

It’s often the case that such old breakable materials is found cracked, but luckily in the antiques world a cracked rim is not always the worse case scenario. The original use of Delft plate was to hang for ornamentation. Often the hardware was simple and though it stayed stationary, small places in the edge got worn. It’s almost suspect to find a piece of Delft with certain age without such a characteristic. ‘Rim flaking’ is not really considered a problem.

To tell if porcelain or eartheware items are in whole state, when tapped or thumped on the rim of a plate for example, there should be a clear and slightly enduring sound. When the thump produced a broken off or short sound, this signifies a crack or repair. When the clear sound resinates the dish is said to ‘sing’, much like crystal but with a different sound.

There are many silhouettes and forms of Delft that are very inviting to explore. A good place to start if you are in the vicinity of one is in a museum which has such items in its collection with correct research and descriptions, on the internet and in books. If interested in collecting Delft, it is wise to select a few books with ‘marks’ and to keep this with you when out ‘tracking the marvelous’.

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Care of Antiques (or Skip the Pledge!)

Posted in Antiques with tags on April 19, 2010 by dutchnduchess

Antiques owners often wonder how to care for their furniture made of beautiful patinized wood.  The short answer is ‘very carefully’. Ask yourself which commercial products were around when this furniture was made you can quickly self-diagnose the best way is an old, simple way.  First rule,  “Skip the ‘Pledge” or any commercial cleaner you find at most supermarkets for that matter.  If you have cleaning staff, you’ll want to give clear instructions.  Remove entirely any supply of commercial cleaners, or tape a handwritten reminder around the can whicm  might save hours of restoration woes later. The best way to  maintain a wooden surface is  to regularly dust with a soft cloth or feather duster and periodically wax it with a bit of elbow grease–like a once-a-year routine.  Just before  holiday is a good time to get things sparkling for upcoming gatherings  It takes years for a ‘patina’  or natural aging of wood to occur. This  cannot be duplicated although ruthless traders attempt such.   If in Belgium or the Low Countries use bees wax or paste wax from a local ‘menusier’ and if in the US  try, Johnson’s floor paste wax.

If furniture is placed in an enviroment with ‘dry air’  devise a way to create moisture. For example, when wooden furniture is placed near a radiator or other warm spot,  fill a small bowl with water and place inside if possible or if on legs, place it underneath. This will help to supply moisture and delay formation of cracks caused by drying of porous woods. Cracking  is  inevitable in pieces with  woods abutted as in construction with planks like table tops, or in which a different wood is  used as an underpining   than that on the outside of the furniture (veneers). Veneers are usually made of a more expensive wood or from a section of a tree with a particularly decorative effect –and all shrink at theirown tempo.

Placing wooden furniture in a sundrenched room may over time bleach areas of the furniture most penetrated  by direct, bright rays. Just as for  a good gardener, care instructions and amount of  sunlight are important matters when positioning furniture in rooms with windows and southern orientation (strongest sun).  Take note if other objects in the room cast shadows to forecome  odd patterns surfacing over time. This also can be avoided by  moving the furniture to a different location that would change the light orientation and lessen tendency of bleaching.  To remedy bleached areas, the furniture color can be corrected but no tby spots. The whole piece is brought to equal neutrality and then re-stained, which may compromise the original patina and can effect the valuation.

If the wood cracks, let a professional woodwork restorer make recommendations, especially if the surface is French polished. It is not a job for an amateur, as many variables can mar perfect intentions:  movement. timing , dust , lack of enduring muscle power — any of these can  cause the shellac to bloom or  unexpectedly turn white in sections and the process has to be started from scratch after first removing the layers completed. Ouch!  A professional job will last for years but there comes a time when the shellac has turned , or scratches have penetrated it beyondtouch up level. If this is the case, it is best to leave this job to someone not only trained, but with an experienced hand. Some styles of furniture require a high gloss finish typical of the period. ”French polishing’. The only correct way of application is by hand, in figure eight patterns, tediously building up over 36 layers to an almost mirror sheen. Be careful, there are restorers who claim to provide  this service and use spray cans! Such finishes will have a rough, minute bubbly surface, quite visible without magnification.
French style pieces will often have metal ornamentation or “ormulu” and it should also be regularly dusted. Use a soft toothbrush to reach intricate grooves and passages.  Often the top surface will be of marble which can only break if dropped or with high impact knocks.  Use a  soft , moist cloth to wipe and restore its natural luster, avoiding all commercial cleansers with pumice or fine grity  substance, as used for marble  floors.

For textiles and upholstery, a little water delicately applied immediately and dabbed dry with a colorless plushy cloth or towel, works wonders to remove or minimize  even the worst of stainmakers like red wine and coffee.  When possible, pre-test  an indescriminate area to prevent irrevocable watermarking before tackling large areas.   For luxury fabrics, (ie. silk, raw silk, linen, wool, cashmere and specialy dyed products) consult the internet or deliver to a local drycleaner with exact information aou the spill as soon as possible.  The best method to forecome mishaps is to proactively anticipate mishaps and apply a commercially available protective coating such as “Scotchgard”.

Finally,  if the furniture is relocated in a household move, you might want to make sure that that written instructions accompany new ownership, including any special assembly notes, (i.e.pegged doors, secret compartments fittings,  etc.). Photography, videos and eventually dvd  can be very useful for movers or new owners

The golden rule of thumb for d-i-y lovers who contemplate projects with showpiece antiques is  –when in doubt , don’t. You would be wise to at least consult a professional before indulging in unknown territory that can result in countess hours of  ‘corrective surgery’.  Don’t do anything in a hurry. Antiques take a lot of abuse but proper care on a timely basis insures their true glory will  shine illustriously for many years to come.

The Un-Distructible

Posted in Antiques with tags on April 19, 2010 by dutchnduchess

Taste is as evolutionary as it is individual and it changes with lifestyle.

Picture this:As a child, growing up in a flat in Amsterdam, space was at a premium and  I wasn’t allowed to have a lot of toys and projects displayed at one time. Things  had to be in order if we had guests unexpectedly or by invitation. As an only child, I probably spent more time around adults than children with siblings.  I matured faster than many of  my peers and moved out of my parents home at an early age. I remember thinking how I definitely did not want dark, old furniture dominating my living space ( like many of my relatives and parents had).  I went with an oversized white leather sofa suite  in a rather small scale space, typical of Dutch architecture , minimalist walls and a huge  arc lamp, with trajectory swiveling  360 degrees but usually positioned to fall over a glass topmammoth /marble base  coffee table — Any other space  was consumed by stereo equipment to balance out my headbanger heaven.

I can always relate to clients who come to us with desire to make a transition in their decor that involves adding antiques to a relatively modern environment.  I enjoy furniture without apparent history as well as those in which I am profoundly enlightened by well-documented provenance that is connected to a particular style, name or manufacturer.   And oh yes,  my taste has changed. I have to admit to having some of the ‘dark’ furniture at which I once so proudly scoffed!

Many newlyweds start out with ‘early attic’ and when kids come along, they decide to keep it for a while or not add anything to maximize playspace. My parents were in their thirties when they married and created me. Their decor reflected an appreciation inherited showpieces and mature taste. All are happy as the ‘little sprouts’ toddle and bump and fall as carefree and innocent as childhood allows.  Later, we stroll through labarinth of disposable, trendy furniture like Ikea, and antiques is a word that fades out of our decorating vocabulary for a while. Why is this? 

William Morris believed simple philosophy was that a home should only be filled with the beautiful or the functional. Why not from the very beginning? If  ‘ little sprout’  takes a magic marker to a 300 year old trunk , it’s wood.  Just remove the marker bits and re-stain the area. It may even add extra character and until little sprout takes his/her art to safer surfaces. And if s/he wants to crawl on top of it,  it won’t hurt.  It’s a survivor of hundreds of years already. Scuffs? been there done that , Heavy marks and nicks? BTDT too. I just have one magical word  to say to you…

Patina!  It’s what makes or breaks the beauty and ‘story’ of your antique piece.  It’s miracle is that it has survived so much already, there’s little you can do that won’t add to it accumulated ‘character’.  So don’t hold back –start enjoying the world of collecting when the bug bits you.  There are some good bets that although pricey on the front end will save you money and even increase in value for you in the longer term. If you are a young parent considering a transition in your decor to  ‘real furniture’ that can withstand teething marks and magic markers here are some tips  you might find helpful:

Look for indestructible pieces of solid construction out of pure woods not MDF or other composites that cannot sustain water or damp and simply are not lasting.

Trunk lids can translate to smashed fingers, so bungy cord the trunk or cover it, when Testoster Ronny is in the room.  If you have the luxury of keeping antiques in their special room, still bungee cord it unless its in bright sunlight,  which over time can  create  subtle to stark strapmarks.  One grandmother turned her trunk upside down for about a year, and put cloth on it, untill it was ‘safe’ for grandkids to be around it. 

When you have ‘big people’ over it will be easy for children to model  appropriate behavior with several attentive watchers in the room to monitor and firmly  instruct.  Kids learn faster than you think. It will be more a problem with visiting children than with your own before you know it.  A good way to teach small children is to stage a little tea party just with them, kind of like a dress rehearsal before ‘company’ comes. Let them get involved in everything, handwritten invites, dressing up, picking out what to serve and on what, etc.  Use apple juice in coffee cups for example — so they get used to the idea of seeing  ‘big peoples’ cups and saucers.  Have some kids topics to talk about and keep the time short so it doesn’t exaust their attention span. Reward their behaviour by change of clothes and wild and raucous play where  this is allowed.

Acquire things that you can hang up high. By the time toddlers grow up to it, they know what it is. Consider Flemish mirror for example. (separate topic in sidebar). 

Oak, dark , rustic pieces can withstand markers and stroller bumps best.  Some parents never remove things like this because its part of growing up and becomes part of the story of the furniture or amusing  family anecdotes.

Another good addition is an antique bed for kids.  Sadly, most antique beds are perfectly sized for kids and the smaller scale will give their room more play space. The styles are quite variable and the construction is of solid wood , which is very durable and can be restored easily in later stadium. Unlike other choices, you’ll retain value and as child matures, the bed can be re-invested when child wants to exert his or her taste.

Accessories like wooden ship winches,  antique croquet balls, cigar moulds are pretty indestructible and can’t be swallowed. They add little touches of character and converstaion pieces , and provide great excuses to amuse children with history, enrich their study experiences, relate to family travels.

Any search engine will spit out an endless list of actions in attempt to childproof a home in general. Not all circumstances are controllable all of the time as kids constantly remind us. Starting early to show your appreciation for antique and collectibles might be one of the nicest gifts your family will share in more ways than one.  If your taste changes, don’t be shy. There’s a myriad of things to collect that fit all purses. Go with your heart desire and start tracking the marvelous!  It will provide a lot of fun and enrichment as the family explores the markets together and can enjoy the rich history of these wonderful pieces.