Collecting Antiques to Vintage

How did we choose the name Antiques to Vintage? Mainly because we wanted the new title to cover everything in the antiques collecting world from A to Z, but there was nothing too zappy under ‘Z’! So we stopped at Vintage, and then we thought – this might be a good idea for a new series. And here it is. Antiques and Vintage, A to Z, names starting with A, B, C and D…

Antique: Argy-Rousseau, Joseph-Gabriel
A master glass artist

French sculptor, ceramicist and master glass artist Joseph-Gabriel Rousseau added the ‘Argy’ part of his name after he wed Marianne Argyriades in 1913. He began exhibiting glass in pate-de-verre the next year to great critical acclaim, and by 1921 had founded his own company with partner Gustav Moser-Millot. Somewhere between 200 and 300 of his innovate designs have been recorded, with Argy-Rousseau creating his own wax models and handing them over to his assistants for serial production. His vases, lamps, bowls and other art glass objects were exported across Europe as well as to the United States, South America and Africa. Nature was the predominant theme, with flowers, insects, animals and the female form being abundantly depicted. Despite the success of the business – and an estimation that more than 15,000 pieces of art glass were produced by his firm – Argy-Rousseau was unable to survive the 1929 economic crisis and in 1931 the factory went into liquidation. He continued to work in his own small studio until 1937.
Image: An Argy-Rousseau bowl with a gazelle gambolling through a group of orange flowers.

Vintage: Avon
Putting women first

Best-known for its tagline ‘Avon Calling’, the cosmetics company has also produced a long line of collectables over the decades although it’s probably accurate to say that not all the collectables are, in fact, collectable.
Avon Products was established in New York in 1886 as the California Perfume Company. Its founder, David H. McConnell, was a travelling book salesman who sometimes gave his female clients perfume samples as an added extra. He soon realised the samples were more popular than the books and began formulating his own perfumes. Uniquely, all of the 10,000 sales representatives working for the California Perfume Company were women. The brand was officially renamed Avon Products Inc in 1937, and early products and packaging are scarce. Not so much the manufactured collectables, which were introduced in the early 1960s with a line of novelty containers for perfumes and colognes. Sold directly through Avon’s sales reps, the collectables were expanded in the 1970 and ‘80s to include jewellery, decorative plates, bells, figurines, holiday ornaments and more. Some series, such as the Nativity set, Seasons in Bloom and Cape Cod are popular with collectors (particularly in the USA), but values on the second-hand market remain low and are usually below the original price.
Image: An Avon collection won’t break the bank! This set of 4 aftershave decanters would set you back about $20.

Antique: Blake, Kitty
One of the Saucy Six

She was never seen without her red lipstick and a cigarette. A team player with a good sense of humour, Kitty Blake was a driving force at the Royal Worcester factory where she worked as a ceramic painter for a total of 48 years, from 1905 until 1953. A bit of a live wire, Kitty was one of the Saucy Six female painters who gave the Terrible Seven male apprentices a run for their money. Kitty’s family was artistically talented and her brother Edward specialised in painting pheasants for the Locke factory, but times were tough in the early 20th century and Kitty often created advertising posters in her spare time for some extra money. At Royal Worcester she specialised in flowers and small fruits and is particularly known for her James Hadley-style rendering of bunches of blackberries, which look mouth-wateringly real.
Image: Blackberries good enough to eat are painted on this signed Royal Worcester jug by Kitty Blake.

Vintage: Baekeland, Leo
Out to make money

Most of us are aware of the general story of Leo Baekeland, the Belgian chemist who invented Bakelite and helped found the modern plastics industry. But Bakelite was not Baekeland’s first successful invention. After receiving his doctorate at the age of twenty-one, he left Belgium for the United States in 1889 and joined a photographic firm. It didn’t take long for him to develop a new type of photographic paper that could be developed under artificial light, and in 1899 Baekeland sold his invention, Velox, to US inventor George Eastman for a reputed $1m. Remember, this is in 1899 – a staggering sum (if it’s true). But possibly not enough for Baekeland, who told friends his primary motivation for experimenting with synthetic resins was to make money. Originally he was seeking an alternative for shellac, which at the time was made from the shells of Asian lac beetles. First he developed Novolak, a soluble phenol-formaldehyde shellac that was not a market success. Then he experimented with the development of a binder for asbestos, ultimately creating the hard, mouldable plastic of Bakelite. In 1939 Baekeland sold his enormously successful company to the Union Carbide and Carbon Corporation, and retired to sail his yacht, the Ion.
Image: These Bakelite bracelets were designed from the 1920s through the 1940s. They originally sold for $10 to $40 apiece. Their values today would be: green ($450), blue ($850), red ($600), yellow ($125), and butterscotch ($375).

Antique: Christofle, Charles
An electroplating giant

The only boy in a family of four, Charles Christofle was born into a legacy of button manufacture in Paris in 1805. He apprenticed as a manufacturer of copper jewellery and in 1830 took over his brother-in-law’s business, positioning it towards the export of precious metal jewellery. In 1837 Christofle took out a patent for the manufacture of metallic fabrics, and in 1839 he exhibited his silver filigree pieces at the Exhibition of Products of the French Industry in Paris. But the real change came in 1842, when Christofle acquired the patents for silver and gold metal electroplating. More durable than traditional techniques, electroplating and gilding made it possible to manufacture on a huge scale, and as the only patent holder in France for 15 years, Christofle was able to cement his place in the market. One of his first clients was Louis-Philippe I, who ordered a full service for the Royal holiday chateau in Normandy. Gold medals were awarded to Christofle at the 1852 Universal Exhibition in Paris and when he died in 1863 he left his son Paul and nephew Henri a prosperous business.
Image: A magnificent display of Christofle’s work at the Department of the State Ministry, France.

Vintage: Captain Atom
The first Aussie superhero

Captain Atom is one of the few original Australian comic heroes to have had his own merchandising and fan club, reaching a membership of over 75,000 in the 1950s. Based on a combination of Captain Marvel and Captain Triumph, Captain Atom was created and written by Jack Bellew and drawn by Arthur Mather. Sixty-four issues were published by Atlas Publications from 1948 to 1954, and numerous strips were also included in some Australian newspapers.
Captain Atom was formed, so the backstory tells us, when identical twin brothers were caught in an atomic bomb blast and fused into one. Dr Rador, a nuclear physicist who takes on the identity of an FBI agent, is the dominant persona, but he transforms into his atomic-powered superhero twin when he shouts the magic word Exenor! Originally published in colour, the comic switched to black and white after two years, when the cost of colour printing became too expensive. The first issue, which was released in January 1948, sold approximately 100,000 issues and at its peak around 180,000 fans were reading Captain Atom. The Aussie superhero was well ahead of his American version, who was published by Charlton Comics in 1965.
Image A: real Aussie superhero! Captain Atom entered the crime-fighting world in January 1948.

Antique: Druce & Co
And a wild goose chase
In the Marylebone Trade Directory of 1853, the firm of Druce & Co was listed as ‘Furnishers, Upholsterers and Upholders for clients of discernment.’ Thomas Charles Druce had a keen eye for quality that was inherited by one of his sons, Herbert, who continued the hugely successful business after the death of Thomas in 1864. Fast forward to 1897, and one of the most bizarre court cases in UK history. In the 1890s the widow of Thomas Druce claimed that her husband had not died in 1864, but was in fact the eccentric 5th Duke of Portland, who died in 1879. It was alleged the earlier death of Druce had been faked, and the Duke was alleged to have come and gone through a series of secret passages which meant the widow’s son was, in fact, heir to the Portland estates. George Druce set up a company to sell shares to finance the legal claim, and in 1906 the Druce v Howard de Walden case was established against the daughters of the 4th Duke of Portland, who were the owners of the Portland estate. The Druce claimants issued pamphlets in 1898, 1906 and 1907 in which they showed two photographs of Thomas Druce, with the caption, Which is the Duke? The clean-shaven man depicted on the right of the photo was allegedly the 5th Duke of Portland; the other photograph was said to be of the Duke in a false beard, while living in disguise as Thomas Druce. One of the difficulties in disproving the claim was the lack of visual records of the Duke of Portland, who had been something of a recluse who shunned public contact. The mysterious case of double identity attracted popular national interest until the matter was finally laid to rest on December 30, 1907, when, amid tight security and enormous publicity, the coffin of Thomas Druce was exhumed. On discovery of his body, the main case was dismissed as ‘frivolous and vexatious’.
Image: A free-standing kidney-shaped mahogany desk by Druce & Co, who were purveyors of fine furniture for nearly a century.

Vintage: Diana Pottery Pty Ltd
Singing jugs and slip cast mugs
Between the 1940s and the late 1960s, the Diana Pottery was one of the most popular Australian ceramics manufacturers in the country. The pottery was established in Sydney in 1941, although its founder Eric Cornwell Lowe, who was born in Melbourne, had previously established the business as Eric C Lowe Pty Ltd in 1939. He had plans to operate as an importer of cut glass and crockery from Czechoslovakia and Germany, a plan that was stymied with the outbreak of war. Diana Pottery Pty Ltd was incorporated and began making art pottery in 1941, but by May 1942 the output had been restricted to military wares due to wartime restrictions. At the end of WWII the pottery was diversified and a large range of slip cast wares were produced, including figures, bookends, tableware, utility and kitchenware, with more than 200 lines being produced. The business suffered a significant setback in November 1945, when a fire that had started in a lime kiln spread to the factory buildings and caused huge damage to areas that had only been refurbished the previous year. Nevertheless the pottery was rebuilt, with the output including brightly coloured gumnut pots, figural bookends, a large range of slip cast vases and hand painted musical jugs that played Waltzing Matilda when they were picked up. By the 1950s the company had more than 70 employees and was one of the only Australian art pottery companies to provide a staff canteen. In the 1960s a range of small slip cast vases hand decorated in gold were produced specifically for a gift shop in Sydney’s Imperial Arcade. At the same time, the pottery produced one of their most popular lines: the stoneware range of Nefertiti. As a modern classic, pieces are still very reasonably priced. During this time Diana Pottery also diversified its range into hand decorated oven and kitchenware, with native wildflowers being a popular motif. But by 1970 the work force had declined to around 30 people, and the tariff changes of 1973, coupled with high inflation and increased wages for women – who made up much of the workforce – saw the pottery close its doors for good. The buildings were demolished and the land was subdivided in 1982.