Monday, October 12, 2015

Should I Use the College of Arms for Identifying a Coat of Arms or Crest?

The answer to whether you should hire The College of Arms in my opinion is a resounding NO. The services they provided me were less than worthless, and of very questionable integrity. I would be loathe to level words against this organization like fraudulent or criminal, but taking money and providing nothing in return in every other business dealing I've ever been engaged in would be considered unacceptable and dishonorable. Yet, this is precisely what they may ask you to accept. But, so you fully understand how valueless is the service they provide, I have chronicled it here so hopefully if you choose to wire them money, you'll understand the very real risk that they will keep your money and do nothing for you except provide lip service.

Here's some background. The College of Arms in London, "...maintains registers of arms, pedigrees, genealogies, Royal Licences, changes of name, and flags." The heralds are appointed by the Queen of England. This group was founded in 1484.  Heady stuff! As they describe, "The individual Officers of Arms are paid nominal salaries, less than £50 per annum, by the Crown, but conduct their professional practices on a self-employed basis." So, in effect, the government provides them no financial support and they earn a living by charging for their research. If you are trying to research a coat of arms, the College of Arms asks that you contact the Officer in Waiting.

So, I went for it. I had an incredible wax seal set in gold and I wanted help tying it to a particular family or organization. I left an email message and was greeted same day by the Officer in Waiting who happened to be one of the pursuivants. This was March 5th, 2015. On the same date, he wrote, 

"Thank you for your enquiry which I have received as Officer in Waiting for the College of Arms. The College of Arms has probably a hundred thousand different coats of arms on record, filed in date order with various nominal indexes, but not computerised. To identify something from a picture or description is extremely time consuming and I normally make a charge of £125 to undertake such a task.

If you would like to send me an image of the arms in question to this email address, I shall be pleased to reply without charge if I recognise them immediately. If not, I shall advise you of my fee."

Encouraged, I sent photos the same day hoping he would recognize it right away to avoid the fee. Time passed and no response from the pursuivant. I followed up about 20 days later to ask if he had a chance to take a look. More than 2 weeks later, I received the following reply, 

"I regret that I do not recognise the arms and cannot do so readily. I should be pleased to search the records of the College of Arms in an endeavour to identify them for you. If I can identify them, I shall tell you when they were first granted or confirmed and to whom.

The College of Arms has never been publicly funded and we have to charge for our time. My fee for this work will be £125 which should be sent to me in Sterling drawn on a British bank in favour of College of Arms (or transferred to my client account) if you wish to proceed."

On June 4th, I took the plunge and sent the £125 + a 6.5% fee via PayPal to his personal account. From then on, I entered a long period of silence. Not even a receipt. I requested to know if he had even received the funds on June 17th and received no response. A month later, I again requested to know if the funds had been received. He finally agreed the money had been received and stated that the work would be completed in 3-4 weeks. I heard nothing and finally wrote him on September 4th to get an update on the work. No response. Again on September 26th, I requested an update. No response.  On October 8th having heard nothing, I wrote and asked for an update and asked if I needed to send a message to the King of Arms.

It was this that finally provoked the pursuivant to reply and miraculously, the research was completed on October 11, 2014-- 5 months since I made payment and 3 months over deadline! I surmised that the analysis would be detailed owing to the amount of time and concentration they must have put into the task, but that's where I was wrong. What finally came back from the pursuivant was that nothing could be determined. He also provided no analysis, for example, describing the seal formally or any indication that he had done anything at all except to say he had flipped through a few books.

Here's the form letter I received via email in full regarding the wax seal, 

"Thank you for your recent email; I am sorry for the delay in writing back to you, but we have been submerged with work over the past few months.

I have now had an opportunity to examine the records of the College of Arms and can report to you as follows.

I first searched the records of the Heralds’ Visitations of the English and Welsh counties during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. The Officers of Arms went out to each county roughly every generation to oversee the use of arms and to record the pedigrees of the gentry. I also searched the records of grants and confirmations of arms from the Tudor period to the present day.  Sadly, I did not find in any of our records the arms engraved on your ring.

A search in Sir James Balfour Paul’s An Ordinary of Arms (Vol. 1, 1903 and Vol. 2, 1977) was made, but once again nothing was found.

I then looked at Elvin’s Handbook of Mottoes (1971) and Fairbairn’s Book of Crests (1905) for the motto, but did not find any reference to that found on your ring.

I finally turned to Burke’s General Armory (1884), a dictionary of arms that lists those families who might have used armorial bearings with or without the sanction of the Heralds.  Again, I did not find any relevant reference.

I am sorry that our search has proved unfruitful.

Yours sincerely,

[Name Redacted] MSc
Rouge Croix Pursuivant

College of Arms
130 Queen Victoria Street
London EC4V 4BT

T 020 7332 0666"

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

The Power of Silver Hallmarks

Hallmarks can be extremely powerful and important in silver.  They tell the story of many pieces of silver that is absent on most other kinds of antiques.  For the furniture enthusiast, there are sometimes paper labels or pencil mark signatures, but these are rare.  For silver, the marks are often there, and when they are, you need to pay heed.  The absence of a hallmark can also be significant but we'll get into that later.  In this little article, I want to describe the non-US hallmarks that have been the most important to me in my business dealings.  The photos are pieces I have bought and/or sold some of which are still available at Crescent City Connection in my silver section.  I make a description of some of these marks and use many thematically similar pieces to give those descriptions.  I don't claim these are the best of the best pieces, just items I've been able to trade.

For me, at my current stage of collecting, nothing could be worse on a piece of silver than a simple stamp that says "Sterling" and nothing else.   A piece like this will usually be three things: (1.) American (2.) modern (3.) cheap.  Although rules are made to be broken, most pieces stamped this way will fall into this category.  Let's face it, usually only a piece of which no one can be proud is left unsigned by a maker.  But, wait, Msstom always said to look for the word Sterling on the bottom!  I hate to break it to you, but if you listen to Mom, you will miss out on some of the incredible finds out there waiting for you.  You're doing it wrong...

English Marks
English hallmarks are some of the simplest ones to understand and learning these can be a gateway into many other types of marks.  It's a great place to start.  The English have a well organized, old, and clear system for hallmarking that was put into place long ago in order to collect taxes from silversmiths on their wears (primarily) as well as to identify the maker (secondary).

Traditional English marks courtesy of the
Goldsmith's Company Assay Office
So, the typical English mark is composed of, the maker mark, the lion, the assay office, and the date letter.  The 925 mark shown above is not that common in antique silver in my experience.  The others are nearly all there.  Bear in mind that each large city had an assay office, so these vary.  You will need a table to look up the date mark and these tables vary across assay offices.  So, first identify the town, then identify the date, then look up the maker.

A few additional words on English silver identification:
1.) Occasionally you get two date letters that look a lot alike.  You can usually use the maker mark to figure out the date in these cases.
2.) Very occasionally, you get two date letters that look a lot alike with two makers with the same initials operating during the two different dates.  You will need in these cases to research other pieces of the two makers and compare them stylistically.  It doesn't happen often.  Sometimes you can use this one to your advantage where a seller has misidentified/dated a piece of English silver and has thus undervalued it.
Millesimal Fineness Mark for Britannia
Silver (958)
Pictorial Mark for Britannia
3.) Duty dodgers.  There are fakes and there are unmarked pieces of English silver.  I've not seen them often, but I have occasionally.  They were usually made to evade taxes, but occasionally, a Hester Bateman mark or a Paul Storr mark has been cut out of a lesser piece and then welded into a better piece.  It doesn't happen that often, but you would be advised to look at the mark very carefully when buying big name English silver.
4.) Britannia silver.  I don't run into Britannia silver too often in the US, but it's worth understanding it in case you do.  Britannia silver is 95.8% silver, meaning it is of a higher silver content than sterling.  It can sometimes achieve higher values than comparable sterling silver pieces.  The 100 gram piece above, for example, was sold for around $620 in 2013.

1817 English Silver Cup
Chinese Marks
Hallmarks on 1840 Chinese Export
Mustard Pot
It may seem odd to begin a discussion of Chinese marks at the end of one on English marks, but there can be confusion between the two.  It's important to understand that while Chinese produced silver for centuries before the English arrived, the English had a large influence on the manufacture of Chinese pieces.  Specifically, colonialists had an influence on pieces made for the outside of country market, "Chinese export" silver.  Chinese export silver in the classic sense utilized European themes and tried to imitate European silver.  It isn't clear to me (though I am sure it is well understood) how much volume they were making upon request to match existing sets versus how many were made simply modeling them after other examples.  The end result is the same, European styled pieces were produced by the Chinese.
1840 Chinese Export Mustard Pot
This imitation goes right down to the marks.

Most of the accounts I've read are in agreement that the Chinese were not making silver meant to fool anyone as being English, but rather they wanted to please the European sensibilities.  And further, since these makers did not understand the hallmarking systems, they frequently copied the marks, customizing them to a greater or lesser degree.  At the example above which is a detail of the mustard pot at left, you see that the mark has a sort of rendition of the English lion, the London leopard, and the letter W which could be construed as a date mark.  Because of the similarities of style (see 1817 English cup versus 1840 Chinese mustard pot) and marks.  Fortunately, you should not be alarmed if you accidentally wind up with some Chinese export silver thinking it's English.  It is enjoying a surge of popularity in 2015 and has been for a number of years.  A Chinese export mustard pot like the one above should currently expect a value of around $1,000 if it is by an identifiable maker.

Mexican Marks
William Spratling Amethyst Earrings
Spratling Hallmark
I would just say that there is a huge diversity of marks in Mexican silver.  In modern history, Mexican silver work has been largely focused in Taxco.  To understand Mexican silver from Taxco, you should familiarize yourself with Spratling.  Though he was an American, he launched a fledgling silver production industry that continues today.  He was an interesting character, a visionary and an adventurer.  His pieces are among the most valuable of Mexican silver now.  And most museums with a silver collection have Spratling in their collections.  The pieces with stones and meso-American themes (his  seem to command higher prices and size is also an important factor.  I am of the opinion that Spratling pieces should not be polished.  There is a lot of fake Spratling better discussed elsewhere.  Needless to say, patina helps to authenticate these pieces.  From Spratling, there are a handful of other significant smiths from Taxco that are worth collecting and looking for.  Antonio Pineda, Hector Aguilar, Los Castillos, MATL, and Margot de Taxco are all good makers.

Queen Anne Style Hammered Bowl
Once you get into post-1948 silver, you will see the Eagle marks on pieces up until the 1970s.  There are good pieces in this time period and pieces with an eagle mark are worth a look.  Once you start getting into the Taxco marks that begin with T (like TE-12 or whatever), these pieces are modern and I basically ignore them.  Quality is usually low, mass produced silver for tourists.

Vigueras Queen Anne Bowl
Mexico City Mark on 8 Reales
Coin Bowl
It's also worth noting that you may see the same European influences on Mexican silver that I described above in the Chinese example above.  Mexican smiths were fond of the Queen Anne Style.  Frequently these pieces are hand hammered with traditional Mexican embellishments and I think some of the really fine pieces of Mexican silver are like this.
 You can see it in this bowl by Plateria Vigueras made in Mexico City (with a very non-traditional hallmark).  I show another example of this hand hammered fluted work here in a bowl with an 18th century doubloon (8 reales).  The coin is marked FM for the assayer at the Mexico City mint.  So, it is interesting to note that these are two really lovely pieces of Mexico City where the marks do not explicitly state that in a simple way.  With the Doubloon bowl, it is the assay mark that tells the story.  But with the Vigueras bowl, you have to rely on a book of hallmarks to make that jump.

I may expand this article in the future to include marks from some other places.  If you have questions, additions, or corrections, get in touch.  And hey, check out my little shop.  You may enjoy it!  Happy Hunting from Crescent City Connection

Saturday, September 20, 2014

Jewelry Fakes - A Few Examples

I wanted to write today about something that happens from time to time to dealers-- even with pretty sharp eyes.  Fakes.  The fact is that almost all dealers have bought fakes.  You won't see that many articles, because it's embarrassing and dealers think telling people about screw ups might hurt the reputation.  The fact is, publishing these images may help others who are about to get burned or who will remember these examples in the future.  Have a good image of a fake?  Send it along and I will add it to this post.

Fake 1736 Spanish 8 Escudo
Sometimes you get burned by a counterfeit-- or other times just valueless items that lend an appearance of being a good score.  Sometimes these fakes are intentionally fake and sometimes they are not.  But either way, if you have integrity you should never pass them along even as "replicas" and it would be better if you spotted them before you plunked down your cash and didn't buy them at all.  No one's perfect and I bet the most experienced dealer would regale you with the ingenious fakes they have bought through the years over a nice glass of something.

I keep fakes so that I can use them to remind myself of the mistakes and to motivate me to learn.  Some of these are actually quite common while others may be new to even a moderately experienced dealer.  I learn as I go, so I am not an expert and the items I will describe aren't exhaustive of fakes.

The first one came from a church flea market sale in a bad neighborhood.  I bought a jumble of a keychain from a lady that seemed to know very little about jewelry.  I purchased a couple of sterling silver Taxco bracelets and this keychain in a $40 lot.

This is a strategy that I use at yard sales.  Sometimes, I buy a handful of items together and usually throw in something horribly and obviously cheap in the mix.  Then I say, "How much for this stuff?"  Sometimes this works wonders because by casually putting  a bunch of items together you devalue the individuals by association.  Anyhow, back to the keychain.  It's got a bunch of gaudy nonsense on it and then there's a little pendant.  I'm just learning coins, so at first glance, it looks pretty good to be a Spanish coin to an amateur like me.  The item feels very heavy and it has elements of Spanish silver.  It has the cross, pillars, crowns, and some numbers which make it appear to be a 1736 Spanish 8 Escudo coin.  There's not much time to Google or hyper analyze when you are in this situations.  Sometimes you pull the trigger and you know you'll sort it out later.  This one is a fake.  And a common one probably originating from a tourist area in South America.  Any coin collector knows the 1736 was a tourist item meant to deceive.  I'm out about $13 on this piece (probably make up for it with the other items in the lot).  It's important to remember that sometimes you get burned.  Know that this is the price of getting into the business-- you pay your dues.  When you get burned, try to make it a $13 yard sale buy and not a $2.5M Renoir.

Fake Chinese Medallion with Dragon and Phoenix
Fake 14K Hallmark
The second piece I will show you is one I bought online.  I have reason to believe the seller had not noticed the hallmark.  And this happens a lot.  People get busy.  They miss stuff.  It even happens to me and I think of myself as careful.  Most of the time, when something is hallmarked, this is accurate.  But when you are buying online, spotting fakes can be tough.  I think I paid about $20 for this piece.  It appears to be a Chinese medallion (big at about 3" across).  Highly detailed of a phoenix and a dragon.  The detail really lends to the believability  It's a typical Chinese feng shui marriage harmony motif.  It also happens to be hallmarked 14K and the mark actually looks pretty old and Chinese.  It would have been a pretty good find.  Unfortunately, a 2 minute test in the shop showed this to be a fake-- and you could tell it was from plating wear under 10X magnification anyhow.  It probably was made in China-- just not of gold and definitely made to deceive.

The Chinese and Peruvians aren't the only ones to fake things for tourists on vacation (in fact there are scammers around the globe).  Fakes show up in particular genres very frequently.  Sports memorabilia, purses, shoes, and sunglasses have the highest number of counterfeits of any.  Jewelry is actually not that commonly faked.  Mostly because in person, it's easy to detect counterfeit gold and why bother with silver.  There are easier ways to make a living.  This piece is probably from Mexico.  Yes, it looks a bit thuggish, but you'd be amazed at some of the items I've found in gold that you would think-- woah, who would make this stupid item out of gold?  But they frequently do.  It pays to buy tacky garbage sometimes.  I bought this piece for $12 online.  The seller clearly stated they believed it was a fake.  Look, sometimes people make mistakes and I thought it was worth the gamble.  This piece is heavy (like 15 grams+).  And, an acid test was not conclusive.  I took it to my jeweler and he puzzled over it, believing it was real.  But after a few tests, he came to the same conclusion as me saying, "I think this is not real".  I took it to a second jeweler just to be on the safe side and yes, confirmed it was fake.

Worthless Dali Etching of Don Quixote
One more thing.  Salvador Dali etchings that are sometimes real may have no real value.  Some, such as the Don Quixote print here were printed in the tens of thousands in so-called "open editions".  The frame may be more valuable than the paper and I would recommend against buying Salvador Dali prints unless you really know what you're doing.  The market is simply flooded with these items.  There are also many many Dali prints with forged signatures.  If a print says "AP" on it or "EA", the signature is almost always faked and added later by an unscrupulous dealer.  So be very wary of these supposed artist proofs.

Happy hunting and may all that glitters for you be gold.  Want to see some stuff that didn't turn out to be fake?  Check out the shop here for beautiful gold and silver jewelry.

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Too Good to Sell

This is a topic that is not often enough discussed by dealers.  When is something too good to sell?  For me personally, there are three factors which should be met that tip the balance in favor of not selling an item:

1. The item has great form;
2. great age; and
3. has some personal meaning or importance

Here's a bracelet that fits the criteria for me.  What you have here is a Navajo made 1940s bracelet in the cornstalk pattern.  The corn plant or maize is associated by the Navajo as a sacred plant and is designated with the cardinal point of North.  It is considered a male symbol.  While this isn't probably the very best sandcast bracelet out there, it's very good in its form and finish.  The lines of the corn plant are nice and each branch peaks in a vee.  This vee is desirable in this types of pieces as it shows the sophistication of the carver imparting the shape into the sandstone mold (tufa).  There are older pieces, but this one has nice age.  Note the unpolished patina here as discussed in the earlier post on polishing up antiques.  Pieces of this era, typically unmarked, were not made for the tourist trade.  They were made by Navajo for Navajo.  This is apparent by the heavy weight and overall weighty appearance.

But what else?  There are other sandcast bracelets like this with the age, the symbolism, and the form.  It's the stone.   The original stone in this piece was a turquoise that had been completely ruined by exposure to oil.  So, a replacement was needed.  New turquoise is a very different animal than old turquoise and you have to be very careful in your selection by choosing a piece of stone that is old enough not to be cheap plastic.  This piece was pulled from a Colorado creek by my father in the 1950s.  At some point in my childhood, I was an avid rock collector and my father gave it to me.  I had the piece cut by a very close and old friend to fit the bezel.  It's actually not a turquoise.  It's chrysocolla meandering through a matrix of quartz and metamorphic scree.  All the elements combine and you have a masterwork-- too     good to sell.

I do have other things that I will sell.  Check out the shop!
Crescent City Connection

Thursday, June 2, 2011

A Yachting Adventure

Yachting is perhaps the grandest of American pasttimes.  So, inevitably, antiques related to yachting are both rare and coveted.  To be honest, I rarely stumble across any yachting or even nautical antiques worthy of a purchase.  That said, my luck changed on this last weekend.  I was in a coastal town on the mid-atlantic in one of my favorite antique stores which I visit probably once a month.  A young couple runs the place and they make a living "doing house clean outs".  While I have never had a major find in his shop, I have a good rapport with the owners.  Last Saturday, I went in with my parents. 

My father was immediately struck by a watercolor behind the counter of sailboats.  It was a lovely..Boats at anchor in the pale peach of sunset.  The painting was signed E. Bienvenuti.  So, the shop owner knocked a few bucks off the price and my Dad pulled the trigger.  Good for him.  Meanwhile, during the transaction, the shopkeeper mentioned some old nautical prints out in his van that he hadn't had the chance to bring inside yet.  My parents disappeared down the street.  I hung back waiting to check out the prints.  Once the shop cleared out, we headed out and he opened up the back of his white van, something of a rolling antique shop, stuffed full of interesting tidbits.  Anf there it was.

Frederic Cozzens' American Yachts
Laid in the back was a portfolio of Frederic Cozzens chromolithographs.  And this was easy to discern because the title page was there stating, "AMERICAN YACHTS A SERIES OF WATERCOLOUR SKETCHES", and in somewhat smaller yet still giant text, "BY FREDERIC S. COZZENS".  It wasn't clear to me the shopkeeper knew what he had..  I had just brokered the purchase of an original Cozzens watercolor at an estate sale about three months earlier, so I was intimately familiar with his auction record for originals and prints.  This stack included five chromolithographs from the 1884 series by Scribners.  I asked my friend how much, and there was some discussion of price until a deal was struck.  I paid and headed jubilently to catch up with my parents.

One problem I immediately faced was that I really wasn't positive that this particular edition was a good one.  Prints are funny animals.  Most of them are garbage and occasionally you find something worth your time.  So, arriving home, I started the process of identifying them which was simple since I had the title page and the labels to lead the way.  I immediately found the print "Ice Boating on the Hudson" in a clip from Antiques Roadshow.  Their estimate was that these prints are worth about $1,800 each.  Suffice it to say, a minor profit will be made once the prints are fully restored and framed. 

"Signal Chart" by Frederic S. Cozzens
A second problem: the prints were in awful condition.  They were very very dirty as if they had been in an old attic for half a century or more..  The original backing boards and labels were mostly all there and the paper itself was in good condition..  They were just extremely dirty.  So, off to the conservator.  A herculean effort later, the first print emerged and the difference was clear.  What at first seemed irreparable now was not only viewable, but was a result that I personally would be proud to display in my home.  The first one finished was the "Signal Chart", one of the rarer images from the set.  The "Signal Chart" is a beautiful image that shows the flags from 60 American yacht clubs.  Any of these clubs or sailors belinging to them would treasure such a beautiful print.  On the left above, you can see the dirty image, and at right is the conserved image.  The difference is stark.

The project is ongoing, but once complete, these massive and important chromolithographs will be for sale in my shop.  I haven't decided whether to sell these as individuals or as a single lot, but either way, in about a month or perhaps a bit less, they will be in the section "Paper Ephemera".

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Should I Polish Up My Antique?

This is a question that is extremely pertinent to new collectors and dealers.  When we find a dusty old treasure, our first inclination is to polish it up.  Sometimes, this may be a fine thing to do, sometimes it ruins a perfectly good antique.  Here's a helpful list of what should be polished by an amateur and what should not.  Remember, use a good quality polish and a soft cloth.  Never use power tools (dremel) etc.. on old antiques.

Furniture:  No.  If it's a good quality piece of furniture, having the original finish can be as valuable as the piece itself.  Do not refinish good antique wood furniture.  If you've got an old 1970's bookcase and you want to faux paint it, fine.  If you have a colonial era chair, do not polish it up.

Silverware: Yes.  Silverware is meant to be shiny, and should be kept that way.  Gently removing the tarnish from silverware should not impact its value.

Don't do this!
Civil War Relics: No.  Absolutely never polish up your old civil war buttons, bullets, rosettes etc..  You will destroy the value of these types of relics if they are polished up.  Collectors want to see the age of these kinds of items.  Included here is an over-polished 1800's rosette from Sgt. Rikers Civil War Trading Post.

Conserved Oil Painting
Oil Paintings: Yes, but not by you.  Oil paintings sometimes require conservation.  Smoke, old varnish, dirt, and dust can greatly impact the beauty and value of a painting.  Fortunately, oil paintings are pretty hearty.  Professional conservators can remove these layers of time to renew the colors and content of an oil painting.  It can be remarkable to see the final product of a good conservation effort as in the painting on this early California Plein Air Landscape on the right.  They may also apply a thin layer of varnish.  Look around for a high end conservator with a lot of experience or get recommendations from a high end auction house.  If you are talking about an A list artist, you want to give the selection of your conservator extra consideration.

Water Colors: Yes, but not by you.  Paper conservators specialize in the restoration of water colors.  you should not even think about doing this yourself.  Additionally, remember to keep your valuable water colors out of direct sunlight. Water colors should be framed beneath acid free mattes to prevent discoloration of the paper.  Humidity should also be limited with all paper objects.

Coins: No.  Coins should not be polished.  The exception might be coins that have been removed from the ocean.  If you are diving wrecks, special consideration for these types of coins may be warranted.  However, many of these coins are left in clumps as well..Do your research if this applies.  In general, DO NOT POLISH COINS EVER.

Glass: Glass can be washed in warm soapy water and dried assuming it isn't painted glass.  Be very careful washing old silvered mirrors.  Water can leach beneath the silver and can permanently damage this old glass.

Rugs: Please never attempt to wash an antique rug yourself.  The dyes in antique rugs can bleed, making a wreck of a priceless antique.  Take it to a professional.

Oxidized Native American Bracelet

Sterling Silver Jewelry: It depends.  For most jewelry, this is ok.  However, more and more, collectors want to do this themselves or would prefer that the patina remain intact.  This is especially true with Native American silver.  My personal opinion is this.  Some Native American silver has elements that are purposefully oxidized to be black.  These areas should never be polished.  However, if it was the intent of the jeweler to let it shine, let it shine.  
A Nicely Polished Navajo Ring
I personally don't see the purpose of having dull jewelry.  This is one of those things that is trending toward not polishing among some collectors though.  In the case of the bracelet at left, I agree with the seller to leave the bracelet as found.  At right is an example of native jewelry I would polish. 

As a rule of thumb, if you think you may have something very old or valuable, consult a professional or expert.  It is not worth the risk.  Feel free to get in touch with specific questions about specific pieces.  Also, feel free to weigh in about other items that should definitely not be polished up.  I would love to publish your feedback.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

What is a Sawfish Rostrum?

This item is SOLD.

A Sawfish rostrum is the protrusion at the business end of a Carpenter Shark or Sawfish.  While hunting of these fish is mostly prohibited now, at one time, Sawfish were highly sought, in part for the trophy of their rostrums.  The fish use these protrusion to dig through sand and silt searching out crustaceans.  These days, antique specimens of the Sawfish rostrum are scarce and add an eyepopping touch to the interior design of any room.

Recently Found Rostrum
I recently found one at a Delaware auction.  I've added the photo to the right so you get the idea.  As with lot of things in life, size matters.  The longer the specimen, the more valuable it is.  Some rostrums can be purchased that range upwards of $6,500 as this 49 inch specimen from the Gentleman Collector is priced.  A 41 inch specimen was sold at Christie's for $2,725 in 2009. 

Like any other taxidermy, condition is important.  Sawfish rostrums are prone to damage.  They are basically made of bone, cartilage and skin with the paired rows of teeth that line the sides and tip.  The teeth are frequently broken in two ways:

1.) Carelessness of the human owner.
2.) Fighting by the original owner.

These two types of damage have repurcussions to value differently.  Human damage to rostrums seem to devalue the rostrum somewhat whereas battle scars in the sea don't seem to impact value at all.  How do you tell the difference?  It's difficult.  If a Sawfish loses a tooth, it does not grow back, so you have to look for signs of wear that occured after the tooth loss.

Items like this are definitely an oddity, but they can be enormously beautiful mounted on a wall.  Certainly anyone with a trophy room or an interest in natural and scientific items would find these very useful for decor and interior design.  It's powerful to imagine that you own the snout to these graceful and powerful creatures that can grow up to 23 feet.  Only antique specimens should be purchased, and if caught Sawfish should always be released.

I have decided to offer mine at a very reasonable $350.  It is a 27.5" specimen putting it at a little larger than a medium specimen.  You can check it out here.

Happy hunting and check out the shop!