Saturday, October 17, 2009

Did I mention that I love Silhouettes?

I really do love silhouettes. I think it started in kindergarten when the teacher sat me sideways in a little chair, shined a light on me, and copied my shadow on a paper taped to the wall. I still have that silhouette somewhere, though I can't find it at the moment. That would make me really sad except that the silhouette is of me in the dreaded pigtails. How I HATED pigtails!

But I love silhouettes, and seem to gravitate to them wherever I am, whenever I can.

I thought I would share some of them here, because. . . did I mention that I LOVE silhouettes?

I found a wonderful Mother Goose coloring and drawing book from 1928 that has several pages of silhouettes. The adjoining pages are blank so that a child might try a hand at drawing them. If it weren't so old and so wonderful, and if a long-ago child hadn't done some pretty good drawings in the book, I would be tempted to take it apart and frame this one. Instead, I'll just look at it every now and then.

Over the years, I've collected sheet music with silhouettes, too.

I love the silhouettes on dinnerware.

But my favorites are the small framed silhouettes that were all the rage for a while from the 30s to around the 50s. All have different backgrounds, but the silhouettes are reverse-painted, which means they're painted on the back side of the glass and not on the paper itself. When they're painted on convex glass it creates a 3-D effect with shadows. Most of the 4x6 convex silhouettes were made by the Benton Glass Co., Cleveland, Ohio in the 1940s.

Here's a better view:

The two convex glass silhouettes have printed pictorial backgrounds. Sometimes there is enough detail that a plain background works better.

Like this one.

They were commonly used in advertising, too. This one is from The City Oil Company in Perrysburg, Michigan.

These are a little larger and have backgrounds made up of pressed milkweed spores and straw flowers. They give them a beautiful, shimmery look.

Here is a closeup.

These are just a few from my silhouette collection. I take silhouette photographs, too. This one is of my frog-hunter grandson at the end of the day, still looking. (Don't worry, he only keeps them for a little while, then lets them go.) It's absolutely one my favorites!

Saturday, June 13, 2009

English Transferware

(Note: I wrote this piece in December for Vintage Village's "Articles and Experts". I thought I had cross-posted it here, but I see I didn't. So here it is:)

I started collecting transferware around 30 years ago, when I had no money and it was cheap. I loved the look of those underglazed engravings, and I always felt I was getting away with something when I could pick them up for practically nothing.

I don’t remember which one was my very first piece, and before I started writing this piece, I honestly wasn’t aware of how many pieces I actually had around here. I haven’t counted them but I’m guessing it’s upwards of 100. I have about 50 pieces of Johnson Bros. “Friendly Village” alone, and the rest are single pieces.

(The “Friendly Village” set was handed down to me by my mother-in-law, bless her heart. She had been collecting them for years and had a full service for 18, plus a multitude of extras. There were no surprises when she received gifts, because she kept a list of the pieces she still needed, and friends and family alike clamored to keep up.)

Johnson Bros. Friendly Village

I found this explanation of transferware at a website called The Transcollectors Club. They charge an annual fee to get into their gallery and archives, but they were willing to share this bit of information:

What is Transferware?

Transferware is the term given to pottery that has had a pattern applied by transferring the print from a copper plate to a specially sized paper and finally to the pottery body. While produced primarily on earthenware, transfer prints are also found on ironstone, porcelain and bone china. Ultimately, many thousands of patterns were produced on tens of millions of pieces. The process was developed in the second half of the 18th century in response to the need of the newly emerging English middle class for less expensive tableware. Many factories claim responsibility for the origin of the process, but, in fact, it was probably a combination of men and materials that came together in the English county of Staffordshire, where there had been pottery making since the 16th century. A combination of raw materials, men of science such as Spode and Wedgwood, cheap labor and new canals that connected Staffordshire to the major ports of Liverpool and London, made the transferware production possible and profitable.
At first, the transfer patterns were copied from the blue and white Chinese designs found on the hand-painted porcelain that was popular in the 18th century. At the turn of the 19th century, while potters were still using Chinese patterns as their primary source for inspiration, they began to incorporate European features into these designs. By the 1820s, arguably the golden age of transfer printed pottery, the number of potteries grew and thousands of patterns were printed to tempt any available market. The English may have lost the War of 1812, but their potters were ready to sell pottery with patterns lauding the new American nation to the American market. Important buildings, landscapes and war heroes are just a few of the patterns that appealed to Americans. There were many foreign markets, as well as the home market, to keep the potters busy.

A good description of the transfer process comes from Pamela Wiggins in an article called “Transferware, a Timeless Decorative Art".
“Transfer printing as a decorative technique was developed in England in the mid-1750s, particularly in the Staffordshire region. The process began when a flat copper plate was engraved with a desired pattern in much the same way as the plates used to make paper engravings were produced.
Once the plate was inked with a ceramic coloring, the design was impressed on a thin sheet of tissue paper. This inked impression was then transferred onto the surface of the ceramic object.
After it was inked, the object made its way into a low-temperature kiln to fix the pattern. The printing could be done either under or over the glaze on a ceramic piece, but since the ink tended to wear off on overprinted pieces, the underprinting method became more popular going forward.
When examining a transferware decorative object, you can distinguish it by the fine lines produced through the engraving process on the original plate. If you’ve ever seen an old book filled with engraved images, it’s much the same look only on a plate or tureen instead of a piece of paper.”

So now that you know what transferware is, I’ll show you some of the pieces from my collection:

This is an early piece of Spode Copeland. The pattern is "Spodes Tower", introduced in 1814, but I don't know when this particular piece was issued. Notice that parts of the transfer are fuzzy. The early transfers came out like this often. Below is a later piece of Spode Copeland, called "Mandarin". The etching transfer is sharper and clearer:

The most popular early English transferware came in blue and white. (Some people call the early pieces "Flow blue" because of the fuzziness, but that's a misnomer.) Then later red and white, brown and white, green and white and "Polychrome", which is hand-painted coloring on the transfer. (The Friendly Village plate is an example of polychrome. Every piece has hand-painted highlights and none are exactly the same.)

Brown and white were the least popular until dinnerware patterns called "Aesthetic" came into vogue. Now they're highly sought after for their wonderful cartouches and geometric patterns.

This is an example of Aesthetic brown transferware. Below you'll see a closeup of a cartouche or picture within the pattern.

Aesthetic Cartouche. Registry mark: 1883

Not all aesthetic transferware had cartouches. The geometric pattern on this Wedgwood Beatrice soup bowl places it in the Victorian era Aesthetic movement:

The English Registry mark on the back dates it to 1880:

As you can see, I taped the date on the back after I figured out what it was. To date registry marks, you can go here.

Below is an example of mulberry or purple transferware. It's Johnson Bros. "Enchanted Garden" and is typical of the Oriental motifs mimicking the early Chinese patterns sent around the world by the ship-loads. Barrels full of that inexpensive dinnerware were often used as ballast, but Wedgwood, Spode, Johnson Bros. and other English potteries saw the beauty in them and made them their own.

The British potters made transferware for the American market also. Johnson Bros. produced a series called "Historic America". Below is a plate depicting Sacramento Harbor.

This is an example of an atypical transferware design. Notice the rather messy cobalt and gold paint dabs. Some people call this "Gaudy ware", but I just consider it handpainted transferware. The paint on this plate was applied after the glaze firing, and has worn off in places.

English transferware is easily recognized when you know what you're looking for. There is also American transferware, but I chose to concentrate on early wares here. To see some more examples of transferware, including American souvenir plates, you can visit my blog here.

Here you can see where the transfers were connected. If you look closely at the above brown and white cartouche closeup, you'll see a transfer split near the upper right. Those of us with way too much time on our hands take magnifier in hand and make a game of finding the transfer seams. On some of the plates it's almost impossible, but almost all of them have a flaw of some kind in the designs. (The purple plate shows a transfer that covers the entire plate instead of being done in pieces, as most of them are. No seams there.)

And last, be aware of what is and isn't transferware. The plate below is actually decal or decalcomania. If you hold these plates to the light you can see where the decals begin and end.

If you have comments, questions or additions to this discussion, I would love to hear from you!

(Cross-posted here at Vintage

Monday, June 8, 2009

A faded English Garden

Anybody who knows me knows how much I love transferware--particularly Homer Laughlin's English Garden pattern. (which technically is decalware, not transferware) So I was thrilled last week when I won this little creamer on eBay. I was the only bidder and I wondered why, until it arrived today and I saw it up close and personal.

The transfer is badly faded, and I think I know why, but I'll get to that. I went back to the original eBay listing to see if I should have been able to tell just how faded it was. The picture was dark and the transfer looked pretty normal. I'll leave it to others to decide whether the seller was trying to put one over on us.

I should know better than to trust a dark or fuzzy picture--especially if there is only one. But that's not the point of this post.

I wanted to show this because I think what happened to this lovely little creamer is that it was "dishwashered". So let me take a moment out of my sad day to say, as loudly and as forcefully as I can: DO NOT PUT OLD CHINA IN THE DISHWASHER!

The processes used on old china can't stand up to the fury of the machine or the harsh chemicals used in the detergents. I've seen so many pieces ruined that way. Also, it goes without saying that scrapers and scrubbers should be far, far away from these delicate pieces. I know some of them don't LOOK delicate, but they're old and they're often painted or decaled and they don't LIKE chemical baths or rub-a-dub-dubbings.

I didn't pay much for my little creamer, so I'll keep it until another one comes along. I love the creamy matte glaze and the Riviera design. I even love the picture, though I feel as though I'm looking at it through a fine mist. . .

That's my sad story for the day, along with the moral. If I've saved even one person from. . .

Oh, boo hoo. . .


Friday, May 29, 2009

Couroc of Monterey

Until I found this Couroc of Monterey set in a Salvation Army store last year I didn't really know anything about the company or the process. They looked vaguely familiar when I spotted them, but when these bar sets were first produced I was into Colonial, and modern didn't really show me much.

I've since learned that Couroc is getting increasingly popular for very good reason. It's beautiful! That's number one--but if you look closely at the patterns you'll see that they're incredibly intricate and formed by truly skilled artists. Even if the patterns look the same, closer inspection shows that each piece is slightly different. The wood and metal inlays are set by hand, so no two are ever exactly alike.

It's made from a hard plastic called "Phenolic", which Couroc says is impervious to almost anything, including alcohol. The company was founded in 1948 by Guthrie Sayle Courvoisier and Moira Wallace, a husband-and-wife team.

I found this helpful guide to Couroc in the eBay Guides, courtesy of Marigold05, who has also written other Couroc information:

The Couroc Company was a Monterey California company that produced many different types and shapes of trays, boxes, ashtrays and glassware from 1948 until their closure in the early 1990s. Their products have become and remain collectable because of their high quality and beauty.

Guthrie Courvoisier, owner of Courvoisier Galleries in San Francisco formed Couroc in 1948. His wife, Moira Wallace was a designer that was involved in designing manufacturing - sometimes even 'signing' her work. Couroc was formed in Monterey an area that held strong artistic communes at the time. Being located in a beautiful part of the Pacific coast had other advantages, Couroc relied on a plentiful supply of natural design elements, especially coral and shells.

Couroc's Early Years

Prior to the war, Courvoisier had worked with the Walt Disney Company and brought the first commercially available animation cels to market. These cels are still known as "Courvoisier Cels" and are quite valueable today.

Courvoisier gained valuable experience with plastics while participating in the war effort. Courvoisier soon began to put this experience to work - he and his wife began to tinker around with new techniques of producing household items with superior design. The first generation of Couroc products were made of a heavy translucent material that was extremly prone to shattering. The name Couroc was an amalgamation of 'Cour'voisier and 'rock' as in hard-as-a-rock. These early pieces have early Couroc labels so the name was derived while their products were still highly breakable. The products in that first generation tended to be large bowls and cake trays. After much experimentation, however, the Courvoisiers created a proprietary formula of phenolic resin that was durable enough to form into trays. This formula was extremely durable and resistant to alcohol and flame. While this formula has changed over the years, that proprietary recipe served as the basis for several decades work.

In the early years, Courvoisier ran Couroc a little like an art-commune, employing many skilled artisans. During these early years, the artists carefully arranged bits and pieces of common metal items one might find at a hardware store into elements of the design. Items like springs, screws, glitter, safety pins and paper clips were commonly part of Couroc's best designs. The artisans also used pieces of brass and other metals and carefully bent them into shape.

You can read the complete guide, including how to determine early or late Couroc, by clicking the link at the beginning of the quote.

There is a Couroc group on Flickr, where I found some of the most amazing pieces. I also found these beauties from Couroc Geometric's Flickr page here. (While you're there, check out her other Couroc pieces. Gorgeous!)

Marigold mentions in her article that over the years the footings and labels were different. Of the three seemingly matching pieces that I have, I find two different footings and labels. I don't know what that means in terms of age. I'm guessing, because of the mushroom motif, they're all from the 1970s or 80s.

If anyone wants to add to this discussion, I would love to hear from you. The more we learn, the more fun it is!


(Cross-posted at Vintage Village.)

Sunday, January 11, 2009

What a difference 20 years makes!

I've been thinking a lot about Etsy's decision to use "20 years or more" as the mark of a Vintage piece. When I first saw it, I had to laugh. I thought, "That's just silly". But at the same time, I wholeheartedly went along with the idea, because it meant I could list more items there.

After many debates about, say, 1988 being Vintage, I think I'm finally beginning to see the light. Here's why:

Great changes have taken place in 20 year spans. Not only societal and historical changes, but major changes in home and fashion styles. I can't help but think about the giant leap society took between the 20 years from 1900 to 1920. At the turn of the century, they were just barely out of the Victorian era, still wearing blowsy shirtwaists, bustles, and full length bathing suits. But by the 1920s they have moved on to bathtub gin, short flapper dresses, and cupid's bow lips.
When I was a young housewife in the mid-50s, anything from the mid-30s was considered positively antique--so out of it and old fashioned! We were well into modernistic, streamlined, Scandinavian influences and people were throwing out that 30s junk by the carloads. (Especially the clunky Mission Oak furniture we now associate with Stickley and other sought-after Craftsman era makers. It was way too big for our little ranch homes.)

By the late 50s and early1960s, we were throwing out the old cast-offs from the 1940s--those stuffy old mohair sofas, those rose-strewn rugs, those chenille bedspreads. Who would want that tired old junk? We didn't become nostalgic for it until years later, when it suddenly became popular again. It's that cycling of the old stuff--our grandmother's stuff-- that we've come to call "nostalgia".

In the 1980s, we were throwing out the 60s and 70s stuff, including the eye-popping psychedelic remnants of a free and easy culture, and heading toward the more abstract, the more natural, earthy (or earth-bound) aspects of a hippy generation that leaned toward hand-thrown pots, macrame, and unpainted barn siding.
And now here we are, in the 21st Century, already getting nostalgic for that past century. . .

I wonder what life will look like 20 years from now?

Monday, January 5, 2009

Toward a New Year

Happy, happy New Year and a belated Merry Christmas. Blogging went by the wayside in December, as I got further and further behind and worked like the devil to catch up. (I never did catch up, and the New Year started anyway.)

But I had to show you two super Christmas presents I was absolutely THRILLED to receive:

Pearl China Tea Set
The color is a teal green, and the tea pot has the Pearl curlicue on it. The scroll and flowers are a bright gold. Lovely! I have to do more research to find the pattern and year(s) produced.

Homer Laughlin "English Garden"

This is my absolute favorite American china pattern. I have three small pieces, and am always lusting for more, but this gorgeous platter was beyond my wildest dreams! Here is a closeup of the cottage (Love it, love it, LOVE it):

And. . .I know Christmas is over, but I wanted to show you some pictures of my daughter's Department 56 Snowbabies collection. Every Christmas for almost 20 years, I've bought her a new little bisque Snowbabies figurine, and it's become almost as much fun as buying something wonderful for myself!

For the past five or six years, my granddaughter, now eleven, has done the choosing, and I'm happy to let her. She takes a long time, and chooses very carefully, because her auntie has promised that the collection will be hers someday. What an incentive!

Every year my daughter and her niece, the Snowbabies heiress, come up with new ways to display them. This year they outdid themselves. They placed different sized boxes here and there in a garden window, laid tiny light strings around them, and covered the whole thing with yards of batting. They look adorable!

This is what it looks like at night.

Snowbabies started in Germany some time in the nineteenth century, and are still being made there. Department 56 began issuing their own versions around 1986, and kept to the original all-white figurines until recently, when they joined up with Disney and Warner Bros, added color, and totally ruined them, as far as I'm concerned. My daughter and granddaughter agree. They prefer the classic Snowbabies, though you'll notice there is one partially colored "Frosty the Snowman" in there. Who could say no to Frosty?

My best wishes for a Glorious year ahead for everyone.

New Year's Day: Now is the accepted time to make your regular annual good resolutions. Next week you can begin paving hell with them as usual. ~Mark Twain