Jewels In The Attic
Regardless of what arcane object you happen to collect—from 19th-century
majolica to antique microscopes, from English silver to Parisian posters—there’s a local antiques dealer who has just the thing you’re looking for.
By Richard W. Stevenson
From cookie jars to strands of vintage barbed wire to hangars full of gleaming old aircraft, antiques collectors love to specialize.
And thanks to the blandishments of the Internet and the enduring popularity of Antiques Roadshow, all sorts of formerly invisible antiques have bounded into the spotlight, creating focused new collectors and a growing class of specialist dealers right here in Westchester. These informed and informative experts stand ready to aid the obsessed.
Here are a few of them:
Tesseract is an arcane term in mathematics; it is also the name of a Westchester antiques firm that sells vintage scientific and medical instruments. Its owners, Yola Coffeen, PhD, and David Coffeen, PhD, have been selling these rarities, some dating back to the 16th century and even earlier, for 24 years.
The Coffeens live in and do business from an Arts and Crafts-era house in Hastings-on-Hudson. They also have an apartment in Paris where they spend four to five months a year. (Yola Coffeen studied French literature at Barnard and Columbia and speaks French well enough to dream in that language.) The couple exhibits at two antiques shows a year, both in London, and belong to a dozen professional societies related to early scientific and medical instruments.
The objects the Coffeens buy and sell are riveting—even if you don’t know an astrolabe from third base. Telescopes, microscopes, monoculars, binoculars, perpetual calendars, surveyor’s kits, medical and dental instruments, compasses, sextants, sundials, spyglasses, orreries, and other devices presage today’s technology-driven information society. In their time, these objects were used every day by astronomers, mathematicians, opticians, physicians, naturalists, sailors, surveyors, and commoners who just wanted to know what time it was. They are beautifully made, beautiful to look at, and fit right in with 17th-, 18th-, and 19th-century antiques of the more usual sort.
Tesseract’s offerings are made known via its website and four yearly catalogues that picture, describe, and price the antiques. For more information, call (914) 478-2594 or visit www.etesseract.com.
John D. Gould of Yorktown Heights is the “go-to guy” for 19th-century gold-leaf or gilded frame for your paintings, prints, or samplers—an unusual specialty he ambled into some years back. “I bought a few frames and they sold so quickly I bought some more,” he says—and a new profit center was born. Nowadays, Gould usually has 400 to 500 frames in stock, dating from 1820 to 1870 and priced from $100 to $2,000.
In the past few decades, frames have come up in the world, morphing from inexpensive afterthoughts to antiques with intrinsic merits of their own. New York City dealer Eli Wilner is a frame specialist who wrote the book Antique American Frames. “The market for antique American picture frames, virtually non-existent until the early 1980s,” Wilner writes, “has become a multi-million-dollar enterprise.” According to Wilner, prices of period frames have risen 600 percent since 1990.
If you’re seeking a frame or frames, you may want to cruise the Gould collection, the kind of 19th-century examples that come with mellow old gold-leaf surfaces. Collectors and dealers have found that these relatively simple frames, which are available in many sizes and with a variety of embellishments and decorations, fit in very nicely with a range of decors. “Antique ogee frames are simple enough that they can be cut to size if necessary,” says Gould, who exhibits at antiques shows throughout the year.
For more information, call John Gould at (914) 245-2481.
Charles Michael Gallery is housed in an imposing, old 19th-century building called Union Hall in North Salem, where Jenny Lind once sang and the stagecoach once stopped en route to the rest of the country. The shop is named for proprietor Charles Michael Rudick.
The gallery specializes in the colorful posters which were produced in Paris—lithographs which advertised products, events, or services, and which quickly became collectible as well. The gallery buys and sells posters from the 1880s through the 1950s, including examples from the art nouveau and art deco periods.
From day one, sometime in the early 1870s, Parisian posters became wildly popular. The contemporary critic J.K. Huysmans called posters “the journalism of painting,” a fitting phrase to describe a combination of aesthetic expression and commercial communication.
Poster collectors tend to focus on a subject that interests them, and the gallery offers posters for those interested in sports, travel, food and wine, circus, magic, theater and film, military, as well as posters having to do with museums, products, and events.
In addition to posters, Charles Michael Gallery also sells antique prints, contemporary prints, and vintage and antique paintings—and offers framing, print and painting restoration, and art consultation services.
Charles Michael Gallery is located at 2 Keeler Lane near the junction of Routes 116 and 121 in the village of North Salem. For more information, call (914) 669-4600 or visit the website www.charlesmichael gallery.com.
From his home and headquarters in a restored cider mill in Chappaqua, antique majolica dealer Charles L. Washburne caters to the needs of more than 1,000 collectors coast-to-coast.
Washburne tempts the obsessed with a $1.2-million inventory of majolica, the polychrome Victorian earthenware. He labors mightily, working long hours on the phone and on the computer and spending even longer days on the road in his trusty van. He seems to love it all.
The word majolica was coined by Herbert Minton, the Staffordshire potter who created the ware. Initially it was patterned after the Renaissance-era pottery called maiolica, hence the name.
Majolica is a soft-bodied earthenware decorated with multi-layered vibrant glazes that give it the startling colors that often first attract collectors. Ranging from baskets to wall pockets, asparagus holders to wine coolers, and including many fanciful figural creations, the majolica produced in the 19th century has become a true focus for many collectors.
Washburne sells majolica via the Internet and also attends 15 or so antiques shows per year. Although you can buy a majolica butter pat for about $150, the ware has come up in the world. A six-foot, one-piece peacock, a special order by the Minton manufactory in Staffordshire, England, recently sold for a bit over $300,000. Washburne’s inventory runs from about $150 all the way to $65,000.
If majolica catches your eye and you’d like to learn more, Charles L. Washburne will be glad to get you started. Call (914) 238-4130, or visit www.majolica.net.
Karen Burghart is the founder and proprietor of Nelson House Antiques, a Peekskill establishment that focuses on the antiques of the Victorian era, roughly the last 60 years of the 19th century. The shop is named after William Nelson, a 19th-century congressman in whose vintage house Burghart and her husband and daughter live.
Peekskill boomed as a local manufacturing center in the years following the Civil War, and many handsome and imposing houses, some of them the “McMansions” of their time, were built in the various architectural styles now called Victorian. Karen Burghart, a former dancer and business executive who grew up locally, figured that antiques of that era would find a ready market in town.
The Nelson House offers a rare set of six parlor chairs, including a most comfortable rocker influenced by Charles Eastlake, a major force in interior design in the Victorian era. Eastlake was the household guru of his day, a consciousness-raiser in the realm of good taste as he saw it, a Martha Stewart in a beard and pince-nez. If his designs intrigue you, Burghart also features a nicely detailed Eastlake wardrobe/armoire sporting original glass knobs and hardware. She reports that the interior is currently fitted for shelves, but a hang bar could be installed.
Nelson House Antiques is located at 32 North Division Street in Peekskill. Call (914) 739-0344, email karen@thenelson house.com, or visit the website www.thenelsonhouse.com.
Elene Africk and Judy Moniz are business partners, friends, and neighbors in the hills of Armonk where their firm Africk/Moniz specializes in 18th- and 19th-century English silver, old Sheffield plate, and other fine antique silver-plated objects. They like in particular to buy and sell antique serving pieces for the table. “We also like to find and suggest new ways to use old silver,” Africk says. “A 19th-century butter knife can become a cheese or pÃ¢tÃ© spreader. Antique sugar tongs can be used as ice tongs, and an antique toast rack makes a great place to store mail, napkins, or take-out menus from your five favorite restaurants.”
Moniz opines that antique silver is versatile. “It also works well with new and contemporary pieces to create custom-made presents.” The partners suggest, for example, pairing an antique silver and mother-of-pearl cheese knife with a cherry wood cheese board, or teaming Victorian silver tongs with a gleaming new glass ice bucket.
Africk and Moniz make twice-yearly buying trips to England. No children or spouses are allowed because, as Africk says, “we work very fast, and the trip is all business.” Over the years, the partners have established relationships with a network of English silver dealers who know what they like and set items aside for them.
Some of the firm’s offerings can be found at Hiden Galleries, 481 Canal St., Stamford, CT. Or call Ilene Africk at (914) 273-2717 or Judy Moniz at (914) 273-9706. Email africkmoniz@ att.net or visit the website ww.africkmoniz.com.
Richard Stevenson is a freelance writer based in Roxbury, CT, who focuses on the decorative arts. A frequent contributor to the Litchfield County Times, the Connecticut section of the New York Times and to Preview CT, the arts magazine of the Hartford Courant, he and his wife live in an early Connecticut house and have collected American antiques for many years.