Thursday, October 9, 2008

Ohio's Rich History

BY Jourdan Corbitt

For all of the wives constantly criticized for the countless knick knacks collecting dust in their hallways and for all of the husbands who've compulsively retained every bus ticket and trinket gathered through years of travels and experiences, your day of vindication has arrived. On September 18, in the small office of the Fairfield County Chapter of the Ohio Genealogical Society in Lancaster, ‘oohs’ and ‘ahhs’ replaced small pockets of chatter as auctioneer Mike LeMay appraised several members' heirlooms, collectibles and so-called trinkets.

With fifteen years of experience and attendance at a bona fide auctioneer school, LeMay examined the table with hands behind his back and eyebrows bent. An associate, George Barnes, who specializes in evaluating glass, joined LeMay in his analyses. The two men encircled the table of cherished history like hawks, seeking telltale marks and sizing up the conditions of the artifacts. Together, they applied historical meaning and monetary value to treasures that had been passed through families for so long that their origins had become the stuff of legends.

One all-star contributor to the night's events was Sally Dupler, who brought several items to the table. The first was a beverage tray with a Native American's face painted on it. Barnes ran his hands around the length of the raised rim, declaring it to be a product of the Iroquois Beverage Corporation, from the 1940s or 50s, with an auction value estimated between $60 and $75.

Next, Dupler learned that a green glass pitcher her husband purchased on a whim at an auction was Victorian hand-blown glass from the turn of the century, hand-painted in the style of Mary Gregory. Barnes valued the piece at $200. Dupler also submitted a colorful glass bird (see picture) with a foot-long single glass feather for a tail. Barnes immediately determined the figure to be Venetian glass, citing the gold-speckled face of the bird as--a style for which the Italians became famous . The value of the item was $75-100; however, he noted that the birds were usually created in pairs, and a set would easily double the value. She also provided a dancing figurine frozen in a classic European-style waltz. The piece originated in Dresden, Germany, according to the appraisers, and was made between 1920 and1930. If the hand-painted porcelain item were mint, it would be valued between $75-100.

Richard Hartle was next to present some personal history and recalled his first memory of the wooden clock he brought to the event. At his birth home in Lansing, Michigan, he recalled being five years old in 1927 and seeing the clock. The appraisers determined it to be an oak kitchen clock from the Ensonia Company. After Richard assured them that the eight day clock still kept perfect time, they determined its' auction value at anywhere from $150-225.

Next, president and librarian of the local chapter Sue Hothem told the story of her stein. While stationed in Stuttgart, her father traveled to Tubingen, Germany in search of a pleasant souvenir for the otherwise ghastly memories of World War II. The glass stein had a metal handle with an eagle as the opening valve and was valued between $50-75.

Perhaps the most outstanding treasure of the evening belonged to Karen Feisel. Her great-great aunt knit a double quilt in the 1880s that remains in perfect condition to this day. With approximately seven stitches per inch, this incredible heirloom is what's known as a sampler quilt: that is, it features several squares, each with different design styles.

One element of antique auctioneering, LeMay explained, is the history behind an item. The more that is known about an item's background, the higher of value it will garner. LeMay estimated that this mint quilt – that had never been washed and only ever touched to be re-folded – would fetch close to $1,000 at auction.

There were several other items of equal importance discussed that evening; the aforementioned is just a sampling that sparked conversation among the attendees. Also among the mix of heirlooms was a gun, a baby plate, a tintype photo, a child's rocking chair and an early-edition printing of “Alice in Wonderland.” Even though it can be exciting to discover how much meaningful trinkets and treasure might fetch on the market, it was obvious that the night at the Genealogical Society was not merely about assigning monetary values to priceless family heirlooms. Instead, Treasures from the Attic allowed attendees to share and listen to memories, experiences and heritage and learn a little more about their fellow community members.

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