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b y     S u s a n  C r o s b y

     The first enamel I chose to keep came in a boxlot of jewelry at a country auction 20 years ago. I would separate for resale sterling, goldfilled, costume etc., but what about this barpin? It's just a small piece, smooth glass on metal, in rich shades of blue and green with brass outlined boxes. What surprised me then, and still does now, is how it felt, smooth like velvet. When I couldn't figure out where to put it, and couldn't stop handling it, I kept the pin and it began my only collecting passion, ENAMEL. I launched an all out search for it and soon a burgeoning collection took over the house. Some control was needed! What evolved is a list of yes/no questions and the cumulative answers determine which category a piece fits into. The questions and categories combined help me decide to buy or not, what to keep or sell, how to streamline, reduce or redirect the collection. For awhile, I even travelled with the list of questions and categories on an index card and put myself through all of them before I bought! Even after a piece is purchased, the questions are periodically asked to reassess an item's position within the collection.

     It's important to note that the categories and questions are arbitrary, personal and always subject to change or modification. Nothing is written in stone when it comes to collecting! If my ideas aren't just right for you, use them as an outline to develop your own criteria. There were originally over a dozen categories, but over time have been whittled down to the following five which are listed in order of importance to me. Also, pieces can occupy more than one category moving between them as taste changes

. . . . .

ART; by execution or sheer aesthetics. Answers YES to all relevant questions.[pics # 1,3,5,8]

WANNABES or WANNABUYS; It has a good look but might be just shy of fabulous.Great design but wrong colors. Whimsies. Answers NO to one or more questions but is coming home with you anyway! [pics # 2,6,7,9,11]

TOURIST; mass produced, imported. This category is purchased for enjoyment only with no serious expectation of investment value although some are quite saleable. [pics # 10,12]

MERCH; purchased for signature or resale potential, either now or future.
Items from other categories can also overlap into this one. [pics #2,3,4,6,7,10,11,12]

MISSES THE BOAT COMPLETELY; crude, unattractive, bad color combos, poor design, the pieces that look like that horrid thing you drew for your mother when you were in kindergarten.

. . . . .

Then the questions, in any order, that decide which of these categories a piece fits into are:

DO I LIKE THE SUBJECT MATTER?

IS THE COLOR PALETTE PLEASING TO THE EYE?

IS THE DESIGN ORGANIZED?

IS THE BACK/HARDWARE WELL DONE?

IS THIS INTENDED AS A PERSONAL ITEM?

WOULD I DISPLAY THIS IN MY HOME?

FOR JEWELRY; WOULD I WEAR THIS?

IS IT WORTH THE PRICE?

IS THERE A PROFIT POTENTIAL NOW OR FUTURE?

. . . . .

PICTURE #1

German, matte cloisonne enamel, circa 1950's, marked for Karl Schibensky. This type of enamel has super depth , color, with satin smooth finish. Glossy caramel counterglaze. Embedded safety pin closure.

CATEGORY: ART. Answers YES to all questions

. . . . .

Unsigned, attractive color palette, folksy fruitbasket design. Speckled counterglazing with cleanly applied, inexpensive pin assembly. MERCH/WANNABE

PICTURE #2

   

   In the early stages of your collection, you can buy pieces that don't exactly fit, that answer mostly "NO" as long as you like them, they're inexpensive and you realize that often these early purchases lose their place as your collection matures. These early found pieces often bring joy and humor and shouldn't be passed up.   

. . . . .

PICTURE #3

Excellent abstract, rich vibrant hues in pools created by slightly elevated cloisons. Refined sterling frame, signed "BACHRACH". I'd guess 70's or later. ART/MERCH

. . . . .

PICTURE #4

The enamel is just ok, bright primary red and blue, enhanced by modernist frame and backing. The enamel alone would not be as interesting but the metalwork is very refined so it's MERCH.

  Verso shots of each piece are included because more than the signature can be learned from the quality of the counterglaze, frame and findings. These factors should weigh in the decision to buy or pass on an item.

. . . . .

PICTURE #5

Unsigned German, matte cloisonne enamel, circa 1950's, similar to #1. Possibly Perli Werkstatte. Lush, depth of color. Glossy black counterglaze. ART. Answers YES to all questions.

. . . . .

Unsigned, cute subject, interesting "Halloween" colors, whimsical. WANNABE/MERCH

PICTURE #6

. . . . .

PICTURE #7

Wonderful folksy cartoon work signed by ELVIE ZELL, Ohio? sloppy glued pin assembly that could be removed. WANNABE/MERCH

. . . . .

PICTURE #8

Large abstract pendant, HAROLD TISHLER, N.Y., wonderful design, late 40's early 50's colors, purchased even with damage because it's ART.

     In this and future columns we can share some of my collection and others' with the hope that you will develop a love of enamel and grow your own collection. The focus will be contemporary/modern era work in both metalwork and jewelry with emphasis on mid 20th century thru today. There will be many pieces whose origins are a mystery and occasional side trips into antiquity.

. . . . .

PICTURE #9

 

Unsigned, thick glossy surface with patches of foil iridescence, nice autumnal colors. dark green counterglaze, clean applied pin. WANNABUY

. . . . .

HOGAN-BOLAS set. This company made numerous similar shapes in complementary color petals. Good quality work, shiny steel backing with block printed signature. MERCH/TOURIST

PICTURE #10

 

     The goal is to share the enjoyment of enamel without too much academic pressure to know everything about it but if we can solve some mysteries along the way, that's terrific too!

. . . . .

PICTURE #11

Unsigned. interesting color combo, russet with lavender. Large sterling pin, piecrust setting of raised disc of semi opaque, foil and painted enamel made to look like cloisonne. The metallic enamel painting within the layers of glaze produce the appearance of an outlines.  MERCH

. . . . .

PICTURE #12

AUSTRIA, EVA SCHERER, hand done in quantity for European tourist consumption. Some of the work is charming and quite pretty but repetitive patterns. TOURIST/MERCH

Now, try these Q/C to rate your own collection and let me know how it works.
Your comments are invited. POPS2PLAT@aol.com

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 Copyright © Susan Crosby, June 2000

Photographs by Susan Crosby
Web design by Marbeth Schon
www.mschon.com


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