Monday, October 31, 2016

A Mystery Solved Backwards

Known: the small male Quail, reissued under license by Share The Love in 2014, is a Maureen Love design. The mold was in her estate, and was collected by Dawn Sinkovich. We measured the interior mass, poured the rubber master into the mold, and preserved it, as her subcontractor. There is no doubt of its provenance. Then, Dawn personally cast and glazed the edition.

Share The Love Quail
(I bought this one because I liked the backwards plume.)

What we didn't know, with any certainty, was the purpose of the design. Was it for Maureen's own pottery, or for a big company? Were there just a few, or were they mass produced? Why did they bear such a striking design resemblance to the Large Quail that Maureen designed for DeForest of California?

Was he meant to be a maquette, or finished at full size? Share The Love, as far as we knew, was the first to finish and release a never-made, waste-mold quail.

These questions might have gone unanswered forever, if not for a chance find on eBay, one random night, when I had a bout of insomnia. Scrolling through esoteric search headings helps put me to sleep... that is, until I stumble upon a new-to-our-collecting-world Maureen Love sculpture on a cheap Buy It Now. Then, I twitch, toss, and turn until daylight. Tracking number, what's the tracking number?!

The BIN listing dimensions had me already formulating this blog post. She was exactly the right size. Her very existence solved a mystery. She was unmarked, so how could I identify her factory? 

Easy. DeForest birds have tells. 

1. The fantasy wing shape.

2. Pink dryfooting on white-bodied ware. (The interiors are white bisque.)

3. Groovy art glazes.

This was, without a doubt, a deForest small female quail.

Her very existence indicates that the STL small male quail was originally issued by DeForest, too. Even the carved bases match. Figurine pairs and families were typical in California potteries. It encouraged more sales, and the marketing strategy continues to this day.

As this is the only example known to our hobby, I volunteered to have her molded for Share The Love.

In 2017, collectors will be able to reunite the quail pair. For once, insomnia pays off; this time, it gives collectors more to Love, and solves another mystery.

Monday, May 16, 2016

Curios-er and Curio-served

Cabinet space has become a bit of an issue for me, lately. My collection grew in a very short time span, and I have not been able to acquire the fixtures to keep up. Not for lack of trying, but most of the time, it's logistics of cabinet weight and size. I am also changing the way I display, which is moving away from the "library stacks" style, and towards a more artistic, museum-display style. That style requires more real estate, but the enjoyment of the artworks is maximized. I also can consider more fanciful, less practical cabinet designs.

There is a forsaken corner of my studio that has needed a makeover, for years. It had a cheap bookcase, and a open-edged, dust-magnet, tiny cabinet. These became catch-alls for all manner of studio debris. The cabinet is a bad match for a dusty pottery room, and needs to be moved to the clean office. I needed something that kept dust out, and also lit up the corner.

I recently completed a collecting goal of one of each of the HR DW foal molds. To me, foals are the true gauge of an equine artist, because they should not look like miniature adults. Although I love them as reference, they were jammed to the back of my large curio, a foot away from the viewer, and shadowed by larger sculptures. They needed to be in a cabinet that they wouldn't get lost in.

My mother-in-law and I love to do the occasional "junking", hunting at flea markets and thrift stores. I have found great monsters and tiki at these low-end resalers, but never anything for my own collection. In a single day this month, I scored not one, but TWO small curios to ease the clinky congestion. 

In the last booth, in the last indoor flea market, I spied a tall corner cabinet. It was very reasonably priced, even with delivery. The seller assured me that the third glass shelf was included, she just was displaying a tall figurine in the bottom. The bottom section of the curio was a solid cabinet, for stashing books and the like. It looked mint, in the dim corner, and the booth was so crowded with junk that I took her word that the light fixture worked. It looked ideal for my studio corner, and I felt like a Responsible Collector, getting a proper, safe place for my foals.

The cabinet was delivered the next morning. This seemingly innocuous event was but the beginning of a three-hour physical workout and brain tease. The gentlemen who worked for the flea owner carried it in, brought the glass shelves, and stood it in the corner. Well, more like, leaned it out of the corner, looming towards the room. We checked that the light worked, even with a plug unlike any I had seen before, and off they traipsed. It had been cleaned before delivery, which was about the only relief to what followed.

With the curio at six feet tall, a bottom quarter being the solid section, and only three shelves, there was no question of DW headroom inside. Still, I needed to inspect the shelf holders and the shelf height options. Imagine my surprise that there were none! Yes, it was mighty dark in that booth, especially with the cabinet light off. Only enough holes for the existing three shelves, forever stuck at those heights?! Who built this crap? This must be made in China.

Then, I got a good look at the shelf holders. Clear plastic. One had shorn off inside its hole, rendering the entire shelf useless. The bottom shelf. You know, the one that had been removed to "display that tall figurine"? Uh huh. Who used cheap plastic to hold up heavy glass shelves? This must be made in China.

Now, the geometry of a corner cabinet, being an Isosceles triangle, means that the acute angles where the shelf holders are inside their holes are such that the rear ones cannot be pulled. That's right, the shelf holders were installed before the mirror and backing were mounted to the entire curio. Forget drilling new holes when they shear off and ruin those existing spots, because you will never fit a drill up against that mirror, anyways. Who assembles a single-use curio with no shelf height options? Who seals in those pegs with a mirror and staples? This must be made in China.

It had become abundantly clear to me, at this point, that I had a fixer-upper on my hands. I can't abandon it. It has to be dealt with. There are no other options: I must remove the entire back wall to reach the mirror, then access the pegs jammed in that acute angle. After that, I can measure and drill new holes, and set in steel shelf holders. You know, like a reasonable furniture manufacturer would have done, in the first place. Who made this disaster? This must be made in China.

Yes, this curio was delivered by two men. So what? I understand leverage and I am nimble. I doubled a quilt (because all the furniture moving blankets I keep buying have disappeared) over my utility sink and floor, walked the cabinet over to it, and leaned it there for surgery. The paperboard backing wasn't even the strong Masonite you see as backing on cheap furniture. Nope, this was like barely-pressed-together sawdust, the worst grade of paper fiberboard. It turned to dust when I tried to remove the staples. I then made the backing's weakness work for me, and ripped it... Let this sink in... I ripped the entire backside off a curio, like it was upholstery fabric. Who uses sawdust paper as furniture? IKEA would reject this. This must be made in China.

I carefully examined how the mirror was secured before attempting removal. What luck! It wasn't secured, at all. It was held in place by gravity against a tiny lip of oak at the top of the "solid" segment of the cabinet. Who sells and ships glass mirrors, just bobbing loose in paper backing? This must be made in China.

... But, how did it survive overseas shipping?

The staples, meanwhile, were dug in like ticks, bonded to the narrow frame. They made clinging Job One- being just about the only thing in the whole curio, besides the light, that had a work ethic. I had to pry each staple out of the entire six feet twice, and the top and bottom, for it covered the entire back surface. The staples could not be left in place, or else the backing would not go back on flat. The bottom stability segment was not "solid" oak, at all. It was half paper! Staples, paper, plastic. Is this a TPS report on my desk? No, it's a curio cabinet, made fast and cheap in China, I guess!

My husband checked in, saw the insanity, heard me huffing and hauling on staples, clattering nails, and was like, "What piece of junk did you get?!" Something made in China .

I didn't bother doing my workout that day, because it was Arm Day on the curio machine, apparently. I carefully measured for new holes, from the curio's own landmarks. I got the correct diameter drill bit, placed the holes horizontally slightly off-center of each back wall frame, so the steel holders would not occlude and crack the mirror backing. There was no centimeter spared in this construction, not even when common sense said "You will break." This must be made in China.

I set the steel shelf holders in place, laid the mirror back on its rest, and put what was left of the paperboard back in place. I hammered steel finishing nails in, sometimes using an old staple hole for the hardest parts of the wood. Then, I had the bright idea to sweep out any spiderwebs that may be left in the base underside, while the cabinet was at a 45-angle. When am I going to have access to the bottom again, really? I bent down, reached under with my hand-broom... And heard the bristles strike something that wasn't oak. It was paper. A paper label, this will confirm my worst fears.

This was not made in China.

It was made in my state, one hour's drive away, 36 years and 1 day from the date it was delivered here. If that datestamp doesn't give you the shivers, it should.

Commence the TNsplaining. Begin with the there-theres. 

Thoroughly geography-shamed, culture-shamed, industry-shamed, I now began to baby the curio. "I can't believe you survived 36 years in the state of your birth without being broken! I know residents who can't claim that." I stood it back up, dusted it off, positioned it in the corner. It still lurched forward, posture not really being a thing in TN. I grabbed the heaviest objects I had handy- my own plaster molds- and loaded the cabinet bottom compartment until it stood solid, pressure fit to the corner. Please no jokes about Tennesseans having to be loaded to look normal.

The mirror is reflecting a painting.
Check out the crazy plug.

The last thing to do was to wipe down all the glass again, after soiling everything with my drill sawdust. The rubber holding the glass of the door had been originally installed crooked and curled. Ah, you know, these things happen. QC is clearly not the same thing as Quality Assurance Production Control. Don't be silly. They only need to assure you that the quality is the usual for all production. This is usual. Of course, decades later, that rubber fitting wasn't going to be coerced into a correct position. It was done. I cleaned the shelves and set the first one in place, wearing gloves so it had no fingerprints. What's this? My carefully measured-to-the-cabinet-landmarks holes were off. Not a little, a lot. I can't believe this, I grumbled, as I reached for the bubble level. The cabinet can't be taken apart, now. Who makes furniture in a factory where you can't adjust the shelves, and their holes are crooked, to begin with?!

American made, in Tennessee. Can't blame China for this one.

I was forced to locate some adhesive foam padding, cut it to fit the pegs, and stack it until the weight of the glass held it firmly in place. They had drilled one shelf's worth of holes correctly, so I had one shelf that likewise was solid on the first try. 

The happy ending is that it is a great display for my HR DW foals. I really love it, when I just look at it and don't remember anything. My mother-in-law and sister-in-law, who are not ceramics collectors, complimented the set up. The modified cabinet is doing its job, and that is all I needed it to do. The serving of humble pie was a bonus.

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

What Clinky Collectors Already Suspect, But Were Afraid To Ask Outright

With several serious HR collections dispersing in the past handful of years- Cheryl Greene, John Renaker, Keith Bean, Denise Deen, Nancy Kelly, The Hagen-Renaker On-Line Museum- and another on the horizon (Karen Grimm/BHR), there is an uneasy vibe about what will happen to the china values.

"What's going to happen?"

We can look at FB and MH$P to see the first effect: cascading. In the face of the sudden availability of so many great HRs, collectors are prioritizing their own collections, and culling items that do not fit their current focus. This results in lots of makes and models hitting the market at the same time. Just because HRs are the most plentiful right now doesn't mean that other makes are immune. The need to raise money to buy their wish-list HRs cascades down through other makes, including bone china studio ware, Beswicks, and Made-In-Japans, causing a flood. It's a cascading effect of all types of collectibles, surpassing demand and thus lowering asking prices. If an item is to move with any speed, the prices must be made attractive, or even below market value, to entice buyers. If time is not a factor, and the seller can afford to sit on inventory (like a lot of us non-shop-owners, with zero overhead), their prices don't change.

What if there are stubborn sellers, who refuse to lower their prices, or sell for less than they paid? Is it fair to make comments berating them for their refusal to make a discount deal with you or your friends? No, it isn't. The private seller of second-hand collectibles is not obligated to stick to values in books (which are outdated and give built-in lowballing) nor to a Manufacturer's Suggested Retail Price. It's their own vintage or secondary market item, and they can price it as they see fit. I would argue that you should be thanking those sellers for their steadfast dedication to values. They are the thin line defending and insisting on values, so that our entire hobby market doesn't crash.

My husband has taught me a useful, but cheeky, shut-down phrase to use when I am asked to ridiculously reduce prices on my original art or collectibles: "If you don't like my price, buy it at Kmart." Of course, the chain store name is interchangeable, but the gist is, if you don't like my price, try and find this unique or hard to find item for sale at discount just anywhere. You aren't going to find it at the corner store, and certainly not priced by the pound.

"What should be my strategy?"

Everyone who has written me for advice this week has received this: Few things are going to hold universal value when the market floods. It's not an If, it's a When. Say your heart is set on a piece that you know was produced for more than a year, well, chances are, another will be available in the next few months. Don't despair that this one sold; you'll have another chance. This item was made in quantity.

"What if I just want just an example of the mold, not a competition/show horse?" 

I advise checking the years made, and reading up on which variant is the oldest and made the shortest time. Try to buy mint items. Older mint condition items survived to the present day, through collector care, and there's a lot to be said for that. In HRs, the oldest horses had character eyes and lined nostrils and mouths, which hold them back in breed/realism judging. They are golden for collectibility. If you decide to collect for history, not showing, don't reject the non-realistic finishes; select for age and condition.

"I am ready to spend, and I am excited about all the stuff available. I have been waiting for a dispersal like this." 

If there is no upper budget, consider that the test, one-off goof, and employee customs are unique (or close to it). There won't be another just like it coming up for sale, ever.  if anything, that exact piece might come up for sale sometime in the future, but only that one. Thus, demand for the most attractive tests is never met. Also, tests in particular tend to hold their value every time the market dives. This is not so much true of the value of batched Samples, which are sometimes called tests, even though they are seldom unique trials on damaged ware. Examples of tests' values persisting include documented Breyer tests despite the plastic market ups and downs, and vintage HR tests (less so for batches of Samples) holding their collector values throughout the market flooding of eBay, and so on. When buying from collectors, expect to pay collector prices for these investment pieces. Sometimes, one gets lucky on eBay finding a bargain test for sale from a non-collector (steel/ash gray Roan Lady!), but don't expect those who educate themselves in the fancy to ask anything less than full value. 

I am loathe to guess what broken/glued or restored items will bring compared to their mint counterparts. As shown in examples in John's estate dispersal, the same item damaged can bring just as much as a mint one, or one leg break can reduce it by half. My speculation, without accounting for world situation and larger problems like war or food shortages: The first wave buying tests and uniques will see their values held, perhaps even see those grow as investments. There will be a big ocean of regular run, long-produced pieces swirling about, unsold, for a while. Before it's all over, we'll see collectors exchanging things like HR DW Swaps for $30 (my personal yardstick for HR secondary market low, yours may vary). All the while that the big estates are settling, experienced collectors continue to disperse pieces and retire from the hobby. After even the BHR sale, there will be more collections up for sale, due to unforeseen circumstances. If you miss out on a mass-produced grail from any of the dispersals, know that there will always be another. And another. Do not despair. Also, think back to before you learned that X piece was even attainable, before it was offered at auction/for sale. You still enjoyed your collecting hobby then, without X, so do not let a one-time loss tinge it now.

If you do not want to wait another decade for your grail, I'd say, find funds outside the already-squeezed horse hobby, and buy it now. Clear out the garage, have a yard sale, make crafts, cook at home more often: all the things we used to do to support our hobby spending when the HR market was ferocious, in the pre-eBay 1990's. Now there are even more opportunities to raise money in one's spare time, without going back to school. Try driving for Uber, or walk dogs, raise your own produce, etc. My point is, it's folly to expect all your grail funding to be generated from sales to the very same market that is already flooded.

In closing, the best advice I received in collecting, I share again with you: a grail will find its way, however implausibly and circuitously, to the person(s) it was meant to find. We are all temporary curators. It may be heart-wrenching to see your long-loved favorites exchange hands beyond your grasp or even imaginable price range. Remember that is just a little delay. Maybe you worry that you didn't know the right people, you're too new, or feel outside a clique? We all start as outsiders, and we all did our tours as newbs. Keep your reputation clean, keep on with collecting in your favorite way, and eventually, your diligence will pay off. I would not pass along this as a fairy tale, I have experienced it and it is fact. Impossible, unfathomed things found me, and I know they can find you, too. I hear from collectors every year about crazy chains of events that led to their amazing $5 Finds, or gifts from friends, PIFs, all manner of unexpected avenues. Aim high with your patience. Shed no tears if you missed recent opportunities; smile and save up for the opportunity winging its way to you, on the gusts of time.