QUESTION: I have a bronze sculpture featuring a pair of standing horses facing in opposite directions. It is signed “BARYE 1886.” Is it rare and what is its value?
– M.C., Oregon, Ill., via e-mail
ANSWER: Alfred Barye, not to be confused with his father Antoine Louis Barye, was born on Jan. 21, 1839 in Paris. An accomplished animal sculptor in his own right, Alfred Barye spent his entire career in the shadow of his more famous father, who taught his brothers and him the art of sand casting bronze.
Initially, Alfred Barye sculpted wild animals. As his career progressed, he became fascinated with racehorses. Alfred copied his father’s style and signature, the reason why collectors and dealers have difficulty properly attributing pieces to one or the other. A family disagreement ensued, resulting in Alfred Barye switching to an “Alf. Barye” or “A. Barye Fils” mark. Alfred Barye died in 1882.
Since “Rinker on Collectibles” focuses on objects made after 1900, why is this question being answered? Based upon my analysis of the four photographs that accompanied your e-mail, you own an early 20th-century, mass-produced casting of the period piece. Barye’s work was extremely detailed and exhibited a high level of craftsmanship. When comparing the quality of Barye’s late 19th-century castings to your sculpture, your sculpture lacks the detail and craftsmanship of a Barye period piece.
Making inexpensive castings of period sculptures was common in the late Victorian era and early 20th century. These castings were considered inspirational and graced parlors and hallways of middle- and upper-class homes.
William J. Jenack Auctioneers of Chester, NY sold an example of your sculpture on Oct. 24, 2010 for $175. A second example listed by Goodwill Industries of San Diego County closed at $128.50 on July 20, 2011. These prices are an indication that your sculpture is a later mass-produced piece, as opposed to a Barye period casting, which would command three or more times this amount. In an antiques mall or at an antiques show, a dealer would price the piece between $225 and $250. As shown above, a patient buyer can acquire it for much less at auction.
QUESTION: My mother was an antique collector. At some point, she acquired three blue boxes marked “Tiffany & Co.,” each containing a set of four coasters with game bird designs on them. The coasters are 3 ¼ inches in diameter. A different bird on a white ground is featured on each coaster. There is a border band of dainty blue dots. The coasters have fluted edges heighted with a thin line of gold trim. The back is marked: “(Royal Worcester crest) / Royal Worcester / R / Bone China / Made in England / G676 / Hand Painted.” I do not know when they were made, but they are at least 50 years old. I found a set of four that sold recently on eBay for $225. Are they really worth this much?
– M.C., Centre Hall, Pa., via e-mail
ANSWER: I visited the Royal Worcester factory and Worcester Porcelain Museum in Worcester during a 1990s visit to England. Royal Worcester traces its origins to The Worcester Tonquin Manufactory, established by Dr. John Wall, a physician, and William Davis, an apothecary, in 1751. Royal Worcester is famed for producing the finest porcelain painted by skilled porcelain painters. The company also mass produced pieces decorated by the use of decals. Royal Worcester merged with Spode in 1976. The company went into administration, the British equivalent of bankruptcy, in November 2008 and ceased production in 2009. Portmeirion Group acquired the brand name in late April 2009.
What a difference a name makes. Royal Worcester manufactured a series of bird coasters/ashtrays/pin holders in the 1990s. These coasters have a plain round edge and list on eBay at “Buy It Now” prices ranging between $18 and $25. Most do not sell through.
Your Tiffany coasters were most likely manufactured during the collector/limited edition plate craze of the late 1960s and early 1970s, thus putting them in the “around 50 years old” category.
Tiffany contracts with outside manufacturers to produce most of the products it sells. Its brand name is the value added feature. In today’s collecting world, where auction houses have “Luxury Goods” specialists, brand name sells product.
If the coasters were not in Tiffany boxes, the per coaster value would be less than $10. Because they are Tiffany, value triples to quadruples. Getting $225 for a boxed set of four would be high. A more realistic secondary market value is around $150 for a boxed set of four, still overvalued, but who am I to argue with “what the market bears.”
QUESTION: I own a plate block of $5 Calvin Coolidge stamps. What is its value?
– T., Janesville, Wis.
ANSWER: As a novice collector in the 1950s, I cut my collecting teeth on the Big Three—coins, stamps and rocks. As each new stamp was issued, I rushed to the Post Office to buy a plate block of four stamps. I had a special album with cellophane inserts designed to store the plate blocks. I lost interest in collecting plate blocks when the U.S. Postal Service started adding more numbers, thus requiring me to buy a greater number of stamps to ensure that I had the complete plate block.
Plate block numbering is a method used to control the quality of the printing. Until the late 1960s, the United States included the printing plate number on an attached margin paper. The number identified the cylinder used to print the stamps. The increase in the numbers identified the different colors used in the printing process. In December 1980, the Postal Service reverted back to a traditional single number, unless a sheet contained more than four separate images as part of the series.
Plate block collecting is one of many philatelic sub-collecting categories. There are specialized plate block price guides. Most general stamp price guides also include plate block information. The Plate Block Stamp Company, Leawood, Kan., specializes in the sale of plate blocks.
Just as full sheet collecting, plate block collecting has fallen on hard times. Today’s young collectors exhibit little interest. The most common plate blocks sell for little more than the face value of the stamps. However, there are exceptions, not surprisingly enough, the three $5 plate blocks—Scott 834 (Calvin Coolidge), Scott 1053 (Alexander Hamilton) and Scott 1295 (John B. Moore).
“The Postal Service Guide to U.S. Stamps, 38th Edition” (United States Postal Service, 2011) lists the Calvin Coolidge plate block (four stamps) at $375. Mystic Stamp Company is offering a mint plate block for $720. A set sold on eBay on Jan. 24, 2012 for $188.97. A second set in very fine condition is available on eBay for a “Buy It Now” price of $249. The Kenmore Stamp Company has a set listed for sale at $600. I found one dealer online who was willing to pay $25 to acquire a $5 Coolidge plate block. Clearly, he qualifies as one of the most generous individuals on the face of the earth.
What do all these numbers mean? Realistically, your plate block in very fine condition has a quick resale value between $175 and $200. If the set grades at mint, its quick resale value increases to the $300 range. However, the secondary resale market is limited. The rapid price increase in value is in the past, not the future. While somewhat scarce, the plate block appears regularly in the secondary market. It is not a high-end investment stamp product.
QUESTION: I own a copy of a 1958 Playboy calendar in its original sleeve. What can you tell me about it?
– J., Janesville, Wis.
ANSWER: The 1958 Playboy calendar, printed in 1957, was the first Playboy calendar. The Playmates featured on the calendar are: Lynn Turner, Jean Jani, Lissa Winters, Marilyn Waltz, June Blair, Jonnie Nicely, Maguerite Empey, Marion Scott, Anne Fleming, Elsa Sorensen, Betty Blue and Janet Pilgrim.
[Author’s Aside: A few of these names seem a bit contrived.]
The calendar featured full color, glossy topless photographs of the Playmates. It was spiral bound and had a single hole at the top for hanging. A plain cardboard backboard added stiffness. The calendar came in a glossy paper sleeve.
Amazon.com lists an example of the 1958 calendar for $125.00. The online Playboy price guide does not include values for calendars. Since no one has purchased the 1958 calendar listed on Amazon, it is safe to assume the price is a bit on the high side. A more realistic value is between $85 and $100.
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