Bookends, Often Undervalued and Unnoticed
Many veteran collectors tend to specialize over time, choosing to filter down their collections to items that are unusual and spur the hunt. For others it’s a way of downsizing toward retirement by keeping their own personal collections whittled down to items that not only appeal to them artistically, but are functional as well. One such item that fits this category is bookends. Even in this day and age of instant information via the Internet, most collectors and dealers have substantial piles of reference books that require containment of some sort and bookends fit the bill. Myself, I have books everywhere in the house and storage boxes full in the garage and basement that could be displayed, all for the want of bookends. As they they come in all shapes, styles, forms and materials, book racks and bookends can appeal to collectors of any type or vintage. As a point of reference, the WorthPoint Worthopedia currently has over 160,000 bookends listed!
Rookwood Turkey Bookends
The other attraction of bookends is they are often under the radar in terms of value; even dealers pass them by because they can’t see the bookends for the books as it were. They often sell unidentified for far less than they are worth, or are relegated to box lots and undocumented.
Rookwood turkey bookends designed by Arthur Conant in 1933. This set sold recently for $3200.00 at auction.
A great many big name producers of pottery, porcelain, bronze and glassware made bookends, but they were often a small part of their overall production of more popular decorative art items such as vases, lamps and figurines. One example of this is the well known Rookwood pottery. Rookwood was primarily noted for its decorative hand painted vases, with its production of bookends getting little mention. While many of their bookends sell for under $100.00 at auction, there are some that sell for values that would surprise even veteran dealers, such as this pair of model number 6417 Coromandel Glaze Turkey bookends in the photo above. This pair, which one might mistake for examples sold in discount stores leading up to Thanksgiving, was designed by Arthur Conant in 1933. Conant worked at Rookwood pottery between 1915 and 1939. He is best known for his vases, most often depicting wildlife such as birds, plant life, flowers and animals, but this set of bookends, which are a little out of character from his other works, recently sold for $3200.00 at auction .
Japanese Rookwood flower basket bookends designed by Kitaro Shirayamadani. He designed these bookends circa 1927 and a pair of them last sold at auction for $475.00.
Another bookend line by Rookwood is this one in the photo above. This set could be easily be mistaken for a bit of 1960’s Japanese yard sale pottery, when in reality, it’s a pattern #2837 “Basket of Flowers” pair of bookends, designed by Kitaro Shirayamadani. Kitaro was a Japanese decorator who worked for Rookwood Pottery in Cincinnati, Ohio from 1887 until 1948. His work is highly sought after by collectors, in fact his black iris vases are on the top 10 list for Rookwood Pottery Collectors. He designed these book ends circa 1927 and a pair of them last sold at auction for $475.00
Tiffany Bronze Bookends
Bronze bookends of the Buddha actually made by Tiffany in the early years of the 20th century. This set turns up on a regular basis at auction, selling in the $450.00- $850.00 when properly identified.
Pottery is not the only medium used for unsung bookends. This next set looks very much like what one might find today at a discount decorator outlet that specialized in Indian brassware, but these are bronze and were actually made by Tiffany during the early years of the 20th Century. This set turns up on a regular basis at auction, selling in the $450.00- $850.00 at auction when properly identified, but I have seen them sold undocumented for under $150.00.
Brass Horse Bust Bookends
This pair of 1920’s unmarked horse bust bookends sold for $350.00.
Even brass and iron, the poor cousins to bronze, host some surprises in value. This pair of 1920’s unmarked horse bust bookends sold for $350.00. Comparable examples that do carry company markings, but by an unknown artist, can sell for twice that amount.
Cast Iron Native Americans on Horseback
This set of Native Americans on horseback, unmarked, with the bronze finish in worn condition, sold for $450.00.
There are many examples in cast iron that routinely sell for comparable amounts as well. For example, this set of Native Americans on horseback, unmarked, with the bronze finish in worn condition, sold for $450.00.
One-of-a-kind Cummins Engine bookends mounted on mahogany stands sold for $650.00, a full $450.00 more than the base presale estimate.
The one type that really catches my eye and often sells well under their value is the “one-of-a-kind” example, like this pair using Circa 1914 Cummins Engine gauges. The set was probably made as a presentation piece or a retirement gift for an engineer. I’ve seen similar sets made with machinery related to different occupations, such as steam fitters, plumbers, firemen and early radio technicians. This set, mounted on mahogany stands sold for $650.00, a full $450.00 more than its base presale estimate.
Mike Wilcox, of Wilcox & Hall Appraisers, is a Worthologist who specializes in Art Nouveau and the Arts and Craft movement. He can be reached through his website Antique-Appraise.com.
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