Q: I recently purchased this sign at a local thrift store for $5 Canadian. There is a partial paper label on the reverse stating it is a George Nathan hand-screened piece with Nathan’s address as 325 Valley Street, Providence, R.I. Also, the date 1970 is on the reverse. I would like to know the history of this piece and its current value.
A: Not too long ago, we met a young woman who went on at some length about a piece of her “antique furniture.” She concluded her remarks by saying something like, “It’s very, very old. It had to have been made in the 1960s!”
That made us feel like dinosaurs well on our way to becoming petroleum, but it does reflect on the current marketplace. Some say the marketplace in antiques is passe — including Tim McKeough of the New York Times — and the focus is currently on relatively modern objects with designer names attached.
We recognize the kernel of truth in this assessment. But accessories such as glass, Asian wares, paintings and antique objects seem to be doing very well at auction. The piece in today’s question was made by George Nathan Associates, which was founded in Providence, R.I., sometime in the 1960s, and it’s by no stretch of the imagination “antique.”
We could not find exact dates, but the company tends to be associated with the ’60s and ’70s.
Nathan created brightly colored wall hangings designed for home decoration in rooms such as dens and barrooms. The images were silk-screened on a wooden board or boards with images that ranged from American folk art images such as little girls on rocking horses or colonial troops to humorous pieces with sayings such as “Support the two-party system — one party a week is not enough” or “The hurrieder I go, the behinder I get.”
Nathan also produced advertising mirrors, clocks and thermometers with images from such products as Jell-O, Grape-Nuts, Old Dutch Cleanser, Cream of Wheat and Schlitz. Your piece is a tobacco advertisement with a Native American “princess” holding an oversized leaf of tobacco and sitting on containers holding cigars and other tobacco products. The color scheme is an orange background with varying shades of green.
The pieces often have a distressed finish to make them look old, but any real damage or distressing caused by abuse or hard use would constitute a significant deduction in value. Buying this for $5 Canadian was a fairly good deal because the piece has an insurance value between $35 and $50 American.
Q: I purchased these decoys at a flea market on Cape Cod in the 1980s and cannot seem to find a match online for the brand name “Hard,” which is stamped into the bottom of each. Are you able to assist with any information?
A: We would like to have ducked this question because we know so little about hunting decoys. But with more than a little help from our friends — namely, Russ Goldberger of RJG Antiques in Rye, N.H. — we are willing to take a proverbial shot at it.
The cork birds are depictions of lesser scaup. According to Goldberger, the decoys were made on the South Shore of Long Island, N.Y. They have pegged wooden heads and bodies made from cork, which Long Island hunters often salvaged from recycled life vests and life rafts.
They appear to have been made about 1950, and the maker was probably John Boyle of the Incorporated Village of Bellport, N.Y. (Suffolk County, Long Island). The Boyle family came to Brooklyn in the 1860s and established itself in the sail-making business, but John H.B. Boyle had little interest in the family business and moved to Bellport on Long Island in the 1920s.
There Boyle established himself as a hunter and maker of decoys both for himself and for his friends. According to the Ward Museum of Salisbury University in Salisbury, Md., Boyle patterned his black duck and broadbill decoys after the work of George Robert of Mastic, N.Y.
Boyle is credited with helping organize the 1923 Bellport Decoy Show, which is thought to be the first decoy show held in the United States.
Our specialist Goldberger also tells us the “Hard” mark refers to Aaron Hard, the gunner who owned the group of decoys (called a “rig”) and branded them with his name. The name also appears on Mason Brant decoys, but the pair was not made by that prestigious Detroit factory.
Unfortunately, the duo of decoys in today’s question appears to be repainted and their tails look to be chewed up. If the photos we have are deceiving and the pair is not repainted, the value might be as much as $200 for the pair. But if they are indeed refurbished, that value would drop to approximately half that figure.
Q: I have an old rocking chair about which I can get no information. I have had it since my mom passed away some 10 years age, and I believe she had had it at least 40 years before that. I am planning on selling it but do not know if it is worth a couple of hundred dollars or a couple of thousand. I would appreciate any help you can give me.
A: First of all, this is an unusual rocking chair, but that does not mean that it has an extraordinary monetary value.
The carved heads at the tops of the side posts are whimsical and fun but are not finely executed. The rest of the embellishment on the piece appears to be small areas of scroll work on the slat back where it fits into the side posts. Again, pleasant work, but not exceptional.
However, as we studied the photos, a weird off-the-wall idea lodged in our brains and would not go away.
The tops of the side posts curve over the top of the carved heads, and they strongly remind us of the very famous statue of Kamehameha I (1758-1819), the founder of the Hawaiian state in Honolulu. This may just be our fevered imaginations, but the scroll decoration looks a little Polynesian, too.
The Hawaiian monarchy officially ended in 1895. Could this chair, which was made somewhere in the 1895 to 1910 time frame, have been made in tribute to the kings and queens of Hawaii? The resemblance may not mean anything, but we think it needs to be checked out in more detail.
When we first saw the photo, we thought it was a slam dunk that the wood was golden oak. But there is a slim possibility the wood could be either mango or silky oak, but an in-person inspection by a specialist would be necessary.
It is probable that the wood is golden oak and the rocking chair has a retail value in the $350 to $450 range. But, in the unlikely event the wood is mango or silky oak and the Hawaiian connection can be firmly established, that worth could soar.
Helaine Fendelman and Joe Rosson have written a number of books on antiques.