Whitehall Blog

Archive for August, 2011

Melting the Family Heirlooms?

Tuesday, August 30th, 2011

Since last Fall one would need to live on the moon to be unaware of the skyrocketing value of SILVER–not gold, at least not in percentages of increase.  Using approximate statements, gold has increased by one third in the past year and silver has increased by about 110%–and silver is what most Americans own from dreadful 1950′s bon bon dishes to grandma’s flatware.

What should you be doing with that silver in the cabinet and what should be the importance of age and quality when considering “scrapping” your silver?  This is not an easy question but it is one deserving of some special thought by all of us who love antiques and beautiful objects.

Frankly I firmly believe that the loss of tons of mediocre flatware and hollow ware made from 1950 onwards is simply no loss.  The scrap value today of around $40 per ounce is far above the extrensic value the objects being melted. (Extrensic value is that imparted to the silver by the maker while the intrinsic value is its value in coin of the realm.)  Personally, one of my own mediocre silver sets which was used everyday went to the melting pot.  I had paid about $500 years and years ago; I kept all the nice serving pieces;  I scrapped the rest of the set for $2,480, of which I used $300 or so to buy a really fine set of high quality stainless steel in a smart design ideal for daily use, easily cleaned in the dishwasher!  At the shop we have sent scads of boring silver to be scrapped–think insipid Revere bowls, boring cake plates, useless finger sandwich servers, hideous tea sets.  I have no regrets.  When you can sell a bowl worth $45.00 a year ago for $115 today, you simply must dance all the way to the bank.

But what about the horror stories of Tiffany silver, antique coin silver, fine Georgian silver going into that overheated melting pot?  Mostly those stories are untrue.  The finest silver has generally sold at retail for $50 to $100 per ounce–well above even today’s highs.  We may reach a point where the fine antiques are endangered–but generally we are no where near there yet.  I do know that many 19th century coin teaspoons are indeed going to the melting pot and it saddens me a bit–but for some reason the vast glut of such pieces has kept their value amazingly low. Many dealers have baskets of coin silver teaspoons in their shops for $15 each–with $30 of silver in each spoon it is not hard to know what is happening to those spoons.  These are the spoons produced by the millions in factories of the 19th century–not 18th century examples, not shell or basket motif spoons, not Southern silver which was mostly melted 150 years ago.

When this all shakes out I fervently believe the remaining silver available on the market will be of superior quality to what we have seen for generations–and that it will command a price reflective of the craftsmanship with which it was created.  This will be true for fine hand-made 20th century silver as well as antique silver.  And I believe the heavy, quality designs of our late Victorian and 20th century factories will also command a deeper respect and garner a greater price.

SO—–scrap the junk and hoard the fine stuff and you will be a very happy camper just in a few years!

Today’s Find

Saturday, August 20th, 2011

Today brought in a gorgeous little coin silver spoon made by the patriot silversmith Samuel Parmele(e) of Guilford,  Connecticut.  Born in 1737 he made silver until the Revolution when he entered the war as a Captain (he also served in the French and Indian War) and he is referred to as a significant leader in many records of American silversmiths.  So the elegant little spoon that came in today pre-dates the Revolution, perhaps by 10 years–and it is exquisite with an upturned tip and an 11 lobed shell on the reverse of the bowl.  There is a period monogram as well.  He was a superb silversmith.  The spelling of the name appears in two forms with one or two “e’s” but the double e is probably correct.

This Business is Fun!

Friday, August 19th, 2011

Today was a wonderful reminder of why this is such a fun business–endlessly fascinating.  From three families came two Cortes paintings, one of rue de la Madeleine and one of Sacre-Coeur; a c. 1730 silver charger of gorgeous quality; a Tiffany sterling cream snd sugar from the family of the great WWI general Stilwell; a marvelous Imari bowl brought from Japan by General Stilwell; an Art Deco silver flatware service which survived WWII in hiding–sadly the young owner committed suicide when she thought she was about to be captured and raped– again– by a group of Nazi soldiers; a George III brass trivet for keeping a kettle warm by the fire; and a hilarious pair of French lithographs of women dressed as plants encountering animals dressed as people!  And while all of this was flowing in for Elizabeth and me to examine, I was giving my grandson his bottle and playing with him in our office!  What other business can hold a candle to the pure joy of this one!

Below are a couple of sneak views of the paintings:

Edouard Cortes, Rue de la Madeleine

Edouard Cortes, Toward Sacre-Coeur

Leathering: A Photo Tour

Tuesday, August 9th, 2011

As promised, here is a tour of how today leathering of surfaces is done by hand as it has been for several hundred years.  You will see the entire process from the cleaned, prepped surface through to the finished surface–it is totally fascinating.  Our leather restorer has a substantial set of bronze 19th century tools which were sold to him by the widow of a fine old English leather restorer–those too are explained as you go through this photographic portrait of this great traditional process.  The alternative today is machine stamped pieces on laminated leather used on all new furniture and frequently ordered by dealers for their antiques (too sad!).

Original Worn Out Surface

This is a late 18th century signed French bureau plat–it is hidden away until our new shipment goes on display September 10th!

Tools For Impressing The Design Into The Leather

These magnificent bronze tools are wheels in a steel frame with a heavy handle–all necessary to create the pressure to impress the designs, either blind or gilded (you will see the difference momentarily).

Notice that the desk surface has been stripped of the old leather, all cracks filled and the surface lightly abraded to accept the glue and leather.


Stamping Tools For Center Points and Corners

Here we have on the prepared surface three various bronze designs for the center of a panel or for the corners to add interest.


The Glue Is Applied

Now the entire surface is rapidly yet carefully covered with wall paper paste–a glue choice that makes the leathering easily reversible, as all good conservation should be.


Fine Leather Is Applied and Smoothed Down

From a range of colors, black cow skin has been selected as more appropriate than the three panels of brown leather that were removed–they dated from the late 19th or early 20th century.  A single panel piece will be used as the drawer configuration does not lend itself aesthetically to a tripartite leather motif–two drawers only.  As a large piece of fine leather is available, there is no need to piece two or three panels together as was done in the now removed surface.


Scoring the Leather

Next the leather is carefully scored to prepare to cut the excess leaving a beautiful panel snug to the edges.


Marking the Decoration Lines

Once the excess is removed a pair of calipers are used to follow the outer edge and mark an inner line where the tooling of the leather will take place.  The decoration will be gilded on this line and the outer edge will have a decorative line with no gilding (the blind line noted earlier).  The purpose of the impressed outer line is the hiding of any imperfections where the leather meets the finished wood.


Impressing or Embossing the Outer Edge

This blind embossed line is achieved through pressure alone–the bronze has not been heated as will be the case when the gold lines are added.


Preparing to Tool and Gild

The craftsman has laid down a line of 24 karat gold foil which will through heat be transfered simultaneously into the impression as the embossing tool is rolled down the line made with the calipers.  NOTICE the extra piece of scrap leather–it is the test panel, as the bronze roller can be neither too hot nor too cool or the process will fail and the entire leather piece must be removed and the entire process begun again!


Heating the Bronze Roller

The bronze roller is heated to the exact temperature, neither too hot nor too cold, with a small torch (creme brule anyone?).


Embossing the Gilt Line

Constantly lifting the gold to make sure the line is being exactly followed, the artisan impresses the desired design motif into the leather simultaneously depositing the melted gold foil into the surface.  This is a painstaking process and one that requires constant temperature maintenance of the wheel–a new test occurs at the end of each run from one corner to the next.  HOWEVER it is not possible to stop and start again in the middle of a run–heat and pressure and position must be maintained from start to finish on each line.


Corner Stamping

With the lines successfully run, the corner stamps are applied.  Notice the test panel–he had trouble getting the bronze to the requisite temperature and several initial stamps on the test panel were unsatisfactory.  This correct heat issue is the most crucial aspect of the entire process–no thermometers or gauges, just experience and trial and error with hopefully no error on the actual desk surface or guess what–start again!!!!!!



Once the surface is fully dried and the gilding all cooled, the surface is polished to a gorgeous glow.


Ready to Use

After 24 hours the entire surface will be dried to a beautiful glow and the desk will be ready for another hundred years of use before this leather wears out!

On the same day our artisan leathered an English double pedestal desk in sheep skin–because the top naturally divided into three panels above the center drawer and the two ranks of side drawers, the fine sheep skins could be used.  Three hides were used to do each panel, each meeting of the skins was hidden by a blind decorative line as well as the blind border line and then the panels were laid out with gilding.  For this a burgundy color was chosen as a foil to the burl walnut–rather than a nice even color, the lamb has great variation in color as the light rose of its initial dying was enhanced and darkened by the artisan to reflect the rich variation of the wood.

And YES–we can have Chandler come to your home or office and restore damaged leather on any surface!





Leathering Antique Desks

Wednesday, August 3rd, 2011

Tomorrow, August 4th at 11am a master craftsman will demonstrate the art of re-leathering old surfaces.  He will be restoring a signed French writing table surface and a small English double pedestal desk surface.  See how the leather is applied, trimmed, tooled and gilded–just as it has been done since the 18th century.  Our cabinetmaker has cleaned and smoothed the surface so he will be getting right to work–don’t miss this fun opportunity!