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Welcome to our August 2011 Newsletter!

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News from the world of art and antiques

$15.9M Stradivarius violin sets record, will benefit Japan relief effort

Written by AFP Wire Service
Tuesday, 21 June 2011

LONDON - A rare Stradivarius violin smashed the world record on Monday after selling for over £9 million ($15.9 million) at a London auction, with all proceeds to help victims of Japan's devastating earthquake and tsunami.

An anonymous bidder at the Tarisio auction house paid £9,808,000 ($15,894,000, 11,076,000 euros) for the 1721 "Lady Blunt" Stradivarius, over four times the previous auction record for a Stradivari violin.

The exquisite instrument was owned for 30 years by Lady Anne Blunt, granddaughter of the celebrated English poet Lord Byron, and is "in much the same condition as when it left its maker's hands," expert W.E. Hill said.

The violin was acquired by the Tokyo-based Nippon Music Foundation in 2008, and 100 percent of the funds from the sale will be channelled to victims through the group's Northeastern Japan Earthquake and Tsunami Relief Fund.

The violin was one of 21 string instruments held by the foundation, which loans instruments free of charge to top class musicians around the world. Around 600 violins made by Italian master craftsman Antonio Stradivari are still in existence.

"The Nippon Music Foundation sees the instruments in its care as irreplaceably important," the group said before the sale.

"However, it has decided that the extremity of the disaster in northeastern Japan is something that overrides such feelings and is therefore selling the instrument to aid the people of that area," it said.

Wynn buys $12.7M Chinese vases for Macau casino

Written by Associated Press - Friday, 08 July 2011

LAS VEGAS - Wynn Resorts has acquired a rare set of antique Chinese vases to adorn its newest resort in the Chinese gambling enclave of Macau.

The Las Vegas-based company announced Friday it paid more than $12.7 million for four porcelain vases Thursday at a Christie's auction in London.

The company says the price is more than double the world auction record for similar artifacts.

The vessels date from the late 1700s and early 1800s. Wynn Resorts says the only similar examples belong to the British Royal Family.

Buying the pieces is part of the Wynn company's project to bring Chinese art back to China.

The vases will be on display in a company resort set to open in 2015 on Macau's Cotai Strip.


Stolen Br'er Rabbit statue recovered, but damaged

Written by Associated Press - Wednesday, 17 August 2011

Eatonton, Ga. (AP) - The stolen statue of Br'er Rabbit has been recovered, but the storybook character is a little worse for wear.

Putnam County Sheriff Howard R. Sills told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution that he recovered the statue Monday not in a briarpatch but in the woods off Georgia 16, about five miles east of Eatonton.

The 3-foot iron statue, which weighs about 250 pounds, is going to need some repairs. The rabbit's tobacco pipe and left ear were broken.

The statue was stolen Aug. 7 from the Uncle Remus Museum. Sills said the incident apparently began as a prank. He said authorities expect to arrest four suspects.

Br'er Rabbit is a character in the famed Uncle Remus tales penned by Georgia author Joel Chandler Harris, who once lived in Eatonton.

Curator waits patiently for someone to open antique safe
Written by Valerie Wigglesworth, Dallas Morning News - Tuesday, 05 July 2011

FRISCO, Texas (AP) – In a Frisco museum, there sits a mystery made of steel. This 3,700-pound Mosler cannonball safe once held the riches of a railroad town. Today, the bronze-colored behemoth sits frozen shut because of a design guaranteed to thwart bank robbers at the turn of the 20th century.

Its possible contents likely have captured imaginations among the hundreds of schoolchildren who each year tour the Frisco Heritage Museum. Frisco Public Library director Shelley Holley, who oversees the museum, is curious too.

She said the city has talked to a handful of experts. But their safecracking solutions call for breaching the hull of manganese steel. The antique safe – with its ornate lettering and original finish – is too valuable for that, she said.

“Our job is finding someone who has enough experience and won't damage it in the process,” Holley said. “Locksmiths who are willing to try are a dime a dozen, but they all want to drill out the back.”

The census listed Frisco's population as 332 in 1910, the year the Mosler cannonball likely arrived by rail in a community of cotton farmers. It's anyone's guess how it was hauled several blocks uphill along a dirt road to Frisco Guaranty State Bank.

But it was surely an event for the bank, which opened with one employee that September, along Main Street between the railroad tracks and the cattle trail to the east. “If you spent the money to have a cannonball safe, you wanted to display it,” Holley said. “You wanted everyone to know that you had one, so that people weren't constantly kidnapping your bank president.”

That was the way bank robbers worked back then: Kidnap the president, force him to open the safe at gunpoint late at night when no one was around, and then ride out of town before anyone was the wiser.

The Mosler safe put a stop to that, with a triple time-lock mechanism behind its combination lock. It could be opened only after a set amount of time passed on its internal clocks, among the finest timepieces of the day.

When the Frisco bank closed its doors in 1928, the town went without a bank for nearly two decades. Tenants came and went at the building at Fourth and Main. Then in 1947, First State Bank opened there, with Jack Scott Jr.'s father as the cashier. The Mosler safe, which sat inside the vault, became part of the daily operations.

Scott, who started working at the bank in 1964 at age 21 and later became its president, said the safe was used to store cash, savings bonds and loan collateral. A separate compartment inside was secured with another combination lock. Scott said that's where the bank kept the $500 and $1,000 bills.

When the bank moved to a new location, Scott said, he never considered moving the Mosler. It had simply outlived its usefulness.

Ownership of the safe went to the city of Frisco in 1977, when it bought the old bank building for its City Hall. Jan Alexander, who was Frisco's tax assessor and collector at the time, said the city stored records and its postage meter in the vault but left the cannonball safe untouched.

“I don't think we ever opened it,” she said. “It probably just died of old age.”

But the Mosler gained new fans after it was moved in 2008 to the Frisco Heritage Museum.

“We thought the only thing that was stopping us from getting it open was finding someone with the combination,” Holley said.

Scott still remembered the code – a single number. “I must have opened that safe a couple thousand times,” the retired Frisco banker said.

While he was able to get through the first door, the second, with that time-lock mechanism, didn't budge.

Holley said the city has considered putting out a call to experts and holding a safecracking party. Maybe make it a fundraiser.

“We would love to find someone who feels like they really do have the skill set and would be willing to perform under pressure with cameras and people watching, so we could all discover together what's in there,” Holley said.

But what if there's nothing in there?

Images come to mind of Geraldo Rivera's much-hyped opening of Al Capone's vault on live television in 1986, Holley said. The TV newsman had a medical examiner and IRS agents on hand to catalog any contents the famed gangster may have hidden away. Millions watched as crews blasted through walls to find only a few empty bottles. Holley wonders about the Mosler: “Is the romance of not knowing what's in it more powerful?”

The Care and Feeding of Antiques


Dexter S. Augier by Dexter S. Augier

The Making of a Bronze Sculpture. . .
         . . .or What is this “Lost Wax” business?

Bronze is an alloy, which means it is a blend of several metals, usually copper, tin, zinc, and lead, that can be forged (hammered) or cast relatively easily, it lasts forever, and takes on a beautiful patina. Because of these attributes, it has been used to express artistic creativity for over 3000 years.

Whether you call them sculptures, statues, figurines, or just bronzes, practically all were made using the exotic sounding lost wax method of casting, often called by its French name; cire perdue.

The other method of casting is called sand casting, where a model is pressed into a bed of special sand which retains the shape of the original and is then filled with molten bronze. This method lends itself to flat, two-dimensional objects and is rarely used for full bodied art pieces.

The actual process of lost wax casting has several stages, and a lot of skill is required beyond that of the original sculpture who created the object. These steps are carried out by an art foundry, and while quite involved, it is still the only really satisfactory method of obtaining an accurate and sensitive reproduction of the original model.

In a nutshell, lost wax is so called because a wax model of the sculpture is covered with a fire-proof mold. The wax is melted out, and the vacant space is filled with molten bronze…hence, the wax is “lost”.

There are three basic lost wax methods, two of which destroy the original wax model and the fire-proof mold, making it possible to only produce one casting. These first two methods are less expensive than the third, but are often chosen because sometimes the artist, or his client, only wants one bronze.

The third technique preserves the artist’s original model, and makes it possible to produce multiple copies. This method is probably the most common. Here’s the way it works:

The artist creates an original model of clay, wood, stone, plaster, etc.

Then a mold is made. The original model is covered with a coat of some kind of rubber, like latex or silicone, and this is covered with a rigid outer mold like plaster or fiberglass. These molds are in two or more pieces, with keys or pegs to line them up so they can be accurately put back together.

Wax is now poured into the mold, covering the rubber to about 1/8” to ¼” thickness.

Once cooled, this hollow wax copy of the original model is removed from the mold. Multiple wax copies can be made using the same mold.

At this stage, the artist can refine the wax copy, remove any mold lines or flashing, and can also add detail. Remember, the finished product will look just like this wax model.

Now, a network of solid wax rods (like candles without the wicks) is attached to the outside of the wax copy. These will become pathways for the molten bronze.

This whole article is then coated inside and out with a ceramic-like slurry. This substance is called a refractory coating.

This “ceramic” coated piece is put into a kiln to harden the ceramic, and to melt out all the wax. This is the source of the term lost wax. The wax is now gone, leaving a negative space that is identical to the artwork.

This ceramic piece is heated and nestled into a tub of sand for support, then the molten bronze is poured through the network where the wax rods were and into the space where the wax was melted out.

After this has cooled, the ‘ceramic’ is hammered and sandblasted away, revealing the rough casting. All the network of wax rods is now bronze as well, and these are cut off and melted down for reuse.

Next the rough casting is attacked by the chiseller, and he can be just as important as the founder. His job is to saw, file, and chisel off the excess metal, and to hand chase the finishing details into the bronze. Often this work is done by the artist, to give the finished bronze the quality of detail he or she desires.

Finally, the piece is given its patina. As the bronze now sits, it is shiny like a new penny…and yes, if left alone it would gradually oxidize and acquire its own protective patina. However, the final color is still part of the artist’s conception, and he or she will oversee its creation. Depending on the color the artist wants, they will apply chemicals, waxes, lacquers, gold leaf, or even smoke! The smoke from certain twigs, like green willow, and or old shoe leather will produce distinctive and desirable patinas.

In some situations, the artist will only make one or two castings. However, most of the time, the artist would contract with the foundry in order to lower his cost. Sometimes the artist sold the original model to the foundry, which then produced the bronze and sold it themselves. Another arrangement would be for the foundry to produce a numbered or signed edition, and then have the rights to produce additional un-numbered and un-signed pieces which again they would sell themselves.

The extent and superiority of the finishing detail is very important. It is the best way of determining the intrinsic and artistic value of a piece. Also the artist’s signature, especially coupled with the founder’s mark, are important factors. The closer the piece is to the artist’s hands, the better the quality. You should also be aware that it is not uncommon for copies to be made from earlier originals, especially if the originals are important and easy to sell. The copyist simply makes a mold off the original. Fortunately, the nature of this type of fraud is to make money, and they are therefore produced without much attention to detail. The resulting quality is “dull” and the features rounded, making them easy to identify.

European Bronze Statuettes by Anthony Radcliffe, London, 1966
Bronzes of the 19th Century by Pierre Kjellberg, USA, 1994
Western Sculptors in Bronze by James Mackay, England, 1977
A Concise History of Bronzes, by George Savage, NY, 1969

Bronze Sculpture, France, c.1860.

The well detailed figure of a young girl in classical dress trying to hide a bird’s nest from the kitten on her shoulder. The figure is attached to a black marble base with ormolu mounts. 

Base: 6.5” wide x 4.5” deep.
Overall height: 13”.



Did you know...?

by Dexter S. Augier

…that the world's largest bronze monument is located in…you guessed it… “Everything’s bigger in Texas”. It’s called The Trail Drive and it’s in Pioneer Plaza, west of Dallas City Hall.

It was created by artist Robert Summers of Glenrose, Texas, and it is 450 feet long, with between 40 and 50 (some disagreement to the actual number) Texas Longhorn steers with six foot horn spans being driven by three cowboys on horseback. It was built to commemorate the trails that brought settlers to Dallas, and is installed on the actual location of the 1850s Shawnee Trail Drive. It took the artist only two and a half years to complete the project!


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