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Originally posted December 19, 2011, on the now-defunct Mid-Century Vibe blog.

One of the tough things about the antiques and vintage market is knowing what you’ve got. Identifying objects can be difficult on several fronts.

1) You have to be able to figure out what an object actually is. Here’s an example:

What is it?

What is it?

This looks like a fat drinking glass or a deep, narrow bowl. It’s labeled “Salem” right under one of the yellow leaves (you can see the fine print in the pic).

The mystery object next to a BC drinking glass.

The mystery object next to a BC drinking glass.

Here’s our mystery object next to a standard drinking glass, so you can see the scale.

Erik researched the object, but couldn’t find anything remotely close in description. We put it in our shop space without an identifying label because we didn’t know what it was.

And then Erik brought home an ice bucket. While researching it online, he found glass ice buckets inside wire frames. The glass ice buckets were the same shape as our mystery object. Mystery solved!

2) Another problem with identification comes in figuring out the materials used in a particular object. Some materials are more valuable than others, so this has to be considered in pricing. Materials can also help determine a production date for items.

Here we have two floral bowls:

Floral bowl, pinks & greens.

Floral bowl, pinks & greens.

Floral bowl, daisies on a field of green.

Floral bowl, daisies on a field of green.

Daisy bowl inside pink floral bowl, to show scale.

Daisy bowl inside pink floral bowl, to show scale.

These bowls (found within days of each other – there’s that serendipity again) appear to be made of fabric that is coated with resin. You can actually see the folds in the fabric when you look at the bowls closely.

Trouble is that we can’t figure out the era of these bowls, even though we kind of know the materials. (Or are we wrong about the materials?) When were resin-coated fabric bowls popular? Are these vintage or current?

These bowls inspired this blog post because of the identity issues we’re having with them. If you can help us identify them, please leave a comment.

[Addendum – January 9, 2012: We have since discovered that these bowls are made of laminated fiberglass, a technique dated to the 1950s and 1960s. We found a bowl with a daisy pattern similar to the one we have that was made by West Bend. We also found a set of bowls like the pink one on Flickr. Our daisy bowl measures 11″ in diameter. The pink floral one measures 14″ in diameter.]

3) Another object identification problem can be in figuring out the manufacturer. People in the antiques business are known for flipping items over to find a maker’s mark. If there isn’t a mark, we are disappointed because it stymies our research.

Rather than show you one of the many items without marks in order to illustrate this point, I’ll show you a maker’s mark that is ideal for dealers and collectors.

Maker's mark: West Bend Penguin Hot & Cold Server

Maker's mark: West Bend Penguin Hot & Cold Server

This West Bend maker’s mark tells us not only the company name, but what the object is called. If more marks were like this, antique dealers would have a much easier job … although it might not be as fun!

So I don’t leave you in suspense about what the rest of the West Bend Penguin Hot & Cold Server looks like, here’s another pic:

West Bend Penguin Hot & Cold Server

West Bend Penguin Hot & Cold Server

This item and the Salem ice bucket above are available at our space at Rural Origins Antiques, Royalton, MN. We’ve decided to keep the daisy bowl because it’s cute and goes with a painting we own. We’re also partial to the pink floral bowl and are planning to keep that for the time being. That’s part of the fun of selling items we like.🙂