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Books Received

M.A.D. staff | August 18th, 2013

These are brief reviews of books recently sent to us. We have included ordering information for publishers that accept mail, phone, or on-line orders. For other publishers, your local bookstore or mail-order house is the place to look.


The Value of Art: Money, Power, Beauty by Michael Findlay (Prestel, 2012, 208 pp., hardbound, $29.95).

“Just as no work of art is made great for having cost a fortune, neither is great art made less great for being sold at a reasonable price,” writes Michael Findlay in a book that should make you look at and enjoy the art you own. Findlay claims that “the value of art is threefold: the possibility of maintaining or increasing its commercial value; the society of like-minded enthusiasts; and the private enjoyment of contemplating the work itself.” He brings nearly 50 years of experience to his task of “writing for the amateur.” He defines an amateur as an “art lover” (from the Latin amare, to love), that is, a person who engages in a particular activity for pleasure, not profit.

Born in Scotland, Findlay came to the U.S. in 1964 and found a job with art dealer Richard Feigen at $50 a week. In time he became part of the SoHo gallery scene, presenting solo exhibitions for then unknown artists such as John Baldessari, Stephen Mueller, Sean Scully, and Hannah Wilke. In 1984 he joined Christie’s as head of Impressionist and modern paintings and rose to be international director of fine art, serving on the board of directors until 2000. Then he moved on to Acquavella Galleries in New York City. He is one of five co-directors of Acquavella, a firm founded in 1921 that in 1990 joined with Sotheby’s to acquire the stock of the Pierre Matisse Gallery.

Inspired by the Three Graces—Thalia, Euphrosyne, and Aglaea (the youngest)—Findlay cleverly divides his book into three parts. Thalia, the goddess of fruitfulness and abundance, represents commerce, the investment part of owning art; Euphrosyne, the goddess of joy, represents society, the social aspects of collecting art; and Aglaea is the goddess of beauty, the essential (or intrinsic) value of art.

We know what art costs, but do we know what it is worth? asks Findlay. He criticizes the art press for headlining record prices at auction when auctions are but a fraction of the art market, and the highest prices are negotiated by dealers. He dislikes the fact that we talk about the price of art; he wants us to concentrate on what we see. He quotes museum directors, collectors, and artists, including the Chinese artist Ai WeiWei, who says, “China, since ancient times, has held the value of art to be equal to that of philosophy…very different from art’s role in the West.”

In discussing what determines the commercial value of art, what makes a specific work of art valuable, Findlay weaves a short history of the contemporary art market from the time of the first Robert and Ethel Scull collection sale in October 1965 to today and even speculates on what the market will look like in 2020. (“Contemporary” used to be defined as current art; now it is art created since 1945.) He explains art indexes and art appraisals. He has been on the advisory panel of the IRS’s Art Appraisal Services since 2001.

Findlay also covers art investment funds. Only two have ever worked. One was founded in 1904 by a young French financier, André Level, who with 12 friends bought works by artists who were still unfamiliar, such as Gauguin and Monet, and by complete unknowns, such as Picasso, Matisse, and Vuillard. They put away a total of 150 paintings. After ten years they put everything up for auction, and their return was approximately four times their investment. They gave 20% of their profits back to the artists. On their side was galloping inflation and timing; 1914 was just before the War to End All Wars began. Less successful, but often cited as a positive example, was the British Rail Pension Art Fund established in 1975 with $100 million, which was 2.5% of the pension fund’s total assets. The sell-off between 1987 and 1999 returned 11.3% compounded annually, but almost all of that came from the increase in value of just 25 Impressionist paintings. It is nice to have market history all together in one slim book.

Findlay believes in market cycles. There used to be five- or six- or seven-year cycles; the art market would peak and then dip fairly abruptly, only to start all over again. The last cycle like this began in the in the early 1980’s and reached a high in 1990. It dropped precipitously in 1991 with a recovery that began in 1995 and was steady through 2002, followed by six boom years and an abrupt correction in 2008, prompted by the international credit crisis. We are now in a recovery phase.

He writes about his peeves, such as people in museums with audio guides or standing and reading wall labels instead of looking at the works of art. In 2011 the Metropolitan Museum of Art announced that it was wiring itself for Wi-Fi so that patrons would be able to read and watch videos about the art museum on their phones and tablet computers. This will be “so very much more entertaining than looking at the motionless and silent paintings on the walls,” Findlay points out sarcastically. “Nothing beats the real thing,” he writes.

In explaining that rarity affects price, he notes that there are far fewer post-World War II works of art available than 19th- and early 20th-century works because many of the artists were not prolific. Moreover, “important works by Kline, Rothko, Pollock, and de Kooning were acquired already in the 1950s by American and European museums. A decade later, European collectors like Count Giuseppe Panza de Biumo in Italy and Dr. Peter Ludwig in Germany built large collections of major works by Johns, Rauschenberg, Rosenquist, Lichtenstein, Warhol, Claes Oldenburg, and others that are now in the Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles and the Ludwig Museum in Cologne.”

Findlay wants us to know what art is, not what it means. He insists that the “essential value of art…is best absorbed privately and personally, and for us to access it we have to put aside the commercial (how much it is worth in dollars) and the social (the fame of the artist, be he Leonardo or Rothko) and learn to concentrate, quietly, on just what we see.”

Findlay contends that although the commercial art world will be dominated for decades to come “by the unique movable object (painting, drawing, sculpture, print), the vanguard of contemporary art tends toward work that is temporal, collaborative, and essentially uncollectible in the traditional manner.” This grew out of art performances and installations that began in the 1960’s. “The battles of the last century (abstract v. figurative; new realism v. Pop) have given way to a multiplicity of styles and media, each with its own promoters accommodating a wide variety of tastes from the ethereal to the didactic.” He concludes that although beauty “may be a currently outmoded word to describe the essential value of art, particularly contemporary art,” he nonetheless advises readers to “go for what appeals to your senses, not your rational mind.”

L.S-C.


A Glorious Empire: Archaeology and the Tudor-Stuart Atlantic World, edited by Eric Klingelhofer (Oxbow Books, distributed by The David Brown Book Company, 2013, 194 pp., hardbound, $80 plus S/H from The David Brown Book Company, [www.dbbconline.com] or [860] 945-9329).

This very brief review cannot do justice to this collection of 15 essays in tribute to Ivor Noël Hume that highlight new archaeological discoveries and research. So, it is decided, you must buy and read this excellent book.

Eric Klingelhofer has compiled essays from archaeologists and curators with new findings on the material culture of the Tudor-Stuart period (17th and early 18th centuries). Scholarly and fascinating, these essays pay tribute to Ivor Noël Hume as “a founding father of Early Modern Archaeology on two continents.” Most of the contributors worked with Hume, and all have been influenced by his work.

Each essay stands alone with its own bibliography and notations. In them readers will visit Jamestown and other areas of Colonial America, and Ireland, Britain, and Canada. A few highlights, so as not to spoil all of the fun, are an essay on the importance of copper in the survival of the Jamestown colony and one on the multiple layers of etchings on a slate discovered in a well at Jamestown. Representing projects from across the Atlantic are writings on clay tobacco pipes, North Devon slipware, glass wine bottles, and an update on a plantation excavation in Ulster.

In the preface Klingelhofer discusses his professional relationship with Hume and the projects in which they worked together, and he provides background on this publication. He also lists Hume’s honors and awards and includes a select list of Hume’s bibliography, which is, of course, extensive. “Reminiscences” gives room to other professionals to share personal stories of working with Hume. Klingelhofer also reprinted an editorial essay by Hume from 1989 that explains the job of a historical archaeologist in an era when archaeology’s relevance has waned in the public’s eye. The frontispiece is a warmly inviting portrait of Hume painted by Wayne Barrett that glows with personality.

There is much to learn within only 194 pages that will please historians, collectors of material culture, museum professionals, students, and anyone with an interest in our collective past.


The Whitney Navy Revolver: A Reference of the Models and Types, 1857-1866 by Daniel E. Williams, Jr. (Schiffer Publishing Ltd., 2012, 112 pp., hardbound, $45 from Schiffer Publishing, [www.schifferbooks.com] or [610] 593-1777).

Here is a new reference for the “classic” Whitney Navy revolver. The author conducted a two-year survey of Whitney Navy revolvers in order to update the classification of Whitney Navys by type and model. The book is interesting to read for its history and insights on the development of the revolver. The survey, which was available on line or by mail for owners to submit detailed information about their revolver, is reproduced in the appendix. The 370 examples submitted provided valuable data, which Williams details with a few simple charts for visual learners and then offers a brief analysis.

The Whitney Navy was not as popular as the Colt revolver, but it was “Whitney’s most successful revolver.” The brief history of Eli Whitney’s start in producing firearms and the history and ownership of the company are succinct but sufficient. The revolver is the main attraction. Williams begins with describing the pistol and then shows and tells how to find the serial number. The revolver’s features are illustrated as separated parts. The overview of the types and models includes photographs and descriptions. More history is found in the chapters on the revolver’s use in the Civil War by the Confederate and the Union armies. The Whitney Navy was sold to other countries as well. These pistols are given their own chapter. A chapter each on conversions and revolvers with fancy ivory and/or engraved grips rounds out the book.

The book is well researched (there are endnotes and a bibliography), written, and edited. It is organized logically, and large photographs show off details that collectors and dealers will appreciate. Appendices provide serial numbers tested by the Navy Ordnance Yard in Washington City in 1864 and estimates of serial number ranges by date. There is also a list of revolvers that were owned by famous persons and photographs of relic “attic finds.”


European Bayonets of the American Civil War by David Noe and Joseph Serbaroli, Jr. (Mowbray Publishing, 2013, 216 pp., softbound, $35.99 plus S/H from Mowbray Publishing, [www.gunandswordcollector.com] or [800] 999-4697).

The authors have written this book on Civil War bayonets in an effort to consolidate information from various sources, including original research from primary sources. The examples are grouped by the nationality of the maker—British, Austrian, German, French, Belgian, Spanish, American (for foreign arms), and other—and further organized by model. Black-and-white photographs of soldiers with bayonets and detailed photographs of bayonets allow readers to see the distinctive forms,  marks, and inscriptions clearly.

The authors also include examples of bayonets that because of misinformation have been marketed as Civil War artifacts but are not. Two appendices follow the index. The second, “Imported Blades for ‘American’ Bayonets,” includes “new information” that was discovered late in the publication process. In the front is an explanation of how to use this book and a guide to measurements, and the appendices appear after a glossary of terms, notes, a bibliography, and an index.


The Serapis Fraktur by Mark Clay Grove (Spitfire Publishing, 2013, 303 pp., softbound, $14.99 plus S/H from Mark Grove, [www.mgrove.com]).

It’s the year 2640, and collector Charles Dawes has just awakened from the cryogenic sleep he was put into after a terrible car accident in 2010. Dawes finds that the world has changed tremendously in those 630 years, though M.A.D., his favorite trade paper, is still being published. A time travel machine allows the rescue of historical artifacts, such as the contents of the ancient libraries of Alexandria and Serapis, and allows the “extraction” of historical figures from the past. Dawes is elected monarch “for life and with absolute power” and must battle terrorists who attack an orbital city.

Grove describes his imaginative tale as a “PG-rated adventure story” that is “old-fashioned in the sense that there is a moral to the story.” It will probably appeal most to fans of speculative fiction. Readers who prefer more realistic settings can look forward to another novel that Grove says is in the works. It will feature the same main character but will be set in the present day.


Candlewick: The Crystal Line, Revised 3rd Edition by Bob and Myrna Garrison (Schiffer Publishing Ltd., 2012, 176 pp., softbound, $29.99 from Schiffer Publishing, [www.schifferbooks.com] or [610] 593-1777).

The original edition of this book on Imperial Candlewick crystal glass was published after the authors, who avidly collected Imperial Glass, dug through company records, catalogs, and archives for many months. As they compiled their research, they assembled what is believed to be a complete inventory of the line, which includes just over 700 pieces and sets.

This price guide illustrates all the glassware considered to be in the crystal production. The updated prices reflect a flooded market, where serious collectors have stopped buying and new buyers are purchasing pieces at low prices. However, the guide notes that the prices are based on “what a knowledgeable buyer will pay a knowledgeable seller for an item.” The glassware is nicely photographed on a blue background, and there are captioned descriptions with sizes, mold and pattern numbers, and prices, plus further notes where needed. Items are grouped by type, and the book includes some undocumented, reproduction, similar, and rare items. A price list in the back allows for quick reference.


The Draped Bust Half Dollars of 1796-1797: Numismatic Background and Census by Jon P. Amato, Ph.D. (Heritage Auctions, 2013, 338 pp., softbound, $59.95 plus S/H from Heritage Auctions, [www.HA.com/JonAmato]).

This focused study of draped bust half dollars from 1796 and ’97 is as comprehensive as possible, barring the omission of any examples hidden away or lost during the centuries. Amato begins with a brief history of the coin and its relationship to the first bank of the U.S. He discusses its design changes and offers theories about who was involved in making the changes. Die varieties are discussed, and large photographic examples exhibit the cracks and differences in the dies. A list of collections with these half dollars and two humorous news clippings about half dollars add interest.

Amato explains that the half dollar examples came from auctions, public and private collections, and other places, and he provides a technical grading system based on coin wear. Each of the 270 coins in the survey is given a full page that includes obverse and reverse illustrations and a description, grade, a list of identification markers, provenance, a serial number, and notes.

Amato concludes with a summary and an interpretation of his findings. He invites readers to respond by mail or e-mail, and a Web site has been established through Heritage Auctions, for which he catalogs numismatic auctions, where updates and new discoveries will be posted.


Originally published in the September 2013 issue of Maine Antique Digest. © 2013 Maine Antique Digest

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