$65,000 Frogs and Other Outlandish Objects at the Winter Antiques Show
Of the billions of objects produced during civilization's history, very few have endured to the present day. If this year's Winter Antiques Show at the Park Avenue Armory is any indication, those that managed to stand the test of time did so, it seems, at random: A mishmash of more than 70 dealers from around the world have crowded into the Armory's drill hall with objects ranging from a 2,500 year old bronze helmet to a ceramic vase by Picasso and a collection of illustrated 15th century manuscripts.
A few of the objects make intuitive sense: Yes, jeweled objets d'art by Fabergé and stunning vases from Sèvres were likely to (and did!) make the cut. Those are the type of thing people generally do their best not to throw out or destroy. But a pair of ice skates from the 1860s? (Cost: $2,100.) Their survival seems, to the untrained eye, to reflect something closer to blind luck.
The following objects are a mix: a few obviously valuable pieces and many more whose inherent worth might require a balletic leap of faith. If you're in New York, you can check them out yourself from Jan. 22 through Jan. 31.
1. Babylonian Frog Weight, $65,000
"It's worth holding, it has a great feel," said Claire Brown, an associate director of the London gallery, Rupert Wace Ancient Art, as she casually picked up the 2,200 year old sculpture and handed it to a visitor. The weight, which was used as part of the regulated Mesopotamian system of weights and measurement, is a rarity, and not simply because of its evident age. "Weights were mostly in the shape of ducks," Brown explained.
2. English Four-Barreled Flintlock Volley Pistol, $18,000
"It's quite an amazing thing," said Peter Finer, whose eponymous London antique arms-and-armory gallery exhibited a dozen ancient methods of slaughter. "They were used for boarding a ship: In close range, you can get multiple injuries." In an accompanying text, Finer noted that these were popular with officers of the Royal Navy and Merchant Navy, not just for defense against pirates but as a "practical defense against a mutinous crowd in the confined spaces below deck."
3. Massive Lead Urn, $450,000
Commissioned as one of four giant lead urns for the steel magnate Charles M. Schwab's 1,000-acre Loretto, PA estate, the urn weighs "only" 800 pounds, said Alexandra Polemis Vigil, a director at the Gerald Peters gallery. "I think it's surprisingly light, given its size." The urn, titled "Europe," is in good, albeit not pristine, condition. "Several people have scratched their name into it," Vigil said. "There's one on the back that just says 'Bob.'"
4. Colima Terracotta Dog, $12,000
This relatively small, 2,100-year-old sculpture is totally intact and utterly unrestored, which means it somehow made it through two millennia without being dropped. "Dogs symbolized messengers to the other world," said Spencer Throckmorton, president of Throckmorton Fine Art in New York. "And this type of dog was actually the precursor to the Mexican Hairless dog," images of which everyone is encouraged to Google.
5. Monumental Bat Vase, $180,000
This art nouveau vase was made by Amphora Ceramics, a Teplitz, Austria-based company in 1901. "They made lots of pieces for the export market," said James Infante, a New York dealer. "So they made it knowing it would come to America." While certainly not to everyone's taste, clearly several American buyers were interested. "It's probably changed hands half a dozen times," Infante said.
6. 20th Century Copy of Augustus of Prima Porta, $135,000
Barbara Israel, owner of the eponymous garden antiques gallery in Katonah, N.Y., said she found this statue "more or less discarded. It had been slid off a dump truck, so the entire back of it was scraped." The statue, which is 9 feet tall and weighs 6,400 pounds, is a copy of a first century A.D. original that stands in the Vatican Museum. "It's definitely for a large garden of some scale," she said. "It would be amazing at the end of an allée. You'd get closer and closer and then go, 'Oh god, this is enormous.'"
7. Carved, Painted Wedding Scene, $38,500
The tallest figure in this happy, distinctly Tim Burton-like arrangement is nine inches tall. "It's been in a collection in Iowa for the last 40 years," said Barbara Pollack of Highland Park, Ill., antiques dealer, Frank & Barbara Pollack Antiques. The wooden figures, all in the original clothing, wear individual facial expressions, and the altar has pots of straw flowers. Either some original figures are missing or this was a wedding attended by more than the usual ratio of bachelors.
8. 17th Century Beadwork Mirror, $27,000
Made by an upper-class or aristocratic British woman sometime between 1660 and 1680, "each of the beads is either strung or tacked to the frame individually," said Grace Snyder of the Berkshires dealer Elliot and Grace Snyder Antiques. The frame is particularly notable because unlike fabrics, drawings, or even paintings from the same period, "the glass beads hold their color," she said.
9. Ceramic Poodle With Basket, $7,500
This type of ceramic poodle, carrying a basket of fruit in its mouth and made in Bennington, Vt., is actually more common than sculptures of poodles without baskets, said Eric Baumgartner, a senior vice president at the New York gallery, Hirschl & Adler. "When I first saw the draft of our price list, I saw another poodle described as "Poodle [Without Basket]" and I said, 'Why so negative?'"
10. Broadside of the Declaration of Independence, $1.5 million
One of the original pieces of paper used to disseminate the Declaration of Independence ("when everyone was flaming around and fighting for their lives," said Alexander Acevedo, the owner of New York's Alexander Gallery) this news flyer, known as a broadside, was printed within 13 days of the Declaration's signing.