April 18, 2011
Appraising pieces of the past
Historical Society fundraiser borrows page from ‘Antiques Roadshow’
Jerry Wilcox studied the large framed portrait of 22 U.S. presidents while the owners, Joseph Wood and his sister Mary, waited for his verdict.
Around them, people perused items for sale Saturday on tables in the basement of Suggett House, the Cortland County Historical Society’s building in Cortland. The occasion was the society’s annual sale of donated items and collectable items that the society does not need for its collection.
Wilcox, a Marathon antiques dealer and estate auctioneer, added a new twist to the event this year by volunteering to appraise items that people brought in, for a small fee donated to the society.
Wilcox examined the portrait of presidents, which had been printed in 1884, and told the brother and sister that it was valuable, but the parquet frame that held it was worth more money.
“This is the sort of thing you would find hanging in a school,” he said.
Wood said that might be true, since the portrait was owned by his maternal grandparents, W. Henry and Estella Currie of Preble, and they were teachers in one-room schoolhouses in the 1920s — Bennett Hollow School in Otselic Valley for Estella Currie, Dawson Road School in Preble for W. Henry Currie.
Wilcox said the frame and portrait were each worth a few hundred dollars.
Wood thanked Wilcox and said he had no intention of selling the item, which showed the presidents from George Washington to Grover Cleveland in oval-shaped portraits.
Wilcox said the people who show him items for appraisal either want to sell them or want to know the value but keep the items in their families, for future generations to sell or just to have as family possessions.
He said he began collecting antiques 50 years ago, when he was 17, and now owns Riverbend Antique Center in Marathon.
“I was an art teacher, I started collecting at 17 and I recall information well, so it adds up to a database in my head,” he said of his ability to recognize an item’s time period of origin and its purpose. “Computers help now, I can’t recall everything, but I can recognize things when they’re just sitting on shelves.”
The items for sale were mostly housewares, toys and decorations. The collectibles were mostly publications and a set of antique dolls.
The historical society raised money through the sale, which was Friday and Saturday, charging admission as well as selling items. Toni Gallagher, the chair, said the society hoped to raise $1,000.
“We had 40 people waiting to get in when we opened Friday,” she said. “We had about 20 collectors, they were swarming through here. We need money. It’s very difficult right now.”
Gallagher said the society is planning two or three bus trips for antiques enthusiasts, another source of revenue as the society charges for the excursions.
Wilcox did his appraisals only on Saturday. Among them were several glass bottles owned by a woman who showed him a bronze carrying case for two cologne bottles, and a couple with an eight-piece silver set, including three tea pots and three platters.
Chris Hotchkiss of Cortland brought in a lamp made of crystal and brass, a wooden cylindrical cabinet, a small oil painting of Napoleon Bonaparte and a tiny watercolor painting of a man.
Wilcox said the cabinet, which had a marble top, dated to the 1860s and would have stood next to a bed, because it was designed to hold chamber pots and pitchers of water. The chamber pots could be used if the person did not want to go to an outhouse in the middle of the night, and the water would be for washing up the next morning.
“You’ll notice there’s no lock on the door — nobody is going to steal these pots,” he said.
He thought the main cylinder was made of mahogany, from a single tree trunk, and the door in it was made of pine.
Wilcox said the watercolor, which came from Bucks County, Pa., was a portrait of a doctor whose name was on the back along with other writing he could not decipher. The painting appeared to be in its original glass.
He told Hotchkiss to remove the glass that encased the oil painting, because “oil paintings should not be put under glass, they are meant to breathe.”
Wilcox did not offer dollar amounts for everything but said some items were worth a few hundred dollars.
Hotchkiss said the items came from the estate of his great-aunt, who lived in McGraw. He did not say what he planned to do, now that he knew some of them held some value.
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