Inflation may be under control, prices for paintings and furniture may be stabilizing, but as Barron's, the financial weekly, recently reported, the price of trivia is out of control. The cost of movies, haircuts, Good Humors, cable TV and Time magazine is up and up dramatically and so is the cost of trivia in the antiques market. A recent sale in Ephrata, Pa., proves it.
Clyde Youtz, a 79-year-old retired antiques dealer of Lebanon County, sent 365 lots of 18th and 19th century Pennsylvania Dutch stuff to Horst Auction Center for a September sale. There is an old aphorism that holds that for a dealer to do well at auction he has to be dead; no one wants to give him the satisfaction of a bonanza. That is not always true. Mr. Youtz did just fine.
His cookie cutters, spatterware, redware, stoneware, chalkware, fraktur, furniture and Pennsylvania German boxes, textiles, and this and that sold for a total of $319,650.50. Horst does not charge a buyer's premium; the consignor pays the commission, generally 15 to 20 percent of the gross.
It was apparent that the nearly 600 people who came to Ephrata on that gorgeous fall day were there to buy. A miniature cast-iron child's two-piece crimping iron, less than 2 inches wide, sold for $340 to Dave Irons from Allentown, who, fittingly, collects irons and publishes a pressing-iron collectors newsletter. A small cookie cutter, a little over 3 inches top to bottom, in the shape of a hand with a heart in the center, went for $630 to a collector from California. A Lehnware pincushion sold for $3,050 to an Ohio collector and a tiny Lehnware egg cup painted yellow, with pink and green flowers, 2 5/8 inches high, sold for $3,400. (Joseph Long Lehn, 1798-1892, a farmer and woodworker of Elizabethtown Township, Lancaster County, turned and decorated small wooden objects collectors call Lehnware.)
A miniature blanket chest painted yellow and decorated with a brick house and two green trees, signed on the bottom "Christian Beckers," sold for $14,200 to Ed Held, a partner in Old Hope Antiques in New Hope, Pa. A chalkware rabbit a little over 5 inches high, painted yellow, went for $1,800. (It was the yellow paint that did it, proving again that in the antiques world anything yellow -- shaker boxes, yellow ground ceramics, silks -- brings a premium. Without the yellow paint, chalk rabbits generally sell for $700.)
Two small wallpapered bandboxes must have been filled with gold. One 5 1/2 inches in diameter sold for $850 and a smaller one, 4 1/2 inches, sold for $950. Both were decorated in deep blue, orange and yellow and both went to Marietta, Pa., dealer and decorator Harry Hartman, who said he was "doing a job in orange and blue."
The tin items appeared to have been lined with silver. A tin baby feeder called a "mammaly" with its handle at right angles to its spout sold for $400 to Joyce Leiby, a Lancaster dealer. A large tin quilting pattern, 18 inches wide, in the shape of a fleur-de-lis flanked by two seven-petaled flowers, went to a St. Louis collector for $410.
Prices for English pottery made for the American market were very high. The fireworks began when an extremely rare blue spatter teapot with a cannon painted on it sold for $10,300 to a State College, Pa., collector. A schoolhouse pattern plate with a blue spatter border that had won a blue ribbon in the antiques category at the Allentown Fair in 1970 sold for $3,800. A red and yellow rainbow spatter tea bowl and saucer with a thistle painted on it sold for $4,200. A Gaudy Dutch War Bonnet pattern toddy plate, 4 1/2 inches in diameter, sold for $1,750.
"People were as determined as I've ever seen them at an auction. Ladies put their pencils up in the air and just kept them there," remarked Bea Cohen, the Easton, Pa., ceramics dealer who underbid the cannon teapot. She took home a yellow and dark green rainbow spatter master salt with a red thistle in the interior which crossed the block at $2,200.
Redware pie plates with simple slip-trailed decorations sold for $700 and $825; a redware butter tub went for $825. Stoneware prices were even higher. A 1-gallon batter jug with a stenciled snowflake design on its side and a tulip painted below the spout, made by H. Cowden, in Harrisburg, Pa., sold for $3,000. A rare stoneware flower pot decorated with a band of blue free-brushed flowers sold for $1,500. The Maryland man who bought it said he had never seen another.
There were plenty of bidders for fraktur, and strong prices were paid for printed ones as well as those entirely hand drawn. What some considered the finest fraktur in the sale, the Princess of Braunswick fraktur, a birth certificate of Elizabeth Noll, born May 23, 1783, in Lancaster County, drawn by the artist Christian Mertel, went for $17,000 to Mr. Hartman. The houses and the bird that flanked the portrait of the princess were orange and the princess wears an orange dress.
"This is just the tip of the iceberg, I got a lot more at home", said Mr. Youtz, very pleased, after the sale. "I can only afford to have one sale a year; it's the taxes."