Almost as much fun as finding antiques is reading about them


August 01, 1993|By Lita Solis-Cohen and Sally Solis-Cohen | Lita Solis-Cohen and Sally Solis-Cohen,Contributing Writers

A great way to pass the dog days of summer is relaxing in a hammock or an overstuffed chair with illustrated books about favorite collecting fields. It's a chance to regain energy sapped by forays to flea markets, antiques shows, historic sites or museums, and gain new insights before your next excursions. Of the dozens of new titles, here's a selection that will transport you to some "exhibitions without walls," a perfect term for art books coined by French writer Andre Malraux.

Collectors looking for a great escape can fly high with "En Route: Label Art From the Golden Age of Air Travel," by Lynn Johnson and Michael O'Leary (Chronicle Books, $14.95). Airlines in the pre-jumbo-jet era provided passengers with stylish paper luggage labels, and "En Route" is a first-class graphic chronicle of 1920s to 1960s carriers, many long grounded. Although not a price guide, the book notes that vintage labels generally start at about 50 cents each, rising to around $100 for the most desirable ones.

"Signs of Our Time," by John Margolies and Emily Gwathmey (Abbeville Press, $21.95), is a cross-country celebration of great American road signs -- important and often overlooked icons of advertising art and pop culture. Before the 1965 Highway Beautification Act and ubiquitous shopping malls, America "was a roadside garden of earthly and exotic delights, a mind boggling fantasyland of stupendous signs," the authors observe. Margolies' colorful photos depict flying red horses, neon flamingos, sculptural dinosaurs, oversized Paul Bunyans, and other remarkable signs that beckoned travelers to stop and spend money.

Three new books will be welcome relief for baseball fans who already have memorized their favorite teams' current yearbooks. Baseball Treasures: Memorabilia from the National Pastime," by Douglas Congdon-Martin and John Kashmanian (Schiffer, $59.95), documents the breadth of 19th- and 20th-century artifacts of the diamond and is sure to be a hit despite an unhandy price guide. From Abbeville's winning "Major League Memories" series come two grand slams: "The Dodgers: Memories and Memorabilia from Brooklyn to L.A." and "The Giants: Memories and Memorabilia from a Century of Baseball," both by Bruce Chadwick and David M. Spindel ($21.95 each). Each team's stories are peppered with photographs of memorabilia, some owned by private collectors, others by players or team archives.

Meaty but easy

"The Worlds of Thomas Jefferson at Monticello," by Susan R. Stein, curator of Monticello (Abrams, $65), is a meaty but easy-to-digest catalog of an outstanding exhibition, which commemorates one of America's most remarkable architects, designers, thinkers, leaders and collectors upon the 250th anniversary of his birth. The book documents Jefferson's furnishings, personal effects, paintings, engravings, American Indian artifacts, natural history specimens, books, maps and scientific instruments reunited at Monticello (through Dec. 31) after a lengthy world-wide treasure hunt. (Most of Jefferson's possessions were auctioned off after his death in 1826 by his daughter, Martha Randolph, to pay debts.) Significant objects include the lap desk and comb-back revolving Windsor armchair Jefferson used while drafting the Declaration of Independence.

A valuable new book traces the connoisseurship of a leading collector who left his imprint on the American art world. "Freer: A Legacy of Art," by Thomas Lawton and Linda Merrill (Abrams $49.50), marks the recent reopening of the Smithsonian Institution's magnificent Freer Gallery in Washington, after extensive renovations. Charles Lang Freer (1854-1919), a Detroit industrialist and world traveler, gave the gallery of 19th-century paintings and Asian art to the nation: Among its masterpieces is James McNeill Whistler's famous "Peacock Room," moved to the United States from London.

Another important English import is "The Dictionary of Worcester Porcelain, Vol. I, 1751-1851," by John Sandon (Antique Collectors' Club, $89.50), the long-awaited first volume of a definitive history of England's renowned Worcester factory. Mr. Sandon, director of ceramics and glass at Phillips auction house in London, grew up in Worcester, where he assisted his father, Henry (a noted porcelain expert and author of the series' forthcoming second volume), on excavations at the factory's original site. John Sandon's 22 years of research have resulted in a beautifully illustrated and thorough reference book (including pattern identifications and lists of marks) that no serious ceramics collector or dealer can afford to be without.

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