Special exhibition about the architect of Nepean Town Hall

By Shaun Markey – 

Moses Chamberlain Edey (1845 – 1919) was arguably one of Canada’s most notable architects of the late 19th century.

The buildings he designed and frequently helped build in the late 1800’s still dot the Ottawa urban landscape, including Westboro, over 100 years later.

Now, thanks to the efforts of volunteers and his great grandson, his work will be the subject of a special display at the 43rd annual Bytown Antique Show organized by the Bytown Antique and Bottle Club of Ottawa.

Photo of Moses Chamberlain Edey courtesy of Topley Studio / Library and Archives Canada.
Photo of Moses Chamberlain Edey courtesy of Topley Studio / Library and Archives Canada.

Moses designed over 125 buildings in Ottawa and the Valley including the Aberdeen Pavilion –built for the Central Canada Exhibition in 1898 – and the original Nepean Town Hall building, which still stands proudly on Richmond Road in Westboro.

The Edey display includes drawings of buildings, photographs  and a wonderful scale “apprentice” model of a sleigh in wood and metal that he designed and built in 1865, at age of 20.

Born near Shawville, Quebec, and educated first as a carriage maker in Arnprior and then as an architect in the USA, he was a gifted, hands-on architect. He designed The Daly Building, Ottawa’s first department store, the railway station in Aylmer, Quebec along with many other commercial, institutional and residential buildings in Ottawa and the Ottawa Valley.

This is the first time this much of his material has been on public display. His descendants will be on hand to discuss his life and achievements.

Once you’ve viewed the Edey display, you can also visit the show’s 50 dealers who will be offering antiques with an emphasis on nostalgia, advertising, stoneware, bottles, vintage toys, folk art and other small collectibles. It is a fun and interesting opportunity to see antiques and collectibles from Ottawa’s past. Don’t be surprised if you see antiques from Kitchissippi!

The show date is Sunday, April 24 (9 a.m. to 3 p.m.) at the Nepean Sportsplex, 1701 Woodroffe Ave. Admission is $5.

For more information about the club and the annual show visit ottawacollectors.com.

 

Collectable Treasures: Small-scale furniture is the next hot collector’s item

By Shaun Markey – 

Antique collectors always have ways of adding more items to their collections, even when they run out of space. What’s a collector of antique furniture to do when he or she has filled all available space? Simple. Start collecting small-scale antique furniture!

Little antique furniture is a fascinating area of collecting. In fact, pint-sized furniture pieces and other antique accessories are eagerly sought after by collectors and the price points for these pipsqueaks can often reach lofty heights.

As I have pointed out in a previous column, the value of an antique is directly related to some key factors. Age, form, colour, condition and origin are all important.

When I approach any antique object, my mind automatically starts processing the piece through a mental checklist. I’m considering the age of the piece, the form used in its construction, type of wood, the condition of the piece and the colour or finish. If an antique scores high marks on all of these categories I might add it to my collection.

Despite their size, all of these factors come into play with small-scale furniture. That’s why collectors are keen on them. The process of seeking them out, evaluating and acquiring them is exactly the same as the process one goes through for their full-scale cousins. You could easily make the case that it’s even more enjoyable because these small items have a charm about them that regular antique furniture does not.

Little furniture can be functional. Collectors use them to store precious items like jewelry. It’s also fun to display them beside life-size furniture. They can quickly become the highlight of any conversation among collectors. Even non-collectors recognize the charm and attraction of small-scale antique furniture.

From left to right: a miniature chest of drawers with scalloped backboard (16”H / 8.5 W/ 6”D) from Renfrew County; a sewing stand,  (10”H / 6”W / 4” D) from Western Ontario; white child’s china cupboard (24”H / 13”W / 9”D) from Renfrew County; chest of drawers with original porcelain knobs (13”H / 8.5”W /12”D) from Eastern Ontario. Photo courtesy of Shaun Markey
From left to right: a miniature chest of drawers with scalloped backboard (16”H / 8.5 W/ 6”D) from Renfrew County; a sewing stand,  (10”H / 6”W / 4” D) from Western Ontario; white child’s china cupboard (24”H / 13”W / 9”D) from Renfrew County; chest of drawers with original porcelain knobs (13”H / 8.5”W /12”D) from Eastern Ontario. Photo courtesy of E. Iwanchuk

On occasion, makers will sign a drawer bottom with their name. Discovering a penciled note written 100 years ago on the back of a little antique dresser is quite a moving experience. It’s touching to imagine the individual who made the item and signed it so many years ago.

Even within this category, there are a seemingly endless variety of shapes and sizes. It includes everything from miniature furniture, the really small items, to pieces made for children to use, which are roughly half to two thirds the size of pieces intended for use by adults. Much of this little furniture was made as toys, keepsakes or gifts.

In particular, collectors are very interested in what are known as “salesman samples.” These are small versions of furniture made exactly like their full-size counterparts. They have all the same features including moldings, panels, feet, splashboards, drawers etc.  The most common are chests of drawers, dish dressers and drop front desks. There’s quite a variety of small furniture made to store thread, buttons and needles for sewing.

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A great example of a salesman’s sample

Since furniture makers in the old days did not have show rooms, travelling salesmen would carry these samples with them to use as props during their meetings with potential customers. You see these salesman samples in other products as well, like cast iron stoves and certain types of machinery.

The search for small-scale furniture takes collectors to all the usual places. They know their next piece might be found at a flea market, in a shop, at an auction, church rummage sale or a garage sale.

These little pieces of furniture, because of their size, have survived quite well over the years. They are often tucked away in closets, in workbenches or inside of larger pieces of furniture where they can remain for many years until the owner consigns them to a sale and some sharp-eyed collector spies them. Compare that to the fate of full-sized furniture, which is often relegated to a basement or garage where they can degrade quite quickly because of rough use, dampness and neglect.

The values of these little antiques can run the gamut from a few dollars to several thousand. If you find one a hundred years old or more in original paint with good form and in great condition get your cheque book out and be prepared for at least a couple of zeros past the first number. I have seen little pieces of furniture at antique shows with asking prices in excess of $1,500. Dealers know these collectibles are highly desirable and price them accordingly.

One of the advantages of collecting small antiques is that you can simply tuck them under your arm. Gone are the days of trying to squeeze a set of chairs into the back seat of your car or struggling to get that drop leaf table into the trunk. You’ll never again have to cast longing looks at your neighbour’s half ton truck!

As a general rule of thumb, “small” is always good in antiques. That is true of small-scale furniture. Often overlooked, these little creations continue to create joy and fascination for all who collect them.

Shaun Markey has been a collector of Canadian antiques and folk art for over 30 years. He is a long time resident of Westboro and the author of Folk Art in the Attic, a memoir of his antique collecting experiences.  He also writes for some of North America’s leading antique publications including the Maine Antique Digest, Canadian Antique and Vintage, New England Antiques Journal and The WayBack Times.

 

Collectable treasures: Seeing double

Hi Shaun,

I was given this antique stereoscope by my mother. There is also a big tin of the cards that fit into this gizmo. I wonder about its value and resale possibilities. Many thanks for any expert opinions.

Sabrina McTaggart

Hi Sabrina,

You’re right! What you’ve sent me is a photograph of a Holmes “stereoscope” viewer. Oliver Wendell Holmes developed the device in the mid 1800’s. These viewers are quite common, especially the hand held variety such as yours.

This early example of 3D entertainment was once a fixture in Canadian parlours. Photo submitted by Sabrina McTaggart.
This early example of 3D entertainment was once a fixture in Canadian parlours. Photo submitted by Sabrina McTaggart.

Around 1900 and several years thereafter, I imagine there was one of these viewers in most Canadian parlours. They were the equivalent of the modern day video game. They would be brought out to entertain family and friends with images of far off places, cities, towns, parks, exotic animals and the like.

As you know, the card, with parallel images of the same photo, was placed in the wire holder at the end of the unit. One adjusted the focus by sliding or adjusting the position of the photo along the stem in front of the wooden “goggle” section of the unit, which housed two lenses. The double image, one for each eye, enhanced the effect and simulated a three-dimensional viewing experience. I believe a similar model came with a base so it could stand on its own on a tabletop.

The cards, in black and white and colour-tinted, had various themes and are also popular items with collectors.

The retail value of your model would be in the $65 to $95 dollar range. Individual cards can be purchased for $4 to $6 or less depending on their condition. Unusual or hard to find images would cost in the $8 to $15 range and higher, depending on the subject matter. [story continues below]

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It’s interesting that the viewing portion of your stereoscope is finished with bird’s eye maple. The use of “figured” woods always adds an elegant and interesting flair. It also adds to the value especially in furniture pieces.

I have owned a desktop version of a viewer. They are much less common and therefore more difficult to find. They operate much the same way but they are larger in size and not meant for hand held use. The one I had is called a “graphoscope” and was quite showy with extensive use of walnut and pierced decorative wood trim.

The stereoscope was popular for many years and I would hazard to guess that it would still be a popular item if you brought it out at your next house party! Thanks for sending along the photo.

Collectable Treasures is a column by Shaun Markey, a resident of Westboro and the author of Folk Art in the Attic. He also blogs about antiques at folkartintheattic.blogspot.ca. If you have an antique or collectable and are curious about its past and approximate value, email a photo to shaunmarkey@rogers.com. Please make sure that details are visible. Any extra information you can share about your treasure is helpful too. Your item – and its story – might be published in the next column.

Calling all yard sale fans and curious collectors (plus our first evaluation)

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Westboro’s Shaun Markey is the author of a recently published memoir called Folk Art in the Attic, and he’s also behind our newest column: Collectable Treasures.

We’re kicking off a new column, just for you!

This month we’re introducing a new column that will be of interest to yard sale fans, antique collectors, and those of us who have inherited the contents of our grandparent’s closets. Shaun Markey is a resident of Westboro and author of a recently published memoir called Folk Art in the Attic and blogs about antiques and folk art at folkartintheattic.blogspot.caIf you have an antique or collectable and are curious about its past and approximate value, send a photo via email to shaunmarkey@rogers.com. Please make your photos are high enough resolution so that details are visible. (In other words, the files should be large.) Any extra information you can share about your treasure is helpful too. Your item – and its story­ – might just be published in the next column! Our first evaluation is at the end of this page. Read on!

Spring (if it ever gets here) is a time for taking stock, a time for renewal. For Kitchissippi residents it’s a time when many survey the contents of their homes with a view to making changes.  Refurnishing, redesigning, down sizing and de-cluttering are either optional or, in some cases, necessary.

Most people approach the task with energy and enthusiasm. Need to get rid of stuff. Simple. Stage a garage sale and whatever doesn’t sell give away to a charitable organization afterwards. Job done! Yes, your goal may have been accomplished but did you, as the saying goes, throw out the baby with the bathwater? Did valuable antiques and collectables leave via the garage sale or in the donation to charity?

Every year, homeowners unknowingly make this mistake. The categories of collecting have become so numerous and diverse, it’s easy to overlook items that can have considerable merit.  If you’re dealing with the contents of an entire house or apartment, the antiques and collectables can be impressive both in terms of number and value.

So what should you do in this situation? The key is to not rush it. The majority of people don’t give themselves enough time, especially when faced with the dispersal of the entire contents of a home.

Start by creating a simple inventory by categories. Knowing what you have is a very important first step.  Do a walkthrough and make notes. Your list could include: furniture, artwork, jewelry, books, lighting fixtures, rugs and textiles, clocks and timepieces, glass, china, hobbies and recreational items, tools, toys, nostalgia items, etc.

Some of these categories I’ve listed are obvious, furniture and artwork, for instance. I purposely added “recreational items” because vintage fishing tackle, for example, can be very valuable, as can textiles like vintage quilts and hooked rugs. Old toys and other nostalgia items are highly sought after by collectors and dealers.

Afterwards, do another walk through and add specific items to the categories. In a couple of hours you’ll have a comprehensive inventory. If it’s convenient, take along your camera and photograph some or all of the items either individually or in groups.

While at this stage you’ll know specifically what you have in terms of the number and different types of items. What you don’t know is value, and value is where the rubber meets the road in antiques and collectables.

The entire antiques and collectables industry is based on value. Items come into the market at various points in the antiques/collectables eco system and move up the system as dealers sell the items to other dealers who know that there is still a margin left for them to make a profit. An item effectively leaves the system when it is sold to a collector – the end user.

Antique items come to the market in a variety of ways including the aforementioned garage sale. There’s also estate sales, tag sales, auctions, direct sales and consignments to dealers, flea markets, antique shows, swap meets and, via one of the most if not the most powerful of all platforms – the Internet.

The other major factor in antiques and collectables is trust. Who can you trust to give you a fair assessment of the value of your items? If you’re faced with the entire contents of a home, it’s best to hire an appraiser to give you an estimate. You may want to bring in more than one appraiser and get a second opinion. Spending a few hundred dollars at this point could make a big difference down the road.

This spring, when you feel the urge to purge – think before you act. Take some time to look closely at your possessions. Give them the attention they deserve.

Shaun,

I purchased this wooden Pinocchio toy at a yard sale in 2006 and I’ve always wondered about its history or value. I wish I had thought to ask the vendor if he knew anything about where it came from, but it slipped my mind. Can you tell me something about it? For what it’s worth, the hands are roughly hewn. They look almost like shovels with thumbs and the only working joint is in the left arm.

Thank you!

Andrea Tomkins

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Dear Andrea,
Pinocchio was originally an Italian children’s story and was popularized in North America by the Walt Disney movie about the character in 1940. The movie opted for a much more child friendly character in both appearance and manner.

Many pieces of folk art are carved from wood and painted. In fact, wood is one of the most popular mediums folk artists have used – for generations. Folk artists also frequently opt to paint their carvings and this Pinocchio features bright painted colours which are reasonably consistent with paint colours used here. (Although not relevant to this discussion, I’m reminded too that in the movie, Gepetto carved Pinocchio from a block of wood.)

Articulated limbs are not usually a feature of folk art carvings because they are not toys. Rather, they are meant to be displayed and enjoyed as a visual artistic experience. That’s not to say that “motion” and “humour” are not found in North American folk art carvings. They frequently are. But the fact that this Pinocchio has articulated limbs strongly suggests that it is a toy and was meant to be played with as a marionette, as a toy and not to be used for display. Finally, the hands of this piece are crudely carved which would make the overall arms easier and quicker to manufacture. I could go on but I think there’s enough evidence already to conclude that this is not folk art but a manufactured toy, probably made off shore and imported here in the 1960’s. Notwithstanding these facts, it’s still a fun little item and given the popularity of the character, I would put a value on it of $35 to $45.

Westboro antique hunter pens book about his adventures

By Jack Lawson –

This month, Westboro resident Shaun Markey will be publishing his first book, Folk Art in the Attic: Adventures from a Lifetime of Hunting for Antiques and Folk Art, which chronicles thirty years of his antique hunting adventures.

“I think collecting Canadian antiques and folk art has been one of the most enriching experiences in my life,” says Markey.

 Shaun Markey began collecting and selling antiques in 1981, and he hasn’t stopped since. Photo provided by Shaun Markey.
Shaun Markey began collecting and selling antiques in 1981, and he hasn’t stopped since. Photo provided by Shaun Markey.

Each chapter of Folk Art focuses on one of Markey’s finds and the journey that led to its acquisition. Sometimes Markey succeeds, and other times he does not. Although there are some grandfather clocks that got away, Markey has very few regrets.

“A friend of mine once told me that you’ll only ever regret the things that you don’t buy,” says Markey. “I find that to be very true.”

Markey’s first foray into writing came in the form of a series of posts on a Facebook group called Canadiana Antiques. He began giving titles to his stories and realized they could actually be chapters in a book.

“I didn’t know I was writing a book at first,” says Markey. “But I got to this point where I started to think, maybe I do have a book in me.”

In Folk Art, Markey reaches back across decades of experience hunting down extraordinary pieces.

Markey has had a lot of great finds over the years, but he says his “top-of-the-list favourite” is this elaborately carved whirligig built by Arthur Sauvé (1896-1973) of Maxville, Ontario.
Markey has had a lot of great finds over the years, but he says his “top-of-the-list favourite” is this elaborately carved whirligig built by Arthur Sauvé (1896-1973) of Maxville, Ontario.

People often think of art as only existing in museums, so the process of discovering it in someone’s home can be exhilarating, says Markey. In the second chapter of the book, Markey describes how he stumbled upon a number of incredibly rare pieces of folk art in an attic. They included work by Maud Lewis, Joe Norris, Joe Sleep, Charlie Tanner, and more.

“I stood there in the middle of a freezing room, teeth chattering and shivering from the cold and probably the excitement too,” remembers Markey.

Part of Markey’s work as a collector, especially early on, involved the restoration of older pieces.

“When you see a good piece of antique Canadian pine furniture [in rough shape] it makes you want to save it,” says Markey.

These days he doesn’t meet many young collectors who are interested in pieces of Canadiana. This is partially because interest has shifted to pieces from the 1940s, or ‘50s. There is also a lot less Canadiana furniture and folk art on the market, says Markey.

Markey hopes more young people will become collectors.

“The beauty of it is that it’s out there for everyone to discover,” says Markey. “There’s nothing quite like the thrill of finding an important piece of folk art … and I hope it’s a thrill that many more people get to enjoy.”

For more information, or to buy a copy of the book, go to folkartintheattic.blogspot.ca.