Recently, August 2017, I visited Salem, Massachusetts. Although Salem is a beautiful port city, most of its cultural identity centers on the infamous Salem witch trials of 1692. The witch trials were a series of prosecutions of people accused of witchcraft. Held between February 1692 and May 1693, the trials resulted in the executions, for witchcraft, of 20 people, 14 were women.
by Larry LeMasters Oct 13, 2017 @ 10:23
Rare, sexy Samuel Schumucker witch riding a jack-o-lantern, possibly drawn by E. Nash. This 1909 postcard illustrates how to fill every inch of the message section and is valued at $285.
In 2011, Salem changed its city logo to reflect a witch’s hat that also resembles a sailboat. And the most visited building in the town is appropriately called Salem Witch Museum. All in all, Salem is a charming city.
A Salem witch souvenir spoon, created by Daniel Low in 1891, is credited with starting the souvenir spoon hobby that swept America in the early 1900s. But, year in and year out, witch postcards are the most popular tourist souvenirs in Salem. Nearly every store and restaurant in town sells witch postcards. I bought one in August at a diner appropriately called Witch’s Brew Cafe.
Postcards, in general, have evolved over time. Originally federal law restricted postcard sizes and colors, especially after February 1861 when Congress authorized the private printing of postcards to be sent in the mail. John P. Charlton immediately copyrighted the first postcard in America.
This 1914 Winsch Halloween postcard shows a witch straddling a flying corncob. John Winsch postcards are expensive, and this one is valued in the range of $250 – $300.
Winsch Halloween postcard, early 1900s. Notice how the night’s stars reveal the image of a wicked witch. This card is valued at $300.
However, until the US government began making legislated postcards in 1872, all postcards were privately created, such as Lipman’s Postal Cards that were sold in the early 1870s. After the government became involved in postcard production, postcards took on a somewhat regulated size and design with one side of the card for a message and the other for a recipient’s address. The message side later morphed into printed cartoons, messages, and photos while the address side divided to include a short written message to the recipient.
The Golden Age of Postcards and deltiology (the collection of postcards) both began in 1907 when Congress passed an act allowing privately produced postcards to bear messages on the left half of the card’s back, totally leaving the front side for art work and clever sayings.
No one knows when witch images began to grace the front of postcards, but as both souvenir and Halloween cards, witch postcards have been around since the early 1900s. And there is one thing most witch postcards have in common—a wonderfully, wicked stereotyped image of a witch. The postcard I purchased in Salem is a good example of a stereotyped witch, showing an old hag, with gray hair and long drooping nose, in a black witch’s hat, cape and robe, riding a broom across a full moon. It you strain your eyesight a little, there appears to be a wart on her nose. The card is the start of a fun collection and only cost 50¢.
Wicked witches are staples of fairytales, Halloween decorations, and campfire tales. Witches on postcards, at least through the 1950s, tended to be either ugly or sexy; sexiness equates to misconduct. Broomsticks, pointed hats, and black cats are all familiar accessories for evil witches. Pointy chins, green or sickly-looking skin, creepy forests, full moons, lonely owls, spiders, snakes, crows, bats, and stark barren landscapes also accessorize evil witches.
Today, some Halloween postcard collectors only collect witch postcards, paying 50¢ to $400 or more for a single card. One witch artist that collectors look for is Samuel Schumucker, who painted postcard images produced by Detroit Publishing. Another popular artist was John O. Winsch, who was a publisher of postcards from Stapleton, New York, between 1907 and 1915.
It is interesting to note that wicked witches are accused of living lives that any elderly woman might live—wearing black mourning clothes for their dead husbands, living alone, loving the attention of children, having a cat as a companion, and sweeping their front porch by moonlight with a broom of ash bristling with birch twigs.
It is easy to see how spinster women in Salem, circa 1690, were accused of witchcraft since older women and witches share so many common traits
Witch souvenir postcard purchased by author in Salem for 50¢–possibly the beginning of a budding collection.
Printed in Bavaria, Germany, circa 1910, this Halloween, embossed witch postcard has devils and a jack-o-lantern and is valued at $300.
Walter von Nessen, a German immigrant, founded Nessen Studios in New York in 1927. His original goal was to design and fabricate architectural lighting, but his far-reaching vision had a profound effect on modern lamp design.
by Larry LeMasters Oct 9, 2017 @ 10:23
Rare, pair of Art Deco Woofle Bird “Peacock” lamps by Walter von Nessen. This pair of lamps is valued at $7,500.
By 1930, von Nessen was considered an industrial lamp design trailblazer by critics and manufacturers alike. Nessen believed that lamps (lighting) was at the forefront of all new trends since, as quoted from a 1930 edition of Lamp Buyers Journal, “The latest, newest, most radical expressions of art in industry seem particularly applicable to lamps because a lamp highlights a room and it may well be extreme…and it strives to be an expression of ourselves, our times and our environment.” From the outset, von Nessen designed lamps to accessorize modern homes of the times, so while still in Germany, he designed lamps with a German deco styling. After moving to America, von Nessen designed lamps with a decidedly American, Art Deco appearance. He sought for his lamp designs to be both functional and fashionable. Von Nessen became famous for using non-traditional materials for lamp building, including brass with chrome, Bakelite, spun aluminum, fiberglass, rosewood, and cherry wood. Some of his designs are still being manufactured today, but collectors look for von Nessen’s rare or vintage lamps, especially his Art Deco lamps. One of the rarist of all von Nessen Art Deco lamps is his “Woofle Bird” lamp, popularly referred to as von Nessen’s “Peacock” lamp. Originally, the Woofle Bird lamp was designed for the Miller Glass Company in three color-schemes for use in boudoirs or nurseries. Today, these adorable lamps add whimsy to tearooms, kitchens, offices, bedrooms, or on shelves displaying lamp collections. Woofle Bird lamps were only manufactured in 1929, making them nearly 90 years old. When illuminated, the poly-chrome enamel tail reflects light and the glass eyes shine brightly. Be aware that they are as pricey today as they are cute, so bring a smile and a deep pocket to any auction offering a Woofle Bird lamp.
Art Deco Woofle Bird lamp by Walter von Nessen. Originally made for the Miller Glass Company, this lamp is valued at $3,200 on today’s secondary market.
A whirligig is any object that spins or whirls. Collectibles often include pinwheels, weather-vanes, and gee-haw whammy diddles.
by Larry LeMasters Sep 13, 2017 @ 10:23
The word whirligig derives from two Middle English words: “whirlen” (to whirl) and “gigg” (top), or literally “to whirl a top,” and the first usage of the word appears around 1440 CE. While several types can be found, collectors dream about catching the figural, wind-driven, and folk art whirligigs.
Originating as wind-powered kinetic yard decorations, these have large wings on relatively small bodies. The reason being, increasing the blade area also increases the surface area, allowing the wind to collide with the whirligig, causing it to whirl faster, reaching its terminal speed in less time and maintaining that speed for longer times.
The two blade, non-mechanical model is the most common type of folk art, but more complicated ones do exist. The only limit is the builder’s imagination.
The origin of folk art whirligigs is unknown. We do know that the mechanics date back to ancient Sumerian times, roughly 1700 BCE. The first known representation dates to medieval (European) tapestries. These tapestries show children playing with a whirligig consisting of a hobbyhorse on one end of a stick and four blade propellers at the other end.
Even George Washington collected and bought whirligigs from farmers and artists at Mt. Vernon when he returned home from the Revolutionary War.
19th century handmade wooden figural whirligig, depicting two men sawing lumber. This folk art whirligig is valued at $360.
20th century Abraham Lincoln whirligig with his hands holding two paddles (air wings). This whimsical piece of folk art was offered on eBay for only $15.
Figural whirligigs are now recognized as a form of national folk, art and, as such, some museums have extensive collections of them. With recognition as American folk art, prices for figural whirligigs has escalated, causing some collectors to reach deep into their pockets to obtain authentic, Appalachian whirligigs for their collections.
Few of the earliest whirligigs were “signed” pieces, so some collectors seek the work of particular “known” folk artists. Whirligigs from folk artist Reuben Aaron Miller are highly sought after as representative of American 20 th century folk art. But some collectors believe the value and collect-ability of folk art whirligigs has been too uneven, causing the market to be a Seller’s market where greed pushes the market as much as collecting or art does.
Other famous folk artists who made whirligigs include Lester Gay of Fountain, North Carolina, who made whirligigs from bicycle rims; Edith and Gene Lawrence of Plantersville, Alabama, who made and sold whirligigs from their home (Gene became locally known as the “Whirligig Man”); and Elmer Preston of South Hadley, Massachusetts, who made traditional figural whirligigs such as “Farmer Cutting Wood.”
In 1998, a 19 th century Uncle Sam whirligig sold at Skinner Galleries for $12,650. Other figural whirligigs that have sold at auction in the last 20 years include a 19 th century polychrome carved pine cone and copper band figural whirligig that sold for $10,925 and an early 20 th century “Bike Rider” figural whirligig, made of painted wood and sheet metal, that sold for $3,450. Vollis Simpson, of Lucama, North Carolina, is, arguably, considered the best-known, modern whirligig maker. Simpson constructed a “whirligig farm” on his land, displaying 30 – 40 whirligigs at any given time. In 2012, Simpson was named the Arts and Culture winner of Southern Living’s Heroes of the New South.
Wilson, North Carolina, holds an annual Whirligig Festival at the Vollis Simpson Whirligig Park & Museum in Wilson. In June 2013, Vollis Simpson’s whirligigs were designated as the official state folk art of North Carolina.
Symbolically, figural whirligigs continue to whirl after the builder’s life ends, symbolizing the fact that life goes on and that, in the final analysis, art is valued more than the artist.
As long as mankind collects folk art, there will be a demand for figural whirligigs since they represent the solitary folk artists, whittling a tree limb into a functional and decorative piece of whimsy—a whirligig.
Vollis Simpson whirligig, handmade using painted tin.
“Winged Wonder” folk art whirligig by James Eaton. Easton’s work is highly collectible, and this magnificent piece is valued at $7,800.
Antique, “Man Sawing Wood” whirligig from the Smithsonian collection.
Folk art “Butter Churn Lady” whirligig, early 20 th century; $400.
Modern day use of whirligig as folk art yard decoration.
Antique American Indian whirligig, circa 1900, that is valued at $2,300.
Folk art whirligig tavern sign, circa 1870, from Connecticut. This amazing folk art piece went unsold at auction in August 2011.
What is a Whirligig?
A whirligig is an object that turns on its pivot in a circular motion as air passes through it. It usually has different parts. One or more of its parts are known to spin or whirls. From the origin, they were called other names like; weather-vans, pin wheeler, gee haws, spinners, whirly bird, or plain whirly.
History of Whirligigs:
The actual origin is not known but just like other wind devices, they are evolved from weather vanes. In the ancient times, sailors, farmers and others used weather vanes to determine wind direction. In the colonial documents, whirligigs were stated to be a wind determining device.
As at 400 BC, in China, a helicopter- like bamboo copter was launched using a rolling stick but in 700 AD, whirligigs were made by the Sassanian Empire. They began using windmills to lift water used for irrigation. In the Egyptians history, the origin can be traced as far back as 100BC. The first use was demonstrated with a string. In the European history as contained in the medieval tapestry which shows children playing with a whirligig. As at mid-18th century, weather-vanes had evolved into free moving “wings” and in 19th century, constructing these devices became a pastime art form. Today, whirligigs are used in designing farm structures and toys for children.
Types of Whirligigs
There are two mechanical and non-mechanical vanes. The mechanical turnstiles have a helix type mechanism. The non-mechanical wind vanes have blades, wings, pinball-like appendages that capture wind and rotation.
This type has a string wrapped around a shaft and then pulled. An example of these whirligigs is bamboo-copter or bamboo butterfly, which was invented in China in 400 BC. Initially, the Chinese had launched a propeller without using a string. It was later inventions that had strings.
This is an ancient mechanical device common in the Ukraine. It is the oldest known whirligig. They can also be called buzzers. These types are often constructed by passing string through two holes on a large button. They are regulated by the speed at which the button spins and the tightness of the string. The whirling object makes a humming sound, giving the device its common name. Buzzers are often common as toys.
These are also called Gee-Haws. They are another staple of craft shops and souvenir stores in the Appalachian Mountains. Friction whirligigs operate when the holder rubs a stick against a notched shaft making the propeller at the end of the shaft to turn, largely as a result of the vibration carried along the shaft. This motion is similar to rubbing sticks together to create fire.
This type works by energy of the wind is transferred into a kinetic energy through rotation. The rotational energy powers a simple or complicated mechanism that produces repetitive motions and creates sounds. The wind simply pushes on the whirligig turning one part of it and it then uses inertia. A pinwheel is the most common example. It demonstrates the most important aspect of a whirligig blade surface. It has a large cupped surface area which allows the pinwheel to reach its terminal speed fairly quickly at low wind speed. Due to the historical beauty of whirligigs made from wooden and metal sculptures, the patronage for whirligigs has been on the increase. Whirligigs have become more desirable due to it’s usefulness and monetary worth. Dozens of antique once abandoned in the museum, churches, mosques etc., are being reconstructed to produce symbols of abstract art. Recent collections can be seen at antique shops Home and factory-made collectible whirligigs are often shown of the four spokes that point north, south, east and west. This is to make them easier to display at home and enhance their sculptural appeal. and make them easier to display in a home. For that matter, weather-vanes were not always equipped with directional indicators.