What do today’s collectors seek? Objects that tell stories of the past

In the spirit of the new year, while we are looking ahead and hoping for better times — and also looking for the good in a very challenging 2020 — here are some of the brightest spots in Today’s Collectibles over the past 12 months. A pair of architectural lamps, a tiny autograph book, French porcelain, Japanese basketwork and a huge art gallery sign are unique pieces that tell a story of the past and are highly sought after by today’s collectors.


Chief Joseph signatures are uncommon. Courtesy of the collector

Autograph book

Q. I found this autograph book many years ago at an estate sale. It measures 4.5 inches by 3 inches and the inscription says it was given to an Olive Nash at Christmas 1891. It has many signatures and notes from people in Wickes and Corbin, Montana, dated 1891-1903, as well as a signature from Chief Joseph.

T.G. and T.O., Hillsboro

A. Chief Joseph (1840-1904) was a leader of the Wallowa band of the Nez Perce Tribe in Oregon. He became famous in 1877 for leading his people on an epic flight across the Rocky Mountains, trying to escape federal troops bent on seizing their homeland and moving them to reservation land. The band finally surrendered in Montana. Chief Joseph’s surrender speech is famous for his words, “From where the sun now stands, I will fight no more forever.” The band was taken to reservation land in Oklahoma, then moved to another reservation in Washington in 1885. Joseph made several visits to Washington, D.C., to plead for a return to the Wallowa country, but his pleas were in vain. Joseph died in 1904 in Nespelem, Washington, of what his doctor called “a broken heart.” Chief Joseph signatures are uncommon, and if an auction house found this signature to be authentic, you might see a sale price of $6,000-$9,000. A dealer in autographs might ask $10,000-$12,000, or possibly more, for an autograph by Chief Joseph. If you could further research the provenance of your book, and document its history, this could add to the value.


These Samuel Yellin lamps likely date from the 1930s.Courtesy of the collector

Samuel Yellin lamps

Q. This pair of Samuel Yellin lamps, measuring 66 inches tall including the original shade, belonged to my grandfather, who was an architect in New York City. We believe he received them from Yellin as payment for some work. We have only just learned of this history and understand they may be quite valuable. Would you please let us know their approximate worth?

P.O., Klamath Falls

A. Your lamps appear to be by Samuel Yellin of Philadelphia and probably date from the 1930s. The shades appear to be of mica and may be original. Samuel Yellin was born in the Russian Ukraine in 1884, apprenticed with a master ironsmith, and traveled throughout Europe before arriving in Philadelphia in 1905 to join his mother and siblings. He opened his own metalsmith shop in 1909 and taught classes at the Philadelphia Museum School of Industrial Art for many years. He and his craftsmen designed and created works for many of the finest buildings in America. At auction, your lamps might sell for $10,000-$15,000; however his works are very sought after and prices can sometimes significantly exceed estimates. A dealer may ask $30,000-$50,000 or more for a pair of Yellin lamps. With research it may be possible to identify whom these were made for, and a fuller provenance might add significantly to the value.


This large vase was a housewarming gift in about 1908.Courtesy of the collector

French porcelain urn

Q. This large vase was a housewarming gift for my grandparents in about 1908. It is 40 inches tall with a ball-bearing rotating base.

S.K., Southwest Portland

A. Your wonderful urn is hand-painted porcelain, with ormolu mounts, and is in the style of the Sevres porcelain factory, though it was almost certainly not made by Sevres. Ormolu is an alloy of copper, zinc and sometimes tin, cast into decorative shapes and gilded with a fine gold-mercury mixture. It is in the Louis XVI style and is almost certainly French. Based on your photos and an inspection, it likely dates to around 1890. One of the hand-painted scenes is signed “Poilevin,” and a number of other pieces also painted by this artist date to around 1890. The scene on the front depicts the Prince of Rohan (later named Cardinal Rohan) greeting Marie-Thèrése Louise of Savoy, the Princesse of Lamballe, who was one of Marie Antoinette’s confidantes. The Princesse was murdered in the street in Paris during the French Revolution. Based on recent sales, at auction you might see a presale estimate of
$6,000-$9,000, although similar urns have sold for significantly more in recent years. Similar pieces can be seen in the shops of fine antique dealers in the $15,000-$20,000 price range.


This  basket is a fine example of a Japanese ikebana basket, and appears to date from before WWII, probably from the Meiji era.Courtesy of the collector

Ikebana basket

I bought this at Goodwill in Lincoln City in 2008 for $3.99. It does not appear to be signed. A tag inside said it was over 150 years old. It measures 16 inches high to the top of the handle, 3.5 inches across at the opening and 4 inches across at the bottom. I can’t find any marks indicating a maker. How old do you think it is? What do you think its value is?

P.V., Woodburn

A. This is a fine example of a Japanese ikebana basket, and appears to date from before World War II, probably from the Meiji era (1868-1912). It is made of susudake wood (charcoal-smoked bamboo). Susudake is often made from bamboo timbers from old, smoke-darkened ceiling structures, and keeps the dark brown color even after washing, steaming, slitting and weaving the limp bamboo. Ikebana baskets were originally made to hold fish and fruit. They became popular starting in the 19th century for use in tea ceremonies and for minimalist flower displays. Yours is very intricately woven and well made. At auction, you might see a sale of $300-$400. Dealers commonly ask $700-$1,000, and more, for similar baskets. For similar baskets in exceptional condition — and with the signature of an artist — dealers often ask $3,000-$5,000.


This wooden sign reportedly hung outside the temporary location of the design firm and art galleries of Vickery, Atkins and Torrey after the San Francisco fire and earthquake of 1906. Courtesy of the collector

Historic gallery sign

Q. I am in possession of a large carved wooden sign that reportedly hung outside the temporary location of the design firm and art galleries of Vickery, Atkins and Torrey following the San Francisco fire and earthquake of 1906. It has been in our family for many years, and I am researching an approximate value of the piece as I decide what to ultimately do with it.

The gallery of Vickery, Atkins and Torrey was instrumental in introducing important European Impressionist painters to California, and also represented prominent European, American and Japanese printmakers, photographers and sculptors. In addition, they were known for high-end interior design and were publishers of art books. During the fire, the contents were safely removed and the gallery was dynamited to stop the fire from spreading. Many of the contents were removed to Portland and Oakland, California. The sign measures 74.5 inches long, 28 inches tall at its highest spot, and 4 ½-6 inches wide. It appears to be hand carved and lettered and is painted in metallic gold. Holes have been drilled through the wood top to bottom for hanging. Thank you for any help you can provide.

D.H., Beaverton


A.This wonderful sign for the Vickery, Atkins and Torrey Interior Design Firm and Art Gallery dates to circa 1900–1907. It’s a unique sign, and signs for art galleries rarely come up for sale, so it’s hard to have a good sense of what it might end up selling for at auction; however, $7,000-$10,000 would not be surprising. If this was offered in a gallery specializing in antique American architectural pieces, you might see it priced at $15,000-$25,000.

About Today’s Collectibles

The values discussed for items featured in this column were researched by Portland appraiser Jerry l. Dobesh, ASA, an Accredited Senior Appraiser with the American Society of Appraisers, with a specialty designation in Antiques & Decorative Arts. His services include providing appraisals for estate tax, charitable contribution, insurance scheduling and loss, and equitable distribution needs.

To find an appraiser, contact the American Society of Appraisers, the International Society of Appraisers, or the Appraisers Association of America. Estimates suggested in this Collectibles column are for general information purposes only and cannot be used as a basis for sale, insurance, or IRS purposes.

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