Call it red, white and blue fervor. Antique flags are revving up in price. What may well be the ultimate Old Glory is a flag signed by Abraham Lincoln and featuring the stars spelling out the word "Free." This historical rarity is priced at $2 million, and antique flag dealer Jeff Bridgman, who is based in York, Pa., is, well, waving the flag about it.
"The signature makes the flag extraordinary," says Bridgman. He reports that such flags were used in the 1964 presidential campaign. The flag is also dated in ink: July 4, 1864. Most in demand are flags dating from the Civil War.
Flag collecting has seen a huge change lately. "Recently sales of my American flags, especially early ones, have shifted from predominantly Republicans to Democrats," says Bridgman, who just closed a selling exhibition at the New York City Union Club. Americana collectors with 18th century mahogany furniture, Chinese Export porcelain and scrimshaw have long gravitated towards vintage flags. Plus, it's a well known fact that JP Morgan Chase honcho Jamie Dimon zeroed in on a period flag for his office. Other collectors include Robert F. Kennedy Jr.
"Ten years ago, I knew of less than a handful of flag collectors with holdings worth $200,000 and up," says Bridgman. Today, his serious clients number close to 40, and that figure is climbing. With an increasing clientele and diminishing supply, prices have been shooting up for rarities.
Among the stellar items in Bridgman’s inventory of 1,500 examples is a Betsy Ross pattern flag with 13 stars, each hand embroidered. The date: ca. 1860. Later flags, those prior to the 1920s, can be more than 20 feet in length. According to Bridgman, size was essential for flags to serve as effective signals.
Spencer family attic sale
Princess Di’s family is selling the choice contents of their ancestral home and London townhouse in a two-day auction at Christie’s London on July 7-8, 2010, with paintings in Christie’s Old Master sale on July 6. The more important furniture is being hammered down at Christie’s King Street location. The Althorp attic auction, slated for Christie’s South Kensington salesrooms, includes household china, copper jelly moulds, riding whips and portrait miniatures along with carriages and livery from stables, cellars and storerooms at Althorp, the Spencer home in Northamptonshire, where Diana grew up and where she is buried. Cataloguing alone took a Christie’s team of specialists three months to complete.
The sale includes 13 carriages and a sleigh, some with crimson watered-silk interiors, telling of another era, and the enormous wealth of the Spencer family. Some carriages are expected to fetch $31,000 a piece. The footmen’s liveries with scarlet tailcoats, embroidered vests, red velvet breeches and tricorn hats are a delight and certain to captivate textile collectors, not to mention Hollywood costume departments.
But it’s truly a house-cleaning sale, including even such oddities as 19th-century leather furnace bellows and lavatory seats. The attic auction at Christie’s South Kensington should bring out Princess Di fans, porcelain and silver fanatics and costume enthusiasts, too.
While the attic sale is estimated at around $1.4 million, the entire Spencer family haul, including Old Master paintings, is expected to rake in over $44 million. Some of the proceeds will go toward a massive restoration of their country house.
Vuitton Art-world Sparkle
Forget Madison Avenue for luxury purveyors. In London, Louis Vuitton just ramped up the gold standard for luxury retailing space with its sparkling New Bond Street boutique, which opened only weeks ago and really borders on a department store in scale. The space is designed by celebrated New York architect Peter Marino, whose own Renaissance bronzes are currently on display at London’s Wallace Collection. With a façade sheathed in a gold-leafed titanium mesh, the effect is dazzlingly über-glitz.
Visitors to the space should expect cutting-edge design touches, including a staircase whose steps light up with LED screens in electric blue hues, reflected in a mirrored ceiling above. Marino refers to this project as "the most luxurious Louis Vuitton Maison in the world." The total cost was reportedly north of $58 million.
And if that weren’t enough, the store is packed with a solid collection of contemporary art, including works by Gilbert & George, Damien Hirst and Takashi Murakami. Private viewing rooms are tucked up on the second floor in a space dubbed "The Apartment." Richard Prince devotees should make this area a destination. Along with works by Prince, other artists represented include Jean-Michel Basquiat, Jeff Koons and Hans Hartung. Marino designed some of the furniture. The total look is super-luxe.
London’s New Antiques Street
The densest art and antiques district in the UK? Hands down it’s London’s Kensington Church Street, which boasts more than 40 galleries. The glitterati have begun to appear -- lately including Rupert Everett, John Cleese and supermodel Claudia Schiffer -- upping the area’s cachet in stylish circles.
Traditional English country-house fare along with continental European furniture from the 18th and 19th centuries is featured at dealers like Butchoff and Patrick Sandberg. Right now Sandberg is showcasing a pair of 1824 mahogany writing tables with reeded column legs, priced at around $38,000. Marchant as well as E&H Manners can also be found on this thoroughfare.
Other dealers cater to the more exotic. For example Amir Mohtashemi specializes in Islamic and Indian works of art, while Gregg Baker carries Japanese screens. Contemporary fans should zero in on Baker’s later screens, which tend to be abstract in design. A splendid guide is newly available from the Kensington Church Street Antique Dealers Association. With dealers departing from the former antiques row on Mount Street and an influx of fashion boutiques there, Kensington Church Street is set to become chic.
Anna Loves Period Paste
For too long, the 18th- and 19th-century renditions of what we call lesser jewelry and what the Brits refer to as "paste" has been deemed decidedly down-market. But now S.J. Phillips aims to change that mistaken perception. In early June, the firm staged the exhibition "Brilliant Impressions: Antique Paste & Other Jewellery." While that exhibition has closed, the catalogue is still available as is some of the jewelry on offer.
Francis Norton, S. J. Phillips great grandson, enticed Vogue editor in chief Anna Wintour to pen the catalogue essay. In fact, the catalogue is the first publication on the subject in over three decades. Clearly, period paste jewelry is a must-buy niche category.
Paste or glass jewelry was really unlike our costume jewelry. "In many cases, paste jewelry is made the same way as fine, utilizing the same kinds of settings -- only the stones are different," says Francis Norton. Even Elizabeth I and Henri IV of France wore paste.
On offer are predominantly English examples, with butterflies set with pave stones, brooches in the shape of six petal flowers and even tiaras. There are also mourning jewelry of French cut glass, including a bib necklace with rows of beads fringed in dagger like pendant drops right in sync with biker chic for only $6,700.
BROOK S. MASON is U.S. correspondent for the Art Newspaper, and also writes for the Financial Times and other publications.