“Folk art” is the confusing name given to some things made by untrained artists. From the 1930s into the ’50s, antique collectors might have called these pieces “primitive” or named them for a region, like “Pennsylvania German style.”
By the 1950s, some daring collectors were searching for woodcarvings, painted chests, sculptures and paintings that lacked the realism of a scene or portrait by a trained artist. Everything was handmade. Today, folk art includes not only informal handmade items, but also commercial pieces like iron doorstops, carousel horses, store signs, weathervanes and some toys.
By the 1960s, there were homemade and factory-made folk art lamps assembled from bottles, metal fire extinguishers, milk cans and store tins.
Other lamps were made by Boy Scouts, prisoners, soldiers or housewives using patterns in craft magazines. Driftwood, unsophisticated pottery, walnut shells and even antique toasters were used to make lamps. But the most popular and pricey appear to be constructions made of old cigar boxes, Popsicle sticks or hammered brass bullet casings.
Today, top prices are paid for lamps made of small glued pieces of carved wood that show the skill of the maker.
Boxes of unused sticks were available in stores by the 1950s. Prices are based on the originality and talent of the lamp’s maker and how eager a collector is to own the unique piece, so they can range from $25 to thousands of dollars.
A one-of-a-kind 1910 floor lamp by an unknown artist sold last fall at Guyette, Schmidt & Deeter, a Maryland auction house, for a surprising $27,600, well over estimate.
The 5-foot-tall lamp was made of carved and stained pine and cedar. The wooden shade and center column are covered with carved and applied birds and designs.
Q: I would like to know the order of marks on items made in Japan. Which is oldest, “Nippon,” “Made in Occupied Japan,” “Made in Japan” or just “Japan”? Does it make a difference if the mark is red, green, black or another color?
A: Most pieces marked with the name of a country were made after 1891, when the McKinley Tariff Act was passed. Pieces from Japan were marked “Nippon,” the transliteration of the Japanese word for Japan. After 1915 the words “Made in…” usually were added. Beginning in 1921, U.S. Customs required country names to be in English, and the word “Japan” was used instead. Items marked “Made in Occupied Japan” were made between February 1947 and April 1952. After that, just “Japan” was used again. According to experts on 19th and 20th century Japanese ceramics, the color does not help date a mark. Red, green and black were used most years. There is no explanation for when other colors were used.