The Smart Collector: Piano babies cry cuteness, but appeal is limited

The Smart Collector: Piano babies cry cuteness, but appeal is limited

Auction action: When a private collection of 93 table radios… (www.bonhams.com )

February 27, 2011

Q: Any info on my piano baby? It was a wedding gift to my grandmother from her parents, and came from a wealthy Southern family.

As a result, piano babies, a ceramic conceit of over-the-top cuteness, lounged on pianos or mantels until about World War I. Some think the popular collectibles were most popular as a weight to keep silk piano shawls (another Victorian excess) from slipping. Today, piano babies are a niche taste loved by some collectors, loathed by others.

The babies, most about the size of a football (though some were minis), were molded on their backs playing with their toes, on their stomach with knees bent back and toes in the air, or seated upright.

To a baby, most were made of bisque, a matte surface ceramic called biscuit porcelain by the British. Germany, the powerhouse producer of fine ceramics at the time, was a major producer of the figures.

Mention piano babies, and most smart collectors think Heubach Brothers, the maker favored for lifelike sculpting. Heubach babies have artistic hair and facial expressions, and their cuteness runs way off the adorableness charts.

But the piano baby in an image sent is not a Heubach. Instead of the company’s distinctive blocky incised mark, the bottom is stamped with a round C topped with a stylized N plus a mold or inventory number.

Camille Naudot and Cie in Paris made porcelain objects from about 1890-1920. But advanced collectors argue that she never made porcelain figures. Not a one. That includes piano babies, cupids, applied figures on vases, etc.

Smart collectors know that true Naudot pieces are rare and few. Naudot pieces show clear Art Nouveau influence. Plus, her work was never stamped. Porcelain purists ID her hand-painted CN mark as less rounded than the one seen in the image.

As with many big bucks authentic and rare pieces, Naudot has been knocked off, especially by post World War II Japanese factories. Troll eBay and you’ll find a variety of cutie porcelains IDed as Naudot, from vases to darling children. When we looked, the pieces presented as authentic posted for $14 to $150 for an exceedingly busy console bowl. Completed sales were nil.

The family story on this particular baby is lore. I suggest you enjoy the bisque for what it is.

Condition of comics important

Q: My Classics Illustrated comics are in pretty good condition. How do I sell them?

A: There are four comics. Photocopied covers sent show a mixed bag of issues, from No. 34 to No. 144.

The reader does not a have a total run, or anything close. Collectors love complete compilations, or at least comics in quantity.

Data base http://www.artfact.com reports that last June, a set of five Classics Illustrated comics brought $40 in an estate sale. In October, Skinner, an auction house in Boston, sold 37 CI comics in the No. 1 to No. 164 range for $250 in a sale of Books and Ephemera. Remember, auction involves selling costs.

On eBay, we found pages of Classics comics listed. Completed sales ranged from $1 to $31. Most sold for under $15.

With paper goods including comics, condition is everything. A long-timer in the comics biz described the condition standard to me as “tight, white, and bright.” Money goes to issues with tight bindings, white paper, and bright colors. Results depend on how close to that standard issues come.

I suggest selling the assorted issues online. Look for similar postings before posting a start price. An issue with torn cover must be described and photographed accurately.

Contact Danielle Arnet at smartcollector@ comca st.net or c/o Tribune Media Services, 435 N. Michigan Ave. Suite 1400, Chicago, IL 60611. Include an address. Photos cannot be returned. She doesn’t make personal replies.

Collector quiz

Q: Christmas is over, but many collect it year round. Can you match these grand houses that decorate for the holidays with their locations?

1. Biltmore

2. Molly Brown House

3. Bidwell House

4. Bingham-Waggoner Home