A short history of collecting, Part IV: Cultural & Historical Artefacts

Last update: 17 November 2018

Artefact collecting took off in the Roman Empire with some of its rich citizens collecting precious and historic objects brought back from the conquered regions. During the Renaissance, coin collections formed an important part of the Wunderkammern. Dedicated archaeological and ethnological collections developed significantly in the 19th century. Collections of cultural and historical nature further specialized. Examples include the Edward S. Morse collection of Japanese pottery, the William Niven collection of Mexican antiquities, the Gustave Gouellain collection of French faïence, or the Bernard-Franck collection of militaria. The field of ephemera collecting only appeared in the early 20th century, introduced by Bella C. Landauer.

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1. The founding of ephemera collecting: A Civil War ephemera collection arranged by Bella C. Landauer, a.k.a. the Queen of Ephemera

Catalogue inscribed [1933], scrapbook made (1923-1960)
New York City, USA

A rare example - in private hands - of a "scrapbook" of Civil War ephemera arranged by Bella C. Landauer, composed of c. 150 mounted pieces, mainly clipped from Civil War envelopes and letterheads.

[1] Bella C. Landauer's collection ("scrapbook") of Civil War ephemera (oblong leatherbound, c. 150 mounted pieces, mainly clipped from Civil War envelopes and letterheads, with Landauer's bookplate; mild edgewear to boards);
[2] Landauer, B.C. (1933), Some Aeronautical Music from the Collection of Bella C. Landauer. Privately printed (no. 3 of 60 numbered copies, 100 copies tot., association copy inscribed to Landauer's granddaughter: "To Bath Rutherford from Bella, Sept 22nd/33" with Landauer's bookplate, light age toning to covers, mild shelfwear; incl. 'The Aeronautical Archives' leaflet).
Provenance: B.C. Landauer estate (via granddaughter)

Bella Clara Landauer (1874-1960) was called the Queen of Ephemera, and nearly singlehandedly created the modern collecting field of ephemera. She started collecting in 1923 after her doctor recommended that she follow relaxing pursuits. After building a bookplate collection, she understood how collecting examples of early advertising (especially 19th century material) would prove valuable for future historical research. This soon became her primary focus [1]. Throughout her life, Landauer not only collated and shared numerous significant collections of advertising, graphic arts, and commercial printing material, but also researched and published extensively in these fields. In 1926, following a move to the Drake Hotel, she gave her already significant collection of over 100,000 trade cards to the New York Historical Society, which created a special room to house the vast collection. She was made an unpaid honorary curator and continued to collect, catalog, and conduct research on the collection. She authored over a dozen books, mostly limited to fewer than 100 copies [2], in which she reproduced and described gems from her collection. Landauer's special interest in aeronautics was initiated by her son becoming a pilot. She responded by joining the Institute of the Aeronautical Sciences, which became the first organisation to host her historically significant collection of over 1,000 pieces of sheet music [2].

2. The Bernard-Franck reference collection of militaria and other historic artefacts, especially luxury objects

Miniatures catalogued in 1935
Paris, France

Portrait of Bernard Franck, published in the 1931 sales catalogue 'Catalogue des Objets de Vitrine du XVIII Siècle et autres...'. The preface of this catalogue provides the best biography to date of Bernard Franck.

[1] Sales catalogues: (a) Galeries Georges Petit (1931), Catalogue des Objets de Vitrine du XVIIIe Siècle et autres... composant la Collection Bernard-Franck (1re vente). Les Mercredi 20, Jeudi 21 et Vendredi 22 Mai 1931, 42 pp., 38 pls. (incl. entrance card); (b) Hotel Drouot (1935), Collections Bernard-Franck, Objects Historiques et Militaires (1re vente, 22-23 Fev., 38 pp.), Bibliothèque (2ème vente, 8-9 Mar., 89 pp.), XVIIe et XVIIIe Siècles (3ème vente, 21-22 Mar., 38 pp.), Révolution (4ème vente, 3-4 Avr., 54 pp.), Armes, Objets et Souvenirs Historiques, Tableaux et Miniatures (5ème vente, 6-7 Jun., 47 pp.) (all catalogues bound together, prices annotated except for last sale, incl. glued newspaper clipping about 1st sale);
[2] Portrait miniatures: (a) 'Marie Thérèse d'Autriche' (74 x 53 mm; Bernard Franck label with nos. 96, 1340); (b) 'Garde Nationale Parisienne officier 1789' (48 x 38 mm; Bernard Franck 'collection militaire' label with nos. 90, 430 on stickers).
Provenance: Bernard Franck
References: Sales catalogue (1935:lot 96, 3ème vente, p. 11; lot 90, 4ème vente, p. 12)

Bernard Franck (1848-1924) was a French industrialist and maker of military equipment, who was awarded The Legion of Honour after serving in the French military in 1870. His profession and military life led him to become one of the most avid collectors of militaria. After his death, a first sale took place in 1931 at the Galeries Georges Petit [1a]. The bulk of the Bernard-Franck collection was however sold over the span of several months at Drouot Hotel in 1935 [1b], in five thematic auctions: historic and military objects, library, 17th and 18th centuries [2a-b], Revolution period [2c-d], and varia. The highlights of his military collection included Napoleon's service sword. Bernard-Franck did not stop at militaria and was seduced by other historic artefacts, especially luxury objects (such as snuffboxes, bottles, or cases made of precious materials and richly decorated - see e.g. [1a]). The Bernard-Franck collection has been displayed in a number of exhibitions between 1900 and 1910.

Maiden Castle sling-stones, authentic copies, Cornelius Holtorf, Mortimer Wheeler, Pitt Rivers, Chesil Beach, 1930s, Allhallows College

3. The largest private collection of Mexican Pre-Columbian antiquities, built by William Niven in the early 20th century

Terracotta figure dated [1926]

Obsidian carved mask, from the Precolumbian Nahua civilization, found by W. Niven or one of his workers in San Miguel Amantla and listed in a 1923 invoice (photocopy) sent to a certain Gerald Dixon.

[1] (a) Obsidian carved mask, Nahua civilization (8 x 8 x 3 cm, no. 3 listed on invoice) and (b) Greenstone (diorite) head pendant, Tarascan civilization (18 x 24 x 12 mm, mounted on a bar brooch, sticker no. 13), both sold in 1923. Incl. Hyde and Mena, 1922 (inscribed by Niven);
Provenance: W. Niven / G. Dixon
References: Niven 1923 invoice (photocopy); Bonhams (16 Apr. 2014:lot 604)

[2] Six terracotta figures, Valley of Mexico (2 largest measuring 5 x 6 x 2.5 cm, 5 x 4 x 1.5 cm, inscriptions by Niven on the back with find location, inventory numbers and once the year 1926).
Provenance: W. Niven / Arthur M. Sackler Foundation

William Niven (1850-1937) was an American collector of minerals and antiquities, and adventurer in Mexico at the turn of the 20th century. Originally a mineral dealer in the U.S., he explored Mexico and settled there where he made a business of red garnet (c. 1893) and some very lucky gold finds. He also became interested in some relics (Pre-Columbian faces and figures) [1a,b-2] and built the largest private collection of Mexican antiquities, described as "magnificent" by Hyde and Mena (1922) [1c]. He discovered buried cities, enigmatic tablets, survived diseases and political instabilities. In Niven's biography, we read about "one great City of the Dead..." and the discovery of the "Cave of Skulls" (Wicks and Harrison, 1999:37, 62), not far off any Indiana Jones movie. He had a store in Mexico City, selling some of his findings to fund his digging work, the Mexican government having approved permission for excavations and the sale of duplicates. In 1909, Niven received visits from Indians offering terracotta heads and figures from San Miguel Amantla [2]. Niven searched there for 15 years by renting successively a dozen of small farms to dig trenches. Unique artifacts went to the National Museum, Mexico City (e.g., Hyde and Mena, 1922). The site was unique, like a "Mexican Pompeii" (different periods being found in different volcanic ash layers), and even described as the "lost Atlantis" by a Papal representative visiting the site in 1919.

4. The Cincinnati Japanese Mania, exemplified by a Japanese cup moving from the E.S. Morse collection to the M. Longworth Nichols collection

Cup dated (1886)
From Japan to Cincinnati, Ohio, USA

Japanese pottery with the following chain-of-custody: E.S. Morse, M. Longworth Nichols, Cincinnati Art Museum, Marquis J.P. de Chambrun, and illustrative of the Cincinnati Japanese Mania around 1886-1888.

[1] Japanese slip-decorated cup (with two red painted numbers 1231.88 and 437, carries also 2 stickers No. 1 and 542 TBC).
Provenance: E.S. Morse / M. Longworth Nichols / Cincinnati Art Museum (loan) / Marquis J.P. de Chambrun
References: Mignan (2018:fig. 3a)

This Japanese slip-decorated cup [1], originally part of the Edward S. Morse (1838-1925) collection, was then purchased by Maria Longworth Nichols Storer (1849-1932) who loaned it to the Cincinnati Art Museum. It sojourned there from 1888 until 1976, when it was returned to Nichols' grandson the Marquis Jean Pierre de Chambrun. The cup finally reached the antiques market in 1999. Morse is remembered for building one of the largest Japanese pottery collections of his time. While most of his collection is now shared between the Boston Museum of Fine Arts and other museums, several hundred pieces were directly purchased from his estate by Nichols, an avid collector and the founder of Rookwood Pottery Factory, Cincinnati, Ohio. As told by Trapp (1987), the transaction between Morse and Nichols happened in 1886, the year "the Japanese mania in Cincinnati climaxed." It all started at the Centennial Exhibition of 1876 in Philadelphia after which "the American public quickly developed a near-manic taste for things Japanese [...] In few American cities was the Japanese mania more avid than in Cincinnati [...] With the founding of the Rookwood pottery in 1880, the powerful influence of Japanese art upon Cincinnati's decorators was soon to become a matter of nationwide note and emulation." The present cup epitomizes this craze by its multiple connections to its main actors.