Art Deco antiques with their streamline chic, geometrics and distinctive art forms are still highly sought after and resonate as the antique of choice today to integrate with modern interiors. Art Deco has become an eternal part of our culture and never goes out of fashion.
The lure of the search is one of the most interesting and entertaining ways to become a collector and the first consideration is ‘know your merchandise.”
In other words narrow down your interest, be specific about a genre, go to the auctions, frequent the antique shows, get to know the dealers and do not be fooled by reproductions of similar design. To avoid such pitfalls when possible check the provenance of a piece before making a purchase.
Become the best collector that you can be; hone your skills and subscribe to art and antique magazines, build an Art Deco library and join a Deco-centric organization such as the Art Deco Society of New York, which has frequent meetings that both educate and entertain in numerous venues around New York City.
What it takes to become a collector is an eye for beauty, an appreciation of the streamlined simplicity of great design and an understanding of modernism in its varied styles of interpretation.
Becoming a Collector
Art Deco has both feminine and masculine appeal and should be evaluated based on condition and rarity of the item. When it comes to furniture Benoist F. Drut, partner of Maison Gerard Ltd. recommends: “Go for the best that you can afford. Emile-Jacques Ruhlmann furniture epitomizes the glamour of French Art Deco style of the 1920s and would fit into any environment. However he cautions: “The really fine pieces go quickly and once those pieces are out of the picking their availability is lost.”
Michael Smith of Adelaide adds: “To find and afford a Donald Deskey console or a Warren McArthur aluminum chair, for example, is to invest in objects of flawless beauty, artifacts of a glamorous past that are timeless and will never go out of style.”
If you are interested in furniture look for large armoire or cabinet to display your collection of smaller artifacts. Remember that Art Deco pieces use exotic wood grains, often with a black or red lacquer finish, which add to the beauty of a collection.
Dealers will authentic pieces by the provenance, which comes from the French word “to come from.” Such documentation of furniture, an object d’art or art work is the chronology of the ownership or location of a historical object. A good provenance increases the value of an object and therefore gives great value to your collection.
Pictured opposite: For example, for the exceptional Art Deco Lacquered Room by Jean Dunand, France, circa 1928, Maison Gerard authenticates its origin, “Provenance: Designed as a breakfast room for the penthouse apartment of Mr. Templeton-Crocker in 1928, San Francisco, California.”
Developing a Collection
Narrowing down your interest in Art Deco to a specific genre makes it easier to develop a collection. William W. Crouse, a private collector recalls: “After selecting Art Deco as the focus of my collections, I decided to concentrate on vintage advertising posters. A well designed poster immediately captures one’s eye and instantly conveys its’ message.”
When it comes to being selective Mr. Crouse gives the following sound advice: “I also collect Art Deco cocktail shakers and barware from the same era. With both my posters and shakers, I have always tried to buy the rare, important and best conditioned items I could find.”
Buy the best that you can afford seems to be the best advice and Mr. Crouse adheres to this adage: “I always attempt to purchase quality, iconic items made by the best designers whenever they appeared on the market. I have rarely, in the long run, felt that I overpaid or made a big mistake by buying the best. By sticking to a relatively narrow area of focus, and by studying to gain as much knowledge as possible, I have been able to amass an important collection.”
The key to collecting is specializing in one area and collecting the very best, be it $10 or a million. That is confirmed by Leonard Fox, Leonard Fox Rare Books, Ltd., who advises that getting to know your dealer is a sure way towards getting more insight into a specific genre. The dealer can also alert a collector when an important item comes in that might be the perfect addition to a collection. Mr. Fox advises: “Scattered collections do not have a focus. Become an expert in a specific genre. It not only increases the quality of a collection and its value, but it also increases the pleasure of ownership.” He further advises, “It doesn’t have to be a well known artist. Trust your eye, buy what you like and put trust in the dealer to make decisions.”
Jack Rennert is a collector, dealer and author, and director of Poster Auctions International and organizer of the International Poster Museum in New York. He adds: “My advice to collectors to specialize and to start collecting early. I’ve heard ‘I wish I had started collecting that ten years ago,’ too many times. Look around at books and exhibitions and determine which poster arts or style or period speaks most directly to you. Then stick with that and build a specialized collection and it will give you a great deal of pleasure and make you an expert in the field.”
Becoming a collector can also lead your on an unexpected ventures. Mr. Rennert recounts; “My own early collecting, going back more than fifty years, involved the Art Deco artist, Paul Colin. As a result I had the honor to meet him, writing two books about his work, and now I am the proud owner of one of the largest collections of his posters.”
Art Deco Books/Printed Matter
Christine von der Linn, Senior Specialist of Art, Modern Press and Illustrates Books, Swann Auction Galleries suggests that for those interested in learning about Art Deco they should attend exhibitions at auction houses like Swann Galleries and book and print fairs. “I would suggest that anyone interested in becoming a collector of Art Deco books and printed matter to explore the genres and artists that speak to you, whether that be fashion, theater design, decorative and graphic arts, book illustration or poster art.”
One may gravitate to a specific genre simply because they are drawn to its great beauty. Such is the case, Miss von der Linn points out, “With classic and collectible fashion magazines such as Costumes Parisiens, Gazette du Bon Ton to mention two of these high influential journals, which set fashion trends in France and abroad, the gorgeous illustrations (known as ‘plates’) feature the works of artists including Paul Poiret, Georges Lepape and George Barbier.” Collectors can readily find any of these Art Deco works through auctions or retail dealers.
Collectors be cautious: Many cute Art Deco ceramic pieces flooding the market are made in Japan. Bakelite jewelry may likewise be imitations. Deco costume jewelry pieces may also not be original. You can tell because in the Art Deco tradition the setting of the stones were created by artisans who worked in the fine jewelry trade. It is wise to take a small magnifying glass with you to scrutinize the back of the item to see the inscribed maker’s name to determine its authenticity. Finally, if you really know your genre you may even spot a ‘find” in a garage sale, but it is becoming less and less common.
Polly Guerin is a member of the Art Deco Society of New York’s Advisory Board, and is the former Editor-in Chief of the Modernist magazine, Collector’s Edition 2000, published by ADSNY. Ms. Guerin writes on antiques, decorative arts and collectibles for magazines including Art & Antiques. Among the eight books Ms. Guerin has written, the eighth, The General Society of Mechanics and Tradesmen of the City of New York will be published in 2015.