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What’s It Worth? The Rich History Of Chicago Arts & Crafts


The Arts & Crafts movement was, by most acounts, a direct response to the industrial revolution’s “make-it-quick-with machinery” era.

Machinery made things more quickly and cheaply, without a doubt. But much of the world worried (rightly) about the loss of hands-on artistry. They were troubled by the potential loss of originality – the eventual absence of one-of-a-kind objects crafted by an artisan’s own hands, slowly and steadily with great care, using skilled craftsmanship with unique style.

All over the world, the homespun response to the machine era begat small individual workshops, artists’ colonies, mini-handson, hand-made only “factories” of artists and craftspeople.

In America, Upstate New York and Boston, Cleveland and many other cities saw printmaking, pottery-making and metalsmsithing as a renewed art form with people creating things the oldfashioned way – but with a new, almost Art Nouveau style.

However, few cities embraced Arts & Crafts jewelry and metalsmithing with quite the enthusiasm of Chicago.

Chicago was an active hub of creativity during this period, as it was coming of age during the same time the Arts & Crafts movement was gaining steam. The Chicago World’s Fair generated a great deal of buzz and attracted millions of visitors (and artists and craftsmen) in 1892 to 1894.

Over the years, small shops made jewelry and silver items with names that, while obscure to the general populace, are revered among collectors, dealers and history buffs.

Silver and jewelry signed by Kalo or The Kalo Shops are the most common (and very collectible), but other names with hand-wrought items were important makers in Chicago as well. Look for names like Jarvie, Novick, Winn, Lebolt, Randahl, Olsson and Hanck, among others.

This week, a Chicago jeweler sent us a very rare piece (left) by the master J.H. Winn, who was one of the highest-profile makers of arts and crafts in Chicago at the time. This piece has an unusually large carved moonstone (a very pretty gem that is otherwise unremarkable and inexpensive ... but in the hands of a skilled artisan, you can see the result).

Winn exhibited for over 15 years at the Chicago Art Institute in the early 1900s and was considered one of the masters of arts and crafts. This little piece, with no more than $200 in gold, was purchased by us for $1,000 from the Chicago jeweler who obtained it from a Chicago retiree. We hope to sell it for $1,500 to $1,800. (Of course, retail value would be much more and in fact, it is priceless in a sense – since this likely could not be replicated in the same manner with the same materials.)

What’s in YOUR jewelry box?  If you have an item from the Arts & Crafts period that you would like to sell, let us bid on it.
Stop in or call 727.896.0622 for an appointment.

Comments, questions or suggestions for this column, please send to jeffreyphess@aol.com.

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January, 2017