Americana: Three Cheers for the Red, White & Blue

Americana: Is There Such a Thing?

     Each January, New York and other major cities vie for customers and big bucks at their annual Americana auctions. These are supposedly different from other auctions during the year in that they consist of specifically American made or consumed goods.

     That limits the field somewhat, since most of everything made today is manufactured in the Far East, although it is consumed in America. To be a purist, Americana items are items that were usually handmade, or at least included a hand process, here in our country, to be consumed by our own people. They are antique (maybe 100 years old or more) and have a definite flavor (like apple pie). They are often important to our own history or the history of American craftsmanship.

     Americana includes folk art (the whims and whimsicals of the common people), utilitarian and yet beautiful products, and things that make us distinct from every other country. English porcelain, although made for export to America, would only be allowed in this category if the decoration were specifically American, i.e. George Washington riding his horse. An English teapot, even though bought at Bloomingdales in 1920, would not work.

     This field can be very selective. Quilts and samplers, Windsor chairs in green paint (even though Windsor is an English term), Philadelphia formal chest, and carved wooden eagles seem to be the norm. It can also degenerate into anything one wants to sell, like milk glass, Rose Medallion, and reproduction posters of Uncle Sam wanting YOU (notice the finger).

     The more selective the selector, the higher the stakes! That's why it's cool. Where and when else can you see a tea table sell for over a million? How about a Baltimore album quilt for nearly $50,000? Maybe a decorated jug for $90,000? In 2006, the total amount for Sotheby's Americana auction was almost $25 million.

     Whether it's a pair of watercolor prints by an itinerant 18th century artist or a piece of silver made by Paul Revere, Americana is hot. That's why it's become a catchword and used whenever one wants to impress or provoke. Fortunately, it's not all big bucks. There's a lot of stuff left for you and I AND our Americana is no less significant than thiers. That's why it's fun. After all....this is America!