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Hidden Treasures
By Leigh Keno, Leslie Keno and Joan Barzilay Freund

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 Hidden Treasures

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Hidden Treasures
By Leigh Keno, Leslie Keno and Joan Barzilay Freund
ISBN: 0446678163
Genre: Arts

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Chapter Excerpt from: Hidden Treasures , by Leigh Keno, Leslie Keno and Joan Barzilay Freund

Going Once....

"Lot number 701, the carved maple bedstead.... And we have a $1,500 bid to start it, bidding at $1,500. I have $2,000.... now $2,500..... on the phone now $3,000...."

When I heard auctioneer Bill Stahl open the bidding on that bed frame, at Sotheby's Important Americana sale of January 17, 1999, my heart began to race. Run-of-the-mill New England bedsteads don't usually have that effect on me. After all, I have been with Sotheby's for over twenty years-seventeen of which have been spent as the director of the American Furniture and Decorative Arts Department-so I've seen my share of maple beds.

My pulse quickened, however, because I knew that within moments that Federal bedstead would be sold and the bidding would open on the next lot-a large mahogany secretary-bookcase made in Newport, Rhode Island, in the 1740s. This particular bookcase was unlike any other piece of American furniture that I had ever seen before. From the moment I first laid eyes on it, in a set of hazy, unprofessional photographs sent in through our Paris office some years before, I had been consumed by its mystery and beauty. And indeed, during the week prior to the sale, when potential buyers and the merely curious are invited to preview the furniture, I noticed the secretary working its magic on others, as well. As viewers tried to take in its nearly nine-foot facade, I heard words like sexy, beguiling, and enigmatic being used to describe it-words that might just as easily be used to describe a wife or lover. Quite simply, the piece seduced all who crossed its path.

Bill Stahl, my friend and colleague, was conducting the sale from behind a raised corner podium that serves as the visual apex of the main auction room at Sotheby's. I, as was usual at such sales, stood just a few feet to his right, behind a smaller podium, which was more centered on the dais. Bill, a large man with gray hair and a handsome, still-boyish face, lends a great presence to the auction room, for he exudes confidence without bravado. One of his more theatrical gestures involves cocking his head to one side as he softly recites incoming bids. Then, as the numbers begin to climax, he'll start to move his head from side to side, as if he's straining to catch the melody of a favorite old song playing somewhere beyond the room. However disarming, there is nothing casual about this movement. Bill is, in fact, deeply aware of the whereabouts of every player in the room and is actually focusing intently on each one. Invariably, he seems able to draw out an additional bid from those who are about to fold.

I hoped I had what might be perceived as an easy, expectant smile on my face as I listened to Bill's voice while scanning the packed auction room with nervous anticipation. In the past few days, I had fielded an unusually high number of calls from members of the press. All had been curious about my expectations for the secretary, and they were in attendance that day. I had ordered two hundred extra folding white chairs for the sale, to supplement the approximately one thousand seats that are usually set up in the high-ceilinged auction room, and now almost every one was filled. As was customary, the walls of the salesroom were lined with many of the larger pieces of furniture being sold that day, including a fair number of high chests of drawers and six secretary-bookcases. This is done because the pieces are simply too heavy to be hoisted onto the revolving platform set behind me on the dais, where each item up for sale dramatically rotates into view during the bidding (just as quickly they rotate away when the bidding is over). At present, however, I could hardly see the furniture lining the room, because within the last few minutes, the aisles in front of them had visibly swollen with people. Clearly I was not the only one who was excited about the upcoming lot. The crowd was particularly thick in the back of the salesroom, where many dealers like to stand so they can get a good view of who's bidding. There, the clients and spectators must have been packed nearly ten-deep.

In fact, the only spot in the room that wasn't jammed with people was the podium behind me. And it was there, to the right of the revolving display area, that the object of my (and everyone else's) attention stood-the exquisite Newport secretary. That morning, I had asked the staging crew to redirect a number of the spotlights that hang from the rafters, so that they would shine directly onto the dark wooden facade of the piece, which dramatically accentuated its form. Light splashed across the closed slant lid of the desk section, or secretary (from which the piece gets its abbreviated name), and lengthened the almost-imperceptible shadows of the four drawers stacked below. The probing beams also brought into high relief the fluted scallop shells rigorously carved at the top of the upper section's two doors. Like a pop star caught in the spotlight, the secretary's form demanded attention, from the high spring of the arched dome top with its unusual trio of flame-twist finials to the magnificent mottled grain of the rare plum-pudding mahogany that activated the surface and gave it great character.

Elaborate case pieces such as this secretary are among the priciest furniture ever crafted in the colonies, and they certainly evoke the wealth and sophistication of their original owners. Only the most learned of men had need for the many pigeonhole compartments and drawers that lay hidden behind the cabinet doors and desk lid, making it the Colonial era's answer to a computer. During the week leading up to the sale, a number of visitors to Sotheby's viewing galleries had speculated that this particular secretary might have been the most expensive piece ever made in eighteenth-century America. One reason for this theory was that its exquisitely crafted exterior was accented throughout with solid-silver hinges, drawer pulls, and elaborate bird-shaped lopers (the pull-out supports for a slant-front desktop) initialed by their maker, the Rhode Island silversmith Samuel Casey. Until this secretary came to light, solid-silver hardware on a piece of Early American furniture was simply unheard of. It was an extravagance of such magnitude that few patrons could have so much as considered, let alone commissioned, such ornamentation.

But it was not just its obvious good looks that made this secretary so compelling. There was perhaps a greater beauty (of the more mysterious sort) contained within its closed doors, drawers, and slant-top desk lid-a beauty to be savored by a fortunate few. Furthermore, what I had learned about this secretary's long journey from the Newport cabinet shop where it was made to the small Right Bank apartment where it was found by a Parisian antiques dealer only added to its allure. And so, as this piece-without question, the most significant piece of American furniture ever offered for sale in Sotheby's 255-year history-commanded the stage behind me, I couldn't help but feel a tremendous awe in its towering, silent presence. It seemed to face the buzzing, fidgeting crowd with centuries-old wisdom and perspective.

"I have $5,500-my bid is on the phone-and down it goes, all done for $5,500." Bill Stahl's voice boomed in my left ear, shaking me from my reverie. The New England bedstead spun out of sight, soon on its way to a new home, and the Newport secretary was next on the block.

In the world of Americana, there is only a handful of top collectors capable of buying a piece of furniture of this secretary's caliber. As objects go, such pieces are simply not for beginners. So as my eyes roamed the room at an ever-increasing pace, I took mental note of the few members of that elite cadre who were present: In the front row was Albert Sack, who, along with his brothers Harold and Robert, heads the venerable firm of Israel Sack, Inc., founded by their father in 1905. Albert is affectionately known in the business as the "Godfather of American antiques," and he and his brothers are all great heroes of mine. Albert was the only one in attendance that day, however. A man of uncommonly good taste, he has advised, among other collectors, a certain billionaire client who paid $12.1 million for the legendary Nicholas Brown desk and bookcase when it sold at Christie's in 1989.

I spotted the New England collectors Ted and Barbara Alfond about ten rows behind Albert. They have a marvelous collection of American furniture, particularly strong in Boston and Newport examples. I briefly focused on Bill Samaha, who was sitting about fifteen rows behind the Alfonds and all the way to the left. A Massachusetts- and Ohio-based dealer, Samaha often advises Ned Johnson, the chairman and owner of Fidelity Investments, who owns one of the largest collections of New England furniture in private hands, in addition to an extraordinary collection of Chinese furniture and porcelain. All week long, I had watched Samaha's appreciation for the Newport secretary gain momentum. As a whole, this well-seasoned group looked eager, expectant, yet remarkably poker-faced.

Having completed my scan, I noticed just one more heavyweight in the crowd, a man who could certainly figure prominently in what I expected to be a fight for the secretary. A furniture dealer-one of the field's best-he sat in the front row of the auction room, arms crossed above his green-and-tan tweed sports jacket. Over the past ten years at auction alone, he had spent over $35 million on American furniture. The man's head was tilted downward, obscuring his sharp, angular features, which were very familiar to me. Suddenly, the light bounced off his blond hair as he raised his head and his blue eyes locked with mine. I saw his eyebrows quiver for a moment and the edges of his lips come together, and then his eyes moved on. It was only a second that he held my gaze, but that glance spoke volumes to me, for this was my twin brother, Leigh.

As I looked at my brother Leslie standing behind the podium at Sotheby's-a place I had seen him stand many times before-I could sense the turmoil he was going through. The great secretary looming behind him on the stage was the most exciting piece of furniture he had ever discovered-and, quite possibly, that he would ever come across again. I knew how bittersweet that felt. At forty-three, Leslie and I both like to think we are still young, so to keep the game fun (the pursuit of antiques should always be a game, at least to some extent), we find it necessary, if not crucial, to believe that there are always greater, rarer treasures to be found just around the bend. It's a motivational theory that's applied every day at the dog races: If the greyhounds ever catch the mechanical rabbit, it is said, they will forever lose their hunger for the chase.

Well, I knew neither of us was anywhere near ready to retire from the track, and the reason I say "us" is because the Newport secretary that meant so much to my brother was also of intense interest to me. When wonderful objects such as that secretary enter the marketplace, clients turn to me for advice. They want to know that the furniture that interests them is authentic as well as beautiful. In the weeks preceding the sale of the Newport secretary, I had committed to a relatively new client-a person of intense intellect and privacy-who had grown nearly as passionate about this object as Leslie and I. I use the word committed because, like most dealers, I make it a standard practice to look at an object for one customer at a time. To put it simply, I would lose my clientele if they found themselves bidding against one another.

The passion that this person and I now shared for the Newport secretary made me a player that day. So if I managed to win the secretary for my client, in what promised to be some high-stakes bidding, I would conceivably have bought the finest piece of American furniture that I would ever handle. Like Leslie, I found that prospect both thrilling and daunting.

Throughout our lives, Leslie and I have spent so much time in auction rooms that being in them tends to open up the floodgates of memory. No matter how pressured the moment, I inevitably feel the tug of things familiar: a face in the crowd that reminds me of a past sale; a piece of furniture that takes on a new elegance as it spins to attention on the revolving stage; a lull in the bidding that allows time for retrospection.

On the day of the sale of the secretary, I sat in the front row of the packed auction room, trying my utmost to appear outwardly calm. As a dealer, it is important for me to show minimal advance interest in items for sale. Any extra attention I pay to an object may indicate to my competitors that I vouch for its quality. Not only is that free advice but it might encourage them to dig a little deeper into their pockets when they bid. That, in turn, runs up the final price of the furniture for my clients, which is not a good thing. In addition, for reasons of security, many buyers do not want to be seen publicly spending large sums of money. That is why even after a sale has gone through, a new owner may choose to remain anonymous.

So as I sat in my chair, trying to avoid the curious stares of those around me (particularly from members of the press, who tend to keep tabs on the progress of a sale from the front of the room), I took a glance up at Leslie. I was not surprised to see him looking straight back at me. During the past week of previews, things had grown unusually tense between us, and the Newport secretary was the reason why. The blanket of secrecy that I had drawn about myself to protect my client in the days preceding the auction had also shrouded my intentions from Leslie. He was and is my best friend and brother, and yet I couldn't breathe a word, not even to him, about the level of my client's interest. My silence on the subject was in no way indicative of a lack of trust or confidence in him; after all, I would trust him with my life. It was simply another way of maintaining the anonymity that this and most clients preferred. We're almost there, I wanted to reassure him. A few more minutes and it's done.

Of course I couldn't say any of that. Instead, I simply looked at him a fraction of a second more and then looked away. But I was left with a feeling of surprising tenderness, given the packed auction room. Leslie looked vulnerable up there. Despite his position of prominence upon the raised sales dais, his easy stance behind the slim burnished mahogany podium, and the confident lines of his navy London-cut suit, he looked to me like the brother of my youth. I was just a few yards away, but at that moment, I might as well have been miles, if not years, away. This was no time for memories, but all I could do was sit back and think of how far we had come, my brother and I, from the small upstate New York town where we were born. Back then, we would never have imagined that our shared passion for antiques-one that we had nurtured side by side for virtually our entire lives-would have brought us to this precipitous moment, standing, as it were, on opposite sides of a single perfect object.

When you are born with an identical twin brother, you never lack for companionship, and Leslie and I were pretty much inseparable throughout our early years. Some people like to shed their pasts as they grow older, but we found our bearings as children, so we never had reason to rebel. So much of who we are today germinated in our shared adventures as children. I look back now and marvel at how many perfect moments there were, even before we began to pursue our common, almost-instinctive love for antiques seriously.

In 1960, when Leslie and I were three and our older brother, Mitchell, was nearly seven, our parents purchased the ninety-five-acre farm where we grew up, just outside of Mohawk, a small village set deep into the crescent of the lower Mohawk Valley. It was a beautiful spot, which Dad, who had grown up in the area, could remember driving by as a child and loving the way the farm buildings fanned out across the hillside.

The main farmhouse, a white clapboard structure with dark green shutters, might best be described as a nineteenth-century Greek Revival-with a twist. There wasn't much logic to the arrangement of rooms inside the L-shaped house, in which two of the bedrooms stood adjacent to the dining room and the second story was pretty much consumed by the attic, save for an additional bedroom. It wasn't anything fancy, but it was home to us and we loved it.

At the time our parents bought the property, little of the place had been altered, although it had not functioned as a working farm for half a century. Behind the house stood a small horse barn that had a particularly intricate rafter system, which was great for climbing. Occasionally, Dad rented out a few of the stalls to a farmer up the road who raised Appaloosas. At day's end, Mitchell, Leslie, and I would straggle outside to bring the horses in, and the sight of them at the crest of the hill, silhouetted against the darkening sky, is still etched in my memory.

Some of the other outbuildings included a large red barn-originally used as a dairy-with a gray slate roof topped with two cupolas, and a small stone structure that we always called "the smokehouse" (running along the interior walls, there were long wide hooks on which meat might have hung), but that we now think was probably an old icehouse, given the building's dirt floor. There was also a low two-story structure built directly into the slope of the hillside; it housed a root cellar on the bottom level and a bee house on the top. The root cellar was lined with shelves, some still stocked with large turn-of-the-century stoneware jugs left by previous owners, and the whole dank space bore traces of a once-pungent vinegary aroma. We never raised bees, however, so Dad, who is an artist by training, stored his canvases in the rising dome of the upper level, until the roof caved in just a few years ago. It was there, sneaking a peak at Dad's art school nudes, that Leslie and I got our first glimpse of the female form.

When we were really young, that property, and the vast fields and woodlands around it, was our playground. There was nothing Leslie and I enjoyed more than heading up onto the hillside and digging around to see what we might find. Our brother Mitchell wasn't really a party to this stage in our lives, because of the age difference between us. While we wanted to search for treasures, Mitchell wanted to listen to rock and roll (when he was fifteen, he and some friends formed a band called the Diplomats, which met with great local success). Leslie and I were extremely absorbed in our daily hunts for hidden treasures-really to the exclusion of anyone else. As our mother liked to say as she watched us dart out the back door as soon as we'd swallowed our breakfasts, "There go the twins, off into their own little world."

Our rooting around the property was well justified, though, given the rich history of the lower Mohawk Valley. Our farm alone, which was built around 1845, had seen more than a century of use by at least three previous families, and there had been enough civilization in the extensive woods behind us for remnants and refuse to have been left tantalizingly behind. For example, one winter day when Leslie and I were probably about six, we spotted three nineteenth-century U.S. military-issue bullets trapped in a patch of ice behind the smokehouse. How they had come to be deposited there, and why we hadn't noticed them just sitting there on the ground in the warm-weather months, was and still remains a mystery to us. Then there was the rare nineteenth-century child's marble that we found lodged nearly a foot down in the wet, sloppy mud beneath the long trough next to the horse barn. The swirled threads of blue, red, and lavender glass seemed suspended in the one-and-a-half-inch orb, and otherworldly in their vibrancy. We were so amazed by its magnetic beauty that Leslie and I more or less convinced ourselves that it had been left there by men from Mars.

As we grew older, we cast our nets farther away from the watchful gaze of our parents, and the focus of our searches expanded. At first, the snaking path of Fulmer Creek, which surged through the middle of our property but ran for miles in the hills behind the house, served as our conduit. Our paternal grandfather, Leslie Lamont Joseph Keno, for whom my brother was named, was a great fisherman, and he instilled in us, at a very early age, his passion for the sport. Today, when we think about our love of discovery-the actual process of spotting and zeroing in on the jewels of our trade-we find constant analogies in terms of fishing. A stream might appear to most eyes as merely water rippling over rocks, but an experienced fisherman can see where a big trout rises as it feeds on tiny nymphs, its head not even breaking the water. It's a trophy trout, and he sees it right away. This is a talent-exactly like scanning for that rare treasure at a flea market-which takes the angler many years and countless miles of water to develop.

When we were about eleven, a large work crew from the Tennessee Gas Transmission Company came through the woods behind our house and cleared a huge swath of land. They were laying a trench for a natural-gas pipeline that eventually ran through Mohawk to the village of Ilion, and then farther west toward Frankfurt, Fort Plain, and Utica. In time, the brush closed in again around the pipeline, but for a few years, it pretty much provided us with a superhighway for adventuring east and west across the county, without ever needing to use roads or state highways. It was also about that time that our parents gave us a 120-cc Suzuki trail bike to share, and then we really began to cover great distances.

Riding tandem, we would zoom down any dirt trail that we could make out, searching for ruined barns and old house foundations, in which we saw enormous potential for discovery. In particular, we were on the lookout for late-eighteenth- and early-nineteenth-century wrought-iron hinges and door handles. We were fueled by the idea that among the fallen beams and rotting doors of these once-proud buildings were artifacts that had been handcrafted upward of 150 years ago, now sinking slowly into the earth. By the mid-nineteenth century, iron hinges (the jointed devices that allow a door to swing) were widely mass-manufactured, but what we were in search of were ones that had been individually hammered on a forge by local blacksmiths. It amazed us that someone had crafted something so simple and beautiful out of the most basic, rugged material. We could almost hear the rapid-fire report of the hammer hitting the hot metal when we handled their elongated shapes and roughened surfaces.

We graded the hinges and door handles that we unearthed, based on their quality, intricacy, and the presumed level of craftsmanship that was involved in their manufacture. For example, the simplest hinge was a strap hinge, which actually looks like a leather belt or strip, binding the door to the frame. They were quite mainstream, and not particularly valuable. Next came bean hinges, so called because they feature an oblong lima bean shape, usually half an inch to two inches wide, on the end piece, or terminal, that attach to a door. Rarer still were those that featured a heart-shaped terminal, ideally with a curled or winding tip (often called a "rat tail"). We loved the juxtaposition of the straight, tapered rodlike body of the hinge with the winding, free-form end. The contrast spoke volumes about the balance that must always be struck between practicality and creativity in the decorative arts. These were very functional pieces, so whatever creativity shone through in the design came from something deep inside the maker.

Once, when we were approaching an old foundation at a site about five miles east of our house, we spotted a door with rat-tail hinges and a matching handle lying faceup in the bramble. We were still on our bike, so we just kept shouting our thoughts to each other over the roar of the engine as we weaved among the trees. I still get excited about barn hinges and their counterpart door handles, which have gone up in value since our early days in the woods, when a really great set might have fetched one hundred dollars. A few years ago at Sotheby's, I bought an incredible pair of large heart-handle latches for forty times that amount. They now sit on a low chest next to my bed, and I will never sell them.

Prying these iron treasures off dilapidated barn doors was sort of like pulling out teeth that don't have cavities. It was hard work, which is why Leslie and I always carried a couple of thirty-inch crowbars with curved ends on one side (with V-shaped cuts in the center of the curve that were good for pulling out nails) and an angled back end that was ideal for prying up large rocks. They were our main tools, although we also carried sizable hammers with mallets on both ends and heavy-duty work gloves, although they never seemed to be any help. A few years later, when we were in college, Leslie and I took classes in archaeology, where we learned proper excavation techniques, which, of course, left us pretty much appalled at the memory of our earlier field work. We really were not as respectful of the sites as we should have been, and we left few clues for future researchers who might stumble across the same area a hundred years from now.

However clumsy our technique, our intentions were only the best. In particular, we were fueled by the knowledge that both our parents came from families with deep roots in the territory we explored. It was a concept that fed our imaginations and personalized our scavenging. We liked to wonder about the people who first handled those cold iron latches and pushed open those weathered exterior doors. Mom's family, the Sweets, had been in northern New York State for two generations, and Dad's paternal grandfather, Albert Peter Cuenot, was born on a farm just a mile from our house. His family was originally from the Alsace-Lorraine region of France, just near the Belgian border. When Albert was a boy, he was sent to a country school four miles outside of Mohawk, where his teacher encouraged him to anglicize his name. Cuenot became Keno, and our family name was born.

In 1888, Albert, by then a dealer in cattle, horses, and hay, with a sideline business in milk and cheese, married Delphine Devenpeck, our great-grandmother. She, too, had roots in the area, having been born and raised in East Herkimer, on the banks of the West Canada Creek. It had always come down in the family that Delphine was a direct descendant of the Revolutionary War hero Gen. Philip Schuyler (1733-1804), a scion of one of New York's great landholding families. Before our grandmother (Delphine's daughter-in-law) died, she used to take us to visit the old Schuyler Mansion in Albany, by that time (as it is now) a museum. When Leslie and I toured its elegant interiors with Grandma, she explained with great solemnity and pride that this was all a part of our cultural heritage. With this romantic notion, she fed our imaginations, although we always wondered, half in jest, why our family hadn't gotten any of the furniture.

Recently, we learned that our presumed rights to the Schuyler fortunes and furniture were, well, tangential at best. Although we can trace our roots directly to a German-born Philip Schuyler (1718-1784), who moved to New Jersey in his early youth and later to upstate New York, the general was likely a distant cousin, which makes his great house a wonderful place to visit, but not exactly the family homestead. Regardless, the beauty of the place, and Grandma's enthusiasm, left a strong impression on our developing aesthetic sense.

After a long day in the woods, working toward the future and dreaming about the past, we might have uncovered two or three sets of hinges and handles. We would carry these home and take them to a corner of our parents' horse barn that we had staked out for our treasures. There, we would wipe the pieces down with a cloth or towel and lay them out, pair by pair, on a blanket spread across the floor. Later that night, after dinner, we would take out our copy of Wallace Nutting's Furniture Treasury, and return to the barn to compare our most recent discoveries to the black-and-white pictures in the book. Nutting was an early and extraordinary collector, and he compiled nearly five thousand images of American furniture, hardware, and household utensils in a three-volume set, first published in 1928. Although his work contains minimal text (and a fair number of the artifacts pictured have since been proven inauthentic or misattributed), it remains a wonderful visual source. Back then, however, it was our bible.

Barn hardware was not the only thing we ferreted out of those wooded sites, however. The decaying foundations of old houses, for example, stood as signposts to old refuse pits-literally, nineteenth-century garbage pits-which were another source of potential treasures. After hunting the surface of a site for all that we could find, we turned our attentions farther away, to the area that immediately surrounded it, and asked ourselves, If we had lived in this place, where would we have thrown our trash? The answer usually lay over the nearest hillock, just out of view of the surviving structure, because the low rise acted as a natural buffer to what originally must have been an unsightly pile. We discovered that lilac bushes often sprouted over these waste sites, perhaps attracted to the moist, dark soil, so if we spotted that fragrant bush, we made sure to dig near the roots.

Leslie and I would often work silently together for hours, clad only in our work boots and jeans, sifting through the ground as the shifting shade of the trees above sheltered us from an otherwise-relentless summer sun. There was suspense in each shovelful of moist, gritty soil, which was further sweetened by the aroma of the earth itself. For us, these were times filled with the kind of unadulterated intensity-a purity of focus-that I think is reserved for children, try as we might to recapture it throughout our lives.

Sometimes our excavations yielded nothing more than broken bits of oatmeal-colored stoneware-that practical, daily-use ceramic that might be best described as the Tupperware of the nineteenth century-but occasionally we uncovered an old inkwell or pieces of fancier tableware, such as English soft-paste pearl ware (a form of cream-colored earthenware) or blue-and-white Chinese export porcelain (made in China specifically for export to Europe and the United States). More often, though, we found fractured bottles of colored glass-ones that had probably been used for alcoholic beverages or for medicinal purposes-and occasionally came up with a perfect, unbroken specimen.

Just as with the wrought-iron hardware, there were levels of rarity to the shapes and colors of the glass bottles. We sometimes carried a price guide to antique glass bottles with us when we worked, so we could immediately determine the value of our discovery. The most desirable colors were amber and sapphire blue, followed by assorted shades of yellow-green. Next were the aquamarine examples, followed by colorless or clear bottles, which were the most common.

For weeks in the summer, we could spend every day combing the same site, over and over, deeper and deeper. It was addictive, because the lower we dug, the earlier the vintage and more rare the samples we might uncover. One memorable bottle that we discovered was an aqua-toned pocket flask that resembled a pumpkin seed in shape. It had a flat oval body leading to a short, narrow neck, and we called it the "Christmas flask" because it carried a raised imprint of what looked to be a fir wreath on one side. By the early nineteenth century, glassmakers began hand-blowing the glass directly into a mold that could yield any pattern they fashioned. Politically inspired portraits of men like George Washington, Benjamin Franklin, and Andrew Jackson proved incredibly popular, as were images of the American eagle and ships flying the American flag. Our small flask not only displayed a less mainstream (and therefore rarer) image and a sumptuous color; it was also in absolutely mint condition: not a chip or scratch, despite the small colony of black beetles and other residue that we shook from its clogged interior. When we first spotted that piece peeking out from the soil like a gem, our whoops of joy bounced off the rocky ravine where we worked and rose high into the valley around us.

Excerpted from Hidden Treasures , by Leigh Keno, Leslie Keno and Joan Barzilay Freund . Copyright (c) 2000 Leigh Keno and Leslie Keno. Reprinted by permission of Little, Brown and Company, New York, NY. All rights reserved.

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