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2003 Issue

Compiled by
Bruce Gventer

What follows is a random assortment of art and antiques related websites that we have visited and enjoyed in the last few weeks. Your discoveries and suggestions are always welcome.
his month’s Website-ings is all about toys and games. If you have a site you would like to share, or a subject category that you would like me to research, let me know. As always, I am interested in your opinions; you can email me at Hope you enjoy...



         “Automaton” means something that behaves or responds in a mechanical way. From the Greek and Latin, an automaton is a self-operating machine, also a machine or control mechanism designed to follow automatically a predetermined sequence of operations. There are many types of toys that are automata, and you will find a good starting point to learn more about these automata on this site.

A significant manufacturer of automata in the second half of the 19th century was Gustave Vichy. In 1996, a collector of automata bought the entire stock of Vichy, including the archives and the pieces that Vichy had acquired throughout his career. This website declares that its mission is to ensure the survival of the automata tradition and to help build a worldwide community.

At Ateliers Vichy they make new automata and restore vintage ones. They also want to help collectors find and exchange information on antique and modern automata.

From a history of automata, I learned that in the Renaissance automata were seen on the tables of princes. These were adorned with jewels and crafted as works of art. The “Golden Age” of automata is considered to be from the end of the 18th century through the beginning of the 19th century. These automata played music, composed poems, and drew designs.

During the Industrial Revolution, prices became more affordable and demand increased. Many different kinds of artisans – sculptors, decorators, dressmakers, painters, and cabinetmakers – were hired to make more interesting pieces.

You can download free movies of some of the automata and see them perform their movements. 


Autograph It

        The Universal Autograph Collectors Club site looks like a good place to learn about autograph collecting. The club was founded in 1965 by a small group of autograph collectors on Long Island. They state that the club has grown into the largest nonprofit collectors organization of its kind.

Their purpose is to educate each other and the public and to share knowledge and resources. They keep their members up to date on topics such as facsimiles, rubber-stamped signatures, secretarial signatures, autopen signatures, and forgeries. All of these are handy things to know about if you collect autographs.

If you are just learning, you might want to visit the Frequently Asked Questions page to see what questions others are asking. They have recently started their own autograph auction site, where only UACC member dealers are allowed to post autograph items for sale. All of the items on the site are described and illustrated. The illustrations are very important for learning to recognize signatures.

The site has a “Hall of Shame” page that lists people who have been expelled or censured by the UACC, with links to explain the reasons. It also lists companies or individuals that falsely advertise that they are members. And it lists bidders who win items in the UACC Auction, but do not pay.

Another page on the site lists autograph shows you can visit, and the warehouse page offers members special prices for reference material and some stock items for sale. The links page has many autograph-related links you will want to explore.

The best part of the site is still being constructed; it is called “Signature Studies.” Here you will find comparisons of different signatures and forgeries of the famous such as Frank Sinatra. You can view authenticated signatures, secretary-signed documents, facsimile stamps, and forgeries all in the same place. Offered are tips as to what to look for to determine if the signature you have is real.




Be My Valentine

Visit the website of West Virginia University Libraries to see its collection of vintage valentines. The collection includes 3-D valentines, cards and postcards. Each image can be enlarged to its actual size. There are more than 40 valentines in this online exhibit.


An African-American Odyssey and Much More

A great site from the Library of Congress offers online exhibitions on African-American history. All the exhibitions are incredibly well documented and well worth your time. Included in the exhibitions are tons of photographs you will be able to spend hours viewing.

The first exhibition, “The African-American Odyssey: A Quest for Full Citizenship,” has more than 240 books, government documents, manuscripts, maps, musical scores, plays, films, and recordings. This is the largest black history exhibit held at the Library and is the first exhibition to be in all three of the Library’s buildings. Here is a lot of reading online for you to review at your own pace. The exhibition explores the search for equality from the early national period until the 20th century.

The second exhibit, of the “Frederick Douglass Papers,” is about the 19th-century African-American abolitionist, Frederick Douglass. Douglass escaped from slavery and went on to risk his freedom by becoming a spokesman against slavery. There are about 2,000 items (16,000 images) covering the period from 1841 to 1964. All of the items relate to Douglass’ life. Scrapbooks from this collection tell of Douglass’ role as a Minister to Haiti and the controversy he caused by his interracial marriage.

Third up in the exhibition is Jackie Robinson. Robinson became a Brooklyn Dodger in 1947, the first African-American to play major league baseball. This exhibit covers the time from the 1860s to the 1960s and is set up as a time line. There are about 30 items consisting of manuscripts, books, photographs, and ephemera. The first three parts describe the “color line” that segregated baseball for many years. The last two sections cover Robinson when he was a member of the Dodgers, and in his civil rights activities.

A most interesting exhibit is called “Born in Slavery: Slave Narratives from the Federal Writers’ Project, 1936 - 1938.” This one contains more than 2,300 accounts of slaves has 500 black-and-white photographs of slaves. Very compelling – I think you will be able to spend a lot of time here.

In this part of the exhibit you will find 397 pamphlets from 1824 through 1909 about slavery, African colonization, Emancipation, Reconstruction, and related topics. Covered here are personal accounts and public orations. Also included are organizational reports and legislative speeches. Some of the authors include Frederick Douglass, Kelly Miller, Charles Sumner, Mary Church Terrell, and Booker T. Washington.

The final exhibit is all about slavery and the courts. Here are more than 100 pamphlets and books from between 1772 and 1889 about the difficulties of slaves in colonial America and the United States. There is an assortment of trials, cases, accounts, decisions, proceedings, journals, and more. Both the plaintiffs and the defendants are represented. Some of those included are John Quincy Adams, Roger B. Taney, John C. Calhoun, Salmon P. Chase, Dred Scott, William H. Seward, Prudence Crandall, Theodore Parker, Jonathan Walker, Daniel Drayton, Castner Hanway, Francis Scott Key, William L. Garrison, Wendell Phillips, Denmark Vesey, and John Brown. Very interesting.


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