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This Month: The US and Euro columns from the Autumn 2017 issue of Antiques and Collectables for Pleasure & Profit.

Australia's Most Informative & Entertaining Antiques Magazine
Rod Labbe

The US Column
Rod Labbe looks at Little Golden Books

Drift back with me, now, back through the hazy mists of time to December, 1957. I'm five years old, and the world is fresh and new and wonderful. There are no adult responsibilities, no worries about deadlines or looming assignments. Working for a living, vacuuming, dusting, mowing lawns and painting houses was what grown-up people did. Not me... I lived the carefree life of a '50s child, enjoying every single, exciting minute!

Was life really a fairytale? I thought so, full of magical adventure. The simple stories and drawings gracing my collection of Golden Books sent me sailing on a sea of endless wonder. With them as guides, I visited other lands, looked both ways before crossing a busy street, performed magic tricks, and thought outside the proverbial box. They encouraged me to dream, draw, experiment and explore, providing strong educational and cultural touchstones. Such is the power of those little tomes.

Launched in 1942, Little Golden Books was a collaboration between George Duplaix, of the Artist's and Writer's Guild; Western Publishing, and Simon and Schuster. Children's stories were 'hot properties', but Western wanted affordability and high-quality. Children's hardcovers went for $2 to $3 per title. Reducing prices would corner the market, hopefully igniting a publishing phenomenon. That's exactly what Little Golden Books ventured out to do... and a sensational phenomenon is exactly what they sparked.

For the first wave, twelve titles were released in September of 1942: Three Little Kittens; Bedtime Stories; Mother Goose; Prayers for Children; The Little Red Hen; Nursery Songs; The Alphabet from A to Z; The Poky Little Puppy, The Golden Book of Fairy Tales (Poky Puppy is the best-selling picture book of all time, selling almost fifteen million copies); Baby's Book of Objects; The Animals of Farmer Jones; and This Little Piggy and Other Counting Rhymes.

Should you own any of these in first prints, you just might be sitting on a collector's goldmine. How to determine which printing is which? Cover price can be a big clue. For twenty years, Golden Books were priced at 25 cents, slightly escalating to 29, 39, 49, 59, 69, 89 and 99 cents and beyond (average price in 2017: $4.99).

The initial print run - an ambitious 50,000 - sold out quickly. Even in 1942, a quarter was considered reasonable. Packaging was bright and eye-catching: 42 pages, many in full colour, each carrying a distinctive spine covered in imitation gold leaf. Point of purchase displays (usually a spinner-rack) were set up close to cash registers and in aisles within easy reach. Golden Books went on sale everywhere, from grocery stores to corner markets, five and dimes and pharmacies. Before the close of 1943, over 1.5 copies had been scooped up by an adoring public. Can you say 'unqualified success?' Yes, indeed!

Western Publishing made another canny move in 1944, securing a lucrative marketing deal with Walt Disney Productions and producing lavish adaptations of their animated films, including Snow White; Cinderella; Bambi; Three Little Pigs; Pinocchio and Dumbo.

New stories were created starring Donald Duck, Mickey Mouse, Chip 'n Dale (two rascally chipmunks who tormented an apoplectic Donald), and other Disney characters. To this day, the Disney Golden Books are the most widely-read and collected.

Soon, Western cast its net even further. Warner Brothers cartoon characters Bugs Bunny, Porky Pig, Sylvester and Tweetie Pie, Roadrunner and Daffy Duck joined the party, kicking things up a sizeable notch. My two favourite Bugs Bunny Golden Books were Bugs Bunny Gets a Job (1952), in which he worked as a soda jerk, and Bugs Bunny's Birthday (1950).

The books I remember most vividly (1957 onward) are Frosty, the Snowman; Paper Doll Wedding (1954); Little Lulu's Magic Tricks (1954, supplemented by a genuine box of Kleenex Tissues on the front); Captain Kangaroo and the Panda (1957); Mickey Mouse's Mother Goose Stories (1952); Mickey Mouse Goes Christmas Shopping (1953); It's Howdy Doody Time (1955) and Howdy Doody and Clarabelle (1953).

I read Donald Duck's Toy Train (1950) until the front cover detached itself. Couldn't get enough of Donald! He was such an irascible character, forever at odds with either Nature, Circumstance, or Chip n' Dale. A second Golden Book told of Donald's trek to chop down a Christmas tree (Donald Duck's Christmas Tree, published in 1954), and again, he battled those clever chipmunks! A third volume, Donald Duck's Safety Book (1954) was less rambunctious; its important lessons taught in an effective, humorous, and straight-forward manner.

My big sister, Sue, fancied herself a cowgirl and our parents bought her Golden books on Annie Oakley; Roy Rogers, and Hopalong Cassidy. These had an "old-timey" feel to them that appealed to me in some vague, indefinable way.

Interestingly, Golden Books would oftentimes keep the same cover illustration through multiple prints, but colour schemes changed. My copy of Disney's Cinderella from 1957 bore a blue cover, and my younger sibling's (1965 edition) was green. Once in a very great while, covers would be redone completely, but for me, the original illustrations always worked best.

Those looking to collect or identity Golden Books should invest in Collecting Little Golden Books: A Collector's Identification and Price Guide, by Steve Santi (available on Amazon.com). You'll find all editions and volumes; it's an exhaustive must-have for the serious and not-so-serious collectors among us.

Today, as in decades ago, Little Golden Books were and are solely the territory of children. They speak in a universal language easily grasped, easily understood, and sentimentally embraced. I've kept all of mine. Now and again, I'll sit and read one or two and reconnect to the little boy I once was. They never fail to make me smile.

Australia's Most Informative & Entertaining Antiques Magazine
Judith Dunn

The Euro Column
Judith Dunn looks at events in Europe

The EU has announced strict measures to tackle trafficking of cultural goods possibly linked to terrorism, causing great unease in the art market. The criteria would apply not only to antiquities, so dealers in more recent wares could also be put in the position of guilty until proven innocent - not exactly ideal. As we know, Germany has pre-empted this with its own laws, which have seen auctions held abroad and with considerable success: Nagel in Salzburg and Lempertz in Brussels held Asian arts sales in June, realising excellent results. A 1947 Qi Baishi watercolour made €300,000 at Nagel - six times low estimate. More than doubling low estimate for Lempertz was a rhino horn libation cup, selling at €75,000. Rarity, provenance and an Imperial connection were the crucial factors - and the presence in force of Chinese bidders making a welcome return. Koller in Switzerland - legislating independently - also had good results in Zurich in June. An intensive marketing campaign in China and Hong Kong paid off, with two sales over the SFr1million mark.

But things were still happening in Germany. Van Ham (Asian) and Lempertz (Indian and Japanese) held sales in Cologne and did very well. In Bavaria, Bamberg held its summer event. As in Paris and Brussels, the 'trail' formula works brilliantly and has done for over 20 years. In Bamberg it lasts one month, from late July to late August, with a dozen dealers in their own galleries. The Wagner festival in Bayreuth brings in more visitors.

Christie's Paris operation was well ahead of the field in the figures for the first half of 2017. They made an eye-watering €136.6 million, up over 21% on the same period in 2016. Crisis? What crisis? Again, private collections - notably that of Hubert de Givenchy - were crucial. His Guardì and seven Giacometti works were among the ten top sellers. The Drouot complex benefited from the Rodin centenary with a sale of his bronze, Eternel Printemps, at Fraysse for €1.96 million and from some classic Chinese items. June and December are Asian art months in Paris as well and Sotheby's recorded some spectacular results. Leading the table was a celadon jade sceptre, inscribed with a poem by the Qianlong emperor and dedicated to his mother on celebrating her 82nd birthday, allowing precise dating to 1773. It made a cool €1.25 million. The Chinese were there in force again, from Hong Kong and Taiwan as well as the mainland, buying up all the jades in the sale.

One of the best-loved books of all time is Antoine de Saint-Exupéry's Little Prince. Two original watercolours by Saint-Ex went under the hammer at Artcurial in June, making €230,000 and €175,000. Drouot sold a slice of its own history, in the shape of an 1876 oil by Fichel, a master of genre painting. Marvellously detailed, it shows the auction in full swing. It made €80,000 at Beaussant Lefèvre.

Dorotheum in Vienna set their own record for a book in June, selling Andreas Vesalius' ground-breaking 1543 anatomical study, De Humani corporis fabrica, for €280,000. Vesalius pioneered human dissection and produced a surprisingly beautiful work of art with superb woocuts and typography.

TEFAF's autumn event in New York is now well established. This year, the organisers are trying out an online selling site featuring items dealers will be bringing to the fair. Some will be already vetted. The site will be run by Invaluable, marquee sponsor for TEFAF, and will become a permanent feature if the trial brings the hoped-for results.

There is plenty of moving and shaking elsewhere in the market, notably in areas popular with tourists. The annual Lille Braderie fell victim to terror fears in 2016 but will be back in September 2017. Bruges in Belgium has another large event every three months, the Zandfeesten. Covering five kilometres near the main railway station, it has hundreds of dealers. Brussels has a vintage market - with some antiques - on the first Sunday of every month. It opened in 2010 at Café Madame Moustache, with a dozen young dealers. It took off and now runs in the 19th century former meat market, Les Halles Saint-Géry, with 70 stalls. Antiques and vintage rub shoulders in Milan's Navigli district. Shops are there all the time, but the last Sunday of the month sees a two-kilometre stretch of the Naviglio Grande bank lined with some 400 traders.

Multi-function sites have obvious advantages for traders. One such near Caen in Normandy is the Poterie du Mesnil de Bavent. Mesnil denotes a wayside inn and this delightful half-timbered building, nearly 200 years old, is suitably welcoming (pictured). It has long housed a pottery, brought up to date in 1842 and specialising in ceramic roof finials typical of the area. Production was interrupted in 1940 by WWII and the building was badly damaged in 1944. Things limped along from 1950, but in the 1980s serious restoration took place and the enterprise is now in full swing. Traditional artisan methods are still in use, the only real change being modern kilns. The range of production has expanded greatly and the site now has a shop, an art gallery and an artisan village, including an antiques shop. Visits, demonstrations and workshops are organised on a regular basis, as are fairs. Among the latter are brocantes at Easter and in August. For details see the website www.poterie-bavent.com

Australia's Most Informative & Entertaining Antiques Magazine