This trade sign was constructed from old, evenly-patinated oak boards joined horizontally and cut to a “tombstone” shape, with a “kerf-cut” molding around the edges. To this the maker applied high-relief carvings of an octant, telescope and globe. The sign is stylistically appropriate for the mid 19th century, and the detail of the relief carvings is remarkable. For example, the legs of the globe appear turned, with incised turned decoration in the manner of a 19th-century stand. Indeed, the detail is sufficient for identification of the instruments, all by English makers of the 1840s-50s: The octant in the style of Spencer Browning or possibly Barrett, the telescope by Dollond, and the three-legged stand marking the globe as by Newton and Sons.
The sign has been examined by Matt Jones, globe restorer at Green Dragon Bindery, who in turn consulted a master cabinet maker and a prominent dealer in maritime antiques. The three concurred that the sign “is most likely a reproduction,” and I quote their reasoning at length:
- “The sign is constructed of too many boards, they are horizontally joined, and normally on signs of this type, 2 vertical boards would be joined together. This configuration seems sketchy. They had better, wider boards, and would not have glued so many together for an exterior trade sign. The hide glue of that era is not weatherproof. The sign would have separated and fallen apart.
- “This “kerf-cut” molding and tombstone shape has shown up on several signs that have been auctioned over the last 20 years. All have raised elements, and the subject matter seems too good to be true.
- “While the design elements are period correct, the italic style hand lettering for 4 out of 7 words seem odd. Most English signs dating between 1830 and 1860 have predominately blocky, well serifed letters. Several of these “too god to be true” signs auctioned recently, have had a similar italic hand lettering.
- “Good organic paints can be mixed, scuffed, weathered and antiqued by an expert. The 2 pinstripes around the edge of the sign are suspect colors. Cerulean blue, and Process yellow. Both are very bright and lack oxidation. The obvious touch ups were done very well, but all lack significant age.
- “The 3 mounting holes, are at odds with the placement of the single cross brace. The sign seems, again, like an interior rather than exterior sign.
- “There are signs of old cut nails, but all the raised elements and the cross brace on the back are held on with modern (if rusted) brads.
- “If, and when this sign was extensively repainted or touched up, they cleaned away or covered over some of the obvious areas for weathering and aging to occur. Notably the top edge of the barrel of the telescope, the horizon ring of the globe and the fragile extended screws of the telescope and the octant.”
I am not 100% convinced, as these concerns could conceivably be explained away: For example, the multiple boards and horizontal joins addressed in #1 would not have been a problem if the sign had been intended for indoor display. Chemical analysis of the paint—both expensive and time consuming—would likely provide a definitive answer to the question, but given the strength of the above arguments this has not seem merited. Hence, out of deference to the expertise of Matt and his colleagues, the sign has been priced as a decorative object rather than as an original antique.
Original or otherwise, the sign’s size, the accuracy and detail of its carving, vibrant coloring combine to render it a most appealing and unusual decorative object.
A copy of Matt Jones’ report can be provided upon request.
The expected old dents and dings, all over painted, with a fresh tiny chip along one edge.