Monday, June 29, 2015


Yup, I wrote an article about majolica (pronounced either "muh-JAH-luh-kah" or "mah-JOE-lee-kah"…or if you're Spanish or Mexican, 'may-HOLL-eek-kuh; course I don't speak Spanish so that's probably wrong) for the new issue of SF Cottages & Garden Magazine (which I love--it's a great new magazine you should check out). So I thought I'd share my article with you! :) So here goes...along with all of my photos which the Editors decided not to use! Wah.

A Magnificent and Rare 19th c. Faience Porcelain Bust of "Winter"
a masterpiece of modeling from a series of five enormous faience busts
originally commissioned in 1730 from the Rouen manufactory of Nicolas Fouquay
Whether it is superb antique Minton or more humble country-ware, majolica's vivid hues and whimsical motifs make it a go-to design element for summer. Its rustic elegance lends itself perfectly to the season's more casual entertaining, while its crisp blue-and-white hues evoke Mediterranean shores. A highly collectible art form, it ranges from garden pottery to tableware to statuary, and its distinctive themes--among them sea life, animals, flowers, fruits and exotic plants--continue to inspire contemporary textiles, tiles and accessories that bring color and wit to indoor and outdoor spaces.

An Exceptional Pair of 18th c. Faience Ceramic Lions
commissioned for the Royal Hunding lodge in Rouen
Majolica, with its white opaque and luster overglazes, first became world-famous in the High Renaissance of the 15th century. Originally created to emulate Chinese porcelain, it was eventually produced throughout Europe: In France, they called it Faïence after the Italian city of Faenza--a major early source of majolica--Delftware emerged from its namesake Dutch city; and England had its own interpretations as well, many of which originated with Flemish immigrants.

A Set of Four 19th c. Monte Lupo Faenza Diningware Plates

Majolica begins as an earthenware form, typically red terra cotta, which is covered with a fast-drying, white tin glaze. Once dry, the glaze is decorated with lively colored paints or stains and then fired at more than 1,500 degrees. At that temperature, the glaze interacts with the metal oxide of the paints, producing the deep and brilliant hues characteristic of majolica.

A 19th c. Exuberant Ginori Ceramic Urn
with Leopard Spotted Coiled Boas and Mascarons

The vast majority of majolica is unmarked and unsigned (exceptions include English Minton-ware and much of French Faïence such as Luneville and Limoges), so beginning collectors can build an exquisite collection without worrying about identification. Serious collectors look for indications of age--typically fine lines or cracks called "crazing"--or small bits of dirt. Many majolica aficionados look for similar color schemes--yellow and blue is a characteristic combination--while others organize by country of origin, motif or high-relief decoration, like that of Italian maker Capodimonte.

A Pair of 19th c. Sicilian Majolica Rusticated Cachepots

My favorite majolica takes the form of lions, a popular motif of the French and Italian makers. They were typically sculpted in whimsical and almost comical designs that I find irresistible. My majolica lions roam my summer garden, bringing color, humor and joy to all who spy them hiding among the blooms. 

A Pair of 18th c. Angouleme Faience Seated Lions
most likely from the Rue de Bondy Manufactory, patronized by the duc d'Anouleme

Sunday, May 17, 2015


Sometimes I think that antique dealers purposely speak in a language that bears no resemblance to English.

My suspicion is that they speak that way because they're extra-terrestrials (that is, not of this world)-and being aliens, they can't master our earthling vocabulary…..except for the one phrase: "TAKE ME TO YOUR LEADER." All aliens know that one.

But back to our story: Here's a great example of antique mis-speak: When an antique is painted as opposed to stained, it's called "polychrome". Ok, fair enough since polychrome means many colors. But what do we call furniture that's painted in only one color? Monochrome, right? Wrong. It's still called "polychrome". Why? Dunno. Probably because even the most sophisticated alien beings can't collect painted antiques (painted finishes burn up in Pluto's atmosphere and so can't be transported back to their planet). 

Shown below: An 18th Century "Polychrome" and Parcel Gilt Settee and pair of Arm Chairs en suite:

Here's more proof that antiquarians are from outer space. In their "antique speak", the 19th Century doesn't include 1800-1830.

Yep, even the top auction houses agree that the first quarter of the 19th century is not really part of the 19th century at all. To illustrate my point, here's a recent quote from Sotheby's: "The 19th Century Furniture Department at Sotheby's deals with items produced after 1835." Strange but true: aliens have taken over Sotheby's!  And that explains those phony English accents…Blimey!

Ok, so what do you call antiques made in the 19th century prior to 1835? Well, in France, you call them Empire (the period under Napolean from 1800-1815), Second Empire or Louis XVIII (1815-1824) and after that Charles X (1824-1830). In England, it's called Late Georgian (1760-1820) and then Regency (under George IV from 1820-1830). In Italy, you can just call this period Italian Empire or Neoclassical.

Shown below: A pair of Polychrome and Parcel Gilt 1815 Empire Benches with later upholstery embroidered with the symbol of Napoleon, the bee centering a laurel wreath.

The reason the first quarter of the 19th century is often separated from the rest of the 1800's because the furniture styles that emerged between 1800-1830 were new and unique (as were those during the 1700's). And so they got fancy period names.

But after 1835, styles were really just revivals or reinterpretations of earlier designs. Examples would be Neo-Gothic Style in England, Neo-Grecque Style in Paris during the 1860's and 70's and Louis XV/XVI revivals throughout the latter part of the century. 

Boring side note: The furnishings from post 1835 are perhaps best encapsulated by the series of Great International Exhibitions. Although the idea of exhibitions of this type developed in France in 1798, the first truly International Exhibition did not take place until 1851 in London.

These exhibitions became popular throughout the world, although the most important were in London and Paris. They were intended to follow an eleven-year cycle (another alien concept aimed at confusing us earthlings), with Exhibitions in Paris in 1855, 1867, 1878, 1889 and 1900. London had another exhibition in 1862 but due to financial losses at the time the idea was never really followed through in England in the same way as in France.

How can you spot an ALIEN antique dealer? Easy. They all look like either gassy babies or (quite curiously), a young and luscious Liz Taylor.

Thursday, May 14, 2015


A common question I get is "Who's Da Boss?" Well duh. It's Tony Danza of course! I loved that show with Alyssa Milano as his innocent young daughter before she got edgy, got tats, started smoking and got pregnant. Poor thing. But this has nothing to do with debossing, embossing, or the critical hygienic technique of FLOSSING (PLEEZ don't forget to floss--it's so important! This is a PSA from the ADA). So….uh…so there.

Turning to our topic, would you be surprised to learn that everything you always thought was embossing is not embossing at all. Shocking but true! Even more shocking is how nobody gives a rats-ass about this, not even me. But I'm still going to blog about it because my blog hits have taken a nosedive.

So let's start out with a sneaky trick question like this one: "Don't you just love the rich look of a table that has a beautifully gold-embossed leather top like this one?"

Answer: "Most definitely Buzz, and not to brag but we have an embossed desk just like it in our pied a terre in Barthalona!" Retort: "Oh, gimme a break Buckwheat. You don't have a pied a terre in Barcelona-you have an Efficiency with a hot plate in Canoga Park. And lose the Catalan accent. It's annoying and my diet pill is wearing off." But getting back to our topic, if you did have that desk, it's not embossed at all, it's debossed!" Read on to learn how I know this.

C. Mariani is famous for doing this type of specialty leather work. And we do it all by hand (a very steady hand I might add) and in 22k gold leaf. I've spent (OK, wasted) many hours watching Claudio Mariani take his 200 year old tool set, select one of his 35 antique engraved embossing wheels, and then meticulously apply the pattern and the gold to leather desk tops.

He works very slowly and always grumbles that "left turns are the hardest"--of course, I have no idea what he's talking about. I think it's either his driving skills or laying down the perfect left curving gold debossing on these leather surfaces (he's a master at this and insists on perfection!).

But none of that matters now because I just found out that Claudio and C. Mariani have never embossed anything! All of these desk tops, blotters, and other leather specialty pieces we've been supposedly "hand embossing" over the years ARE NOT EMBOSSED AT ALL.

Quel scandale, oui?! Who knew? Certainly not The Buzz. I wonder if my education was deficient and  I should have been assigned to "special ed" when I was a tween.

But alas, back then, the only "special ed" available was just being called stupid. So my desperate cries for a tudor were sadly misunderstood as just being an overly ambitious tweenage phony trying to claw his way into private schools. Oh the humanity! {Cue the sobbing}. I always wanted to use that quote (it's from the 1937 radio coverage of the Hindenburg disaster). It makes no sense in this context, but I just wanted to use it anyhow.

But back to our story. So we're now going to learn exactly what EMBOSSING really is and how it differs from the gold leather decorating we've been doing for years, which is called DEBOSSING.

Embossing creates a raised relief image while debossing creates an indented/recessed image. So all this time we've been debossing those dang desk tops.

Sub-question that comes to mind here: what's blind embossing? Blind embossing is just creating a raised relief impression (from the back) with no gold or inking on the raised surface. So what we usually think of as blind embossing is really blind debossing because we do it from the top. In fact, there are many other types of embossing as well, none of which I care about. But just for the record, they include registered embossing, combination embossing, pastelling, glazing, and scorching.

I think the only time I used the term embossing right was when it came to "engraved" stationery. I always said it was EMBOSSED, VERY classy, VERY APPROPRIATE for anyone aspiring to be an old money East Coast WASP. And I was right (finally!) because "engraved" refers to the metal stamp that embosses the stationery. In fact, the widespread use of this engraving that creates embossed stationery is far more widely used than the hand-applied debossing we do at C. Mariani.

Want more details?  I know you don't but I have to continue….Embossing applies pressure to the backside of leather or paper stock to alter the surface, giving it a three dimensional raised effect. To do this, a die maker engraves the desired impression (it can be just about anything from text to images to design motifs) into several metal plates (embossing dies). So it's embossing that creates the elegant and understated stationery that no one under 60 uses anymore. Sigh.

Debossing, on the other hand, applies pressure to the front side of the leather (or paper or whatever) forcing the material away or down from the surface.

Placing gold foil between the stamp or roller (rollers are used for continuous lines like desk top trim) lays the gold down in the pattern or motif desired. The best gold debossing (and what Claudio is so good at) is really an old-world process that involves hand stamping/rolling and embossing at the same time. It requires complete concentration to keep the image and foil matched precisely. This is one of the many techniques in our workshop that only Claudio himself does. In fact, it's such a closely guarded trade secret that he's never trained any of our staff in this technique that only he can do.

Strange but absolutely true. Informational closing factoid: Despite everything I say in this post, EVERYONE still calls debossing "embossing." and I don't think this  blog is going to change that so feel free to misuse the term with abandon! I certainly do. :)

Wednesday, April 8, 2015


A Pair of 19th c. Napoleon III vitrines

Yesterday, I had one of our top interior design clients stop in and ask, "Buzz, where are the vitrines?" Pronounced "vuh-TREENS."

But she looked a bit disheveled. Plus I'm getting a bit hard of hearing-so I honestly thought she asked "where are the latrines." Pronounced "luh-TREENS." So I said, "Second door on your left sweetie…and after you've freshened up, let's look at some antiques!" She seemed a bit confused but headed for the restroom.

A Pair of 19th c. Biedermeier Vitrines, these filled with antique tortoiseshell boxes

Unfortunately (for me and her) a latrine isn't exactly a vitrine. A latrine is an outhouse, especially a communal one, like this one:

This piece is not available at C. Mariani so please don't contact me about it.

You can see that a latrine is quite different from a vitrine, which is a glass or partial glass display case or cabinet. Like the vitrines shown earlier in this post, here's another vitrine we have in stock:

A Stately 18th C. Parcel Gilt and Polychrome Italian Louis XVI Vitrine

And so are these:

A Pair of 19th c. English mahogany, brass and glass vitrines

Anyhow, my client returned from the restroom and said she couldn't find a single vitrine in there! But her lipstick and hair now looked great. So I just said, "Really? Oh yeah, I forgot, that vitrine sold. But let me show you some others! :)

So off we went and she wound up purchasing a lovely Louis XV vitrine very similar to this one:

In this case, I agree with Shakespeare: "All's well that ends well!" Happy hunting for a vitrine of your very own! :)

Sunday, April 5, 2015


Picture this: you're in an important job interview and you find your prospective boss very attractive. There's nothing wrong with that.

But then you make an impulsive misstep trying to show her how much you really want the job:

But you quickly realize your pathetic behavior, get off your knees, regain your composure and continue with the interview:

You start concentrating on smiling, acting poised, sounding smarter than you are, and above all appearing sophisticated and urbane. Which doesn't make a lot of sense because the job you want is an entry level position at your local Jack in the Box. What's the title? Oh yeah, "Fry and Shake Station Operator."

But let's face it, you need the money (albeit minimum wage). Just be thankful you've kicked that nasty coke habit (the one that put every dime of your family fortune up your nose). So you need to go for it here. I say BULLY FOR YOU BUD (this Bud's for YOU!).

Then, while she's asking some question about how hot the oil needs to be to properly crisp the fries, you're noticing how luxurious this woman's office is:

Then you start wondering how much she's worth....I mean, just look at those pillows and how they're perfectly karate chopped (a tired look but nobody's perfect). You're thinking this chick must make a fortune here! That means you could make a ton of dough as you climb the Jack in the Box corporate ladder! Buzz's side note: I do not endorse or use sexist words like chick but this guy's a moron.

And behind her you spy that 18th c. Georgian Gainsborough chair and wonder how much she paid for that little gem. Wowee zowee! Things are definitely looking up!

But then she pauses...and notices you looking around appraising her furniture. Uh oh. She looks you dead in the eye and says one word: "Gauffrage!" Pronounced "GO frahzh!"

OK so you're busted - what the hell does "GO Frogs!" mean?

Maybe she was a cheerleader at Texas Christian University…at TCU football games they scream GO FROGS constantly. It's very annoying--wouldn't CROAKING be more creative? Of course it would.

Speaking of football, I also like "ALL THE WAY IN ONE PLAY!!!!!" That's a football chant too, right? And now that I think about it, that's what we said in high school when you got wayyyy past first base with a hot date! :/  And what about S-C-O-R-E !!!!-that chant meant the same thing! I guess gauffrage has a lot more to do with football frogs and their sex lives than I ever imagined! Don't believe me?? Below is a pic of the TCU mascot and you know that mascot is??? It's called a "horned frog." Not kidding--Google it. I rest my case.

Texas Christian University's mascot: A Horned Frog

But back to our story-so you keep your cool….you just need to figure out how to respond to Gauffrage!---(this is a multiple choice question) - Should you say:

1. Bless you! Or if she's of German descent, say Gesundheit! "Pronounced "Guh-zoont-hite!" It's always smart in interviews to show you're conversant in multiple languages (especially if the interviewer looks Aryan and/or possibly Germanic. By the way, if you're Germanic, please know that IT IS TREATABLE).

But back to the our topic…what was our topic? Oh yeah, how do you answer her saying Gauffrage!

2. Maybe she's proposing a toast and you got the job while you were daydreaming! Yay! If that's the case, then maybe you should answer: Chin chin Fraulein! And wait for her to pop a cork;

3. Or maybe you should jump to your feet, outraged, and scream:  DON'T MESS WITH ME MISSY! This is a trick question! I happen to be an expert in linguistics, French fries AND textiles! Gauffrage is a technique that embosses plain fabric with a hot pressure cylinder that melts a pattern into the fabric (usually silk or cotton) making it permanent and really expensive."

A Gauffrage Rolling Cylinder

Obviously, "Don't Mess with Me Missy" is the right answer. So be assertive when you say it and then just lean back, look smug, smirk every-so-slightly (I mean who busted who this time?!), and just wait for her to apologize. But she doesn't. Instead she rips up your resume (it was mostly bogus anyhow) and calmly says, "Don't let the door hit you in the ass you piss-ant." :(

OK, fine, you didn't get the job, but I think it was worth it, don't you? You don't need no stinkin' fast food job. You need to go and apply at Prada, Jimmy Choo or C. Mariani Antiques. Why? Because that's where the gauffrage is. 


P.S. Doesn't gauffrage remind you of flocked wallpaper? Ewwww.

Wednesday, March 25, 2015


This blog is about Hungarians and why I love them. A great example is the legendary Hungarian movie star, Zsa Zsa Gabor. She (and this post) have nothing to do with antiques except that she passed away when she was really really old. BREAKING NEWS: 4/2/15-I just found out from a reader that Zsa Zsa is NOT dead.  I made a slight boo boo.  And thanks to Alan Deal of BAMO for alerting me to this! Side comment: I'm SO sorry Zsa Zsa! Get well Soon! :) Buzz

Then why am I writing this? Well it was an honest mistake I swear! Plus, serious writing (this would not be a good example) is my calling-I wasn't meant to "blog" the rest of my life! And I don't want my tombstone to read "Here Lies Buzz Kaplan-Yeah that blogger dude who said Zsa Zsa was dead."

So I'm going to forge on and spread my literary wings here to show you, Houghton Miflin and the world that I'm a serious auteur (even though the whole premise of this post is now discredited) as well as a "blogger to watch" who needs to fact-check more carefully.

Anyhow, let's get back to Zsa Zsa, pronounced "JHASHA gab Bore"; or uh, "Za Za gah BORED"--it's very hard to phonetically spell, but this last pronunciation was vetted in music (albeit dead wrong) by none other than Dion Dimucci (of Dion and the Belmonts) in 1963 in his unforgettably toe tapping hit "Donna, the Prima Donna":

And who could forget her electrifying win as Miss Hungary of 1936? OK, everyone has forgotten it. But it really did happen and it's worth mentioning because it launched her meteoric rise to the heights of Hollywood Royalty (that's royalty with a small "r"). Even the great John Huston raved, "At her acting best, she was credible." I think he meant to say INcredible but unfortunately he didn't.

Her dizzying rise to stardom (cinched into her signature "Clamato" dress) culminated in the film cult classic "Queen of Outer Space," a Technicolor extravaganza released in 1958 by a studio that refuses to divulge its name.

But the plot was riveting:  A bunch of astronauts crash land on Venus only to find that it's an all-female planet ruled by the evil queen Yllana (played by an actress who's name I forget). And for some reason, this Queen wears a mask all the time. Plus she's banished all men from the planet. Ugh.

Anyhow, the astronauts are taken captive by the glamazon Venusians and brought to Yllana's palace. Luckily, one of the courtiers at the palace is the beautiful, overly ripe and very lusty courtier named Talleah (Zsa Zsa Gabor). She and a few of her co-courtiers, all "long for the love of a man" (isn't that quaint!) and so they're plotting to overthrow the evil Queen to get some desperately needed lovin'. After all, a girl's got needs, right?

Next scene: one of the astronauts distracts the Queen by twerking wildly to show her how cultured and refined we are on Earth. And as she's transfixed oggling his gyrations, he yanks off her mask, poignantly revealing that she's horribly disfigured (oddly resembling a burnt Kraft Jet Puff Marshmallow-I suspect that this was an early version of product placement.) 

Anyhow, so her face looks like a s'more and the tragic reason is shocking: she was exposed to radiation burns "caused by men and their wars." Damn those men! In a fury, the Queen decides to destroy Earth and its tweaking inhabitants but then she dies because Talleah/Zsa Zsa and handsome astronaut BF foil her plot. The Venusians are free to once again enjoy the love of men. Yay. Ding dong the Vitch is dead! (Note my authentic Hungarian pronunciation of W's. They say them kind of like Russians saying Wodka.)

Wait! I forgot the most important part! Right before Talleah/Zsa Zsa overthrows the queen, she hisses to her new boyfriend (the cutest of the imprisoned astronauts), "I HATE ZAT KVEEN!" I know Zsa Zsa meant "I hate that queen"--but it's Zsa Zsa's perfect delivery of that line in pigeon English that has made it a classic. Much like Wodka. Try her line yourself the next time you get upset with a gay guy. It's fun, he'll like it  and it'll be therapeutic all at the same time.

Oh: my other favorite Hungarian/Austrian/German (they all sound the same to me) line is from Blazing Saddles, where an exhausted Madeline Kahn (using a Marlene Dietrich Hungarian cum German accent) comments after a long night of….uh…lovemaking: "I'm tired from the vaist down." 

Am I the only one who thinks this stuff is funny? Sometimes I worry… :(

P.S. Anyhow just to make this a real post about antiques, here's a good word to know: Kouros, pronounced "COO rohs." It's a sculpture form of a young male from Ancient Greek sculpture dating to around 500 BC to the onset of the Hellenistic style around 323 BC. They appear very stiff, much like Zsa Zsa's acting. Zing!