Garden Antiques

After spending years finishing the interior of their homes, collectors turn the focus to their gardens.

Leisure time was on the rise by the late nineteenth century, resulting in an increased interest in gardening, conservation, and spending time out-of-doors. The economic gains that made this possible were fueled by the industrial revolution, which saw eager manufacturers responding to expanding markets that included garden amenities such as the Birdbaths, Garden Furniture, Birds-houses, Wellheads & Vitnage Garden Equipment that are now desirable antiques that adorn many a garden.

Gardens with their peaceful distractions bring back harmony and serenity to our lives. The interest in horticulture today mirrors the 19th century fascination for plants and nature. We go on a search to educate our readers that everything you love about antiques and all things gardenrelated: the rare, the heirloom, the historic, the handmade, the well-designed, the over-the-top, and the just plain cool – and how you can transform your ordinary garden to something extraordinary & gorgeous.


Antique stepping stones Vintage birdshouses Antique wheelbarrows Antique garden gates Fountains & Birdbaths Wrought iron gates & finials Chairs & tables Antique benches Wellheads & Cisterns Vintage waterfeatures Sundials Earthy farm implements on a wall

Old shutters or gates to hang on walls look very effective & decorative

The most expensive ornaments are made from a material known as Coade stone, says Barbara Israel of Barbara Israel Garden Antiques in Katonah, New York, who wrote the book Antique Garden Ornament, Two centuries of American Taste. In 1769, Eleanor Coade created a formula for a clay-based, high-grade durable stone, manufactured in her factory in Lambeth, England. According to Israel, because Coade stone was extremely hardy and able to withstand harsh English weather it was the ideal material for architectural details. The buff-colored material was also cheaper than quarry stone and, as it was made from molds, it could be used to create finely detailed classical statuary. At a Sotheby’s auction in Sussex, England, in 2005, a 14 – inch – high 1814 Coade stone corbel (a type of architectural bracket usually attached to a wall) from a refurbished medieval abbey sold for about $4,320, twice the pre-sale estimate. At last year’s New York Botanical Garden Antique Garden Furniture Show, Israel featured a pair of 8-inch-tall canines, probably greyhounds, 1813- 33, for about $49,000. “A full-sized female Coade stone classical statue, if you could find one, might run between $50,000 to $75, 000,” she says.

Snow, ice and wind can be very destructive to garden ornaments. Movable statuary should be placed in storage or moved inside if possible. Statues and large urns too heavy to move should be covered with water proof tarps, tightly secured to with stand heavy winds. Make sure your statuary and large planters or urns are on a solid, frost- proof base. They should not be sitting directly on the soil or grass. In colder climates the ground moves and heaves during freezes and thaws which can cause statuary and urns to fall over or sink in the ground. Statues and large urns too heavy to move should be covered with water proof tarps.

Items placed under trees are suseptable to damage from falling limbs from heavy winds. Care should be taken to move pieces away from these locations, if possible.

FURNITURE: such as cast iron benches and chairs if not taken inside for storage should rest on platforms of stone, brick or concrete to prevent them from sinking in the ground. Cover dry pieces with secured waterproof tarps to protect them from ice and snow, if desired. To protect finishes it is always better to store cast iron furniture for the winter. Cracks in cast stone, marble or stone can collect water which will freeze and thaw, causing further damage; therefore, these pieces should also be covered. And yet many collectors enjoy leaving certain special pieces in their garden.

BIRD BATHS: of any material should be stored away or the bowls placed on the ground turned over. Urns or jars of any type also need attention. Even with drain holes, which get blocked with leaves water can collect and cause damage in freezing weather. They should be turned over if possible or if they are large urns with planting soil, the soil should be allowed to dry out and then the urn covered with a waterproof tarp.

DESIGNS AND MATERIALS : The earliest designs of manufactured birdbaths were borrowed from antique Italian ornaments. With the turn of the century, the market expanded, and so did the decorative range. Cast or carved in a variety of materials, figural elements of cherubic children, putti, birds, frogs, turtles and squirrels, as well as floral motifs and rusticated tree branches were combined with bowls and bases for an endless variety of products. Birdbaths were most commonly cast from artificial or composition stone, a concrete made from water, Portland cement, sand, and stone of various minerals in particle or dust form.

Antique birdbaths will show wear and patina from years of exposure to the elements. Exposed surfaces of old cast stone may darken in color from weathering or retain evidence of mineral residue from constant contact with water: verify with the dealer whether the birdbath’s material will withstand freezing and thawing. If considering a two-part birdbath, try to determine if the pieces are original to each other or “married,” and decide how important that is to its look and function. If only the bowl survives, place it on a pedestal or on a platform on the ground, which can be covered with a decorative vine. The bowl must not rest directly on the earth.

TERRA COTTA PIECES: such as oil jars should be given special attention and put in storage in cold climates. The exception to this would be “architectural “ terra cotta pieces of high fired terra cotta, a beige or brown masonary building material which was weather proof and used for many buildings in the late 19th century to 1930. Decorative exterior fragments from these buildings, often with a ceramic glaze, are popular garden ornaments today and can be safely left outdoors in any weather. The Galloway Terra Cotta Co. established in Philadelphia in 1810 advertised their terra cotta ware as “frost-proof” and fired to a degree that “rendered the body frost-proof and would weather the severest winter.”

FOUNTAINS: Should be turned off and the basins emptied and stored if possible. Smaller fountains can be removed and put in storage. Pumps should be removed, the lines drained and cleaned and the pump stored in a plastie bag so the seals do not dry out. If the fountain is not removable, let it dry and then securely cover the fountain with a weather proof tarp.

GRILLS & GATES: Collectors are also seeking exterior grills from 19th-century buildings as garden art, as well as high-quality armillaries. (An armillary sphere, an ancient astronomical instrument, consists of intertwining metal rings representing the relative positions of the celestial equator and other celestial circles.) According to Proler, antique European armillaries tend to run around $16,000, though she recently sold an 8 l/2-foot 1840 Georgian-style pedestal topped with a bronze armillary for about $35,000.

COLONIAL AND FEDERAL PERIODS: In the Colonial and Federal periods gardens were furnished with simple wooden benches made right on site by local cabinetmakers copying designs from imported pattern books. These wooden pieces seldom survived. Also chairs were simply brought outside from the house. A rare surviving wooden bench is the late 18th century “Almodington Bench”, a lovely diagonally slatted back design of yellow pine which was originally made for the Somerset County Maryland plantation named “Almodington.” This is the oldest known piece of American garden furniture. It is now in the collection of the Museum of Southern Decorative Arts in Winston Salem, North Carolina.

WROUGHT IRON: Wrought iron, softer than cast iron, required the skills of an artisan to hammer and twist into delicate linear forms, and was used by the wealthy class in the 18th and early 19th century for gates and fences. Beautiful examples can be seen in Charleston, N.C. today.

The 19th century brought the development of the ornamental cast iron industry. The history of cast iron ornamental furniture begins with the raw element itself: iron. Always found as an ore, iron must be processed into wrought iron, steel, or cast iron, differing with the amount of carbon they contain, with cast iron having the most and being the least malleable and most brittle. Although iron furniture had existed for centuries, the new American cast iron industry was viewed as superiority of technology over nature and iron as the new important material of the 19th century. By 1840 there were over 800 cast iron foundries in this country and the number doubled by 1850. At first cast iron was used for architectural and industrial uses, then for decorative fencing, house and garden ornaments. Iron manufacturers promoted the use of ornamental cast iron for conservatories, parks and cemetaries, extolling its beauty and indestructibility.

Creating an iron piece of furniture consisted of the skilled making of an hand carved wooden mold for each part of the piece—the arms, seat, back, and legs, then sand casting each piece, then carefully filing and burnishing each piece. Components could then be galvanized (coated with zinc), painted, or bronzed. Finished pieces were always bolted together. Today this process is so costly, that pieces are electro welded together. Garden urns or “Vases” were offered in detailed foundry catalogs with choices of handles and pedestals, and seating in a variety of designs.

COLLECTABLE CARE: When selecting an antique for the garden, scale is as important as placement—let the size and formality of the space suggest the size of the antique, but keep in mind that the massive piece that looked magnificent on site at an estate sale will not retain its grandeur when shoehorned into a garden nook. Remember to keep ornaments and plants in balance so that they link to the house and each other harmoniously. A significant antique can be cleverly used to distract from a less attractive part of the garden, but too many antiques in a small space creates a visual competition that detracts from the overall ambiance, so it’s better to be selective.

Restoration does more than connect us to the past; it reenergizes the past and allows us to relish the same pleasures our predecessors enjoyed. In this respect, a garden antique is not a shrine to a bygone era, but rather a point on the circle of its existence, coming around the curve once again as it is reused by yet another generation.