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Old Mexican Bookends

Photo of Carved Mexican bookends

Old Mexican Bookends:  Wood containing iron weights.  Height woman 5.5 inches, man 6 inches. Five colors.  Unmarked.

This pair of bookends is unusual because they are a cut above the usual Mexican tourist bookends.  The bookends show a peasant man and  woman, huddled down under blankets or serapes.  The pair is hand-carved, and the carving is quite well done; the sombrero is given a concave brim and the faces are painstakingly shown.  It is old because all the paint is uniformly faded.

Old Mexican Bookends: the man’s serape is painted with a design reminiscent of Saltillo weavings, he wears a high-crowned hat. The woman’s rebozo drapes nicely down her back and ends in the typical fringe.  Notice the three plugs visible on the base.

Both bookend bases show plugs that have been used to seal borings into the wood. Holes had been drilled and iron weights inserted to make the bookends heavier.  (a magnet sticks to the base of either bookend).  Weights inserted into the bases of wooden bookends made in the USA are occasionally found, usually in Victorian-styled bookends displaying flowers.  But, who made these bookends; when and where were they made; are they folk art or a commercial effort?  Perhaps one of our followers can give us some information.

 

Sit and Sleep: Bookends of this general appearance are commonly seen in antique shops and shows.  The pair pictured here are early tourist fare, probably from the 1930s.  The tilt of the sombreros suggest the subjects are sleeping and eliminates the need to carve a face on the bookend. The hats are hinged and when tilted backwards, reveal a hollow interior containing a gray-metal slug that gives the bookend more weight.  This caricature of a sleeping Mexican, became widely popular in the United States in the mid-twentieth century.

 

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Made-in-Japan Mexican Bookends

Japanese Mexican bookends:  porcelain, Height 6 inches. Made In Japan.

Each bookend in this pair shows a Mexican peon sitting against saguaro cacti.  We know he is Mexican because of his characteristic sombrero and his sitting in the desert.  We expect his face to look like the popular conception of a Mexican – swarthy with a mustache, but instead we see a light-skinned, clean-shaven, blue-eyed face, quite caucasian in appearance.  These bookends were made in Japan, so we can guess that the artist had no familiarity with actual look of Mexican peons.

The painted details on this bookend are very nice.

In the late 1920s and into the 1930s and 40s, a popular home decor in the American southwest was a kitschy amalgam of mission, cowboy, and Mexican motifs. Table cloths, table settings, home decorations all incorporated variations of the theme. These bookends fit beautifully into what could be called, “Mexico In The American Imagination”, a phrase taken from the SOUTH OF THE BORDER traveling exhibition mounted by the Yale University Art Gallery in 1993 and 1994.

A vintage Mexican motif table cloth with a page from Mexican Cookbook by Erna Fergusson, published by the Univ. of New Mexico Press, 1934.

Before World War II, Japan was making porcelain decorative items for export to the United States and Europe. These bookends appear to be from that period and made for the American market. They are nicely detailed and hand-painted. The stamp, Made In Japan, is one that could be pre-1941 according to the Kovel’s website. The Kovel’s indicate that 1921 is when the US government began to require the Country of Origin be in English and the Japanese started using Japan instead of Nippon. After the war the stamp “Made in Occupied Japan” was used until 1952. The quality of these bookends would indicate pre-war. We like them even though their light weight doesn’t bode well for holding up books.

Made In Japan mark.

 

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Charro Bookends

Charro Bookends:  Gray metal and “mexican marble or onyx”.  Height 6.25 inches.  Inscription:  ArtemetalicA  S.A.  Hecho en Mexico.

Charro Bookends:  Gray metal and “mexican marble or onyx”.  Height 6.25 inches.  Inscription:  ArtemetalicA  S.A.  Hecho en Mexico.

The charro is a Mexican horseman or cowboy who competes in a charreada.   HIs traditional costume is a fancy sombrero, a beautifully-embroidered short jacket, tightly-cut and decorated trousers, and boots.  With lariat in hand, our bookend charro is ready to win the heart of a lady while showing off his skill with the rope.

The Charreada is a Mexican rodeo, and it is the national sport of Mexico.  It is a formal exhibition of horsemanship that dates back to the sixteenth century and is a predecessor of the American rodeo.  Today charreadas can  be seen in Mexico (Click here for photos of a Charreada from The Guardian in 2014) and in the U.S (Click here for a link to the San Antonio, Texas organization ). We found these bookends in the heart of California’s Central Valley, which has a tradition of rodeos and vaqueros.

It is unusual to see metal bookends from Mexico.  Most Mexican bookends we see are relatively crudely shaped stone pairs, generally greenish yellow, sold as mexican onyx. They can be found in craft and tourist shops at border crossings.

These Charro figures are finely cast of metal and each is mounted on single block of mexican onyx. The detail is excellent. You can see the embroidery on the jacket and the metal “galas” down the outside seams of the pants.  There is a paper label on one of the bookends identifying the maker as

Paper labels on base of one of the Charro Bookends

Paper labels on base of one of the Charro Bookends

Recently we visited a bronze foundry in Tijuana, B.C.,Mex. . While our bookends were not made at this particular foundry, it is an example of the type of foundries to be found in Mexico where quality casting work like this is done today.

 
 

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Pre-Columbian Reproduction Bookends

These pottery and wood bookends were issued by the Schering pharmaceutical company in about 1973, to promote Schering products.  Each bookend holds a museum reproduction of a pottery piece from the Colima culture of Mexico. The original clay sculptures are about 1500 years old and show an individual scratching his skin disorders. Presumably, The Schering skin cream, Valisone, could have helped ease the medical condition, so the reproduction pieces were used to promote Valisone.

Photo of Schering Promotional Bookends

“Itch and Scratch”. Pottery and wood, height 5.5 inches. Produced in Spain. Inscription: Brand of Betamethasone Valerate, Valisone, Colima Mexico, ca 200-800 AD. Includes the crest of the Schering pharmaceutical company.

The original ceramic sculpture is pictured in the book, Precolumbian Dermatology & Cosmetology In Mexico, by Dominique D. Verut, M.D., Chanticleer Press. Inc., New York.1973. This interesting volume was also distributed as a promotional item by the Schering company.  Dr Verut, a prominent dermatologist, wrote that the skin lesions could be from tuberculosis, deep mycosis,syphilis, or tumors.

The documentation of the sculpture as featured in this volume elevates the bookends from simple Schering promotional items to unique bookends featuring precolumbian ceramics, and increases their value to all collectors interested in this subject. According to the Medipro (Marketing Company) website, eight dermatological museum reproductions were produced as Valisone promotional items, another 8 reproductions promoted the mental-health drug Etrafon.  As far as we know, none of these other reproductions were bookends.

 
 

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Golden Mission Bookends

Photo of Mission Bookend

Mission bookends, 9.5 inches tall, weight 5 pounds each.

We thought we were buying bookends that showed specific California Missions, but we were mistaken.

The bookend on the right has a number of Mission features:  four mission bells, a wooden door with huge strap hinges, an adobe brick wall covered with plaster, and a tile roof.  Unhappily, not any of the twenty-one California Missions closely match the appearance of this bookend.  It is a combination of features creating a beautifully  romanticized Mission bell tower,  although it is possible that it matches a Mission in Texas or Arizona.  However our research didn’t find one.

The bookend on the left has a partial identity.  The bell tower matches that of Mission San Diego de Alcala, but the staircase from the rear of the tower has been brought forward to the front, and the well and the path have been brought from an enclosed garden to the front of the bell tower.

Photo of Vernon Kilns plate depicting San Diego Mission.

San Diego de Alcala Mission and Bell Tower depicted on a Vernon Kilns plate circa 1940.

The Golden Mission bookends are marked Progressive Art Products, 1967.  Progressive Art Products of California, located in the Los Angeles area, produced decorative bookends in the 1960s and 70s.  All we have seen have been quite large, made of plaster, and very well painted.   We included a decorative pair of large Clown Heads and a patriotic pair of Heroic Eagles by this company in BOOKEND REVUE, published in 1996 by Schiffer Publishing, Ltd.

 

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Bookends: A Year’s Worth of Blogging.

We started this blog on June 1, 2012.  Here is a gallery of the bookends we’ve posted.  Hover over the photo to locate the date the bookend picture and story was originally posted.

 
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Posted by on June 1, 2013 in Art Styles

 

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Aztec Fire-God Bookends

Meet Xiuhcoatl the fire-serpent diety of the ancient Aztec indians of Mexico.  Each bookend, including the base, is a replica of a stone sculpture about three feet high, held by the British Museum. Xiuhcoatl is interpreted as the embodiment of the dry season and was the weapon of the sun.  The royal diadem of the Aztec emperors apparently represented the tail of the the Fire Serpent.  Xiuhcoatl was associated via its tail sign with turquoise, grass and the solar year, all three associated with fire and solar heat.

Xiuhcoatl or Fire Serpent with the head and curving fangs of a snake, short legs, and a magnificent tail, combines realistic and mythical elements into one powerful figure.

Aztec Fire-God: Xiuhcoatl or Fire Serpent with the head and curving fangs of a snake, short legs, and a magnificent tail, combines realistic and mythical elements into one powerful figure.

Each bookend is 7 1/2″ high, electroformed bronze and unmarked except for the artist’s name, T. Thorpe or J. Thorpe.  We could find no listings for sculptors that would fit the name and time frame.  There are a couple of possible painters who could have drawn the piece, one is American journalist, artist, and humorist,  Thomas Bangs Thorpe (sometimes Thorp) who covered the Mexican War (1846 – 1848) and painted scenes of Mexican antiquities.  There are a John and a Thomas Thorpe, listed English painters, who also fit the time period.

Mexican antiquities excite our imagination and remind us of trips to Teotihuacan and Templo Mayor.  We were pleased to acquire these unusual bookends on eBay at the end of 2012.

 

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