Articles At A Glance
Collectible Architectural Models
As seen in The Antique Shoppe Newspaper, July 2007
Looking for something different to collect? Try architectural models. The recent opening of “Made To Scale” an exhibit of two dozen model staircases at the Cooper-Hewitt Museum should stir up collector interest.
The collection is a gift to the museum from retired antique dealers Eugene and Clare Thaw. The most expensive piece in the collection cost Thaw $60,000 at auction from the estate of fashion designer Bill Blass. Others were more modestly price from $2,000 up. The collection was amassed over thirty years.
Though pricey, these dollhouse-sized objects have long been coveted by a small group of collectors, mostly architects and interior designers. Prices depend on rarity, age and quality of design. Their size varies from a few inches to several feet high. Models aren’t limited to staircases but include complete buildings and their various parts, such as roofs and windows.
There is nothing new about architectural models. They go back to ancient Egypt. Through the centuries they have been made not only of wood but plaster, marble, slate and zinc. Considered the finest are those made during the Italian Renaissance. Michelangelo, whose model for the dome of St. Peter’s in Rome still exists, has been displayed at the National Gallery. The Vatican owns the rarest example: a nearly complete model of St. Peter’s finished in 1546.
Models were used for more than a working model. Often they traveled to various cities to raise money and interest in an important building project.
It was often the usual practice to discard the models when the project was finished. However many French models from the 18th and 19th century have survived since they were appreciated as miniature art forms. Many of the staircase models in the Thaw collection were made by members of a French Guild system which existed from the middle ages through the 19th centuries.
CLUES: Fakes do exist, In fact a fake that Thaw bought over the Internet for $20,000 is on display. It is a double staircase two-feet high. There are also model kits available for staircases. Finished, they can be sold as old to unsuspecting buyers.
Centuries ago the staircase models were made as part of becoming an “architectural master”, and being accepted into a guild. The results display careful craftsmanship and sometimes the experimental process of architectural design.
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