Boehm porcelain birds flying into new collections

Collectors are once again flocking to own the hand-crafted Boehm porcelain birds that have been popular with presidents, royalty and heads of state.
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Collectors are once again flocking to own the intricately, hand-crafted Boehm porcelain birds that have been popular with U.S. Presidents, royalty and foreign heads of state for decades.

 American Boehm signed porcelain hummingbird figure. Circa 1991, 12 1/4” tall. Brightly designed Costa’s Hummingbird with Rubrum Lily, #324, perched beside an open lily on a branch with stem. Marked with black “Boehm” over feather beneath horse head and “MADE IN U.S.A.,” hand-signed by member of Boehm family. Sold through Jeffrey S. Evans & Associates, Mt. Crawford, Virginia, in October 2016 for $555.75. Image courtesy of Jeffrey S. Evans & Assoc., Inc., William McGuffin, photographer.

American Boehm signed porcelain hummingbird figure. Circa 1991, 12 1/4” tall. Brightly designed Costa’s Hummingbird with Rubrum Lily, #324, perched beside an open lily on a branch with stem. Marked with black “Boehm” over feather beneath horse head and “MADE IN U.S.A.,” hand-signed by member of Boehm family. Sold through Jeffrey S. Evans & Associates, Mt. Crawford, Virginia, in October 2016 for $555.75. Image courtesy of Jeffrey S. Evans & Assoc., Inc., William McGuffin, photographer.

Gwendolyn Reasoner of Re Vann Galleries said the famous Boehm birds (pronounced “beam”) are flying off auction shelves as more and more collectors realize the value and charm of the delicate porcelain figures.

She recently sold a 1950-vintage glazed porcelain Percheron stallion for $3,400.

Reasoner said prices for vintage Boehm birds like the old woodpecker, warblers or black grosbeak range from $500 to $3,000. “The older and more elaborate pieces are attracting collector attention,” she said.

“I have one collector who is 99-years-old and is still collecting with great enthusiasm. We’re reviving interest in American-made porcelain, and that’s really an accomplishment.”

Re Vann Galleries, founded in 1975, is one of the only remaining fine art dealers specializing in early, vintage Boehm porcelains and the largest dealer in the United States for over four decades.

Boehm porcelain charms collectors

Collectors like Gwen Chenoweth of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, fondly display the Boehm birds on Victorian mantels to brighten up rooms. Her collection of four Boehm 1950s birds is valued at more than $500. The collection ranges from woodpeckers to baby robins and chickadees.

“Most collectors of Boehm figurines are bird and animal lovers,” said Mark Evers of Mark Evers Antiques in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

Antique expert Ellen King of Hilliards, Pennsylvania, who has appraised a cache of Boehm birds, said the Boehm birds and artifacts perfectly emulate nature. “They are simply exquisite and have found many cherished spots in homes and museums nationwide,” King said.

Boehm sculptures, for example, can be found at the Metropolitan Museum and the Vatican. They have been owned by luminaries like Queen Elizabeth II, Prince Charles, Pope John Paul II and Sophia Loren.

Boehm porcelain at Bellingrath

A 5-foot tall Boehm bird display of woodpeckers landing on a nest is located at the famed Delchamps Gallery of Boehm porcelain at Bellingrath Gardens and Home in Alabama. Only three such woodpecker displays were ever crafted and are valued at $250,000 each.

Boehm porcelain woodpeckers

The 7-foot-tall (including plinth) Boehm figure of woodpeckers landing on a nest. Located at the Delchamps Gallery of Boehm at Bellingrath Gardens and Home.

“The gallery was created in 1967 to house the collection of Boehm porcelain given to the Gardens from Mobile’s Delchamps family and represents the largest public display of the works of American sculptor Edward Marshall Boehm,” said Tom McGehee, museum director of the Bellingrath Gardens and Home.

Boehm was a ceramic artist who coupled his love of art with his love of nature to produce figurine birds, animals and flowers in lovely background settings accurate to the smallest detail. His first pieces were done in the early 1950s in Trenton, New Jersey under the name of Osso ceramics. He passed away in 1969 and his wife took over the business with clever marketing schemes.

During his early career, Boehm kept a large collection of exotic birds in extensive aviaries and tropical houses at his home in Trenton, New Jersey. These birds became some of the subjects and inspiration for his sculptures. Many of these species were successfully bred; about a dozen were recognized as being bred successfully for the first time in captivity anywhere in the world.

“Boehm was a bit of a recluse but so very talented,” McGehee said. He added that he frequently receives calls from collectors wanting to sell or donate their Boehm birds to the museum.

“We’re all filled up now at our museum with over 300 birds in the permanent collection,” McGehee explained.

John Mickinak of Ligonier Antique Gallery in Greensburg, Pennsylvania said the Boehm porcelain birds are still selling but people are not as knowledgeable as they used to be about antiques and collectibles.

Boehm porcelain “Raptor,”

Boehm porcelain “Raptor,” 21 by 20 by 10 inches, sold at auction for $300 by John McInnis Auctioneers on Jan. 26, 2019. Photo courtesy John McInnis Auctioneers, Amesbury, Mass.; http://www.mcinnisauctions.com

“I think the internet has killed a lot of business because all porcelain prices are down,” Mickinak said. On eBay in February 2019, Boehm creations were fetching as low as $9.99 for a baby goldfinch to $4,750 for a life-sized Boehm red-shouldered hawk.

Lynn Flanders of Oakmont, Pennsylvania said she is sorry she sold her mother’s Boehm bird collection at a recent garage sale. “I had no idea these birds could have sold for more,” she said.

Mickey Joyce of Morristown, New Jersey said she has no intention of selling her grandmother’s Boehm porcelain bird collection.

“I use them to teach my third grade students about the environment and conservation,” she said.

Other academics like retired history professor Edna Smith of Waynesburg, Pennsylvania said the Boehm collections can be a great visual expression of history.

For Diana, Princess of Wales, Boehm created a porcelain copy of the wedding bouquet. After her death in 1997, the company issued a limited white rose – sending one each to princes William and Harry.

“Unfortunately, I do not have the white rose,” Smith said. “But I’m so glad the company is still producing the lovely creations.”

Contemporary Boehm

Boehm porcelain eagle

The Eagle of Freedom II, Boehm porcelain sculpture. [New Jersey; 1976]. Created to celebrate the American Bicentennial. Number 23 in an edition of 300. One feather on left wing has been repaired;16” tall. Sold for $225 through Heritage Auctions in 2015.Photo courtesy Heritage Auctions, www.ha.com

The Boehm Showroom, LLC has taken over the legacy of the world renowned company with six decades of rich history. In 2015, the Museum of American Porcelain Art in Cleveland, Ohio purchased the assets of the Boehm Porcelain Company. And the Boehm showroom, LLC has exclusive use of those assets, including the original molds and various trademarks.

Robert Arace, Boehm showroom’s manager, said the classic porcelains are once again available to the public. “Original molds are poured, pieces are assembled and painted by the original artists, making these stunning Boehm porcelain sculptures and figures practically come to life before you,” Arace said. One of Boehm’s latest masterpieces is an American Eagle valued at $50,000.

The new owners have renovated the retail gallery showroom located in the original facility at 25 Princess Diana Lane in Trenton, New Jersey. Sales and manufacturing operations also continue at the renovated location. The facility had been closed for a short time in 2014 until the new owners took control.

“It’s so nice to see an American porcelain maker back in business,” said Bill Antonacceo of Ascendant Auction Galleries. “Most of the original Boehm bird collectors are older now, and have left collections to relatives so we do see a lot of them at estate sales. Of course, it will be the limited edition birds and flower scenes from the 1950s that continue to garner the most attention.”

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