Hunting for Antiques: The Montgomery Connoisseurship Competition

The Montgomery Connoisseurship Competition is one of the Winterthur Program’s oldest traditions. With a $75 budget and a few connoisseurship courses under our belts, Fellows are tasked with purchasing an object and pitching it to a museum for possible accession. We then present our findings to the public in the fall of our second year.

Curators largely set the agenda for what will be displayed in a museum, and they acquire objects that they believe are of high scholarly value and will interest the public. I’ve proposed four possible objects below, all of which I believe would be suitable for one museum or another. But for my submission for the 2017 Montgomery Competition, I’d like to hear what YOU would like to potentially see in a museum.

An example of a Clevenger Brothers Amethyst Decanter, 1920-1930, at the Corning Museum of Glass. Photo courtesy of the Corning Museum of Glass

1.) Clevenger Brothers Amethyst Decanter; For sale at a local antiques store

My first option is a Clevenger Brothers amethyst decanter, circa 1920-1930. These decanters are relatively common and can be found at most antique stores. This particular decanter is fascinating, though, as it comes from the collection of Myrtle Clevenger Bowers, the last family owner of the Clevenger Brothers Glass Works. The Clevenger Brothers produced glass in the New Jersey tradition beginning in the early 1900s. Early Clevenger Brothers glass is unmarked, making it difficult for collectors to distinguish it from early American glass. I think this would be a great addition to a museum as a study piece (and a wonderful example of 20th century New Jersey glass!) with the best provenance you could ask for.

J.G. Tarver Souvenir Ring, c.1936

J.G. Tarver, “The Texas Giant.” Photo courtesy of

2.) Souvenir Circus Ring; Purchased at Blackbird Trading Post in Lawrence, Kansas

I personally really love this object. It’s an oversized ring purchased as a souvenir from a Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Circus show in the 1930s. The ring reads “J.G. Tarver Texas Giant.” Tarver was eight feet four inches tall, and he began working in the circus in 1914. With the circus closing in May 2017, I think it’s important for museums to preserve objects like this as it helps document what people did for entertainment in the early twentieth-century.

Arts & Craft Bowl, early 20th century

3.) Arts & Crafts Movement Bowl; For sale at a local antiques store

I wasn’t able to get a good look at this bowl, but it appears to be a hand-painted example of Arts & Crafts pottery dating from the early twentieth-century. It didn’t have any visible condition issues. I would want to do a bit more research on this piece before I purchased it, but it looks like a really nice example of the Arts & Crafts movement, which would be fun to present on. I think this bowl is really beautiful, and I would likely pitch it to an art museum.

An ad from the late 1800s for tomato soup, featuring a celery displayed on the table. Courtesy of

Horsehead Medallion Celery, circa 1880. Image courtesy of eBay

4.) Horsehead Medallion Celery Glass

I like this final piece because it’s a bit “goofy.” It’s a “celery,” which was used in the late 1800s and early 1900s to display celery on the dining room table. This piece was produced circa 1880 and is a nice example of Early American Pressed Glass. Its primary motif is a horsehead, rendered somewhat roughly, in a central medallion. This piece is interesting because it helps document the changing foodways in the Victorian period, when celery was viewed as a “high status” food item.

Please vote on our Facebook page and tell me which object you’d like me to propose!

By: Trent Rhodes, WPAMC Class of 2018


One response to “Hunting for Antiques: The Montgomery Connoisseurship Competition”

  1. Michael Daley says:

    A most interesting and valuable exercise.

    Michael Daley
    (Director, ArtWatch UK)

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