THE PLACE was not my favorite Viennese second-hand store.
The alte waren was in a courtyard of a shabby house. Everything was kept in a dusty pile back in what once was the stable. I think that was the place I bought the gilt mirror that turned out to have bedbugs in its heavy wooden backing, but I'm not sure.
I did buy a grand Tiffany-style lamp there. But you should have seen the one that got away -- a huge semi-sphere mother lamp with several tiers of baby lamps dropping from it. Mr. Stanley of Chicago already had put his mark on it.
At least once a week, and maybe twice if I had time (and back then I did), I'd make the rounds of the alte waren , the abfall station (old paper and metals collection depots), but almost never the antiquitaten (the high-priced antique stores). Thank goodness, I didn't really become a habitue of the Dorotheum, the state auction house, until the last few months we were in Vienna, otherwise we would have never made it home.
But getting back to the alte waren in the courtyard: I remember the day that I saw the Tiffany-type lamp. There also was a table with a heavy brass base and a chair, something like a captain's chair, also with brass feet. I remember trying to tip the table and pick up the chair. They were heavy.
I knew very well that the day of reckoning was coming when we'd be leaving Vienna. I already had had a good dose of the State Department's limited and penny-pinching attitude toward shipping. The chair and the table were also a bit out of my discretionary money. The agreement was that I could buy anything that cost $5 without discussion. I could go to $10 if I was absolutely sure I wanted it. But $15 and over called for a family conference. The chair was $15 and the table was $20.
About that time, I was buying the standard Viennese 1859 Thonet cafe chair for $1, $2 if it had arms, or up to $5 for the one with the heart shaped curlicues. So I didn't buy the table with the brass base or the chair.
What a fool!
The other day I was in Lord & Taylor in New York. The table and chair were there. The table was priced at $950, the chair, identified as designed by the famous architect Otto Wagner, was $3,950 a pair. I died.
Don't feel bad," said Philip Cutler, a Lord & Taylor buyer. "You see that Fledermaus Cafe chair over there? I sold that one for $950, and a pair just like it went for $9,000 at a Christie's auction shortly after."
Cutler was curator for the show and sale of furniture, home accessories and fabrics "from and inspired by Die Wiener Werkstatte Years," at Lord & Taylor's in New York. The show is open through Dec. 9.
(Die Wiener Werkstatte, a craft guild, a cooperative, was based on the English brotherhood founded in the 19th century by William Morris. The Viennese workshop flourished from 1905 to 1939 or thereabouts, though most authorities favor the pre-World War I designs. The later pieces are softer, more romantic.
Wiener Werkstatte grew out of the Secession movement, the avant-garde art movement that seceded from the academy of its day in protest against its heavy eclectic traditional art. The Secession is generaly regarded as the grandfather of the modern movement, which went on to flower in the Bauhaus in Germany. The Secession style is characterized by clean geometric lines but still with a bit of Art Nouveau's slightly askew look. As well as the Wiener Werkstatte retail shop in Vienna, Joseph Urban ran one in New York at 581 Fifth Avenue from 1922-1928.)
Also in the Lord & Taylor's show, I saw a Thonet plant stand, beechwood painted black, designed by Otta Prutscher in about 1914. It was very like one I bought and then had to leave behind in Belize, Central America. Well, at least I gave it to the British Council officer, John Miller. I hope he still has it, though I don't think he'd give it back. The one in the Lord & Taylor's show sold for $2,950.
I walked all the way through the exhibit with a terrible feeling of missed bargains. The dinner plate with blue and white border (1918 School of Koloman Moser) at $95 or the Josef Hoffman 1918 glass vase, now $1,500 really shook me up.
I know I would have turned up my nose at the ceramic shoe, made by Susi Singer as a personal gift to Josef Hoffman, now priced at $1,200, as just too icky. I remember Frau Kohlhammer at the Kloster Neuberg shop telling me her son was putting all his spare change into Weiner Werkstatte ceramics. He must be a wealthy man now.
I did buy everything in Vienna in the Secession style that cost $15 or under. But, oh, the things that went for $16!
Oh well, I took back to the store the Fiesta China we received as wedding presents. Do you know what Fiesta is bringing in the shops now?
Cutler said he became interested in Weiner Werkstatte objects when he was in Vienna not long ago. "I'd been to Vienna many times since the early '60's, buying antiques. I did very well with the Viennese Biedermeyer pieces, for instance. They are so simple and beautifully made. They fit in very well with the way we live.
"On this recent trip, I went into a very expensive antique shop. The wife of the owner, Ingrid Zerunian had just started her own, less expensive shop. We went over to see her things and her enthusiasm for Wiener Werkstatte and the pieces themselves just bowled me over.
"She lent me objects from her own collection and introduced me to the Backhausen Gallery of Fabrics. Backhausen originally wove most of the fabric for the Werkstatte. They had a treasure trove -- including some of the original patterns for fabric of the period."
Zerunian and Cutler, with help from the Gallery Ariadne, came up with a collection of objects that would make the Museum of Modern Art feel covetous. As a matter of fact, several museums have bought from Cutler's show. All but a few pieces have been sold: "Though I was terrified I'd have to eat them," Cutler said.
The original sketches by Josef Hoffman, the Weiner Werkstatte wrapping paper, the original patterns for Backhausen fabrics, the Werkstatte preview invitations, the logo from the New York branch store, the posters, and both the original and reproduction Backhausen fabrics are especially interesting because none have ever been displayed before.
A much larger show, "Vienna Moderne," was seen at the Cooper Hewitt Museum earlier this year, the first exhibit in the United States to concentrate on the period. In a few years, when its new addition is finished, the Museum of Modern Art is planning a museum-wide exhibition on the Wiener Secession period. These two saintifications of the style are partly responsible for the great increase in prices of the objects.
Christie's sale of Art Noveau/Art Deco at the end of October brought in more than $2 million, almost twice the previous sales for such a show. Seven world records were set for prices of Lalique jewelry, Tiffany vase and lamp, Galle furniture and lamps by Pairpoint and Handel Companies.