Yellow Californias (ICON)

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| name = Brent Burger | name = Brent Burger
| date = 2009-03-06 | date = 2009-03-06
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With the recent discussion of yellow Californias, I have posted a few shots of some I have close at hand. You will have to look through some of these recent postings to find them all. Start here: With the recent discussion of yellow Californias, I have posted a few shots of some I have close at hand. You will have to look through some of these recent postings to find them all. Start here:
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Current revision

Yellow Californias

Andrew Gibson commented on 2009-03-03

What questions would you ask if you were going to purchase a California in some shade of yellow? Just how sure can one be on the authenticity of a yellow California? Dwayne's research on artificially induced colors < > documents that it's definitely possible to change purple Californias to yellow, and that one needs to be careful anytime you are considering spending money on a yellow insulator that also comes in purple, as is certainly the case with most California pieces. It does seem that at least some yellow California pieces were found that way -- there does seem to be ample evidence of this. But there's also ample evidence that just because a piece has been in someone's collection for the last 30 years, doesn't mean that it's genuine. Dora Harned wrote an article for the September, 1970 issue of Crown Jewels < > warning of SCA Californias being color altered to produce yellow insulators. Seems like this is an issue that has been around since day 1 in the hobby.

It almost seems to me that the only way you can have some degree of certainty is if you have a statement from the original finder of the piece, stating that it was indeed yellow when found. I'd appreciate any comments from people who have bought yellow Californias. What drives your belief that they are genuine? What makes you willing to spend significantly more for a color that is questionable? Or doesn't it matter if they are genuine or not?

One other question -- if you have a yellow California, will it turn purple if you leave it in the sun? Thanks for any thoughts!

Brent Burger commented on 2009-03-03

Great post. Not only the questions, but the structure as well.

As a one time collector of nothing but Californias, and a lingering fan who still has a lot of yellows, I have been in the thick of this topic for three decades.

First of all, Bill Kemp is an excellent source of argument against all yellow Californias, having noted some (if not all) of the persons turning purples into yellows many years ago. Let's hope he chimes in here.

As to the subject of yellow Californias, like any type of insulator, there is a wide range of shading within the "yellow" group, from a bright golden yellow to greeny "chartreuse" kinds of yellows, to smokey yellows, to orangey "peachy" kinds of yellows. And then there are the two tones !

As we all know, manganese added to the glass batch produces purple glass after exposure to the ultraviolet rays of the sun. But this is an over simplification of the subject. Manganese is added as a de-colorizing agent, acting chemically to neutralize the iron oxides present in the raw materials that would otherwise produce aqua or green glass. This chemical balance is a key factor in color, as it relates to purple glass. Variables in the pre-manganese batch can alter the potency of the iron oxides. Variables in how much manganese was added produce a whole new set of variables. Since no factory worker had a way of knowing how potent the batch was prior to tossing in a shovel full (or ten) of manganese, it was a constant roller coaster of chemical imbalance that produced the endless shades of glass.

Since yellow Californias have been documented as having been found in sheltered locations still bearing their yellow coloration, it has been assumed these yellow pieces have simply never been exposed to the sun and remain in "original" condition as made and shipped from the factory in Long Beach. The helmets pulled from the rafters of the Pacific Lumber Company mill in Scotia, California are probably the best known of such finds, but linemen over the years have also told me of similar finds in electrical chaseways, under eaves, even painted over .... So, yes, ... some yellows are indeed unaltered from the way they were first made.

This raises an interesting concept. Sort of a chicken and the egg kind of thing. If these yellows are the never altered originals, what does that make the purples ????  ;-D Realistically speaking, they are indeed naturally altered from the sun exposure, but they are altered none the less !

As mentioned above, Bill can make a strong argument regarding those he witnessed being made by collectors from purples for the sole purpose of turning a $5 insulator into a $25 insulator. I will leave this line of elaboration to him or others. I knew of it since day one, but never was witness to it firsthand. What I did witness first hand was 10 chartreusey green-leaning yellow CD 152 Californias coming off the UP line along a short stretch of line just upriver along the Columbia from Portland, Oregon. I also pulled a few C.G.I.Co. 102's off poles in a smokey yellow. I have found shards of broken yellow 102's out in the field as well. I have two yellow C.G.I.Co.'s in my collection that came from non-collectors or collectors with no real tie to the hobby who only gathered what they found out in the wild. They were tossed in with a large assortment of really common glass and no notice was being given them for any sort of price advantage. I sincerely believe these particular instances involved collectors utterly clueless as to what they had and no motive was present for malfeasance.

Of these two, one is a weaker yellow, although still a good color, the other is a two-tone, whereby the front half is a peachy-orange sort of color, while the rear is largely a stronger yellow.

This brings up the color spectrum question. Which colors mean what, or can anything be learned from the shades to indicate altered yellows. The smokey yellow C.G.I.Co. I have the clearest recollection of finding was taken off a sidepin on a pole located right in front of a farmhouse. The insulator on the opposing pin was a no date No.9 Hemi. Using the full lineman gear approach, I was able to changeout the yeller and get out of there without trouble. However, the pole was in a treeless area and was fully exposed to any and all sunlight for as long as it had been on the pole. Do the smokey ones sit on a chemical balance to where there is not enough manganese present to allow purpling ? And what about the ones that are partially "pinked" to produce a peachy color with the mix of yellow ? How could such a color mix be produced from a kiln / heat exposure ? All good questions.

After years of mental ping-pong on the subject, my good friend Bill Reid kinda ironed it out for me as we discussed this subject over a number of visits and many beers. As many know, I restore old cars. As such, the concept held by many old car guys that a car is only ORIGINAL once, and that restoring it is not really the same seemd to draw a parallel for me about these yellows. Some are original, some are restored to "original", and just like with old cars, some restorations are so good that no one can tell the difference ! Others are poorly done and it is obvious. Bill is a pragmatic kind of guy and he agreed. He said "I don't give a damn if this hasbeen monkeyed with! If I can't tell it from one I took down myself, then it is good enough for me." I tend to agree.

It is not a matter of being "fake" like insulators being made from scratch three years ago, or running real insulators through a nuke box to produce colors the insulators never were to begin with. Yellow Californias were yellow to begin with. Del Sol altered them to purple, and if a guy is good enough with a kiln to heat them up to a point of restoring the original color and them returning them to ambient temps without shattering or slumping them, than by golly, that is good enough for me too.

Of course, I would always grill the seller about the history of any insulator I buy, especially if it is one like these where people tend to ask questions.

Oh yeah, ... and as for turning back to purple ? I left one of my C.G.I.Co.'s out in the sun for two summers, hoping for a more stout peach color, but no such luck. It still looks about like when I got it. I think some shades will purple, while the less potent yellows are more stable. I have been unwilling to toss some of my better yellows out in the sun for experimentation. I like them as is.

Bill Kemp commented on 2009-03-03

I was going to stay out of this but since i was there from day one of the Yellow Cals.

It all started with a guy called Bruce Evans at our California shows. Every show he had these Mickey Mouse salt and Pepper shakers. He had a kiln and his wife and him made these. He was well known for being a Cal collector. This was back in the 60's (1960 not 1860 brent) It seemed like every show Bruce was there with a new find in Yellow cals. Finally the word got out at how he did it. This all came to light when he showed up with the call eggs in yellow.

Back when i lived in Idaho in the late 70's again 1970 not 1870 i met a kind of wacky kid who loved insulators. His name was Ray Hansen and he lived either in Kellogg or wallace Idaho. He worked in the mines. While i was there we heard he found a partial case of CGIC's in straw in the mine storeroom.

When i attended the National in San Diego put on by Maury and Addie Tasem we had occasion to run into a snafu on the Yellow cals. Since Some were found that were straw or Yellow it was hard to ban or judge all as the same.

Andrew Gibson commented on 2009-03-03

Thank you for the feedback. This is exactly the type of info I was after. Brent, it seems you probably lean towards the "it doesn't matter if they are genuine" camp, as long as the "restoration" is done so as to be substantially undetectable. But if I carry your restoration metaphor a little further -- the genuine, 100% original car (or motorcycle, as I happen to prefer :) is typically worth more (even far more) than a restored vehicle (assuming condition is comparable, of course). So one might expect that there really should be 2 values for a yellow California -- one for a "restored" (i.e. what some might call a "fake"), and one for the "genuine" 100% as found original. That's obviously not the case with the price guide. I know that you don't particularly hold with paying much attention to the price guide, but this makes me wonder if a yellow California is actually "worth" what the price guide lists. Is the price guide value for the "genuine" article only, and a "restored" insulator should be worth something less? Perhaps that's a question for John and Carol, if you are reading this? As a potential buyer, I don't really want to pay the "genuine" price for a "restored" insulator if the values are substantially different. On the other hand, you do talk about the different shades of yellow that these come in, and the question of what can one learn from the different shades. Can you tell (or come to a well educated guess) which yellows are genuine and which are altered? Or is it really a case of "alteration" really can fully "restore" the color to a totally genuine appearing shade? Do the yellow colors vary by CD, or are they really haphazard and anything goes?

I just want to educate myself as much as possible before deciding what I'd like to do. The thoughts are much appreciated!

Though I think I can say that if I do get a yellow California, I probably will make sure not to expose it to the sun too much. Better safe than sorry!

Brent Burger commented on 2009-03-03

Colors or shades can be all over the board. I do not believe I could point out a heat altered yellow from an original by the color. Thermal fractures, flattened bases, slumped profiles are good indicators of being heated.

The jones you are going to be up against is how do you know the difference ? I am about as "expert" on this as anyone and I submit you do not know ! A well done reheat and reverse cooling can restore a yellow to such a color that it is undetectable from an original. You just cannot tell by color alone. This totally skews any application in the pricing (or price guide) of one versus the other. Accepting this, I just sort of gave up, opting to make my judgement call on how original it appeared rather than IF it was original or not. Make sense ?

Now, I'll go you one further ....

One of my yellow C.G.I.Co's has a piece of steel in the dome. It has a small star-like "potstone" fracture eminating around it. I have another with a crack right at the base, ...probably comes northbound about 1/8th of an inch. Now, knowing what I do about how prone the heat altered pieces are to fracturing during the process, I have no doubt both of these pieces would have exploded with these pre-existing fractures and could not have maintained these very small problems as-is, the heating process would have made the fractures get much bigger.

To my thinking, I am looking for obvious signs that the insulator were heated, or in these last two cases, that they were not. There is not much more to work with. Be diligent and feel happy with what you are getting for the money spent AT THE TIME you get out your wallet out. I have no regrets about those pieces I have purchased. Yeah, they might be altered to make them yellow. Yeah, I paid a lot more for them than a comparable purple one. But I am quite pleased to have the pieces I do and do not regret the money spent.

Robin Harrison commented on 2009-03-03

I bought a yellow Cal 166 many, many years ago at a West Coast show. It shows no signs of heating, but since it had no history to go with it, it could have been original or altered. It sat in a south facing window for about 6 years before I noticed one day that it was a definite peachy yellow rather than the golden yellow when I bought it. This has always indicated to me that at least some of these will turn purple again (or for the first time). The biggest lesson I learned was that window glass does not block UV as I had always "known". Depending on the glass formulation, only a portion of UV wavelengths are stopped by window glass. So if you have a yellow Cal that you want to stay the same color, use caution diplaying it in a window or in sunlight.

Colin Jung commented on 2009-03-04

I have also done my share of research on yellow Californias and like Denny have quite a few in my collection. Just browse through the photo gallery and you will see many of them. Since purple California glass has been heat-altered to yellow colors since the earliest days of the hobby very few collectors can say with 100% certainty that they have an original from the factory yellow California insulator. Probably the most conservative view I have heard on the issue came from Mike Guthrie who pioneered the research on all manner of altered and fake insulators. Mike believes that the only genuine original yellow Californias are those that you have personally taken out of service. Once it changes ownership the provenance can be corrupted and the yellow Cal becomes suspect.

Obviously this is a very high standard and most of us will have to rely on our training to detect heat-altered glass or its provenance. Many of my yellow Cals I purchased from a who's who of the hobby: Mike Bliss (Lenny Philbrook Collection) Dwayne Anthony Butch Haltman (A.L. Rash collection) Bill Reid Brent Burger Roger Nagel (via Tom Katonak?) Jim Peach Howard Banks (Bridges family collection) Ray Klingensmith (Don Gaylord collection). I am in very good company and all of these pieces stand very comfortably next to yellow Cals in my collection with unknown lineages. I have developed a comfort level with this part of my collection and if you can't find comfort’ you will never enjoy your purchase and probably should not be making the purchase in the first place.

Pricing of yellow Californias in the more common CD's has not changed in years. John McDougald told me he won't raise the price guide price because that would just create a stronger financial incentive to heat-alter the Californias.

Dwayne Anthony commented on 2009-03-04

A few anecdotes and thoughts regarding yellow Cals:

Back in the early 1990s, while attending a show in Chico, CA, I made contact with a trusted bottle digger who dug a fractured yellow CD 161 California insulator from a bottle dump. It was presumed that a lineman probably rejected the insulator due to the fracture, leading to its demise. I was able to purchase this insulator for a reasonable sum, then decided to begin some experimentation on the piece. It was first left out in the summer sunlight, which allowed the strong, natural UV rays of the sun to excite the manganese within. Within a three month period the sample quickly transitioned from its glorious yellow shade to a peachy yellow, then graduating on to a light rosy purple. With a few more months of exposure it seemed to have completed most of its transitioning process, settling in as a medium shade of rosy purple. This same sample was then placed in a kiln and heated to a high temp, which resulted in a complete reversal back to its original yellow color. Did I stop there? Nope, you guessed it, I placed it back out in the sun and sure enough, the same process of transitioning to purple once again occurred.

- ---

In 1995 I purchased a collection that contained 8-10 different yellow California CDs. None were of the rarer styles, just your more common CDs: 102, 112, 145, 152, 160, 161, 162 & 166. I asked the owner of the collection if he had any history on them and he mentioned that most came from one individual back in the 1970s. This threw up a red flag--after all, what are the chances that one collector could supply all these CDs in original yellow? Not being certain of their authenticity, I decided to offer them at my cost, along with the information of their origin. “My cost” was roughly one third of the then current book price on most of them. A couple of them were purchased by appreciative collectors that just wanted a sample of the color for their collections. However, it was interesting to see that most of the remaining ones started popping up on sales lists at three times the price I sold them for, with no mention of the caveat that was originally attached to them by me. So, the moral to this story is: The questionable pedigree of a yellow Cal can be conveniently lost as it changes hands through the years.

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I have heard tale of yellow Cals being found out in full sun exposure, but I have yet to see one that is truly yellow. These are usually a smoky pale shade of yellow/yellowish green or even close to a smoky straw, nothing in comparison to the brilliant true shades of yellow that are in question here. Through reversal experiments, I found that the smoky purples tend to reverse back to yellows with green tones; standard purples reverse back to straight yellows; and deeper burgundy purples reverse back to rich golden yellows. Depending on the initial yellow shade, these reversals can then be re-exposed to UV under controlled conditions to create peach to copper tones. Even yellow/peach or peach/purple two-tones can be artificially created under controlled conditions. Although I have no first hand knowledge from personal experimentation, I suspect that a purple/sage two-tone could be reversed to a yellow/sage two tone. My personal theory: California Glass produced these insulators near the transitional period where manganese was replaced with selenium as a glass clarifier. They were known to be users of lots of cullet, which likely contained both manganese and selenium, again based on the time period. This in turn could have resulted in the initial yellow tones in some glass batches from the high selenium content, which then transitioned to purple from the manganese content when exposed to the sun.

- --

Most of the McDougald Price Guide values of the more common yellow Cals have fallen over the past several years and rightfully so. It is unfortunate that the value of a potentially authentic yellow California might be lessened due to the abundance of altered or “restored” yellow Cals out there, but that is a reality that we as collectors have to accept. We occasionally hear a story of a yellow Cal that was found in a dump, under an eave of a building, or some sort of sun protected area. Unfortunately those instances are far outnumbered in terms of quantities by the stories we hear of yellow Cals being sold in the 1970s by the boxful by individuals that were known for altering insulators. It continues to be far too easy to create a yellow Cal from a $10-20 purple, so values should be kept in check. One exception involves an authenticated group of yellow Cal helmets that originated from a lumber mill in Northern California, where several are reportedly still in service to this day. With the possibility of loss due to the fracturing that could occur when cooking insulators in a kiln, it is highly unlikely that any of the higher valued Cals were ever cooked.

- --

Hope this information is in some way contributory toward the current discussion and concerns regarding yellow Cals.

Brent Burger commented on 2009-03-06

With the recent discussion of yellow Californias, I have posted a few shots of some I have close at hand. You will have to look through some of these recent postings to find them all. Start here:

PicturePoster #240885115

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