Paperweights

Recently, while discussing cars I have owned with a friend, I was reminded of a 1995 Land Rover Discovery I was driving in 1997 when we spent one of the worst holidays of our married life somewhere in the middle of France. My wife ended up in hospital 40 miles away from our cottage for the whole of the second week, our youngest wet the bed and we had to buy a new mattress and on the way home we learnt of Princess Diana’s demise. I still, however, love France and particularly French paperweights.

The French glasshouses of Baccarat, Clichy and St Louis were responsible for some of the finest and most inventive paperweights produced between 1845 and 1860. A limited number of English paperweights were made at about the same time at George Bacchus & Sons in Birmingham and examples of these in good condition can often realise high prices.

The main types of decoration are millefiori meaning “thousand flowers” and lampworking. Millefiori requires glass rods or canes arranged concentrically, formally or randomly before being cut and imbedded within clear glass. Those that include silhouette canes featuring animals and birds are always at a premium, as are dated examples.

Lampworking involves individually sculpted flowers, butterflies, fruit and reptiles, including snakes, made in coloured glass using a direct heat source before being captured in glass. Some of the most desirable weights are then overlaid with white and or coloured glass and facet cut to reveal the design inside.

The condition of a paperweight is important. Bruises and chips will make a paperweight undesirable to collect and therefore they will limit its value. Size is also important, in particular magnums at 10cm and miniatures, which are less than 5cm, are the most popular with collectors.

Senior Valuer Michael Dowse

For more information or if you have similar items you’re thinking about offering items in auction or you simply would like a valuation, please get in touch with us, full details can be found on our company website

Vinaigrettes

Recently, before Covid, on an Irish holiday of track, trace and view my wife’s relatives, the evening meal found her reminiscing long hot summers (we never seem to remember short cold summers) on the farm and the smell of silage that no one in the farmhouse seemed to notice. I said a vinaigrette would have proved useful, just as they were to the Georgian ladies as they traversed the smelly city streets.

At the end of the 18th century a combination of poor personal hygiene and disastrous sewage control made walking through streets a rather smelly business. Enter the vinaigrette. Used by many in polite society, it was a tiny hinged box which opened to reveal a decorative grill trapping a perfume soaked sponge. When held close to the nostrils the smell was considerably more pleasant than the surrounding odours.

The earliest vinaigrettes were simply the tiny boxes already described. The interior of the box was gilt lined to prevent the acidic liquid from destroying the metal. A side ring would be added, which enabled the owner to wear it as a pendant on a necklace or as part of a bracelet.

As the earliest vinaigrettes were so small their decoration was little more than simple engraving or bright cut patterns. However by the early 19th century vinaigrettes had grown somewhat and now at an enormous 4cms there was room for much more elaborate decoration. They were decorated with intricate scrollwork, flowers and foliage and figural and animal designs. The borders were often cast raised with flowers and shells and the lids could sometimes be engraved with initials or personal Coats of Arms.

The basic rectangular form was eventually abandoned in favour of more exciting shapes and designs. These varied widely from tiny purses and fob watches to books, flowers, fish, animals and shells. These are the details that make the collecting of vinaigrettes such an exciting and vibrant hobby for today’s collector and why they always sell so well in the saleroom.

Senior Valuer Michael Dowse

For more information or if you have similar items you’re thinking about offering items in auction or you simply would like a valuation, please get in touch with us, full details can be found on our company website

Cutlery

With the advent of the dishwasher the demand for electroplated cutlery has sadly declined. I feel that today’s diners are missing out on the unprecedented joy (perhaps a slight exaggeration) of owning and using such fabulous flatware. That fact aside, the history of cutlery up to the development of electroplate is actually an interesting one.

In medieval Europe most people had a wooden or pewter spoon at home and if visiting friends or relatives they took it with them. The wealthy tended to do the same, but theirs were silver. Later a knife was added, but spoons, especially silver ones, hammered from a single small ingot, have survived in much greater numbers.

With the exception of Apostle spoons, spoons were not made in sets until the end of the 17th century. Many were, however, given as presents on special occasions, which could account for why so many have survived today.

When Charles II returned from exile in France in 1660, he brought with him the idea of setting a table for eating. This was a wonderful idea which not only dispensed with the embarrassment of forgetting one’s spoon when visiting, but also made the whole dining experience much more enjoyable. As with all good ideas though it took many years to catch on and it is unusual to find complete sets of cutlery that date much before the late 18th century.

Individual designs all have their own names. In Britain, the Trefid pattern gave way to the Dog Nose pattern circa 1702. Throughout the 18th century the Hanoverian pattern was followed by the Old English and finally the Fiddle pattern. The 19th century started with the Kings pattern. These patterns and their variants are still produced today.

Collectors have great fun collecting full canteens by matching patterns and periods. What is even more fun is to collect one maker.

Senior Valuer Michael Dowse

For more information or if you have similar items you’re thinking about offering items in auction or you simply would like a valuation, please get in touch with us, full details can be found on our company website

Murano Glass

As a man with no talent whatsoever for the practical or the artistic, I am both jealous and in awe of the lucky gifted individuals who possess these gifts. The world of art and design is full to overflowing of just such talented individuals and Paulo Venini is a perfect example.

Murano is one of a compact group of Venetian islands and has been manufacturing glass since the eleventh century. Glassmakers were forced out of Venice for two main reasons. Firstly because of the ever present risk of fire and secondly to keep some of their most innovative techniques secret.

The eleventh century is a long time ago and from then until now Murano has seen some of the best glassmakers in the world. One of the very best came along in the early twentieth century, his name was Paulo Venini and he was born in 1895.

In adult life Venini was a disillusioned lawyer and he gave it all up to become a glassmaker. In 1921 he purchased a partnership in the Murano glasshouse of Glacomo Cappelin and by 1925 he had overall control and renamed it Venini and Company.

He abandoned the Revivalist styles of other Venetian glasshouses, but never departed from the essential traditions of Venetian glass. Very quickly he established himself as the leading manufacturer of high quality decorative and table glass in Italy.

Not only was Venini brilliant, he employed some brilliant designers. Such people as Taplo, Wirkkala and Ponti.

When he died, the factory was taken over by his widow and his son in law, Ludovico de Santillana and the tradition for excellence lived on.

Senior Valuer Michael Dowse

For more information or if you have similar items you’re thinking about offering items in auction or you simply would like a valuation, please get in touch with us, full details can be found on our company website

Ming Porcelain

Ming porcelain is always worth a small fortune. Such a bold statement and so wrong. It is however, a view very commonly held. Why is it incorrect?

To begin with the Ming Dynasty lasted from 1386 to 1644, which is almost 300 years, a very long time to produce an awful lot of pots. But an enormous amount of Ming porcelain is poor quality, provincially produced and naively painted and this together with the fact that they have no reign mark, adversely affects their value.

Taking the “reign” mark a step further, for a piece to have high value it must be a “mark” and “period” piece. The mark is the reign mark on a piece and is composed of symbols that denote emperors. These marks can easily be researched and identified.

The problem is the period. The habit of putting earlier reign marks on Chinese porcelain is common and was practiced for hundreds of years. It is not unusual, therefore, to find an 18th century item with a 15th century mark.

An item made during the reign of the emperor whose mark is on the base is referred to as “mark and period” and the value is often increased twofold or threefold. Better quality pieces which are mark and period are very much rarer than the provincial Ming and are highly prized by collectors.

These highly prized pieces are highly priced and that is the sort of piece people refer to when they ask expectantly “is it Ming?”

Senior Valuer Michael Dowse

For more information or if you have similar items you’re thinking about offering items in auction or you simply would like a valuation, please get in touch with us, full details can be found on our company website

Marriages

As if she doesn’t have enough to do, my wife is a regular reader of my weekly missive and I have to say, an all too regular critic. As this weeks subject is marriage I feel it is therefore important to get a few things into the open in the first paragraph. I am a faithful and loving husband. Admittedly I don’t cook anything, but I have other more important attributes. There, that seems to cover things nicely.

The reason I mention this is obviously to say how wonderful married life is, but also to say some pieces of furniture are also married and it is something to watch out for. A “marriage” is the term used to describe furniture that has been “made up” from different pieces, often of a similar date.

Most frequently seen on bureau cabinets and bureau bookcases, but also on larger bookcases, marriages are usually betrayed by differences in colour, grain and quality of the timber, particularly on the sides. As a rule the backboards on genuine pieces should closely resemble one another, both in timber used and in construction techniques.

Married pieces are often out of proportion, showing a visual imbalance between joined parts. In addition, they can often be identified by an examination of the junction of the top and base sections, which may not fit tightly.

On veneered furniture, a marriage may be apparent when the top section is removed. The veneer should not extend far beyond the point where the base meets the top. Finally, a genuine piece will display a stylistic union and decorative embellishments should be identical in both design and execution.

In this instance furniture mirrors life and there are good and bad marriages. A good marriage doesn’t shout at you though it just is a good marriage.

Senior Valuer Michael Dowse

For more information or if you have similar items you’re thinking about offering items in auction or you simply would like a valuation, please get in touch with us, full details can be found on our company website

Tinplate Toys

When I watch our older grandchildren playing with their toys they just don’t seem to cherish them in the same way that I remember cherishing my childhood toys. Now maybe I was just a sad old toy cherisher or maybe attitudes have changed slightly. If attitudes are changing and us oldies cared more for our toys, just imagine then how much those late Victorian and Edwardian children must have cherished their exciting new tin plate toys.

The best tinplate toys combine fine detailing, period styling and renowned makers and it was in the early 19th century that they began to exceed the popularity and manufacture of their wooden counterparts. They are amongst the earliest mass produced toys available.

The toys were made from sheets of tinplated steel which was cut out, shaped and then decorated, making them cheaper and easier to produce than the wooden toys of the period. The late 19th and early 20th centuries are considered the ‘Golden Age’ of the tinplate toy.

Many of the important makers were German, with the most sought after including Marklin and Bing although the American makers Marx and Strauss are also keenly collected.

Before the 1890s tinplate toys were hand painted which ensured a high level of detail. This detail included boats with portholes that opened and very realistic rigging and motor cars with lamps, doors that opened and rubber tyres. These examples, although inexpensive in their day, are amongst the most highly prized by collectors in the saleroom.

From the 1900s the painting was largely replaced by the printing technique of colour lithography which used a transfer. It was faster and more economical but it made the toys lighter and less complex. However the prices for such examples are still relatively high, depending of course on type size and condition.

As with most collectables the key to value is rarity, quality and condition and this coupled with the desire of ownership ensures that the tinplate market is always very buoyant.

Senior Valuer Michael Dowse

For more information or if you have similar items you’re thinking about offering items in auction or you simply would like a valuation, please get in touch with us, full details can be found on our company website

Dessert Glass

Before lockdown my only claim to fame was that I could produce an edible scrambled egg. Since lockdown I am a new man. I can make very palatable crumble, with a mixture of fruits and jams, including marmalade. I do a chocolate banana on a biscuit base and a sponge pudding with a particularly saggy bottom. All these come with lashings of Birds own, extra thick. I love desserts and my dessert cooking journey is in its infancy. Now I am on the lookout for some dessert glass.

In preceding centuries dessert was considered an important occasion in its own right. These were times when the wealthiest members of society would celebrate with parties incorporating large and varied amounts of food.

Desserts would often be served away from the table in buffet form. This could be directly after dinner or later in the evening. The atmosphere would be something that we might expect at a cheese and wine party today.

The kind of treats on offer included candied fruit, marshmallows, crystallised citrus peels and almonds. They would be served in glasses on tall stems known as suckets, that resemble drinking glasses. They would also be served on footed and stemmed plates and saucers known as tazzas and comports.

Jelly and ice creams were served in glasses that were shorter and thicker with practically no stem. The custard cup is a variant on the jelly glass, but this time with handles. Custard cups were used for dishes like egg custard and baked egg trifles.

Sometimes all of these dishes would be placed on large, stemmed salvers placed to form a pyramid. Is it possible, I ask myself, to conjure up a picture of anything more delicious? What are we left with today? A wonderful wealth of marvellous glass to collect.

Senior Valuer Michael Dowse

For more information or if you have similar items you’re thinking about offering items in auction or you simply would like a valuation, please get in touch with us, full details can be found on our company website

Tureens

In today’s fast living world the dining room rarely functions as it’s name suggests it should. There is little wonder therefore that the poor old tureen, once a highlight of the room’s table, has died a death. I find this a great sadness as I love the tureen.

Tureens were introduced in the early 18th century, reflecting the French fashion for serving stews, soups and sauces. It is said that the tureen was named after the 17th century Vicomte de Turenne, who ate his soup from his upturned helmet. In fact, the term derives from the French “terrine”. The tureen became associated with a show of wealth and was often the most richly ornamented and expensive piece in the dinner service.

Soup tureens were introduced c.1720 but examples pre-dating 1750 are rare. Generally of heavy gauge silver, they were set on four cast feet, with cast scroll ring drop handles at the sides and a domed cover. Some of the rare early tureens from the 1730’s and 1740’s by famous French silversmiths are among the most magnificent pieces of Rococo silver made.

Tureens from the late 18th century are generally oval and on a single pedestal foot. They were influenced by architects such as Robert Adam who was producing designs to match the dining room furnishings. The early 19th century Regency tureens were by contrast much heavier and more richly decorated with lion mask handles and Classical ornaments. However this was the time when gradually fewer silver tureens were made and the ceramic became much more fashionable.

Senior Valuer Michael Dowse

For more information or if you have similar items you’re thinking about offering items in auction or you simply would like a valuation, please get in touch with us, full details can be found on our company website

Clarice Cliff

One of my favourite designers and, due to our generational differences, someone I have never met, is Clarice Cliff. I have written about her more than once over the many years of my weekly missive and I have, I am sure said rare shapes, rare patterns and rare colours are by far the most expensive of her products. I have also said that the mundane pieces never attract a great deal of interest.

However, I have never really discussed Clarice herself. What an amazing woman she was. Unlike her four sisters Sara, Hannah, Dorothy and Ethel, Clarice had a goal for herself and she was determined to achieve it.

At the age of 17, due to a shortage of workers caused by the First World War, Clarice Cliff began a job as an apprentice lithographer with the A J Wilkinson factory in Burslem. Here she began to learn the techniques of modelling, gilding and decorating. The girls who worked with Clarice at this time recalled that she was never really one of them. When they left for home Clarice stayed behind practicing and modelling because she regarded her work as more than just a job.

For a female to become a designer in the 1920’s was really unheard of and it was largely due to her incredibly strong personality, amazing talent and her association with one of the Shorter brothers who owned the factory.

When the brothers purchased Newport Pottery, the adjoining factory to their own, Colley Shorter quickly recognised Clarice Cliffs talents. He became her protector, her sponsor, and her lover. By 1927 he had set her up in her own small studio and on 21st December 1940 he married her.

Senior Valuer Michael Dowse

For more information or if you have similar items you’re thinking about offering items in auction or you simply would like a valuation, please get in touch with us, full details can be found on our company website