Cutlery Set is Likely Incomplete

These are very elaborate and beautiful, but are they valuable?

These are very elaborate and beautiful, but are they valuable?

Dear Helaine and Joe:

I purchased this boxed set of six pairs of cutlery (six knives, six forks) in England around 1986 at an antiques store in Sheffield. It is sterling silver with hallmarks and pearl handles. The hallmarks are on the blades. I was told at the time this was a fish set used for eating the fish course. Can you tell me about this type of set and what mine might be worth?

Thank you,

B. S.

Dear B. S.:

Dinner can be a hurried affair in many modern American homes. Some of these dinners do not even require flatware of any nature – takeout chicken eaten over the sink, handheld hamburgers and French fries to name just two. What a pity.

On the other hand, dinner could often be a formal affair in many upscale British homes during the late 19th and early 20th centuries. To begin, the table might have been set with very fancy place plates that were whisked away when the hors d’oeuvres were served. (The phrase hors d’oeuvres means “before the works,” with “the works” being the main course.) This part of the formal meal was served on a more utilitarian, course-specific plate, which in some instances was placed on top of the service or place plate.

After this came the fish course. With this portion of the meal, fish plates might have been laid down, and the star of the course would have arrived on a special platter designed just to hold the fish. There would have been a matching sauce boat, and vegetables might have accompanied the aquatic offering, sometimes in a matching tureen. There might also have been bone dishes at each place to accommodate these pesky obstructions to eating.

With the special plates, platter, sauce boat, bone dishes and tureens would have come specialized utensils. These so-called “fish sets” might have had handles made from ivory, bone, celluloid, sterling silver or silver plate. The blades of the knives were almost always silver-plated on nickel or some white metal to withstand the wear they would receive.

B. S. believes her set is composed of mother of pearl and sterling silver, but she is only half right. The handles are most certainly mother of pearl, but the blades are clearly marked “EP,” which means they were electroplated. There may be sterling silver ferrules between the handles and the blades, but we could not see a sterling mark in the photographs.

The sets are rather commonly found even in the United States, and most complete sets are service for 12. Many (not all) come with a large, fancy, broad-bladed fish knife and matching large fork to facilitate moving portions from the serving platter to the individual plates. We feel the set in today’s question is only a partial set, and originally, there may have been at least six more knives and six more forks in the box.

To conclude the formal meal we have been discussing, there would have been a main course after the fish, followed by a salad course (simple greens and a vinaigrette), a cheese course (in Britain served with fruit and condiments) and a sweet dessert course, all served with specialized utensils and dinnerware. The six fish forks and six fish knives in today’s question with the box is worth no more than $100 to $150 at retail.

Treasures: Fun Conversation Piece was Mass Produced, but Loved by Some Collectors

Dear Helaine and Joe:

I have a painting with a lot of character that hangs in my office. The painting is 4-by-2 feet with a 3 {-inch gold colored wooden frame. It is a lighted black velvet painting signed with the name “Ashbrook” in the lower left corner. I would like to know about the artist and where the painting originated. Also, the year it was done and the story about its creation. Most people do not like it, but it has been a good conversation piece.

Happy to be from the Midwest,

D. G.

Dear D. G.:

Helaine is also happy to be from the Midwest, and we both think the piece is a proverbial hoot and a half. Yes, we understand why most people do not like it, but it is fun and from a time that is attracting more and more collector interest.

We have done quite a lot of research on the name “Ashbrook” with some success. There are those who see these lighted pictures with the name “Ashbrook” and attribute them to Paul Ashbrook, a Cincinnati artist who lived from 1867-1949.

Unfortunately, that is just a wagon load of wishful thinking. Ashbrook was long dead before the piece belonging to D. G. was manufactured. That’s right-manufactured. It was, in fact, mass produced by a company and not created by a specific artist.

We cannot be absolutely sure about the history because the firm’s records are sparse and ambiguous. But we believe the piece was created by Ashbrook Studios, which went into business on Aug. 15, 1974, in Garden Grove, Calif. Reports are they went out of business sometime in the 1980s, but we could not find an exact date or a history of the company’s enterprises.

What we did find suggests Ashbrook Studios silk screened home decor items-often on Masonite, but we suppose black velvet was within their range. Their work is commonly referenced by collectors as being “illuminated paintings” or “light-up” paintings with windows, lamps or lanterns that have small lights behind them.

These vintage light-up pieces tend to be brightly colored depictions of such things as boats, architecture (some with fountains or flamenco dancers), European scenes or views of San Francisco featuring the Golden Gate Bridge, trollies and/or pagodas. We found Ashbrook Studios images of owls with light-up eyes (in the dark, this must have been spooky) and another of Plains, Ga., which must have been manufactured around the time Jimmy Carter (Plains’s most famous citizen) was president of the United States (1977-1981).

Not surprisingly, we found there are collectors who love these pieces. Some of them remembered Ashbrook Studio images from their childhood homes and wanted to purchase similar examples. Such nostalgia is an important motivation in some forms of collecting, and this country barn scene with musicians and a dog might very well resonate with those who remember it or are just interested in late 20th century kitsch.

Most of these seem to be offered for sale in the $150 to $250 range, but we did find one Ashbrook Studios image priced at more than $10,000! Yeah, right.

View the original article here.

Treasures: Cherry Blossom Dish, Ladle is from Noritake

Shaped like an acorn? Maybe, but we think it was probably intended to resemble a melon.

Shaped like an acorn? Maybe, but we think it was probably intended to resemble a melon.

Dear Helaine and Joe:

This acorn-shaped dish and ladle is marked with a blue flower and “Made in Japan.” It originally belonged to my great grandmother of Portsmouth, Va., who lived 1859 to 1935. It has now been passed down to me. I have searched for the trademark but cannot find the manufacturer’s name or its market value. Any information would be appreciated.

Thank you,

C. B., Suffolk, Va.

Dear C. B.:

We are answering this question primarily for two reasons.

One, the piece is complete and charming, and its original use may not be immediately apparent. And two, we can supply the name of a website that might help many readers determine who made their seemingly anonymous pieces of Japanese porcelain.

We were fairly sure who was responsible for making the piece just by looking at it, but when we checked the list of marks for that particular maker it was not there, and we had to dig deeper. Turns out we were kind-of-sort-of right in the first place.

C. B. describes the covered vessel as being “acorn-shaped,” but we really think it is more melon-shaped with a finial that may or may not be a tomato or some other kind of unrecognized garden fruit. In any event, it and the ladle were meant to be used to serve a condiment such as mayonnaise on an American table or buffet from the mid-1920s or early ’30s.

At first glance, everything about the piece says “Noritake.” And in a very real sense it is. In 1904, Ichizaemori Morimura founded the Nippon Toki Kashi Company to export high quality, Western-style dinnerware to the United States. The firm was located in the village of Noritake, near Nagoya on Honshu Island, and the firm later became known as “Noritake.” The letter “M” is often part of the company’s trademarks.

The particular mark on the piece is basically a cherry blossom printed in blue with the words “Made in Japan” underneath.

But if C. B. examines the mark closely, it becomes apparent that the five pedals that compose the flower are actually made of “Ms,” which supposedly stand for “Morimura.”

Clever, but not readily apparent unless you are looking for it and understand what you are seeing. This cherry blossom mark was first used circa 1924 on Noritake pieces subcontracted to be produced by other, independent Japanese porcelain manufacturers. We have found the mark printed in both blue and green.

In summation, the piece was made under the auspices of Noritake, but in a factory whose identity was probably lost in the fires of World War II, when Noritake’s records were destroyed. For more information on marks on Japanese porcelain, we suggest going to It’s a wonderful resource.

The value of this very interesting piece is largely sentimental as a family heirloom, but for insurance purposes its worth is in the $85 to $110 range.

View the original article here.

Treasures: Royal China Plates Aren’t What They Seem


This is pretty, but not highly desired on the current market.

This is pretty, but not highly desired on the current market.

Dear Helaine and Joe:

What is the worth of two Royal China Warranted 22k gold plates? Markings are Eggshell Nautilus USA E40 N5 and E46 N5. Were these plates part of a set or were they made for decor — or possibly as stand-alone collectibles? I believe they were both made in the 1940s.

Thank you,

A.T., Wasilia, Alaska

Dear A.T.:

In many cases — not necessarily this one — what people see when they observe a ceramic mark such as the one noted by A.T. is the notation “22k gold” was used to decorate their piece, be it a plate, a vase or something else.

Some people suppose this means the piece has value because of its precious metal content, but in the vast majority of cases, nothing could be further from the truth. In almost all cases, there is not enough gold present to fill even a small cavity on a gnat’s tooth.

In so many ways, the piece is not what it appears to be. The mark clearly reads “Royal China,” which was the name of a prolific company located in Sebring, Ohio. Royal was founded in 1934 during the aftermath of the Great Depression. In the beginning, its employees worked for free until the company started making money.

The gamble paid off, and during the first year of operation almost 8 million pieces of pottery were made. But we do not think these two plates were actually made at the Royal China facility. Instead, we believe the “Eggshell Nautilis” mark, which is stamped underneath the Royal China mark, means the plates were made by the Homer Laughlin China Company.

The pieces were actually made in Laughlin’s plant in Newell, West Virginia. The name “Eggshell” refers to a type of lightweight body with a thin chinalike edge that was first produced by Homer Laughlin in 1937. “Nautilus” was the name of the first shape made using the “Eggshell” body, and Nautilus was followed by other shapes, including “Swing” in 1938, “Theme” in 1940 and “Georgian” in the same year.

It is our opinion that Homer Laughlin made the plates, but sold them undecorated to Royal China. Royal China then added the textured wide gold rim around the outside, the filigree, and finally the floral print in the center. They were then sold as “service” or “place” plates to be used in setting a fancy table before the actual china was employed.

We cannot be absolutely sure of this because A.T. failed to tell us the diameter of her pieces, which should be no less than 10 inches and probably closer to 12 inches across. These would have been luxury goods, and the dates from the 1940s suggest they were made only after prosperity began to return to the United States at the time of World War II.

Originally, there was probably a set of eight or 12 of these. It appears from the dating that the plates were probably purchased one or two at a time whenever the original owner could afford to buy them. For insurance purposes, these should be valued in the $40 to $60 range for the pair.

 View the original article here.

Refinishing Job Stripped Larkin Desk of Original Golden Color

This circa 1910 Larkin desk should be a soft golden color. Instead, it looks like mahogany.

This circa 1910 Larkin desk should be a soft golden color. Instead, it looks like mahogany.

Dear Helaine and Joe:

I have this antique my mother purchased and had refinished when I was a child in the 1960s. I believe it is American from the 1800s. The mirror looks to be original. What is this piece of furniture called and what would you think a ballpark estimate would be of its value?

Thank you,


Dear W.G.:

Thank goodness your mother did not do what Joe’s mother might have done. She might very well have taken this piece and “antiqued” it using a commercially available kit that would have left the surface of this piece a poisonous green (or sometimes red).

Once this was done, there was no going back. The paint was in the grain and it was there until the end of time. The refinishing job done by W.G.’s mother is not nearly that bad, but it did strip the solid oak piece of its original rich golden color and replace it with a surface that resembles mahogany (at least in photographs and from a distance).

Homeowners of the third and fourth quarter of the 20th century may have liked the ersatz mahogany finish (and it could be pleasant for home furnishing use), but today’s collectors are less than thrilled. This kind of furniture facelift will cause current collectors to deduct significant dollars from the value of the nice old piece.

Pieces of furniture with this configuration are really known by two names. Some people call it a side-by-side secretary, but most refer to it as a “Larkin desk.” This later designation refers to the Larkin Company of Buffalo, N.Y.

The firm was founded in 1875 by John D. Larkin, who went into business manufacturing a simple bar of yellow soap known as “Sweet Home Soap.” The simple product may have not spelled great success, but Larkin was cosmically lucky in that he had Elbert Hubbard for a son-in-law.

Hubbard was a super-salesman, founder of the Arts and Crafts Roycroft community and author of the patriotic essay “A Message to Garcia.” He also helped propel the company from the maker of a single product to a commercial powerhouse. It was reportedly Hubbard’s idea to offer premiums with soap purchases. The premiums started with simple souvenir picture cards and blossomed into Larkin offering its customers everything from piano lamps, silverware, pottery and yes, desks.

The premium program was so successful that Larkin had to open his production facilities, which included his own furniture factory. The motto was “factory to family,” and one of the most popular products was a drop front combination desk and bookcase, with a glass-fronted bookcase and mirror above the desk section.

Other companies made this type of unit as well, but the name “Larkin desk” is generic and most commonly employed. As for the insurance value, the refinishing hurts quite a lot, but still, W.G. should value her circa 1910 side-by-side secretary for between $350 and $500.

View the original article here.

Treasures: German Statues Manufactured, Not Done by Specific Artist

This pair of bisque figures were made in Germany, but exactly where is a mystery.

This pair of bisque figures were made in Germany, but exactly where is a mystery.

Dear Helaine and Joe:

I am hoping you can identify my statues, which I inherited from my mother and father. We are of German descendants and when the World’s Fair came to St. Louis in 1904 these pieces were purchased from either the Dutch or the German pavilion. We would love to know if you know who the artist might have been and anything about the maker. There is nothing written on the bottom. My statues are approximately 30 inches tall.

Thanks you for your help,


Dear C.T.:

Let us cut to the proverbial chase. These were manufactured and are not the work of a specific artist, and without a maker’s mark there is no way to know the company that actually produced these figures.

We can say, however, that they are German and were made from bisque porcelain. The term “bisque” refers to a type of porcelain that has been fired only once. It has a slightly grainy surface and the decoration is painted on and is not set with an additional firing in a kiln. This means the colors are subject to wear and cleaning should be done carefully.

Bisque figures were very popular from the middle 19th century through the early years of the 20th century. Judging by the vast quantity of these that we have seen, it is possible that the number made may actually run into the hundreds of thousands – if not the millions of pieces.

Most commonly found are the figural mantel and table ornaments shaped like shepherds and shepherdesses that are generally 8 to 12 inches tall. The quality of these pieces is usually mediocre to poor and the market does not respond to them very well. Doing research for this answer we found examples of these small bisque figures that sold for less than $20 at auction (one pair sold for just $12) – despite being more than 100 years old.

In general, as size and quality go up, so do the prices. Examples over 15 inches tall tend to be of better quality, and therefore, command higher prices. It should also be understood that French bisque porcelain pieces tend to be more carefully made and English examples (some of which are called “Parian” figures) can be very fine indeed with very “fine” prices.

A 30 inch tall pair of German bisque figures is a rare find and many would term these as being “monumental” or “palace” size because there were few homes where these would appear to be in proportion with the room in which they were displayed. Usually, these would be used as table centerpieces rather than mantel ornaments where most of the smaller variety were placed.

The final issue concerns these pieces being sold at the 1904 St. Louis World’s Fair (or the Louisiana Purchase Exposition – as it is formally called). Sometimes objects that were actually on display are marked as such and this can really raise the monetary value, but if these pieces were just merchandise, something tangible like a sale receipt or timely diary entry would be necessary to convince a skeptical market about their connection to the World’s Fair.

In any event, these are exceptional pieces and at auction they would probably sell in the $600 to $750 range and retail for $1,500 or perhaps as much as $2,000.

View the original article here.

Treasures: Paintings are Artwork of Ubina

This painting is by a well known artist. Reading the signature is the key.

This painting is by a well known artist. Reading the signature is the key.

Dear Helaine and Joe:

Can you tell me anything about these paintings? I have not been able to find anything about them and would appreciate any help you can give me.

Thank you,

L. A. J.

Dear L. A. J.:

This sort of research can be very difficult. The first and most important thing that has to be done is to read the artist’s signature.

We hate when all we have to do this is a photograph of the scrawl with no interpretation from the owner, who has the piece right in front of him or her and can make some sort of visual interpretation up close and personal. But we decided to give it the old college try, and somewhat to our surprise, we had some success.

After taking a few stabs at the name, we settled on the last name being “Ubina,” but we thought the first initial might be a “J.” As it turns out, luck (and a smidge of training and experience) was with us.

We discovered the initial was really an “S” and the artist was Senen Ubina, a very well known Spanish/American artist, who was born in either 1921 or 1923 and died on August 23, 2012, in New York.

The only substantive information we could uncover was his obituary that appeared in the New York Times. L. A. J. can access that information online now that she knows the name to search. According to the obituary, Ubina was born in Santander, Spain, but immigrated to the United States in 1955.

Before coming to the United States, Ubina was reportedly a successful artist and continued to work in his New York studio until his death some five years ago. The signature L. A. J. chose to photograph is also dated ’56, which indicates it was painted perhaps the year after Ubina reached the U.S.

Ubina’s early work tends to be figurative, but as the artist grew more mature, his paintings became more abstract. Both of the works belonging to L. A. J. are in the artist’s style from the 1950s, and the signature we could see appears to be correct for this artist.

One of the paintings depicts a mother and child. We found a very similar work (also dated ’56) that sold at Gray’s in Cleveland on June 25, 2014, for $500. We have no idea what size the painting owned by L. A. J. happens to be, but the example sold at Gray’s was 28 by 20 inches. Please remember that in art, size does make a difference.

The other painting in today’s question appears to show a matador in a monochromatic suit of lights (traje de luxes) holding a red cape over one forearm.

Ubina’s work is in the collection of the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in New York City as well as the Madrid Museum of Modern Art in Spain’s capital city.

View the original article online.

What You Need To Know About Appraisals and Appraisers

At the Symposium

Screen Shot 2017-10-12 at 7.20.24 PM

Appraiser, Helaine Fendelman
Own a collection
Equitable Distribution
Referral from friends, lawyer, accountant
Appraisal organizations
Industry Resources
On-line stores (i.e., 1st Dibs)
On-line sites (i.e., eBay, Live Auctioneers)
Member of Appraisers organization
Years of experience
Area(s) of specialty
Time on site
Documentation and Reports
Determine Logical Order, Room/Category
Getty ID
Handling Objects
Furniture, Glass ,Pottery, Silver, Art
Cataloguing and Sizing
Items Unavailable or Unreachable
Client Questions
Appraiser Questions for Client


Treasures: Charming Vase has Storied German Roots

Dear Helaine and Joe:

This has been in my family for almost 100 years. What can you tell me about my vase shown in the enclosed photographs? It is marked with the numbers 1436 over 23 and then with a raised shield or medallion with a crown over the initials “RW.”

Thank you,

P. B., Burnet, Texas

Dear P. B.:

We can provide a great deal of information about this Victorian ewer-shaped vase. We can identify the origins, the history and the approximate date, but what we cannot provide is a monetary value because P. B. failed to tell us the size.

Mounting our soap box once again, we need to preach a sermon about telling how big an item is because we usually cannot tell from the photographs provided.

This item, for example, is probably six to 12 inches tall, but we cannot be sure of the dimensions. And a large example would be much more valuable than its smaller cousin.

With this quibble out of the way, we can say the piece was manufactured in the town of Rudolstadt in the Thuringia region of Germany. The small city was once the capital of Schwarzburg-Rudolstadt and was founded in the year 776. It has been a municipality since 1326, and its most famous landmark is the castle Heidecksburg.

Franz Liszt, Richard Wagner and Niccolo Paganini all worked here for the Rudolstadt theater, but the town is also known for its toy building blocks and its porcelain manufactory. Faience (tin-glazed earthenware) was first made in Rudolstadt in about 1720 and was made there until the end of the 18th century.

Ernst Bohne began making porcelain in Rudolstadt in 1854, and Schafer & Vater began production of porcelain in 1890.

But the firm we are interested in was called the New York and Rudolstadt Pottery, which worked between 1887 and 1918. This concern was partially owned by the New York City firm of Lewis Strauss & Sons. They were the sole importers of the company’s products into the United States.

This entity used the mark reported by P. B.: a crown over a shield with the initials “RW” inside a sort of shield. Reportedly it was Nathan Strauss (the younger member of the Strauss partnership) who established a relationship with the R. H. Macy Company in New York.

Macy gave Strauss retail space in which to sell porcelain pieces made in Rudolstadt and eventually items that were decorated in Limoges, France and Bohemia (modern-day Czech Republic).

The products of the New York and Rudolstadt Pottery are not particularly rare, but the example in today’s question is charming because of its doll-like representation of a little girl standing on tip toe peering into the opening of the lily-shaped ewer/vase. It is very Victorian (circa 1895) and may be a little too “grandmotherly” for today’s tastes.

Still, it has charm and will appeal to those interested in dolls and figures of children. This sort of item is not doing well at the current moment and even if it is a good size, we doubt it would retail for more than $125 in today’s anti-Victorian marketplace.

Read the original article.

Estate Sale Business Challenged by Cut-rate Newcomers


Kevin Godfrey’s company is based on four Ds: death, divorce, debt and downsizing.

As the owner of the Great Neck appraisal and liquidation firm Henry Laurent Estate Sales, Godfrey, 36, largely credits his firm’s success — it runs about 40 estate sales a year and generated $1.2 million in gross sales last year — to word-of-mouth recommendations from customers and real estate agents.


To read the full article online, visit Newsday.