Don Quixote Lamp is Nice, but Repurposed

This lamp was once a vase/ewer, but it was converted.

This lamp was once a vase/ewer, but it was converted.

Dear Helaine and Joe:

I live in Cape Town, South Africa, and I am sending you photographs of a lamp that once belonged to my late parents. I have also enclosed a photograph of the mark. I would like to know where it came from and its value.

Thank you,


Dear B.S.:

This is truly an international query. The letter comes from South Africa, the image on the lamp is based on Spanish fiction and the piece itself was made in Bohemia (once a part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, then Czechoslovakia, and now the Czech Republic).

The image on the piece is that of Don Quixote de la Mancha, the title character in the novel written by Miguel de Cervantes (1547-1616). Part one of the novel was first published in 1605 and part two in 1615. It is one of the most influential works of fiction in Western literature, and Schopenhauer called it one of the four greatest novels ever written.

On the object belonging to B.S. we see the image of Don Quixote mounted on his nag, “Rocinante.” He is holding a lance and dressed in an old suit of armor. Looking at the piece, we feel the image may have been created using sgraffito, or the incising of a design into clay with a sharp instrument.

The oval mark has the place name “Czechoslovakia” on it, which did not formally exist until 1918. The firm that made it was the Amphora Porcelain Works, located in the Turn-Teplitz area of Bohemia (modern-day Trnovany, Czech Republic).

The manufacturer marked their wares “Amphora,” but the piece was made in the factory owned by Riessner, Stellmacher and Kessel, which was founded in 1892 and remained in business until 1945. They are known for their art nouveau and art deco style wares. Sometimes there is a blending of the two.

But the ewer-shaped vessel in today’s question has an almost pebbled surface and a very modern feel that pushes past art deco and into a later expression sometimes called “art moderne.” Today’s collectors often call this sort of design midcentury modern, and it can be very popular with enthusiasts.

This piece, which was made sometime in the late 1920s or early ’30s, started out life as a vase or ewer, and it appears that someone punched a hole in the side and turned it into a lamp base. This is not an unusual occurrence, and it is commonplace to find repurposed vases and ewers turned into lamps.

Unfortunately, collectors do not care for this practice and it can be seen as a defacement that affects the value of the object in a very negative manner. This lamp has another strike going against it because those wanting to purchase lamps often want them to be in pairs and singles are sometimes frowned upon.

This is still a very nice piece with modern overtones and it should be valued for insurance purposes in the $250 to $350 range if it is larger than 12 inches tall.

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