DEAR HELAINE AND JOE: My aunt, who was an avid collector, left us what she called a “ring holder.” We have found no markings on the piece or on the base. We would be interested in any information you have.
Thanks in advance,
M. & J. McM, Bedford, N.H.
DEAR M. & J. MCM: This late Victorian piece has a great deal of cute going for it. The idea — we think — was that this was meant to suggest a dog cart with a flower decorated open umbrella or parasol. The real question here is whether or not it was meant to be a dressing table piece? Or was it designed to sit on a mantel or chest of drawers?
We want to start by discussing the origins of this piece, which is far, far away from Bedford, N.H. The porcelain used to make the dog appears to have been made in Germany — or perhaps in nearby Czechoslovakia, which at that time was called “Bohemia.”
The dog appears to be a pug with gilded bells on its red collar; unfortunately, over the years much of the gilding has been rubbed off. As we said before, the pug is made from porcelain, but it seems to be standing on a base that was made from some other material such as alabaster — but that may be just an optical illusion in the photographs and the base could be porcelain as well.
The cart itself is made from iron wire and the dish shaped cranberry glass insert that makes up the rear of the cart is probably hand-blown with an edge that has been carefully ground and polished. The enameled flowers are very typically Bohemian, and the large posy in the center along with the crossing of the iron wire may hide where the pontil scar is located.
But what is the purpose of the large wire hook that is suspended over the dog’s back near his head? M. & J. McM’s aunt thought it was to hold a ring; and yes, it could be used for this purpose, but we suspect that its original purpose was similar but not quite matching. We think this is actually a watch holder.
We are not sure of the size of this piece, but this whimsical item might have been designed to hold a lady’s watch during the hours when milady was sleeping or bathing. This device would have sat on her dressing table and the watch was probably contained in a small hunter case (a watch case with a hinged lid to protect the crystal).
If this watch keeper is larger than we suspect, it might have held a man’s watch and would have been kept on a dresser or perhaps on a mantel. A man interested in this sort of dog might have used such a watch keeper, but we really feel it was meant to be a charming accessory on a lady’s dressing table.
Ring trees are generally saucer shaped with a finger-like spike in the middle that was designed to stand in for a finger when the ring was off its owner’s hand. If this watch holder is the size we imagine (and is in great condition), it should have an insurance value in the $225 to $325 range.