Treasures: Figures are not yet Antiques

Are they antique German bisque, or more recent copies?

Are they antique German bisque, or more recent copies?

Dear Helaine and Joe: I am hoping you can help me identify and value the two figures in the attached photos. They stand 16 inches tall and are marked “Germany 198” along with a crown over the letters “W & A.” They are made of some sort of china. These statues stood on my grandmother’s mantel in Chicago from the 1950s or ‘60s, then to an aunt and then to me. The family story is they came from our uncle who started an import business before World War II. Any information would be appreciated.

Sincerely,

— J. W.

Dear J. W.: When we get letters, we read them and then look at the enclosed photographs. These immediately say either one of two things to us: “This looks right to be antique” or “This looks wrong.”

Unfortunately, the porcelain figures in today’s question are supposed to look like late 19th century or early 20th century German bisque figures, but they look very wrong to us. Why? Well, there are two things that hit us right between the proverbial eyes.

First, these pieces have looks on their faces that seem a bit peculiar. The blue eyes, which are directed heavenward, make this man and woman look more than a bit like zombies in period dress and not like an 18th century pair of sweethearts.

The second and most telling disconnect is the colors used to do the decoration. The green of the man’s knee pants is too vibrant, and the browns and greens of the bases look like hunter’s camouflage from the sporting goods store. The flesh tones seen on the legs and feet are way off, as is the way the flowers are painted on the woman’s dress.

These simply could not be what they appear to be turn-of-the-century (or a tad earlier) hand-colored bisque porcelain figures. “Bisque,” incidentally, refers to porcelain that has been fired only once and often has a surface that some suggest feels like human skin.

The marks found on the base confirm this feeling on our part, and after a bit of a search, we found that the pieces were made in the town of Thuringia, Germany, by a firm named Wagner and Apel (thus the crowned “W & A” mark). The firm went into business in 1877 making decorative porcelains and figures.

The particular mark found on the objects in today’s question was in use between about 1954 and 1972. After that, the name of the company was changed to VEB Lippelsdorf Porcelain Figurines. The references we checked suggest the company is probably still in business, and around 2002 was refitted as a model of how a factory such as this would have operated in the 19th century.

The figures in today’s question are not yet antique and are most valuable as memories of J.W.’s grandmother and her uncle, who probably imported these items sometime after the end of World War II. Pieces such as these are really out of fashion and many modern collectors are just not interested. This pair of circa-1960 figures should be valued for insurance purposes in the rather modest range of $100 to $150.

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