Treasures: Flower Basket Bookend is a Charming Piece

This charming basket of flowers may have been colored with tints from Charles Robinson & Co. in London.

This charming basket of flowers may have been colored with tints from Charles Robinson & Co. in London.

Dear Helaine and Joe:

I purchased this ceramic piece at the Round Top Texas Antiques Fair for $160. What is its age and value? When I purchased it, the dealer said she had purchased it in England at the Swinderby Antiques Fair. The label on the back reads, “C. Roberson and Co. Ltd. 99 Long Acre, 155-156 Piccadilly London” and possibly “colormarket.”

Thank you.

C.A.

Dear C.A.:

This basket of flowers is charming, but it is our belief that it may not be ceramic. Looking at the photographs, we believe it is made from chalk or plaster of Paris. Plaster of Paris is usually made from gypsum, while chalk is calcium carbonate, the main ingredient of limestone.

The term “ceramic” generally refers to items made from clay, be they pottery or porcelain. This type of ware can be relatively soft like redware or very hard like stoneware or porcelain. The flower basket in today’s question shows some wear to the surface that reveals a white material underneath, which looks more than a bit like chalk to us — but we could be mistaken.

The predecessors of Roberson & Co. Ltd. began business in 1819 under the name Charles Roberson. Over time, the name evolved, and from 1907 to 1987 it was Charles Roberson and Co. Ltd.

Long Acre in central London was the firm’s address from 1828 to 1937, and because of their proximity to the Royal Academy and the artistic section of the city, they were a well-known supplier of artists’ “colourmen” (artist’s helpers, with “colour” being spelled in the British manner). In addition, they sold art supplies such as brushes, paints, watercolors, lead pencils, drawing papers, chalk and varnishes, and they also restored paintings.

They sold art supplies across the British Empire (and to a lesser degree in the United States) to such notables as J.M.W. Turner, Queen Victoria and Winston Churchill. Sadly, the business went into decline during World War I and was sold to a Dutch firm in the 1970s. We thought there should be some information about them selling decorative arts like the piece in today’s question, but we sent an email to the firm and was informed they had no information regarding the production of such a piece.

We think the tag on the back of this single bookend or doorstop is there as an advertisement for the company that supplied the colors used to decorate it. This might explain the word “colormarket” that is so hard to read on the tag. We feel the tag is circa-1930, and this is borne out by the overall style of the flowers and the flower basket.

This is a very fragile item, and it is a bit of surprise that it has survived the past 80 or 90 years as well as it has. The life of either a bookend or a doorstop is a hard one, and the piece shows only some wear to the color around the edge and maybe a few minor chips that are not unsightly.

Currently, the retail value is in the $50 to $75 range, and while C.A. paid more, it was worth it if she really likes the piece.

View the original article on the Santa Maria Times.


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