Q: I have sent several pictures of a set of mantel items. There are two urns with tops and a matching bowl. They are all in perfect condition except one top has a small chip. I was wondering if you could give me any information about these items.
A: This is a garniture set, inspired by Chinese altar sets that usually had five pieces — a censer, two candlesticks and two vessels to hold sacrifices.
In the Western world, a garniture set was typically made from porcelain or faience (a type of earthenware) that consisted of either three or five urns or vases made to decorate the fireplace. They were also used on dining tables and sideboards (buffets), and the Dutch placed them on top of large wooden cabinets.
Over time, a garniture set might consist of a clock and two candelabra, or three pieces of porcelain sculpture, and fruit baskets were sometimes added into the mix.
The garniture set in today’s question is clearly marked as having been made in Italy, and the style, with its cavorting putti and other classical figures, is often called “Capo-di-Monte” or more simply “Capodimonte.” This means “top of the mountain,” and it refers to the mountain top on which Charles III, King of Naples, built a porcelain factory around 1740.
The factory at Capodimonte closed in 1821 and all the molds and such were sent to the Richard Ginori factory in Doccia, Italy. The most common Capodimonte mark — a crown over an “N” — was continued, but over the years many other companies have “borrowed” this insignia.
The pieces in today’s question are definitely Capodimonte style, but they do not bear the crowned “N” mark. We think these were made somewhere in Italy, probably sometime after the end of World War II.
The heavy wear on the decoration inside the centerpiece seems to confirm this analysis, but because these are 40 to 50 or more years old, does this make them valuable? Unfortunately, the answer is no. We found that the large centerpiece bowl sold at auction on Nov. 11 of this year for a mere $15, and the photographs supplied by C. R. reveal that the “small chip” is actually an unsightly chip with a hairline crack. This devalues the pair of urns by 75 percent or more and reduces the insurance value of the garniture set to around $100 to $150.