Treasures: Urns are magnificent, but not from Sevres

This monumental pair of covered urns is magnificent but fake.

Dear Helaine and Joe:

My sister and I acquired a pair of Sevres urns that were once the property of a Duluth, Minn., museum. The urns are stamped “Sevres 1846” in a circle with an intertwined “LP” and “Chateau Des Tuileries” in a red circle with a crown. They are hand painted and about 32 inches high. We would appreciate any information and how best to sell them.

Thank you,

J. B.

Dear J. B.:

There is no question that the pair of urns is magnificent. The elaborate rococo-style gilding is superb, the gilt bronze mounts are impressive, and the large reserves with painted designs of court figures on one side and a scenic view on the other are beautifully done.

In 1738, under the patronage of French King Louis XV, a porcelain factory was established in a former riding academy at Vincennes, France. Porcelain was not made here successfully until 1745, and although it produced some truly remarkable things, the enterprise was never financially successful.

In 1753 production was moved to Sevres, which was near the home of Madame de Pompadour, Louis XV’s mistress and one of the firm’s most vocal advocates. Porcelain for royalty was the focus, but when the French Revolution occurred, the Sevres factory became property of the state.

The problems with the pieces begin with a mark that J. B failed to mention in her letter – conjoined “Ls” with the letter “B” inside. This is supposed to be the monogram of Louis XV with the “B” indicating (falsely) that the piece was made in 1754. The 1846 mark that appears with the monogram of King Louis Phillippe is closer to the true time of manufacture, but even that is probably a tad too early for this pair of covered urns.

The “Chateau Des Tuileries” mark is there to indicate the piece was supposedly made to be used in that palace, which was located in Paris until it was destroyed by fire in 1871. But the mark is always suspicious. The lovely pair of covered urns was not made in the Sevres factory, but probably in Limoges or by an anonymous Paris factory. An Austrian origin is also possible.

The pair should be called “Sevres style.” It has been said that as much as 90% of all porcelain bearing Sevres marks are fake and buyers need to beware. Some of these pieces are decorated so poorly they scream fraud, but many are gloriously decorated. The pair in today’s question falls only a little short of this lofty category.

As for selling these, we recommend a fine auction house. Similar pairs have brought over $10,000 at auction, but others have fallen far short of that figure and sold in the $1,000 to $2,000 range. Finding the right auction house will take a little research. She might check out such firms as Dallas Auction Gallery, John Moran Auctioneers in Monrovia, Calif., or Clars Auction Gallery in Oakland, Calif., to name just a few who have done well with this kind of porcelain.

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