Helaine and Joe:
My wife and I were gifted with six vases by my father-in-law many years ago. We are trying to determine the value of these vases — can you possibly help us?
Dear J. O.:
These six vases may once have been a garniture set, or they may have been just six odd vases with beautiful yellow exterior glazes and white interiors.
Typically, garniture sets are meant to be mantel decorations. They can consist of a number of different kinds of objects, but almost always they are found in odd numbers (most commonly three and five). A garniture might be a clock flanked by two candelabra (or two ewers or decorative pitchers), a bowl associated with two urns, a set of three covered vases (i.e. with lids) and two matching but uncovered vases.
Garniture sets can be found in glass, metal, porcelain or a combination of these materials. Sets are also found in cloisonne as well as in marble or other stones. In other words, the makeup of a garniture set is practically endless, but almost none are found with even numbers of pieces.
The six pieces in today’s question are undoubtedly Chinese in origin. We know that from the shapes and glaze, and the glued-on “Made in China” paper label on the bottom does not gainsay this attribution one little bit. The mark found on the bottom is a seal mark and usually references the reign of the emperor during which the particular piece was made (or purported to have been made).
However, seal marks may indicate things other than a particular reign, and may just indicate a sentiment such as “wealth, honor and intellect” or in some instances the name of a person who was not the emperor. Just because a mark found on a piece of Chinese porcelain signifying the reign of a certain emperor such as Kangxi (1662-1722) or Qianlong (1736-1795), that does not mean the ceramic piece was actually made during that time period.
At that time, the Chinese were ancestor worshipers, and they often put an earlier reign mark on a piece as a tribute. In fact, the majority of Chinese porcelain pieces bearing a reign mark were not made during that period. But what about the seal mark found on J. O.’s six vases?
Unfortunately, they are a complete fraud and refer to nothing that is currently traceable. As attractive as they are, these vases do not have significant age and were probably not intended to be an actual garniture — just a grouping of vases in various attractive shapes. Two are double gourd-shaped, one bottle-shaped, the largest is club-shaped and so on.
The blue mark sent to us means nothing and has no relationship to the seal marked Nien-haos of either the Ming or Quin Dynasties, the latter of which ended in 1912. The “Made in China” labels suggest the earliest these six vases could have been made was about 1921, but we believe they are more likely to be circa-1975. At the current moment, vases of this age do not hold much interest for serious collectors, and these six should be valued for $350 or perhaps a little less as an attractive decorative grouping.