SMART COLLECTOR

Size and short run give black-and-gold Wedgwood vase special appeal

Posted June 03, 2011, at 1:16 p.m.
Made around 1900 by a celebrated carver, the American painted carousel horse had a pre-auction estimate of $8,000-$12,000 this winter at Bonhams and Butterfields New York.
Photo courtesy of www.bonhams.com
Made around 1900 by a celebrated carver, the American painted carousel horse had a pre-auction estimate of $8,000-$12,000 this winter at Bonhams and Butterfields New York.

Q: This Wedgwood vase was given to my father-in-law by a friend. It had been in the friend’s family since 1896. I’ve tried to find information on its value without success. Can you help?

A: Many readers know Wedgwood dinnerware. Also familiar is Josiah Wedgwood’s innovative Jasper Ware, with its ancient Greek relief designs against a matte background.

But the large vase seen in images sent is something different. Oversize raised gold leaves against a black matte background are very different from the above Wedgwood. Incised letters on the bottom read, “Lilium Auratum,” along with coded marks that indicate the date of make. Wedgwood is stamped on the bottom.

Lilium, also called the goldband lily, is a large showy bloom. That explains the decoration.

Houston dealer David Lackey, www.david-lackey.com, is a frequent contributor to PBS’s “Antiques Roadshow,” where he specializes in porcelains and decorative arts. Looking over the images, Lackey instantly zeroed in on the vase’s basalt base.

Because Wedgwood made both Black Basalt and Black Jasper Ware items, even smart collectors can be excused for confusion about what’s what.

Lackey told us that in the mid-1880s, Wedgwood experimented with a line called Auro Basalt. Identified by raised slip decorated with gold on a basalt body, Auro had a very short run and relatively little was made.

Now our reader knows the name of and design on her vase. As for value, Lackey points out that larger pieces generally sell for more. Judging from the images, this vase may exceed 15 inches in height. If so, he pegs retail value in the $1,500-$2,500 range.

A look on the free site www.liveauctioneers.com shows several Auro Basalt auction results. None of the pieces shown is as large as the reader’s. All sold at www.skinnerinc.com in Massachusetts, where a Wedgwood specialist is based.

Q: I’m sending images of Della Robbia plaques brought back from Italy in the 1950s or earlier. All are in perfect condition. What can you tell us about them?

A: I can tell you that the ceramic plaques are collectibles, not fine art. I can tell you that the style, a relief, often religious, with busts or faces surrounded by brightly colored fruits and-or floral, is named for the Florentine sculptor Luca della Robbia (d. 1482), known for his decorative style. Referring to plaques, the tag “Della Robbia” is generic. And I can tell you that they’ve been made since the 19th century and are still made today. I’ve seen Italian export examples at T.J. Maxx.

“I collected the plaques myself,” said Lackey. He hung them outdoors on fences or as free-hanging decor.

Large 19th century Della Robbia plaques are considered art pottery and are priced accordingly. Everything else falls into the collectibles realm.

“Whether made in the 1920s or 1970s, there’s no difference,” adds Lackey. Most secondary market plaques retail for $10-$25. Larger examples, 10 inches or more, can run to $75.

Buyers look for crisp modeling and vibrant colors. Some minor damage is tolerated.

More: Our column concerning a frustrated reader who could not sell his stamp collection brought interesting reader comments. One suggested the writer donate his stamps to a local Veteran’s Administration hospital, where patients follow the hobby. Another suggested I tell readers about www.postalhistoryfoundation.org, a nonprofit dedicated to bringing stamps into classrooms as a teaching tool. Around for more than 50 years, the Postal History Foundation accepts donations of stamp collections and other philatelic materials.

Auction Action

Sometimes, even celebrity provenance is not enough to guarantee a sale at auction. An American carved, painted and gilded wooden carousel horse attributed to master carver Charles Looff failed to sell at Bonham’s New York this winter despite the fact that it came from a celebrity collector. Made circa 1900, the horse with stand was consigned by comedian David Brenner. Looff built over 50 carousels, including the original on Coney Island. Made in 1876, it still operates today.

Collector Quiz

Q: How can a smart collector tell the difference between Black Basalt and Black Jasper wares?

A: If it has white relief decoration, it’s not Basalt. If it has gold decoration, it’s not Jasper. Glazed table and serving wares are most often Basalt. Jasper wares tend to be decorative. Source: “Wedgwood Ceramics” by Daniel J. Keefe III (Schiffer, $49.95).

Danielle Arnet welcomes questions from readers. She cannot respond to each one individually, but will answer those of general interest in her column. Send e-mail to smartcollector@comcast.net or write Danielle Arnet, c/o Tribune Media Services, 435 N. Michigan Ave., Suite 1400, Chicago, IL 60611. Please include an address in your query. Photos cannot be returned.

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