April 26, 2018
Blogs and Columns Latest News | Poll Questions | Eugene Cole | EMHS | Turkey Hunt

The best inlaid game tables are costly works of art

The circa-1900 Mills 50-cent Chicago upright slot machine brought $66,000 in a recent sale at Morphy’s Auctions.
By Danielle Arnet, Tribune Media Services

Q: Can you tell us the country of origin of our chess table? The top is a movable slate piece with mother-of-pearl inlay. The base looks like mahogany.

A: The pedestal table seen in photos is a gaming table, but more significantly, it is pietra dura, alternately called pietre dure. The terms are often used interchangeably. Technically, the first is Italian for hard rocks, and refers to hardstone carving. The second usage denotes artistic stone inlay work.

Whatever you call it — we’ll call it PD in the column — the art has been practiced since the Medici, who favored using semiprecious stones as inlay.

Like mosaic, PD is intricate inlay work. But in PD, artisans use thin pieces of colored stone cut to fit together tightly. The finished result mimics a painting, with no grout or seams. Differing stones are selected to show the texture of fabric, wood, water, etc.

Key museumsinflorence.com for superb examples in a Florentine museum devoted to the art. Note that there are differing styles.

Extremely labor intensive, good PD has always been a luxury item. Smart collectors know that when something is desired and expensive, entrepreneurs find a way to make versions at different levels of skill and price.

The tea table seen in photos has mother-of-pearl set into a hardstone square recessed into the top. It is of a type made for export around 1900 — pre WW II. Such tables were made in Italy because that’s where PD artisans were active.

The base was factory-made separately from the stone insert which was added later, along with hand-painted florals and perhaps gilding flourishes edging the top.

The table is attractive as a decorative piece, but does not rank as a stellar example of PD. Happily, inlaid game tables sell well, especially florid examples.

On artfact.com, we viewed a circa 1785 gilded Louis XVI table that sold for $374,000 in 2006. A Victorian Renaissance Revival wooden table brought $4,313.

Looking on liveauctioneers.com, we found auction results for a PD Italian table inlaid with marble at $130,000, and a cast metal pedestal inlaid table sold for $1,000.

Nothing educates like seeing examples. Our reader needs to research similar examples on sites that show prices realized.

Q: A friend of mine has an old stove from (I think) the 1940s. Here are photos of it. Any info? She wants to sell.

A: Unfortunately, no images came with the email. I can tell you this: Value depends on type, maker and, primarily, condition.

Unknown is whether the reader refers to a cooking or heating stove. Gas or wood burning? Pristine or rusted? Is it intact or missing parts? You get the idea.

Not all old stoves are desirable. Buyers are selective. If the stove has a crack or hole anywhere in the oven unit, it is scrap. A redo of nickel plating can run close to four figures, and full restoration can run into thousands. Moving an old stove can be hernia territory. Our reader’s friend may not be aware of all that, but a savvy buyer will have it down.

Because dealers pay very little, the friend will realize more by selling the stove herself. Perhaps advertising locally will bring a buyer.

The Good Time Stove Co., antiquestoves.net, has an interesting site featuring differing types of cook and heating stoves. They appraise for $25.

Book it!

“Porch Living” by James T. Farmer III (Gibbs Smith, $30) is perfect reading to ease into summer. A Georgia landscape and interior designer, the author has an eye for integrating the porch into a mood. Sections such as “Casually Elegant Porches” and “Garden Porches” are inspirational.

Auction action

When a private collection of vintage gambling and slot machines sold recently at Morphy’s Auctions in Pennsylvania, a rare Mills 50-cent Chicago jackpot upright slot machine designed for the 1900 World’s Fair in Paris brought $66,000. With a colorful pierced tin wheel and high-relief griffins, owls and hounds decorating the oak cabinet, the machine was known as a rich man’s coin-op. Back then, 50 cents was a lot of money. The 415-lot sale brought nearly $1 million.

Collector quiz

Q: What is a tumble-up?

a. A rumble involving preteens.

b. Packaging for glass shipments.

c. A glass bottle set for a nightstand.

d. A tennis outfit.

A: The answer is c. Sometimes made of cut glass, the drinking glass was inverted over a carafe or bottle as a top. Source: “The Encyclopedia of Glass: 2nd Edition” by Mark Pickvet (Schiffer,$29.99). A handy A-Z illustrated reference on terminology, types, and more.

Danielle Arnet welcomes questions from readers. She cannot respond to each one individually, but will answer those of general interest in her column. Send email 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.


Have feedback? Want to know more? Send us ideas for follow-up stories.

You may also like