Russian Imperial-Era Silver

Russian silver of the pre-Revolution Imperial period is famed for superior quality and a wide variety of fine designs. The earliest pieces, dating from the 12th century forward, embody Old Russian styles and forms like regal crowns, caps, scepters, charkas and kovshi (traditional drinking vessels). Many feature restrained niello work — delicate, ornamental lines accentuated with black metal enamel.

During the reign of Peter the Great (1682-1725), the tsar who westernized the Russian Empire, local silversmiths began exploring more modern forms. Over time, the Russian Imperial family, along with members of the aristocratic and wealthy classes, dined from fashionable, solid-silver Baroque, Rococo, then Neoclassic-style goblets, platters, caviar urns, serving dishes, bread “baskets,” wine ladles and cutlery. Since they were ardent tea lovers as well, many also commissioned stunning silver samovars and tea sets comprised of caddies, tea glass-holders, sugar-cube boxes, and cream jugs. Scores also acquired traditionally shaped silver charkas or kovshi, modernized with gilt-gold ornamentation, chased scrolling foliage, or engraved inscriptions like “Drink to your Health and Happiness.”

Gilt silver and niello snuffbox, probably Veliky Ustyug, featuring Old Testament scenes, circa 1770, €4,800 plus buyer’s premium in 2017. Image courtesy of Hargesheimer Kunstauktionen Düsseldorf and LiveAuctioneers

Sets of small silver treasures, like thimbles, vodka cups, demitasse spoons, and cup-and-saucers, were probably displayed in grand “vitrine” glassed cabinets. Showier gilt-silver cigarette cases, snuff boxes, jeweled cigar cases and tankards likely graced sumptuous drawing rooms and libraries. Silver hand mirrors, perfume bottles, powder boxes, servant bells, and caskets (for storing rubles and jewelry) adorned stylish ladies’ dressing tables.

Gilt silver and champleve enamel throne salt cellar in historic Russian Revival style, 1888, $3,000 plus buyer’s premium in 2014. Image courtesy Shapiro Auctions and LiveAuctioneers

Many Russian nobles also sought silverwork religious items, like crosses or finely painted icons with shining protective covers, for personal prayer. Russian Orthodox monasteries and churches, on the other hand, favored more impressive pieces, like silver censors, chalices, and tabernacles, for public veneration.

Cloisonné enamel gilt silver tea glass-holder, marked Pavel Ovchinnikov, Imperial warrant, Moscow, circa 1890-1893, $6,000 plus buyer’s premium in 2012. Image courtesy Fox Auctions and LiveAuctioneers

Niello solid-silver creations, many depicting Biblical scenes or architectural wonders like the Kremlin, were beloved classics. As time went by, however, bright, colorful cloisonné-enamel floral or geometric patterns came into favor and enhanced everything from picture frames, cane handles, and pipe stems to bowls, napkin rings, sugar tongs and “throne” salt cellars.

Many of these objects were further adorned with opulent gilt silver or delicate, transparent, plique-à-jour accents. Others featured bolder champlevé-enamel designs, formed by filling decorative recesses with vitreous enamel before firing.

Massive Fabergé Neoclassical gilt silver and cut-glass decanter, 1908-1917, €27,500 plus buyer’s premium in 2020. Image courtesy Baltic Auction Group OU and LiveAuctioneers

The Late Imperial Era – when Russian silversmiths like Khlebnikov, Ovchinnikov and hundreds of others designed exceptional, award-winning silver objects – was the most prolific production period of all. But it is the creations of the Karl Fabergé workshop that have attained legendary status.

“Fabergé silver has always been a synonym for opulence and finest quality,” said Alexander Pushkin, Director at Pushkin Antiques Ltd. “The combination of precious materials and supreme craftsmanship applies both to practical objects and non-utilitarian ones such as his ‘eggs,’ miniature animals and flowers. Nowadays some of Fabergé’s most famous decorative pieces, dating between 1885 and 1917, are displayed in the most important international museums. They are also avidly sought at auction and treasured by collectors. Although it’s very difficult to sum up Fabergé in a few words, what I admire most about his work is its uncompromising attention to detail and his priority to aesthetics over function.”

Russian Silver and Cloisonné Enamel Kvosh, St. Petersburg, 1908-1917, $60,000 plus buyer’s premium in 2019. Image courtesy Shapiro Auctions and LiveAuctioneers

The opulent lifestyle of the Russian upper classes drew to a close during political upheavals of the early 20th century. Troves of precious silver pieces seized from silversmiths, jewelers, wealthy merchants, aristocrats and the Russian Imperial Family were melted down for coinage or indiscriminately destroyed. Some pieces were sold internationally for hard cash or smuggled West by fleeing Russian refugees.

As Russian silver flooded the European market, prices fell. In times of economic hardship, people often raised cash by melting pieces down.

Russian silver enamel cigarette case, Grachev Brothers, St. Petersburg, $1,800 plus buyer’s premium in 2013. Image courtesy of Hampton Estate Auction and LiveAuctioneers

The breakup of the Soviet Union in 1991 and the subsequent rise of a wealthy oligarchy have inspired a new generation of Russian collectors spurred by growing nationalism and an interest in art history. Others seek silver as investment pieces or to give as high-status gifts to those who might extend political favors.

Pre-revolutionary silver objects that managed to survive the vicissitudes of Russian history have become extremely collectible because, as some might say, “They just don’t make them like that anymore.”

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Elite collection of Japanese woodblock prints entered in March 31 sale

Jasper52 launches an elite collection of Japanese woodblock prints March 31 at 8:00 p.m. Eastern. Discover why Japanese printmakers impacted the development of modern art across names like Hasui Kawase, Kogyo and Isoda Koryusai. This sale reveals nuanced techniques and traditional Japanese values. Whether capturing the serenity of a temple or a moonlit ocean, these images exemplify both fine art and elegant decoration.

Utagawa Kunisada, ‘The Tama River at Chofu,’ from a set of triptychs released in 1854, $2,500-$3,000. Image courtesy Jasper52

View the auction here.

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Jasper52 presents exquisite decorative arts March 31

Admirers of the decorative arts will want to mark calendars for Jasper52’s upcoming auction beginning 7 p.m. Eastern March 31. Indulge your table, mantel, garden and more with this diverse array of antique to modern decorative objects. Exquisite vases, impressive dinnerware, and lovely bronze sculptures are among the unique treasures in this sale.

Jumping hare, bronze, Belgium, late 20th century, $400-$500. Image courtesy Jasper52

View the auction here.

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Semiprecious Stones Are Precious, Too

This vintage 14K yellow gold link bracelet is set with Citrine, Garnet, Amethyst, Moonstone, Ruby, Turquoise, Pearl, Tiger’s Eye, Coral, Blue Topaz and other semiprecious stones, $2,500 plus buyer’s premium. Image courtesy Auction Gallery of Boca Raton

We have the ancient Greeks to thank for how we categorize gemstones. Diamonds, rubies, sapphires and emeralds they considered precious; every other one was merely “semiprecious.”

But are these classifications relevant today?

While it’s true the four precious gemstones are the most noticed at auction, there are times when certain high-quality semiprecious stones are actually rarer, and will realize a higher auction value.

In the end, it all depends on what “precious” really means to you.

There are literally hundreds of semiprecious gemstones ranging from the well-known opal, tiger eye, lapis lazuli and turquoise to ones that are not usually associated with fashionable jewelry such as musgravite, tanzanite, and alexandrite — with so many others in between. We’ll just focus on the gemstones most collectors are familiar with here, their birthstone, which will help provide a general idea as to the wide availability, value and collectibility of gemstones overall.

January – Garnet 

The birthstone for the first month of the year is garnet, a silicate that is mostly red with many variations from light to dark. There are other colors, like green (rarest of all), yellow and orange. Expect a garnet to be valued at about $500 a carat, depending on its size, cut, clarity and color.

February – Amethyst

The birthstone for February, amethyst contains an iron oxide and other minerals like manganese that brilliantly project its wonderful dark-purple color. Mined mostly in Brazil and Uruguay, amethyst is a larger coarse-grain quartz easily bought for under $10 a carat.

March – Aquamarine

According to the Zodiac, March is Pisces (or fish), so it makes sense that the birthstone for the month is aquamarine, from the Latin for seawater. It is classified as a variation of a beryl with color mostly in the light greenish-blue hues. Aquamarine is mined primarily in Pakistan with an auction value of about $600 a carat or so.

April – Diamond

One of the four precious stones, diamond has its own category of desire both as jewelry and an adornment for thousands of years. Made from highly pressurized carbon in the deepest Earth, diamond is brought near the surface by underground volcanic activity over millions of years. One carat of cut and polished diamond can easily start at about $1,800 or so with variations up to $12,000 at auction.

May – Emerald

The second of the four precious stones, emerald is a member of the beryl family, like aquamarine, except with the addition of chromium that renders the color green. Most emeralds are mined from Colombia; a good-quality, one-carat emerald stone can start at about $550.

June – Pearl

This unusual gemstone isn’t as much a mineral as it is a living fossil. Made in nature from calcium carbonate secreted by a mollusk in saltwater (called nacre), a pearl is less a stone than it is a gem. Its natural hues range from stark white to black with many variations in between. A natural pearl can start at about $300 a carat.

A group of 26 semiprecious gemstone eggs of rose quartz, malachite, lapis lazuli, agates, snowflake obsidian, goldstone, rock crystal, and others in a silver-plate basket, $1,000 plus buyer’s premium. Image courtesy Auctions at Showplace

July – Ruby

The third of the precious stones, ruby, can be confused with a garnet, especially when both have a similar deep-red color. To tell the difference, hold either up to the light — if there are two rainbows with no yellow or green bands, it’s a garnet. A one-carat ruby can start at about $350.

August – Peridot

Not as well known as other gemstones, the peridot nevertheless is classified as olivine, its shade of green similar to that of green olives. It’s not exactly mined as it is found within lava after volcanic activity, making them not as rare — except for the ones of gem quality that start at about $60 a carat.

September – Sapphire

The fourth of the four precious stones, sapphires, from the corundum family like ruby, are normally recognized as a deep blue, but they come in a variety of colors ranging from black to yellow, orange, green and even colorless (called fancy or parti-colored sapphires). A one-carat sapphire can start at about $450 and higher depending on quality and color.

October – Opal

What attracts so many to the opal is its iridescent colors that sparkle on a background of silky white, gray, green, blue and other colors with black being the rarest and most valuable (common opal is mostly just a white background and not as valuable). Patterns of color determine its value with a precious opal of white with fair iridescence having a value starting around $20 a carat with more color patterns having a much higher value.

November – Citrine

If you heat-treat an amethyst, the result will be a citrine, a yellowish gemstone in the quartz family, but it will show straight cracks under high resolution; a natural citrine will be cloudier. Citrines are available from as low as $10 a carat with a higher value for the more brilliant orange hue.

December – Blue Zircon

Another gemstone that isn’t particularly well known, the blue zircon is a nesosilicate that comes in a variety of primary colors, with the blue zircon being the most desired. Blue zircon will fade in direct sunlight, but its color returns when back indoors. Auction values will show blue zircon starting about $20 a carat.

Our list of gemstones is only a very small fraction of the hundreds of gemstones available in every color, brilliance, rarity, and radiance. Onyx, jade, agate, moonstone, obsidian, malachite, sunstone, and all manner of quartz also engender strong personal connections.

Just be careful. Many semiprecious stones can be confused with other gems, and there are artificial gems, as well, but they “completely different physically, chemically and optically” from the natural gems they copy, says In spite of those inherent differences, some lab-generated gems may be very similar to authentic natural examples. Don’t be afraid to ask a jeweler about a gem’s background before making a purchase.

Hardness of semiprecious stones matters, too, especially when designing personal jewelry. The Mohs scale classifies each stone, precious or semiprecious, as to its ability to withstand constant use with 1 being the softest (talc) and 10 the hardest (diamond). You don’t want a soft stone, such as amber, to be used on a ring that is worn daily.

David Yurman design featuring two large, faceted blue topaz pendants of about 125 carats each, $650 plus buyer’s premium. Image courtesy Akiba Antiques

With so many semiprecious stones to choose from, it’s no wonder that they are so affordable overall, with most selling within the $20 to $50 a carat range. It all depends on size, color, hue, rarity and setting. Of course, the rarest and most valuable gemstones, such as alexandrite, at $70,000 a carat; or musgravite, at about half that; are just as collectible as diamonds.

“You might assume high-end gems and jewelry make good investments, but that’s not necessarily the case. Gems of lesser value often appreciate more and are easier to liquidate. Many well-informed investors choose low to moderately priced gems,” according to the International Gem Society’s article “Making Money Investing in Gems: 5 Top Rules.”

Semiprecious stones aren’t just for wearable jewelry — they’re found in decorative objects like this globe with jade, abalone and others, $225 plus buyer’s premium. Image courtesy Hill Auction Gallery

Simply stated, if you buy semiprecious stones with an eye toward later resale, you should always make your purchases from trusted sellers and consider decorative settings later on if your goal is to increase the value of your investment. The first rule of collecting, however, is that you should always buy what you like first. Unless you buy for resale, the investment aspect should be a secondary consideration.

There’s a lot to learn about semiprecious stones, and the Gemological Institute of America and International Gemological Institute are among the trade groups that can help you to become an educated buyer. Just know that there is a gemstone — precious or otherwise — that the natural world created just for you. When you find it, you will feel a connection to nature.

March 25 NHADA auction rolls out classic Americana

Items drawn exclusively from the New Hampshire Antique Dealers Association are the stars of the upcoming Jasper52 auction, being held exclusively online via Bidding begins 6:00 p.m. Eastern on Thursday, March 25. One of the most interesting lots is a circa-1917 Houtenbrink “Eyes, Nerves, Broken Glasses Replaced” trade sign.

Houtenbrink painted wood trade sign, circa 1917, $3,000-$3,500. Image courtesy Jasper52

View the auction here.

Learn more about the auction on Auction Central News.

Unique tribal art leads latest Jasper52 auction

Jasper52 will present unique tribal art from around the world at its upcoming auction event, beginning at 2:00 p.m. Eastern on Wednesday, March 24. Bid absentee or live online via For decades, collectors have flocked to tribal art from around the world. Its broad appeal is reflected in the strong values achieved in auctions and galleries worldwide.

Quite often, tribal art is used as a decorative element, both in homes and offices. Its raw, genuine nature captures the spirit of its creators in a timeless manner.

Nyanga mask, from Lega, Congo, $3,000-$3,500. Image courtesy Jasper 52

View the auction here.

Learn more about the auction on Auction Central News.

Chinese decorative art for interior decor

When designing a room in your home, it can be difficult knowing how to add bursts of personality or interest to a look without straying from the basic motif, whether it’s Art Deco, Midcentury Modern, or classic American. You may very well be wanting something unique that also fits in with current trends, and that’s where Chinese decorative arts come in. They have a timeless elegance but are not readily available in department or furniture stores. The ideal way to find a wealth of beautiful possibilities is online, in auctions. If you’re not sure how Chinese art and objects might enhance your home decor, here are some tips on how to integrate them seamlessly into your current design scheme.

But first, why Chinese decorative arts?

The beauty of Chinese decorative art lays in its distinctive designs, shapes and colors. The figures on famille verte pottery or the colors in blue and white designs are immediately recognizable as Chinese. Our ability to identify them so readily, is because of the long tradition of incorporating Chinese pieces into Western interior design. Since the 17th century, Chinese porcelain, especially, has been highly prized in Europe. The origins of the craze for “white gold” is said to have begun when a Dutch crew raided a Portuguese ship of Ming Porcelain in 1603.

Pair of large Chinese vases. Image courtesy Pax Romana Auctions and

Invite nature into your home

Something that Chinese art is often renowned for is its stylized depictions of the natural world. Towering bamboo, water lilies and rolling mountains, along with the fauna that inhabits them, are common in Chinese designs, and in our urban world we yearn for more of it. Using Chinese painted scrolls and statues can be a brilliant way to introduce these serene landscapes into your home in original ways. Additionally, using motifs helps tie plants and greenery into the scheme of your home. It is truly a way to bring to outside, in.

Chinese gilded Buddha. Image courtesy Pax Romana Auctions and

Add height or a focal point to a space

When arranging a sideboard, shelf or table centerpiece, Chinese porcelain is a perfect choice. Some Chinese porcelain might be considered “oversized: in comparison to everyday crockery, but that’s what makes it so useful for this purpose. You want a focal point to be striking and to attract the eye. A large, tall piece like the Celadon vase below invites the eye in and up, in a way you might not have expected.

This is also where we should say that, when thinking of Chinese decorative arts, consider alternatives to just blue and white porcelain. Included in this category are porcelain paintings, snuff bottles, seals and stamps; and ceramics that come in a wide range of monotone palettes and detailed designs. It’s this diversity that allows for Chinese art to fit into a wide range of home designs. Whether your style is more modern or traditional, there will be a piece that works for you.

Ming-style porcelain vase. Image courtesy Pax Romana Auctions and

Use Chinese bronzes to add warmth to a bedroom

Our bedrooms are our sanctuaries, and at the end of the day you want to enter a space that is warm and inviting.To achieve this atmosphere, Chinese bronzes can be perfect, as the material reflects a warm and cozy light. These bronze pieces also come in diverse forms, such as wide-bowled censers or regal statues of Buddhas. The censers, in particular, can have a practical form such as jewelry or accessories holders, like we’ve demonstrated below. Bronzes sometimes have a colored, enameled finish, which can “pick up” the main color of a room’s decor. Take, for example, this Buddha, which has enameled embellishments of red and green but still has an inviting bronze face.

Bronze of Naga. Image courtesy Pax Romana Auctions and

Add softness to a bathroom or kitchen

The shine of porcelain and its intricate natural designs are a good choice when styling bathrooms and kitchens. They add sophistication to these rooms and any other spaces that are used through the day. And, being ceramic vessels, they can also have a practical purpose – such as storing cosmetics or tea, or displaying flowers.

Ming-style porcelain vessel. Image courtesy Pax Romana Auctions and

Bring your personal touch to the office

Once you’ve thought about the spaces in your home, it’s worth casting your mind farther afield, to the office or workplace. At the moment, many of us are unable to work from our offices. However, when we return, we’ll want them to feel as fresh and welcoming as possible. To achieve the feeling of renewal, many of us will be bringing parts of our personalities back to the office with us, through the use of accessories and small furnishings. Try grouping them with books or plants.

Three bronze censers. Image courtesy Pax Romana Auctions and

Explore Jasper52 auctions on LiveAuctioneers for fine-quality Chinese art and decorative objects.

Content courtesy Pax Romana Auctions

Online auction March 16 reflects renowned photographers’ styles

Images by the world’s foremost photographers are presented in a Jasper52 online auction of vintage photogravures and photolithographs that will sell Tuesday, March 16, at 7 p.m. EDT. Photographers whose work is offered in the 144-lot sale include Ansel Adams, Diane Arbus, Richard Avedon, Philippe Halsman, Cindy Sherman and Edward Weston.

Ernst Haas, ‘Norwegian Fjord,’ 1959, photo litho, 1988, Japan, 8.95in x 6in. Estimate: $125-$175. Jasper52 image

View the auction here.

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Agra rugs emulate fine Persian weaving

NEW YORK – The city of Agra in northern India is known for being the home of the Taj Mahal, but the area’s rich tradition of carpet weaving makes Agra equally famous.

Agra was one of three major carpet centers in India. Today’s collectors seek out 19th century and early 20th century examples as a high point of the genre. Emerging in the 16th century, Agra was focal point for Indian culture, known not just for carpet weaving but also miniatures, textile design, inlaid stonework and architecture.

One of the finest styles of Mughal carpets, Agra rugs trace their origins to the Mughal emperors’ reign, which began in the 15th century. Having an affinity for Persian arts and culture, the emperors especially admired Persian carpets that proliferated in the “Golden Age of Persian Weaving.”

This Agra has a pattern of 10 large diamonds in the center field, only two of which are full diamonds on the center axis and not cut by the border. It achieved $26,237 + the buyer’s premium in November 2019 at Rippon Boswell & Co. International Auctioneers. Photo courtesy of Rippon Boswell & Co., International Auctioneers and LiveAuctioneers

When Mughal Emperor Babur (1483-1530) vanquished India and took Delhi in 1526, he first imported fine rugs from Iran for use in his court. Soon after, however, Agra emerged as a carpet making center. Babur brought in master craftsmen from Persia to demonstrate the art of pile weaving to Indian artisans, who were more accustomed to lightweight textile weaving. The new style of Agra carpets served as a tribute to the finest Persian rugs while having their own style. Agra carpets became known for their durability and high quality.

An Agra palace carpet, late 19th century; 27ft x 18ft 10in, realized $16,000 + the buyer’s premium in May 2019 at Grogan & Co. Photo courtesy of Grogan & Co. and LiveAuctioneers

Agra rugs can be challenging for the casual buyer to categorize and are sometimes confused with other styles. Amritsar rugs are one example of a rug type commonly confused with Agra. Agra rugs are best identified by their “allover” decoration or they can feature large expanses of open fields intersected by smaller design panels and medallions.

This Agra rug, India, late 19th century, 10ft 4in x 14ft 9in, brought $4,750 + the buyer’s premium in October 2020 at Material Culture. Photo courtesy of Material Culture and LiveAuctioneers

The heaviest of all Indian rugs in their day, Agra rugs boasted a long pile and were usually constructed with an asymmetrical (or Persian) knot. They were also densely woven, having up to 2,000 knots per square inch. They clearly are inspired by their cultural heritage while their color palette and design styles distinguish them from their Persian ancestors.

Typically boasting a delicate palette using dyes made from vegetables, Agra rugs feature decoration motifs that are historically influenced or original. Common motifs include rows of flowers in vases, vines, local wildlife and animals native to India, hunting scenes and elegant borders of leafy vines and palmettes or rosettes. Instead of abstracted designs, natural depictions are common and among the most seen botanicals are the lotus flower, roses, vines and the cypress tree.

“Antique Agra rugs present elegant allover designs alongside medallion or centralized patterns … they have the rich pungent palette of classical Indian and Persian carpets as well as soft, cool earthy tones,” according to Nazmiyal Collection in New York City.

The antique rug gallery website notes that the color fields are often in earthy tones of greens, blues or muted yellows, saffron and beiges, but can come in a rusty red and other pale greens. Agra rugs are most commonly found woven with wool, though sometimes the rugs are made with cotton. Local crafters’ mastery of vegetable dyes allowed them to create desirable and unique colors, including lavender and gold.

A circa 1910 example, 11ft 10in x 15ft 6in, sold for $11,000 + the buyer’s premium in September 2019 at Nazmiyal Auctions. Photo courtesy of Nazmiyal Auctions and LiveAuctioneers

While the market for Persian rugs has waned a bit in recent years, the best examples in any genre of antiques will continue to do well. Nineteenth century Agra rugs in particular remain a solid investment as well as a beautiful addition to one’s home. Later Agra rugs tend to be produced to meet high demand, so earlier examples are usually better quality.

An Agra wool rug, early 20th century, 15ft 10in x 12ft 2in, fetched $6,000 + the buyer’s premium in February 2021 at Hindman. Photo courtesy of Hindman and LiveAuctioneers

Made of organic materials, however, these rugs can be expected to show their age and experience wear and tear over the centuries. Older carpets dating to the Mughal era are hard to find, with many having been cut or deteriorated and restored over the years. Full-size versions in good condition are growing scarce and quite valuable.

Originally made for use in Mughal courts in India, antique Agra rugs are elegant and found in a wide variety of sizes although quite common are 9 feet by 12 feet examples. Arguably, they are perhaps the most sought after of Indian rugs and make a strong design statement in the home.

Jasper52 presents generous slice of Americana March 11

Jasper52 will present a slice of Americana, folk art and outsider art in an online auction that will take place on Thursday, March 11, at 6 p.m. The auction catalog spans three centuries of antiques that were either made in America or brought here decades ago.

Missouri Pacific Railroad advertising calendar, 1930s, very fine to excellent condition given its age, 12½ x 19in. Estimate: $400-$500. Jasper51 image

View the auction here.

Learn more about the auction on Auction Central News.