This Egyptian red glass kohl pot realized £460 (about $525) plus the buyer’s premium in December 2021. Image courtesy of TimeLine Auctions Ltd. and LiveAuctioneers

Ancient Egyptian, Greek and Roman vessels were each designed with a specific purpose in mind. Though scholars have strived to match known vessels with those depicted on classic vases or mentioned in the literature, many are known today by modern names. Each form served as needed and new generations updated and changed them accordingly.

For aesthetic appeal and to deflect the harsh glare of the sun, Egyptians lined their eyes with kohl – a dark powder featuring blends of crushed antimony, ground burnt almonds, ochre clay, lead and blue-green ores. Early alabaster kohl storage vessels typically featured small, squat, wide-necked bodies, while others featured lids with slits just wide enough to insert delicate application sticks – a design intended to reduce waste. During the New Kingdom, Egyptians produced appealing, narrow, palm tree-like kohl flasks in glass, along with simpler single-tone pots. In December 2021, TimeLine Auctions sold an alluring deep red, finger-length glass kohl pot for $525 plus the buyer’s premium.

A Roman terracotta wine or water flagon featuring traces of red slip at its shoulder and on its foot ring earned £100 (about $114) plus the buyer’s premium in May 2022. Image courtesy of Apollo Art Auctions and LiveAuctioneers

Ancient peoples also kept foodstuffs in vessels meant to maintain the quality and quantity of their contents. Ancient Greeks and Romans, for example, apparently served watered wine from small bulbous pitchers featuring single, arched handles and short, anti-spill necks with flared rims. In May 2022, Apollo Art Auctions sold a graceful 2nd- to 4th-century Roman terracotta wine flagon featuring original traces of red slip at its shoulder for $114 plus the buyer’s premium. 

Wine and olive oil, two staples of the ancient world, were stored in amphorae, which were terracotta containers featuring tall tapered necks, plump bodies and bowed double-shoulder handles. Small, graceful models, produced for use in ceremonies or formal dining, featured red or black paintings of figures, high glazing, wide mouths and rounded bellies on wide bases. 

This extremely well-preserved Roman transport amphora dating to the 3rd-2nd century B.C. and featuring extensive marine encrustation achieved $3,500 plus the buyer’s premium in March 2017. Image courtesy of Ancient Resource Auctions and LiveAuctioneers

Unadorned, utilitarian terracotta amphorae often stood atop pointed feet. In addition to providing space for suspended solid particles, these forms allowed sturdy, upright storage when pressed into soft sand or tight, equally convenient storage when transported by land or sea. Though they capably protected goods from the damaging effects of light and air, these cheap vessels were usually destroyed or discarded once emptied. Ancient Resources auctioned a magnificent, extremely well-preserved 3rd- to 2nd-century B.C. Roman seaworthy transport amphora, bearing original marine encrustation, for $3,500 plus the buyer’s premium in March 2017.

A small, exceptional Greek lekythos (oil flask) depicting horses and riders and dating to circa the late 6th to early 5th century B.C. realized $1,550 plus the buyer’s premium in February 2017. Image courtesy of Artemis Gallery and LiveAuctioneers.

Greek lekythoi (or lekythos in the singular) were terracotta oil flasks with narrow necks, long tapering bodies, small mouths and single looping handles. As with similar vessels, their shape minimized spills and evaporation but eased pouring. While larger lekythoi functioned in religious ceremonies or as funerary offerings, more delicate ones were evidently reserved for personal use to dispense costly, aromatic oils or unguents at baths. In February 2017, Artemis Gallery auctioned an exceptional lekythos depicting horses and riders rendered in black for $1,550 plus the buyer’s premium. 

This Corinthian ware aryballos from Greece, dating to circa 650 B.C., features black and red figures and overlapping scales with rays on its shoulder and around its mouth. It brought £950 (about $1,084) plus the buyer’s premium in August 2022. Image courtesy of Apollo Art Auctions and LiveAuctioneers

According to images seen on ancient vases and funerary pillars, Greek athletes headed to the baths carried aryballoi (aryballos if singular), little perfume- or oil-filled flasks with narrow necks and broad, flat, spill-reducing lips. Apollo Art Auctions sold a 7th-century B.C. Corinthian ware aryballos featuring overlapping decorative motifs known as fish scales and tear drop rays, which appeared on its mouth and shoulders, for $1,084 plus the buyer’s premium in August 2022. 

A circa-5th-century B.C. Greek core-form alabastron boasts a glass body adorned with white and tangerine combed feather-patterned trailing with linear white trails encircling its ends and applied translucent cobalt blue trail handles. It achieved $7,500 plus the buyer’s premium in June 2020. Image courtesy of Artemis Gallery and LiveAuctioneers

Slender alabastrons – fragile terracotta, glass, and alabaster bottles featuring narrow necks, splayed mouths and tiny decorative handles – also dispensed perfumed oils at ancient baths. In June 2020, Artemis Gallery sold a Greek 5th-century B.C. core-formed, round-base glass beauty adorned with dazzling combed-feather patterned trailing and applied blue handles for $7,500 plus the buyer’s premium. In Imperial Rome, these stylish bathing vessels, known as unguentarium, sometimes featured charming double- or triple-conjoined, free-blown glass vials with contrasting crimped trim. 

Ancient vessels not only shed light on the art and culture of past civilizations. They also illuminate the lives of those who relied on them and treasured them.



This original 1934 World Cup runners-up medal, awarded to the Czechoslovakian player Josef Kostalec, features the figure of Victory that also appeared on medals awarded to World Cup finalists in 2018. This early medal, sans ribbon, earned £9,500 (about $11,175) plus the buyer’s premium in November 2019. Image courtesy of Graham Budd Auctions Ltd and LiveAuctioneers

World Cup soccer is a phenomenon like no other. It’s one of the few events with the power to bring together more than half the planet’s population for one month. According to some news stories, the World Cup wields so much power, it has brought about ceasefires in the bloodiest of conflicts. Entire nations feel a great sense of pride when their team advances or wins any of the 64 games that culminate with the hoisting a heavy vermeil trophy designating the world’s best players.

A pair of soccer boots worn by Argentine player Rene Houseman in the 1978 World Cup final between his country and Holland, signed by him in silver marker, sold for £460 (about $545) in June 2019. Image courtesy of Graham Budd Auctions Ltd and LiveAuctioneers

Soccer, or something like it, has been played for millennia. A Chinese game known as “cuju,” which was described in writings around 206 B.C., involved kicking a ball into a net. The sport began to evolve into its current form in 1863, following a series of meetings held in England that led to the creation of the Sheffield Rules, which prohibited the most aggressive and injurious tactics in official matches. Not long after this decree, the game split into two related but separate sports. Soccer, which is officially known as football everywhere on Earth except the United States and Canada, adopted the less aggressive laws of the game, while rugby, which is named for Rugby School in Rugby, England, where its rules were codified, retained the rougher style of play.

Nothing says soccer like a dark brown leather soccer ball from the early 1950s such as this one, which predates the current white and black hexagon pattern design that makes the ball easier to see on the field. The signature of Pele, the greatest player of the 20th century, helped the ball earn $500 plus the buyer’s premium in February 2022. Image courtesy of Teddies’ Collectables and LiveAuctioneers

Today, soccer counts more participants than any other sport. There are nearly 250 million registered players, from every country in the world, according to soccer’s 118-year-old international governing body, the Federation Internationale de Football Association (FIFA), which also oversees the World Cup. That number does not count the billions who play at home, in school, on the streets or anywhere that people can scare up a ball and two structures to serve as goal posts. The playing field, known as the pitch, need not be fancy or even of regulation size. It just needs to be accessible.

An official Brazilian National Football Team jersey worn by forward Neymar (no last name needed) during a match in the 2014 FIFA World Cup in Brazil includes not only the superstar’s signature, but those of other Brazilian soccer players. It realized $2,020 in July 2020. Image courtesy of RR Auctions and LiveAuctioneers

As the sport gained fans and recognition around the world, FIFA created six regional confederations registering nearly 190 amateur teams by nation. These teams compete for the final prize – the World Cup – as they have every four years since the first such competition was held, in 1930. The inaugural winner was Uruguay, and for their efforts, the team received the Coupe du Monde (French “World Cup”), a stylized figure of Victory fashioned from vermeil (gold over sterling silver) on a lapis lazuli base that weighed nearly nine pounds. In 1946, the cup was renamed the Jules Rimet Trophy to honor the FIFA president who created the World Cup competition in 1929.

This Jules Rimet Trophy was presented during the 1970 World Cup to Marco Antonio Feliciano, a member of the winning Brazilian national soccer team. The 1970 World Cup was the last to feature the Jules Rimet Trophy with the winged Victory figure, as it was retired according to FIFA rules. This participant trophy brought $5,000 plus the buyer’s premium in December 2020. Image courtesy of Julien’s Auctions and LiveAuctioneers

In 1970, the Jules Rimet Trophy was permanently awarded to Brazil for having won three World Cups in accordance with FIFA rules at that time. A replacement trophy was designed and dubbed the FIFA World Cup’s Winners Trophy. The hollow trophy depicts two athletes holding up the world and is made from nearly 14 pounds of 18K gold on a base of malachite. National teams typically pose with the World Cup raised high after a spectacular win, but are given a FIFA bronze replica that they are allowed to keep. Replica trophies and players’ trophies occasionally come to auction, as with the December 2020 offering of a 1970 Jules Rimet player trophy that changed hands for $5,000.

A full-size replica of the vermeil and malachite World Cup trophy sold for £800 (about $950) plus the buyer’s premium in November 2019. Image courtesy of Graham Budd Auctions Ltd and LiveAuctioneers

World Cup memorabilia sparks almost as much competitive interest at auction as the actual games. Soccer is, of course, a team sport, with position players who defend, attack and pass. As in any sport, though, standout players gain fan followings. The list of the greatest soccer stars of all time will always include Pele and Diego Maradona, who dominated 20th-century competition. Both rank on any collector’s must-have list for early team sport cards and stickers in albums (which pre-date the soccer cards of the 1960s), except in later box sets. As with baseball, sports cards featuring legendary soccer players when they were rookies inspire heated auction competition.

The Panini company created stamps which collectors amassed in albums prior to the advent of soccer player cards in the 1960s. It still issues sporty stamps such as this one featuring David Beckham from when he played for Manchester United. His signature helped the stamp achieve $11,000 plus the buyer’s premium in November 2021. Image courtesy of Mynt Auctions and LiveAuctioneers

Among 21st-century players, Kylian Mbappe, Lionel Messi, David Beckham, Neymar (no last name needed) and Cristiano Ronaldo are the most sought-after for autographs, jerseys, collectible cards, and albums of stickers. Memorabilia featuring these contemporary athletes command strong auction bids, with material from their rookie years being the hardest to find.

As for trading cards, soccer is unusual in that cards featuring its players were almost always sold in sets, not individually. Until recently, soccer cards were almost exclusive to Europe and rarely sold in North America. That has begun to change, and the speed of that change will only accelerate as the United States, Canada and Mexico prepare to welcome the World Cup in 2026, marking it the first time that three countries have jointly hosted the contest. Women soccer players are gaining recognition for their feats, as well. A soccer card featuring American Mia Hamm in her 1992 rookie year achieved $34,440 in June 2021, setting an auction record for the most expensive sports card depicting a woman athlete. Would-be collectors, take note: Industry reports state soccer card values grew by 1,600 percent in 2020, with rookie cards securing the biggest sums.

FIFA finally allowed women within its soccer confederations in international matches in 1991. The United States won that year’s Women’s World Cup and went on to win in 1999, 2015 and 2019; the men have yet to match them. This jersey celebrating the 2019 World Soccer winning game against Japan, covered with team signatures, sold for $950 plus the buyer’s premium in April 2018. Image courtesy of Antiquities of California and LiveAuctioneers

Autographs are, of course, an auction favorite. Matt Powers of Powers Sports Memorabilia stated in an interview with, “What makes them unique is soccer is the world’s number one most popular sport and has some of the biggest superstars [where the] growth potential for the market is much greater than other growing sports.” That is especially true for game-worn jerseys, World Cup soccer balls and other official game memorabilia such as tickets, programs, official credentials and early advertising posters. Prime examples sell for thousands at auction.

Game-used gear from the World Cup is coveted, no matter how seemingly mundane it is. This referee’s whistle, blown during the final World Cup game in 1974, went for £4,200 (nearly $5,000) plus the buyer’s premium in November 2019. Image courtesy of Graham Budd Auctions Ltd and LiveAuctioneers

During the World Cup, you can walk down streets and alleys of almost any major city or town in the world and not miss a minute of the action as it plays on home televisions and personal radios. Nearly four billion people watched some part of the 2018 World Cup – almost half of the world’s population. It’s reasonable to estimate nearly five billion will watch at least some of the 2022 contest, which will be hosted by Qatar from November 20 through December 18. France is the defending champion.

An official tournament program for the 1938 World Cup in France provides a history of the World Cup, details of the competition, team profiles, team jersey colors and accompanying biographies. It auctioned for £1,200 (about $1,400) in November 2019. Image courtesy of Graham Budd Auctions Ltd and LiveAuctioneers

There is no organized sport that unites the world as completely or as thoroughly as soccer. That’s what makes it “The Beautiful Game” in every way – collectible and otherwise.

Trench Art: Beauty Created In The Midst Of War

A utilitarian example of trench art is this WWII-era cigarette case with a hand-painted image of a wife or sweetheart on the inside, fashioned from a metal piece incised with the initials ‘RW 43.’ It realized $500 plus the buyer’s premium in November 2020. Image courtesy of Jasper52 and LiveAuctioneers

In every army in the world and in every era, the mantra of the soldier has been, “Hurry up and wait.” Warriors of ancient Greece and Rome, Napoleon’s troops, and soldiers from any contemporary conflict face the same basic fact: they will have more down time than fighting time. It’s just the nature of the military. While trouble might tempt those with too much downtime, some have used it to better advantage.

Writing letters home, making friends, visiting local sights, playing cards and other pursuits help to pass the time. And then there is “trench art,” created by recycling the brass detritus of war into gleaming, detailed works of art. While serving on the front lines, this pursuit has provided a calming distraction from the intensity of war. It also keeps a soldier’s hands and mind pleasantly occupied rather than fidgeting and fretting about what might soon come. Some trench art can even reveal a serviceman’s hidden talent, with some works worthy of a museum display.

A pair of large brass artillery shells from World War I, fashioned into decorative vases that double as a remembrance of a French victory over German forces in 1916, achieved $1,000 plus the buyer’s premium in September 2020. Image courtesy of Artemis Gallery and LiveAuctioneers

Trench art is typically defined as any creation made from the waste of war. Soldiers of yesteryear, usually infantrymen, carved ammunition casings into fanciful remembrances and scenes marked with dates or personal information. Such carvings were intended as souvenirs that soldiers carried home, while other examples of trench art were abandoned in the trenches or on the battlefield.

Airplane-themed trench art was a particular favorite of World War II airmen. This set of four pieces attained $475 plus the buyer’s premium in February 2019. Image courtesy of Old Barn Auction and LiveAuctioneers

During World War I, the most prevalent period for trench art, simple tools such as a pocketknife, chisel, punch and hammer were used to fashion rings, bracelets, knives, letter openers, ashtrays and necklaces. National coins of France, Belgium and other Allied nations were painstakingly reworked into charming scenes, unit crests, battle flags and personal works of art.

These spent brass artillery shell vases could be commercially-made souvenirs sold to the Allied Forces after the Armistice was signed in November 1918, as they sport elaborate fluting and other details that regular soldiers could not create. Together this group earned $1,100 plus the buyer’s premium in March 2021. Image courtesy of Austin Auction Gallery and LiveAuctioneers

World War II delivered much more sophisticated equipment to soldiers, including the hacksaw, tin snips, drill bits, gasoline torches, files and soldering irons. These tools yielded more highly detailed, higher-quality pieces such as candlesticks, statues, drinking cups, umbrella stands and even furniture. Zippo lighters were carved with personal designs, and a popular pursuit of airmen was making bracelets from the aluminum of Japanese airplanes shot down in the Pacific Theater. Coconuts were painted and sent back home through the postal service as exotic keepsakes for friends or family members.

This coconut, carved during the Boer War by POW JP Peterson and dated 1902, depicts the British firing on entrenched Boer soldiers with the Orange Free State and Transvaal coat of arms. It realized $650 plus the buyer’s premium in March 2020. Image courtesy of CRN Auctions, Inc. and LiveAuctioneers

Collectors who are interested in trench art should understand that it comes in four different, distinct varieties: works by soldiers; works by prisoners of war (POWs), those made by civilians and, finally, commercially made artwork.

To keep wounded men busy while they convalesced in military hospitals, arts and crafts projects were encouraged, particularly embroidering with yarn and silk. This circa-1917 example, featuring the crest of the British Crown and flags of the Allied nations of Great Britain, France, Japan and Russia, apparently including a photo of the soldier who made it and sent it home to his family, sold for $120 plus the buyer’s premium in August 2021. Image courtesy of Levy Auction House and LiveAuctioneers

Trench art created by soldiers is the most sought-after at auction. The time spent waiting in foxholes or frontline trenches can exact a physical and mental toll, especially when it seems endless. With only the tools available to them – usually a pocketknife – a soldier would carve a scene on whatever bit of metal was at hand. Convalescing in a military hospital allowed soldiers the time to devote to arts and crafts projects that rendered simple wooden items with yarn used for embroidery.

A Napoleonic prisoner-of-war ship-form snuff box carved from a coquilla nut achieved $15,000 plus the buyer’s premium in February 2022. Image courtesy of Eldred’s and LiveAuctioneers

Trench art by captured soldiers, known as prisoners of war or POWs, is different from that of other soldiers because it could serve as currency, traded for soap, food or “luxuries” such as blankets or shoes. Trench art created by those in confinement continues to be prized at auction, especially as these items were not just mementos but also satisfied the artist’s personal needs.

Civilians who lived in and near battlefields during World War I launched their own cottage industries by making their version of trench art from reclaimed ordnance and selling the items to visitors and even to the soldiers themselves. Well before Grandma Moses embraced the technique, these enterprising people directly embroidered postcards with images of scenery from conflict sites or a razed town as well as unit crests, national flags of the Allies, and personalized messages. Even flour sacks sent to the Western Front by the Allies that identified the country of origin were turned into souvenir items.

Local businesses sprang up to reclaim and recycle spent brass, aluminum and lead from discarded ordnance and assorted military castoffs, transforming them into detailed renderings of battles with historic dates. Ships were broken up and converted into barrels, large picture frames, furniture and household items, and some pieces featured a brass plaque identifying the ship that provided the raw materials. Civilian trench art of this type is particularly prized at auction. However, if the design of a piece includes exuberant flourishes, fluting and painstaking carving, it’s likely the product of a commercial firm that used stencils and acid washes – things not available to the common footsoldier.

A standout piece of trench art is this wood and metal menorah featuring spent ammunition and painted with a hand holding a Flag of Israel, a Star of David and a view of Jerusalem. It was given to Israeli Prime Minister and Defense Minister David Ben-Gurion in 1948, around the time of the Israeli War for Independence. The menorah earned $20,000 plus the buyer’s premium in December 2019. Image courtesy of Ishtar Auctions, Ltd and LiveAuctioneers

Each work of trench art tells a story of battles won or lost, and what soldiers were thinking about while far from home, such as family, children, wives and sweethearts. Some works reflect the artists’ level of morale as they mulled the consequences of fighting, moving them to emboss items with religious imagery. Other works of trench art were functional, mundane items, such as a matchbox to keep matches dry, better eating utensils and more stylish uniform buttons.

Sailors also created trench art, as evidenced by this lot consisting of a paperweight, an ashtray and three aluminum bracelets, including one stamped to the USS Tirante and including the submariner dolphin-head insignia. Together they sold for $240 plus the buyer’s premium in January 2018. Image courtesy of Milestone Auctions and LiveAuctioneers

While trench art has been most closely associated with the Western Front during World War I, such works were made millennia before that conflagration started and continue to the present day. Objects fashioned from the waste of war, regardless of where or when, qualify as trench art.

You can learn more about trench art from the National Air and Space Museum in Washington, D.C., the National Army Museum in New Zealand and the Imperial War Museum in London. All have large exhibits dedicated to World War I trench art, with definitive displays for other conflicts as well.

A trench-art mandolin made by 305th Ammunition Train bugler Albert J. Brailer, showing the places he visited during WWI on the face and body of the instrument, brought $900 plus the buyer’s premium in January 2019. Image courtesy of Milestone Auctions and LiveAuctioneers

At the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month of 1918, The Great War, which we now call World War I, officially ended. Its trench art kept alive all the hopes, the sacrifices, the hardships, the memories, the camaraderie and the unseen heroism of its often unknown artists, just as it does for the warriors who came before and after.

Wearable ancient jewelry only gets better with age

This amethyst pendant dating to the Roman Imperial Period (circa 1st-4th century A.D.), strung on a modern cord with a modern silver-plated lobster clasp, achieved $1,800 plus the buyer’s premium in August 2021. Image courtesy of Artemis Gallery and LiveAuctioneers

Although wearing precious jewelry has long symbolized wealth, power and social status, it was far more expensive in ancient times. Back then, jewelry was typically worn only by royalty and the wealthy class. Today, these historic adornments recall the artisans who created them, the privileged few who donned them and also the marvelous fact that they have withstood the test of time beautifully. Often such items are just as wearable as when they were new, and if they require any updating to ensure durability or fit, usually an imperceptible tweak or two are all that are required.

Ancient Greeks typically favored elegant, simply styled gold hair ornaments, armlets, rings, pins, pendants and necklaces embellished with rosettes, crescent moons, laurel wreaths, filigree and granulation – a term that describes finely patterned points of gold. Others wore more dazzling jewels such as the garnet and turquoise gold earrings Artemis Gallery auctioned for $4,000 plus the buyer’s premium in March 2022.

A Roman (circa 100 A.D.) gold lunar amulet featuring a suspension loop, a corded border and applied spheres sold for £650 (about $720) plus the buyer’s premium in October 2022. Image courtesy of Apollo Art Auctions and LiveAuctioneers

Romans were very superstitious, and members of the upper class often wore or carried tiny, stylish gold amulets in the forms of acorns, wild boar or sun discs to repel scorpions, safeguard their health and deflect disaster. Others relied on crescent-shaped amuletic brooches or pendants representing Luna, the Roman divine embodiment of the moon. In October 2022, Apollo Art Auctions sold a highly embellished 1st-century A.D. wearable beauty featuring a suspension loop, a corded border and applied spheres for £650 (about $720) plus the buyer’s premium.

According to Bob Dodge, founder and executive director of Artemis Gallery Ancient Art, Romans believed amethyst amulets offered not only protection and good fortune but also staved off drunkenness. An amethyst pendant sold at Artemis that realized $1,800 plus the buyer’s premium in August 2021 was probably donned for Imperial Period (circa 1st to 4th century A.D.) symposiums – gatherings featuring drink and discussion of daily events. “This amulet could have been worn by male or female,” Dodge explained, adding, “but because of the cost of gold and the polished stone itself, it would have been someone from the elite class. A common individual never could have afforded such luxury. “

This Phoenician and Roman glass bead necklace, its components dating to between circa 400 B.C. to 400 A.D. and featuring striped, eye, and millefiori motifs in spherical, barrel, lozenge, and oblate forms, earned $600 plus the buyer’s premium in August 2022. Image courtesy of Artemis Gallery and LiveAuctioneers

Ancient glass or gemstone beads, when restrung on new, secure gold chains, are alluring alternatives to contemporary necklaces, but their compositions may reflect the tastes of contemporary jewelers rather than their age-old, original designs. Furthermore, the beads themselves may hail from a wide range of times and places in the ancient world. The wearable, modern-looking necklace auctioned by Artemis Gallery for $600 plus the buyer’s premium in August 2022, for example, features Phoenician and Roman glass beads that span some 800 years, circa 400 B.C. to 400 A.D.

A Merovingian (circa 500–700 A.D.) gold ring, its band featuring a flared shoulder and an applied oval bezel set with a garnet, achieved $13,000 plus the buyer’s premium in May 2021. Image courtesy of Apollo Art Auctions and LiveAuctioneers

During the Merovingian era (mid-400s to 751 A.D.), Frankish women typically secured their outer garments with decorative bronze or silver-gilt brooches. Only rich merchants, people of high social status, those associated with the church, and royalty could afford gold jewelry. Because Merovingian rings were produced in limited numbers, they remain highly collectible. In May 2021, a stunning, fully wearable gold ring, set with a cabochon garnet, realized $13,000 plus the buyer’s premium at Apollo Art Auctions. According to its director, Dr. Ivan Bonchev, a solid, high-carat gold ring such as this can usually be altered by one or two sizes in either direction without ruining its integrity.

In wealthy Byzantium (395–1453 A.D.), sumptuous gemstone and enamel pieces, some featuring Christian iconography, were especially popular. So were sizeable crescent and D-shape openwork gold earrings. In September 2019, a wearable matched pair, each depicting two doves, realized $997 plus the buyer’s premium at Apollo Art Auctions.

This pair of Byzantine (circa 1000 A.D.) matched earrings, each depicting two doves rendered in filigree, sold for £900 (about $997) plus the buyer’s premium in September 2019. Image courtesy of Apollo Art Auctions and LiveAuctioneers

“Ancient gold is not as refined as modern gold, since it was often used as found in nature,” Dr. Bonchev observed. “Merovingian and Medieval gold, for instance, is mixed with silver, copper, platinum, lead and small quantities of other elements. Yet, because it doesn’t oxidize and is quite impervious to corrosion, most ancient gold artifacts are normally wearable. In fact, any type of jewelry could be worn as long as its antiquity is intact and the piece is examined and identified by an expert. However, it’s very important to highlight that, unlike modern pieces, ancient jewelry has to be worn with a lot of care. It should not be exposed to chemicals and is best saved for special occasions.”

A necklace with 50 ancient Eastern Mediterranean or Greek glass beads, dating to between the 4th century B.C. and the 2nd century A.D. and strung on a modern cord with a modern clasp, achieved $1,700 plus the buyer’s premium in February 2019. Image courtesy of Artemis Gallery and LiveAuctioneers

Bob Dodge remarked: “Much like 2000 years ago, we might assume that antique wearable jewels would be purchased by someone rich, as a trapping of their wealth. But today we see people across all walks of life who buy these incredible wearable treasures. We have sold them to teachers, doctors, lawyers, business professionals, retirees, people in the entertainment field, students and more. The common thread is more likely to be a fascination with the ancient world than the depth of one’s pocketbook.”

How to spot a genuine Hermes Birkin bag

An Hermes Birkin shiny porosus crocodile handbag in Jade Green achieved $105,000 plus the buyer’s premium in August 2021. Image courtesy of GWS Auctions and LiveAuctioneers

The top 10 list of most expensive handbags offered at auction is perennially dominated by the Birkin bag. Introduced in 1984 by the famed French luxury goods company Hermes and since produced in an endless array of colors and patterns, the Birkin is an unparalleled status symbol. Collected by celebrities, political leaders, internet influencers and corporate executives as well as those who cherish craftsmanship, rare Birkin bags routinely sell for six figures on the secondary market. Yet its creation came about by chance, arising from an encounter on an airplane.

According to Jane Birkin, the acclaimed British-French actor and award-winning recording artist for whom the bag is named, she had attempted to load a large straw tote bag into the overhead compartment before a flight from Paris to London in 1984, only to watch its contents spill onto the deck of the aircraft. She complained to her seatmate that she couldn’t find a leather tote bag that worked well. Birkin picked the right person to hear her grievance – he happened to be Jean-Louis Dumas, then-CEO of Hermes. Embracing the challenge, Dumas created a supple black leather bag based on an earlier company design. Christened the “Birkin” in honor of its inspiration, it became a runaway hit. In 2020, the Wall Street Journal reported that the Hermes Birkin and the Hermes Kelly handbags together accounted for between 25% and 30% of the company’s sales.

This Himalayan Niloticus crocodile leather Hermes Birkin earned $130,000 plus the buyer’s premium in March 2021. Image courtesy of GWS Auctions and LiveAuctioneers

What makes a Birkin bag exclusive is the quality of its manufacture. Each bag is made by hand, requiring between 18 to 40 hours of labor by artisans who apprentice for a minimum of five years. They work with the finest cowhides as well as exotic leathers such as ostrich, crocodile and alligator, and accent them with hardware fashioned from silver, gold, platinum or palladium. Before Hermes reportedly abolished the waiting list around 2010, would-be buyers sometimes had to wait patiently for up to six years before taking possession of a Birkin.

A Blaze Red Hermes Birkin in shiny polosus crocodile leather and with diamond-festooned hardware sold for $160,000 plus the buyer’s premium in July 2022. Image courtesy of Bidhaus and LiveAuctioneers

Unfortunately, the Birkin bag’s cachet and exclusivity makes it an easy target for counterfeiters. Indeed, the market for knockoffs is shockingly robust. In 2012 Patrick Thomas, who was Hermes’ CEO at the time, estimated that 80 percent of all products sold on the Internet bearing the French firm’s name were counterfeit, and called the state of affairs “an absolute disgrace.” Few doubt that percentage has changed much since.

So, you want to acquire a new Birkin bag? Well, you can go to the Hermes website or visit a brick-and-mortar Hermes boutique. Unlike in the past, an already-estblished relationship is no longer needed to secure a Birkin and, as noted above, the waiting list is long gone. But that doesn’t necessarily mean you will find the precise Birkin you want,

A limited-edition Hermes Birkin Faubourg Sellier bag realized HK$1,350,000 (about $172,000) plus the buyer’s premium in December 2021. Image courtesy of Poly Auction Hong Kong and LiveAuctioneers

To ensure you get the bag of your dreams in the color, leather and hardware you want, it might be advisable to turn to the secondary market. Dedicated Hermes resellers will affirm the authenticity of their goods with a written guarantee, something Hermes does not provide with its brand-new ones. Be aware that resellers who don’t guarantee their Birkins may not be stocking original product. Just be prepared to pay a premium above the point-of-sale retail value, even if the bag is in well-circulated condition, as most Birkins increase in value.

Let’s say you’ve found a lovely Hermes Birkin that isn’t new or advertised at a legitimate reseller. How do you know if it’s authentic? According to experts, genuine Birkins share at least seven distinct features that have never been compromised by Hermes during its corporate lifetime.

An Hermes Birkin shiny porosus crocodile leather handbag in a Rose Mexico hue attained $75,000 plus the buyer’s premium in September 2022. Image courtesy of Mynt Auctions and LiveAuctioneers

First, understand that each new Birkin has a distinctive smell. A freshly unboxed example has what can be described as a “new bag smell” emanating from its smooth and supple leather. Bogus renditions have a mass-produced, chemical, “plasticky” odor.

Next, measure it. Each Hermes leather item is advertised by its length in centimeters, from 25 centimeters (9.8 inches) for a small leather change purse to the 55-centimeter (21.6 inches) large travel bag, and those measurements are exact. If the numbers you record are anything less than precise, the bag might be fake.

A shiny-finish Electric Blue Hermes Birkin in porosus crocodile leather, sporting 18K white gold hardware decorated with white diamonds, achieved $150,000 plus the buyer’s premium in September 2018. Image courtesy of Heritage Auctions and LiveAuctioneers.

Look closely at the stitching. If the stitches appear straight and evenly separated from each other, that signals the use of a sewing machine, and suggests the bag might be a counterfeit. Every Birkin, regardless of size, is hand-stitched using two needles. Each stitch is finished at an angle and, while perfectly symmetrical, any given stitch might show some minor imperfections. It’s supposed to be that way, and it’s part of what makes each Birkin one of a kind. There should be no frayed edges, and no glue is used to secure any leather piece.

Now examine the heat-stamped words “Hermes, Paris, Made in Paris,” located above the locking mechanism. The legend should be rendered in sans-serif block lettering and should be perfectly centered and crisp and clean, with no flaking. In addition, those words should be stamped in the same color as the bag’s hardware, which is usually gold or silver. A symbol next to the lettering represents a code indicating which type of leather was used and if it was custom made.

Another mark of an authentic Birkin bag is its internal zipper. When not in use, the leather pull strap should remain horizontal, as seen on this custom-made Hermes Birkin gray Togo leather handbag that realized $40,000 plus the buyer’s premium in January 2019. Image courtesy of Diamond N Jewelry Auctioneers and LiveAuctioneers

Check inside the bag and try the zipper. It should glide, without any stops or stutters. A metal “H” should appear at the end of the zipper signifying it is an official Hermes product (although beware; fraudsters have reproduced this detail). The zipper should be free of tarnish, with the company name stamped on the zipper handle. Also, the handle should have a one-piece attached leather strap that lies completely flat horizontally when not in use. If it rests vertically, it could be a counterfeit.

One way to identify a genuine Birkin is through its clochette, a single sewn leather piece that holds the keys to the bag’s lock, pictured here on a Hermes Birkin Rose Pourpre handbag that sold for $18,000 plus the buyer’s premium in May 2020. Image courtesy of GWS Auctions and LiveAuctioneers

All Birkins are fitted with a lock that is specially constructed to be heavier; counterfeit locks usually lack heft and come with standard commercial keys. Authentic locks sport either one or two numbers under the stamped Hermes company name, depending on when it was made. Turning the key in the lock should feel smooth, not difficult to open or close. In addition, a true Birkin key is secured with leather straps and is not on a ring. When the bag’s keys are enclosed within its one-piece, sewn leather clochette, they lie evenly flat. If the clochette is sewn from two pieces of leather, that’s a sign your bag is fake.

Also, know that Hermes Birkins come with their own dust bags. Initially orange, the dust bag was changed to a beige herringbone-patterned heavy cotton material sometime in 2007. Vintage dust bags feature an image of a well-defined 19th-century Le Duc carriage and horse enclosed in a circle, plus an “H’ for Hermes. If the dust bag is newer, there should be two circles surrounding the logo and two lines under the carriage, and it should be crisp and unbroken, never blurred. Also, Birkin dust bags are woven from a heavier cloth; counterfeits have bags composed of less-substantial material. Another telling detail is the stitching for the drawstring sleeve, which should be folded over by exactly two centimeters, or about three-quarters of an inch. If you spot any deviation, your Birkin may be bogus.

Still another characteristic of a true Birkin handbag is its blind embossed date code, which appeared on the reverse of the front locking strap until 2015, when it was moved inside. This orange Veau Grain Lisse Birkin, which earned $26,000 plus the buyer’s premium in January 2019, shows an ‘X’ at the beginning of its date code, identifying it as having been made in 2016. Image courtesy of Diamond N Jewelry Auctioneers and LiveAuctioneers

Using these seven key identifiers can help you identify a legitimate Hermes Birkin, but it is always advisable to have an expert verify it, just to be sure. Those schooled in the ways of Hermes can tell you when a Birkin was made, and by whom, from the die-stamped number emblazoned either on the reverse of the closing strap or, for those bags made in 2016 and later, on the right side of the interior – but keep in mind that skilled counterfeiters are aware of this fact. Consulting a reference guide to all Hermes symbols and stamps – there are many such resources online – can aid in attempts to assess and authenticate your Birkin.

Owning a genuine Birkin bag is more than just owning a functional status symbol; many have come to view it as an investment. According to a 2021 Art Market Research study, the value of a Hermes Birkin increased 42% at auction during the previous year within the luxury goods market. That represents a much better return than even stock market gains for the same period. To reap the full value of a Birkin, though, be sure to keep everything that was issued with the bag when it was new. That includes the orange store shopping bag, dust bags, the wrappings, its box, the care instructions and any stuffing that might have been tucked inside. The more complete it is, the higher its price will be when offered on the secondary market at auction.

This Potiron orange-colored Hermes Birkin in shiny niloticus crocodile leather with palladium hardware sold for $57,000 plus the buyer’s premium in October 2021. Image courtesy of GWS Auctions and LiveAuctioneers

Although it is fundamentally an item of fashion, the Hermes Birkin has survived nearly 40 years of fads, a truly staggering onslaught of counterfeiting, and Jane Birkin’s own mixed signals about her namesake.

After relying on Hermes Birkins for years, Birkin told the BBC in 2017, “Now I fill my pockets like a man, because then you don’t actually have to carry anything.” Two years earlier, she had asked Hermes to remove her name from Birkins made from crocodile leather until the harvesting process could be made more humane. The brand subsequently investigated the matter and addressed her concerns. But Birkin bags endure because Hermes backs, and places its full faith in, its artisans. Birkins are heirloom-quality and regarded far and wide as being of investment quality. There can be no greater status symbol than that.

Japanese tea services create a ritual that renews

Japanese tea ceremony utensils usually feature the Five Elements in Taoism – water, earth, wood, fire and metal – as does this nine-piece metal set from the 19th-century Meiji period. The set achieved $13,000 plus the buyer’s premium in December 2020. Image courtesy of Mosaic Art & Antique and LiveAuctioneers

Our day-to-day world demands so much attention. Family, friends, work and community take all the time and energy we can give, and beyond. Focusing on ourselves and appreciating the natural world is less of a priority – at least that’s what we sometimes think. But what if taking time for ourselves involves nothing more than a ritual revolving around a cup of green tea? Can a simple brewing ceremony provide a revitalizing respite? A 400-year-old Japanese tea ceremony might be exactly what we need.

A Japanese reflow iron kettle earned $2,400 plus the buyer’s premium in June 2022. Image courtesy of Eastern Art Auction House and LiveAuctioneers

Japan was a warring nation through most of its early history. Emperors, shoguns and samurai kept the politics of war as state policy for centuries. Then in the 12th century, matcha tea arrived in Japan via China along trade routes. At first, the powdered green tea was used by Buddhist monks in training; its relatively high caffeine content kept them invigorated and alert through long days of meditation and reflection. Once the powerful and the influential embraced the beverage, they mounted increasingly elaborate and costly tea ceremonies to demonstrate their wealth and status. A gift of handmade tea utensils became the prize of choice for elites to bestow on favored retainers, and these pieces were cherished, collected and proudly displayed.

A handmade pottery Japanese tea ceremony set by Rokkaku Ayako, decorated with simple designs and colors, realized NT$250,000 (about $7,800) in August 2020. Image courtesy of Mu Chun Tang Auction Co, Ltd. and LiveAuctioneers

By the 15th century, the elaborate ceremonies were draining both economically and spiritually, and the Japanese were ready for an alternative. Sen no Rikyu, a Buddhist adherent well-versed in ancient tea rituals, created a simpler, more inward-looking tea ceremony called wabi-cha, which he thought could help lead almost anyone to the Zen state of enlightenment. It shouldn’t be just for the elite anymore, he reasoned. As time passed, the spare, sedate tea ceremony Sen no Rikyu developed became the center of Japanese culture, politics and religion.

To achieve a more complete Zen vision, however, the wabi-cha ceremony can be replaced by a fuller, highly-ritualized tea ceremony known as chado. This ceremony, performed by tea masters, takes about four hours, can accommodate up to 1,000 guests and involves no less than 19 separate tea utensils made from bamboo, clay, metal and ceramics. Each step of the tea ceremony can require decades for a master to learn, and every movement is anchored in the Four Philosophies of the tea ceremony: Harmony, Respect, Purity and Tranquility, with the most important being Harmony.

A circa-1960 travel poster from Northwest Orient Airlines showing the simplicity of the tea room sold in August 2020 for £130 (about $144) plus the buyer’s premium. Image courtesy of Antikbar Original Vintage Posters and LiveAuctioneers

The smaller wabi-cha tea ceremony is centered on achieving a sense of balance, beginning with the overall setting. Walking to the teahouse past flowered gardens, koi ponds and streams emphasizes the harmony of the natural world that each visitor should contemplate and absorb.

A calligraphy scroll by Master Hongyi, painted in vermilion ink on paper damask, achieved $1,800 plus the buyer’s premium in September 2022. Image courtesy of Japan-Miyako-Collection-Art Auction Co. and LiveAuctioneers

Entering the tearoom without speaking, a guest first notices a kakejiku, a hand-painted hanging scroll, which sets the reverent tone for the ceremony to come. The scroll usually features calligraphy of a poem written specifically for the season, time of day or theme by a Buddhist monk or a tea master. Scenes of Japanese life or a nature scene are also featured and are always hung vertically on cloth or heavy paper that can be rolled and easily transported. Relevant decorative painted scrolls appearing at auction are typically works by prominent Japanese artists such as the 19th-century painter Kinsen Kishi or the early 20th-century artist Tomoyo Jinbo. Within the same foyer a small ceramic vase is set with a branch of flowers posed in its natural state, not formally arranged, to acknowledge the spiritual simplicity of nature each guest is encouraged to recognize.

‘Rain, Beauty and Hydrangea,’ a 1938 Tomoyo Jinbo woodblock print, sold for $600 plus the buyer’s premium in January 2021. Image courtesy of Ukiyoe Gallery Japanese Woodblock Prints and LiveAuctioneers

Once the scroll and the vase are admired, the guests enter the tearoom, which is just as minimalist and stark as the alcove entrance, with only a tatami mat of rice straw for each guest and the utensils for the tea ceremony arrayed in the middle of the room. During the ceremony, the host sits in the center of the room, surrounded by the tea utensils, and performs the ritual without assistance.

This traveling tea ceremony set from the middle of the 18th century, aka the Edo period, attained $600 plus the buyer’s premium in August 2019. Image courtesy of Thomaston Place Auction Galleries and LiveAuctioneers

Once each guest has greeted the host with a bow, they in turn greet the other guests in the same way, without conversation, to demonstrate Respect, the second philosophy of the tea ceremony. Throughout the proceedings, the guests only converse about the beauty and craftsmanship of the tea, the utensils used in the ceremony and the scroll and flowers in the alcove. No other topics are considered in the interest of maintaining the respect of each guest. Everyone samples tea from the same vessel to show communion with each other and the host.

Purity is the third element of the tea ceremony, which is exemplified by the preparation of the beverage and the tools used for the purpose. The charcoal that heats the brazier and by extension the iron kettle for brewing the matcha tea is of a certain grade and is arranged in a very precise manner. Each cup is ritualistically cleansed with separate woven cloths – one to wash and one to dry – to reflect the purity of nature itself.

The main feature of a chado tea ceremony is the iron tea kettle known as a chagama. This example sold for €200 (about $213) plus the buyer’s premium in September 2019. Image courtesy of Carlo Bonte Auctions and LiveAuctioneers

All tea ceremony utensils are made from organic materials to represent the Five Elements in Taoism — water, earth, wood, fire and metal. Most pieces feature little or no flourishes, but those that are decorated speak to the idea of adding a pleasant reinforcement rather than to impress. Auctions tend to feature vintage pieces such as iron and bronze kettles in calligraphed wooden boxes to be presented as gifts as they once were during the Shogun period. Sometimes, individual utensils appear at auction, as such pieces are still given as gifts.

An eight-piece Japanese silver tea service realized $5,500 plus the buyer’s premium in March 2020. Image courtesy of Bohemia Auction & Appraisal and LiveAuctioneers

The overall experience of the tea ceremony is intended to imbue the guests with Tranquility, the fourth philosophy. The modern world should seemingly disappear while the ritual plays out. During the ceremony, guests may briefly step outside the tea house to appreciate the color, vibrancy and solitude of the natural surroundings that should also be appreciated in everyday life. Once they return to the tea house, the proceedings begin again. 

An eight-piece Japanese silver tea service realized $5,500 plus the buyer’s premium in March 2020. Image courtesy of Bohemia Auction & Appraisal and LiveAuctioneers

The Four Philosophies of the Japanese tea ceremony are inherent in the deliberate simplicity of its utensils and the minimalist setting that guests enjoy. You can opt for a four-hour chado ceremony, but if you prefer a wabi-cha with fewer than five guests, or perhaps something just for yourself, that works, too. The Four Philosophies of the tea ceremony can be honored and expressed in many ways, delivering a fulfilling ritual that heightens and renews personal well-being. 


A set of 18K gold cufflinks set with carved labradorites flanked by diamonds achieved $2,500 plus the buyer’s premium in October 2021. Image courtesy of Auctions at Showplace and LiveAuctioneers

Moravian missionaries first discovered semi-precious labradorite in the vast wilderness of Labrador, Canada in the late 1700s, but the gemstone’s mysterious radiance had long inspired legends among the Innus, an indigenous nomadic people native to that region. Subsequently, labradorite has been found around the world, notably in Australia, Madagascar, Mexico, the United States and Scandinavia. 

This 18K gold Van Cleef & Arpels bombe-style ring set with an oval cabochon labradorite earned $2,400 plus the buyer’s premium in October 2020. Image courtesy of Rago Arts and Auction Center and LiveAuctioneers

Though a member of the humble feldspar family, labradorite, against a greenish-gray background, boasts some of the most dazzling yellow, blue, orange and purple gemstone effects known. This unique natural phenomenon, described as “labradorescence,” features an iridescent optical interplay of colorful internal crystals. In addition to its pearly sheen, some specimens also demonstrate a shimmery effect known as schiller — rainbow-like lights reflecting off tiny mineral inclusions when turned this way or that. 

A stick pin crowned with a labradorite carved to resemble the head of a gorilla with diamond eyes achieved £1,900 (about $2,118) plus the buyer’s premium in September 2022. Image courtesy of Auction Zero and LiveAuctioneers

During the 19th century, these unusual gemstones adorned European rings, necklaces, brooches and lavish, gold-mounted trinket boxes. Skillfully carved labradorite cameo clasps, rings, brooches and pendants, depicting busts of Roman rulers or other classic images, also became fashionable. Delicate stick pins tipped with cunningly carved labradorite monkeys, caterpillars or glowering gorillas, such as the one Auction Zero sold for $2,118 plus the buyer’s premium in September 2022, were particularly desirable. A gold and diamond bracelet depicting a diamond-eyed great horned owl, which realized $2,453 plus the buyer’s premium in May 2015 through Zero Etrusca, is also a charmer. 

A gold and diamond bracelet set with a carved labradorite cameo of an owl’s head earned £2,200 (about $2,453) plus the buyer’s premium in May 2015. Image courtesy of Auction Zero Etrusca and LiveAuctioneers

Georg Jensen’s artisans, famed for their elegant sculptural designs and fine craftsmanship, continue to showcase labradorites in their rings, earrings, pins, pendants, stick pins and jewelry suites. In February 2021, Elmwood’s auction house, located in London, offered a graceful Jensen bracelet featuring foliate sterling silver links set with cabochon labradorites and a matching cabochon set to the clasp. It attained £800 (about $892) plus the buyer’s premium.

A Georg Jensen silver bracelet featuring six foliate links set with oval cabochon labradorites and a labradorite cabochon on the clasp sold for £800 (about $892) plus the buyer’s premium in February 2021. Image courtesy of Elmwood’s and LiveAuctioneers

A 1920s Georg Jensen silver brooch, which realized $948 plus the buyer’s premium at Elmwood’s in the same sale that contained the Jensen bracelet, subtly matches labradorites with a single, similar-looking moonstone. Though moonstones come from the same family as labradorites and have similar internal flash and visible crystals, they can be differentiated by their grounds. Moonstones appear milky or transparent, while labradorites appear earthy, opaque or translucent brown, black or gray. In addition, labradorites may depict a broader range of internal shades. 

This Irene Neuwirth 18K rose gold ring featuring a rose-cut labradorite amid round brilliant-cut diamonds attained $2,250 plus the buyer’s premium in March 2022. Image courtesy of Fortuna and LiveAuctioneers

Because labradorites remain affordable and readily available, contemporary jewelry designers are drawn to them. In March 2022, Fortuna Auction presented a signed, stamped Irene Neuwirth 18K rose gold ring centered on a gorgeous round rose cut labradorite amid round brilliant cut diamonds. It ultimately realized $2,250 plus the buyer’s premium. Labradorite also lends itself to being converted into multitudes of minuscule beads. In February 2021, Hindman auctioned Angela Pintaldi’s dramatic, coiled 74-strand labradorite bead necklace, accented with one round brilliant cut brown diamond, for $1,500 plus the buyer’s premium. 

An Angela Pintaldi necklace graced with 74 strands of round labradorite beads and a matte gold clasp containing one round brilliant cut brown diamond realized $1,500 plus the buyer’s premium in February 2021. Image courtesy of Hindman and LiveAuctioneers

Simpler labradorite-studded pieces such as tennis bracelets, cuffs, cocktail rings, and chunky charms are also trendy, especially among those who attribute spiritual meaning to them. Many, as did the Innus of old, believe that this so-called “fire stone” provides mystic healing and protective powers, including inner peace, clarity of mind and the strength to endure life’s challenges. 

This 24K gold, labradorite and diamond necklace earned $5,000 plus the buyer’s premium in May 2019. Image courtesy of Hindman and LiveAuctioneers

Moreover, because labradorite’s hues reflect the lights of the magnificent Aurora Borealis that paints the night sky over Labrador, many believe this gemstone links the physical world with the metaphysical world. According to legend, when an Innu warrior came across the wondrous, other-worldly display of color within the rocks of Labrador, he perceived them as stars trapped within. When he speared them free, scattering them toward the heavens, those falling back to the ground formed glowing labradorites. 

A Georg Jensen silver brooch set with cabochon moonstones and labradorites and fitted with three suspending drops set with labradorites realized £850 (about $948) plus the buyer’s premium in February 2021. Image courtesy of Elmwood’s and LiveAuctioneers

As seen in the Aurora Borealis, the largest lightshow on earth, labradorite gemstones refract from red and copper to bright blue, gleaming with green, gold and every color in between. They are truly unique gifts of nature that hold their own in the finest of precious-metal settings.


These four 19th-century hand-painted, gilt-edged chinoiserie panels feature classical Chinese figures in contemporary home and work environments as envisioned by Chinese exporters. They sold as a set for $17,000 plus the buyer’s premium on July 24, 2022. Image courtesy of Andrew Jones Auction and LiveAuctioneers

No one is more closely associated with the Western world’s ‘”discovery” of Chinese society than Venetian merchant and explorer Marco Emilio Polo. In The Travels of Marco Polo, published circa 1300, author Rustichello da Pisa describes an odyssey along Asia’s Silk Road from 1271 to 1295 as told to him by Polo. It was the first substantial travelogue published about the Far East and even includes details of Polo’s time with the Chinese Emperor Kubla Khan of the Yuan Dynasty. The book served as the West’s introduction to China’s early culture and included the secret of porcelain, the use of gunpowder, and commentary on architecture and social customs of the East. Thus began the Western fascination with China.

A British red japanned Queen Anne-style bureau cabinet or secretary festooned with chinoiserie decoration earned $13,000 plus the buyer’s premium in March 2020. Image courtesy of Ahlers & Ogletree Auction Gallery and LiveAuctioneers

After the success of Polo’s Eastern adventures became known, merchants and traders increased their trade with China along the Silk Road, with a special interest in the blue and white porcelain goods produced by a method that had been kept secret by the royal court for centuries. 

Chinese porcelain wares, or “Chinese export china,” consisted mostly of oversize serving plates. They were thicker than the ones produced for domestic use to give them a better chance of surviving overseas transport without breakage. They were designed with a mix of Chinese and European scenes that, in some instances, included family crests and coats-of-arms.

To appeal to the European market, Chinese porcelain exports sometimes included a more personalized element of a family coat-of-arms or crest, such as is seen on this Chinese armorial bowl that sold for $2,000 plus the buyer’s premium on March 22, 2021. Image courtesy of DejaVu Estate Sales and Auctions, LLC and LiveAuctioneers

Teapots, vases, covered jars, and general household items were also made specifically for export to Europe with design elements that featured pagodas, dragons, fanciful landscapes, the foo dog (a Chinese decorative lion) in paintings, on furniture and even striking wallpaper mostly in blue, white, red, and black colors. Sometimes these elements were artistic representations of “mysterious China” as initially interpreted by missionaries and merchants like Polo.

Chinoiserie was so popular in the 18th century that even silversmiths adopted the style. This coin-silver pitcher featuring repousse Chinese figures, pagodas, landscapes, trees and Chinese-inspired buildings sold for $1,400 plus buyer’s premium on January 30, 2021.
Image courtesy: Case Antiques Inc. Auctions & Appraisals, and LiveAuctioneers

The art of Chinese porcelain and ceramics found a market in other parts of the world, too. Exports to the Islamic countries featured mostly Quranic verses painted into fanciful calligraphy, for example, while Japanese exports featured swimming koi, haiku poetry and even depictions of Buddha destined specifically for those specific faraway markets. After nearly 400 years, those design elements continue to define the art of chinoiserie.

A mid-18th-century north Italian Rococo parcel gilt blue and polychrome japanned chinoiserie-decorated commode achieved $22,000 plus the buyer’s premium in February 2020. Image courtesy of Andrew Jones Auctions and LiveAuctioneers

Over time, chinoiserie (from the French word chinois, meaning Chinese) as a design element has come and gone in cycles. It was particularly prevalent from about 1750 to about 1765, in tandem with a period during which Baroque, highly gilded and Rococo styles were seen in the royal courts of England and France. Chinoiserie, on the other hand, was lighter – white and light blue – and added a calm feeling to stiff, formal surroundings. In 1670, King Louis XIV created an entire room at Versailles that was decorated exclusively in chinoiserie. He was not alone, The homes of royals and aristocrats throughout Continental Europe and even early America were decorated with their owners’ own collections of chinoiserie.  

Collectors will find blue and white export porcelain china primarily identified as being from the Yuan Dynasty (1215 to 1332) beginning with Kublai Khan and Marco Polo’s association with his court, then the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644), the Qing Dynasty (1616 to 1917) and ending with the reign of Puyi, the last Emperor of China. 

The reverse of official Chinese porcelain created at the royal porcelain factories in Jingdezhen will show the specific “reign mark” for each respective emperor. There are usually six reign marks and are read from top to bottom, then right to left. The first two refer to the dynasty, the second two refer to the emperor and the third set translates as “made for.” In porcelain featuring only four reign marks, the first two referring to the dynasty weren’t added.

A set of two blue and white porcelain temple jars fitted as matching lamps, featuring classical Chinese elements of a peony garden vine pattern with filigree scrolls finished in gold-leaf, sold together for $1,150 plus the buyer’s premium on August 17, 2002. Image courtesy of Gilded Curio, LLC and LiveAuctioneers

Earlier reign marks, from the late 14th-century Ming Dynasty forward, were deliberately added to some porcelain produced in the 19th century. It was intended as a show of respect, not as a deception, but it can be difficult to discern an original from a later piece on the basis of reign marks alone. Guide to Marks on Chinese Porcelain by Gerald Davidson can help identify and translate reign marks more effectively.

When examining early chinoiserie porcelain, be careful of flaking or any unnatural brown or yellow color, as it is a sign the piece has possibly been repaired. Always use a flashlight to help find any small cracks. It’s possible that small chips may have been repaired and covered over with paste.

On chinoiserie furniture, one might see a pattern that features red and black lacquer finish with gold or painted accented Chinese elements. Bamboo, lacquered wood, red sandalwood, brass, and very detailed fretwork are consistent design elements for tables, chairs, cabinets, secretaries, bed frames, trunks and other necessary home furnishings beginning in the early 17th century.

Father and son craftsmen who were both named Thomas Chippendale were the most notable furniture designers to utilize elements of chinoiserie in their pieces. Fretwork lattice-backed chairs are their most famous iteration of chinoiserie. They primarily used maple, walnut, cherry and some veneers for their furniture and chairs, although they are mostly known for their use of mahogany, a hardwood. All Chippendale furniture is popular at auction, but chinoiserie is the most sought after. There are no personal or factory marks to confirm that a piece of furniture is a Chippendale production, so it is advisable to buy from a reputable, knowledgeable auction house when seeking an authentic item. 

Furniture collectors should focus on the material from which a piece is constructed. Pieces made from Chinese hardwoods like huanghuali and zitan are most likely to increase in value. Furniture should be jointed, with no glue, nails or staples. 

This late-19th-century English commode is very much in the Thomas Chippendale design with the use of mahogany, the inlaid lacquered chinoiserie elements and carved fretwork frieze along the bottom. It sold for $1,200 plus the buyer’s premium on September 19, 2020. Image courtesy of Clements and LiveAuctioneers

Even after nearly 400 years, the chinoiserie style that evolved from the Chinese export market remains a staple in the design of elegant interiors, bring peace and harmony to any environment it graces. 

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An Egyptian faience female figure, standing more than five inches tall and dating to the 12th dynasty of the Middle Kingdom (1938-1756 B.C.), achieved $86,000 plus the buyer’s premium in May 2022. Image courtesy of Hindman and LiveAuctioneers

Ancient Egyptians believed that the color blue, which they associated with water, the heavens and rebirth, offered protective powers both in life and the afterlife. For thousands of years, elite classes wore or carried amulets carved from highly prized imported blue stones such as turquoise or lapis lazuli. They also tucked gemstone amulets, scarabs and figurines within the tombs of the prestigious. 

A Late Period (664-525 B.C.) faience wedjat eye amulet realized £2,000 (about $2,100) plus the buyer’s premium in January 2022. Image courtesy of Apollo Art Auctions and LiveAuctioneers

Members of the Egyptian lower classes came up with a clever substitution for the unaffordable stones. They favored small handmade or molded pieces fashioned from a combination of crushed quartz, alkaline salts, lime and mineral-based pigments – the recipe for what we now know as Egyptian faience. 

Items made from faience typically featured translucent, gleaming turquoise blue or blue-green glazes magically linked with life, fertility and immortality. Other examples featured alluring black, brown, yellow, white or marbled lusters, depending on their mineral content. These were applied by brush, through dips in faience slurries, or by submerging the piece in glazing powder before firing. By the Middle Kingdom (2055-1650 B.C.), efflorescence, the technique of adding glaze to faience forms before firing, emerged. 

An Egyptian faience bottle from the 18th Dynasty (1550-1292 B.C.) earned £1,700 (about $1,800) plus the buyer’s premium in May 2021. Image courtesy of Lyon & Turnbull and LiveAuctioneers

Faience’s ease of manufacture triggered mass production of amulets, rings, tiles and figurines of common creatures such as fish, frogs, hedgehogs and crocodiles. Hippopotami faience, ranging from seal-amulets to statuettes, were also wildly popular. Yet their inspiration – unpredictable, aggressive territorial behemoths – were not only feared but revered. Because they wallowed in the plentiful, rich mud of the Nile River, the ancient Egyptians associated hippopotami with fertility. Andrew Williamson, manager of the research and writing department at Artemis Gallery, explained that because many believed these immense creatures “roared” at dusk and dawn, they also reflected the daily cycles of life and the afterlife. 

This Middle Kingdom (2061-1690 B.C.) faience hippopotamus, each side featuring lotus flowers and leaves, attained $10,000 plus the buyer’s premium in December 2016. Image courtesy of Ancient Resource Auctions and LiveAuctioneers

Hippopotamus-form faience that reach the auction market today usually portray standing compound deities such as Taweret, a fertility goddess who, in addition to a hippo head, bears lionine and crocodilian features. Yet recumbent models such as the plump, realistic blue-glazed beast that earned $10,000 plus the buyer’s premium at Ancient Resource Auctions in December 2016, are far more collectible. 

A mold-formed faience scarab pendant featuring hieroglyphics and a cartouche of Pharaoh Amenhotep II (reigned 1427-1401 B.C.) sold for $1,750 plus the buyer’s premium in June 2021. Image courtesy of Artemis Gallery and LiveAuctioneers

Numerous high-quality faience pieces, including jewelry, amulets, shabti funeral servant statues and scarabs, were produced during the New Kingdom (1570-1070 B.C.). Artemis Gallery auctioned a mold-formed, green-tinged faience scarab pendant featuring insectile features, hieroglyphics and a cartouche of Pharaoh Amenhotep II for $1,750 plus the buyer’s premium in June 2021. 

Shiny faience mummy necklaces, which substituted for strands of costly lapis lazuli, carnelian or malachite beads, were long thought to accompany ancient Egyptians into the afterlife. A magnificent restrung turquoise and gold-bead strand, traced to the New Kingdom’s Amarna workshops, earned $1,957 plus the buyer’s premium at auction in July 2022. 

This restrung faience and gold-bead amulet necklace, dating to the New Kingdom, Amarna Period (1353-1336 B.C.), brought £1,700 (about $1,957) plus the buyer’s premium in July 2022. Image courtesy of Apollo Art Auctions and LiveAuctioneers

Ancient Egyptians revered cats for their formidable vermin-catching abilities. Yet only toward the end of the New Kingdom did Bastet, their fierce lioness goddess, evolve into kindlier cat deities such as those gracing the faience figural ring Alex Cooper auctioned for $4,250 plus the buyer’s premium in February 2015. 

A New Kingdom (1570-1544 B.C.) faience figural ring featuring a large seated cat goddess, Bastet, surrounded by smaller cats, earned $4,250 plus the buyer’s premium in February 2015. Image courtesy of Alex Cooper and LiveAuctioneers

Scores of ushabtis – small mummiform male and female faience figurines found scattered among grave goods – date from the Late Dynasty Period (664-525 B.C.). Because these figures were meant to serve as laborers in the afterlife, many bore agricultural accouterments including picks, hoes and baskets. Most were mass-produced from standardized molds; others, such as the miniature example Artemis Gallery auctioned for $3,500 plus the buyer’s premium in May 2022, were highly personalized. In addition to an inscribed ushabtispell from the Book of the Dead, it bears a hieroglyphic text identifying its master as Psamtek, overseer of the Egyptian treasury. 

A Late Period (664-525 B.C.) ushabti made for Psamtek, overseer of the treasury, its abdomen and legs inscribed with hieroglyphic text and a spell from the Book of the Dead, went for $3,500 plus the buyer’s premium in May 2022. Image courtesy of Artemis Gallery and LiveAuctioneers

“Like ushabtis, eyes were also incredibly symbolic to the ancient Egyptians, since they represented a window to a mummy’s soul for eternity,” said Artemis Gallery’s Andrew Williamson. Faience eye and brow sets, typically made by funerary priests or sarcophagus artists, reflected the social status of the deceased as well as their family’s wealth. In August 2018, Artemis Gallery auctioned a pair of life-like, wide-eyed orbs for $11,000 plus the buyer’s premium.

A pair of glass and faience sarcophagus eyes from the Late Period (662-315 B.C.) realized $11,000 plus the buyer’s premium in August 2018. Image courtesy of Artemis Gallery and LiveAuctioneers

Although ancient Egyptian faience works may be tiny objects of shimmering beauty, they embody important human concerns that transcend the ages.


A pink-dominated Andy Warhol screenprint portrait of Queen Elizabeth II from 1985, signed in pencil and from an edition of 40, achieved £35,000 plus the buyer’s premium in December 2014. Image courtesy of Bloomsbury Auctions and LiveAuctioneers

Queen Elizabeth II died on September 8, 2022, at the age of 96. The world’s longest-serving female monarch, she reigned for 70 years and was the second-longest-serving monarch in history, surpassed only by King Louis XVI of France. Elizabeth II was the only British sovereign most of us have ever known. The head of state and queen to as many as 32 countries and states in North America, Africa, East Asia and the South Pacific, she was unquestionably the most recognizable woman in the world.

This printer proof Bank of Gibraltar 10-pound note featuring a portrait of Queen Elizabeth II sold for $150 plus the buyer’s premium in February 2020. Image courtesy of Indo Auction and LiveAuctioneers

On her 21st birthday, then-Princess Elizabeth famously said, “I declare before you all that my whole life, whether it be long or short, shall be devoted to your service and the service of our great imperial family to which we all belong.” She would dutifully fulfill that pledge to the very end. Two days before her passing, Elizabeth was still attending to business and received Liz Truss, the prime minister she had just appointed, at Balmoral Castle.

A diamond presentation brooch by Garrard & Co Ltd, created to resemble how the newly-crowned Queen Elizabeth II signed her initials, one of six she commissioned as gifts for the Maids of Honor who attended her at her 1953 coronation, earned £180,000 in June 2022. Image courtesy of Noonans and Liveauctioneers

At her three-hour long coronation on June 2, 1953, then-Princess Elizabeth – a mere 25 years old – became Queen Elizabeth II. It was the first time a coronation was televised in its entirety. 

Today, programs, tickets and other ephemera from the coronation are highly prized by collectors. Even more so, collectors dream of owning one of the specially-made light blue velvet chairs used by the peers who formed the audience inside Westminster Abbey at that momentous occasion. 

Perhaps the ultimate coronation-related prize is a diamond brooch The Queen commissioned from the first and most notably important Crown Jeweller of the United Kingdom, Garrard & Co Ltd, in the form of her own initials. She gave one to each of the six Maids of Honor who attended her coronation. One of the six brooches was auctioned by Noonans in June 2022 and realized a staggering £180,000 (approximately $205,200). 

Also highly desirable to collectors are Cecil Beaton’s official photographic portraits commissioned for Elizabeth II’s coronation or taken during the early years of her reign. Beaton’s images remind us of just how young The Queen was when she assumed the weighty responsibilities of her position.

A Cecil Beaton portrait of Princess Elizabeth, inscribed by her with the words “Elizabeth, Colonel 1942,” sold for £6,500 against an estimate of £600-£800 in June 2014. Image courtesy of Fraser’s Autographs and LiveAuctioneers

As time passed, Elizabeth’s subjects rejoiced in the milestones of her reign: the Silver, Golden, Diamond, Sapphire and Platinum Jubilees that marked the 25th (1977), the 50th (2002), the 60th (2012), the 65th (2017) and the 70th (2022) anniversaries, respectively, of the queen’s coronation, respectively. Each jubilee was a national event, with the United Kingdom and British Commonwealth nations participating with parades, ceremonies and celebrations At those times in particular, The Queen was eager to personally greet well-wishers during her spirited and friendly walkabouts.

This black-and-white Christmas card from 1947 featuring the wedding photo of Princess Elizabeth and Philip, the Duke of Edinburgh, and signed by both, realized $870 plus the buyer’s premium in November 2021.
Image courtesy of Chiswick Auctions and LiveAuctioneers

While The Queen seemed approachable, it was always on her terms. “You don’t get matey with The Queen,” former British Prime Minister Tony Blair wrote in his 2010 memoir, A Journey: My Political Life. “Occasionally she can be matey with you, but don’t try to reciprocate or you get ‘The Look.’” Protocol and the dignity of office had their place after all for this hardworking queen.

A color portrait photograph of Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Phillip, signed by both and dated 2004 by her, earned £2,200 against an estimate of £400-£600 in June 2022. Image courtesy of Sworders Fine Art Auctioneers and LiveAuctioneers.

Unlike most other heads of state, who routinely provide autographs to those who ask, Queen Elizabeth II rarely did, if ever. When greeting cordoned queues of admirers, she was never seen doing anything more than smiling, shaking hands and speaking one-on-one to those who came to see her. In her later years, she invariably wore cheerfully-colored clothing and hats (“The better for them to see me,” she is reported to have said). 

There was never a pen in her hand; she limited her signature to matters of state, personal family photos or a letter to a special guest, even if was only signed “Elizabeth R,” for Elizabeth Regina (Latin for “Queen”). Such spare handwritings and signatures rarely appear at auction, especially those that predate her coronation. Handwritten letters, early photogravures or other memorabilia from her time as a young princess or during her active military service during World War II are particularly hard to find. She had yet to enter the immediate line of royal succession, thus the spotlight was not on her and few “collectibles” were retained.

To mark the first Jubilee of Queen Elizabeth II in 1977, Royal Doulton created this loving cup, a one-of-a-kind market sample that attained $5,250 plus the buyer’s premium in January 2021. Image courtesy of Lion and Unicorn and LiveAuctioneers

Each public occasion involving The Queen, as well as those which were private, such as a birth or a wedding, were memorialized in gold, in works of art, in photos, in pottery and ceramics, and in issues of stamps and coins. Some were created in strictly limited numbers and would warrant pride of place in any collection of royal items.

“Value is also determined by quality and rarity, experts say. A china tea set commemorating one of the queen’s jubilees that was mass-produced won’t be worth much. But limited-edition items — where maybe only 100 were produced — will eventually sell for more,” wrote Jaclyn Peiser, a retail reporter for the Washington Post, in an article published soon after The Queen’s death. Of course, if advertisements label a commemorative as a limited edition, it’s important to determine just how “limited” its production run really was. The lower the number, the better.

A 1-oz silver proof coin issued by Tokelau, a dependent territory of New Zealand, shows the evolution of the royal portraits of Queen Elizabeth II through the year 2020. It sold for $275 plus the buyer’s premium in November 2021. Image courtesy of 3 Kings Auction and LiveAuctioneers

Limited-edition commemoratives made from precious metals retain long-term value both for their intrinsic value and for their provenance. A 1-ounce silver coin issued in 2020 by Tokelau, a dependent territory of New Zealand, featured royal portraits of Queen Elizabeth II through the years. It sold for a hammer price of $275, about 10 times its intrinsic value, thanks not only to its pleasing design but also for the remote place where it was issued. 

Postage stamps issued early in the queen’s reign by far-flung areas of the British Empire should also hold their value in the decades to come, especially those from countries that no longer recognize the Monarch of the United Kingdom as its head of state. 

Error stamps – those that are not complete or were produced incorrectly – are almost always more valuable. A marginal block of four 1963 3D Red Cross Centenary stamps that pictured the young Queen Elizabeth II but lacked the organization’s distinctive Red Cross symbol once sold for about £40,000 (about $45,000). 

“We are expecting to see the value of rare stamps climb dramatically and possibly by 300-400% as philatelists clamber to add to their collections in the coming months,” said James Constantinou, founder of in an interview with the London-based Mirror newspaper. 

For Queen Elizabeth II’s Diamond Jubilee in 2012, Visconti created a platinum-plated fountain pen with a 23K palladium nib in royal purple and a facsimile of the Imperial Crown. It brought $550 plus the buyer’s premium in August 2021. Image courtesy of Donley Auctions and LiveAuctioneers

A platinum-trimmed fountain pen by Visconti in royal purple, made exclusively for the 60th Jubilee, is another example of an exclusive commemorative that should see its value only increase as time passes; in April 2021, one such pen sold for $550 plus the buyer’s premium. 

Nothing says “icon” like being the subject of a multi-colored print by pop artist Andy Warhol. In his 1985 series titled “Reigning Queens,” Warhol based his image of Elizabeth II on a portrait created by Peter Grugeon in 1977 for the Silver Jubilee and created four prints “…fragmenting the image with various overlayed shapes and patches of colour,” according to a review in One such print sold at Bonhams in June 2022 for about $255,000, a further confirmation of Queen Elizabeth II’s status as an icon of the art world.

An early official photograph of the young Queen Elizabeth II, pictured with The Crown Jewels shortly after her June 1953 coronation and signed and dated by her, achieved $8,000 plus the buyer’s premium in February 2021. Image courtesy of RR Auctions and LiveAuctioneers

Queen Elizabeth II successfully bridged Britain’s colonial past and the technological present to become “…the rock on which modern Britain was built,” as British Prime Minister Liz Truss said following the sovereign’s passing. Commemorative items graced with The Queen’s image are comforting reminders of a noble woman who embraced a life of duty, family and service to her country for seven decades, never once putting a foot wrong.