Malachite treasures will turn you green with envy

Malachite inlay box with fine flower-type patterns, which sold for $5,250 plus the buyer’s premium. Image courtesy Heritage Auctions and LiveAuctioneers

Malachite, memorable for its rich green color and silky, swirled patterns, is actually weathered copper ore. Ancient Egyptians, who sourced this mineral in the Timna Valley in what is now southern Israel, believed that it held magical, protective powers. They carried malachite seals and amulets, and to guard against ocular diseases commonly found along the Nile River, they ground it finely, then lined their eyes with the powder.

To Egyptians, malachite also signified life, death, and rebirth. In addition to portraying Osiris, the god of the dead, with green skin, they decorated coffins and created burial chamber paintings with malachite-green pigment.

From the 7th century on, malachite pigments appeared abundantly in Chinese and Japanese paintings. But the pure, coarsely ground hue that Renaissance artists favored proved very difficult to “work,” so they rarely used it. Eventually, ground malachite fell from use entirely, replaced by artificial pigments.

Massive malachite freeform with one side polished and the other left in its natural finish, which sold for $2,500 plus the buyer’s premium in 2014. Image courtesy of I.M. Chait Gallery/Auctioneers and LiveAuctioneers

Limited deposits of malachite have since been discovered in Arizona, Brazil, Mexico, Australia, France, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Scores of contemporary jewelers, including David Webb, Cartier, Chopard, and Van Cleef & Arpels, feature lavish malachite pieces in their permanent collections. Yet many museum experts, connoisseurs and collectors consider Russian malachite, discovered in the Ural Mountains, to be the finest of all.

“Malachite was a favorite of Russian tsars, who used it to decorate their lavish palaces, such as the Winter Palace in St. Petersburg,” said Lauren Goforth, Sr. Researcher at M. S. Rau. “Year after year, the Russian treasury paid top dollar to hoard the best malachite, much of which went into Romanov palaces and extravagant objets d’art,” she said. “Today, the Hermitage Museum possesses more than 200 examples of this ‘palatial’ malachite, displayed in the legendary Malachite Room.”

Some of the Malachite Room’s massive urns, columns and grand fireplaces, which are carved from huge, solid blocks of malachite, feature variegated light-to-dark banding in graceful, sweeping curves. Others displaycharacteristic so-called “peacock eye” patterning. Smaller pieces, made from blocks too pocked with pits to be cut into slabs, were crafted through Russian malachite mosaic. This technique entailed skillfully laying thin malachite veneers on basalt, slate, marble or metal bases in artful artificial or random patterns.

Paired malachite-clad neoclassical-style obelisks realized $5,000 plus the buyer’s premium in 2012. Image courtesy of New Orleans Auction Galleries and LiveAuctioneers

As Russian merchants became rich, they, too, commissioned prestigious malachite treasures. Some adorned their writing desks, cabinets, and mantelpieces with dramatic tapering obelisks. Others acquired malachite game boxes, chessmen, or elegant gaming tables topped by malachite- and-marble chessboards.

Overhead view of a continental malachite games table, which sold for $70,000 plus the buyer’s premium in 2016. Image courtesy of Neal Auction Company and LiveAuctioneers

Though malachite is beautiful on its own, it is also sympathetic with other luxurious materials. Russian vases, jewel caskets, dresser boxes, and candelabras often feature opulent gold, silver, bronze, or gemstone decorative details. In addition, malachite clocks, inkwells, and desk sets were often mounted with ormolu, one of the most flamboyant decorative accents of the 19th century.

Lenoir Louis XV gilt bronze and malachite figural mantel clock, which realized $11,000 plus the buyer’s premium in 2012. Image courtesy of Heritage Auctions and LiveAuctioneers

Conversely, ornate gold, silver, onyx, and ormulu boxes, urn lamps, and tea caddies often featured rich, mellow malachite trimmings. Since items such as these were highly prized diplomatic gifts. Examples can be found in countless palaces, state buildings, and museums in Mexico, England, and across Continental Europe.

19th-century silver and malachite tea caddy, which sold for $2,300 plus the buyer’s premium in 2020.
Image courtesy of Taylor & Harris and LiveAuctioneers

In time, Russian jewelers also integrated malachite embellishments into gold and silver brooch and earring designs. They also fashioned beads or cabochons for ring stones, necklaces, cuff links, tie pins, and pendants. Smaller pieces, of course, are far less likely to display desirable malachite patterns.

“Malachite has long been a symbol of prestige and wealth,” explained Goforth. “The mineral was so prized in the 19th century that Russian papers of the time wrote, ‘To afford a big piece wrought in malachite is synonymous to owning diamonds.’”

Gorham silver shines as brightly as ever

Wright sold a Donald Colflesh Circa 70 coffee service with tray in June 2012 for $25,000, which is still a house record for the Gorham silver design.

For centuries, American silversmiths could not afford to play. The precious metal was too scarce and pricey for artisans to take a flyer on a cutting-edge silverware pattern, no matter how fun and fashionable it might seem.

Everything changed when news of the discovery of the Comstock Lode spread in 1859. The biggest silver strike on American soil freed the country’s silversmiths to experiment. None embraced this freedom more ardently than the Gorham Manufacturing Company of Providence, Rhode Island.

Founded in 1831, it jumped to the front of its pack of rivals and stayed there by offering a wide variety of silver patterns, ultimately releasing more than 100. During its late 19 th century peak, it relentlessly presented America’s middle class with hot new must-haves ranging from ice cream hatchets to grape shears to sardine tongs.

Rago sold a 1929 Gorham silver cocktail set containing a shaker and 12 cups for $10,000 in October 2018.

In that same period, Gorham employed thousands, including almost 200 in its New York store on Broadway. The company grabbed attention at the 1893 World’s Fair in Chicago with a display that boasted a six-foot-tall sculpture of Christopher Columbus made from more than a ton of silver and cast in a single pour. (The statue was melted down after the fair ended.) Pieces bearing the Gorham hallmark rank as some of the best created in the medium in the 19th and 20th centuries.

None of that was enough to save Gorham from the effects of huge cultural shifts in how Americans lived their lives, but its past glories helped buy it a few more decades of relevance before it effectively disappeared in 1967. Today, the company’s gleaming record of achievement, along with its fundamental refusal to stick its customers with the same patterns it offered to their parents and grandparents and rest on its laurels, makes Gorham silver a favorite among collectors.

A late 19 th century Gorham Martele silver tea and coffee service fetched $18,000 at Rago in April 2018.

“Gorham is a superb example of American craftsmanship with a devoted collecting base globally,” said Megan Whippen, senior specialist at Wright. “As someone that works mostly with early 20 th century pieces, Gorham, as a firm, continued to define what modern was in their pioneering silver designs. Even in their selection of artists they were conscious of the interests of their buyers.”

Gorham’s last triumph as an innovator in silver was Circa 70, a tea and coffee service designed by Donald Colflesh. In June 2012, Wright offered a complete Circa 70 set, containing a hard-to-find but much-coveted matching tray that was released a few years after the original set. Estimated at $20,000-$30,000, it sold for $25,000, and remains a house record for that particular item of Gorham silver. “One of my favorite details on the Circa 70 service is that it was designed in 1958. The name demonstrates the forward thinking that is so majestically captured in the form,” Whippen said, adding, “Colflesh was hired by Gorham just after he graduated from Pratt, and I have always felt that New York City and its modern buildings and energy informed these soaring forms.”

Today, the Circa 70 silver service exudes retro-cool, but imagine how futuristic it must have seemed in the late 1950s. Gorham silver always included conservative, traditionalist offerings while demonstrating a willingness to push the envelope well before that phrase became a cliche.

Gorham silver deliberately aimed for the moon with its Martele line. Launched in 1897 by in-house designer William Christmas Codman, it drew its name from the French verb marteler, which means “to hammer.” Each piece of Martele is technically a one-off; the labor-intensive manufacturing process ensures that no examples are strictly identical, even if two or more take the same form. “Martele is like a different species. It really is the epitome of high-style handwork in sterling,” said Russ Carlsen of the Carlsen Gallery in Freehold, New York. “It deserves the audience it has. It’s pretty spectacular material. You’re talking about rich people’s silverware. It’s above and beyond.”

An 1899 Gorham Martele vase standing almost 19 inches tall and containing almost 80 troy ounces of silver commanded $60,000 at Carlsen Gallery Inc. in September 2013.

In September 2013, Carlsen offered a Gorham silver Martele pattern vase dating to 1899, which contained almost 80 troy ounces of silver and stood almost 19 inches tall. Estimated at $2,000 to $5,000, it rocketed to $60,000. “I remember it very vividly,” he said, adding that though he was surprised by the result, “I thought it was worth every penny of it. It was substantial. It had scale, which is important. It was very large and flashy, and the craftsmanship was undeniably the best.” Carlson said that if the vase was reconsigned to him now, “It probably would do better in today’s world, because the cream of the crop continues to excel.”

The Gorham silver company also enjoys the good fortune of having had its archives, and many of its greatest masterpieces, land in the hands of curators who love it, understand it, and want to share it with the public. The holdings of the Rhode Island School of Design (RISD) contain almost 5,000 items of Gorham silver and related material, such as design drawings and other company records. In 2019, RISD mounted a blockbuster exhibit titled Gorham Silver: Designing Brilliance 1850-1970 that raised the profile of the brand and introduced it to a 21st century audience who grew up with little or no genuine silver tableware in their homes. Obviously, it’s too late to see the show, but RISD keeps A-list pieces on view such as a Martele writing table and chair that consumed 10,000 hours of labor and 75 pounds of silver, and also Erik Magnussen’s 1927 Cubist coffee service, a bracingly modern design that was evidently a bit too modern for Gorham, as it never advanced past the prototype stage.

Setting aside the pieces created for world’s fairs, much of what Gorham made had a mundane purpose and function—to hold flowers, to serve food, to convey morsels to the mouth. We no longer live in the world for which Gorham silver was made, but our world still has a place for it. In June 2018, D.G.W. Auctioneers in Sunnyvale, California offered a set of flatware from Gorham’s St. Cloud (pronounced “San Cloo”) pattern. Described as “extensive,” the set didn’t just merit the term, it required it. Numbering 206 pieces and containing a total of 254 troy ounces of silver, it was estimated at $4,000-$6,000 and sold for $16,000.

A 206-piece set of Gorham flatware in the St. Cloud pattern sold for $16,000 at D.G.W Auctioneers in June 2018.

Patricia Knight, a longtime dealer and appraiser of silver who has served as a consultant to the California auction house, was not surprised to see it sell so well. “To have a gigantic set like this, all one pattern, all with the same monogram, knowing it’s very rare, very important–that provoked desire in bidders,” she said, explaining that the St. Cloud pattern was designed by Antoine Heller, a French silversmith who Gorham lured away from Tiffany; it had a relatively short lifespan on the market, perhaps about five years; and it has not been revived or reproduced.

The flatware set also contained Gorham silver items that are relatively tough to find. “Some of the pieces in there are very rare—individual knives, ladles, big, heavy pieces,” she said. “I wouldn’t be surprised to see the asparagus tongs sell for $1,000 in and of themselves.” Though the set sold for almost three times its high estimate, by Knight’s calculations, the bidder walked away with a bargain; $16,000 divided by 206 works out to $77.66 per piece. She is convinced that if the set was consigned to auction today, it could “definitely” sell for far more. “I would market it as an original set, all the same monogram, a very heavy, very rare pattern from Gorham,” she said. “If you wanted something really sensational for your table, it could get up to $25,000 or $30,000.”

Whippen, Carlsen, and Knight agree that Gorham silver will always have an audience who targets and collects the brand specifically. People seek Gorham by name now; there’s no reason to believe they will ever stop. “Nobody has a problem selling Gorham,” Knight said. “Say the name, and you hear, “Ah, a good company that has a good reputation.”

Gorham silver shines as brightly as ever


Audemars Piguet Royal Oak automatic quantieme perpetual calendar octagonal wristwatch with moon phases in solid platinum, which sold for $256,000 at Morphy Auctions in December 2020.

Many people have probably never heard of the luxury watchmaker Audemars Piguet, let alone own one of its products – but make no mistake: the venerable Swiss-based firm has been wowing users and collectors for nearly 150 years, from its launch in 1875 until the present day.

The company was founded by Jules Louis Audemars and Edward Auguste Piguet, childhood friends who reconnected when they were in their twenties, as both had entered the business of watchmaking. Early on, Audemars was creating complex watch movements for other manufacturers, such as Tiffany & Co., and Piguet was specializing in the regulation of watch movements.

The two men partnered in 1875, with Audemars in charge of production and technical tasks and Piguet in charge of sales and management. In 1881, Audemars Piguet et Cie was officially founded, with operations based in the Swiss village of Le Brassus. From that point forward, Audemars Piguet was an industry innovator, introducing the world’s first minute repeating movement for wristwatches (1892), the first skeleton watch (1934), and some of the thinnest watches in the world, such as the 1986 automatic tourbillon wristwatch, the Calibre 2870. But in the 1970s the firm developed what would become its signature line of wristwatches for decades to come: the Royal Oak.

Audemars Piguet 18K rose gold perpetual calendar chronograph watch, one of 100 made to benefit a charity. It sold for $28,290 at GWS Auctions in October 2019.

“Watch collectors in the know will tell you when they think of Audemars Piguet, the words Royal Oak come straight to mind,” said Tyler St. Gelais of Jones & Horan, the New Hampshire-based auction house specializing in antique and vintage watches, clocks, jewelry, and coins. “The Royal Oak was designed by Gerald Genta, the famed designer for Audemars in the 1970s. It is considered by most to be the first luxury sports watch. Genta designed the Royal Oak to look like an antique diving helmet, with its visible screws and octagonal faceted bezel.”

Audemars Piguet Royal Oak offshore men’s watch, which sold for $25,000 at Laguna Beach Auction House in January 2019.

Today the Royal Oak is considered a classic, but it wasn’t the instant success many believe it was. “Its launch coincided with the start of the age of quartz watches, which saw the dominance of Swiss watchmaking brought to its knees,” St. Gelais said. “Over an 18-year period, from 1970 to 1988, 1,600 watchmaking firms collapsed, to just over 600 total. During that time, many makers banded together to create quartz movements to compete with the Japanese, but the effort was futile and many longstanding companies either closed their doors or merged to create more stable conglomerates. This gave rise to the Swatch group, among others.”

Audemars Piguet Royal Oak Offshore 11.5-carat diamone men’s wristwatch, which sold for $26,432 at Estate Jewelry Auctioneers in December 2019.

Audemars, keeping true to form, saw quartz as a fad and kept working on incredibly intricate and complicated mechanical movements. They knew great watches weren’t just about timekeeping but the romanticism of a truly mechanical piece set to one purpose, versus the soulless tick of its battery counterpart. During the late 1970s, at the height of the quartz crisis, Audemars released the first automatic perpetual calendar, considered by most to be the epitome of complication. This watch was able to adjust from long months and short months, as well as adjust itself for leap years every four years. If the watch were able to run indefinitely without the need of repair or fresh oil, it could do so for 100 years.

Ladies’ Audemars Piguet Royal Oak stainless steel wristwatch, which sold for $7,475 at BK Auctions in March 2019.

In terms of market value, Audemars watches are “all over the place,” St. Gelais said. “The entire watch market has been in a free climb in price since the mid-2000s, which has seen early Royal Oak models from the ‘70s go from stainless models below $20,000 and some two-tone models from below $10,000, to stainless models regularly selling for prices in excess of $75,000 and two-tone models in excess of $50,000. On the flip side, a plain hour minute dress watch from the 1950s through ‘70s or ‘80s has plummeted in value, with prices in the $1,500-$3,000 price range, making them easily accessible to most collectors.”

Unauthenticated Audemars Piguet Royal Oak Offshore men’s watch, which sold for $2,737 at Rare Treasures in April 2020.

These changes in value are not limited solely to Audemars Piguet. “Folks are looking more toward sports watches today in larger sizes, whereas dress models from years gone by are just not desirable in today’s market,” St. Gelais pointed out. “This is true for the other members of the ‘Holy Trinity’ – Vacheron & Constantin and Patek Philippe. For the future, I see no limit to the vintage original Royal Oak models, with collectors viewing these pieces as wearable art. The sky is the limit, with smaller dress models likely to stay affordable to the average collector for years to come.”

Chinese Chops Add A Stamp Of Approval

Rare Chinese chicken blood stone seal, which garnered $65,000 plus the buyer’s premium in 2011. Image courtesy of New Orleans Auction Galleries and LiveAuctioneers

Chinese chops – or stamps that leave identifying impressions on personal or official documents – have been in use for at least 3,000 years. Because these pieces are portable and small, creating them required not only advanced skills and specialized tools, but also a refined sense of design. All were commissioned by individuals, making each chop unique.

Chops fashioned from durable metals such as iron, bronze, or copper represented enduring authoritative rule, but scores were also carved from blocks of attractive, semi-precious hardstone. Emperors, nobles, and high-ranking officials traditionally prized chops made of jade, which became a Chinese cultural symbol of inner beauty and immortality. The Imperial Heirloom Seal of the Realm, created for the first Emperor of China from sacred jade and passed down through following dynasties, symbolized the legitimacy of what the Chinese called the “mandate from heaven.” From around 400 AD, chops carved from rare, lustrous golden-yellow Tianhuang stone, mined in the mountainous Shoushan region of East China, were also highly desirable.

Carved jade chop featuring carved dragon knob, which rose to $17,000 plus the buyer’s premium in 2013. Image courtesy of Altair Auctions and LiveAuctioneers

During the Qing Dynasty (1636–1912), an era of flourishing artistic achievement, nobles and other high-ranking people wanted chops wrought from beautiful, locally sourced “chicken-blood stone.” The best ones, noted the Shanghai Daily in 2013, “are bright crimson … as though they had been splashed with the blood of a freshly slaughtered chicken.” Unfortunately, cinnabar, the component responsible for this auspicious hue, darkens when exposed to sunlight. So, the redder, the better.

Shoushan Tianhuang stone chi dragon square seal, Qing Dynasty, which settled at $42,500 plus the buyer’s premium in 2020. Image courtesy of Cardale Auctioneers and LiveAuctioneers

In time, artists, scholars, and common folk acquired multiple chops. Used in bank transactions, on legal documents, or as personal signatures, many simply bore their owner’s name. Others were customized with select sobriquets, scenes of daily life, or symbols of particular interest. Some chops featured carved signatures or decorative elements along their sides. In addition, many bore mottoes, auspicious sayings, or personalized information worked in delicate, stylized scripts emulating calligraphy, another esteemed Chinese art.

Shoushan stone poetry seal, which realized CA$3,000 plus the buyer’s premium in 2019. Image courtesy of Majestic Auction and LiveAuctioneers

Most chops, whatever their design, were impressed in auspicious silk- or plant-based red paste. Two distinct carving styles emerged. Those featuring high-relief designs, known as yin chops, created red backgrounds, leaving character images white. Those featuring incised intaglio designs, known as yang chops, created red characters, leaving backgrounds white. More intricate chops combined both yin and yang designs.

Chinese calligraphy scroll featuring semi-cursive character inscriptions and red signature seals, which sold for $50,000 plus the buyer’s premium in 2018. Image courtesy of Lauren Auctions and LiveAuctioneers

To facilitate their use, hardstone chops typically bore intricately carved, three-dimensional decorative knobs. Many were shaped like mythical creatures. One-horned qilins, complete with cloven hooves and dragon-like heads, reputedly promised good luck and prosperity. Fierce, stylized foo dog knobs guarded against harmful people and influences. Tortoise-shaped knobs, or those featuring rows of tiny tortoises, were said to insure longevity. Four-legged, serpent-like dragon-shaped ones represented Imperial strength and power. Chops featuring turtle-dragon knobs, which embodied physical and mythical features of both beasts, seem the most fearsome of all.

Twin Chinese glass seal surmounted by qilins, which sold for €13,500 plus the buyer’s premium in 2017. Image courtesy of Sheppard’s Irish Auction House and LiveAuctioneers

As chop designs became more fanciful, artists often used them to mark completed paintings, books, and calligraphy. Collectors, on acquiring one of these treasures, often added their own marks as acts of admiration. According to The China Online Museum website, the Qianlong emperor (1711 – 1799), who was famed for his literary ambitions, used as many as 20 different chops to mark favored pieces in his collections.

Chops added by such esteemed collectors were considered integral parts of each work. In fact, from one century to the next, choice Chinese paintings and calligraphy works often would end up covered by dozens of different chops. These indisputable proofs of appreciation and provenance don’t just increase the historical significance of such works; they also increase their value.

Market for horse portraits keeps trotting along

What would you prefer: a great portrait of a horse, or a great portrait of a car? Andrew Jones, founder of the eponymous Los Angeles auction house, suggests that 90 percent of people would choose the horse, which may seem surprising to some.

More than 100 years have passed since the automobile displaced the horse as our main form of transportation. Admittedly, there are some truly spectacular cars out there. But a painted portrait of a car? Even a magnificently rendered image of a Murphy-bodied Duesenberg, or a Bugatti Type 55? No. The horse wins, and by far more than a nose. But why?

An 1879 Herbert Kittredge portrait of the stallion Bonnie Scotland and chief groom Robert Green sold for $40,000 at Case Antiques Inc Auctions and Appraisals in January 2018.

Well, the mammal has a long head start. Horses have appeared in art pretty much since human beings began creating images as art. The walls of the caves at Lascaux, France, are famously adorned with images of galloping equines rendered in charcoal and ocher. According to current scholarship, the cave paintings are about 17,000 years old. Horses star in other pivotal works of art. Two of the three paintings in Paolo Uccello’s 15th-century trio of tempera-on-wood panels dubbed the Battle of San Romano, showing the artist’s understanding of linear perspective, place white horses front and center. Eadweard Muybridge’s 1878 images of Sallie Gardner galloping with a rider identified as “G. Domm” on her back literally changed the way horses are portrayed. The photographs proved that at some point, however brief, all four of a horse’s hooves leave the ground when it runs.

But the biggest difference is an insurmountable one: cars don’t have personalities, but horses do. Great portrait artists don’t just capture the facts of the sitter, they also capture the intangibles known only to those who love them best, and fix them to the canvas for all to see. In the case of equine portraits, the sitter just happens to be a horse.

A set of 12 equine portrait prints, based on the work of 18th-century British artist Thomas Spencer, sold for £4,600, or roughly $6,300, at Cheffins in September 2015.

“Sitter” also happens to be a contradictory term in this context, as the horses are never shown sitting. Many picture the subject in profile, standing perfectly still, which presents the viewer with another contradiction. We seem to love horses best when they’re moving; Uccello, Muybridge, and the Lascaux artists agree on that. But painting a horse that’s standing still allows us to appreciate the horse at rest, and to admire the skill of the portraitist. “If you’ll Google paintings of horses, you’ll be shocked at how many don’t look like a horse should,” Jones said.

Sarah Campbell Drury, vice president of Fine and Decorative Arts at Case Antiques Auctions & Appraisals in Knoxville, Tennessee, points out that the noted equestrian artist Henry Stull “credited part of his success to actually having studied horse anatomy at veterinary school.”

Commissioning a painted portrait is expensive; horse portraits, in and of themselves, are luxury goods, not unlike a Patek Philippe chronograph or a Ferrari 599 Manual. Horse portraits represent the fact that decades or centuries ago, someone was rich enough to pay an artist to immortalize a favorite horse. “There is the emotional connection and desire to have a portrait as a remembrance and keepsake. But we must also remember that many horses were in fact the livelihoods of their owners. They were raced and bred for large sums of money,” Campbell Drury says. “They were extremely important financial assets. So equine portraits could be used almost as marketing or promotional materials to represent this asset in situations where the horse itself could not be present, not to mention as status symbols.”

An 1895 horse portrait by John Chester Mathews sold for $1,600 at Case Antiques Inc Auctions and Appraisals in January 2017.

British demand for these images during the 18th- and 19th centuries was strong enough to sustain dedicated specialists. “During the period when equine portraiture was at its peak, it was common for the wealthiest of racehorse owners to commission portraits of their most important animals, allowing a handful of artists to earn a living solely from those types of picture,” says Patricia Durdikova, an associate in the Paintings department at Cheffins auction house in Cambridge, England. “Portraits of the horses which defined the development of British horse racing, known as the Foundation Sires, are as sought after in the current market as they were at the time of painting.”

Some horse portraits present the animal as a supreme luxury object. An 18th-century English canvas of an unknown equine with a manor house in the background sold for $9,750 against an estimate of $800-$1,200 in February 2018 at Litchfield Auctions.

In September 2015, Cheffins offered a set of 12 equine portrait prints based on the work of British artist Thomas Spencer, one of the few who made his living by depicting elite horses. He portrayed the animals in profile, attended by riders and grooms and surrounded by text that recounted their accomplishments. Estimated at £1,000 to £2,000, or about $1,300 to $2,700, the mid-18th-century group sold for £4,600, or roughly $6,300.

Horse portraits become more interesting to collectors with each proven fact they can claim. An anonymous artist painting of an anonymous horse in a nondescript field can sell well if it’s competently rendered. If we know the name of the artist, that’s good; if we know the name of the horse, that’s equally good, and sometimes better. If the horse has a confirmed racing history, better still. If human beings appear with the horse, collectors prefer to know who they are and why they’re there. If the backdrop contains details that support and confirm what we know about the horse, e.g., buildings belonging to specific horse farms, or a glimpse of the country house of its owner in the distance, that’s beneficial, too.

Lucy Kemp-Welsh might be best known as the illustrator of the 1915 edition of Black Beauty. Andrew Jones Auctions sold an undated horse portrait of hers for $550 in December 2019.

Most desirable of all, obviously, is a portrait of a horse whose name appears in the bloodlines of winners of the Kentucky Derby and other high-stakes races. A painting that sold at Case in January 2018 featured just such an animal. The work depicted the stallion Bonnie Scotland with chief groom Robert “Uncle Bob” Green. The horse’s descendants include Man-O-War, Sea Biscuit, Secretariat, and several other immortal champions.

The 1879 painting had even more going for it. Robert Green is outstanding in his own right. He was born into slavery and, after gaining his freedom through Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation, rose to become the highest-paid employee of Bonnie Scotland’s home farm. The work was painted by Herbert Kittredge, who distinguished himself as a master of equestrian art before dying at the shockingly young age of 28. The painting sold at the top of its estimate range for $40,000 to Belle Meade Plantation, the Nashville farm where Bonnie Scotland lived and Green worked.

In June 2016, an undated painting by French 19th-century artist Rosa Bonheur made $6,500 at Wiederseim Associates.

Drury acknowledges that the 1879 Kittredge painting was something of a unicorn. A horse portrait with a wealth of information behind it is, in her words, “pretty rare.” Most collectors must make do with less. However, when asked how the painting would perform if it were re-consigned to Case today, Drury replied, “Actually, about the same. The market for equestrian portraits seems to be fairly stable – pardon the pun.”

Jones says horse portraits continue to hold our attention because they give us something we need. “Horses in motion, horses standing still, it’s a very peaceful form of art,” he says. “Even before COVID-19, it was a lovely thing to hang on a wall.”


Let’s get one thing straight right away: the world of Reginald Jeeves and Bertram “Bertie” Wilberforce Wooster is as fantastical as Middle Earth or Westeros. Sure, P.G. Wodehouse (which is pronounced “Woodhouse”) set the stories in England and New York in an ambiguous time that evidently falls between the world wars, so they can claim connections to places that actually exist. But Jeeves, the uber-competent valet to the well-heeled Bertie Wooster, had might as well be an elf or a dragon. A man of his skill and intellect finding satisfaction in serving a young, proudly idle Englishman whose greatest accomplishment seems to be making and breaking engagements to at least a quarter of the high-born daughters in his circle? Unbelievable.

Jeeves’s loyalty to Wooster, along with Wodehouse’s peerless writing, drives the enduring appeal of the stories. When the wizards who adapted them for the Jeeves and Wooster television series in the late 1980s and early 1990s, they tackled the task of translating the luxurious lives of Wooster and his friends into fittings and furnishings. They succeeded admirably. The only thing that eclipsed the achievement was their recruiting of the British comedians Hugh Laurie and Stephen Fry to play the title characters. The television show, and not the books, were front of mind when rummaging the archives for auction results that evoke the early 20th-century backdrops the beloved Wodehouse characters moved through. With a friendly “What Ho,” we invite you to enjoy this collection of sold lots* that call to mind the rarified realm of Jeeves and Wooster.

Tea Time

Spode bone china service in Sheffield pattern

How does Bertie Wooster take his tea? According to the television series, the answer is “in bed.” Several episodes picture him sipping his morning cuppa as he converses, muses, and schemes with Jeeves. The eagle-eyed author of the Look Back & Hanker blog identified the teacup Hugh Laurie holds in the first episode of the first series as belonging to Spode’s Sheffield pattern. In 2004, Auctions by the Bay offered a service in the long-running bone china pattern that included 13 teacups and 14 saucers. It sold for $850.

Shaken and Stirred: A Toast to Simplicity

George V silver cocktail shaker by Herbert Edward

Jeeves can’t stand sartorial crimes, and he judges Wooster guilty with some regularity. When he carries home a jacket or a hat that’s a little bit non-traditional (and why shouldn’t he—what’s the point of being absurdly rich if you can’t be eccentric?), Jeeves reacts as if Wooster had announced an intention to stride out of his apartment in an outfit comprised of a mink stole, hip waders, and a dickie. If panic roils Jeeves, he never shows it. He solves the problem by rescuing Wooster and his friends from the scrape du jour and banishes the offending item from his master’s wardrobe as payment. This is a somewhat long-winded way of saying just as Jeeves doesn’t tolerate fads in men’s clothing, he doesn’t tolerate it in barware, either. No way would he deign to prepare Wooster’s nightly tipple in a novelty cocktail shaker shaped like a penguin or a zeppelin or even a set of golf clubs. He relies on a plain but elegant silver cocktail shaker of the sort offered at Elstob & Elstob in January 2021. Dating to circa 1923, it was designed by Herbert Edward and commanded £950, or about $1,300.

Art Deco Tech

Pye Type 25 English portable radio, 1928

Wooster is young and wealthy and surrounds himself with the best of his era. For him, that means decorating his apartments in Art Deco style. Contrast his digs with the vaguely Edwardian feel of the interiors of his club and the imposing Victorian rooms of the country homes of his assorted aunts, and the difference is immediate and unmistakable. The Wooster of the television show unreservedly lives in the now; it so happens that “now” is decades ago to the viewer. Wooster owns a radio, or as he would have called it, a “wireless,” and it looks as good as it sounds. It’s placed between the writing desk and the piano in his London apartment, and it appears to be a circa-1928 Type 25 portable radio by Pye. Auction Team Breker sold one in 2015 for €240, or about $300.

Thrones for Drones

Arts & Crafts English leather club chairs

Wooster is a member of good standing in the Drones Club, which is named in honor of male bees that perform no work. It provides a haven for Wooster and a place where characters from P.G. Wodehouse’s assorted literary universes meet. The interiors assembled for the adaption of Jeeves and Wooster look exactly as one would expect—coffered ceilings and lots of cozy spaces finished with dark woods. Of course, a club requires club chairs. The Drones Club certainly doesn’t lack them, and the animated opening credits of the show depict a few Drones luxuriating in the embrace of just such a chair. This set of circa-1930 Arts & Crafts English leather club chairs isn’t a perfect match for those shown on screen—they have a little too much decoration—but they otherwise look the part. Offered at Treadway Toomey Auctions in May 2006, they sold for $3,250 against an estimate of $1,500 to $1,800.

The Country Life

Diana the huntress bronze

A fair amount of the action of the Jeeves and Wooster television series takes place at the country homes of Wooster’s friends and family. Being English, virtually all of them keep spectacular gardens as a matter of national pride. A bronze of Diana, goddess of the hunt, reaching back to grab an arrow from her quiver appears on the grounds of Chuffnell Hall, the retreat of Lord Chuffnell, or as Wooster knows him, “Chuffy.” Ahlers & Ogletree Auction Gallery sold a similar-looking statue in November 2017 for $10,000 against an estimate of $3,000 to $5,000.

In All Things, Be Prepared

Louis Vuitton & Christofle cocktail set

The television adaptation establishes early in its run that Wooster’s liquid intake largely alternates between tea and booze. Both must continue to flow no matter where he and his manservant are, be it at home or out in the boondocks of the Home Counties. Jeeves equips himself for this eventuality with a travel cocktail set that permits him to mix drinks from the “boot,” or trunk, of a car. An undated Louis Vuitton & Christofle cocktail set, nested in a black leather case, was offered by Abell Auction in December 2011, and while not of British manufacture, would not have been rebuffed, either by Jeeves or Wooster. French made, it’s the product of two impeccable firms that represent the best of the best. It sold for $3,250 against an estimate of $3,000 to $4,000.

Direct from the Source

English silver cow creamer, 19th c, stamped BH

Want to delight a Jeeves and Wooster superfan? Give them an antique silver cow creamer. The adventures of this jaunty piece of hollowware dominate one of the best-loved Jeeves and Wooster stories, The Code of the Woosters. It starts with Wooster’s Aunt Dahlia enlisting him to sneer at an antique cow creamer and accelerates hilariously from there. Looking at LiveAuctioneers’ archives yields several good results for silver cow creamers, with demand driven at least in part by Wodehouse fans. A 19th-century English example sold by Pook & Pook in December 2011 for $650 against an estimate of $150 to $250. Canonically, the cow creamer is supposed to date from the 18th century, but the friendly little silver bovine with its pert curling tail doubling as a handle looks much like the one showcased in the television series.

Clothes Make the Man

[Wodehouse, P.G.], Tweed Waistcoat from the 1989 Jeeves

At least one happy bidder out there can embrace the idea of living like Jeeves and Wooster almost literally. A May 2020 Freeman’s auction of a P.G. Wodehouse collection included a tweed waistcoat supplied by Angels & Bermans that was actually worn by Stephen Fry in his portrayal of Jeeves for the television series in 1989. Estimated at $100 to $150, it sold for $350. We hope the winner was on the larger end of the menswear spectrum as Fry stands six feet, five inches tall.

As of April 2021, Jeeves and Wooster is not streaming on any platforms, but it’s easy to immerse oneself in the deeply likable duo’s world by reading or rereading P.G. Wodehouse’s Jeeves and Wooster books. HP at Plumtopia, a site for Wodehouse admirers, composed a reading list for the series. Click to view it.

To learn about Jeeves and Wooster’s backgrounds, visit Look Back & Hanker’s blog post.



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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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.

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

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.