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No mystery to the appeal of Egyptian Revival style

Gold, amethyst, demantoid garnet, and enamel brooch, 1¼ × 1⅛ inches,
Theodore B. Starr, stamped, NY, NY, circa 1900, gift of Jacqueline Loewe Fowler, 2013. Image in public domain, courtesy metmuseum.org

Egyptian Revival, a European artistic style dating from the early 19th century, was inspired by Napoleon’s conquest of Ottoman Egypt and Admiral Nelson’s Battle of the Nile. As volumes documenting Egyptian architecture, antiquities and natural history appeared, with sketches of the Near East’s exotic sights and mysterious symbols, the West’s fascination with this ancient culture grew. Egyptomania, obsession with Egyptian antiquities, increased further in 1820, when translation of the Rosetta Stone led to deciphering ancient hieroglyphics – opening another window into the art and culture of that fascinating world. 

Initially, grand Egyptian-inspired sculptures and architectural elements arose in Paris and London. Toward the end of the century, however, stylized Egyptian motifs embellished a variety of functional and ornamental objects, as well.  

Red stoneware Wedgewood teapots and underplates, for example, often depicted images of winged sphinxes, crocodiles and canopic jars. Silverplated pots bore curlicued, engraved cartouches, elegantly draped plinths, or images of sacred ibis birds which represented rebirth. 

Pairs of tall, tapering marble, slate, or onyx obelisks depicted graceful palm fronds, trumpeted flowers, medallions, sphinxes, and hieroglyphics, in addition to images of scarab beetles, which the Egyptians associated with the life-giving sun. Smaller obelisks often flanked marble and bronze clock garnitures – three-piece, matched sets designed for mantlepieces. Highly stylized settees, armchairs, desks, tables, and sarcophagus-shaped caskets often bore images that could be seen in Egyptian tomb paintings.  

Armchair and sidechair, rosewood with prickly juniper veneer, 37 x 27½ x 27½ inches, attributed to Pottier and Stymus, New York City, circa 1870-75. Image in public domain, courtesy metmuseum.org

 

After the American Civil War and the inauguration of the Suez Canal (1869), exotic, Egyptian-style furniture also charmed Americans. Their hand-carved cabinets, credenzas, sideboards, and “parlor suites” often featured gold-painted cuffs and collars along with carved or bronze-mounted lion masks, sphinxes, ceremonial headdresses, or palm-frond details. Most surviving post-Civil War-era pieces are associated with the famed furniture design company, Pottier and Stymus. Their opulent rosewood armchair with prickly juniper veneer, for example, featured gilt-brass sphinxes and nailed-bead moldings, along with an abundance of gilt-engraved accents and painted medallions. 

Egyptian Revival garniture set featuring slate/marble clock and marble pillars, marked with Japy Freres seal, circa 1880s, France, clock 17 x 16 inches, pillars 20 x 6½ inches. Sold for $1,400+ buyer’s premium in 2021. Image courtesy Akiba Antiques and LiveAuctioneers

 

By the turn of the century, Tiffany & Co., was marketing a number of Egyptian Revival decorative objects, including clock garnitures, glass powder containers coiled with gold-wash sterling snakes, and gold-wash coffee spoons featuring bright, striped Egypt-evocative enamel detail. Additionally, Tiffany adorned some of their simple bronze candelabras with images of ibises and lotus flowers, symbolizing creation and rebirth. 

Other pieces of the period – like Theodore B. Starr’s gold and enamel brooch depicting an Egyptian-clad figure playing a falcon-headed amethyst-scarab harp above a coiled-snake plinth – spared no expense with their luxurious details.

Archaeologist Howard Carter’s discovery of King Tutankhamun’s treasure-filled tomb in 1922, which was celebrated in newspapers, newsreels and on the silver screen, sparked a renewed interest in Egyptomania. Over time, Ancient Egypt’s ancient motifs and symbols permeated all aspects of modern culture, including architecture, theater, literature, and the decorative arts. Bookends, vases, jardinières, andirons, busts, and finely embroidered tapestries depicted an abundance of Egyptian motifs. Fashionistas of the day caught the Egyptian Revival bug and often carried lustrous, Egyptian-motif celluloid or micro-beaded evening bags. 

Egyptian-themed woven tapestry featuring gilt metal thread, approximately 46½ wide x 48 inches long, 1920s. Sold for $325 + buyer’s premium in 2017. Image courtesy of Blackwell Auctions and LiveAuctioneers

Egyptian Revival design also became an integral aspect of Art Deco, a sleek, geometric style melding ingenuity and fine artistry with precious materials. As a result, gleaming gilt images of pharaohs, royal headdresses, winged sphinxes, and pyramids adorned wall plaques, perfume bottles, belt buckles, lamp bases, cigarette cases, and sconces. 

In addition, fine jewelers, including Tiffany, Cartier, and Van Cleef & Arpels, created Egyptian Revival bracelets, beaded bib necklaces, earrings, rings, pendants, bar pins and hatpins. Many bore gilded mummy, sphinx, snake, hieroglyphic, pyramid or plump, rounded scarab motifs. 

Art Deco Egyptian Revival moonstone and diamond scarab brooch, France, wings set with buff-top onyx, with various old-cut European diamonds, platinum mount, 1 7/8 inches, guarantee stamps. Sold for $9,500 + buyer’s premium in 2021. Image courtesy Skinner and LiveAuctioneers

Art Deco winged scarab brooches resembling beetles in flight were, perhaps, the most popular of all jewelry designs. Simple gold or silver models often featured carved hardstone “bodies” with delicate, stylized champlevé or plique-à-jour wings. Exquisite beauties featuring moonstone and onyx bodies tipped with old European-, rose-, baguette- or fancy-cut European diamond wings were the most extravagant creations of the period. Those now-classic creations, which are favorites in auction rooms worldwide, shimmer like their inspiration: the sun.

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Elegant antiques await discovery in Jan. 4 ‘Cerca Trova’ auction

“Cerca Trova” is a centuries-old Italian phrase, credited to Giorgio Vasari, which translates to “seek and you shall find.” Jasper52‘s January 4 Cerca Trova sale promises 393 lots that you will suddenly realize you want upon seeing them. The auction, which will commence on Tuesday, January 4 at 8 pm EST features delights ranging from a 19th-century Rococo console with mirror; a pair of cups by Christofle; cupboards and commodes; toothpick holders fashioned from silver; a gramophone with a brass-covered wooden horn; a miniature Japanese porcelain tea set; a 16th-century oil-on-copper painting of the Pieta, or the Virgin Mary holding the body of the deceased Christ; a bronze table clock; a unique 19th-century piece by Baccarat; steamer trunks for travel; a lacquered Showa Period (1926-1989) ikebana vase; wooden models of sailboats; cloisonne pots; a faience tureen; several sets of chairs designed by Angelo Pinaffo; a bronze mortar with pestle; books and coins; an erotic pocket watch in a silver case; religious lithographs; and a 20th-century suite of furniture featuring a settee and two armchairs with sumptuously carved and gilded wood.

19th-century Rococo console with mirror, est. $6,000-$7,000

View the auction here.

Learn more about the auction on Auction Central News.

Marble bust of Julius Caesar among top pieces in Dec. 22 auction

On Wednesday, December 22, starting at 7 pm Eastern time, Jasper52 will offer a sale of Exquisite Decorative Arts. Its more than 300 lots will include a circa-1960s abstract work by the late American artist Betty Parsons; a bronze cloisonne incense burner; a miniature sterling silver English tea and coffee set, intended for a doll house; a clock decorated with rearing horses carved from Baltic amber; a pair of Gucci crystal brandy snifters housed in a box lined with green velvet; a Gorham sterling silver centerpiece bowl for fruit; a bust of Caesar fashioned from several varieties of marble; a carved Chinese green jade perfume bottle; Murano glass paperweights; and a small Soviet porcelain plate featuring an image of cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin.

Multicolored marble bust of Julius Caesar, est. $5,500-$7,000

View the auction here.

Putting a spin on it: The delights of agateware

A Staffordshire white salt-glazed stoneware solid agate cat figure realized $1,300 plus the buyer’s premium in November 2018. Image courtesy of Leland Little Auctions and LiveAuctioneers

Agateware stoneware or earthenware pottery featuring whirls of contrasting clays mimics natural agate, a gemstone once prized in jewelry across the Near East, Greece, and Rome. Allan Anawati, Director of Medusa-Arts Gallery, explains, “In those times, similar pieces produced in glass or bronze would have been valued at a fraction of their price. Agate was, more or less, reserved for the elites.” 

A circa-323-31 BCE Greek Hellenistic period pendant featuring a white and reddish-brown agate bead realized £275,000 ($368,041) plus the buyer’s premium in January 2021. Image courtesy of Apollo Galleries and LiveAuctioneers

Pieces designed to replicate agate have been discovered at 8th-century Tang dynasty burial sites. Yet Staffordshire English potters, perhaps inspired by polished pebbles displayed in gentlemen’s cabinets of curiosity, did not create similar ones until the 1670s. 

A circa-1750 English Pecten shell teapot with griffin finial achieved $6,500 plus the buyer’s premium in January 2020. Image courtesy of Nye & Company and LiveAuctioneers

Unlike mugs and jugs which are marbleized on their surface, agateware featured identical patterns inside and out. In laid agateware pieces, components were produced before determining their forms. Initially, bands of light and dark clays were laid alternately, one upon the next, as a baker would when constructing a layer cake. Clays had to be chosen carefully, because despite differing densities, shrinkage rates, plasticity, elasticity, strength and firing temperatures, the whole had to kiln-dry evenly to succeed. Following that step, these so-called “layer cakes” were laboriously and repetitively processed into patterned sheets that emulated the desired scale and complexity of natural agate swirls. 

After that, potters carefully pressed completed sheets into delicate molds, one for each vessel component. An agateware pectin shell-shaped teapot, for instance, required separate molds for its finial, lid, body, spout, handle and feet. Once assembled, agateware products were lead- or salt-glazed to a high finish. 

A late 19th-century Staffordshire agate hexagonal pitcher, attributed to John Thomas and Joshua Mayer, sold for $150 plus the buyer’s premium in August 2020. Image courtesy of Jeffrey S. Evans & Associates and LiveAuctioneers

Thrown agate, the other technique for creating agateware, was formed by shaping stacked and restacked clays into balls, then throwing them on the potter’s wheel and shaping them into bowls, platters and the like. Though lathe trimming revealed their striped, spiraling patterns to great effect, thrown agateware was thicker and coarser than laid agateware. 

In the 1740s, Thomas Whieldon, a Stoke-on-Trent Staffordshire potter, refined agateware production further by staining white clays with oxide pigments. His accounts note small numbers of bowls, tureens, ewers, sugar dishes, plates, trinkets and hollowware teapots and coffeepots, some resembling silver and pewterware designs of the day. Because surviving pieces are unmarked, however, determining attribution is difficult. 

A pair of partial gilt agateware urns, marked WEDGWOOD and various potters’ marks, realized $4,000 plus the buyer’s premium in June 2019. Image courtesy of Heritage Auctions and LiveAuctioneers

A decade later, the well-renowned Whieldon partnered with young Josiah Wedgewood. On establishing a pottery of his own, Wedgwood applied Whieldon’s agateware techniques to his opulent neo-classical urns and vases. Other Staffordshire potters, including Thomas Astbury, Daniel Bird, Ralph Wood, John Thomas and Joshua Mayer also created agateware. So did the Spode Pottery, notably during their Copeland & Garrett period (1833-1847). 

A mid-19th-century English agateware lobe-rimmed bowl with splayed foot, attributed to Copeland & Garrett, made $800 plus the buyer’s premium in July 2021. Image courtesy of Brunk Auctions and LiveAuctioneers

Because of the exacting demands of production, most pieces of agateware were small, and took the forms of snuff boxes, sauce boats, cutlery handles, pickle trays, tea wares and charming animal figurines. The smallest of all, however, were agateware marbles, which might have been meant to replicate fashionable natural marble spheres that wealthy 18th-century travelers acquired during a Grand Tour of Europe.

A group of five agateware marbles, offered as one lot, sold for $300 plus the buyer’s premium in March 2016. Image courtesy of Dan Morphy Auctions and LiveAuctioneers

Some may find delicate, kaleidoscope-swirled agateware too dizzying to gaze upon. Others who delight in their richness, refined beauty and colorful backstory prize them as true ceramic gems. 

Exquisite decorative arts abound in Nov. 3 online auction

It’s astonishing what the right thing in the right place can do for the look and feel of an interior. Some pieces are functional and become beloved household objects and even heirlooms. Others might have been purpose-made for a specific task that was rendered obsolete generations ago. Still others, from the moment of their conception, had the sole job of looking beautiful and bringing joy. On Wednesday, November 3, starting at 7 pm Eastern time, Jasper52 will hold an auction titled Exquisite Decorative Arts, containing 353 lots of objects, keepsakes, and perfect little touches that make a room sing.

https://www.liveauctioneers.com/news/auctions/upcoming-auctions/exquisite-decorative-arts-abound-in-nov-3-online-auction/

View the auction here.

Learn more about the auction on Auction Central News.

Trapunto takes quilting into the third dimension

Trapunto work highlights this Italian 17th-century textile that sold as a panel for $550 plus the buyer’s premium in June 2019 at Michaan’s Auctions. Image courtesy of Michaan’s Auctions and LiveAuctioneers.

Trapunto an Italian word that means “to quilt” or “embroider” takes the fine art of quilting to a higher level. Since the 13th century in Italy, textile artists have employed the trapunto technique – with includes the use of excess soft material – to highlight certain areas of a quilt’s pattern.

Trapunto literally takes quilting into a third dimension. Padding a quilt trapunto-style makes its colors more vibrant, its patterns more mesmerizing, and imbues the whole design with a tactile quality that goes beyond what a standard quilt can offer.

The three-dimensional effect of trapunto quilting is strong in this early 19th century white-on-white quilt. It sold for $2,500 plus the buyer’s premium in March 2021 at John McInnis Auctioneers, LLC. Image courtesy of John McInnis Auctioneers and LiveAuctioneers

When the trapunto method is used, sewn flowers seem to emerge from the stitched garden, and stars, moons, and cloud patterns appear more lifelike. The final result is still as cozy and as inviting as a traditional quilt, but it renders a greater depth of feeling when your hands and eyes pass over its raised curves, peaks and valleys.

How It’s Done

The process of trapunto is a form of quilting, but instead of the traditional three flat layers (the stitched pattern of fabric on top; the batting (stuffing), or middle cushion of fabric; and the backing that ties it all together), the batting is increased to produce a raised surface in select parts of the pattern or motif. FaveQuilts.com says that trapunto “…patterns are intricate and visually stunning, utilizing the texture of the pattern instead of fabric color to make the design pop. Thick yarn or cotton is stuffed into the shape between the top and the batting using a needle. This puffs up the shape, giving the quilt a three-dimensional texture.”

This set of seven Japanese silk fabric trapunto scenes depicting traditional artisans at work sold for $2,100 plus the buyer’s premium in February 2021 at Converse Auctions. Image courtesy of Converse Auctions and LiveAuctioneers.

Trapunto quilts are not uniform in technique or production, however. Subtle distinctions can help pinpoint the specific type of needlework and period in which a piece was made.

Provençal and Boutis Quilting

Provençal quilting relies on only two layers of cloth, with no wadding in between; the stitching alone yields the final pattern or motif instead of uniting separate pieces of material to create a pattern, as in traditional quilting. The stitches in Provençal quilting are placed closer together to form smaller spaces or channels into which rolled yarn is inserted with a special needle called a “boutis” to form the raised surface.

This process of trapunto is called pique marseillais and was developed in the early 18th century in Marseilles, in the Provençal region of France.

This late 19th-century example of boutis quilting sold for $625 plus the buyer’s premium at Copake Auctions in January 2021. Image courtesy of Copake Auctions and LiveAuctioneers

Boutis quilting is another type of trapunto from the Marseilles region of France. It is similar to the Provençal technique, but it dates to the 19th century. It involves two layers of cloth and requires the addition of stuffing after the running stitch has been completed.

An early 19th-century corded whitework quilted bedcover sold for $200 plus the buyer’s premium at Augusta Auctions in May 2021. Image courtesy of Augusta Auctions and LiveAuctioneers

Corded Quilting 

The corded quilting technique is similar to boutis quilting, except the trapunto effect is created with a very thick thread or cord that is inserted between a double outline of thread (called stipling) from the back. This so-called “cording” is also used to frame, separate and create individual patterns within the quilt itself. It produces a heavier relief effect than the softer, more pliable yarn used in boutis quilting.

Sailor’s woolworks

While not necessarily considered trapunto in its usual definition, woolworks are forms of needlework or embroidery enhanced with layers of yarn that creates the same visual effect as trapunto.

A Victorian British sailor knitted this ‘woolie’ circa 1880 with trapunto roses, thistles and royal crown. It realized $1,250 plus the buyer’s premium in August 2020 at Rafael Osona Auctions. Image courtesy of Rafael Osona Auctions and LiveAuctioneers

During the age of sailing ships, from 1830 to 1920 or so, sailors needed to spend their considerable downtime on long voyages in pursuits other than card-playing and roughhousing. Repairing sails, nets and their own clothing made sailors competent with a needle and thread, so, not surprisingly, they created woolworks or embroidered images of their ship to pass the time. The image of an embroidered ship would feature a buildup of yarn that made it seem as if it was under full sail not unlike trapunto, except the yarn was not hidden by a top layer of material.

During the First World War, soldiers in the trenches employed the same technique to create detailed needlework of flags, pocket pillows, and an embroidered form of souvenir with a place for a photograph that featured the distinctive trapunto effect. These “woolies,” as they are called, are a distinctive collectible category that reflects different levels of artistic talent and expertise.

What Collectors Look For

A textile expert can determine the age of trapunto work by looking directly at the weave of the yarn of the main fabric. An “S” weave has the twist of the yarn going upward from right to left (a detail that predominates in wool and cotton before 1865); a “Z” twist is the opposite, going from left to right (a style that prevailed after 1865).

Colors, motifs, patterns, and manufacturing techniques also play key roles in distinguishing vintage trapunto pieces from more contemporary textiles.

Not Just Quilts

Although trapunto is mostly associated with quilts, examples of the technique appear at auction in the forms of vintage clothing, decorative boxes, and artworks, as well as in military uniforms, drapery, furniture, accessories such as purses, and even on footwear.

A 17th-century bridal box decorated with trapunto and trimmed in silver braid sold for $1,500 plus the buyer’s premium in December 2018 at Willis Henry Auctions, Inc. Image courtesy of Willis Henry Auctions Inc., and LiveAuctioneers

The three-dimensional effect of trapunto adds elegance to simple embroidery that takes time to master. The story inherent in its patterns and colors represents a personal history that keeps you warm and connects one generation to the next; trapunto throws that history into sharp relief.

Raise a glass to the jolly Toby jug

A circa-1937 Royal Doulton character jug known as Black-Haired Clown realized $7,750 plus the buyer’s premium in 2019. Image courtesy of Lion and Unicorn and Live Auctioneers

Toby Jugs are small ceramic drinking vessels that depict fictional, historic or generic characters in full figure and high relief. They originated in mid-18th century Staffordshire, England, an area rich in clay and other natural resources. Early designs feature merry old souls dressed in the standard men’s outfit of the day: frock coat, breeches, waistcoat, and tricorn hat. Invariably, they are shown holding jugs of foamy stingo, a strong, locally-brewed bitter ale. Because the jugs symbolized mirth and merriness, their tubby, bubbly images also graced British inn, pub and tavern signs.

A late 18th-century English pearlware Toby jug sold for $1,500 plus the buyer’s premium in 2010. Image courtesy of Brunk Auctions and LiveAuctioneers

The identity of the Toby who gave Toby Jugs their name remains unclear. Some believe it references Sir Toby Belch, a spirited character in Shakespeare’s play Twelfth Night. Others say it likely acknowledges a legendary local tippler named Toby Philpot. Supporting the latter theory is a rollicking 1761 drinking song that celebrates the transformation of Philpot’s mortal ashes into a jug: 

Dear Sir this brown jug, which now foams with mild ale, 

Out of which I now drink to sweet Kate of the vale, 

Was once Toby Philpot, a thirsty old soul,

As e’er crack’d a bottle or fathom’d a bowl. 

Clothing depicted on early Toby Jugs reflected the typical attire of the day. As times changed, so did the porcelain materials and methods of production. Pale, delicate creamware Toby jugs gave way to blue-tinged pearlware and brighter Prattware versions. Agateware Tobys, featuring alluring marble-like surfaces, and brown, salt-glazed stoneware treacle Tobys, their glazes resembling the sticky byproduct of sugar refining Americans know as molasses, were also popular.

A circa-1800 English pearlware Sailor Toby Jug realized £700 ($969) plus the buyer’s premium in 2014. Image courtesy Dreweatts Donnington Priory and LiveAuctioneers

Designs varied as well. So-called “ordinary” Tobys grasp their knees, hug jugs, puff pipes, or balance on barrels, and some of the bases feature inscriptions, such as ‘’Good Ale is Made for the Use of Men so fill Ould Tobe Once Again.” Another subgroup of Toby Jugs reflects common professions and pastimes of 18th-century British life: sailor, squire, snuff taker, parson, and collier. Still another iteration, Martha Gunn Tobys, immortalize a strong, stalwart Englishwoman who gained fame from her operation of a seashore bathing machine called a ‘dipper.’ 

Some Toby jugs can be purchased quite inexpensively. An early 19th-century Staffordshire Martha Gunn Toby Jug sold for CA$75 plus the buyer’s premium in 2021. Image courtesy Waddington’s Auctioneers and Appraisers and LiveAuctioneers

 

As Toby Jug popularity soared, French potters riffed on the form by creating delicate faience models glistening with tin-oxide glaze. Potters in Portugal, Britain, Germany, Australia, and America subsequently contributed bright lead-glazed majolica models. In addition to popular, political, and literary types such as the barrister, the Quaker, and the lady with a fan, many Toby Jugs portray droll characters based on well-known songs and stories. 

A circa-1900 French faience Snuff Taker Toby jug achieved $150 plus the buyer’s premium in 2009. Image courtesy Skinner and LiveAuctioneers

In the mid-1800s, Royal Doulton, a leading British producer of porcelain, introduced its own spin on the Toby Jug: character jugs. Instead of featuring seated or standing full figures, the Royal Doulton character jugs depict just heads and shoulders. Initially, these bust-form jugs portrayed Lord Nelson, a British naval hero, as well as zippy tipplers astride barrels marked XX. Other Doulton Tobys portrayed famed literary, political, and popular characters, from Geoffrey Chaucer and Charles Dickens to Theodore Roosevelt and Charlie Chaplin.

During the 20th century, more than 200 potteries, including Sarreguemines, Royal Bayreuth, Royal Worcester and Wedgwood, produced a variety of Toby and Toby-like jugs. Shorter & Son alone introduced more than 100 types, including traditional favorites such as Old King Cole, Old Father Neptune, and Long John Silver. 

In the 1930s, Royal Doulton introduced their first modern character jug. It resembled John Barleycorn, the British personification of malt liquor. Old Charley, honoring watchmen who kept law and order, joined him, followed by scores more. All told, the company created more than 600 Toby and character jugs. In addition, Doulton produced limited numbers of novel Toby derivatives such as tobacco jars, match-stands, music boxes, bookends, decanters and candlesticks. 

Toby and character jug production thrived through the 1980s, with independent artists and innovative potteries issuing a range of appealing models. Many celebrate literary heroes such as Robin Hood and Robinson Crusoe. Others welcomed the 21st century with more up-to-date pop-culture and historical figures, among them Paul McCartney, Marilyn Monroe, Barack Obama and Tweety Bird. While the shapes and styles of Toby jugs have changed, they have lost none of their appeal. Collectors are likely to chase them for centuries to come.

Jasper52 to hold Exquisite Decorative Arts sale, Sept. 1

Decorative arts objects represent the pinnacle of luxury. There’s something inherently decadent about buying something that serves no purpose except to sit there in a corner or on a shelf and look pretty. That’s it, that’s it’s job – to look pretty, and to make you happy.

On September 1, starting at 7 pm Eastern time, Jasper52 will hold an 141-lot sale of Exquisite Decorative Arts.

Michel Decoux, ‘Hunter With Bow Chasing Two Deer,’ circa 1918, est. $9,000-$11,000

View the auction here.

Learn more about the auction on Auction Central News.

RUBY GLASS: A RHAPSODY IN RED

Circa-1700 gold ruby glass perfume bottle, French or German, with 14K gold stopper. Sold for $650 plus the buyer’s premium in 2015. Image courtesy of Brunk Auctions and LiveAuctioneers

According to legend, ruby-red glass was discovered when a noble tossed a gold coin into a batch of molten glass. In reality, it probably happened when glassworkers unintentionally contaminated batches with traces of gold residue or gold nanoparticles that were components of silver additives.

The earliest known ruby glass vessels date from the late Roman Empire and rival the beauty of intricately carved gems. Yet their appeal along with the secret of their creation faded within a century.

More than a millennium passed before the quest for ruby glass was taken up anew. Antonio Neri, a 16th-century Florentine glassmaker, experimented with magnesium oxide and copper, a red pigment used for cathedral windows. Further investigation revealed that when clear molten glass is imbued with gold salts (known as chlorides) and re-heated, it assumes a range of jewel-like pink-to-red hues. Better still, the amount of gold needed for even the darkest, deepest red is infinitestimal.

Ruby glass perfume bottle with gold painted highlights. Sold for $4,500 plus the buyer’s premium in 2020. Image courtesy of Dan Morphy Auctions and Live Auctioneers

The first European to produce large, evenly-colored, deep red vessels was Johann Kunckel, a 17th-century glassmaker, chemist, and “alchymist,” which is an archaic spelling for “alchemist.” Alchymists had long sought the fabled Philosopher’s Stone, a transparent, glossy red substance deemed essential for transmuting base metals into gold. For hunters of the Philosopher’s Stone, discovering how to create gold ruby glass was not only highly significant, it was wondrous.

Gold ruby glass masterpieces created under Brandenburg patronage feature an extensive amount of cut decoration, such as arches and pointed leaves carved into the glass or features that stand out, dramatically, in relief. The Corning Glass website states, “Seldom has cut decoration been so organically modeled, seemingly floating on the surface.” By the early 1700s, nearly every central European sovereign owned several costly, finely crafted ruby glass goblets, footed beakers, and tankards.

Steuben art glass dresser or vanity jar with Cerise Ruby design and butterfly lid. Sold for $220 plus the buyer’s premium in 2011. Image courtesy of Auctions Neapolitan and LiveAuctioneers

Around the same time, glassworkers in southern Germany were creating simpler, less masterly red-raspberry-hued vessels in forms such as bottles, boxes, and bowls. Many were assembled from gilded-metal mounts and glass components, and some served a dual purpose. For example, certain plates and saucers, when flipped, resembled covers. Beakers were made that looked like bowls, and knobs often formed finials or sections of glassware stems. While the provenance of Southern German ruby glass remains elusive, their uniform appearance suggests a single source.

Bohemian ruby glass epergne (centerpiece). Sold for $4,000 plus the buyer’s premium in 2015. Image courtesy of Austin Auction Gallery and LiveAuctioneers

Interest in gold ruby glassware waned by the early 1800s. However, decades later, Friedrich Egermann, a Bohemian glass decorator, discovered that copper additives would stain glass surfaces a deep red. Sales of ruby glass made with copper soared. Because these pieces were inexpensive enough for mass production but had the appearance of gold ruby glass, they eventually dominated the European market.

Victorian tea warmer with scenic dark ruby glass insert in metal frame. Sold for $400 plus the buyer’s premium in 2021. Image courtesy of Woody Auction LLC and LiveAuctioneers

This variety of ruby glass was most fashionable during the Victorian era. After wine-colored wine glasses, decanters, and chandeliers studded with tiny ruby glass drops were featured at London’s 1851 Crystal Palace Exhibition, scores of prosperous homeowners graced their parlors with ruby glass candy bowls, vases and table lamps. Collectors sought ruby glass ground jugs, hinged boxes and tea warmers featuring stylized white enamel paintings of children at play. Others focused on delicate gold-painted ruby glass jars, cologne bottles and vanity sets.

Cranberry-to-clear glass dinner bell attributed to Dorflinger. Sold for $3,000 plus buyer’s premium in 2014. Image courtesy of DuMouchelles and LiveAuctioneers

By the mid-1800s, ruby glass was becoming popular across America, where it was known as cranberry glass. Through 1915, the Dorflinger Glass Company, based in Brooklyn, New York, created popular pattern-cut dinner bells, punch cups, cigar jars and whiskey jugs. The Indiana Glass Company produced ruby-stained and cranberry-to-clear crystal pitchers, tumblers, sherbets, goblets, serving ware and glassware. Soon after, the Fenton Art Glass Company of West Virginia introduced eye-pleasing red wine coolers, decanters and candy dishes, as well as opulent opalescent bowls, compotes, table lamps and epergnes (centerpieces). Steuben Glass, located in Corning, New York, produced fanciful ruby glass ewers, “candy-caned” vanity jars, majestic vases, lamps and more.

Twenty-first century artisans rely on selenium and rare earth elements rather than gold for making ruby glass. But their beguiling hues, ranging from pale pink to blazing red, continue to fire the imagination.

Jasper52 opens cabinet of curiosities, with a French twist, July 13

When the last dessert course had been served, and the servants finished delivering digestifs and cigars, lucky male guests of centuries past might be invited to view their esteemed host’s cabinet of curiosity.

While it might be a literal single cabinet, the richer and high-ranking the host was, the more likely it was to be a room full of cabinets displaying wondrous objects and oddities from around the world. Marquee items might include religious relics; antiquities; meteorites, shells, tusks, skeletons, semi-precious stones, and other natural history items; automata; tribal artifacts and other ethnographic objects; automata; books; works of art; and taxidermy, some of it clearly dubious. Anything that inspired delight and envy could earn a place in a cabinet of curiosity, but if it was rare, expensive, and advertised the intellect and superiority of its owner, all the better.

On July 13, starting at 7 pm Eastern time, Jasper52 will host a French Cabinet de Curiosite sale, featuring 152 lots of things you didn’t know you wanted until they popped up on your screen.

1950 Jean Picart Le Doux silkscreened cotton tapestry, estimated at $1,000-$1,200

View the auction here.

Learn more about the auction on Auction Central News.