Tag Archive for: decorative arts


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Jasper52 present Italian and Murano glass in Sept. 28 auction

An Ermanno Nason vase, a Romano Dona sculpture, and a Murano glass vase-lamp with a Mosaico pattern will compete for top lot status at Jasper52’s Italian and Murano Glass auction, which will be offered on Wednesday, September 28 at noon Eastern time. Absentee and Internet live bidding will be available through LiveAuctioneers.

The sale contains 102 lots, many of which are devoted to pieces by named artists. Among them are a 1970 sculpture by Pino Signoretto, titled Ulisse in Catene; a submerged sculptural fish created in 1950 by Paolo Rubelli; a Silvano Signoretto paperweight dating to the year 2000; and several classical-style sculptures by Alfredo Barbini, such as Discobolo, a figure of a discus-thrower that he finished in 1950.

Romano Dona sculpture, estimated at $1,500-$2,000

View the auction here.

Learn more about the auction on Auction Central News.


A Qianlong-period sandalwood carving of Sakyamuni, founder of the Buddhist religion, achieved NT$950,000 (about $30,500) plus the buyer’s premium in March 2016. Image courtesy of Phoebus Auction Taipei and LiveAuctioneers

Sandalwood ranks among the most valuable hardwoods in the world, as well as the most adaptable. Since ancient times it has been converted into medicine, incense, oil, food, a base for perfume, and raw materials for jewelry, furniture and sculpture. While some varieties of sandalwood are endangered, the tree persists and remains cherished today. 

This large Qing Dynasty sandalwood seal carved in the shape of a mythical beast earned $140,000 plus the buyer’s premium in December 2017. Image courtesy of California Asian Art Auction Gallery USA and LiveAuctioneers

Sandalwood appears in different varieties. White sandalwood is harvested in southern India, Malaysia, Indonesia, Australia and the Hawaiian Islands, mostly for its essence as an aromatic oil. Known scientifically in the genus santalum, it is a hemiparasitic tree, which means it needs to feed off the roots of other trees in order to survive. A mature sandalwood tree can grow to about 50 feet (15 meters) and nearly a foot in diameter (30 cm). When it is harvested, and especially if it is harvested for its oil, the entire tree is uprooted and all of its parts – root, bark and branches – are put to use.

A detailed 17th- or 18th-century Tibetan sandalwood carving of Avalokiteshvara, a Buddhist deity who embodies the compassion of all Buddhas, realized $1,505 plus the buyer’s premium in September 2020.
Image courtesy of Veilinghuis Loeckx and LiveAuctioneers

Most people know of sandalwood as a soft, woodsy scent in perfumes, soaps and incense, but far fewer know that sandalwood oil forms the base for several perfumes because it helps fragrances to last longer – sometimes decades longer. Sandalwood’s essence is contained in its heartwood, the reddish interior of its trunk. To reach it, workers cut away the surrounding bark and white sapwood so the heartwood can be reduced to a powder and distilled into sandalwood essence. Any leftover powder is turned into incense for religious rituals and meditation. 

This complete set of Indian sandalwood chess pieces, featuring the kings on elephants, the knights on horses, and the rooks on camels, sold for $170 plus the buyer’s premium in April 2022. Image courtesy of Neely Auction and LiveAuctioneers

Sandalwood from India has the highest concentration of oil essence and is therefore the most prized of all species. However, because of recent overproduction, the Indian government has passed laws to control its production, making it scarcer. Western Australia grows sandalwood for export, but its oil essence isn’t as potent as that of its Indian counterpart. Australian sandalwood counters this disadvantage through volume. Because its production is less regulated, it is more abundant. About 80% of all sandalwood destined for use as an essential oil, incense or aromatherapy comes from Western Australia.

An elaborate Qing Dynasty Buddha carved from red sandalwood rose to $5,500 plus the buyer’s premium in August 2022. Image courtesy of Asian Antique Group and LiveAuctioneers

Sandalwood’s status as a hardwood renders it ideal for carvings, statues and furniture. The very first statue of Buddha, which dates to the 6th century, is believed to have been carved from sandalwood. Throughout India, sandalwood is still preferred for sculpting intricate figures of Buddha and the other deities seen in the country’s religious shrines. Necklaces, bracelets and other jewelry can be fashioned from sandalwood, providing its wearer a calming, comforting presence throughout the day.

This pair of sandalwood bracelets earned $4,250 plus the buyer’s premium in May 2022. Image courtesy of Southern California Auction Gallery Inc. and LiveAuctioneers

Historically, Indian sandalwood has only occasionally been turned into furniture. You might see vintage sandalwood pieces at auction, but contemporary examples are hard to find. Australia began exporting sandalwood in the 1990s, but usually in the form of logs, branches and roots, not finished products.

A 19th-century Indian sandalwood table sold for $800 plus the buyer’s premium in February 2022. Image courtesy of Hindman and LiveAuctioneers

Apart from Indian sandalwood, the other major form of the hardwood is red sandalwood, which is also known as zitan. Favored by China during the Qing Dynasty period (1644-1911), it was transformed by artisans into furniture, boxes, musical instruments and all manner of decorative objects. The royal throne of the Chinese emperors in the Forbidden City is carved from brilliant red sandalwood. Today, red sandalwood is classified as an endangered species on the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s (IUCN) Red List. Therefore, the only responsible way to own objects crafted from red sandalwood, or zitan, is to acquire antique or vintage productions from reputable sellers.

A Chinese sandalwood bowed, two-stringed vertical fiddle known as an erhu attained $1,900 plus the buyer’s premium in November 2020. Image courtesy of New York Auction House Inc. and LiveAuctioneers

Most sandalwood objects offered at auction feature an Indian, Japanese or Chinese theme, as the hardwood plays an integral part in most Asian religions and their ceremonies. It has earned it the moniker the Tree of Life. In fact, Tipu Sultan, who ruled the region of Mysore in South India from 1782 to 1799, gave Indian sandalwood royal status for its healing properties, economic benefits, and otherworldly connections.

A Qing Dynasty red sandalwood master chair, a three-piece set, achieved ¥26,000,000 (about $180,000) plus the buyer’s premium in August 2022. Image courtesy of Ancient Art Tokyo and LiveAuctioneers

Whether white or red, sandalwood delivers delight in more than a dozen forms. Every part of the tree is used and every part contributes to its everlasting service to everyone. Truly, it is a giving tree.

Jasper52 showcases Antique to Modern Sterling Silver, Sept. 14

On Wednesday, September 14, starting at 3 pm Eastern time, Jasper52 will present a sale of Antique to Modern Sterling Silver, consisting of precisely 133 lots. Absentee and Internet live bidding will be available through LiveAuctioneers.

Treasures on offer include a set of eight Georg Jensen goblets in hammered sterling silver; a Reed & Barton Art Nouveau five-arm silverplate epergne centerpiece; a late 19th-century large oval dresser box by George Roth, festooned with a courting scene; a sterling silver water pitcher by Priesner; a mid-century sterling silver Revere bowl by Tiffany & Co.; and a 19th-century chatelaine fob in the form of a ram’s horn.

Large antique sterling silver basket, est. $2,000-$2,500

View the auction here.

Learn more about the auction on Auction Central News.

Bamboo, rattan and wicker: firmly planted in history

A set of furniture from Gabriella Crespi’s Rising Sun series – six chairs and two armchairs made from bamboo, wicker and fabric – achieved €41,000 (about $41,800) plus the buyer’s premium in July 2022. Image courtesy of Piasa and LiveAuctioneers

Bamboo and rattan test the limits of belief. The former is a grass which, when used as a building material, can be stronger than mahogany, while the latter is a vine that can be fashioned into comfortable and stylish furniture. When woven together, bamboo and rattan become a third wonderful material: wicker. These seemingly fragile plants are remarkably versatile, and they are also the stuff of beautiful, museum-quality artwork.

An undated carved Chinese bamboo vase earned $47,500 plus the buyer’s premium in June 2017. Image courtesy of Clars Auction Gallery and LiveAuctioneers

Bamboo is considered an evergreen perennial of the grass family poaceae.  Genetically, it’s not unlike the grass on your lawn or in nearby meadows. Giant bamboo, a subspecies strong enough for use in construction, is harvested by hand in Asia. It can grow to 30 meters, or nearly 100 feet, at the rate of an inch and a half per hour, making it the fastest-growing plant in the world. As mentioned above, mature bamboo can match or exceed the strength of mahogany. Because it is hollow, it cannot be bent, even under extreme heat.

A mottled bamboo tea ceremony shelf attained $47,500 plus the buyer’s premium against an estimate of $1,500-$3,500 in July 2020. Image courtesy of Cardale Auctioneers and LiveAuctioneers

More than 600 species of bamboo grow throughout Japan. Traditionally, it has been used for drainpipes and general framing as well as religious and social purposes, such as in tea services (sets) made entirely from the hardy grass. Several dedicated bamboo guilds in Japan are recognized for their artistic works in the organic medium, which extends to musical instruments, textiles and even martial arts.

This set of eight mid-century slat-leg rattan chairs realized $55,000 plus the buyer’s premium in May 2022. Image courtesy of Bidhaus and LiveAuctioneers

Rattan is a vine, or more accurately, a climbing palm of the subfamily calamoideae. Rattan roots itself in the ground and uses spines to attach to trees so it can climb upward to seek sunlight. Found mostly in the wild tropical forests of Southeast Asia, rattan can only be harvested by hand, a task embraced by small, independent farmers. Rattan’s diameter is never more than about two inches wide and it is solid throughout, yet it is as strong as bamboo. The key difference between the two is rattan is thinner and can be bent and shaped when subjected to extreme heat, which makes it suitable for furniture production.

An Hermes Mini Picnic Kelly in osier, aka wicker, adorned with rouge de couer swift leather and palladium hardware, brought $40,000 plus the buyer’s premium in July 2020. Image courtesy of Greenwich Luxury Auctions and LiveAuctioneers

Wicker, which takes the best qualities of both bamboo and rattan, in used in a myriad of products. Possibly taking its name from the Swedish verb meaning “to fold,” wicker is created by using the outer layer of the rattan vine, known as the cane, to bind the bamboo and the rattan into one piece. Wicker is not a plant in and of itself; it is an ancient means of weaving.

Wicker is only one expression of the strength and beauty of bamboo and rattan. Over the centuries, both plant materials have been featured in paintings, sculpture, carvings, tableware, jewelry and a wide range of objets d’art. 

Japanese literature celebrates the plum, pinecone and bamboo as the ‘Three Friends of Winter’ for their ability to withstand the bitter cold. This blue and white ceramic baluster jar depicting the Three Friends of Winter sold for €11,000 (about $11,200) plus the buyer’s premium in October 2021. Image courtesy of Galerie Zacke and LiveAuctioneers

Celebrated in Japanese literature as a symbol for steadfastness, bamboo, along with the pine cone and the plum, is one of the “Three Friends of Winter,” a trio famed for its hardiness during cold winter months. China recognizes bamboo as a symbol of uprightness and celebrates it as one of the “Four Gentleman,” or the four seasons, which also include the plum blossom, the chrysanthemum and the orchid. Bamboo has been a part of everyday Chinese life since antiquity, and is lionized in Chinese poetry as a symbol of personal strength. About 300 species of bamboo appear throughout China, where they are used to create baskets, housing, fences, traditional medicines, and a broad range of household furnishings. 

A rattan monkey sculpture by Mario Lopez Torres earned $1,100 plus the buyer’s premium in June 2022. Image courtesy of DejaVu Estate Sales and Auctions, LLC and LiveAuctioneers

Rattan possesses thorns that make it tricky to harvest, and it is hard to reach as well, growing deep within the tropical forests of Southeast Asia. Would-be rattan harvesters must also contend with resident wild animals. Despite these challenges, rattan is relied upon for making mundane goods such as baskets, furniture, incense sticks, walking canes and serving tools. It is also transformed into polo mallets and beaten into textiles that ultimately become clothing.

In addition to their practical uses, there is a thriving contemporary art market for bamboo and rattan sculpture at auction. Sopheap Pich, a former painter, now creates one-of-a-kind pieces for exhibit at the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Guggenheim Museum. When an interviewer from theculturetrip.com asked the Cambodian artist why he enjoys working with bamboo and rattan, Pich said, “Making a three-dimensional object is different for me in that I am making something real as opposed to making a kind of illusion on a flat surface … I was concentrating on learning how to build a sculpture and testing my ability to bring something to the finished work.” 

Sculptor Tom Dixon combined rattan and bamboo to create a full-scale wicker Harley-Davidson motorcycle complete with saddlebags. It sold for $950 plus the buyer’s premium in September 2020. Note how the bamboo remains straight and unbroken, while the rattan easily creates round curves, with cane holding the shapes in place. Image courtesy of Billings and LiveAuctioneers

Another contemporary artist who works in bamboo and rattan is Tom Dixon, a Palm Beach, Florida, resident who earned fame for creating a wicker sculpture replicating a full-scale Harley-Davidson motorcycle, complete with saddlebags. The piece is so realistic, it’s easy to imagine yourself donning a helmet, hopping aboard and driving off. 

Hayakawa Shokosai V, a fifth-generation weaver of bamboo and rattan, created this basket and dubbed it ‘Line Constructed Layered Rings.’ It realized $15,000 plus the buyer’s premium in May 2018. Image courtesy of Rago Arts and Auction Center and LiveAuctioneers

Notable artists who have worked with bamboo and rattan include Hayakawa Shokusai I, a 19th-century basket weaver who twisted thin bamboo strands into unique shapes. He also signed his work, a practice his namesake sons and grandsons continue with their own bamboo work. Another well-respected name in this realm is contemporary Japanese artist Tanaka Kyokusho, who juxtaposes bamboo and black accents in forms that reflect the ancient art of bamboo sculpture. 

A pair of Paavo Tynell-designed floor lamps made from rattan, brass and wood strips commanded €71,000 ($72,490) plus the buyer’s premium against an estimate of €14,000-€18,000 ($14,295-$18,380) in March 2022. Image courtesy of Piasa and LiveAuctioneers

Depictions of wicker, bamboo and rattan in paintings, haiku, glassware, porcelain and even furniture showcase them as symbols of strength and adaptability that persevere in the most trying of circumstances. The hardy grasses of bamboo and the sturdy vines of rattan endure the hardships inflicted by nature, and we can honor their strength by employing them as renewable resources. 

Whether made from bamboo, rattan, or a weave that transforms the two into wicker, we can all enjoy works made from these plants, no matter where we are from or how sophisticated we might be. 

Clementine Hunter wedding scene a highlight of Jasper52’s July 6 auction

Paintings by Georges Clairin, Clementine Hunter and G. Campbell Lyman should all earn top lot status at Jasper52’s Fine Prints, Paintings, and Decorative Arts auction, which will take place at noon on Wednesday, July 6. Absentee and Internet live bidding will be available through LiveAuctioneers.

The lineup contains more than 300 lots, certain to contain something you didn’t know you wanted until you see it. Also featured are landscapes by Alexander Drysdale; a Leroy Neiman serigraph of a Paris scene; a few Blue Dog images by George Rodrigue; and a large Gunner Dongieux 2019 painting that depicts the interior of a New Orleans streetcar. Nudes are available in abundance, most notably in the form of the stylized figures shown in Robert Gordy’s Red Sofa #2.

Clementine Hunter, ‘Wedding,’ est. $15,000-$18,000

View the auction here.

Learn more about the auction on Auction Central News.

Jasper52 invites you to beautify your home, June 1

On Wednesday, June 1, starting at 8 pm Eastern time, Jasper52 will present a sale of Furniture, Home Decor and Collectibles. Consisting of almost 300 lots, it truly contains something for everyone.

Circa-1960s steelcase swivel Pollack-style office chairs, est. $1,100-$1,500

View the auction here.

Learn more about the auction on Auction Central News.

Toleware: both useful and beautiful

An early 19th-century tin toleware lighthouse coffee pot with a gooseneck spout realized $16,000 plus the buyer’s premium in April 2011. Image courtesy of Pook & Pook, Inc., and LiveAuctioneers

Toleware, a term for tinned objects that have been paint-decorated and lacquered, usually with charming folk motifs, originated in 17th-century Wales. Although early examples were utilitarian in nature, many were decorated to imitate exotic Asian lacquerware imports, especially those from Japan. Cups, pans, pails, coffee pots and other standard household items boasted fanciful chinoiserie-style designs against shiny black “japanned” (aka lacquered) grounds. 

This eight-piece Regency period parcel gilt toleware service sold for €1,800 (roughly $1,900) plus the buyer’s premium in June 2015. Image courtesy of Sheppard’s Irish Auction House and LiveAuctioneers

British “whitesmiths,” a term coined to mean tinsmiths, worked magic through the medium of toleware. With a thin tin coating and a deft creative hand, any humble household item could be transformed into a durable, decorative statement. As toleware became more fashionable, British whitesmiths created pieces that held higher regard in the home, such as wine coolers and molasses dispensers. 

A Victorian toleware molasses dispenser with front panels featuring a British coat of arms sold for £500 (about $653) plus the buyer’s premium in December 2020. Image courtesy of Lyon & Turnbull and LiveAuctioneers

With the advent of roller mills, which pressed smelted iron bars into thin sheets ready for tinning, production of basic flat household toleware pieces soared. Through the mid-18th-century, both toleware and pressed tinned sheets were exported to the Colonies. Edward and William Pattison, enterprising whitesmiths based outside of Hartford, Connecticut, created similar kitchen wares of their own. Their business flourished as they took a business-to-consumer approach, peddling their fanciful wares door to door. 

This circa-1840 New England toleware document box earned $240 plus the buyer’s premium in February 2019. Image courtesy of the New Hampshire Antique Dealers Association and LiveAuctioneers

After the Revolutionary War, family-run toleware workshops also arose in Maine, New York and Pennsylvania. Simple, useful items were always in demand, but some whitesmiths graced more ornate creations with cut, punched, pierced, gilt, beaded, flat or raised details. They enlisted their wives and daughters to add freehand painted floral images in a process commonly known as “flowering.” More complex images could be produced through the use of multiple stencils. Most of these American toleware designs feature red, orange and yellow bouquets against green or black grounds. Other American toleware motifs were inspired by images found on costly imported porcelains. 

A 19th-century Pennsylvania toleware child’s mug attained $600 plus the buyer’s premium in January 2022. Image courtesy of Conestoga Auction Company Division of Hess Auction Group and LiveAuctioneers

The Pennsylvania Dutch (an aberration of the term “Deutsch”), a distinct European cultural group of farmers and artisans also known as the Pennsylvania Germans, settled across the southern and eastern parts of the Keystone State in the 18th and 19th centuries. Their tan, rust red, green and pumpkin-yellow toleware designs, rendered in sweeping brush strokes or by “thumbing” (blending applied paints with finger or thumb), are reminiscent of European peasant designs. In addition to fruit and florals, Pennsylvania German tolewares often bore geometric shapes enhanced with stylized images of birds, farm animals, tulips or hearts-and-flowers against dark lacquered grounds.

A 19th-century Pennsylvania toleware child’s mug with a yellow ground achieved $2,500 plus the buyer’s premium in October 2021. Image courtesy of Conestoga Auction Company Division of Hess Auction Group and LiveAuctioneers

Although toleware fell out of fashion by the turn of the 20th century, these now-antique pieces have earned legions of fans. British, American and Pennsylvania Dutch tolewares are ardently collected, but so, too are French tolewares, famed for their superior lacquer, varied palettes, fine embellishment and elegant floral designs. 

A circa-1830 toleware box attained $300 plus the buyer’s premium in April 2021. Image courtesy of the New Hampshire Antique Dealers Association and LiveAuctioneers

Toleware pieces that reflect the 19th-century French fascination with mystery and illusion might be the most intriguing of all. Elaborate magic sets were made from toleware, and sleight-of-hand tricks with names such as Scotch Purse, Hammer and Ball, Die Through Hat and Bonus Genius, often employed colorful toleware coin-conjuring plates. Hand-painted toleware changing canisters helped magicians produce objects or make them disappear, while colorful card-changing ladles fitted with hinged, moveable tin leaves inside the bowl captured and held magicians’ chosen cards. 

Alexander Herrmann’s Cards and Card Bouquet magical apparatus with toleware vase, achieved $6,500 plus the buyer’s premium in October 2021. Image courtesy of Potter & Potter Auctions and LiveAuctioneers

The quirky toleware Cards and Card Bouquet magic apparatus, once linked to the famed French stage magician Alexander Herrmann and once part of the Circus Museum of Sarasota Collection, was no less bewitching. It featured an internal mechanism which, once a spectator’s secret card choices were returned to their deck, reveals them in all their glory.

A Hermes coffee table with a toleware tray top sold for $4,000 plus the buyer’s premium against an estimate of $400-$600 in August 2021. Image courtesy of Alex Cooper and LiveAuctioneers

Toleware may have been vanquished with the rise of plastic, but it hasn’t left the art scene completely. Hermes, the fashionable, centuries-old French company, produced a coffee table with a toleware tray top in Veuve Clicquot’s trademark yellow, emblazoned with the Champagne producer’s brand name. An example of the table hammered for $4,000, 10 times its low estimate, in August 2021. But it’s the antique tole pieces that dominate, reminding their owners of plucky cottage entrepreneurs who found a way to create objects that were both useful and beautiful.

Pyrex: enduring and collectible midcentury kitchenware

A mid-century Pyrex HTF Christmas mixing bowl achieved $425 plus the buyer’s premium in September 2021. Image courtesy of Embassy Auctions International and LiveAuctioneers.

Vintage Pyrex has a loyal cadre of enthusiasts and collectors. A fixture in generations of kitchens, the vaunted line began with clear glass bakeware, but its enameled opal ware soon became ubiquitous.

Pyrex was developed by researchers who hoped to create a glass that would not expand in heat, so it could be used in lantern globes and battery jars without breaking. When one researcher gave his wife a casserole dish made from a cut-down piece of the experimental glass, its merits as a cooking tool were immediately apparent.

In an October 1915 ad in Good Housekeeping magazine, the manufacturer of Pyrex, Corning Glass Works, announced the debut of its clear glass wares with a bold headline: “Bake in Glass!” The dishes could withstand hot ovens and made it possible to cook and serve meals in the same dish. The most expensive item shown in the ad was the two-quart lidded casserole vessel, priced at $1.75.

Three sets of Pyrex mixing bowls brought $225 plus the buyer’s premium in October 2020. Image courtesy of Curated Estates Auctions and LiveAuctioneers.

Corning later released a line of mixing bowls that were opalescent and enameled on their exteriors in solid colors: red, blue, green and yellow.

By the 1950s, the most popular pieces of Pyrex had silkscreened pattern decorations on their enameled surfaces. “Between 1956 and 1987, Corning released over 150 different patterns on Pyrex opal ware,” according to a Corning Museum of Glass blog. 

A group of three sets of mid-century Pyrex mixing bowls that included four pink gooseberry Cinderella form-handled side pour bowls sold for $275 plus the buyer’s premium in June 2021. Image courtesy of Merrill’s Auctioneers and Appraisers and LiveAuctioneers.

In 1998, Corning divested itself of its home consumer products, and licensed the Pyrex brand to another entity. While the new maker of Pyrex still offers CorningWare® bakeware in plain white, most of its contemporary products are only available in clear glass.

In its 20th-century heyday, Pyrex was offered in a nearly endless variety of colors, forms, patterns and variations. There are so many small and subtle differences it would be almost impossible for a single collector to possess all of them, although a few people have tried. Pyrex mixing bowls, cookware and baking dishes, particularly the large handled casserole dishes, have long been prized. Some lucky cooks inherited their mother’s or grandmother’s Pyrex, while others scoured flea markets and thrift shops to acquire their treasures.

An assortment of seven Pyrex pieces in the Snowflake and Gooseberry patterns earned $265 plus the buyer’s premium in September 2021. Image courtesy of Jasper52 and LiveAuctioneers.

Good pieces of everyday vintage Pyrex tend to sell for prices between $10 and $100, and less common examples can command several hundred dollars. Taste is subjective, of course, but there are certain Pyrex patterns that remain consistently popular, including Butterprint, Gooseberry, Dot, Rainbow Stripes and Snowflake. There are also rare color variations such as Orange Butterprint and Pink Stems, both thought to have been issued in limited runs as promotional items.

This 10-piece Pyrex set in the Pink Gooseberry pattern made $350 plus the buyer’s premium in October 2019. Image courtesy of Cordier Auctions & Appraisals and LiveAuctioneers.

Melanie Hartman, director of catalog and specialty auctions at Cordier Auctions & Appraisals in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, explained that the Pyrex Gooseberry pattern is not rare, but it is so beloved that few collectors are willing to part with it. Perhaps the most coveted shade of this highly coveted pattern is Pink Gooseberry, a 10-piece set of which realized $350 plus the buyer’s premium in October 2019 at Cordier Auctions & Appraisals. “I think its desirability is due to the fun, attractive pattern and the vintage feel [while avoiding] some of the typical vintage kitchen colors i.e. sunset, avocado green, and the like,” she said. “The neutral pink fits into most modern decor.” 

Besides the nostalgia factor, Hartmann said Pyrex resonates with collectors because it “comes in a wide variety of fun colors and patterns and is very practical as well as pretty the mixing bowls stack nicely in a cupboard.”

Eight sets of Pyrex mixing bowls, 36 pieces in all, sold as one lot in September 2016 for $245 plus the buyer’s premium. Image courtesy of Peachtree & Bennett and LiveAuctioneers.

Blue is a favorite color in many kitchens, and the pleasing dark hue of the Snowflake pattern, released in 1956, made it an instant classic. The line produced in turquoise blue was also celebrated. A group of vintage Snowflake and Floral Colonial Mist Pyrex dishes achieved $575 plus the buyer’s premium in August 2020 at Scheerer McCulloch Auctioneers, Inc. 

A group of vintage Snowflake and Floral Colonial Mist Pyrex dishes realized $575 plus the buyer’s premium in August 2020. Image courtesy of Scheerer McCulloch Auctioneers, Inc. and LiveAuctioneers.

Pyrex deftly combined function with aesthetics. Casserole dishes boasted pretty patterns as well as handles that made them easier to remove from hot ovens. Also, Pyrex lids could be placed upside down in the dish, allowing for easy stacking of pieces.

These Butterprint nesting bowls in a pleasing blue color sold for $375 plus the buyer’s premium in January 2022. Image courtesy of Main Auction Galleries and LiveAuctioneers.

Another Pyrex favorite arrived in 1957 with the release of the Butterprint pattern, which is also known as the Amish print because the decoration pictures an Amish-looking couple, sheaves of wheat and other farming imagery. A set of Butterprint nesting bowls in white on turquoise and turquoise on white realized $375 plus the buyer’s premium in January 2022 at Main Auction Galleries. 

A 116-piece set of Canadian Pyrex in the Pie Crust pattern in Delphite blue achieved CA$275 plus the buyer’s premium in February 2018. Image courtesy of Miller & Miller Auctions, Ltd., and LiveAuctioneers.

Christmas is a prime marketing opportunity for many firms, and Corning embraced it. The company offered Pyrex in several holiday-inspired patterns, including snowflakes and garlands, pine cones and ones that simply read “Season’s Greetings.” A green so-called “Cinderella” mixing bowl decorated with holly leaves and the words “Merry Christmas and Happy New Year” in script along the side sold for $425 plus the buyer’s premium at Embassy Auctions International in September 2021. Reportedly, the Cinderella nickname for this Pyrex form arose because it appeared close to when Disney re-released the movie. 

A vintage Pyrex quart ovenware casserole bowl in turquoise that retained its brass warming stand and lid sold for $300 plus the buyer’s premium in September 2021. Image courtesy of Embassy Auctions International and LiveAuctioneers.

Most Pyrex lids were plain glass. Worth their weight in gold are lids with matching enamel decoration, such as a green Spring Blossom casserole with cover that sold, along with three sets of mixing bowls, for $225 plus the buyer’s premium in October 2020 at Curated Estates Auctions.

According to The Pyrex Collector, one of a handful of websites devoted to the collectible wares, while Pyrex dishes were hardy enough to move from the fridge to the oven in quick succession without suffering damage, hand-washing was, nonetheless, the best way to maintain them. Some claim vintage Pyrex is dishwasher safe, but others have personally witnessed how multiple sessions in the machine’s steamy, sodden racks fade cheerfully-colored enamels to drab shadows of their former selves. It is safer and smarter to keep older and more precious pieces of Pyrex out of the dishwasher. It’s unclear exactly why, but hand-washed vintage Pyrex tends to keep its color and luster longer, and thus retains its value.

Timeless beauty: Raingo Freres mantel clocks

A Louis XV-style gilt bronze Raingo Freres mantel clock with silk thread suspension sold for $4,000 plus the buyer’s premium in October 2021. Image courtesy of Fontaine’s Auction Gallery and LiveAuctioneers

Once it was realized that time could be measured, tracked and quantified with a technological device, the clock became an instant status symbol. However, clocks were expensive, affordable by only a fortunate few who “advertised” their wealth by displaying opulently decorated, artistically stunning examples in their homes.

A completely gilded ormolu and marble Raingo Freres mantel clock graced with classical figures achieved $16,500 plus the buyer’s premium in March 2020. Image courtesy of Shapiro Auctions and LiveAuctioneers

Mantel clocks – timepieces designed to sit on a ledge above a fireplace – were coveted by the well-to-do in early 19th-century France. Having gained distance on the excesses of the French Revolution and embracing the stability promised by the reign of Napoleon Bonaparte, who crowned himself emperor in 1804, the French were open to tasteful decorative flourishes again. The more-is-more madness of the Rococo style died with the French kings, and the French Empire style rose in its place, an aesthetic inspired by the neoclassical motifs of ancient Greece and Rome. 

A circa-1860 Louis XV-style gilt bronze mantel clock by Raingo Freres sold for $2,200 plus the buyer’s premium in September 2016. Image courtesy of Heritage Auctions and LiveAuctioneers

One of the masters of the Empire-style mantel clock was the French firm of Raingo Freres. Not much information about Raingo Freres has survived. Its four founding brothers, Adolphe, Charles, Denis and Dorsant, were sons of the famed clockmaker Zacharie Joseph Raingo. The senior Raingo was born in Belgium in 1775, apparently apprenticed in Paris in 1790, and later won the patronage of royal clients, including King George IV of England. Zacharie Joseph Raingo died in 1847, well after his sons established Raingo Freres in 1825. They, too, catered to royalty and became a favorite clockmaker of Emperor Napoleon III, his Empress Eugenie, King George IV (maintaining the relationship their father started) and other noble families throughout Europe. The Raingos’ specialty was elaborate gilded bronze mantel, table and wall clocks in the Empire and Neoclassical styles.

A Raingo Freres mantel clock decorated with gilded bronze achieved $4,750 plus the buyer’s premium in May 2012. Image courtesy of John Moran Auctioneers, Inc. and LiveAuctioneers

Every Raingo Freres mantel clock has several distinctive features. Most are rectangular and sit on at least four legs. What the legs look like is another matter. They can, and have, taken the forms of animal paws, scrollwork, leaves and round wheels. Above the feet is a pedestal festooned with flowers, wreaths, garlands or other fripperies. Atop the pedestal is a round clock face that is either centered or set to one side, depending on where an allegorical figure or neoclassical design element is placed. Most Raingo Freres mantel clocks were cast in bronze with gilding and chasing as an intrinsic part of the overall design.

Candlelight was king when Raingo Freres was ascendant. Mantel clock garniture sets containing pairs of candelabras were popular. An example festooned with grape leaves and cherubs realized $10,000 plus the buyer’s premium in April 2017. Image courtesy of Austin Auction Gallery and LiveAuctioneers

Raingo Freres is known for its use of Greek and Roman motifs. Figures of gods and goddesses such as Venus, Apollo and Mercury, as well as chariots, columns, and winged putti (cherubs) appear on its mantel clocks as ornamentation or supporting elements. A style of clock known as a figural, which depicted historical personages, was in particular demand. Raingo Freres mantel clocks have included the likenesses of George Washington, Julius Caesar, Napoleon I, Plato, Socrates, and various scientists and writers.

This Raingo Freres mantel clock decorated with gilt bronze and malachite and featuring a figure of Peter the Great sold for $1,800 plus the buyer’s premium in February 2020. Image courtesy of Neal Auction Company and LiveAuctioneers

The enduring popularity of Raingo Freres mantel clock designs have given rise to nearly continuous revivals, i.e., reproductions, making it difficult to identify an authentic original mantel clock by the firm. Confirming a genuine 19th-century Raingo Freres clock encompasses at least four steps.

A round bronze Raingo Freres mantel clock sold in June 2021 for $700 plus the buyer’s premium. The sum was on the low side only because the time-and-strike mechanism did not work. Image courtesy of Austin Auction Gallery and LiveAuctioneers

First, examine the suspension mechanism. If it is made from silk, that is a sign the clock pre-dates 1850. Second, check the position of the count wheel, a component that counts the minutes. French clocks made prior to 1880 tend to have their count wheels placed outside the back plate. Third, look for a rack and snail wheel. If it is missing, rejoice; the device, which is used to strike the time, began to appear on French mantel clocks after 1880. The final step in the four-part inspection is finding the company signature. It typically appears in fanciful script either as inlay or as a ceramic cartouche, but it is also stamped as a mark on the back plate.

The round bronze Rango Freres mantel clock that sold in June 2021 also featured a glazed ceramic cartouche and a hand stamp for Raingo Freres. Image courtesy of Austin Auction Gallery and LiveAuctioneers

The firm routinely partnered with other major clock and furniture makers until the company dropped from view in or around 1870, save for one tantalizing exception: it was awarded a Medaille d’Or at the Exposition Universelle in 1889. Exactly what the collaboration entailed is not known. Neither is it clear whether the gold medal was earned by a clock or some other creation. 

A Raingo Freres Gothic Revival-style gilt and patinated bronze mantel clock decorated with figures of Sir Galahad and an angel sold for $4,500 plus the buyer’s premium in January 2018. Image courtesy of Great Gatsby’s Auction Gallery, Inc., and LiveAuctioneers

We may not know much about the Raingo family, but their exquisitely detailed gilt bronze mantel clocks are widely celebrated by collectors and admirers for their elegant union of art and technology.