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Treasures occasionally slip past antiques appraisers
Kovels Antiques

Treasures occasionally slip past antiques appraisers

Marble bust

A pair of marble busts (one, Rousseau, is pictured) sold for $1.475 million at Cottone after being overlooked by an appraiser from an earlier sale where they did not sell. When the artist was identified as Houdon, bidders were phoning and flying from Europe to bid.

What should my painting sell for? Antiques appraisers are not licensed like real-estate appraisers, but there are art appreciation courses in universities, degrees in fine art and appraisal associations that require members to pass tests. Some work in an art gallery, auction company or museum and learn to appraise through experience. A treasure can be found in a house sale, resale shop or charity auction. But the White House had an eglomise desk that was a reproduction. The Ford museum bought a fake 1620 “Brewster” chair made deliberately to fool a museum “expert” in 1969. And sometimes a real treasure is thought to be a reproduction.

A pair of marble busts made by Jean-Antoine Houdon (1741-1828) were exhibited in Paris in 1789. They were bought in Paris in 1926 by an American diplomat, mentioned in a reference library in 1932 and passed down in the family of the American diplomat. They were “lost” until a Cottone auction in 2019. The pair sold for $1.475 million. Where had they been? The last record was in a 2000 house sale run by a New York auction house that had an appraiser who did not realize that they were busts by Houdon. The 11-inch-tall busts are signed and dated, 1788 and 1789. One is Jean-Jacques Rousseau, the other Georges-Louis Leclerc, Comte de Buffon. The busts must have been in the diplomat’s house and then a relative’s for 77 years after the collector who bought them in Paris died in 1941.

Q: We recently had a family member pass away who was a collector of Mary Gregory. Before I give this glassware away, can you tell me if there is a demand for it. If so, approximately what price range collectors are paying?

Answer: Mary Gregory glass is colored glass or clear glass decorated with white figures. It wasn’t made by a woman named Mary Gregory, as is sometimes believed. The first glass known as Mary Gregory was made in Bohemia about 1870. Figures were usually children at play. Similar glass is made today in the United States and other countries. Children standing, not playing, were not pictured until after the 1950s. It was thought Mary Gregory worked at the Boston and Sandwich Glass Company but that’s not true. Westmoreland Glass Co. began making the first Mary Gregory-type decorations on American glassware in 1957. The pieces had simpler designs, less enamel paint and more modern shapes. Bohemia, France, Italy, Germany, Switzerland and England also made this glassware. It is popular with collectors and sells at low prices. Pieces sell at auction and online for under $20 to a few hundred dollars. A blue decanter was $12, a cranberry sugar and creamer set was $100, and a 17½-inch cranberry glass vase was $600.

Q: We’re looking to sell an old square piano that must be at least 100 years old. Can you tell us where a good place to sell it would be?

Answer: Square grand pianos, sometimes called box pianos, have a rectangular-shaped cabinet and strings that run from side to side, rather than front to back like the grand pianos made today. They were made in Europe beginning in the 18th century and were made in the United States by the beginning of the 19th century. Square grands were the most popular piano sold until about 1890. They are hard to sell now. The strings, hammers and leather or felt covering on the hammers deteriorate with age. The pianos can be hard to tune because they have differently shaped tuning pins and require different tuning equipment. Some people will buy an old square grand, remove the insides and use it as a desk. If the piano is in good, playable condition, contact a music store that sells used pianos to see what they are selling for in your area. If you want to tackle it on your own, try a local online listing source, because it’s expensive to ship.

Q: I inherited a pottery beer stein my mother had when she lived in England. It has a white background and pictures a peasant man and woman in an outdoor setting. The colors are predominately blue and yellow with some green. The pewter lid is engraved “J.C.W., 1. 7. 89.” There is no maker’s mark on the bottom. Can you tell me more about it and what it’s worth?

Answer: Glazed earthenware steins with decorations picturing peasants were made in Thuringia, Germany, in the late 1700s. Some were made by famous factories and were marked, but most were made by less important German potteries. Steins still are being made in old styles. The engraved letters and numbers on the pewter lid of your stein are the owner’s initials and date. The value of your stein, if old, is about $500.

Current prices

Current prices are recorded from antiques shows, flea markets, sales and auctions throughout the United States. Prices vary in different locations because of local economic conditions.

  • Cabinet on stand, mirrored, cut glass diamonds, 2 doors, shelves, wood legs, 72 x 44½ inches, $95.
  • Tantalus, rosewood, gilt, brass inlay, mother-of-pearl panels, shaped sides, flattened ball feet, $130.
  • Motorcycle license plate, Oklahoma, OKLA 915, red border, red text, cream, c. 1932, 8 x 4 inches, $180.
  • Tapestry, man in a garden holding a whip, dogs, fountain, portico, 1800s, 80 x 90 inches, $250.
  • Salesman sample, Aldek scaffolds, aluminum, configuration photos, briefcase, green handles, 19 x 18 inches, $340.
  • Coin operated skill machine, Major Novelty, marquee, wood case, yellow, red, 37 inches, $420.

Terry Kovel and Kim Kovel answer questions sent to the column. By sending a letter with a question and a picture, you give full permission for use in the column or any other Kovel forum. Names, addresses or email addresses will not be published. We cannot guarantee the return of photographs, but if a stamped envelope is included, we will try. The amount of mail makes personal answers or appraisals impossible. Write to Kovels, King Features Syndicate, 628 Virginia Dr., Orlando, Fla. 32803.

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