Justine Klosterman, right, and her daughter Ann Rossetti are proud of the demitasse set Klosterman inherited from her mother. (David Coates / The Detroit News)
Some words just seem to belong to another era. Demitasse is one of them. According to Webster’s New World Dictionary, demitasse, from the French for “half cup,” is defined as “a small cup of or for black coffee served following dinner.” While not as popular in today’s fast-paced society, a demitasse set for leisurely after-dinner conversations was common in elegant homes of yesterday.
Justine Klosterman’s mother brought hers back from a trip to France and Italy in 1926 when she traveled on the famous Ile de France. Her set, made up of two small coffee cups, a creamer and sugar, a coffee pot and a matching tray, features a beautiful pattern of classical or mythological figures on a band punctuated with gold leaf and patterns. She recently showed the set to appraiser Brian Thomczek as part of a Trash or Treasure appraisal session held at Judy Frankel Antiques, part of the Antiques Centre of Troy.
“My mother bought it on her tour of Europe in the 1920s,” she told him. “She lived in Detroit’s Boston-Edison district and traveled there with a friend on the famous ship,” she said. “She brought it back and eventually I inherited it. We’ve had it ever since.”
The appraiser admired the piece’s delicate painting and intricate design. “It’s very decorative and has very nice gilding,” he told her. “Unfortunately, it’s also a bit frail.” He said a set like this would have been used to serve a strong Turkish coffee or European-style coffee like espresso. He also said the set was more likely to have been made in Italy than in France — something he could tell by its colors. “These colors are definitely more Italian,” he said. “The French sets were usually blue.”
While frail, he said the set was in good condition, with no chips and only a small, well-done restoration. The small repair would bring the price down a bit if she were to sell it at auction, he told her. If it were in perfect condition, it would bring about $800-$1,200, he said. As is, hers would bring a little less, probably in the range of $600-$800.
“It’s a very pretty set,” he told her, saying he thought it would date to somewhere in the early 20th century. Unfortunately, he wasn’t as familiar with the manufacturer, which marked the piece with a gold crown.
“I can’t identify this maker,” he told her, saying that while all of the pieces have a hallmark, only the tray has a number also marked on it. “That could refer to a production number or a year, it’s really difficult to tell. But either way, it’s a beautiful set.”
Klosterman keeps it on the living room mantel, where she thinks it will stay.
“I’ve always been too afraid to use it but have always loved the story behind it,” she told Thomczek. “Mom said she practically carried it on her lap the entire way back.”
About this object
Item: Demitasse set
Owned by: Justine Klosterman, Chesterfield Township
Appraised by: Brian Thomczek, independent appraiser
Auction value: $600-$800
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