Treasure: Silver vase has sterling background

Khristi Zimmeth
Special to The Detroit News

‘I am attaching 3 photographs of a sterling silver vase we have which was passed down through my husband’s family,” wrote Kay Fossett about her husband, Tony, in an email.

“His mother was Carol Graff, daughter of George Russell Graff who originally was a silversmith in New York in the family business, Graff, Washbourne and Dunn. We believe this vase was probably a “second.” It is not marked as I have seen other GWD pieces marked. The vase is approximately 12” tall, 9” across at the top, and 6” across at the base. The vase most likely dates to prior to 1930 as my husband’s grandfather left the family business after 1920 and relocated to Toledo, Ohio, and worked for Willy’s.”

Appraiser Brian Thomczek took a closer look at an appraisal session held recently at Judy Frankel Antiques, part of the Antiques Centre of Troy, where Fossett filled him in on a few more details. “My father in law gave it to us,” she told him. She also said she thinks the vase was probably originally a wedding gift and that her husband’s grandparents married in 1916. Tony, who was sorry to miss the appraisal day, had long been curious about the piece.

Thomczek was impressed with both the piece’s quality and provenance. “It’s sterling for sure, despite the fact that there is no mark on it,” he explained. “One hint that it is sterling when you look at something is that sterling is pliable and you should almost be able to bend it.” He also told her that silver plate is stronger and that you can see colors in it which indicate it’s not sterling. “I always tell people that if you can see a rainbow, it’s a no go,” he told her. Like many sterling pieces, it has a weighted bottom.

He told her that he feels the piece is definitely Graff. “I looked it up and everything looks right, even beyond the fact that you have the family history,” he told her. He agreed with her timing of the piece, saying it was a great example of early 20th century American silver, which is getting increasingly hard to find. He also said that it is hard to find American silver vases, which should help the Fossetts’ piece gain value through the years. And while monograms sometimes diminish the value, he thinks her piece would be worth about $2,500-$3,000 retail; $800-$1,200 at auction if the family decided to sell, which seems unlikely. The small bit of wear on it won’t hurt the value, he told her.

Fossett said she was happy to get a value, even if the company history has proven elusive. “I do a bit of geneology and have tried to find out more about the company, but it was absorbed into Gorham.”

Thomczek said too many examples of wonderful sterling, American and otherwise, have been melted down in recent years. “This is the kind of piece that should be passed down in a family, especially since you have a great connection to it,” he says.

Do you have an object you would like to know more about? Send a photo and description that includes how you acquired the object to: The Detroit News, Trash or Treasure?, 160 W. Fort St., Detroit, MI 48226. Include your name and daytime telephone number. You may also send your photo and description to If chosen you’ll need to bring the items to an appraisal session. Photos cannot be returned.

About This Item

Item : Sterling vase

Owner : Kay and Tony Fossett

Appraised by : Brian Thomczek, independent appraiser

Estimated value : $800-$1,200 at auction; $2,500-$3,000