Treasure: Collector finds portraits after Web search

Khristi Zimmeth
Special to The Detroit News

Gloria Billo has been collecting antiques since she was in high school and has been shopping online about 15 years. She has a historic home from the 1850s and turned to antique shops and eventually online shopping to help her fill it. While she doesn’t purchase furniture online, she does enjoy searching for what the industry calls “smalls” — accessories that are in keeping with her home’s period style.

She shops the Internet, she says, because it opens up a wide new world of possibilities, and has bought things from as far away as France and Australia, she says. She likes portrait miniatures, and was recently attracted to two unusual ones she say online that bore little description but a reasonable price.

“The person listing them was a picker and didn’t really know much, so the description just said two pictures in decorative frames,” she explained. Billo showed the pair to appraiser Brian Thomczek at a recent appraisal session held at Judy Frankel Antiques, part of the Antiques Centre of Troy. She snagged them for $40, she said, but began wondering about them after they arrived, which prompted her to write to the column for help.

“How do you tell if they have plastic frames, or are tortoiseshell? And how do you tell if the picture is a painting or just a reproduction? They are not an exact pair. One measures 7x8, one is 7x7 and the background color on the frames are different,” she wrote in an email.

Elizabethan in dress and appearance, the two are not exactly the same but seem to have been made about the same time, Thomczek said, as he looked closer at the small framed artworks that contain cameo-shaped images of woman in period dress with elaborate beading and collars. Both have scroll-type decoration in the colored framing around them as well, which led the appraiser to think it’s possible that they could have come from the same manufacturer or artist.

Unfortunately for Billo, a closer look revealed them to be prints, not oil on canvas or more expensive works of art. He also said he didn’t think the frames were either reverse painted glass or tortoiseshell, as she had originally hoped.

“The 18th- or 19th-century women in them are very attractive and they would look great hanging on a wall, so I can see why they appealed to you,” he told her. “The frames are beautiful and interesting even if not particularly old and are probably made of glass and enamel.” He said he couldn’t tell for sure without taking the back off the pieces.

He dated them to the 1920s-1930s and told her they were a good find even if not as old as she had originally hoped. “These are very decorative and I’d value them at $150 in an antique shop, so you did well overall,” he said.

Billo will continue trolling the Internet for treasure, she says. “I’m really careful,” she says. “You have to be knowledgeable.” She recommends only buying from sellers who have sold a lot and have good feedback and always using PayPal to be safe. But she admits to being hooked on the wide range of merchandise available. “Online is the place to get something really unusual,” she says. “I’ve picked up some wonderful things.”

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 : Portrait miniatures

Owned by : Gloria Billo, Romeo

Appraised by : Brian Thomczek

Estimated value : $150