Treasure: Light reveals different side to antique piece

Khristi Zimmeth
Special to The Detroit News

Some antiques come with untold stories. Ann Kappaz of Troy found that out firsthand after she inherited a piece from an antique-loving aunt.

“I really don’t know anything about it,” she told independent appraiser Brian Thomczek at a recent appraisal session held at Judy Frankel Antiques, part of the Antiques Centre of Troy. “It came from my aunt and started out in Los Angeles and eventually ended up in Arkansas. The box it came in had my grandpa’s name on it, but I don’t know what that means. He came from Russia, but I don’t know if that is connected any way. Either way, I’ve always been curious about it.”

She told the appraiser that she thought the piece was bisque and that it was meant to be hung in a window, and sent in two photographs, one with light behind it, one not. Light behind the piece enables the details to stand out, she says, and shows off the design. While she thinks it would be best displayed in a window, she also said she has never been able to figure out how to hang it, and hoped that the appraiser would have suggestions.

The first thing he told her is that the piece is not made of bisque. “This is actually made of porcelain,” he told her. Similar in color, both were common materials in the 19th century, the time he thinks the piece dates to, Thomczek told Kappaz. “The hair and the clothing design is the first clue as to the time frame.”

Another clue is the letters PPM on the back and the numbers 581. An Internet search revealed a similar piece for sale on eBay with the description “a very nice German lithophane made by the Plaue Porzellanmanufaktur of Thuringia (PPM),” which points to a German make. Further research on lithophanes revealed that they, according to, are “are three-dimensional translucent porcelain plaques which when backlit reveal detailed magical images. First created in Europe in the 1820s, the largest collection of this 19th-century art form in the world is now on view at the Blair Museum of Lithophanes,” in Toledo, Ohio, part of the Toledo Botanical Garden.

“It’s too bad it’s not signed by an artist, which would up the value substantially,” the appraiser told Kappaz. “Despite that, it’s a very decorative piece and one that would appeal to a wide variety of collectors. It’s very pretty.”

Thomczek valued it at $200-$300 retail, and said that the condition is good, with no cracks or damage. “I’ve seen similar works and they are well received at auction if you decide to sell it,” he told her. “And while we don’t know the artist, whoever did make this did a nice job. It’s very well done.”

He said it could also use a good cleaning. “Dust settles into the design but if you cleaned it with a mild soap it would really bring out the details,” he said.

Kappaz was happy to find out a little more. “I’ve had it so long I’d just like to do something with it.”

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 : Porcelain lithophane

Owner : Ann Kappaz, Troy

Appraised by : Brian Thomczek, independent appraiser

Estimated value : $200-$300 retail