Treasure: ‘Smalls’ can have a big payoff

Khristi Zimmeth
Special to The Detroit News

Good things can come in small packages. That’s what Louise Liskiewicz of Brooklyn was hoping and thinking when she decided to accompany her friend Patricia March to a recent Trash or Treasure appraisal session held recently in downtown Detroit at DuMouchelles. She came to keep her friend company, but has happy to be able to also bring in two “smalls” that she had long been curious about.

But first, a definition. What exactly are “smalls?” Even the New York Times couldn’t define them exactly in their 1990 article “The Big Business of Smalls.” “Such is the world of “smalls,” a category of antique usually greater in personality than size or price,” the author wrote. “Although almost anybody knows a small when he sees one, they are more easily defined by what they are not. They are not, for instance, a Faberge egg or Marie Antoinette’s jewelry box…these modest items, usually given the more refined term of “decorations” by auction houses, remain popular regardless of the economic climate.”

By that definition, both of Liskiewicz’s items are “smalls.” Appraiser Jim Flannery took a closer look at her two pieces, ultimately delivering price tags that supported the above description. The first, a small milk glass vase with sterling overlay, was attractive but bore no manufacturer’s mark that he could find. “It’s pretty and somewhat collectible, but not particularly valuable,” he told her, adding that it would bring $50-$75 at auction.

The second piece was a bit of a mystery, she admitted. “Someone said it was a steamer for pudding,” she told the appraiser. He said he wasn’t immediately sure what the container’s purpose was. He looked at the latch, which he said would have probably originally had a pin to keep it closed.

The mark on the bottom read Vienna and pictured a beehive, which helped him decide it was probably manufactured in Austria. “I think it probably dates to the 1930s or 1940s, although its function is harder to identify,” he told her. “It’s nicely decorated, and is definitely hand done, but I’m pretty sure it’s not 19th century, which would have been worth more.”

Because of its quality and attractiveness, he told Liskiewicz that it would probably bring somewhere around $150 at auction if she were to sell it. Beyond that, he said the piece would need a lot more research to be able to tell her more about it.

“We’d have to do a lot more work on its function and background, but sometimes smaller pieces with limited value just aren’t worth that investment. If you like them, they’re well worth keeping and displaying, however.”

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 trashortreas@ If chosen you’ll need to bring the items to an appraisal session. Letters are edited for style and clarity. Photos cannot be returned.

About this item

Item : “Smalls”

Submitted by : Louise Liskiewicz, Brooklyn

Appraised by : Jim Flannery, DuMouchelles

Estimated value : $50-$150 each at auction