Trash or Treasure: White House image is vintage commemorative piece

Khristi Zimmeth
Special to The Detroit News
Paula Morris with her White House mantle piece at the DuMochelles Art Galleries.


“I’m the keeper of the family heirlooms,” Paula Morris recently explained to expert Bob DuMouchelle at an appraisal session held at the landmark auction house and gallery. “This has been in the china cabinet for about 10 years.”

Her original email to the column added a little more background. “This item came to me through my mother from her sister-in-law (my Aunt Martha) who lived in Louisville, KY. Aunt Martha and my Uncle Pete traveled the country as he was in the Army for 20 plus years. She was a collector!” she wrote, added that it’s “related to the White House. I don’t know it was a souvenir that she bought in her travels or if it came from a trip they made to the White House, I believe in the ‘60s when my uncle received the Soldier’s Medal.”

The piece shows the White House in a cameo-shaped gold frame supported by two reclining putti, or angels. On the back it says “guaranteed 24K gold plate,” which she mused could refer to the gilding on the building’s peak and columns in the image. Initials AMW and the number 283 is also on the piece, as well as the words “White House, Washington DC.”

The initials AMW refer to the maker, said DuMouchelle, which he identified as the Art Metal Works of Newark, New Jersey. “They had a storefront on Broadway in New York,” he told Morris, adding that he had discovered the identical piece online when he did research. He also identified the style as art nouveau, dating it to about the turn of the century.

“The company started in 1896 and made a lot of household merchandise and art work, most of it in the white metal we call pot metal,” he explained. He said that her piece had better material, pointing out places in the gilding where copper was showing through from age and wear. “The company made other White House and Washington collectibles,” he said.

He explained that the image itself is a print, showing her where she could see tiny mechanical dots if she looked with a magnifying glass. “This is modeled after a reverse painting on glass, some of which also had mother of pearl.” Her piece, however, is made with celluloid, which has an opalescent finish that glows like mother of pearl.

This type of piece was very popular in the 19th century and was mass produced, he added. “It’s definitely a commemorative item,” he told her. “It’s a souvenir but a high-end one.”

“I think it’s fun,” DuMouchelle told Morris. “It’s not extremely rare, but it’s a nice quality collectible and worth $300 to $500 at auction.”

Morris was thrilled with the information and the estimate.  “Just wait until I tell the kids they can’t use it as a doorstop anymore.”

About this item

Item: White House Souvenir

Owned by: Paula Morris

Appraised by: Bob DuMouchelle

Estimated value: $300 to $500 at auction