Trash or Treasure: Cloisonné an ancient art
“It came from my wife’s family on her father’s side,” Richard Gratz told appraiser Brian Thomczek at a recent appraisal event held at the Michigan Design Center in Troy. “Her father’s brother was an antique collector and this is a piece that we salvaged. It’s at least 100 years old.”
Thomczek identified it as a centerpiece and a very nice piece of cloissonne work. “It has a double handle and a figural base with a decorative pattern throughout,” he explained. “I would date it to approximately the late 19th century, which would be about the age you thought it was.”
Measuring 11 by 8 inches, it is in excellent condition, he said. “There are no chips or damaged bits, which is rare for a decorative arts piece of this age.”
According to brittanica.com, “Cloisonné, in the decorative arts, an enameling technique or any product of that technique, which consists of soldering to a metal surface delicate metal strips bent to the outline of a design and filling the resulting cellular spaces, called cloisons (French: “partitions” or “compartments”), with vitreous enamel paste. The object then is fired, ground smooth, and polished. Sometimes metal wire is used in place of the usual gold, brass, silver, or copper strips. Among the earliest examples of cloisonné are six Mycenaean rings of the 13th century bce. The great Western period of cloisonné enameling was from the 10th to the 12th century, especially in the Byzantine Empire. In China cloisonné was widely produced during the Ming (1368–1644) and Qing (1644–1911/12) dynasties. In Japan it was especially popular during the Tokugawa (1603–1868) and Meiji (1868–1912) periods.”
While part of a long tradition, Gratz’s piece is more recent, said Thomczek. Unfortunately, here were no marks or signatures, which makes it difficult to give Gratz any more definitive information, he said. The only mark was a small number on the bottom which Thomczek said was probably an inventory number. “Hallmarks can sometimes be found in some odd places but there’s no sign of anything on this. It could make a huge difference in the value if there was more information.”
In the current market, he would value the piece about approximately $400-$600, he said. Gratz said he had been told it was worth more in the past, something which didn’t surprise the appraiser. “Auction values go up and down,” he explained.
He said that the piece, while in good condition, could use a little cleaning. “It’s made of brass and cloisonné, and a light cleaning would certainly not hurt it,” he advised. “My only advice is to use gentle soap and water.”
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About this item
Owned by: Richard Gratz
Appraised by: Brian Thomczek
Estimated value: approximately $400-$600 at auction