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Trash or Treasure: Porcelain plaques remnants of gilded age

By Khristi Zimmeth
Special to The Detroit News

Peggy Goldberg was hopeful but a little skeptical that all of the information passed down through three generations about  two porcelain plaques was completely accurate, she admitted to appraiser Joelle Del Rose of DuMouchelles. “They were important to my family, but I don’t know if the stories are true.”

Goldberg included the details in her original email requesting an appraisal and information. “Attached are photos of two framed, hand-painted faces. I am not sure what material they are painted on. They belonged to my mother's mother, Lily Rosborg Hufnagel. These were my grandmother’s prized possession. She was from a wealthy NY family, and when she married my grandfather (a Hungarian immigrant), she was disowned by her family (actually her brother, the head of the household). Her mother, my great-grandmother, gave her these to keep, passed down from generation to generation. My mother always told me that they were very valuable. They are mounted on wood and framed, quite a while ago. The framer is on the back. They have never been touched since then. The one thing my mother said was, she was told by her mother that they were signed, and that made them very valuable.”

Peggy Goldberg with her plaques, passed down through generations.

Del Rose identified them as hand-painted German porcelain plaques and dated them to the late 19th century.  “The artists were clearly very skilled and often painted allegorical and military themes,” she explained, adding that items like these “were fairly common house decor in the gilded age if you were of a certain means.”

Signatures and hallmarks can result in a higher value – if they are the right ones, Del Rose added. Unfortunately, it was hard for her to see that signature without removing the backing, which Goldberg agreed she could do. She initially thought the pair could be traced to a well-known porcelain company called KPM.

According to invaluable.com, “KPM, a hugely successful porcelain manufacturer that has been in business for more than 250 years, has specialized in the production of high-quality decorative art. Because of its long history, there are many KPM porcelain objects available in the market today that reflect the stylistic shifts and cultural influences that drove the company’s long history of craftsmanship. These works are also valued for their ties to Prussian royalty and the German state, as well as their strong emphasis on quality and handmade design.”  

Unfortunately, removing the backing revealed paper labels and information written in pencil, but no KPM hallmark. Even as a lesser maker Del Rose praised their beauty and skill, appraising them at $300 to $500 each at auction if Goldberg were to sell.

Goldberg said even if she didn’t know much about their real history, she was sure of one thing:  “I know they didn’t come from Grandpa because he came with nothing,” she said, adding that she thought her mother would have been disappointed that they weren’t worth more. “I was a bit saddened that they were not as important as they seemed…but I’m going to do some sleuthing on my own. If they were special to my great-grandmother and mother then there must be some reason.”

Del Rose pointed out that because they are porcelain they are very fragile and they are lucky to have survived intact for approximately a century. “I’ve been storing them in a drawer in the dining room,” Goldberg added. Del Rose said that is fine, but be sure not to stack them or it could cause damage. “Better to keep them in two separate drawers if you want to pass them down,” she advised.

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@aol.com. 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: porcelain plaques

Owned by: Peggy Goldberg

Appraised by: Joelle Del Rose, DuMouchelles

Estimated value: $300 to $500 each