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Trash or Treasure: Sculpture Is spelter, not bronze, but still desirable

By Khristi Zimmeth
Special to The Detroit News

Ann Marie Rasmussen was having a hard time deciphering the signature on the base of her sculpture and was hoping that Brian Thomczek would be able to lend a hand, she explained to the appraiser at a recent Trash or Treasure session held at the Michigan Design Center in Troy.

Her original email offered information about how the piece came to be in the family’s collection. “Is my item trash or treasure?” she wondered. “We inherited this bronze (?) sculpture,” she wrote. “My assumption is that it originally sat on a newel post and was a light. Over the last century perhaps the light was replaced with a drum (?). She's a beautiful art nouveau sculpture but is she worth anything in her present condition?  I couldn't find a maker's mark but the name L Alliob? Allion? appears on the base.  Online research on my own hasn't garnered much information."

Ann Rasmussen with her metal statue.

Rasmussen filled the appraiser in on a few more details at the event. “It came from my husband’s family,” she explained. “His father collected bronze statues. I thought the tambourine was a light. It was done in Paris and reminds me of Alphonse Mucha, and seems very much in the art nouveau style.”

Thomczek was able to find a little more information, including the artist’s name, which he deciphered as Lucien Alliot.  An online search revealed a few other works for sale by the artist, including one on 1st dibs.com, which had a little background information on the artist. “Alliot is best known for his beautiful sculptures of women, as well as for creating various seals for famous people and various important entities. Born in Paris in 1877, Lucien Alliot was the son of sculptor Napoleon Alliot. A pupil of Barrias and Coutan, he exhibited at the Paris Salon from 1905 until 1939 and was a member of the Jury from 1934 until his death in 1967,” it read.

Alliot’s beautiful bronze pieces can be found in museums around the world, said Thomczek. Unfortunately, Rasmussen’s piece – which measures 28 inches high by 9 ½ inches wide -- is made not of bronze, but spelter, which is a less-expensive combination of metals, he added. “It sounds hollow, so I do believe it’s definitely spelter,” he explained. “Spelter was made to look like bronze. Most people wouldn’t know the difference.” 

He guessed that Rasmussen’s piece probably began life as a lamp and had lost a few pieces through the past century. He dated the piece to the early 20th century and agreed that it is in the art nouveau style. “It’s quite elaborate for a lamp,” he explained, adding that he would value it at $800 to $1,200 at auction. “It would be worth more if you had all the piece,” he said.

Unfortunately, the style doesn’t mesh with the Rasmussens’ other furnishings, Ann Marie added. “I think she’s beautiful but our home is more mid-century modern. We have it stored away… we’re looking to downsize.”

Thomczek said selling it wouldn’t be a problem should they decide to let it go to a new home. “Someone would definitely be interested in buying this,” he said.

About this item

Item: Sculpture

Owned by: Ann Marie Rasmussen

Appraised by: Brian Thomczek

Estimated Value: $800-$1,200 at auction

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: trashortreas@aol.com or The Detroit News, Trash or Treasure? 160 W. Fort St., Detroit, MI 48226. Include your name and daytime phone number. If chosen, you’ll need to bring the item to a free appraisal session and be willing to be featured with your item in the column. Letters are edited for style and clarity. Photos cannot be returned.