Saturday, March 29, 2003

Sevres vases worth the hunt

Antiques detective

By Anne Gilbert

How many times have you heard: "I saw a vase just like mine on Antiques Roadshow and it was worth thousands of dollars?"

I often hear from readers who have discovered a piece that looks like valuable French Sevres porcelain - even the marks are similar. Unfortunately, "similar" doesn't mean "is."

With prices for an 18th-century Sevres plate sometimes more than $10,000, it pays to do research.

Question: My late father purchased a black metal key-wind mantel clock marked "Mfg'd. by Ansonia Clock Co." It has a seated figure of a man and is so heavy I can't lift it. What is its age and value ?

Answer: From your photo, I think you have a bronze and black late 19th-century mantel clock made by a company in Ansonia, N.Y. Similar clocks sell in antiques shops for $900-$1,200.

Since the factory opened in Vincennes, France, in 1738, Sevres porcelain has been seriously collected. It also has been copied by other French factories as well as by companies in other countries.

Collectors not only have to study Sevres marks (a code system identifies when a piece was made and who the painter and gilder were), but also learn to distinguish between hand-painted motifs and 19- to 20th-century transfer prints.

If Sevres is authentic, it doesn't matter whether it dates to the 18th, 19th or even 20th century. Prices remain high for the finest examples.

One problem is that in America, Sevres-style vases were made into lamps in the early part of the 20th century. They still are. It is these pieces, with their mounted bases hiding any marks, that lead many astray.

During its long, distinguished history, Sevres has come to be known not only for the quality of the porcelain, but for the color of the decoration. Once you have seen an 18th-century piece with the distinctive ground colors such as the brilliant pink, known as "Rose Pompadour," and turquoise "Blue Celeste," you can see why. One Sevres technique was to use several shades of one color on a single piece.

Clues to authenticity

One clue to fakery would be a lid with a Sevres mark. Lids weren't marked.

If a piece of Sevres has two marks, that means that it was refired. Prices on such items have a fraction of the value.

Look for hand-painted scenes, especially flowers and birds, decorating the porcelain's solid areas (reserves). Also, gilding on Sevres is heavy.

During the reign of Louis XVI, another technique was developed known as "jeweled." Small drops of enamels were dotted over the gilding, or bits of glass simulating precious stones were embedded in the painting. These are among the costliest and rarest pieces of Sevres.

If you like the look of Sevres but can't afford the real thing, there are plenty of 19th-century look-alikes waiting to be discovered at estate sales. Just don't pay too much.

Contact Anne Gilbert by mail: c/o Cincinnati Enquirer, 312 Elm St., Cincinnati 45202. Photos cannot be returned.

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