The Laughing Buddha

Laughing buddha
A 20th Century Laughing Buddha

It’s hard not to smile looking at a “Laughing Buddha”, nickname for the Buddhist figure also known as “Budai” or “Hotei”. The Budai’s can be found in many temples, in paintings, as carvings or statues.

Figurines of the Laughing Buddha have been made in virtually every material known to man from bone to solid gold. He is nearly always shown smiling or laughing, hence his nickname. This happy Budai has become a patron of the weak, poor and children, also as figure of abundance. In modern times he has become a sort patron saint of restaurateurs.

This Buddha is based on a wandering Liang Dynasty (502-557) Chinese monk, but he appears in Buddhist, Taoist and Shinto culture. The Hotei is usually shown carrying a sack which is filled with many precious items, which like a cornucopia never empties of food and candy for children. In Japanese folklore, this Buddha is one of the Seven Shichi Fukujin” (Lucky Gods), he is also used as a symbol of good fortune his figure strategically located in the  Feng Shui method of decorating.

The Laughing Buddha figurines were not only made in China, but have been produced in Europe since the mid 18th Century , notability by the famous Meissen porcelain works in the mid-1700s. The example pictured here is a modern Chinese example, most often seen in Chinese restaurants. this one was made during the 1980’s.

Values for Laughing Buddha’s vary depending on size and quality,  an early Meissen example can sell at auction for over $8000.00.  For those of us with smaller bank accounts there are a lot of other options, a late one like the one pictured often go for less than $75.00, even some late 19th Century examples caqn be found going for less than $200.00.

Toby Jugs, a Pottery Icon

A Pearl Ware Toby

The Toby Jug,  a pottery Icon,  originally depicted a heavy set man in 18th Century attire with a a Tricorn hat holding a a pipe of tobacco in one hand and a tankard of beer in the other. The tricorn hat forming a spout, sometimes with a  lid, and the handle is attached at the rear. Jugs depicting just the head and shoulders of a figure are also referred to as Toby Jugs or more formerly, “Character Jugs”. The example shown is a Staffordshire Pratt type “Pearlware” Toby, Circa 1780.

There are a number of theories regarding the origins of the name “Toby Jug”, one being it’s based on a character in Shakespeare’s Twelfth  Night “Sir Toby Belch”, a hard drinking character in Shakespeare’s play, Twelfth Night. The other being they were were named after a well known  18th Century Yorkshire-man of prodigious drinking abilities, Henry Elwes. Elwes’s  nick name, “Toby Fillpot” , is also named  in an old English drinking song, “The Brown Jug”,  first published in 1761. In any event they first seem to appear in Staffordshire England about 1760 and spread from there and have seldom been out of production since then.


Royal Doulton Toby
A Royal Doulton D6588 “Ard of Earing”


The best known maker of them today is Royal Doulton. Toby Mugs are a tradition with Royal Doulton that dates back to 1933 when they were introduced by Charles Noke. The Royal Doulton Character Jugs range features popular personalities, characters from history and fiction that has included more than 300 different subjects.

The creator of Doultons Toby’s, Charles Noke was in his seventies when he introduced character jugs in 1933. His famous toby’s were expanded into a collection of gift ware using variations on the Tobys to make musical jugs, tobacco jars, sugar bowls, toothpick holders and teapots in 1939. In recent years values for these Toby jugs has been in decline, a result of the current economic climate and changing collecting trends. The one pictured here, a model D6588, was issued 1964 – 1967 and currently retails at Specialist Dealers for Royal Doulton in the $1500.00- 1700.00 range, the last one we’ve seen at auction went for $610.00.


Mike Wilcox

Wilcox & Hall Appraisers

Art Deco, Rosenthal and Hugo Meisel



Meisel rosenthal blackamoor
A Circa 1937 Rosenthal “Blackamoor” by Hugo Meisel

I’ve always had a soft spot for Art Deco, particularly the Rosenthal porcelain figural groups of the period. It’s also a good place for Collectors interested in this period
because there it’s still possible to pick up some great pieces at relative;ly most prices at auction or even yard sales if you don’t mind a bit of digging.

The piece shown here is a good example it’s a  group by Rosenthal, marked “H.Meisel” for the original artist who designed this piece, Hugo Meisel (1887-1966). Meisel’s pieces were designed at the peak of the Art Deco period, he worked for Rosenthal in 1936 and 1937. Meisel also created pieces for several other porcelain works during the Deco period, such as Heubach,  Aelteste Volkstedter, and Schwarzburger. The Rosenthal company back stamp on this piece indicates this one dates to mark on this piece dates to 1937.

Like a great many other sculptors of the period, Meisel work depicted his figural groups and figures in active poses, almost like stop motion, freezing a moment in time portrayed , like can bee seen in this “Blackamoor” figure. Meisel did not limit himself just to human studies, but is just ans well known for his designs including \Horses, birds and dogs. Not all pieces by him are bargains, some of the larger figural groups have listed with auction pre-sale estimates in the $1000-$1500.00 range and consistently hitting those targets. There are still bargains to be had though, it still not that hard to find individual figures by Meisel like this “Blackamoor” sometimes selling at auction for less than $200.00.

Mike Wilcox is a Professional Appraiser and Consultant
who specializes in 19th Century Furniture & Decorative Arts

Modern Limited Edition Bronze

Julietta bronze
Julietta, issued in 1987 as a limited edition of 500

Sometimes the term Limited edition gets thrown around so much it’s regarded as not meaning much in terms of value. While this view might apply to things like Elvis liquor decanters or Collectors plates, there are many exceptions, like the bronze pictured here. It bucks the odds because it truly is a limited edition item and very high quality. This particular piece is based on the work  of Romain de Tirtoff (1892-1990), who was probably one of the first to market himself in the 20th Century by a singular nickname, in his case ” Erté ” after the way his initials “R.T.” sound in French.

Erte, who had been a major figure in costume and set  design as far back as 1915 until the 1930’s had been out of the limelight for a great many years when the the interest in Art Deco design was revived in the late 1970’s. He was approached in 1977 by Fine Art Acquisitions to produce a line of serigraphs and bronze figures based on his original designs, some of which he had originally produced for the well known Harper’s Bazaar magazine Circa 1915-37.

The first bronze figure was titled “Victoire,” making its appearance in 1980, just one of over 60 models to be offered. The one pictured here was titled “Julietta, issued as part of an edition of only 500 in 1987, which lists retail in Galleries that specialize in 20th Century bronzes in the $18,000.00- $22,000.00 range, but often being brokered for less than $6,000.00. Occasionally these Erte’s will go at auction for less than $1500.00 when mistaken for other mass produced “Limited Edition” bronzes from the  1980’s, so keep your eyes open for a bargain.


Mike Wilcox
Wilcox & Hall Appraisers

Lalique,Contemporary or Reproduction

hoffmanvaseOften if a “Lalique” item is not it’s cracked up to be there is often the idea it’s a ” fake” or appraised as a near worthless modern reproduction. In some cases this might be true, but it’s not always the case. Pieces like the one pictured are often described as “Unmarked, probably Lalique”, simply because it’s in the Art Deco style and is frosted or etched glass similar to the work of the famous french glass works of  Rene Lalique.

The truth of the matter is many of these “Unmarked Lalique’s” are not actually fakes or even repro’s. The reality is that most of them date within the same time frame as genuine Lalique glassware, but made by now lesser known makers looking to cash in on a popular decorating item of the time, “Frosted” or “Etched” glass. As Lalique’s work was highly popular, other companies were soon to follow their lead and produce similar items to grab some share of the market. A great deal of glassware similar to Laliques was produced in glass works in Czechoslovakia, much of it only bearing paper or foil labels. Similar glass was also made by other French firms as well, such as Verlys, Sabino and Etling.

The piece pictured here is not Lalique, or even French, it’s a Czechoslovakian piece by the firm of Heinrich Hoffmann (1875-1939) . Like much of the Lalique style glassware coming out of Czechoslovakia during the 1920’s quality was often very good, some very much on par with Laliques, or even better in my opinion. Hoffmann was a contemporary of Lalique’s, beginning like Lalique at the turn of the 20th century, producing Art Nouveau-style glass and branching off into Art deco after World War One. Hoffmann’s glass was marked, engraved an open winged butterfly marking or wheel engraved signature, but such markings can be easy to miss if you don’t know what you are looking for. In terms of value, the pieces by quality makers like Hoffmann can be quite high, even at auction presale appraisal estimates for a Hoffmann piece like this can easily run in the $300.00-$600.00 USD range.

Mike Wilcox
Wilcox & Hall Appraisers