Spring Cleaning, Sterling and Yard Sales

The urge of others to “Spring Clean” the house is often a “Sterling Opportunity” for Yard Salers. The result of a winter surrounded by things we no longer want need or taking up too much space sometime leads nto clearing things out without really taking into account their genuine value and letting them go for pennies on the dollar.
In my many years in the business I’ve come across many items at garage and estate sales miss-identified and priced well below even their value at auction. They generally fall under the Decorative Arts and Metal ware categories, but often Furniture and Collectibles as well.

Scrap Silver

The first on this list is Silver, the majority of under priced items I see these days is worn or damaged silverware and surprisingly the easiest to check and even place a base value on. Items made of silver, such as souvenir teaspoons, tableware, jewellery, and cigarette cases all have a basic floor value based on the weight of the precious metal used in making them. It does not matter what condition the item is in, it has a value as “Scrap silver” by weight if it has any silver content at all.

Sterling silver mark

Determining if the item you have is actually silver and not silver plated is relatively easy, especially if the item was made in North America. All that’s required is to look for the company markings, if the item is silver it could be marked with a numerical stamp, or the word “Sterling”. Sterling Silver is a standard measurement of silver first used in England that indicates the silver content is 92.5% pure silver, the numerical stamp for Sterling is “925” ( 925/1000 ths.pure silver). The other numerical marking you might run into is “800”, indicating a silver content of 80% pure silver. On smaller items such as spoons and jewellery these marking can often be worn or quite small, so a magnifying glass would come in handy when checking for these marks.

With all precious metals, the value for them by weight fluctuates on a daily basis on demand from international markets, which is often listed daily in the financial sections of newspapers and online. As I write this, the daily “Spot” value for Sterling silver scrap is $14.43 a standard ounce. There are several online calculators one can use to determine a base value such as http://www.silverrecyclers.com/Calculators/ster_calculator.aspx . The most common unit used for silver is the “Troy Ounce”, which is approximately 1.0971 Standard ounces, but most scrap silver calculators offer options in more commonly used weight measurements such as Ounces and Grams. To use these calculators is pretty easy, all you have to do is weigh the item on a digital kitchen scale and enter the weight into the calculator and click calculate, it will then show what the current “Melt/Scrap Value” is for the item weighed.

It’s easy to see that the scrap value of just a couple of silver items can add up to a tidy sum, even a very plain sterling silver spoon can weigh over an ounce, a battered sterling teapot could have a scrap value of over $250.00. That said, you should know Silver items of all sorts also can have a value far above it’s basic scrap value. Depending on it’s vintage, style and maker that teapot could have a value ten times its scrap value, so before rushing off to a dealer in scrap silver, call in an Appraiser for a valuation of it’s potential value as a Decorative Arts or Collectible item first.

Mike Wilcox


Signed Limoges Porcelain

Signed Limoges plate
A late 19th Century Limoges hand painted plate

Every now and again one runs into unmarked pottery and china that only bears a signature and a date. Pieces like this plate seem to grab the interest more from my clients than well marked pieces by big name makers such as Sevres or Meissen. It’s the mystery of it all I suppose, the single signature and a date offering an irresistible pull.
This plate pictured is one such item, marked ” Jasmine Kain 95″. While there is no company marking, this piece originated in Limoges France, it’s painted in the floral Art Nouveau-style which was near its peak during the turn of the 19th century. The number “95” in my opinion indicates the year 1895.

Limoges was the home of many porcelain companies during the last quarter of the 19th Century, Companies located here produced pieces decorated within their own potteries and those sold as undecorated ” Whiteware” blanks to Schools and Decorating studios. A great deal of these undecorated blanks were made for the export market, chiefly to the USA.

Much of this “white ware” were hand-painted by Students in pottery studio’s located Europe and North America. Referred to as “China painting,” at the time , it was a popular hobby from the last quarter of the 19th Century until the First World War. Sadly, the pieces decorated in most of these studios and the artists who decorated them were very seldom documented. Often the only way such pieces can be identified is if there is a family provenance to the Artist, such as letters or labels some relation has taped to the piece.

In my humble opinion this plate was decorated in North America but, sadly, as is the case with many of these bits of hand painted Limoges, I have no listing for the artist “Jasmine Kain” in any of the databases or text references used to identify signatures or monograms for porcelain decorators.

The majority of these signed Limoges plates are “one of a kind ” items, but they are not rare. While not mass produced, such pieces were made in large numbers, so values are still modest for them. In the current market, comparable hand-painted Limoges based trinket boxes of this period and style often sell at auction for less than $75.00

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

Lost Treasures, Priceless Art, Rare Prints

Currier & Ives Print
A Genuine Currier & Ives “City Of New York” Print. One recenmtly sold for $7000.00 at auction

Ah yes, “Lost Treasures”, “Priceless Art”, “Rare prints” , such are the titles of many a media story when some item appears out of nowhere and is worth thousands if not 100’s of thousands. While such finds are legitimate, like the Powerball lottery happen to very few people at millions to one odds. Still, even people like myself who’ve been it he business for years keep looking, even with these odds we still keep an eye out for that Rembrandt etching in a box lot in a farm auction, or that very rare Currier & Ives print hung up in the outhouse of an abandoned farm.

Sadly most of what we see in the appraisal business are usually turn of the 19th Century mass produced copies of the works of a famous Artists. Most of these were sold in Five & Dime type stores, a lot of them formerly prints cut from feed store or insurance company calendars, pictures great Aunt Harriet could not bring herself to throw away in 1923 and popped it in a cheap frame.

The main reason we tend to look at art as having potential great value does have a great deal to do with media finds of rare pieces, but more for the reason that Art it is looked at as a great mystery, the realm of the Expert to tell us “What’s it worth” . Unlike most antique items that are identifiable by well-documented markings found on china, figurines, furniture and lamps, the markings on prints are often not well documented or have been trimmed off to fit a frame. In such cases the “Expert” needs to be consulted and in the general public’s eyes if an “Expert” is required it equals “Big Value”. Experts do have their place, and if you a have any doubt at all at about a piece of art work you should think about making some calls around to galleries and dealers to get a referral .

For those so inclined there are whole libraries of  books and DVDs devoted to identifying prints, their editions, biographies of the artist and the publishers involved. Many of these you can view for free online or in local libraries,
For anyone who is thinking about collecting or buying & selling genuine prints, that would be my first recommendation. There is another option to determine if what you are looking at is an lithographic print or etching or a  mass produced copy that only requires a trip to th Dollar Store for a cheap magnifying glass.

Image of dot used in mass produced prints
A blown up view of the “Dots” in a mass produced print can look like

For those of you that just want one simple way to determine if the Currier & Ives print of the ‘City of New York ‘  in your hands is worth $7000.00 or $70.00 I have one simple clue….. Dots….. ”

Mass-produced 20th-century prints are produced in the same fashion as  newspapers put photographs into print: with an image made up of thousands of tiny colored dots (as can be seen in the blown up image to the left). If you look closely at a picture in a newspaper, the entire image is made up of a series of tiny dots, looking almost like a honey comb. The vast majority of original prints are various forms of etchings, engraving or lithographs, all of which have their own unique markings, and require some training and practice to identify, but one thing they won’t exhibit is the all-over honey comb of dots found on a mass-produced print.






Mike Wilcox


Antique Marks, Mike is this Hummel figurine a Fake, Value?

No this is not a Hummel, it’s an ” Erich Stauffer” made in Japan for Arnart Creations. Need an appraisal for your Figurine Click Here


I get quite a number of requests about Hummel figurines and values or I should say what people think are ” Rare and Undocumented” examples and said to be “Very valuable”.  Quite often there are stories that go with these pieces that get more interesting each time these figurines change hands. Such was the case with this request for information I received.

“My grandmother collected Hummels since the 1940’s after my Grandfather brought some home with him after World War Two.  I inherited them and have spent the last year trying to catalog them all.  I’ve come across some that I’ve been told are extremely rare.  I have not been able to find any documentation on them, possibly they were pre production pieces by Hummel. They are not marked Hummel, but were designed by Erich Stauffer, who is said to  have worked for Hummel during the late 1930s. The other marking is a blue crossed-arrow with numbers below it. I’d be very interested if you have any information on these pieces”

It’s easy to see why so many people confuse these “Erich Stauffer’s” with genuine Hummels from their appearance, the are very clearly similar in size and style. That’s what leaves people to believe they’ve found some rare, but the markings are the real test of authenticity. All genuine Hummels I have ever seen were clearly marked as such, and each model’s history, production periods is thoroughly documented in multiple reference sources. On genuine Hummels, the signature of Sister M.I. Hummel can be found incised on the base of most every piece, and every authentic M.I. Hummel figurine will also have a Goebel porcelain trademark on its underside.

This “Erich Stauffer” marking indicates this a Hummel “Knock off” by made by Arnart Creations.


The  “Eric Stauffer” Hummel knock offs were made for Arnart Creations in the 1950s, and were one of many decorative lines contracted out by this company and produced in Japan. Unlike Berta Hummel the creator of the original Hummel designs, “Erich Stauffer” appears to be an unknown—or more than likely just an invention used to sell figures via a German-sounding designer’s name. These Arnart Hummel knockoffs have caused a number of legends to be created over the years, probably by hopeful collectors thinking they’d stumbled on a rare prototype of a pre-Second World War Hummel from the 1930s or a one-of-a-kind presented to visiting diplomats or retiring workers. These stories are very intriguing but unfortunately none of these legends are true.




Mike Wilcox

Wilcox & Hall Appraisers

Antique Marks, “Mike, what have I got?”

Patent dates on metal fittings can give the earliest date the piece could have been made and close window of its actual age.

Patent dates on old hardware, like this rocking chair spring, can give the earliest date the piece could have been made, as well as a general window of its actual age.

As an Appraiser who participates regularly in Antique Roadshow-type events and teaches courses on the identification of  antiques and collectibles, I receivea huge amount of requests questions via e-mail and in person, about the marks found on metal ware such as silver , pottery, porcelain, glass, lamps and figurines. A lot of these questions seems to be at the lack of hard and fast rules explaining what the variaous markings mean. In most cases it’s just a matter of a novice collector reading a bullet-point list of information on say, ‘Staffordshire pottery’ online, then buying a Staffordshire platter based that list, only to find out once they got it hom the piece was more 1980s than 1880’s reproduction. So, I’m going to run through some questions with examples to answer the questions I’m asked most often  hear most often about marks on Antiques and Collectibles.


I have a platform rocking chair that has a spring mechanism on the base that has “Patented 1884” molded on it. I was led to believe that means this chair was made in 1884, the problem is but documentation from the great-granddaughter of original owner clearly  stating that it was bought brand new in 1897 as a wedding gift, which story is right?


All the patent date indicates is the earliest date that spring mechanism was in existance and found on that type of platform rocking chair. What Patents do is provid protection from other companies copying it for set period of years. Different countries each have their own regulations for patents, so it varies. In the U.S., design patents could run up to 14 years, so an item marked “Patented 1884” could have been made as late as 1898. So, in the case of this chair, its family history of being purchased in 1898 could be 100-percent true. There are exception to this rule. If there are any other patent dates on the same fitting , but with a later date, for example 1900, that date would be the earliest that fitting would be found.



Based on what I’ve seen on antique road shows for years on TV, I purchased what I thought was an antique floor vase. I’ve often heard the appraisers on these shows say that really old china sometimes don’t have much in the way of markings. Mine just had a red script on it and nothing else. I didn’t pay much for it, and not seeing any company markingsmade me think I’d lucked out with a find. I local Antique dealer look it, who told me the vase was Chinese and was probably only 10 years old at best. I don’t know if he was trying to rip me off or what.


No reason to be discouraged, Chinese porcelain is tough subject, it takes years to even begin to get a handle on it. I don’t have an image of you vase to give you my opinion, but based on what the Dealer told you, here is what he should have told you, if he was being honest with you. A great many vases that have been imported from China for the Decorator market since the 1970’s. Most are based on traditional Chinese porcelain and hand-decorated very much like the originals. A great many had a paper or foil label that indicated it was “Made in China.” Labels like this are not very durable or often removed after sale. floor vases of this type have been flooding the market,  the majority sold through Import/Export outlets, Decor stores and Garden centers.

Mike Wilcox
Wilcox & Hall Appraisers