Whitehall Blog

Archive for April, 2011

Magnificent, Mysterious Meissen

Friday, April 29th, 2011

We recently brought into the shop to sell a rather wonderful collection of Meissen from the estate of a local collector.  Her taste was impeccable as you will see in the following photos and discussion–and I almost made the same error she made!  I was so intrigued and entranced by the rare form of the covered vegetable dishes, their 18th century date and their lovely decoration (some hiding little firing flaws) that I failed to consider the implication of the dry, unglazed bottoms.  One does see such bottoms, but not really on table pieces.  So it was time for a more careful look and a careful comparison among the pieces of the collection.

Pair Covered Meissen Vegetable Dishes

These are attention grabbers!  From the finials of children scattering fruits down the covers to the Rococo-Neo-classical Transitional molded form to the sense that they float above the table–these are clearly great objects before one ever turns them over to look for markings.  Add to that some sensational gilding and your heart is pounding when you walk into an estate setting and first see these pieces, as I did a few weeks ago.  They scream major German factory.

The Covers Removed

With the covers off several aspects become important.  The design is laid out asymmetrically–a hallmark of mid 18th century Rococo design and not associated with either classicism or Rococo Revival in the 19th century.  Also there are minor firing flaws associated with early work, not with 19th and 20th century firings.  Several little bugs and florets hide flaws–another 18th century characteristic.  At this point I really really liked what I saw!

Finial Detail

The softness of the glaze and decoration give sweet life to the finely molded  children–typical of the 18th century there is no harshness in the sensitive rendering of these children.  They are exquisitely detailed but not minutely painted in the manner of 19th and 20th century Meissen, KPM, Hoechst and other great German factories. (oe substitutes for the umlaut–sorry)

Time to turn them over and learn more–such as what great factory made them.

Base of a Vegetable Dish

The mark which should be blue underglaze is correct for 1750-1775 (transitional period of Rococo to Neo-classical—crossed swords with a dot).  The incised marks are also correct.  What is very wrong is the lack of glaze across most of the base!  While figures may be unglazed underneath,  table pieces simply are not unglazed.  WHY are these unglazed?  And more to the point, they look like  glaze has been scraped away!

So one begins to re-examine everything about these pieces.  Is the decoration–especially the floral decoration–really good enough to be Meissen factory work?  Unless one handles thousands of Meissen pieces and thinks daily about Meissen porcelain then the surest path to a solution is a comparison.  Look at another piece from the same period and same factory and compare them.  In this instance one was at hand from the very same collection.

Meissen Bowl for Comparison

It quickly becomes apparent that the floral decoration of this 18th century Meissen bowl is vastly superior to the vegetable dish decoration–and this decoration also hides minor firing flaws, that nifty technique that allowed many slightly defective pieces to be decorated and sold by the factory rather than losing the investment put into each piece by all 18th century factories.  So we have a solid comparison–and we bring the puzzle into greater clarity.  Spend a few minutes going back and forth between these flowers and the ones on the vegetable dishes; these bugs and those bugs.  The flowers and bugs on this bowl are richly rendered with great depth–those on the vegetables are far less rich, far less lively.

These vegetable dishes originally had cancel marks–the unique method used by the Meissen factory’s quality control inspectors to indicate they found one or more serious flaws:  a scratch was made over the blue swords that cut through the glaze and could never be hidden.  One or two cancellation marks and the piece might still make it through the factory fully decorated–more and the piece would be sold blank to a small factory to decorate and sell, a profitable situation for both the great Meissen company and the little decorating shops.  The only way to hide cancel marks is to remove all of the glaze–and this is just what was done to these pieces.

Curious additional questions arise.  The faces of those children are truly reflective of 18th century Meissen work.  Could it be these were finally “cancelled out” of the factory at a later inspection–after decorating had begun?  The inspectors were constantly vigilant and pieces were inspected and reinspected at every stage of the production process.  We will never know the full story of these pieces, but the speculation is great fun!  What we can, I believe, state certainly is that the floral decoration is not original, not from the Meissen factory.  They were probably decorated by an outside decorating shop shortly after they were made–the decoration is 18th century, just not Meissen decoration.

This collection has a variety of pieces, in form, decoration and age–I want to share them with you.

Let’s begin with the exquisite bowl used above for the comparison of floral decoration.  The outside is equally beautiful.

Outside of the Bowl

The exterior of this 18th century bowl is exquisitely molded with a basket effect entwining the rococo reserves all accented with fine gilding.  The reserves, so delicately proportioned, are painted to the same exacting standard as the center of the bowl–lush and rich and deep.  And again let me remind you that several of the little bugs are disguising minor flaws caused by bits of ash floating through the firing kiln–no clean burning gas in the 18th century!

The base is wonderful as under it’s glazed finish we see both the mark of the late 18th century and the many granular flaws and creaminess associated with this early era.

Correct Underglaze Mark on this Bow

No scraped away glaze here–this was very definitely made, painted and gilded in the Meissen factory by the greatest artisans of 18th century Germany.


Pair of Small Oval Meissen Dishes

Also in the collection are a charming pair of little highly molded and gloriously painted oval dishes.  Only 6.25″ wide they have the mark of 1814 to 1860 but are almost certainly models created in the 18th century and still popular in this period of the Rococo Revival at its peak from 1835 to 1865–exactly the era of the mark.  We always want to find a congruence of marks and style as we understand the evolution of style throughout the ages, thus a c. 1850 dating of these dishes would be totally appropriate (the other Meissen dating protocol would be to simply list the span of use of the mark).

The Meissen mark on these dishes:

Mark on Oval Dishes

Notice a major difference now–the glaze is even more glistening, purer white, and above all flawless–no bits of flotsam landing on these pieces during the firings!

Finally from this collection a pair of scallop form dishes!

Meissen Scallop Dishes

Typical of much porcelain, this form is most often thought of as a silver form–used both for butter and for, in silver, baking seafood in butter–uhm uhm good!  I personally love this form because I love the beach memories it evokes.  Every antique speaks its own story to each of us based on the experiences and memories we bring to the piece.  These do show a bit of rubbing on the high ridges of the molded shell–otherwise they are simply exquisite. These were also made between 1814 and 1860 and again the form was created first–and likely these very molds were created–in the 18th century.

It is fun to note that those delightful little bugs are still around–but now they are not hiding flaws, just providing another element of delight.

The mark is again clear underglaze blue, the bottoms shiny and flawless:

Scallop Dish Mark

All of these pieces are currently available to touch, examine–even purchase–in our shop.  Come in and delight in them!  The prices are:  $1,800.00 for the covered vegetable dishes;  $1,200 for the bowl;  $245.00 the pair of oval dishes;  and $285.00 for the scallop dishes.

High Point Wrap-up

Thursday, April 28th, 2011

Thought you might enjoy a few shots of our space at High Point Antique and Design Center earlier this month–we will return in October to the same space–we built and painted the walls on the right to complement the upholstery Elizabeth put on the set of ten antique French chairs.

Right Side of the Booth

Right Side of the Booth

The little fish and bone rugs are all made of antique oriental rugs salvaged for your cats’ and dogs’ dining pleasure–the largest ones also make perfect back door mats as they are carefully bound and non-skid backed by a Lexington, Kentucky craftswoman.

View across the booth

View across the booth

The TV is showing a slide show of the Villa and providing music for the booth–sitting on a rare c. 1830 Country French Bench–originally for a bedroom but ideal for so many uses and able to accommodate the largest TV and complete electronic gear–even has little tills on top right and left ideal for those multitude of changers!

Left front side of the Booth

Left front side of the Booth

A group of boxes placed on custom made stands to create unique little side and coffee tables:  lap desks, gun boxes and bagatelle games!  Ideal beside club chairs or between wing chairs–so useful and fun!

Back Half of Booth

Back Half of Booth

From the warmth of a dining table supported by four hunting dogs to a spectacular yet charming grand buffet a deux corps enfilade, the back of the booth definitely drew folks in!  The flanking paintings from the 17th century once belonged to the Countess Tolstoy; a collection of Black Forest carvings graces the table–and wine and nibbles all day long to keep up our clients’ strength!

COME SEE US THIS OCTOBER in fabulous, historic Market Square and shop over 60,000 square feet of antiques–open daily to the trade and on three special days to everyone.  Watch here for notices next Fall!

New Shipment is Here!

Thursday, April 21st, 2011

After two grueling days of unloading, unpacking, cleaning, polishing–we are ready for tomorrow!  When we open at 11:00 you will find the shop bursting with great chests, buffets, chairs, country and formal dining tables, writing tables, bamboo, paintings and prints, really nifty fireplace accessories, beautiful brass, garden items, Russian tsarist period and English Georgian silver, rare Staffordshire pieces, candlesticks, silver fish services, a collection of French inkwells and paperweights, exquisite French and Bohemian glass boxes, dozens of eighteenth and nineteenth century tea caddies, the finest writing desks we have ever found, Delft, majolica, faience–you name it, we probably have it.  Come join us this weekend (except Sunday of course) and browse through hundreds of new items.

New Shipment Coming

Saturday, April 16th, 2011

We are all excited–deliveries going out this week and  next Tuesday, then loads of new goodies from France and England.  I will be photographing several pieces and getting out studies of them so check in late next week.

The shop is closed Wednesday and Thursday as we set up all the new furniture;  Chinese export boxes and porcelains; incredible glass including paperweights, inkwells, gorgeous boxes of both cased, cut glass and various colored glass;  dozens of tea caddies, boxes on stands, biscuit boxes by Huntley and Palmer and their rivals;  a collection of corkscrews from 1730 to 1930; faience and delft; Black Forest carvings; unusual lamps made from antiques; chandeliers;  brass weights and scales;  Georgian and Victorian sterling silver; and so much more!  Come visit on Friday and Saturday–closed Easter Sunday, then open again all week!

We also have some new and exciting jewels of paintings by the great French impressionist Herve, sterling, pottery including a rare Shearwater lion, and much much more from local estates being put out this week and next.

Regency Sofa Table

Tuesday, April 5th, 2011
c. 1815 Sofa Table

c. 1815 Sofa Table

PLEASE NOTE:  all thumbnail photos in this study may be enlarged on our website under sofa tables, item WOT-1335z

This English mahogany sofa table is a classic example of the form–new during this era of furniture making beginning about 1800 as the concept of sofas and chairs of rather light scale became dominant in the upper echelons of society.  No drawing room was complete without this elegant form floating gracefully behind a sofa, perhaps with a chair drawn up for writing a note.  Normally a pair of drawers is on one side opposed by a pair of decorative faux drawers.  Each end has drop leaves–shown down in this first photo–to go behind a small settee/sofa for two.  At this time mahogany is the dominant wood, although these forms can be found in rosewood, coromandel, and satinwood.

Sofa Table with leaves raised.

Sofa Table with leaves raised.

In this photo we see the leaves raised to sit behind a larger sofa–a mark of great versatility.  This table is exceptional in that the supports are finely carved swing supports designed to actually elongate the visual apron line, thus there are two drawers centered by a small panel with these curving supports swinging forward to make them flush with the front edge.  95% or so of the time the butterfly supports are centered under the leaves and are basically invisible.  Obviously such normal supports of secondary wood, essentially invisible,  are very inexpensive to make compared to these finely finished supports.  We judge antique furniture today by the effort and quality of design and craftsmanship expended when the piece was originally made–this piece must be judged as superior by both of those standards as we shall see.

Legs and Cast Brass Casters

Legs and Cast Brass Casters

Before looking inside this table, lets examine the final marks of quality based on design and exterior materials designed to dazzle the cabinetmaker’s client!  The ring turned double leg supports are crisp and well executed–enhanced with ebonizing.   By the way, ebony and ebonizing became very fashionable about 1805 which coincided with the death of Lord Nelson–thus the beloved antiques dealer’s story that all that ebony was introduced for a nation in mourning for its beloved Admiral of the realm!  Great story–not true!  The top is cross-banded with rosewood and the legs have inlays down the flattened top surfaces.  The legs terminate in cast gilt brass foliate motif caps and casters.  So we have carving, inlays and superb brass all adding to the elegance of a piece that was very expensive when created–certainly only for a member of the aristocracy or the very successful merchant class in London or another major city.

Viewing the Interior

Viewing the Interior

In this photo we are able to begin exploring typical characteristics of Georgian/Regency construction and secondary wood uses.  Not only can we see the white pine used to create the unseen interior of the table framework, we can also see that by separating the drawers with a vertical panel the maker has allowed himself the opportunity of creating a very tight case to contain the drawer, keeping it from wiggling when opened and adding great stability to the table–the pine panels are joined to the front panel with dovetails.  Note also that both parts of the dovetail are pine–we know then that the thick exterior mahogany panel is glued to this pine backing panel.  Note also how clean and white the pine is–protected from air it shows no oxidation (darkening caused by exposure to air ).  This is excellent craftsmanship–the work of a cabinetmaking shop that understood everything that could happen adversely to fine furniture over many years and trying to prevent those problems from happening.  This is an important trend actually that occurred over many years–the makers were keenly aware of what happened to their very valuable and expensive products and the ire of owners when unpleasant things happened to their fine furniture!  We have many records of shops having to send their men to rectify problems in clients’ homes in the 18th century!  They took these issues to heart and sought ways to prevent the problems in future production.  A perfect example of this happened about 1730 when craftsmen who logically had drawers stop by bumping against the back of the case began to be besieged by clients who’s drawers were literally being expelled forward from the chest as the case shrank front to back on the sides, top and bottom while the drawers also shrank across the grain–but drawer grain is top to bottom, not front to back.  This led to leaving about an inch or so behind the drawers so they did not reach the back no matter how much the sides shrank!

Drawer Construction

Drawer Construction

Finally, let us turn to the drawers themselves and examine their construction.  By this time truly great English cabinetmakers are using lesser grade mahogany (baywood) as the wood of choice for interiors of drawers made for clients of means willing to pay a bit more for the finest construction.  You can also see now the ebony trim of the upper and lower edge of the top and the vertical mahogany veneer on the edge of the top–very nice indeed that lower bit of ebony visible only to those seated at eye level across the room from the table!  Notice once again the lack of oxidation–the drawer side protected by that pine side piece discussed and shown above.  As it was hard to see the pine on pine dovetails of the interior separator, it is equally difficult to distinguish the mahogany joined to mahogany to create the dovetailed drawer joint, so look with care at how finely they are crafted.

Back of the Drawer

Back of the Drawer

Finally, a quick look at the rear of the drawer–the same fine three dovetails are employed here, rather than the often found larger and fewer dovetails at the back where they would never be seen.  This maker cared very deeply about his product.  For the first time we finally see oxidation on the secondary wood surface because the drawer does NOT reach the back of the piece–air rises behind the drawer and darkens the back surface!  We would find the same darkening on the drawer bottoms also exposed to air.

Many of our points in this study are only true at the end of the 18th and on into the 19th centuries–mahogany secondary, turned motifs, ebonizing, gilt foliate feet replacing square or lion motifs.  Trade was vast, the number of customers was expanding, the merchant class was rising–cabinetmakers were so respected they were on rare occasions invited to aristocratic homes for social events!  The world was changing and so was cabinetmaking.

For an interesting and period appropriate comparison to this table, refer to my earlier blog discussing the signed rosewood writing/sofa table with gallery and double pedestal base published on September 14, 2010.

Lecture April 4th at High Point

Saturday, April 2nd, 2011

A&DC Lecture Series

David Linquist
Monday, April 4, 2011 3:30pm – 4:45pm
David Lindquist – Antiques Dealer, Appraiser, and Authenticator - Whitehall AntiquesTopic: “Antique Furniture–What to Know Before You Buy.”

Bio: David Lindquist, degrees from Drury University and Duke University, has been a full time antiques dealer, appraiser and authenticator since 1974. For over 25 years a Senior Accredited Member of ASA, David now works strictly as a consultant to appraisers throughout America. His books remain indispensible to appraisers and collectors.

This is a hard hitting Power Point and Hands On Examples lecture on how to educate your eye and guide your clients to acquire legitimate antiques. Moreover, we will discuss the types of values so that you can share with your clientele the bargains to be found in every range of the antiques world from collector quality to remade pieces which deliver a lot of bang for the buck! This is an exciting one hour talk that will truly put you in an advantageous position when you shop with your clients–they will gain confidence in your guidance when you not only share style points with them but also value and authenticity points.David Linquist

High Point Antique and Design Center Continues

Saturday, April 2nd, 2011
Opening Night

Opening Night was Thursday. Planned to do a discussion of a Regency Sofa Table tonight (Saturday), but too tired to think or move my fingers! As you can see the Historic Market Square is a delight with brick walls, wood floors and beams all preserved. Hours of 9-7 are grueling and five more days to go. Will try to get to sofa table tomorrow!