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Bob Welter says he has always been attracted to top quality, whether it’s the antiques he collects or the woman he married.
Welter has collected R.S. Prussia for 12 years, but his admiration for the porcelain china dates back to his formative years, when he dished potato salad from a beautifully decorated bowl given to his grandparents as a wedding present in 1907.
“My sister inherited it, and I was jealous for 20 years, not knowing you could find this stuff,” said the 61-year-old Texan.
While growing up in Rochester, N.Y., Welter had a neighborhood paper route that enabled him to collect coins as a hobby.
“I could only afford to collect pennies, but they were the first thing I collected. I began to associate years with history, and that helped me in school,” said Welter.
He began collecting antiques after he married Christine, his longtime pen pal.
“My wife and I were pen pals for 20 years before we got married. Her dad was a traveling engineer for an oil company, working in Milan, Italy, when we first started writing.
The young friends first met in New York City in 1965, after Christine’s family left India when war erupted with Pakistan.
“So I got to go down for a weekend to meet and greet,” said Welter. “Seventeen years later, we were both unattached … and lo and behold.”
The couple’s love affair with R.S. Prussia, porcelain made by the Schlegelmilch family before 1917, started many years later when they attended an antique show in Kansas City.
“Danny Chandler and Paul Fisher had a booth, and it was filled with R.S. Prussia. We talked to them for so long they told us about the international club, which we joined,” said Welter.
The couple attended a national convention of the International Association of R.S. Prussia Collectors Inc. several months later.
“It was the most fun I had in 20 years. (There were) 180 people selling out of their rooms. It took us 10 hours to make one go-round, said Welter.
He joked that his wife said he had a new audience in every room. “I said, ‘You know me too well,’” Welter recalled.
While the Welters also enjoy visiting antique shops on their travels, Bob often buys at auctions. He’s a regular customer of Woody Auction in Douglass, Kan., which regularly conducts R.S. Prussia auctions.
“They’ve done many of our convention auctions — that’s been at least 12 years,” said Welter, who estimates the couple’s R.S. Prussia collection numbers at least 5,000 pieces.
Welter said the collection displays nicely in their late 1880s Victorian home in east Texas.
“When you don’t have kids, you can do that,” joked Welter, who learned later that his grandparents’ R.S. Prussia bowl was a Four Seasons variety worth $5,000.
It’s likely one of the few desirable pieces that has eluded him.
Recently, Welter discovered he had purchased a rare R.S. Prussia picture frame at a Woody Auction in August 2009. Welter said he bought the unmarked 8-inch-by-10-inch frame thinking it was French, probably Limoges, even though Woody had listed it in his catalog as possibly being R.S. Prussia.
“I just thought it was so pretty that it would be something my wife would enjoy,” said Welter, who asked auctioneer Jason Woody to hold it until they met up at the national convention in July.
“As soon as I saw it I said, ‘Ooh!’ and ran to our author in residence, Lee Marple, and said, ‘Is it possible?’ He looked at it and said, ‘Oh, yes. That’s R.S. Prussia.’ I thought, ‘A home run!’” said Welter.
Auctioneer Woody said he thought the unmarked frame was R.S. Prussia right from the start.
“R.S. Prussia collectors can tell by the style, the mold shape, the colors and decoration. Persons familiar with R.S. Prussia can identify it,” said Woody.
Welter said that he thought Marple recognized the transfer decoration on the frame. Welter also suggested the frame was left unmarked because it was intended for the German market.
“Everybody knew who they were; they didn’t need to mark it,’ said Welter.
Making the buy all the more sweeter, the final auction price ended at only $225.
“I always ask the auctioneers what they think something will go for in their market. Woody said he thought it would go for $400 to $600. I bid (absentee) $750 and got it for $225,” said Welter, adding, “It all depends on who’s there and what they think.”
Welter describes the R.S. Prussia market as “coming back.”
“Because it was such high quality, and in spite of their prolific production, it’s still a limited item, since the factory went out of business in 1917. It’s been able to hold its own,” said Welter.
“As big a collection as we have, we still find things we’ve never seen before, and things the club members have never seen. That makes it fun,” he said.
Asked if he has found a picture to put in the frame yet, Welter was quick to reply, “My wife’s … nothing but the best.” ?
Tom Hoepf is a freelance writer living in Knightstown, Ind. He collects glass made in his hometown, Tiffin, Ohio.
|Ornately decorated china marked “R.S. Prussia” and “R.S. Germany” continues to grow in popularity. According to the Third Series of Mary Frank Gaston’s Encyclopedia of R.S. Prussia (Collector Books, Paducah, Ky.), these marks were used by the Reinhold Schlegelmilch porcelain factories located in Suhl in the Germanic regions known as “Prussia” prior to World War I, and in Tillowitz, Silesia, which became part of Poland after World War II.
Other marks sought by collectors include “R.S. Suhl,” “R.S.” steeple or church marks, and “R.S. Poland.”
The Suhl factory was founded by Reinhold Schlegelmilch in 1869 and closed in 1917. The Tillowitz factory was established in 1895 by Erhard Schlegelmilch, Reinhold’s son. This china customarily bears the phrase “R.S. Germany” and R.S. Tillowitz.” The Tillowitz factory closed in 1945, but it was reopened for a few years under Polish administration.
Prices are high and collectors should beware of the forgeries that sometimes find their way onto the market.
The “Prussia” and “R.S. Suhl” marks have been reproduced, so buy with care. Later copies of these marks are well done, but quality of porcelain is inferior to the production in the 1890-1920 era.
Collectors are also interested in the porcelain products made by the Erdmann Schlegelmilch factory. This factory was founded by three brothers in Suhl in 1861. They named the factory in honor of their father, Erdmann Schlegelmilch. A variety of marks incorporating the “E.S.” initials were used. The factory closed circa 1935. The Erdmann Schlegelmilch factory was an earlier and entirely separate business from the Reinhold Schlegelmilch factory. The two were not related to each other.
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