Ask AT: Wax relief portraits of historical figures now uncommon curiosity

Q. This fireplace tool holder has information on the bottom that appears to be hand stamped. Can you tell me about it?
P.F.M., Edgewater, Md.

A. Before the 19th century homemakers called it, ‘the place of the fire,’, the hearth had been both primary source for heat and cooking. After that, cast-iron stoves were heating homes using radiant heat and fireplaces no longer dominated so much attention. Your cast-iron tool stand is a beautiful example of fireplace decorations in the Art Nouveau era, circa 1890. One could not present utilitarian objects more flamboyant than this.

Fire accessories were manufactured to complement different styles of fireplaces that they served and often had matching andirons. Curvilinear castings of florals and trailing ribbon with its twists and swirls show attention was given to overall design. The open-ring handle makes it mobile and oversized scroll feet prevent it from tipping. One would have to know height and examine the item to research the partial foundry mark that you included. Most of the iron industry was concentrated around Philadelphia. This beauty ‘deserves’ to be cast in permanent material. Value: $850.

Q. I have not been able to find this vase in any reference books. The term on the bottom (exclusively made for) might indicate low output. I am seeking a value.
G.V., Ann Arbor, Mich.

A. This tri-cornered ewer was manufactured by Copeland & Sons, England and made expressly for the 1876 American Centennial, Philadelphia, PA. All things commemorative were the order of the day on May 10th in Fairmount Park. There were street vendors with three-cent souvenirs to ceramic masterpieces from leading firms around the world. This vase-shaped jug comprising of three eagles was considered an oddity, or in today’s language, it was really off the wall! The centennial pitcher in bold relief, stimulates patriotism with tri-directional beak-spouts, to the eagle claws on the base. Half-way down each handle, the text within confines of an outlined shield reads:

1776 Declaration of Independence / 1876 Centennial Memorial. (The imprint simplifies dating memorials). / Washington Father of our Country

In 1833 William Taylor Copeland took over his fathers business in Stoke on Trent incorporating updated china patterns. It was in 1867 W. T. took his four sons into partnership with him and they continued high quality output. James M. Shaw was a well-known china distributor in New York that commissioned leading china manufacturers. He sold wares at the famous United States Hotel that adjoined the centennial grounds. His advertisement boasted that it was made in Majolica, Parian,

Stone and Ivory body. This figural eagle pitcher needs to be examined for authenticity and could have a value of $1,200. If placed in a high-profile auction with other 1876 Centennial collectibles it could bring more.

Q. I purchased these wax sculptures at an estate sale. They appear to have been in a museum, any information please.
L.M., Hopkins, Mich.

A. You have a pair of medallion portraits in wax relief. Since the middle ages wax has been used in the modeling of marble sculptures. Mid 1800s in Europe it was high-vogue to have representation and likenesses of historical persons. Wax could be exquisitely carved and is close to the color and appearance of skin. Average size would be less than two inches and delicate skill was required by the artist. Wax is pliable to both hand and tool, has no air-bubbles, can be colored, and once hardened, resilient to moderate temperature variations. They were usually on glass or slate surfaces.

Portrait One:
1754-1842: Duke DE Conigliano, Bon Adrien Jeannot DE Moncey, Marshall of the Empire, General Vice-Commander-In-Chief in1804.

Portrait Two: ( open collar)
Born in 1767, Joachim Napoleon Murat, King of Naples 1806. He was Aide DE Camp to Bonaparte and close associate who married Napoleon’s sister. Executed 10/13/1815

You included the name of Henry Brown, former director of Detroit Historical Museum. In some instances inventoried items are sold off, if you want further information you might check with them. This pair of bust-length wax reliefs are mounted in matched darkened frames, if in perfect condition have an approximate value of $550.


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