In the late 1800s, trinkets that cluttered rooms had a swanky French name. “Bric-a-brac” was coined in France, a country celebrated for fashion, dining and – of course – home décor. And households across the United States really took to bric-a-brac. Shelves for displaying such knickknacks were baptized with the lofty sounding “étagère,” which literally means “stairway.” No proper Victorian parlor was complete without an étagère crammed with bric-a-brac. In fact, France still affects our collecting as the first question from a reader illustrates.
Q. My 11-piece bedroom china is green and white and quite beautiful. It includes a large pitcher and basin, shaving mug, two hair receivers with lids, hot water pitcher, tooth brush holder, two large potties with lids and two small potties with lids. Enclosed is a drawing of the mark which says “Sèvres.”
– L.S.C., Hendersonville, N.C.
A. Your very complete chamber set dates circa 1880, before modern plumbing was the norm for most homes. The two large pottie jars were for adults, while the two smaller were child-sized.
Here is another example of the American love affair for all things French. This started when Thomas Jefferson was ambassador to France during the 1780s. “Sèvres” refers to the pattern named after the great French porcelain factory Sèvres, located outside Paris. Potteries in the United States made sets similar to your elegant ensemble.
Your antique is very desirable, since usually only the basin and bowl survive. Pacific Galleries in Seattle sold a comparable six-piece set for $100 Sep. 12, 2010; and Skinner’s of Boston auctioned a four-piece set for $70 Oct. 14, 2010. I am sure both auctions were disappointed with the prices, but these days collectors are less keen on bric-a-brac while focusing on antiques such as desks that can actually be used. Based on those two sales, your chamber set is worth about $200 at auction. (I have to tell you that figure breaks my heart, because I feel it should be worth much more, but the research is objective.)
Q. I received as a gift several years ago a lithograph by Chicago printers Kurtz and Allison entitled “Charge of the 24th and 25th Colored Infantry and Rescue of Rough Riders at San Juan Hill, July 2, 1898.” It is about 21 inches by 26 inches and produced in 1899. I would appreciate if you research this and let me know its estimated value.
– J.L., York, S.C.
A. You have a tremendous slice of U.S.A. history that shows how far we have progressed. Today, Spain and the United States are great friends, and such a description would no longer be used. America fought a war against Spain in 1898 that put Theodore Roosevelt on the road to the presidency. Other popular antiques from that era are glass-covered compotes in the shape of a ship that say, “Remember the Maine,” referring to claims that Spain was responsible for the sinking of the American battleship.
Kurz & Allison was located in Chicago, and the firm’s heyday was from 1880 to 1903. The lithographers were famous for depicting Civil War battles. I was unable to find sales of your title but found another Spanish American War theme by Kurz & Allison. Northeast Auctions of Portsmouth, N.H., sold “The Destruction of the U.S. Battleship Maine” for $236 Aug. 16, 2006. With that information, your more unusual lithograph would probably fetch around $350 at auction.
Q. My father was a pharmacist and owned a pharmacy here from 1936 until 1975. The furniture and fountain were quite old when he bought the store. The metal label on one piece stays “Stanley Knight.” Included are 2 cabinets, marble fountain with backbar of cabinet and a cabinet where my Dad filled prescriptions. All match. I would appreciate any information. – L.G. Bowling Green, Fla.
A. Seeing your dad working at the soda bar and pharmacy makes me chuckle. Besides those chipper vibes you also have a “Stanley Knight” label which is to drug store cabinets what a Renoir signature is to a painting.
They were made by Stanley Knight of Chicago who started the firm around 1910 and became known for “White Knight” soda fountains. If you were to sell them (and don’t you dare!), the best way would be through an auction house that has sold similar pieces. First, see if the auctioneer recommends selling each piece separately or as part of one lot.
On June 11, 2005 Antique Helper in Indianapolis sold two drug store wood display cases similar to yours. The first was 189 inches long with some damaged areas which kept its price at $1,750. But the second one in better condition and approximately the same size fetched $4,500.
Since your cabinets were made by Stanley Knight but realizing that was six years ago and considering current economic circumstances, I think it is reasonable to say each cabinet is worth about $3,500 at auction.
Frank Farmer Loomis IV is an antiques and fine arts appraiser, lecturer, journalist and host of “Keep Antiquing!” a weekly radio show on WMKV radio in Cincinnati, Ohio. He is the author of Antiques 101 and Secrets of Affordable Antiques in addition to hosting “Antiques, History & Loomis” on Anderson Community Television, broadcast on Cincinnati Public Television.
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