Q This bowl has been in our family as long as any of the living members can remember. We don’t have a clue as to where it came from, but looks to be Chinese. I would appreciate any information you could give me.
— M.M. Central Point, Ore.
A The bowl appears to be a hand-painted abalone shell depicting a Chinese tableau. There are seven men dressed in traditional Chinese garb; one of them reading from a parchment. The symbols on the parchment, however, are not actual Chinese characters. It is very possible that these figures represent the Seven Sages (or Worthies) of the Bamboo Grove.
Simply stated, the Seven Sages of the Bamboo Grove were a group of 3rd century Chinese scholars and poets who joined together and fled to the countryside to escape the dangers and pitfalls of political life in China. They became advocates of personal freedom and hedonism. Your bowl is beautifully and skillfully painted; you may want to examine closely for any indication of the artist’s name. Without a name, I would place a value of $125 to $150 for this beautiful piece of art.
Q My brother found this item at a flea market in Topeka, Kan. We have no idea what it really is for. It is obviously for use with fingers, and seems to be for extension work of some kind, with those long “arms.” While the small “working” end seems to be for cutting, it is not a sharp cutting edge. The whole piece is just under 6 inches long.
The “working” end is an inch long, and opens to 1 1/4 inches fully, although it is really less than that, as limited by the users’ finger span. There is a simple design on the sides of the arms and the top as well, but there are no markers’ marks anywhere on the piece. Hopefully some of your readers will recognize it.
— J.L. Olathe, Kans.
A You are right when you guess this instrument is used for cutting; they are candle wick trimmers. The shape and design suggest that this is a contemporary piece; it look suspiciously like one offered by Yankee Candle for $9.99. I have also seen this style with almost the same design on line for $5.99. I hope your brother didn’t spend more than this on the clippers. There is a reason it is called a flea market; if you don’t know what you’re buying you may get fleeced. (Not actually true, but it sounds good.)
That being said, let’s briefly address the term “flea market.” Although the concept of the flea market has existed throughout much of our recorded history, the term “flea market” was not used until the early 20th century and is a direct translation from the French term marche aux puces. France was known for its many flea markets where all types of goods were sold including clothing and other textiles. These markets were, reputedly, places where one could contract fleas; a likely possibility during the previous centuries. After reading, this I dare you not to scratch while attending your next swap meet.