Collecting Feature: Family traditions

Every Sunday was a treasure hunt as my parents and I explored flea markets and antique stores high and low in search of Royal Doulton Flambé and Nippon porcelain. I recall ever so gently picking up assorted plates, bowls, tea pots and tankards in order to inspect the markings on the bottom.

My mother, Vonda Drone, grew up in Evansville, Ind., and began collecting Nippon when she was 16. By the time she turned 51 she had succeeded in acquiring one style of every piece produced during the Nippon era.

The Nippon era began in 1891 with the passage of the McKinley Tariff Act that mandated all articles of foreign manufacture be marked in legible English words to indicate the country of their origin. However, in March of 1921, the United States government reversed its position and decided that Nippon was not an English word, but a Japanese word for Japan. Subsequently, anything stamped Nippon was not released into the United States, thus marking the end of Nippon marked merchandise.

Although the Nippon era lasted for 30 years, unique items of high quality have become more difficult to find. My mother believes it is difficult to find high quality Nippon because it became popular among collectors. However, when she first started collecting in the early 1950s, there were still mixed feelings toward Japan as a result of WWII.

Japanese products were not prominently displayed and mint pieces of Nippon could be purchased at low cost. The first piece of Nippon my mother purchased was a white bowl with gold roses and bead work. She bought the piece in the early 1950s on Euclid Avenue in St. Louis, Mo., for $8. Today, that same bowl has been appraised for $225.

My mother has no favorite pieces in her collection; they are all special to her. But for me, I hold a special place in my heart for my mother’s antique Nippon dresser set.

One Sunday I recall my mother announcing she wanted a Nippon dresser set. I asked what a dresser set looked like and was told to look for a tray with perfume bottles and matching candlestick holders. I headed off in search of the dresser set and couldn’t believe my eyes when I stumbled upon a beautiful porcelain tray with assorted jars, bottles and two matching candlestick holders. As I slowly approached the booth where the dresser set was displayed, I remember reaching out for one of the candlestick holders so I could inspect the bottom. The man selling the set warned, “Don’t you dare.” I didn’t argue. Instead I ran off in search of my mother who returned with me to the booth. She proceeded to tell the gentleman that he should never discourage young collectors. I beamed with pride not only at what my mother had said but at the fact I had found exactly what she had been searching for: an antique Nippon dresser set that happened to be in mint condition.

I recall my mother saying that collecting for her was a form of relaxation. She also said, “I always told your father that collecting was cheaper than a psychiatrist, but looking back on it now I tend to doubt that.”

While my mother’s undying love of quality porcelain has lead to an amazing collection, my father’s passion was Royal Doulton Flambé. My father, Dr. Hubert Drone, did not take an interest in antiques until he began accompanying my mother on countless antique outings. Chance led to his collection.

Royal Doulton Flambé was first introduced to the United States at the 1904 St. Louis World’s Fair. Flambé is a Chinese ceramic glaze first used successfully on Sung ware. The red and purple coloring is caused by the oxidation of copper in the iron-based glaze. Charles Noke, who became the director of Doulton, began using this Flambé glaze in the 19th century. The pieces became very popular.

My father saw his first piece of Royal Doulton Flambé after seven years of attending countless antique shows. His first purchase was a large pumpkin-shaped vase that he thought was very attractive. After researching Flambé he learned that the first piece he acquired was extremely rare because it was stamped Sung, Noke and signed F.M. He learned that F.M. stands for Fred Martin, an artist commissioned by Charles Noke. That is when he decided to limit his collection to those pieces signed by Noke and/or Fred Martin.

Because these pieces are so rare, the last piece my father was able to acquire was in 1985. During my father’s lifetime he was able to find a bowl and two vases in St. Louis, Mo., a cat in Chelsea, England, a toothpick holder in New York City, and a bowl in Boston, Mass. I always recall the funny looks he would get from dealers when he would ask if they had any Royal Doulton Flambé signed by Fred Martin and/or Charles Noke. My father once said, “When I ask them they usually laugh at me and say no and then ask me if I know where to find any. When I first started collecting I did not realize I was limiting myself to a handful of pieces worldwide.”

My father was successful in building a museum-quality collection and the variegated colors in each piece are truly breathtaking. Today, every time I spot a piece of Royal Doulton Flambé I pick the piece up with shaking hands and with great anticipation examine the bottom in hopes of finding those elusive markings.

Today, the family tradition of collecting lives on and every weekend my husband and three children go in search of everything from baseball cards to vintage jewelry to antique nautical items to rare first edition books and of course, “priceless” porcelain. My parents instilled in me the thrill of the hunt and that same excitement has been passed on to my children. I believe that the family that collects together stays together. Happy hunting!


Does your collection have a family connection? Does your collection cross the generation gap? Do you have a collection you’d like to spotlight on the pages of Antique Trader? E-mail your story, with captioned photos, to or send mail to Antique Trader Collecting Spotlight, 700 E State St., Iola, WI 54945, attn: Sandra Sparks. CLICK HERE for complete details.


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