Beautifully crafted sponge holder given new life as incense burner

Published 8:11 pm Friday, September 20, 2019


Personal Effects

Question: Mr. Sampson, what can you tell me about my incense burner? It’s marked sterling but I don’t know the other marks. It’s in beautiful condition aside from the spot that the incense burned in the middle. The workmanship is amazing. It measures about 4-inches square and weighs 140g. Any information is  appreciated.

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Answer: Well, you are off track a little on this piece. It’s not an incense burner, though it will work beautifully for that. It’s a desk accessory. You have what I believe is a paper clip, or sponge holder for the moistening of stamps. The fist one is self explanatory, the latter, is not.

From what I’m familiar with, it would have had a roundish natural sponge that would have sat in the cup part and that would have been dampened everyday. This would let you just press a stamp into it and stick it on your envelope, or you could slide an envelope across it, to wet it, so you could seal it shut.

I’m not surprised that you had trouble with the marks, because I sure did. The sterling part wasn’t bad. The others were a tangle.

From what I can find out, and it’s not too much, this piece is Islamic. In fact, I think it’s Egyptian, based on one mark and the design and quality. Since ancient times, Egypt was heralded as a force in Middle Eastern silver manufacturing. Plus, their pieces were usually very heavy, like this one is.

Now, marks that related to the date and actual manufacturer are still foreign to me — pardon the pun. Try as I might, I just couldn’t find what they translated to. Style wise and from the sterling mark, I like to think that this piece dates to the 1890s to the very early 1900s. The fact that it’s marked sterling tells us that it was exported from this exotic port of call, into American.

I can imagine that this was once part of a larger desk set composed of a rocking blotter, stamp box, blotter ends, pen holder and the pieces could grow, depending on one’s pocket book. It likely went to a city that had a strong population of Islamic people.

You are right, the quality is amazing, and to think this was all chased, or created, by hand, with a tiny chisel. The heavy weight can only be a plus. Just in scrap value, and you don’t want to scrap this little work of art, it has a melt value of slightly over $75. You could spot this in a fine antiques shop for about $125. If this was American from a mid range company and was just a stamped out piece of fodder, it would be priced at about half of that value. But it’s workmanship and weight that pushes this over the top. Thanks for a great question.