Bibelot may not have a purpose, but does hold a lot of value

Published 5:27 pm Friday, February 7, 2020


Personal Effects

Question: Good morning. Thank you so much for speaking with me in regards to my husband’s antique. As I stated in our discussion this morning, he received this and a few other antiques from his late grandmother, but this antique and a few others were locked away in a vault. He has a copy of the original receipt from its purchase from Early Auction House, by his grandfather in the 1990s. 

Email newsletter signup

We noticed a while ago that there is a definite stamp of some sort on the bottom of the keg. We weren’t sure what it says or who created this beautiful piece. We’re absolutely enthralled in knowing more about it. I’ve taken photos I hope are suitable for you to view it. Please contact me if there are any other questions in concern to this item. Thank you so much!

Answer: What a beautiful bibelot you have inherited. For those who don’t know, a bibelot is an item with the sole purpose of just being beautiful. In our phone conversation, you said that it doesn’t open.

Some did — not for liquids, but for jewelry or other small, precious objects. So, its use is just to be attractive and say, “I’m expensive!” 

Let’s get to where it could have been made and its date. You’re right, the mark is hard to read, and sadly, I couldn’t decipher it either. Going on its style and coloring, I’m thinking it’s a piece of Viennese enamel. The Viennese part is obviously from Vienna, Austria. Now, in my defense, loads of fine enamel work came out of other parts of Europe too. Limoges, France, several regions of Germany and Russia. It’s a highly developed skill set that many fine craftsmen utilized. The enamel part is a technique where finely ground and thinned glass and pigments, literally a paint, are painted in a base of copper. Some jewelry houses, like Faberge and Cartier, used bases of gold and platinum. But yours is on copper. 

It’s likely that it dates from the 1880s to the early 1900s. Though you can find ancient examples, this tends to be the high point for this type of enamel work.

This delicately painted piece is then fired in a kiln so that the “paint” fuses and melts into and onto the copper base. It’s not paint that you can wash off. But don’t try. Just because you can’t wash it off like cheap paint doesn’t mean it’s not fragile. 

I think of the quote from Daffy Duck — “Careful with those fangs Lassie. I bruise like a grape.” 

This enamel work bruises like a grape. The slightest bump, thump or bang and that copper base flexes, and the enamel pops off in ugly crater like sections. So be careful

with it.

Early Auction House, in Milford, Ohio, has been around since, I think, the 1960s. They are a smaller auction house that deals in high end art glass and decorative arts. I can imagine what your grandfather-in-law paid for this piece in the 1990s. But boy, has the market changed since the free-wheeling days of the 90s.

Today, I think the fair market value — and that is also an auction value, because all auctions are considered to be fair market value — would be about $400-$500. In a very fine antiques show or shop, I think that this piece would be priced for about $1,000-plus. That is a retail price though. Most people today just don’t gravitate toward the overly fancy. But there are some still out there buying such objects, just not as many. Thanks for sharing it with us. It’s a great piece.