Ceramics -- particularly porcelain -- have been collectible items for hundreds of years.
The Chinese are credited with discovering the formula for translucent porcelain ceramics in about A.D. 600 and the famous Meissen Factory unraveled the secret in 1708.
Enthusiasts have always sought outstanding examples of porcelain.
In today's What's It Worth?, we answer questions from two readers about their quite different items.
Q. My mother bought this porcelain figurine made by Lenci, and I estimate it to be 60 to 65 years old. I became curious about its history and value, did some online research, but found no reference to this exact piece. One similar sold on ebay a year ago where it was identified as "Venere su Conchiglia." I grew up with this figurine in my childhood home and now love having it in mine. Any help you can give me will be appreciated. Thank you. -- Diana in Richland
A. The maker of this beautifully modeled figurine is Lenci. The name -- Venere su Conchiglia translates as "Venus on Shell."
Lenci, of Turin, Italy, mostly is known as a doll maker. Lenci's House of Dolls was opened in 1919 by Enrico Scavini and his wife Helen Konig Scavini.
Their felt-pressed manufacturing method gave realistic dimensions to the doll's face and made the firm a major success by the 1920s. That operation is flourishing today, and there are many collector clubs devoted to Lenci dolls.
In 1928, Lenci opened a ceramics factory in Turin producing mostly small religious and devotional figurines and, in contrast, a line of sensual, lightly clad "Singorine" (lady) figures. All were of the highest artistic quality, and Lenci porcelain soon became a worldwide name.
By the late 1920s and early '30s, their work was considered to be among the best-designed pieces being produced anywhere. They specialized in the Art Deco style, and those figurines can sell for thousands of dollars.
The best of the Lenci figures are handpainted and artist-signed -- both add value to the work. The record auction price is $61,000.
The Lenci doll company still is operating, but the ceramics operation closed in the mid-1960s.
We think this figurine dates to the 1950s and if offered today at a well-publicized international auction, it could sell in the $600 to $1,000 range.
Q. What can you tell me about these two pieces of china -- a platter and a salad bowl -- I inherited from my mother? They are both signed "Sascha Brastoff, California" and have a multicolor, swirl finish. Both items possess the exact same back stamp. -- Jeanette in Houston, Texas
A. Sascha Brastoff was a multi-talented designer, dancer and artist who grew up in Cleveland, Ohio.
After service in World War II, he moved to California and landed a contract with Fox Studios, where he worked as a costume designer.
In the late 1940s -- with the sponsorship of Winthrop Rockefeller -- Brastoff opened a design studio producing innovative ceramics that were among the most expensive and luxurious on the market.
This dinnerware pattern is "Surf Ballet," made for about a decade in the late '40s or early '50s.
That fits it into the time frame of what collectors now call Mid-Century Modern design. "Surf Ballet" dinnerware pieces were made with a turquoise/platinum design, in a pink/purple swirl and a number of other color combinations.
"Surf Ballet" hit the market when Brastoff was at the peak of his creative output. These pieces bear his full name -- which means they were personally crafted by him.
Later work, signed just "Sascha B." means the production merely was done under his supervision. These are much less valuable than pieces with full signatures.
In addition to ceramics, Brastoff also worked in resin. His colorful molded pieces in that material -- mostly small vases -- are valued by collectors. He was a jewelry designer as well, but those pieces are hard to find.
A "Surf Ballet" dinnerware service for eight sold several years ago at auction in California for $1,000. We have seen individual dinner plates valued at $25. This is a highly collected pattern by a major American designer.
We would value this serving bowl and platter at $75 to $100 for each piece.
-- Terry Maurer, a Tri-Cities personal property appraiser, is a member of the Certified Appraisers Guild of America. For possible use in a future column, direct questions about your antiques and collectibles to What's It Worth? by email to email@example.com.