British lamp, Western art unusual and valuable

By Terry Maurer, What's It Worth?May 4, 2014 

In today's What's It Worth? we'll take a look at one reader's exotic lamp from England. And let's travel down the West Coast to San Francisco for the story of a miniature painting done by a well-known Californian. Both are unusual and valuable.

Q. Our table-sized oil lamp has been in the family for many years. The fittings on the lamp appear to be of very high quality, as does the base, which is ceramic. Can you tell us what we have? -- Shirley in Kennewick

A. This is, indeed, a superior quality lamp dating to the late 19th century. And it certainly is of high quality. The burner is from one of the best firms working in that era in England and the base is of equal stature.

Joseph Hinks was an inventor in Birmingham, England. He patented many improvements to the lighting devices of that day and his work eventually led to the Duplex Lamp.

The Duplex Burner was patented in 1865. It allowed the lamp to function properly using two wicks, instead of the usual one. Thus, Hinks' lamps could provide twice as much light. It was a great improvement and remained state-of-the-art until electric lighting became commonplace in the early 20th century.

Hinks and Sons' business enterprises were successful, and he eventually opened operations in London as well as Birmingham. They made lamps, shades and lamp accessories.

This lamp features the No. 2 version of the Duplex Burner and was most likely made about 1885.

The innovative lighting function is just part of the story. The lamp's base is where the extra value lies.

Made by Doulton in their London factory, the design is typical of the Arts and Crafts style, which originated in England as early as 1860.

The Arts and Crafts movement was an international design sensation that flourished from 1860 to 1910. Originating in England, it was led from the beginning by the artist and writer William Morris.

The style was prominent for almost 20 years before it was actually called "Arts and Crafts." That term wasn't coined until 1887, when it was first used at a preliminary meeting of the British Arts and Crafts Exhibition Society.

Doulton, which had operations in the Staffordshire pottery district and London, was a leading maker of ceramics. The firm was founded in 1815 and received the King's Warrant as "Royal Doulton" in 1902.

This highly colorful lamp base is stoneware and much of the design is raised away from the surface.

If it were taken apart, no doubt the Doulton mark would be on the bottom, perhaps with initials of the designer. The pink glass shade appears not to be original.

These Doulton/Hinks lamps are highly sought after, and the value ranges from $800 to $1,200.

Q. This small miniature painting is of an ancestor. I know a bit about the artist; not as much as I'd like. Can you provide more information? -- Mary Lou in Pasco

A. Your miniature is from the early 20th century and by a well-known San Francisco artist. Nettie King Firebaugh specialized in miniatures, on both porcelain and ivory.

She was born in Oakland in 1873 and lived most of her life in San Francisco. Firebaugh studied art at the Mark Hopkins Institute and was active in the local artist's scene from the early 20th century onward.

San Francisco has always been a city of liberal attitudes and it was probably more possible there than anywhere else in the America of that era for a young woman to become a leading artist.

Nettie married successful businessman and attorney Joseph Firebaugh when she was 37. The ceremony was reported in the San Francisco Call newspaper as "An unusually pretty wedding ... in the beautiful home in Clay street recently purchased by Firebaugh, which is one of the many costly gifts presented to his bride in honor of the occasion."

The paper lauded Nettie's artistic talents, calling her "One of the cleverest miniature painters of this city. Her efforts along that line have placed her with the foremost workers in the field in the West."

In addition to portrait miniatures, Firebaugh is also known for her china painting. Exquisite examples of both come to market from time to time. This painting would sell for about $1,000.

-- Terry K. Maurer, Tri-Cities personal property appraiser, is a member of the Certified Appraisers Guild of America. For possible use in a future column, direct questions on your antiques and collectibles to What's It Worth? by email to tchwhatsitworth@gmail.com.

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