In The Lord of the Rings, author J.R.R. Tolkien tells us “All that is gold does not glitter.” That might be true in the world of Frodo and Gandalf, but it certainly doesn’t apply to the gold-embellished ceramic items What’s It Worth? readers inquire about today.
Q. My wife and I received a Satsuma vase from a relative several years ago (1977). It measures approximately 10 inches wide and 7 inches high. A piece of tape on the underside of the vase carries the initials NB (Nell Burrow, a great aunt of mine, long ago deceased) and appears to be dated 1875. Can you evaluate it? I appreciate any assistance you might be able to provide. — Barry in Kennewick
A. This Satsuma type of pottery has been made in Japan since at least the early 1600s. The earliest wares came from the first kiln in Satsuma and featured simple enameled floral designs.
By the late 1700s, similar items were being produced by many makers under the direction of the Lord of Satsuma. Almost all of the early production was for domestic use, not for export.
About the time of the American Civil War — from 1850 onwards — Satsuma was made specifically for export. Designs changed to appeal to Western tastes, and featured human forms such as Geisha girls and samurai warriors. These new looks are featured on Barry’s vase.
The earliest Satsuma gold decorations were handpainted. Later, wares were factory produced during the so-called Showa Period — from about 1926 on.
The tape tag dating this piece to 1875, along with the crackled glaze on the base and no stamped mark, indicates it is likely late 19th century.
That said, neither the design nor decoration are of the highest level. Still, this is a nice example of the type and would probably be priced at $150 to $250 at an antique shop.
Q. My great uncle purchased these gold embellished dinnerware and service pieces in the 1930s. I am not sure if they were new at the time. They then went to his sister, then my grandmother and I got them from her. They were purchased in Portland, where we grew up. There are 23 pieces total. Two have damage, the others are fine. What can you tell me about them? — Laura in Kennewick
A. Laura’s china items led us on a merry chase to try and identify the maker. And, while we found quite of lot of gold-decorated porcelain marked Le Meuix for sale, it seems very little is known about the company that made these.
The mysterious origins of Le Meuix China may indicate that a number of European firms manufactured the individual pieces, then they were all decorated by a single American company.
As best we can paste it together, the different Le Meiux shapes were manufactured by potteries firms in France, Italy, Czechoslovakia and other nations, perhaps starting in the 1930s. The production was done under contract to an American firm.
Items were probably imported, undecorated, to the U.S. and then handpainted by artists at an unknown company in the Chicago area.
Chicago was a hotbed of production for handpainted pieces of this type. High-quality work was done by Pickard, Donath Studio, Stouffer Company and several dozen other firms, starting as early as 1900.
The decoration on all these gold “encrusted” items shows people in typical 18th century settings and clothes.
The volume of pieces our research uncovered for sale — online and at brick and mortar auction houses — indicates production numbers were quite high. There is a lot of Le Meiux out there. All of it is similarly marked and none shows any country or city of manufacture.
What this collection has going for it is that quality is quite good and, except for the few damaged items, condition seems excellent.
What it has going against it is — tastes change. And these designs are not as popular today as they were about 85 years ago.
In a big antiques show, we’d expect to find these items individually priced at between $20 and $50. The value of the gold and platinum here is insignificant.
Terry K. Maurer, a 15-year senior member of the Certified Appraisers Guild of America, is a personal property appraiser in the Tri-Cities. For possible use in a future column, direct questions on your antiques and collectibles to What’s It Worth? by email to firstname.lastname@example.org.