The Smart Collector: Heirloom or thrift-shop item? Only owner can make that call

2011-09-04T00:00:00Z The Smart Collector: Heirloom or thrift-shop item? Only owner can make that callDanielle Arnet Tribune Media Services Arizona Daily Star
September 04, 2011 12:00 am  • 

Q: What is this? I know this "dish" is more than 100 years old, as it came from Grandma's house. There are no marks. Do I send this priceless thing to a thrift store or do I keep it because of value and tell my children, "You have a real heirloom"?

A: Images sent show a cast metal card tray in art nouveau-style showing a semi-nude maiden draped in flowing fabric. She is seated on lily pads with her long hair cascading over her knees. The base is formed of more leaves with a lily bud. It seems to be well cast. I'd date the piece to around 1900.

Go to www.liveauctioneers.com and access auction results for art nouveau card trays. There you'll find that the same tray in rough cast iron sold for $75.

But the reader's tray looks to be solid brass or plated brass over base metal. At one time, the piece could have been cold painted as decoration. It's hard to tell from the images. If it is brass or even plated, value is higher. At retail, it could sell for $200 or more.

The reader raises several issues in his query. Is it a real heirloom only if it has serious value? Some would call it so simply because it came from Grandma's house. And should only low-value goods be donated to thrift stores? The call, on all counts, is his.

Q: Is my Carrier freezer worthless or is it sellable as vintage? It's from the 1950s. Someone told us it was worth a lot to someone who refurbishes old appliances and that we should put it on eBay.

A: I'll bet you that the individual who gave the free advice saw or read somewhere that old and certain vintage stoves are collected. It's just a jump from there to a freezer.

But while '50s qualifies the freezer as vintage, the simple fact is that freezers just don't cut it as nostalgia. People get warm (pardon the pun) and fuzzy about stoves just like Grandma's, and they may go for round-top turquoise refrigerators, but freezers? No. At least not now. In the future, who knows?

We spotted four senior freezers, one turquoise, posted on eBay, but none sold. Worse, the reader writes that hers is filled with mold. You don't want to be responsible for selling that unit. Ditch it, and do it properly.

Q: How do I find value or get an appraisal of my original Chuck Oberstein painting? I inherited it and would like to at least insure it.

A: California artist Oberstein (1935-2002) is known for renditions of clowns. His work is not fine art, and you're not going to find him in any database of fine art sold at auction.

That said, his works are offered for sale on eBay; look through asking prices there. We also found one $2,000 auction result for a clown painting on www.liveauctioneers.com. A regular household policy should take care of insurance.

Q: In 1947, my parents arrived in Japan as newlyweds where my dad served on a base. They were greeted by a local who presented them with this vase as a welcoming gift. Any info?

A: Our reader adds that the ceramic vase stands about 10 1/2 inches high and is 27 inches around.

Andrew Lick, director of Asian works of art at Leslie Hindman Auctioneers in Chicago (www.lesliehindman.com), looked over images sent and ID'd the vase as, indeed, Japanese. The decoration showing small boys at play is done in copper red, a glaze made with yes, copper.

"Copper red is an extremely temperamental material to work with," he added. "It needs to be fired at exactly the right temperature or it fluxes to off colors such as green or gray." Someone got this just right, as the color is perfect. The Japanese ideal is a soft red reminiscent of a ripe peach.

Describing the vase as a studio ceramics work, Lick thinks it was new when presented. Not old enough to have a sales track at auction, similar vases sell in galleries today for $500 to $1,000.

AUCTION ACTION

Two fragments from the "Star-Spangled Banner," the flag that flew over Fort McHenry in Baltimore on Sept. 13, 1814, and inspired Francis Scott Key to write the words to America's national anthem, brought $65,725 recently at Heritage Auctions. The flag was brought home from the battle by the officer who commissioned it. In 1910, the family gave it to the Smithsonian. The sold fragments had been donated to another museum.

Danielle Arnet welcomes questions from readers. She cannot respond to each one individually, but will answer those of general interest in her column. Send email to smartcollector@comcast.net or write Danielle Arnet, c/o Tribune Media Services, 435 N. Michigan Ave., Suite 1400, Chicago, IL 60611. Please include an address in your query. Photos will not be returned.

Copyright 2014 Arizona Daily Star. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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