Q: I've attached images of a chocolate set that my wife received from her mother. It's from Camerden and Forster, which I understand was a New York store in the early 1900s. Any info on the set?
A: I'm not one to gush, but this is one gorgeous porcelain set. Seen in images, it consists of an original presentation box containing 10 ceramic pieces. There are two similar wide-bodied pots with separate lids, a waste or sugar bowl with lid, and two small cups with saucers. One pot looks slightly larger than the other.
Traditionally, antique ceramic chocolate pots are tall and columnar. Sets have a varied number of cups plus a matching ceramic tray. There may or may not be a sugar bowl.
Antique coffee or tea sets generally involve a coffee pot, a smaller tea pot plus creamer and sugar, a number of cups with saucers, and often a matching tray.
The two pots here seem to point to a coffee/tea set, but the creamer is missing. Perhaps this was intended as a gift to be used as the owner wished, for either coffee or chocolate.
For this set, intended use is secondary. Beauty and quality rule and the quality of hand work in each piece makes it very, very special.
Differing classical scenes finely hand painted and enameled on each piece are works of art. Paired with lavish use of gold and cobalt, the set also has intricate molding of the porcelain blanks including figural spouts and ceramic medallions on the handles. Lid finials are cherub heads.
Clearly, the set was top of the line when bought. The classical renderings, so well done, lift the porcelains way above the rank of standard florals.
Collectors today ID the style of porcelain painting on the set as "portrait."
Here, "Aeneas" depicts the Trojan hero about to be wreathed. "Poesie," shows a female figure with a cherub. Diana graces a cup and the lovers "Rinaldo e Armida" are on another piece.
Our reader already knows the store where the set came from. Located on Fifth Avenue in New York, Camerden and Forster was a jeweler and importer in the early 1900s. The shop carried fine jewelry and clocks, as well as imported ceramics for gifts.
One image sent of a bottom mark shows a hand painted "beehive" mark and writing too poorly photographed to make out. When we checked with the reader, we learned that the script is a handwritten description of the scene on the front.
Smart collectors know that the beehive mark indicates Royal Vienna porcelains made from 1744 to 1864.
But - and this is a big caveat - the beehive mark has been widely copied from day one. Austrian, Bohemian, French, German and other porcelain factories forged it indiscriminately. It is still forged on new porcelains.
Buyers determined to stick with authentic Vienna porcelains have to be both detective and porcelain specialist. Forgeries were/are so rampant that today's smart collector rates painted porcelains primarily by quality of the finished product.
In the case of this set, sources that we checked state that the combination of mark style and handwritten script IDing the subject are a dead giveaway that the set was not decorated in the Vienna factory.
Many celebrated decorators worked in studios where outside artisans painted for factories.
Quality and aesthetics go a long way for this set. In 2005, a comparable set identified as authentic Royal Vienna involving 12 pieces, including a large matching tray, all painted with classical scenes and gold, brought $7,475 in a Dallas auction.
We found sales records for other sets "in the style of Vienna" at $885-$2,300. Those in the original box brought more. If the blanks can be IDed as Royal Vienna, that would certainly boost value.
FYI: "Hand Painted Porcelain Plates: Nineteenth Century to the Present" by Richard Rendall and Elise Abrams (Schiffer, $59.95) covers fine English, European and Continental plates, along with details on noted decorators and marks. Info is applicable to a variety of blanks.
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Danielle Arnet welcomes questions from readers. She cannot respond to each one individually, but will answer those of general interest in her column. Send e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org or write Danielle Arnet, c/o Tribune Media Services, 435 N. Michigan Ave., Suite 1400, Chicago, Ill., 60611. Please include an address in your query. Photos cannot be returned.