Archive for May, 2009

Delft – not just Blue and White

Posted in Delft, Tracking the Marvelous with tags , , , , , , on May 28, 2009 by dutchnduchess

Dutch Delft Porcelain


Brief history

The famous Dutch Delft porcelain actually is not actually porcelain,  as it is often incorrectly called, but  more correctly should be called earthenware or Delftware. It was created by the Dutch to imitate an ever so popular Chinese porcelain exclusively imported by the Dutch traders in the middle of the 17th century.  A shortage of real Chinese porcelain motivated the Dutch potters to make their own in the mid 17th century.  Earthenware is a softer clay product , which with the invention of tin glaze, was made to look like Chinese porcelain. The early Delft pieces are decorated with themes copied from real Chinese objects. Like most Chinese porcelain, Delftware was made mostly glazed in blue and white.

Created as a result of the popularity of Chinese plates, the Dutch eventually interpreted their own motifs or decorative themes. Millefleur, Peacocks, and Tulip designs are the most coveted. Yes, round but within the round you have pap bowls, flat or pancake plates, ribbed, fruit bowl, strainers (with little holes in the bottom), scalloped edges, and perhaps the most coveted, some with swelled center referred to as  belly plates.


Next to the typically blue and white, Delft is found in multi-colors which is called polychrome. There is also another monochrome one, kind of purple in color. This is called  manganese. Many of our customers opt for the rarer polychrome because it seems more special. Polychrome and Manganese however are often higher valued. Some of the polychrome pieces have up to 16 different colors!

Delft items can be signed or unsigned and the technique in design may vary from stencil application (transfer print) to tedious hand painting. Sometimes the age can be determined by the name or the factory mark on the bottom. All Delft is/was not made in Delft, however one of the oldest factories (De Porceleyne Flesch) is still located there, still operational and open to the public,

Plates and Chargers

Desk Globe, 18th century

Desk Globe, 18th century

Delft takes many forms and the ones most popular are vases, plates and chargers (large). However Delft plates was used as normal dishes the latter are not for table use but are more decorative hanging on a wall or displaying on a table easel upright. In the 17th and 18th Century Decorative wall Chargers were used to brighten up the dark interiors as they looked happy and reflected light.

The best way to decide which will become the apple of your eye is to visit a museum with a moderate sized porcelain, pottery, earthenware collection. The most important collection of antique Delftware is in The Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam, The Netherlands. The desk globe shown here is from the collection of The Mint Museum in Charlotte . (factory unknown)

Spotting the Genuine

To know if you have a plate  in good condition, balance it on one hand and with the other, thump gently the rim with your nail and listen if it makes a ‘clear’, enduring sound  (good) or a noticeably ’short’ sound (red flag). The first is superior to the latter meaning it has not been cracked or repaired. This practice is called making the plate ’sing’. There are other possible factors in determining value. Lack of signature does not mean the artist cannot be attributed as certain factories at certain times only had one prominent artist and very little competing makers, thus a signature was not always customary. And some plates are have staples on the backside but are highly collectable.  Collecting Delft is an amusing journey in history as well as appreciation of it craft.

Transfer print vs Hand painted

When at a brocante or exhibition, one can regularly find pieces with the inscription containing the Dutch city, ‘Maastricht’, on the bottom mostly  with very decorative blue and white floral designs, in rather linear vertical ’striped pattern. Upon closer examination and without a loop, it is possible to detect minute imperfections, typically design lines that are illogically broken, which normally would be continuous. The design seems to be interrupted or shakily applied at best. When the design does not follow a cohesively, but rather ’skips’ and appears imperfect compared to similar parts, it is almost always a sign of transfer print.

Still this form of Delft, while not made in the well known city of the same name, has respectable age and is very decorative. The minor imperfections are an allie to those seeking affordable pieces to add to their collection. The price is impacted by the aesthetics rather than technical damages that compromise longevity. Maastricht Delft delivers atmosphere with its classic blue-and-white design, baluster shape and a nice conversation piece or two. If one can indulge  a matching pair is desireable to grace the mantel or if ceiling height permits, on the top of an armoire.  In the antiques world, things in pairs or multiples carry a factored value.   




Can Antiques Survive Kids

Posted in Antiques, Tracking the Marvelous with tags , , , on May 22, 2009 by dutchnduchess

As a dealer I often  meet couples with young children who seek a solution to be able to have antiques and children in the same household.  What advice is there to successfully manage this ?

We change things all the time? whether it’s  tires on a car or seasonal clothing or bigger things like homes.  The first step is consider  ridding oneself of unwanted inventory. Have a look at what you’ve got that might reap any proceeds and parlay them large or small into the antiques budget. Coordination is not always perfect, but luckily you don’t have to do all at once.  With online auctions, free listings and a company bulletin board or two, this task has become a lot easier.

The next step is to inform yourself along the way. This can be done by aesthetics or pure function or both. Antiques don’t have to dominate a decor. Start small and have fun with the historical background of items. Some of them are quite fascintating and tell a story how life was in a different time.  This can be a wonderful event to share with children, who sometimes become fascinated with with  history as a subject in school or find reason to visit a museum or adapt ideas easier by relating to progression of development . Collectors come in all shapes and sizes as well what they collect. Many of the experts on popular  programs about antiques confess their interest grew from early exposure that fascinated their interests or attached them to a loved one with fondness and enthusiasm. It’s something the whole family can do, as there is adequate subject matter and items to please everyone.

As far a furniture goes, we all have our early attic or early American dorm room decor. It can be liberating as well as a blatant sign of maturity when one wants to do away with this ‘era’ in our decorating life.  In my case, it was  probably the one time that fear of the unknown did not exist simply because almost anything would be an improvement at least when considering looks. I have to admit it was functional until the bottoms fell out of the drawers and the sides of the bookcases grew gradually V-shaped, ending in a callamitous sound in the night that could have been much more disastrous picking a 2-yr old out of the book rubble.

LouisPhillipeCabinetTo look for kid proof  furniture look for sturdy, well built items. A small chest can be a wonderful place to stash toys as well as bank Dad’s feet before the sofa. The cost for such items make them attractive items to start with antiques. There come in many different sizes, kinds of wood and they run the gamut from carved to panelled to smooth and basic. In addition to storage, if the top is flat they make wonderful informal table top display or seating areas. Older one will have inside the top on one side wall an extra box-like addition, used in former times to store candles.  Before buying you’ll want to check hinges are tight and sturdy and inquire about keys and locks and if advised from the dealer they are in working order, check to make sure.  Look for dust or powdery wood piles that might signify woodworm.  If symptoms are evident, this can be treated and should be taken into consideration. Unless the pesky insects have  been long busy and actually weakened or completely eaten away  the form, this is not as serious as it might sound. Woodworm is fairly common and there are sure ways to quickly eradicate this problem. Top reproduction houses spend many hours trying to train staff to  how and when to recreate such characteristics in many styles of furniture and items in modern day use and charge extra for this ‘look’.

Of course there ia a hierarchy of items and price scale. On the higher end if you have to buy or may you have to chance to acquire one from a family member, it’s possible to consolidate the function of smaller pieces into one bigger one, such as an oversized cabinet. This can easily convert a fairly busy room into a minimalist setting with one big show stopper clutter holder or the family room entertainment center.  These often have secret compartments and range in two basic storage solutions. One has big rectantular space in the cavity while others have doors at the top and drawers at the bottom. These have advantages of moving as they are in components and are assembled unbelievably simply.

Another smart addition for young families is the single door cabinet which comes either with a clear glass or with a mirror fitted in the door. This versatility of this piece is a charming addition to its exterior looks. Use them for dishes or books or collections of things you want to display (glass front) or  stash clothing in them by hanging space or on shelves (mirror front). As you might imagine, they go just about anywhere and exist in formats that fit in modern day ceiling heights. Your purchase checklist should include checking  locks and keys are in tact, ask if the owner/dealer already has the alternative glass or mirror depending on which is in it now, if the mirror is beveled, and if there are shelves, that they are adjustable and made of strong wood that does not bow under duress of books or other heavy items.

Antiques and small collectables are available at markets. in stores, on the internet and sometimes just by keeping a good eye peeled at the right moment. Programs that chronicle antiques history and values are full of individuals who acquired goods from unlikely places but always started out with a little desire and grew gradually into a keen interest.  Enjoying childproof antiques can be enjoyed by many who are far from expert but simply practice the first rule of buying any antique item– because you like it and wouldn’t mind having it around for a long time–just like (most) kids!

Dutch or Boule Front Chest of Drawers

Posted in Antiques on May 21, 2009 by dutchnduchess

dutch_boule-chest-of-drawersRanked number 9 on the DnD  Top Ten Antiques to Buy in Belgium list, the Dutch chest of drawers  is one of the most exquisite pieces of furniture one can own. Why? Because unlike styles that take their name from its region the Dutch boule front is representive of furniture making at its best. Kings and queens in reign borrowed furnituremaker like teenagers and lipstick. If one had a beautiful model it was soon noticed by the royal house and subsequently came into fashion, but only by the richest of families. These were showpiece items in their day and this has not changed.

What to Look for
The veneers. On the top, notice what in the trade is referred to as the ‘mirror’ . This is the quartering a certain section of a tree to  make a thin sheet of wood which has to be cut and used at the same time to assure the patterning will match symetrically. Depending on the part of the tree used, (i.e. the heart , the root ) the pattern becomes a ‘flame’ or a repeat of cirular formations ( sliced knots) the trade calls ‘oysters’.  If the commodity of the sort wood is scarce (the root), the price of the veneer is more precious.

As for the carcass, one must look on the inside of the drawer. The carcass is usually a cheaper, more available  wood than the those used on the exterior like pine. Due to this as the furniture ages, the two woods, having been sawn and constructed differently, will shrink in irregular tempo with each other although pressed and glued together quite magnificently in the onset, eventually cracks may form and this process has to be reversed and done again if restoration is desireable.

Characteristic and advantageous to the restorer of such pieces,  Dutch furniture is rarely highly varnished such as ‘French polishing which can be up to 36 coats of varnish, and may be prone to flowering or turning dull if the process is not done by trained ‘menusier’ [French] or  professional refinisherof woods. Therefore if one is lucky enough to find a Dutch chest of drawers, its restoration will not entail a costly and tedious process of removing such a finish before undertaking renewal of its apparent lost glory.

Dutch chest of drawers are maintained by dusting regularly and occasionally going over the surface with a wax meant for this purpose. The brands vary from country but in all cases, never use a commercial product such as the American “Pledge” spray. As the chest is made of solid wood throughout, minor blemishes such as watermarks or wine spills can be easily remedied and are not a cause for alarm. If French polish is desired, one should request that it be done using acrylic shellac, so that any wine or other alcohol spills will not blemish the surface– a  noted improvement from tradition methods and materials.

Dutch furniture is highly sought after and in such regions as the norther corridor of the United States where early settlement was influenced by the Dutch, it can command prices over that of its origin.  Companion pieces to the Dutch chest of drawers have a similar boule front such as the Dutch cabinet–the zenith and honored crown of the Top Ten Antiques to Buy in Belgium. [see separate blog  and feature comparison]

Trunks or Chests

Posted in Antiques, Tracking the Marvelous on May 20, 2009 by dutchnduchess

chestRanking number 8 on the Top Ten Antiques to Buy in Belgium, the chest or trunk as a furniture item reflectsa melting pot nature of availabilty in Brussels. They come in a variety of sizes, woods intricacy or simplicity of design and price range. Its unpopularity in the current trend make them a great target for acquistion at fair prices.

What to look for
Older chests have a certain patina, but unfortunately this is deflty faked and the buyer must move on to more tell tale signs that mark the genuine. Check the hardware. Like bathing suit straps, something may be mismatched in its life and variation in color of wood will be obvious and not match the  original surface protected by the original  hardware. If not then it originality has been compromised, and although not a dire situation, still if the vendor says it is totally orignally, this may be used as a monitor to test the integrity of the seller/vendor/dealer. Thus buyer beware and hoist the first red flag if s/he  adamantly claims total originalityfor example. Call their hand and get them to melt some of the price down if the candlebox is missing. Look for signs of wear where it was and be careful not to make false claims yourself. It works both ways. 

A nice touch inside the older chest is the candle drawer which is small built in with a lid that parallels the inner narrow side . Lids of both the candle drawer and trunk shave each other when closed. When the trunk /chest is open the lid to the candle drawer can serve as a prop so you can manipulate things handsfree.

Another sign of age is the direction of the wood panels. Look on the insde at the direction of the panels/planks on the bottom. Are they running parallel to the narrow ends, thus vertical from a center front aerial vantage point?  Or are the planks on teh bottom running horizontal length wise , east and west from this vantage point?  The latter is  usually a younger chest.

Although not always an issue, check that all four sides can be visible if you plan not to place it against a wall or foot of bed. Also models wiht arched tops are not good solution for extra seating  or display space. A  flat top is much better suited for coffee table replacement in front of sofa for example.  

Chests are very versatile and due to their simple construction, easy to maintain. They take an inordianate amount of abuse so high traffic areas and families with small children can do little wrong with such and investment.  Chests/trunks/coffers show age by the patination as well as the construction inside and out.  Outside there may be carved panels as during the Renaissance or flat and crossbanded, with simple intarsia as on later designs. Motifs vary in style and by country. The coutry or origin is sometimes determined by sort of wood or if the corners are mitered or dovetailed.

The chest is the forerunner of modern day chest of drawers. The transition style which combined one solid cavity with one drawer or two smaller drawers at the bottom is referred to as a mule chest. The drawer was added for organizational ease and later the carcass became fitted with a multiple number of drawers and the chest itself grew out of fashion and the decoration on its facade equally less important.  Thus the older the chest the more beautifully formed on all four sides and the more decoratively carved one will find the exterior facades.

Napoleonic Items

Posted in Tracking the Marvelous on May 20, 2009 by dutchnduchess

waterloo_printNapoleonic items are numerous as his influence in style, design, warfare, housing , government was one of the most far reaching in history. Relics and examples of this period are still in existence both in protected environments and freely to be had in  unexpected of places.  In Belgium where The Battle of Waterloo took place, artists, both obsure and well known in their  time,  for generations during and since 1815, have produced a plethora of printed matter, busts in marble and prized minature paintings in ornate frames by and since. There remains also an abundance of ‘militaria’ related to this era still attainable to avid collectors.
bonheurMuseums are of course  key places to familiarize oneself with the numerous items which fall under Napoleon related artifacts and collectibles not just in Belgium but also in the areas dominated during his reign now under more modern names as Poland, Russia, Malta, Corsica, Italyand more.  Napoleon was fascinated with Egypt and much of her symbolism is found in furniture of the Napoleonic era.  Furniture is often embellished in metal ornamentation called ‘ormalu’. 

To see excellent examples of a broad range of Napoleonic collectibles and antiques, old catalogs from established auction houses provide the best illustration. Price and popularity are parabolic but this is the case with many antiques whose popularity is never completely obscure.  Some of the finest examples can be seen in The Louvre but also in the Hotel de Ville de Paris, located in the Marais Quarter. Admission into the collection of French historical items is free and definitely worth a visit.

One of the most famous love stories is that of Napoleon and Josephine. His communication and lavish gifts to her remain key to  literature and media that has entertained the masses since its existence. Beautiful one of a kind items commissioned for an empress have since never been equalled. Some are so elaborate that exact duplication in today’s market and with current materials and skill levels would be prohibitive such as certain items  from the Russian House of Faberge, private commissioned one-of-a-kind furnitures, textiles, writing instruments if precious metals.bound books and inscribed items for the boudoir.

Still if one is situated in Belgium, it pays to keep an eye out for older prints. Finely details lithographs and engravings, miniatures are scarce but available for the discerning collector of historically significant items and depending on their condition, command a  fair price and are highly decorative as well as excellent examples of souvenirs of one’s posting. Look out for ‘foxing’ or the little brown dots that indicate too much moisture has weakened the support on which the image was produced, usually a thin paper. These should never be drymounted in modern framing methods, but conserved by hinging them allowing them to have air to breathe underneath protective matting . A properly framed print under glass and with tight seal on the back should last for as long as any properly cared for work of art. Even watercolors, known for fragility and light permanency, have examples in the correct conditions of lasting over 28,000 years. That’s a birthday to celebrate!


Posted in Antiques, Tracking the Marvelous with tags , , , on May 20, 2009 by dutchnduchess

pewterRanking number 4 on the Top Ten Antiques to Buy in Belgium, pewter takes a special place in my heart. My father was passionate about collecting and  I came to know it and love it through him. Pewter is a combination of two metals that has been has been used for table service since dining utensils and  plates were begun to be used.  Often pewter is  the base metal for silver and silverplated items, a variety of vessels are collected not unlike those designed of silver such as tankards, tea and coffee sets, platters , plates  not to mention common utilitarian items for cooking or ingesting food,  or creating medicinal potions and soups in the field during harvest or wartimes and innocence of keeping soften foods warm enough  for baby bunting.

 Age and patina
The easiest way to determine old pewter is to search for stamps that give a variety of clues depending on the item and the age. If the bottom already says  ‘etain’   or 96% whatever, or has a modern company name on it–give it up. It’s made yesterday. 

You want to find a stamped rose with a rise in the metal with clear edges that in the trade, ‘stand proud’  and are not soft and rounded which  usually shouts fake. Look for symbols that signify certain places, assay offices, years or factories without using words.  Special books with page after page of symbols and codes for various countries are necessary to pinpoint the origin of older patinized pewter or ‘tin’ [Dutch] or Etain [French pieces.  

Paired with patinized oak, pewter looks very aristocratic in modern households and takes one back to simpler times when mealtimes and families gathered without distractions such as ipods, tv’s sports clubs or other technologies that connect us in distance but separate us  the immediate environment- like  two people in a car and both on the cell phone.  Pewter is relatively soft metal and therefore prone to scratches from knife marks and rim ripples from  common and practical usage. Aged pewter has a warmth in the patina that looks especially nice on dark oak. Precautions
Pewter is faked profusely but it is has not been in the popular upswing for several year thus while experts can spot signs of falsehood a mile away there are scrupulous and even  well meaning vendors  who are oblivious that they  are offering  fakes for  unreasonable asking prices and coversely those who ask low prices for really old and valuable pewter!  Information is power and before any purchases are made, I suggest you visit a few exhibitions and ask a lot of questions while literally holding the good stuff in hand and getting a feel for the mark, the color and form that leads to it unmistakeable beauty only found in the authentic patinized examples of pewter.


The rarest pieces are found from the time period around Rembrandt and the newest are well marked on the bottom with all kinds of finishing suitable for dishwashing.
Americans think immediately of Paul Revere and the days of the Revolution but pewter was a vital part of the pub and familial social scene. Even  today with new metals that mimic pewter and can be used in the dishwasher.  Getting back to the antique sort, …..although it has a simple elegance, historically it was a commonly in  daily use as evidenced in the rollicking good times depicted in quaint outdoors gatherings in Frans Hals paintings.  Pewter vessels, plates, spoons, serving utensils , embossed or repousse plates , rigglework decoration are prized items to the collector., curator and decorator alike.

Flemish Mirrors

Posted in Antiques, Tracking the Marvelous on May 20, 2009 by dutchnduchess

mirrorRanked number 2 on our Top Ten Antiques to Buy in Belgium,  you’ll have to go far to find one single item as decorative and as practical for the investment. Its decorating versatility is downright fun. They look good everywhere so expect indecision or take the easy way out and  bargain for bulk and et more than one. They look wonderful in pairs. In the antiques world you can’t go wrong with a genuine pair of most anything.  

Look for a rectangular shaped box with a frilly multiple, graduated arch on top of it. Totally it will look like one piece but it is composed of actually five separate mirrors: a central larger  one, flanked by four on either side. All are encased sort of like a stained glass but  with brass in place of lead. This construction gives it a silver with gold color ‘outline’ when viewed from a distance.

Construction and Marks of  Quality
The brass or  gold part  has been embossed with a sculptural pattern. The  process to formulate the bas relief  [ low sculpture]  is called  ‘repousse’ . This term is  used generally by dealers to describe this classy  little mirrored box. The mirrors are noticeably old and the better examples will display beveled edges. The center mirror may lead to a hollow cavity  forming a small storage area, lined also with teh repouss or sculptured brass. If viewed from the side it  appear to form a half trapezoid shape. Mirrors of better quality and condition will also display a set of three brushes on hooks. The inner carcass and top of the brushes are lined to mimic the same  ‘outer’ design in the repousse or bas relief . Besides looking smart, the mirror can be functional if this feature is in tact. When the middle section does not hinges and a door knob, thus not featuring the storage cavity, the price may be in the same range , but the decorative crest will be exceptional in design and may have been tediously ‘punched’ to reveal an underlying mirror in place of  solid brass relief. Both are highly desireable and alway deliver bang for the buck.

The backing is sometimes replaced with modern MDF. The mirrors can have damages ranging from losing the silver on the mirror, having obvious breaks or chips, lacking beveled edges–all of which  can be altered with a little time and money but when against the dealer is  fodder for haggling with the seller.

Really anywhere. When dramatically positioned with stark contrast on a dark wall with candles beneath (sconce) or  in the entrance  to deter a winter flurry  on the shoulders or shedding pet hairs — it will take  on the intended mood or function without quibble.