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.

Brass Chandeliers

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

If you’ve ever looked inside one of the many cathedrals in Europe or noticed classical paintings of European interiors, (i.e. Vermeer), you’ve seen prime examples of item number 6 on our Top Ten List of Antiques to Buy in Belgium.– the  Brass Chandeier.  It is characterized by a middle baluster shaped support, (not unlike the wooden decorative shape in a stair railing) and radiating arms that scroll into elegant S-shaped extentions with candleholders  accompanied by a drip saucer.  The range in height can be from 1, 2 or 3 tiers and in diameter from 4 up to 24 arms.  Similar style and quality sconces or ‘appliques’  have three arms and look marvelous below a small to medium mirror

First, the weight of an older one is a fast way to note its quality and age, as modern copies are mostly hollow and tinny in comparison. You might be saddened by a second obvious sign, a possible energy conversion to either gas or electricity giving way to uncharacteristic drilled holes and/or encased wiring. The best examples will be without electricity but if conversion is done and is desired, check that it might need rewiring either for reasons of safety or international currency if relocating. In this case the price should reflect a ‘not-in-original-state reduction and if it is in original state, consider yourself a super sleuth and very, very lucky. If funds allow this is truly a no brainer, and you’ll just have to accept that everyone will want to have all future Christmas dinner and special entertainment at your place.The ambience of a beautifully lit chandelier with its Vermeer reflections is truly priceless.

Age & Patina
The age of a brass chandelier (unlike the glass one) can be determined by how shiny or dull the surface brass appears ( sans dust and grime) and its speed of tarnishing to a warm patina after polishing. The older, the shinier might be a rule of thumb if quantum leaps came with the dealers package, so then you can revert to Plan B and indoctrinate your expert eye. Look to see if the arms are ‘pinned’ into the (shiny, solid) central support (16 c), afixed with screw threads or bolted (mid-to end 19 c).

Hanging and Support
As with all lighting with a drop feature or cascade of tiers, brass chandeliers should be measured for placement, adequate ceiling height, tall heads in the family will not enjoy close encounters of this gorgeous albeit robust handbanger. Make sure the support for this beautiful albeit possible headbanger is sufficient. The length of its drop can easily be adjusted with matching brass chain or a non-matching one, covered in velvet, silk or linen as appropriate to the decor. it might be good to mention that there are matching accessory sconces or ‘appliques’ [French] possible to compliment the room as well. Dealers and collectors love this chandelier for the ease of shipping and moving it from one place to another. Oversized shipments are usually priced by volume so being able to stack the arms makes transport easy as well as economical. Antiques do not have taxes levied or incur custom charges so make sure you get a certificate with your purchase.

Polishing once a year is adequate for brass chandeliers as part of the fun is letting the brass repatinate and show its continued abilty grace the most elegant of occasions. The ease of cleaning, is in tandem with the ease of dismantling the arms, so the pinned model wins. Just remove the pins, polish and re-pin, never having to remove the full weight of the chandelier. For the others, there is basically the same maneuver, but more time consumption can be expected due to the slower dismantling or inability to dismantle the arms separately. Still, besides its aesthetic beauty, the practicality of being able to remove candle wax without climbing a ladder, is a redeeming quality soon forgotten. The unsurpassed warmth and romantic atmosphere generated in any weather condition by this king of lighting fixtures adds a marvelous touch of European craftsmanship and history to any occasions. Whether placed over a refectory table, high ceiling foyer or conservatory with pool in view, it turns into a showpiece chameleon in a range of rustic and formal decors.

Lusters (Glass Chandeliers)

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

What dining room table could not benefit from an elegantly appointed antique  hanging chandeliers ? I personally like to see them in arched doorways and entrances where the multi-tiered ones make a grand first impression of which any collector can be proud.

A search for one of these will soon reveal that although they may all seem alike at first glance, but a few questions may rise: How do you tell the older ones from the more modern ones? How many tiers will look best? How many lights are on each tier and can you get bulbs for the fittings in most countries?

Detecting age
Older lusters , at least pre-WWII, are more delicately scrolled and the armature is less robust. The later armatures are ‘outlined’ in glass, concealing the metal and giving an appearance of more bulk-indeed they do weigh more. The metal in the earlier version is visible and the type of metal used is strong and heavy though delicate in design. Lusters from this time will have a more basic ‘feel’ and patina. All of the teardrops will be glass as opposed to crystal.

Some of these chandeliers suspend more teardrops than others, and taste varies individually. When making a purchasing decision, an important consideration is the intended placement vs the hang depth and ceiling height. A general rule for price is the more tiers/the bigger the circumference, the higher the cost.

Care and Maintenance
Maintaining the luster is easy. If needed it can be rewired for different currency and cleaning is done by spraying with cleaning solution only periodically. The light fittings are normal size and one can fit them with candle flame type bulbs that have a twisted texture and pointed end, or bulbs with long narrow shape without the twisted texture. In all cases, the crowning touch is installation of a dimmer switch to capitalize on any moment that deserves a special atmosphere and great memory of your time in Belgium and the thrill of the hunt. [See also Brass Chandelier]

The Top 10 List of Antiques to Buy in Belgium

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

Collectors Paradise

If you’re tracking the marvelous in Belgium, here’s your checklist before departing:

2. Flemish Mirror
5.Napoleonic items
6.Bronze Chandelier
7.Luster (Glass chandelier)
8 Dutch Chest of Drawers
10. Cabinet or Armoire

If you can answer these three questions, you’re ready to  shop:

Is the item available and possible to find?

 Will it hold its value?

Can you place it in your home?

For the items above all the answers are yes! Okay, here’s how the list works. It’s inascending order in terms of  the items value, so the the higher the number, the higher the price tag. In other posts you will find information about the items which might be useful if you decide to add it to your collection. Just check the sidebar and click to your favorites for some general information. Good Luck!


Posted in Antiques, Tracking the Marvelous with tags , , on April 29, 2009 by dutchnduchess
 Top Ten Antiques   to Buy in Belgium
French Palm D'or Lamp Base, ready for rewiring and selecting a new lampshade

French Palm D'or Lamp Base, ready for re-wiring and selecting a new lampshade



No. 3

Lamps can add a small personal touch or become  the main attraction, depending on the scale of a room. Take for example a small office with a large desk, appointed with and interesting base topped off by a red lampshade. 
And you may ask what for an interesting lamp base would I be scouting?  Pieces or pairs of things you can easily have made into a lamp but also one of a kind bases that started out very elegant, lost their glory and  just lack a new owner with a creative spark and little elbow grease to shine it up like silver plated candlesticks. For the rustic or informal look we like French confit pots (warrants another blog, (just google for now) or ceramic whisky kegs with likewise rustic fabric on the lampshade like larger weave linen. For student rooms and and music enthusiast, convert a  trumpet or clarinet  picked up at flea markets or a brocante for a song.  Changing an antique object into a lamp is actually not such a great deal and provides you with a unique decoration at reasonable cost. A little warning however. If, for instance, you decide to have a valuable vase made into a lamp base, please make sure the vase itself is not altered or damaged with serious loss of value as a result. For valuable items like this, special techniques are available which are always reversible.  


Old lamps and lighting found at  brocantes often still have their original wires, fittings and plugs. Please realize these lamps may have been out of use for many years. As corroded wiring and pre-1960 plugs and fittings can cause electric hazards it is highly recommended to have your local (antiques) restorer or electrician to have a look at it before you actually put the plug in the power. Bringing an old lamp up to today’s safety standards is a relatively inexpensive exercise and having this done now provides you with a lamp that can be used world wide. Lamps done in Belgium are prepared for 220volts but work perfectly in the countries with 110volts. The one thing you may have to change locally are the plugs (or use adaptor NOT transformer) and of course you need light bulbs with the voltage of your specific country.

Local dealers will also be able to assist you with finding the perfect lampshade. Many stores in Belgium offer a wide variety of shades readily available for your specific lamp style, but even so you can opt for having a lampshade made to your liking. The advantage of going this route is that you are in control of exact shape and color to match your specific lamp or even the decor of your room. Having a shade made to your liking will not cost an arm and a leg and the eventual additional cost is easily compensated by the fact that you have a unique one of a kind item. Always allow for a couple of weeks incase you decide to have an old or antique lamp re-done. All may sound to add up seriously, but new, quality lighting is expensive and having an old or antique lamp re-done rewards you with having something vintage and quality which you know is safe today without the feeling you have one of the millions sold at the mega store.

My favorite lamp in Belgium is the 40’s Palm D’or lamp. Regularly found in flea markets, these lamps were designed after those used in hotels in Cannes and Nice. They are recognized by he 24 carat gilt palm leaves in the middle emanating from a block-shaped base, standing minimally about 20 inches tall. The base material may vary from black metal, chrome steel and some rarer with Baccarat crystal. They can look grim when at the market, but after restoration they are fantastic and stand proud in formal as well as in a contemporary decor. This lamp base when  topped off with a black (outside) and gold metallic (inside) shade, rimmed with a thin piping on the edges for a “tres chique”  can easily become the crowning  jewel in any room.