TREASURES IN YOUR ATTIC: Covered potpourri vase's mark is misleading

Helaine and Joe tell readers what's valuable and what's merely old:

Dear Helaine and Joe:

I am enclosing photos of a vase that was given to me about 25 years ago. The piece is 9 inches tall and has four small round holes in the top. The bottom of the piece has a crown with "Royal Vienna" above and "Germany" below. It is in good condition and I have been told it is valuable.

Sincerely, J. W.U.

Dear J. W. U.,

Primarily, we do research and sometimes this process can be very difficult and frustrating. Up until today, we had been unable to find the mark on the bottom of this piece, but then inspiration (or dumb luck) hit, and we finally solved the mystery.

The problem here is that the mark is deceiving. The reference to "Royal Vienna" may lead to the supposition that this piece has something to do with the famous porcelain manufacturer that was founded in Vienna in 1718, but it does not.

When the secret for making true hard paste porcelain was discovered at Meissen, Germany in 1709, the owner of the secret -- Augustus the Strong, Elector of Saxony and King of Poland -- wanted to keep the process secret, since it was literally worth a fortune, and a vast one at that.

Unfortunately, for Augustus and the people at Meissen, the secret was very quickly stolen and disseminated throughout Europe. The first place it went was Vienna where Claudius I. Du Paquier was granted a license to make porcelain just nine years after the initial discovery.

After a long and distinguished history, this Vienna factory closed in 1864 and a number of other manufacturers began using the company's "beehive" shaped mark and sometimes the phrase "Royal Vienna."

Many, many companies made wares so marked but that leaves the question -- "Who made this particular covered potpourri vase?"

There are an number of suspects, but we finally discovered that this piece was made in one of the Schlegelmilch factories -- probably the one in Suhl, Germany.

The "Royal Vienna" mark found on the base of J. M. U.'s piece is often found accompanied by the more familiar "R S Prussia" mark with the wreath surround. The fact that this back stamp happens to be missing on this particular piece is not surprising.

This covered vase was probably made at or near the turn of the 20th century, and it is decorated with a transfer print that is associated with the work of Reinhold (and sometimes Erdman) Schlegelmilch. It depicts Madame Recamier, who was born Jeanne Julie Adelaide Bernard in 1777. She became one of the most renowned hostesses of her day, and her name is now associated with a variety of upholstered sofa used for languid lounging.

Schlegelmilch pieces with Madame Recamier's portrait are rather rare and the covered vase it appears on is very uncommon as well. It has very Art Nouveau styling and the rich burgundy ground with gilt embellishments at the top and bottom are very typical of Schlegelmilch pieces.

We could not find any past sales records for this extraordinary piece, but it is our opinion that the prices of Schlegelmilch porcelain are "soft" right now. The current insurance replacement value of this piece is probably in the $2,000 to $2,500 range, but there was a time when it was valued at more than $3,000 in specialized collector circles.

Helaine Fendelman and Joe Rosson are the authors of the "Price It Yourself" (HarperResource, $19.95). Questions can be mailed to them at P.O. Box 12208, Knoxville, TN 37912-0208.