Radioactive Green Glass?

Get out your Geiger counter! Certain 19th century green glass can zing with radioactivity…. but the luscious green colours produced will have you in awe. Line up a few pieces of antique “uranium glass” on a window sill, and “when the sun is over the yardarm” you will have a sure visual cure for the blues of winter. (Banner photo courtesy of Dave Peterson at

This 19th century condiment server is a pale green in regular light…

….but a UV light or the sun’s natural UV rays will make the green glow in  fluorescence. (Image via

Uranium glass (or ouraline as it is termed in French), is glass which has had uranium added for coloration. The proportion ranges from minuscule levels to about 2% (although some 20th century pieces were made with up to 25% uranium).

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Pig Bladder or Pink?

Lampshades, that is. Pig bladder or pink silk vintage lampshades can take ten years off the wrinkles on your face. When it comes to lampshades, you can naturally  photo shop your salon “selfie” by sitting next to the right antique lampshade choice.

The ladies of Downton Abbey understood the power of sitting next to the right lampshade.

While the 19th century might have been limited to capturing the moment in black and white, turn of the century ladies certainly recognized the talents of “la vie en rose” lampshades to turn grey, sallow complexions into positively radiating countenances. In the words of one Victorian dowager, “…a dim railway light is still becoming to me.” With the right shade there was no need to stand on the platform.

A bit of lampshade history…

Edouard Vuillard captured the art of lampshading a room in his “Voiles des Gênes”, (1931)

The very first lampshades were designed to accompany domestic oil lamps. Their purpose was not so much aesthetic, but more protection from the open flames. During the 17th century, as oil lamps began to appear in European cities, reflectors were installed to direct the light to the dark streets below. With the introduction of much brighter gas lamps, shades in opaline, glass, parchment and fabric were introduced to dim the light. Read more

Burls and Crotches: Inspecting and Respecting

Are your burls and crotches getting the consideration they deserve? If you have “brown furniture” (not the reconstituted or chemically produced genre, but items made from real trees), take a moment to appreciate your wood’s physiological and historical past…and definitely “think” before you decide to makeover with PAINT! If your furniture exhibits burls or crotches, do you really want to mask a tree’s history and the fruits of Mother Nature’s labours? Thus, the dilemma:

Should a tree burl like this…
…split open in the 19th century and transformed into a walnut veneer drawer (image: Gretchen Sawatzki)…
…be painted to conform to contemporary tastes?

The “brown furniture” problem

It is destabilizing when this 1960’s “tam tam”…..

“Brown furniture” has gone out of fashion. Over the decade, the value of antique furniture has dropped 28% (oddly, other collectables like classic cars or fine art have gone up). Read more

Do you need Asparagus Tongs?

Silver asparagus tongs, pickle forks, jelly servers, bonbon scoops, potato chip spoons? A 19th century aversion to touching food with the hands fostered the imaginative invention of task specific silver cutlery. (This antipathy is something I can personally relate to as I consider one of the perks of living in Europe the common acceptance of eating pizza with a knife and fork.)

In the 19th century all  manner of servers and tools were invented and contemplated in order to avoid touching that food!

Popular manuals like Charles Pierce’s The Household Manager (1857) or Manners and Tone of Good Society,  ghostwritten by ‘A Member of the Aristocracy’ (1890) dictated an evolution in cutlery etiquette. The historical custom of  ‘one fork per family’ (I’m not kidding) grew into the possibility of 180-piece individual table settings. On both sides of the Atlantic, one began to see the tables of the newly rich filled with items like cucumber servers, sardine spades and fried chicken tongs. In the States, there was such an excess of silver production that in 1925, Secretary of Commerce Herbert Hoover created a decree (which stands today) that an American silver service can only have up to 55 types of silver pieces. In Europe, the number of  silver servers was only limited by the extent of the human imagination. Read more

Vintage crystal: diseased or dirty?

Why gulp your whiskey in a recycled mustard jar, when auction prices for vintage European crystal can have you sipping in style?  Second-hand glassware can, however, sometimes look disturbingly ‘cloudy’.  Is the glass ‘diseased’ or just ‘dirty’?  If it’s simply oxidation sickness, get out grandma’s denture cleaner, an electric toothbrush and get to work; but if the crystal is ‘crizzled’, we are talking a terminal situation.

Crystal tumbler or mustard jar?

Recycled mustard glass (left) vs. Baccarat ‘Harmonie’ (right). It’s all in the light bouncing off the facets. 

I am embarrassed to say that for years, if you asked for a scotch in my house, you were served in a recycled mustard glass. (You know the ones.) It was only when our daughter went to university in Scotland and began arriving for the holidays bearing distilled Highland gifts that I thought to invest in vintage tumblers to do justice to a vintaged whiskey.

No mustard glass for ‘James Bond’. Daniel Craig with his Cumbria ‘Grasmere’ tumbler, the English glassware favored in the ‘Poldark’ and ‘Downton Abbey’ series, as well.


Twenty-four Baccarat tumblers (in their original boxes) for 180 euros (Drouot Estimations, 01/10/16).

To my surprise, I found auction prices in France for second-hand glassware (even prestigious names like Baccarat, Daum or Lalique) extremely reasonable, i.e.  (14) water glasses, (11) red wine, (12) white wine, (8) champagne coupes and (2) carafes in Baccarat’s prestigious ‘Talleyrand’ design…100 euros.

Second-hand Baccarat ‘Talleyrand’ at two euros per glass (Daguerre 22/04/16).

It’s not that the flavor of the libation changes, but endulging in using vintage crystal daily is all about the aesthetics – and in these days of questionable taste (even at the highest levels), aesthetics might be all we have left! Read more

Hermès Scarf Hearsay

Did you know that some of the most valuable vintage Hermès scarves were designed by a postal worker in Texas?

Or that at auction, a Hermès box can be worth its weight (if not in “gold”) than surely”silk”?

Can you spot a fake Hermès scarf quickly?

Here are some quick tips for buying or selling Hermès scarves.

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Straw Marquetry

What did 18th and 19th century nuns and prisoners have in common? Straw marquetry, of course!  The past-time of the sacred and the profane and an intriguing French collectable easily found in auctions and flea markets today.


Sewing Box; 19th c.; in red and natural straw marquetry, inlaid with floral bouquets and geometrical patterns; 5 compartments, silk pin cushion and mirror (cracked); H. 16 cm. W. 24.5, D. 6.5 cm.; Foire de ChatouDear AntiqueQuery,

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