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Jewel coffer made by Martin Carlin c. 1730-1785. Inset with Sevres soft-paste porcelain plaques and ormolu mounts; Courtesy-Detroit Institute of Arts

News Article

Chalkware Figures Gain Respect and Higher Prices

As seen in The Antique Shoppe Newspaper, April 2007

Jewelry boxes and caskets date back to the 16th century. Always costly they are worth more these days than the jewels hey may have contained. Consider over $50,000 if they even come to auction. While most are in museums they still turn up in European shops. However many sold as of the Renaissance period have been made in the 19th century. Examples were made in France, Germany, the Low countries, Spain and Italy. Some made in Sicily are of ivory with brass mounts and supposedly by fourteenth century Arab craftsmen who migrated to Sicily.

Still around are late 16th century German boxes of iron sheet, trimmed with gilt brass. The exteriors often have richly etched floral scrolls as well as hunting or allegorical subjects. As with most antiques they can turn up anywhere. Collectors look for those of gilt brass trimmed with silver or enamels.

In the 17th century the Dutch specialized in tiny wedding jewel caskets. They were made as part of a toilet set that also held ornament combs and jars. English jewel caskets weren’t made until the 17th century. Unlike the Renaissance pieces they were of veneered woods.

CLUES: Because of a great surge of interest in the 19th century known as the “Renaissance Revival” along with reproductions of furniture and decorative objects of the period jewel caskets were copied by skilled craftsmen. Silversmiths and goldsmiths studied publications with illustrations of famous collections. So, if you think you have made a great discovery in a dusty little shop carefully look at the hallmark.

If it is fuzzy you are looking at a repro. The forgers of that era reasoned that buyers would expect to see a worn, almost invisible mark on a piece supposedly that old. Some forgers mixed up hallmarks and goldsmith marks belonging to different places and periods. If you are planning to go hunting invest in a jewelers loup for high magnification and a pocket size book of maker’s marks. Decide if the date of the make jibs with the design history of the piece.

One of the most common types dating to 16th century Germany is rectangular iron sheet. The exterior surface was etched and had no Gothic motifs. They were never signed. They are easy to reproduce and can sell for a few thousand dollars at auction.

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