Dear Helaine and Joe: Our family has owned this decorative vase for almost 100 years. As the photographs show, it is marked with a crown above intertwined "W's" surrounding a "C51." Does this indicate it is the 51st of these made? The piece also has an attached label that reads, "Chas. Reizenstein China and Glass — Allegheny, Pa." I would greatly appreciate any information you could provide and its current value. — T.D., Bedford, N.H.
Dear T.D.: We would never have thought that the number "51" might be construed as meaning that this was the 51st piece made. It's a clever and imaginative idea, but completely incorrect, unfortunately.
Instead, the "51" stands for 1751 — not the year in which this item was created but the year in which the pottery manufacturer opened for business in Worcester, England. John Wall and William Davis signed the partnership deeds on June 4, 1751, and the new firm subsequently made a kind of artificial or "soft paste" porcelain that contained soapstone.
When these pieces were marked, they sported a variety of insignias, but the one most associated with this company is a crescent — sort of a crescent moon — revived by a succeeding company named Kerr & Binns (1852 to 1862). Starting in 1852, it used the mark seen on the piece in today's question with the cursive "W's" surrounding the crescent and the number "51." However, the firm did not surmount this design with a crown, like the mark on the piece belonging to T.D.
Kerr & Binns did not make artificial porcelain like the first Worcester factory but worked with true, Chinese-style porcelain primarily made from kaolin (alumina) and china stone, or "petuntse." In 1862, R.W. Binns formed the Royal Worcester Company, which is the entity that made this ewer (ornamental pitcher) — no, it is not a vase.
This company often dated its pieces, and we can see that this one is dated under the mark, but the rim of a magnifying glass in the photo obscures the date mark. We think it is a small letter "a," which means the ewer was potted and decorated in 1890. We feel this is probably correct because the mark does not read "Royal Worcester England," a phrase added in 1891.
The Charles Reizenstein China and Glass Company in Allegheny, Pa., originally sold the piece, designed in Royal Worcester's shape No. 1309. It should be 15-3/4 inches tall, but the letter did not mention the actual size of the item. However, we have seen reported sizes on the 1309 between 15-3/4 and 16 inches, and this one should not be an exception.
This ewer is based on Italian Renaissance designs, and examples can be found with a variety of hand-painted decorations — some of which can be extremely valuable. For example, a 1309 ewer, with Highland cows painted by renowned artist John Stinton, sold at auction in 2006 for $7,500 — even with a chip (which is usually the absolute kiss of death for a piece of porcelain).
More ordinarily decorated pieces with floral treatments such as this one sell for around $900 at auction and have an insurance-replacement value in the $1,500-$1,800 range.
Helaine Fendelman and Joe Rosson are the authors of "Price It Yourself" (HarperResource, $19.95). Contact them at Treasures in Your Attic, P.O. Box 18350, Knoxville, TN 37928. E-mail them at email@example.com.