August 03, 2020

Item linked to famous Maine case should be shopped locally

Q: How do I find a market and value for 13 leather-bound volumes of plays, etc. by Shakespeare? The set was a gift in the late 1800s to a lawyer for his work on a famous case in Maine history. – Priscilla, Rockland, Maine

A: As described by the reader, Shakespeare and a presentation casket with fancy brass clasps are mere sidelines to the big story behind these books. Briefly, the history involves Fall River, Mass., and a three-masted schooner built in Maine but named for a relative of Lizzie Borden. It then unfolds into mutiny and murder, Victorian stamps, “Christian compassion,” executive clemency and life imprisonment. All told, it’s quite a story.

As described, the story behind the gift books housed in an inscribed oak box is a Maine saga. As such, it would certainly be of interest to any historical society in the state. Donation to a state library, historical society or archive is one possibility. But the reader asks about value, so I suggest approaching auction houses in Maine or Massachusetts, where the story unfolded.

Another alternative is a known auction that sells historic paper and memorabilia. Most of the major houses have specialty sales of historic Americana. “Schroeder’s Antiques Price Guide” ($14.95 from Collector Books) lists, with several notable omissions, contact info for many auction houses. If your library has a copy, this would be a good place to start research. Ascribing value on an item with no sale history is for experts.

Smart collectors know that generally, possible value is arrived at by comparison and sale track records. When something like this comes up, experts often say, “let’s put it before the public and see what it brings.” That’s not being evasive: Market value depends on how much anything is wanted on the day of sale, and by whom. In a best-case scenario, multiple buyers duke it out for ownership. If sale is the end choice, be certain that wherever you place it, the house promotes your item adequately.

Q: Any info on my Kutani tea set? The film “Memoirs of a Geisha” brought it to mind. – Dolores, Yorktown, Va.

Q: How do I find out about a 45-piece set of Sone Occupied Japan dinnerware? – Doris, Cridersville, Ohio

Q: I need to contact the dinnerware maker Victoria & Beale directly because I need two dinner plates in a pattern that must be so popular that no one has it! Why do I keep getting sent to or – Enid, Delray Beach, Fla.

A: Named for the Japanese village where it originated, old Kutani ware is rare and valuable. Newer wares, made in the 19th and early 20th centuries as distant copies of the original, are far more familiar. The reader’s tea set for six made by Hayasi about 1930-1940 features lithopane images of a geisha when the teacups are upended.

Readers who follow this column know that changing taste is a frequent theme. Unfortunately, no matter how lovely the china, tea sets, unless remarkable, are not current big sellers. Today’s ritual is a tea bag in a ceramic mug, heated in a microwave. Without knowing the pattern and how ornate it is, the set might retail for $150 to $350. More if it is very fancy.

The last writer is sent to replacement services because her maker has probably closed shop. Susan Ranta of www., a site housing many replacement dealers, suggests that perhaps the pattern has been recently discontinued. If so, it may take a year or more before the pattern shows up on replacement lists. She suggests you leave a “want list” with dealers on her site that carry V&B.

Exported to the United States by boatloads during the era of Occupied Japan (1945-1952), Sone China dinnerware is still common. A mark image sent was unclear, but if the reader finds the pattern name, then looks on the replacement sites mentioned, the design is probably there. Be aware that value on complete sets does not correspond to replacement value. Ninety-nine percent of buyers want replacement single pieces, not whole sets.

Q: How do I find the company that produced a beautiful crystal bighorn sheep I found in a gift shop in Hungary? The tour bus left before I could purchase. – Martha, Oro Valley, Ariz.

A: I wish I could be more encouraging, but the moral of this quest is “seize the moment.” Hungary and the Czech Republic are renowned for cottage artisans, not mass production. That ram may have been one of a kind. I’m sure you have contacted the tour company to locate the shop. In the arts and antiques line, when something speaks to you, buy (or get a card from the vendor) before the opportunity passes. Good luck on your quest.

Danielle Arnet welcomes questions from readers. She cannot respond to each one individually, but will answer those of general interest in her column. Send e-mail to or write Danielle Arnet, c/o Tribune Media Services, 435 N. Michigan Ave., Suite 1400, Chicago, IL 60611. Please include an address in your query. Photos cannot be returned.

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