A United Wilson candelabra.
One thing long-time dealers and collectors pick up over time is a “sixth sense” regarding the authenticity of a piece. It’s not always the fact that the color of the glaze on a “Roseville” vase is not quite right, or the fact the style of dovetails on drawers for a highboy dresser don’t match for top and bottom; it’s just a feeling something is not quite right about a piece. Or most likely, the fact that after 40 years in the business, you would have seen quite a number of similar pieces. New “old stuff” just doesn’t appear out of no where.
I run into this quite a bit, even looking at items in the catalogs of well-known auction houses. From time to time, I see items that just don’t have the right “tingle” I get from an original. Such is the case with pieces carrying the United Wilson mark.
I see often pieces with this mark on elaborate ormolu mounted pieces listed as “Art Nouveau” by “William Lowe pottery of England,” or in the style of “Napoleon III,” and my favorite “Thuringian Circa 1900,” but they don’t really resemble any of the descriptions.
This mark has been erroneously attributed at times on the Internet to 19th century pieces by the William Lowe Pottery of England, others claim it actually represents a subsidiary of the Wong or Wah Lee Int. Co., Hong Kong., founded in 1995. There is no proof for the first at all. The second claim is far more likely, but very little information is available for the Wong or Wah Lee Int. Co., of Hong Kong.
To get to the bottom of such things can take time, but a little perseverance pays off. Looking at marks and comparing notes though, the picture appears to becoming clearer, for example compare the crackle in the glaze under both marks above, both have odd dates and the pieces they are found on are very similar. The marking on the right is one used by the “United Wilson Company,” which is still in business in Hong Kong and lists in sales articles regarding their production the following:
“The company began making handmade porcelain with bronze mountings some eight years ago, it was the first in Hong Kong, the mainland or Macau to produce this delicate, treasured artwork.”
The United Wilson Mark.
A Wah Lee mark.
This ties in nicely with the appearance of the “WL 1895” pieces, which began to make the rounds about the time United Wilson began making their ormolu bronze mounted pieces and offering them wholesale for the Western market in the early 2000s. Based on the evidence, I think it would be fair to say the “Wah Lee” pieces were most likely a brand made by “United Wilson” either for their own line of product or under contract to another company.
Time will tell; until then beware, or order a catalog from United Wilson.
Mike Wilcox, of Wilcox & Hall Appraisers, is a Worthologist who specializes in Art Nouveau and the Arts and Craft movement.