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Ask A Worthologist Question: Art Nouveau-Style Trinket Box

by Mike Wilcox (01/24/12).

WorthPoint member Isabel R. wished to know more about this trinket box she inherited from her mother, so she engaged WorthPoint’s “Ask a Worthologist” service. The report back states that the piece originated in Limoges, France, and is painted in a floral Art Nouveau-style popular during the turn of the 19th century.

Isabel R. inherited a porcelain trinket box that appears to be hand-painted. There are no markings on it other than “Jenny Miles- 97” on the bottom, and had originally belonged to her mother. It was used in a sewing cabinet for needles and thread, and no one could recall where it came from originally. Isabel has no plans on selling it, as it’s already found use on her vanity, for rings and costume jewelry, but she is interested in finding all she can about it, particularly the artist who painted it. She contacted WorthPoint’s “Ask a Worthologist” service to inquire about this piece, its origins and value. Her inquiry was forwarded to me. here’s her question:

“I inherited this box from my mother, she’s always used it for pins, needles and thread, and it has sat in her sewing cabinet for years. Nobody in the family can recall where it came from, as my mother tended to pick things up at church bazaars and yard sales over the years just because she had a use for it or liked the look of it. The only marking on it is on the bottom, it’s signed “Jenny Miles- 97.” I think the number 97 might be for 1897. Could Jenny Miles be the name of the artist who painted this piece? I tried to look up her name on the Internet, but could not find any other porcelain trinket boxes signed by her, but found similar pieces with other names and dates on them. I’m not going to sell this piece, as I already use it on the vanity for small bits of costume jewelry, but I’m really interested if you anything can find out about the artist, and of course what the piece is worth.”

Here’s my response:

Based on your images and the marking, your trinket box originated in Limoges, France, and is in the floral Art Nouveau-style popular during the turn of the 19th century. The number “97” in our opinion is, indeed, for the year 1897. Limoges was the home of many porcelain companies during the last quarter of the 19th century. Most of these companies were producing fine decorative china for the export market, mainly to the USA.

A good deal of this ware came as “white ware” blanks and were hand-decorated by hobbyists and pottery studio’s in both Europe and North America. “China painting,” as porcelain decorating was called at the time, was a popular pastime from the last quarter of the 19th century until the First World War. Unfortunately, the work of many of these studios and the signatures of the artists who decorated them are either undocumented or little reference material for them is still available. This trinket box is one of these pieces.

This piece was most likely decorated in North America but, sadly, we have no listing for the artist “Jenny Miles” in any of the standard reference material or databases used to identify markings and signatures for porcelain decorators. The majority of the amateur American china painters were women either by occupation, or as a hobby. But then these Studio pieces were not generally mass produced, nor is much research material available.

While not mass produced, such pieces were made in large numbers, so values are still modest for them. In the current market, comparable hand-painted Limoges based trinket boxes of this period and style often sell at auction for less than $75.

Mike Wilcox, of Wilcox & Hall Appraisers, is a Worthologist who specializes in Art Nouveau and the Arts and Craft movement.

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