Brokering Adventures: Royal Vienna Vase

Royal Vienna style vase.

Royal Vienna-style vase.

A close-up of the hand-painted portrait of a Victorian woman with rosy cheeks and flowing hair.

A close-up of the hand-painted portrait of a Victorian woman with rosy cheeks and flowing hair.

Atlantique City is a massive antique show, held several times a year at the Atlantic City Convention Center, featuring hundreds of dealers selling quality antiques. One special “draw” to the show is that it offers free appraisals to the public, and last October show promoters invited several Worthologists to help evaluate the items brought in. That is where I met Linda Rubin.

Linda, and her husband, Arthur, were my second appraisal of the morning, following a “not-so-antique” set of collector mugs. It was a refreshing surprise when Linda reached into her bag and withdrew a carefully wrapped object that turned out to be a stunning porcelain vase. It stood nine inches tall and the background was a lovely iridescent emerald green, with alternating panels of flowers and blue jewels. There was a center medallion that had an exquisite hand-painted portrait of a Victorian woman with rosy cheeks and flowing hair.

As I examined the vase closer, it got even better, as I found the signature of the artist: Wagner. Wagner was an artist who worked in Austria painting some of the finest porcelain during the last quarter of the 19th century. I told the Rubins that the vase was in the Royal Vienna style and dated to the late 19th century. I also informed them that the name Royal Vienna—or Vienna Porcelain—refers to a style of porcelain painting that became very popular during the Victorian era, and that there were dozens of porcelain manufacturers in Germany and Austria that produced these magnificent portrait vases, plates and other porcelain articles. I estimated the value of the vase at $2,000. After the evaluation, I gave Linda my WorthPoint business card and assumed that was the last time I would see the vase.

But Linda and Arthur had been trying to downsize in anticipation of a move. They were going through their home, deciding on what to do with the many items that Linda had inherited from her grandfather and mother. Her grandfather was an antiques enthusiast who had amassed quite a collection. He passed these items down to Linda’s mother who, in turn, gave them to Linda. She decided to keep some of the heirlooms that she remembered fondly, like the grandfather clock from her grandparent’s home. Yet, when it came to the Royal Vienna vase, as beautiful as it was, she lacked a connection to it, and decided to sell. She also found a Royal Vienna cabinet plate with equally fine detail. In January 2009, she e-mailed me through WorthPoint, and said that she would like me to assist her in finding an appropriate venue for the vase and plate.

Picking an Auction House

Deciding where to sell porcelain required careful consideration. I wanted an establishment that dealt in quality antiques and that would advertise well to help get my client the best price. After much research, I found the perfect place—Dallas Auction Gallery—also simply known as DAG, has sold thousands of pieces of high-end porcelain and its past auction results were impressive. I contacted Adriane Shuford Crosland, vice president of Dallas Auction Gallery, who said that she would love to have the opportunity to sell the vase and plate. Ms. Crosland wanted to place it in DAG’s April 17, 2008, auction, and estimated the auction value to be between $500 and $7,000 for the plate and $700 and $1,000 for the vase. I was a little disappointed with the estimate of the vase, but as she pointed out, the economy was not working in our favor. Once again, I contacted Linda, who decided it was a go!

The vase and plate were rushed to Dallas and photographed for the auction. The photos were so amazing; they seemed to capture the true vibrancy of the vase. The pictures of the vase and plate were so clear that you could even make out fine details like the artist strokes. After seeing the items in the catalog and on-line, I was sure that they would attract many buyers and surpass the estimates. The auction was broadcast live on, and the vase received six online absentee bids prior to the auction. In my role as broker, I felt that it was important to keep the Rubins informed and make them part of the process. I sent Linda and Arthur the Internet link so that they could watch the auction live and follow along with the bidding.

On the day of the auction, the vase sold for $1,800 and the plate for $600, not including the buyer’s premium. Linda was “thrilled” with the outcome of the auction and promised to keep sorting through her items as she continues to downsize in hopes of finding more hidden treasures. She also mentioned that it was hard to believe that a vase that was kept on a “wobbly table” could have been worth so much. As a WorthPoint broker, I thought that the sale was a successful match of item to auction house. But more than this, as an antique porcelain lover, it pleases me to know that the Royal Vienna vase is once again in the hands of someone who will treasure it as much as Linda’s grandfather did.

Audra Blevins is a Worthologist who specializes in French Limoges china and early American pattern glass.

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