Collector’s Minute: Ivorex and Plaster Plaques

An example of plaster plaques of “Anne Hathaway’s Cottage” (left) and “Shakespeare’s House Stratford-on-Avon” that have confused some people into believing they were indeed hand-carved ivory.

Appraisers & dealers often run across odd items that their owners are convinced are made of some exotic, hand-carved material such as marble or ivory. Unfortunately, most are not what they appear to be when first glanced in a dusty attic or dimly lit antique store. The pieces above are a good example of that, described as “hand-carved ivory” by the owner, who was told so through family folklore. Their origin, however, are far more humble; rather than ivory, they are a form of plaster casting.

The history of plaster dates back 9,000 years. There is evidence of ancient plaster used in Syria and Egypt. The Egyptians used plaster to make molds of human bodies and early Roman antique dealers used plaster to make copies of Greek statutes to fill the market demand for originals (some things never change). We know it today as “Plaster of Paris,” after its extensive use in France as a fire retardant and decorative material. By the 1700s, Paris was known as the “capital of plaster,” hence the term “Plaster of Paris” emerged into common usage.

Plaster plaques like the ones above were cast from molds and sometimes decorated with paint or glazes to give them the appearance of ivory or marble. Quite often these were given away as prizes at carnival during the early years of the 20th century or sold as inexpensive souvenirs. A great many of these items are unmarked. Some later, post-First World War examples carry copyright marks and company names, but often in the form of a foil or paper label.

Unlike many such plaques, these two are clearly marked and not unknown orphans. They are what’s known as “Ivorex,” a line of fine-quality plaster wall plaques made by B. Osborne Company, which was located in Faversham, Kent, England, between 1899 and 1965. The company’s own literature indicates it produced 495 different plaques, but new examples are being found all the time. During its peak years, Osborne made 45,000 pieces annually.

In the current market, values vary considerably for these plaques, depending on the size and subject matter. Comparable examples to the ones above of “Anne Hathaway’s Cottage” on the left and “Shakespeare’s House Stratford-on-Avon” on the left often sell for less than $50.

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


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