From the Worthologists’ Files: Porcelain Mantel Figurines

One of the advantages of being an appraiser is the sheer volume of incredible things one comes across on a weekly basis. Not all are hugely valuable, antique, rare or even all that sought after. Many times their value is only sentimental, but they often come with priceless provenances. Our Worthologist file cabinet is a treasure chest of such items– appraisal requests from our clients ranging from stuffed aardvarks to folk art zithers, all of which I’ll cover here in this column.

Our client writes:

These look like bookends, both have flat backs and are fairly heavy. They belonged to my Grandmother and I remember them always being in her home on the mantel ( I’m 58).  I inherited them along with a great many other decorative pieces when she passed five years ago, a lot of it still in boxes. I’m currently downsizing and going through these boxes and trying to figure out what to keep, sell or donate. These look very old and have no markings on them, nobody left in the family has any idea where my Grandmother got them. Any help on identifying them and what they are worth would be very helpful, I’d hate to give then away or sell them without knowing more about them.

Our evaluation:

Based on your images, this pair is an example of European porcelain and would have been meant for the mantelpiece rather than bookends. Figures like this appear far older than they really are because they are based on 19th Century examples by well known makers such as Meissen. Similar pieces were made in the 1920’s and 30’s, notably in Dresden, Germany. Dresden, until World War II, was a major center of production of Meissen style figurines and home to many smaller decorator studios until much of the city was destroyed by allied bombing during the war.

Based on the images and their construction, this pair is actually a quite modern version and not Dresden; they are most likely Italian or Japanese in origin. The lack of any markings indicates that they likely had paper or foil labels that would have indicated the maker and country of origin. Most pieces like this that had applied labels were made under contract to wholesale companies with markets in North America. Very few figures like this predate World War II, most of them imported from the late 1950’s onward. 

Values for porcelain figures like this without markings tends to be rather modest; most tend to sell for under $100.00 in the current market. This pair below from our Worthopedia sold for $41.99

This pair of mantel figurines sold for $41.99 in 2015.

Mike Wilcox, of Wilcox & Hall Appraisers, is a Worthologist who specializes in Art Nouveau and the Arts and Craft movement. He can be reached through his website

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