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Antiques Considered - January 1, 2014

These two small cloisonne’ bowls come from a Northern Neck family whose members have collected a large number of pieces.  Both are in excellent condition.  The other photographs also are interesting, but this one illustrates an important point in evaluating cloisonne’.

The black and white bowl has painted on the bottom the word, CHINA, all in capital letters, whereas the blue bowl is not marked. The name on the first one indicates that it was made after the international convention of 1891 requiring products to be labeled as to country of origin.  The unmarked bowl dates before 1891, and is a finer specimen in its own right.

Cloisonne’ refers to a process whereby the metal core is circumscribed with thin gold, silver or brass wires delineating compartments for the various color changes.  The French word for compartment is “cloison”, thus the name.  Once the wiring is attached, enamel in the desired colors is applied between the brass lines, after which the piece is fired in a kiln.

The technique began in the Byzantine Empire in the Middle Ages, and had spread across the Middle East to China by the fifteenth century.  Today most cloisonne’ is associated with China, where it still is being produced in great quantities.  The best Chinese cloisonne’ dates from before the Second World War.  The most collectible is the category of jeweled cloisonne, in which semi-precious gems are applied as part of the decoration.   

The present examples have good appeal, but vary in quality.  The marked black and white bowl is executed less finely, and is worth under $20.  The older, unmarked blue bowl is of superior quality, and is worth $50.

Cloisonne’ remains popular, especially with reference to the more highly decorated pieces, which can be in the form of vases, bowls, boxes, figurines, trays and jewelry.  Most Cloisonne’ lamps began as vases, which subsequently were electrified.  The Cloisonne’ market has not experienced the setbacks associated with other genres.

Happy Antiquing!

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