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Antiques Considered - February 5, 2014

This past Saturday for the twelfth year I participated in the annual Saint Clement’s Island/Potomac River Museum Appraiser  Fair.  As always, the occasion brought forth some remarkable pieces from collections in Southern Maryland and the Northern Neck.  

One of the best pieces was this mahogany two-drawer Pembroke table with its extensive superlative marquetry inlay all over the surfaces as well as the legs.  It had the original hardware, and was lacking only in the finish.  

Unfortunately, many years ago someone applied a crude coat of bartop varnish, but fortunately leaving the original finish beneath it.  I suggested to the owner, who had received the table as a gift, that she restore it to the original patina.  A skilled refinisher should be able to do the work, thereby greatly enhancing its value.
The most amazing item of the day was a small sterling silver cigarette case.  Intrinsically, it was a nice piece of modest value, but the engraving on it and the three letters that accompanied it made the value incalculable. The case was a present from Dame Nellie Melba, the celebrated Australian opera singer, to the man who taught her as a child to play the pianoforte.  

The accompanying letters thanked him, and told him of her lifelong appreciation of the tutelage he gave the “naughty little girl.”  She wrote that she wanted him to have one of two of cigarette cases she had had engraved with her signature, as well as those of a dozen other musical greats of her time, including Massenet and Paderewski.

The letters were quite personal, and reflected the heart of a very caring and devoted person.  Dame Nellie gave her name to Melba toast, Peach Melba and Melba sauce.  She dominated the late nineteenth and early twentieth-century world of music.  Most recently the New Zealand opera star, Dame Kiri Te Kanawa portrayed her on an episode of Downton Abbey.

The owner of the case and the letters was the great grandson of Dame Nellie’s teacher, and the pieces have been in the family since she gave them to the progenitor.

Some more great pieces next week.

Happy Antiquing!

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