Please visit my website:

Tuesday, March 30, 2010


Vernis Martin (which simply means "Martin varnish") is a type of lacquer named for the French brothers Guillaume and Etienne-Simon Martin, who perfected a method of producing a European version of Chinese lacquer in the 18th century. Used to decorate items as big as furniture and coaches and as small as perfume bottles and snuff boxes, in 1740, the Martins patented their lacquer method, and Vernis-Martin became a hit throughout Europe. It is rare and highly collectible today.

Monday, March 29, 2010


An semi-opaque, typically green-colored glaze invented in ancient China, Celadon is both the term for the the type of glaze (which can be other than green) and for the green-glazed ceramic wares themselves.

Saturday, March 27, 2010


Although often confused with rhinestones and other glass stones, true paste, which began appearing in jewelry in the 18th century, is a special type of glass which was not used as a substitute for precious stones, but as a desirable "gem" in its own right. Paste stones were meticulously cut, and foiled on the bottom to reflect color and sparkle, and were set into closed settings (so the undersides weren't visible) into silver or gold. Pictured here is an 18K gold Georgian paste pin.


This comprehensive tutorial was generously contributed by my good friend Stefanie Deutsch, who has been collect- ing antique miniatures for more than ten years, and is currently working on a book on the subject. She is also the author of two books on vintage Barbie dolls: "Barbie, The First 30 Years" (published by Collector Books, the 3rd edition just printed) and "Barbie" (published in the German Battenberg Verlag).

What to Collect

The field of miniatures is huge, encompassing everything from 17th century oils on copper to early 20th century watercolors on ivorine. While most collectors specialize, some are only interested in 20th century pieces, and others will buy anything of American origin, children, beautiful ladies, distinguished looking gents, officers, signed paintings of known sitters, etc. This is truly a matter of taste, and there is no one area which "better" than another.

Where to Buy
If you have armed yourself with knowledge, and are able to form your own opinion (don't rely on sellers' descriptions alone), ebay is by far the best place to buy. If you need help (especially if you plan to spend thousands of dollars), your best bet would be the big UK auction houses, or reputable brick and mortar specialty antique shops. If you live in the rural UK (and are incredibly lucky), you might even find a miniature being offered by the family of the original sitter at a garage sale (boot sale). But don't waste your time at this type of venue, or, for that matter, flea markets. In my 10 years of collecting miniatures, I have never found anything this way.

Why Collect?
I personally love 18th and early 19th century large scale portraits in oil. But how many of those can one hang in one's home? Many collectors live in small apartments, and just don't have the wall space for large paintings. Miniatures have the quality of being "big art" on a small scale, with the added advantages of being easy to display, store, and ship. Miniature portraits are more than just something to collect. Each one represents a small piece of history, a mirror of its time. It is sometimes possible, with a little bit of sleuthing, to find out more about the sitter. But even pictures of anonymous sitters are a window to the fashion of the day, a way of life, and an epoch gone by. Also an important consideration for the collector is the investment potential. Many of the now high-priced mass produced modern collectables cater to only a single generation (who buy them for nostalgic reasons) and may not have any appeal to future generations. However, original pieces of art have always been collected and always will be. Like any other classic collectable, such as silver, fine porcelain, antique furniture, etc., miniature portraits go through "trend" cycles that influence their market value at any given time. In my opinion, miniatures are still very much undervalued at the moment; the cycle is on the upswing.

If you have enjoyed reading this tutorial and are interested in buying or selling miniature portraits, you can contact Stefanie at:

Friday, March 26, 2010


From the French for "shuttle" - a weaving tool with two pointed ends - Navette came to mean the shape itself, and is the alternative name for a "marquise" shape diamond ... and, similarly, a piece of jewelry in the shape of the weaving shuttle. (Note: The modern "shuttle" - a form a transportation - also comes from the original navette, as something that goes "back and forth," as does the weaving shuttle.)


This comprehensive tutorial was generously contributed by my good friend Stefanie Deutsch, who has been collect- ing antique miniatures for more than ten years, and is currently working on a book on the subject. She is also the author of two books on vintage Barbie dolls: "Barbie, The First 30 Years" (published by Collector Books, the 3rd edition just printed) and "Barbie" (published in the German Battenberg Verlag).

The biggest condition problem often found in old miniatures are cracks or hairlines in the wafer. These are not repairable ... not even by a good restorer, and they greatly reduce the value of a painting. Smudges and small areas of missing paint are fixable by a good restorer, but may cost more than the painting is worth. I would personally rather have a good miniature with a condition problem than an average piece in pristine condition; but that's a matter of taste.

One would think that the "real deal" is always more expensive than a later copy, but that is not the case. Decorative miniatures often fetch more than originals twice their age. This happens when the buyer specifically wants a decorative piece for personal reasons, or a seller offers a decorative piece as an original 18th century painting (either by intention or ignorance). When buying miniatures for their decorative value, most people prefer the idealistic picture of a lovely young lady over the rendering of a real sitter (who was not necessarily an attractive person). Normally, good decorative pieces sell in the neighborhood of $150. While most "real miniatures" sell anywhere between $100 and $500, the really good pieces can fetch thousands ... and occasionally tens of thousands ... of dollars. As a rule, American miniatures are more desirable (and expensive) than European ones. Signed pieces, especially by well-known artists, are highest on the price scale. As with all antiques, age is not the most critical factor in the value of a miniature. One can often get a 17th century oil on copper miniature for less than a good Art Deco miniature. The asking, or starting, price of a miniature on ebay is also not a reliable indicator of value. Some dealers place totally unrealistic prices for copies or low-quality miniatures, while good pieces are often offered at low starting prices in an attempt to encourage bidding.

Stay tuned for Part V of PORTRAIT MINIATURE BUYING GUIDE ... to be posted tomorrow.

Interested in buying or selling miniature portraits? You can contact Stefanie directly at:

Thursday, March 25, 2010


Produced in France throughout the 19th century, Opaline glass was influenced by 16th century Venetian glass and 18th century Bristol glass. Opaline glass has an opaque or slightly translucent quality, and was made either in white or in shades of green, blue, pink, black, purple and yellow, and often gilt-decorated and fitted with bronze mounts. Classified as a semi-crystal because of its high lead content, all opaline glass is hand-blown, and therefore has no mold-lines.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010


This comprehensive tutorial was generously contributed by my good friend Stefanie Deutsch, who has been collect- ing antique miniatures for more than ten years, and is currently working on a book on the subject. She is also the author of two books on vintage Barbie dolls: "Barbie, The First 30 Years" (published by Collector Books, the 3rd edition just printed) and "Barbie" (published in the German Battenberg Verlag).

How to Tell "Decorative Miniatures" from "Real Miniatures"

While the trained eye will almost always easily spot a copy, there are a few guidelines anyone can follow that will help to separate the wheat from the chaff:

QUANTITY: If you scan the ebay listings for miniatures, you'll find the same ladies pictured again and again. You may even recognize them as copies of large oil paintings by famous artists. Many of the subjects wear big hats, or have flowers in their powdered hair. Other giveaways are their facial features, which were painted to suit the ideal of beauty at the time. For instance, "18th century" ladies may have late 19th century tiny little pouty "kissing mouths."

THE FRAME: Miniatures in piano key frames are a telltale sign of a mass-produced item (looking at tens of thousands of miniatures throughout the years, I have found only one real miniature that was later put into one of these frames). As a matter of fact, one can say that the more decorative the frame, the greater the chance that the miniature is not real. Old pieces were framed mostly in simple metal or wood frames. Most medium-quality early 19th century miniatures (the heyday of this art form), were presented in simple black rectangular frames with metal "acorn" hangers. Some copies of miniatures in these type of frames were (and still are) made to deceive, but those are rare.

Stay tuned for Part IV of PORTRAIT MINIATURE BUYING GUIDE ... to be posted tomorrow.

Interested in buying or selling miniature portraits? You can contact Stefanie directly at:


BOULLE is a type of decorative inlay named after 17th century French cabinet maker, Andre-Charles Boulle. Classical Boulle marquetry most often used a tortoiseshell base topped with intricate, swirling chased brass inlays. Other materials, such as pewter, ivory or mother of pearl, were also used.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010


This comprehensive tutorial was generously contributed by my good friend Stefanie Deutsch, who has been collect- ing antique miniatures for more than ten years, and is currently working on a book on the subject. She is also the author of two books on vintage Barbie dolls: "Barbie, The First 30 Years" (published by Collector Books, the 3rd edition just printed) and "Barbie" (published in the German Battenberg Verlag).

What is a Miniature Portrait?

Nearly all miniature portraits depict a sitter's head and shoulders in an area not exceeding five inches. They were done from the early 1700's mostly in watercolor on ivory wafers, and from the late 19th century, often on a substitute called "ivorine."
The earliest miniatures date from the mid 1600's and were painted on either copper or on the back of playing cards, and a little later on vellum (a parchment made from calf skin). Miniatures in enamel (mostly 18th century pieces) will occasionally (though rarely) come up for sale. Porcelain or marble were almost never used for real miniatures. Miniatures also appear on paper, but most watercolor portraits of this genre will show the full body of the sitter, and are not considered to be true miniatures. Neither are paintings on canvas or wood, or, for that matter, silhouettes.
Most early miniatures are oval in shape. However, from the mid 1800's on, when they had to compete with early photographic images, they were often made in a rectangular format, in order to appear more like oil paintings and/or photos. Round miniatures point to a French origin. Size-wise, early miniatures from the 1700's tend to be smaller than later ones, and were often worn as jewelry. Later miniatures were intended for hanging on a wall, or were framed with "easel" backs for displaying on a table or in a cabinet.
As the art of miniature painting waned in the early 20th century, many of these pieces were being produced with a photographic base, and it is sometimes difficult to draw the line between a portrait miniature with a light photographic base and an over-painted photo.

Stay tuned for Part III of PORTRAIT MINIATURE BUYING GUIDE ... to be posted tomorrow.

Interested in buying or selling miniature portraits? You can contact Stefanie directly at:


PATCH BOXES were small boxes used mostly to hold "patches" (what we call a "beauty spot" today) which women (as well as men, oftentimes) would apply to their face, to enhance their looks. In high fashion in the 18th century, patch boxes were a "must have" for the upper class ladies who would place patches (often in the form of stars different shapes) on different parts of their face to signal messages to lovers. I have read that women also used them to cover "pock" marks on their faces. Most patch boxes had small mirrors inside the lids, and were often made in interesting shapes, and almost always beautifully decorated. Pictured above is an 18th c. enameled patchbox in the shape of a tricorne hat.

Monday, March 22, 2010

PORTRAIT MINIATURE BUYING GUIDE - A Tutorial in 5 Installments

This comprehensive tutorial was generously contributed by my good friend Stefanie Deutsch, who has been collecting antique miniatures for more than ten years, and is currently working on a book about portrait miniatures. She is also the author of two books on vintage Barbie dolls: "Barbie, The First 30 Years" (published by Collector Books, the third edition just came out) and "Barbie" (published in the German Battenberg Verlag).

There are basically two types of portrait miniature buyers: people who buy for decorative value, and serious collectors (and, of course, dealers who cater to both types of buyers).

If you are looking for something pretty, like a hand-painted miniature of a lovely, regal lady dressed in the style of the 18th century, you can find an extensive offering on ebay at any given time. Over 80% of all miniatures offered - either on-line or at shows, and even in antique shops - are what are known in the trade as "Decorative Miniatures."

By and large, decorative miniatures are mass-produced copies of (or in the style of) famous paintings which hang in museums, and were mostly produced in Germany from the early 1900's up to the second World War. Often, sellers offer these as original portraits because they don't know better. These attractive items, while now becoming antiques in their own right, were not made to deceive the public, but rather to satisfy a growing market demand for small, affordable pieces of decorative art.
Produced in studios mainly in Germany, France and Italy, they were popular with the European middle class, and with the flourishing tourist trade in Europe (who bought them as souvenirs). Most often, the miniatures came in frames fashioned out of old piano keys, and sometimes in ornate brass fames. Nearly all of these miniatures depict either beautiful young ladies, famous composers, historical figures (Napoleon, Josephine, etc.), or religious subjects (saints). Many of these are "signed" with French-sounding names. The quality of these paintings varies greatly. While some are very well painted, others are crudely over-painted on a photographic base. Serious collectors of miniatures avoid these decorative pieces, and will only look for the "real thing": a unique painting of an actual sitter, made by a real artist.

Stay tuned for Part II of PORTRAIT MINIATURE BUYING GUIDE ... to be posted tomorrow.


Micromosaics (or micro mosaics) is mosaic work that uses extremely small mosaic pieces of glass (tesserae) to create small images which are meticulously fitted, like an intricate puzzle, into carved-out hardstone. Although mosaic work originated in Ancient Rome, it was only in Byzantine art that quality micro-mosaics were made using tiny tessarae - mostly in the form of religious icons. From the Renaissance on, they were made in Italy, and achieved the height of their popularity in the mid 19th century as popular gift items purchased by visitors on the Grand Tour. Micromosaic scenes ranged from landscapes and architecture of Rome to insects and animals. More modern micro mosaics (not so "micro") use larger tessarae, and usually depict flowers and decorative layouts.

Saturday, March 20, 2010


NODDERS are figures whose heads (and sometimes hands ... and even tongues) are independently moving parts which are attached to wires and weights, so that they "bobble" or "nod" any time the figure is moved. Originally made from porcelain and bisque, they first appeared in Europe and China as far back as the 18th century. Today's nodders or "bobble heads" are made of plastic or papier mache and often represent cartoon characters or popular sports figures.

Friday, March 19, 2010


A process developed in France in the mid-18th century, VERMEIL (pronounced "ver-may"), is basically an alternative for what we usually refer to as silver-gilt. To be considered vermeil, however, the gilding has to be at least 10 Kt gold and 2.5 microns thick. Vermeil is usually used in gilding jewelry.

Thursday, March 18, 2010


From the Greek combination of "litho" (stone) and "fainein" (to suddenly appear), a lithophane is an etched or molded picture on a delicate, translucent porcelain plaque, which, when held in the hand, seems devoid of decoration, but when held up to the light, almost magically reveals a 3 dimensional scene in shades of gray. Lithophanes first appeared throughout Europe (almost simultaneously) in the late 1820s.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010


Scottish Pebble Jewelry first appeared in the mid-19th century, and quickly became popular with the British Grand Tour travelers, who emulated Queen Victoria's affinity for Scotland and all things Scottish. (Although they couldn't afford to buy Balmoral Castle, as she did, they could easily afford Scottish trinkets.) Called "pebble" jewelry because of the use of indigenous hardstones (such as agates, carnelian, bloodstone, granites and jaspers), these pieces also often incorporated faceted quartz stones such as citrine and amethyst. Scottish pebble jewelry was most commonly made in silver, and often displayed Scottish themes (in engravings or applications), such as clan symbols, knots, and shields. In later years, this type of jewelry found new centers of production, such as Birmingham, and took on more English themes, such as serpents, anchors, and buckles.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010


French for "paste on paste" and pronounced "paht-sur-paht," PATE-SUR-PATE is a porcelain decorating method developed by Sevres in France in the mid-19th century, in which a series of layers of slip (liquid clay) are brushed onto a ceramic piece, to create an almost translucent cameo-like effect.

Monday, March 15, 2010


An Aigrette is a hairpin or hatpin usually in the shape of flowers or feathers on a long stem. Also known as a "turban pin" because it originally adorned the turbans of sultans and harem favorites, the aigrette has always been considered a symbol of power and worthiness. Jeweled aigrettes would even be used to adorn the heads of horses at equestrian events.

Sunday, March 14, 2010


Remember that old "American Express" slogan? Well, if you buy antiques ... and especially jewelry ... there is something you should NEVER be without. And that's the trusty LOUPE. No matter how good your eyesight is, you can't rely on the naked eye to see tiny flaws or read almost invisible hallmarks in small items.
Want to make sure you don't forget to keep one with you at all times? Put it on your keychain, like I do. You can get them fairly cheap on ebay. But make sure you get one that has 10X magnification. The ones that have higher magnification are (a) not necessary, and (b) not as easy to focus with. Diamond dealers use only 10X magnification loupes, so if it's good enough for them ...

If you think a loupe is too bulky to carry around (the standard size is usually about 1"), you can find smaller ones, but they are more expensive. A standard loupe is very cheap, and shouldn't cost more than a few dollars. There are loupes with built-in flashlights, which are very good too.

How to use the loupe:
First, find your "dominant" eye. If you're right-handed, it will usually be your right eye. If you're left-handed, your left eye (but that's not a steadfast rule ... you have to try it with both eyes and see which side is more comfortable). When you use a loupe, contrary to what you may have thought, you do not close the other eye. Keep both eyes open, even though you look through the loupe with one eye. Hold the loupe close to your face and very close to the item you're examining. You'll get a much clearer image that way.

Always keep the loupe closed when not in use, so that the glass doesn't scratch.

Saturday, March 13, 2010


Although there were early attempts to reproduce Chinese porcelain (which first appeared in Europe near the 14th century), soft-paste porcelain was developed in the early part of the 18th century. European potters tried to achieve the quality of Chinese hard-paste porcelain, but they didn't have the same materials that were readily available in China. The mixture of clay and glass, which the Europeans initially used, required a firing at lower temperatures (so that it wouldn't melt), and therefore the consistency was "softer," and more porous. Soft paste porcelain has a creamy quality to it (as opposed to the pure white color of Chinese porcelain), and if there's a convenient chip somewhere, you will see a grainy interior covered with a glassy glaze.

Friday, March 12, 2010


Oftentimes, a piece of gold jewelry - and especially antique jewelry - is unmarked, and has to be tested to determine the karat value. This is done by scratching an edge of the piece of jewelry on a "touchstone" and then dropping a single drop of gold testing acid on the gold scratch mark. If the gold scratch mark disappears under the drop of acid, the karat value is less than that marked on the acid bottle ... or it's not gold at all. If the gold mark remains, it is real gold, and at least the karat value it was tested for (it may even be higher).

Thursday, March 11, 2010


SHELL CAMEO - Shell cameo cutting has been around since at least the 15th century, and was almost always made in Italy. Shell cameos became extremely popular at the onset of the 19th century, because they were less expensive than stone-carved cameos.
Why are they sometimes pink and sometimes beige/brown? Well, shell cameos with a pinkish hue come from the shell of the giant conch, while cameos with brownish shades come from the helmet shell.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010


CABOCHON (pronounced ca-bo-shon'). A cabochon is a gem which is polished to a convex shape, rather than faceted. Cabochon polishing dates to ancient times, whereas faceting only began appearing in the Middle Ages. There are some sorts of stones (mostly the semi-precious variety), such as cat's eye, moonstone, and turquoise, which are almost always polished as cabochons. Precious stones are sometimes polished as cabochons, and star sapphires and rubies are always cabochons. Pictured here is a sapphire cabochon set in a platinum and diamond art deco ring.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010


I haven't the foggiest why this type of setting is called "Gypsy," and if anyone knows the reason, we'd all be happy to find out. Usually used in rings, a gypsy setting is one where the stone is set into a deeply carved groove which has an etched star-shape on the surrounding surface, to accentuate the stone. This type of setting was very popular in the late Victorian era, and was also used in jewelry other than rings.

Monday, March 8, 2010

WORD-A-DAY Past Posts

Thanks to all of you who keep encouraging me to continue my WORD-A-DAY postings. You can see older posts on my facebook fan page. I don't know how far back they go, but I will try to repost (here on my blog) the ones that are no longer viewable on facebook.

And I'll keep writing articles about buying and selling antiques. Please "follow" my blog, so you don't miss anything.



Originally coming from the world of embroidery, Cannetille (pronounced kan-i-teel) in jewelry was made with gold or other delicate metal wires, and resembled filigree. It was popular at the end of the Georgian era (1820-1830), and often elaborate motifs included rosettes, scrolls, and delicate tendrils. Cannetille was often combined with granulation and thin sheets of hammered gold.

Saturday, March 6, 2010


GRISAILLE (French for "grey" and pronounced gri-zai') is a painting in monochrome or near-monochrome, usually in shades of grey, brown, or purple, on a white ground. Although mainly used in large decorative paintings and plaques, Grisaille was also used in enameling for jewelry and other small objects, and particularly popular with 16th century Limoges enamelists, such as Penicaud and Limousin. Pictured here are 2 Grisaille miniature paintings from my private collection.

Friday, March 5, 2010


Today's word: NETSUKE (pronounced "net-ski"). Miniature sculptures, originating in 17th-century Japan, and produced mainly during the Edo period (1615-1868), the netsuke is a sliding toggle fastener for the "inro," a little compartmental box used for carrying small items and tobacco which dangled from ...a Japanese man's "belt" (actually a wide sash called an "obi"). Netsukes always have 2 holes (either top and bottom, or on the back) by which they were attached to the cord. Most often, netsukes were made of ivory, bone or wood. Over time, the Netsuke, like the inro, evolved from a useful object to something which is collected for its artistic value.