Chinese porcelain decorating America’s Independence sells at high prices

Farm Forum

Be careful when using old reference books. Modern research methods, excavations, and old documents that were unknown for years have led to changed histories. The Chinese Export porcelain dishes that picture the signers of the Declaration of Independence originally were thought to be made about 1820 when they copied an 1817 painting by John Trumbull. The men posed while signing the document had Chinese faces, because the decorators probably had never seen a Caucasian man. Full sets were made in this pattern. Collectors and museums paid high prices for examples in the 1950s to 1970s. The existing examples were studied and slight differences in the decoration led to the belief that this design was made for much of the 19th century. It probably was available during the 1876 Philadelphia celebration of the Centennial of the Declaration of Independence. This led to lower prices, but large or unique pieces remain popular and high priced. A punch bowl with a diameter of 1 11/2 inches sold at a 2016 Skinner auction in Boston for $5,228. It pictured 13 blue stars, the men in groups, and a spread-winged eagle with a body that looks like the Union Shield.

Q When we lived in Keene, N.H., years ago we bought furniture from Sprague & Carleton, a local manufacturer. It was reasonably priced furniture that will outlast us. I understand the company has gone out of business. What happened?

A Sprague & Carleton was founded by Frank L. Sprague and William Carleton in Keene, N.H., in 1899. The company started out making maple rocking chairs and settees. Back frames of chairs were made by home workers, usually women and children. Rattan seats were made at the factory. About 1,000,000 rockers a year were made by companies in Keene, which became known as the “porch chair center of the United States.” In the late 1920s, Sprague & Carleton began making other furniture and bought furniture companies in other cities. Although some sources say the company closed in 1967, that’s just the date one of its divisions closed. Patriot Industries bought Sprague & Carleton in 1968 and continued to operate the factories in New Hampshire and Massachusetts. According to a 1988 newspaper, the factory in Keene closed in November 1988 because of foreign competition. Many U.S. makers of wooden furniture went out of business because of the lower cost of foreign furniture and the demand for more modern furniture.

Q I have a tea set that belonged to my mother and has to be over 100 years old. It includes a teapot, sugar, creamer, six cups and saucers, and six plates. They are hand painted with two men and a woman and have gold trim. There are gold dragon finials on the lids of the teapot, creamer and sugar. The teapot and creamer also have gold dragons on the spout. The pieces are marked with two interlocking diamonds with the letter “T” inside of each of them. Who made this tea set and what is it worth?

A Your tea set was made by Takito, a company in business in Nagoya, Japan, from 1880 to 1948. It’s impossible to give a value for your set without seeing it.

Q I bought a green scarf a few years ago that reads “The Heroes of ‘98” above a center picture of Lord Edward Fitzgerald. Pictured in the corners are William Orr, Robert Emmet, Theobald Wolfe Tone and Henry Joy McCracken. Who are these men and what is it commemorating?

A The men on your scarf were leaders of the Society of United Irishmen, founded in Belfast, Ireland, in 1791. The Society aimed to unite Catholics, Protestants and dissenters to expand civil rights, reform the Irish parliament and gain control from Britain, but it was not successful. Lord Edward Fitzgerald was head of the military committee that planned to start a rebellion in 1798. Fitzgerald and others were arrested before the rebellion started. William Orr was tried for treason and sent to the gallows in 1797. Fitzgerald was shot when he resisted arrest. He died in prison. Henry Joy McCracken was arrested, court martialed and hanged. Theobald Wolfe Tone was captured and sentenced to hang but took his own life. A warrant was issued for Robert Emmet’s arrest, but he escaped and left the country. He returned to Ireland to lead another rebellion in 1803 but was captured, tried and hanged.

Q I have a small soft-sided Coca-Cola cooler that has two zippered compartments. The top compartment holds six 16-oz. glasses. The glasses are decorated with umbrella tables and chairs and are marked with an anchor on the bottom. What is this worth?

A The anchor mark was used by Anchor Hocking of Lancaster, Ohio. The cooler with six glasses sells online for about $10-$15.

Tip: Be sure copies of lists of valuables, photographs and other information can be found in case of an insurance loss. Give copies, make digital copies and tell a trusted friend how to find them. Do not keep them in the house.

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