Flame-shaped rocking chair, or a throne fit for Guy Fieri? Either way, it's hot

Terry and Kim Kovel
Cowles Syndicate

Furniture functions stay more or less the same, but styles change according to advances in technology, changes in society and the whims of fashion. Even if you're not familiar with the history of furniture, you can tell that a plain Pilgrim trestle table, an ornately carved Victorian sofa and a Bauhaus tubular steel chair belong to different eras.

Stylized shapes, light wood, bold blocks of color and unusual construction are characteristics of modern furniture. This flame rocking chair shows all four.

This flame rocking chair, which sold for $240 at a Leland Little auction, is unmistakably modern. It was made by contemporary artist Erin Stesch and was auctioned to support an organization that preserves modern residential architecture.

The modern furniture era is generally believed to have begun in the 1940s with the end of World War II and the societal changes and technological developments it brought. Customers wanted inexpensive, functional furniture for smaller living spaces. Companies had new materials to work with and new manufacturing methods. Designers created pieces that were both streamlined and organic, adding visual interest to comfort and practicality.

The modern era's unusually shaped chairs, often with descriptive names like the Diamond and Womb chairs manufactured by Knoll, became icons. While there is disagreement over whether we are still in the modern era or if postmodernism is a separate category, plenty of today's artists continue to work in modern style.

Question: A relative gave me a ceramic vase several years ago, and I'd like to know more about it. It has raised and glossy owls and leaves. The bottom has an oval mark that reads "Amphora" in the middle and "Made in Czecho-Slovakia" in a border around that. Can you tell me anything about it?

Answer: The vase was made by Riessner, Stellmacher & Kessel Amphora. They were one of the best-known pottery makers in Teplitz, Bohemia, which is now in the Czech Republic. The mark you describe was used by the company from 1918 to 1939. The vase is earthenware with enameled owls, leaves and geometric decorations. A vase like yours recently sold for $425.

Q: How can I find the value of a painting of the SS Port Caroline done by A. Jacobsen in 1889? The painting was refurbished about 40 years ago and is in the original frame. I would like to find the value for insurance purposes. Can you suggest where I can get this information?

A: Antonio Nicolo Gasparo Jacobsen (1850-1921) was born in Denmark and came to the U.S. in 1873. He painted over 6,000 pictures of sailing ships and steamships, some commissioned by the captains of the ships. Some of his paintings have sold at auction for several thousand dollars this year. Your painting should be examined by an expert to get the value. An appraisal for insurance purposes is different from an appraisal for the sale value. Find out what kind of appraisal your insurance company requires. It is probably a written appraisal by a well-qualified expert. You can find appraisers who specialize in paintings by contacting the major appraisal associations, American Society of Appraisers, Appraisers Association of America and the International Society of Appraisers. Contact information is listed in the business directory on The art museum in a major city might also be able to suggest appraisers in your area.

Q: I bought a set of silver spoons in 1981 or '82. It contains all 50 states and the District of Columbia. The name of the state is on the handle and a symbol for the state is on the finial. The bowl of the spoon is engraved with a scene from that state. On the back it has "American Collectors Guild" and "Heritage Collection of American States." Will they have any value in the years to come?

A: The American Collectors Guild, a company in Dania, Florida, sold these spoons by mail order. The design on the finial is the official seal of the state. The date of admission to the Union and the state's official flag and flower are below that. The first spoon in the series, the Washington, D.C., spoon, was introduced in 1985 and cost 10 cents with a coupon. Additional spoons could be purchased three at a time. The spoons are made of silver plate, which does not sell for high prices. A complete set of 51 spoons recently sold for $15. You might make more selling the spoons individually. They might appeal to someone who is looking to complete their set. Individual spoons sell for about $2.50 to $6.

Q: Can you tell me if the dinnerware marked "Nobility, Fine China" that I bought in 1968 is worth anything today? I'm not sure if it's considered collectible 50 years later.

A: Dinnerware marked "Nobility" was made in several patterns. It is also the name of a pattern made by Fine China of Japan and other makers. There is not much information on the Nobility China company. Some sellers say it was made by the Jackson China Company, a company founded in Falls Creek, Pennsylvania, in 1914 and in business under various names and owners until 1985. Old dinnerware is hard to sell unless you can find someone who is looking to fill in a set or replace pieces that were chipped. Dinner plates sell for $10 or less.

TIP: Grease stains on tablecloths or bed linens may come out if rubbed with shampoo made for oily hair.

Terry Kovel and Kim Kovel answer readers' questions sent to the column. Send a letter with one question describing the size, material (glass, pottery) and what you know about the item. Include only two pictures, the object and a closeup of any marks or damage. Be sure your name and return address are included. By sending a question, you give full permission for use in any Kovel product. Names, addresses or email addresses will not be published. We do not guarantee the return of photographs, but if a stamped envelope is included, we will try. Questions that are answered will appear in Kovels Publications. Write to Kovels, (Farm Forum), King Features Syndicate, 628 Virginia Dr., Orlando, FL 32803 or email us at