Today's painted porcelain toothpick bags hold more meaning than purpose

Terry and Kim Kovel
Cowles Syndicate

Collectibles don't need to be utilitarian. In fact, many of today's collectibles have a purpose that has been lost to time. For example, how often do you see a toothpick holder in use?

Toothpick holders, especially from the 19th century, are miniature examples of the beauty of art glass, pottery, porcelain or silver. They often resemble tiny vases or figurines and may sell for lower prices than larger pieces by the same makers.

This Limoges porcelain piece originally held toothpicks. Now, it has found a new purpose, even if it's simply an attractive addition to a collection.

This porcelain toothpick holder sold at Woody Auction for $84. The auction describes it as "bag-shaped," but it is an unusual example. Bag-shaped vessels tend to be shaped like upright bags with the opening as the neck. This one is shaped like a bag lying on its side, tied closed, with a gilt-edged "hole" as the top opening. It is decorated with painted sprays of flowers and marked with the initials "J.P.L.," the mark of Jean Pouyat, one of the many porcelain makers in Limoges, France. There is also a complex signature of intertwined letters; likely the mark of the painter. Some porcelain factories in Limoges sold blanks, or undecorated pieces, to be painted by artists or hobbyists.

Question: I follow your column regularly in the Sunday Republican and enjoy it very much. I own four bronze sculptures by Frederic Remington. They are all about 12 inches tall. They are in very good condition. Can you give me an idea of their value?

Answer: Frederic Remington (1861-1909) made 22 different sculptures beginning in 1895. The first four were cast in bronze at the Henry-Bonnard Bronze Co. in New York. Beginning in 1900, his sculptures were cast at the Roman Bronze Works in New York. All his original bronzes are marked with one of those two foundry names. His bronze sculptures are the most reproduced bronzes. Most of the original sculptures are about 24 inches tall or larger. Original Remington bronzes sell at auctions for $75,000 or more. The 32-inch bronze sculpture titled "The Broncho Buster" sold for over $600,000 a few years ago. Reproductions sell for under $500. The website of the Frederic Remington Museum in Ogdensburg, New York (, has information and a form you can fill out if you think you have an original Remington sculpture.

Q: I bought a picture that was in a bundle of old city maps in a thrift store about 15 years ago. It looks like an old print. The title is "Roterodamum A.D. 1615" and it pictures a harbor filled with old sailing ships. There are different flags flying from the ships' masts. Several ships have flags with three wide horizontal stripes in red, white and blue. The harbor is ringed with houses and more flags. A banner above a portrait of a man and two scenes are at the top. There is a legend at the bottom. The picture is 14 inches high and 25 inches wide. I'd like to know what this is and if it has any value.

A: The red, white and blue striped flag is the Dutch flag. Roterodamum is an early spelling of Rotterdam. It sounds like you have a picture of a celebration that took place in Rotterdam Harbor in 1615. The portrait might be of an explorer or an important political figure. Without information on the printer or publishing date, we can't tell you how old your print is or what it's worth. It's not nearly as old as the date on it, but it could be a more recent copy of an older picture. You can type words on the banner or in the legend into an online translation site like Google Translate, which has a "Detect Language" tool, and it will tell you what this picture represents. Let us know what you find!

Q: Did Seth Thomas ever use a clock face for an Adamantine mantel clock that has the numbers "3" and "9" positioned sideways? I'm in the process of buying the clock but want to know if it might be a replacement clock face.

A: Seth Thomas (1785-1859) opened a clock shop in Plymouth, Connecticut, in 1813. The Seth Thomas Clock Co. was incorporated in 1853. It is no longer in business. The company made some clocks with numbers positioned like yours, with the 3 and 9 sideways, the 6 and 12 upright and the rest of the numbers at a slight angle. On some clock faces with Roman numerals, the numbers III (3) and IX (9) are sideways and the numbers between them are upside down as you face the clock. On clock faces with Arabic numerals, the numbers are "right-side up." Seth Thomas made Adamantine mantel clocks beginning in 1882. Some clocks made between 1881 and 1918 were stamped on the back or bottom of the case with a date letter code. The year is written backward, and the letter is the month. The date code for August 1906 would be "6091 H" (H is the eighth letter of the alphabet and August is the eighth month of the year).

TIP: Stains on porcelains can be removed by soaking them in a mixture of 2 tablespoons denture cleaner and 1 quart tepid water.