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Antiques & History: Bohemian art pottery known for being elaborate

Collectors use the names “Amphora” or “Teplitz” for art pottery made in the Turn-Teplitz region of Bohemia (now the Czech Republic) from the late 19th to the early 20th century. The best known and most elaborate examples are decorated with applied three-dimensional figures in an art nouveau style.

An Amphora piece might look like it has trees growing out of it, an animal’s tail wrapped around the neck or base, or a human figure holding on to the rim or reaching for fruit on a molded branch.

Here, a stylized octopus appears to sit on top of the vase, with two of its tentacles forming side handles and the rest trailing down the vase’s pear-shaped body. It sold for $6,600 at Morphy Auctions. Early Amphora pieces (made before World War I) are higher quality, look more interesting and tend to get higher prices.

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Q: My uncle recently passed away. Among his estate items were about 100 Hummel figurines that were collected by my aunt. How much are they worth?

A: The German F.W. Goebel factory began making Hummel figurines in 1935 using the art of a nun, Berta Hummel, known as Sister Maria Innocentia or M.I. Hummel. The figurines attracted collectors quickly, but they didn’t begin to gain international attention until after World War II. American soldiers stationed in Germany after the war would take the figurines home as gifts. If you want to sell your aunt’s collection, check the marks on her Hummel figurines to see if they are among the early ones made at the Goebel factory in Germany. The early Hummels are the only ones that have high prices. Most Hummels made after the 1990s don’t sell for much, unless they are very large or tied to a significant event or anniversary. Many are sold at auction, but prices are low.

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Q: I have a silver tray marked Sheffield. Is it an old Sheffield silver plate or sterling made in Sheffield? How can I tell?

A: Not all silver from the town of Sheffield is necessarily “Old Sheffield.” Old Sheffield is a specific kind of antique silver plate. It was created in Sheffield, England, in the 18th century by handrolling thin sheets of silver over copper. Silversmiths in Sheffield also made sterling silver pieces and, from the 19th century onward, electroplated silver. Check the marks on your silver; EPNS (electroplated nickel silver) or EPBM (electroplated base metal) identify it as electroplated to give a metal piece a silver coating to look like sterling. There are a few tricks to identify Old Sheffield. The most obvious is if the silver has worn enough to show the copper underneath. (If this has happened, don’t have it replated! Modern replating will lower the value.) If there isn’t any copper visible, try scratching your fingernail under the border of your tray. If it is Old Sheffield, your nail will catch the edge of the sheet of silver. If your tray is engraved or monogrammed, breathe on the engraved spot to create a cloud. Old Sheffield will have an inset silver piece for the engraving, and you will be able to see the outline.

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Q: What is “bone china”? Is it another name for porcelain or something different?

A: Bone china is a type of porcelain. It is made by combining clay and minerals with the ash left from burning animal bones. This makes it stronger, thinner and more durable than hard-paste porcelain. It has to be fired at higher temperatures and is more difficult to make. It was first made in England in the late 1700s, when European ceramicists were trying to replicate Chinese porcelain. Some historians think bone ash was first added to the clay due to a mistranslation of a French description of Chinese porcelain making. Although bone china was made earlier, the words “bone china” started appearing in marks on pieces in 1915.

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TIP: To cover a scratch in wooden furniture, mix a paste of instant coffee and water and rub it into the scratch. Another quick fix is to color the scratch with the proper color crayon.

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