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Trash or Treasure: Cloisonné known for vibrant colors


Conrad and Anita Drost didn’t know much about the pretty blue bowl they recently brought in to DuMouchelles for an appraisal, other than they had been told it was “very old.” Curious about its background and what else they could find out, they recently brought the piece down to an appraisal session held at the landmark Detroit auction house.

The piece had come through Conrad’s sister, who said she had received it from a landlord in Hamtramck. They said they had been told the bowl was brought from China by a sailor before World War I and that Conrad’s sister received it from her landlady in the early 1960s, when her landlady was already in her 70s. “That’s all we know,” they added, saying that the piece resided in their china cabinet.

Very old is a relative term, said appraiser Catherine Page, who looked at the piece for the couple as part of the appraisal session. “I’m looking for verdigris or oxidation,” she admitted, saying that its presence is a clue to a piece’s age. “There isn’t any on this piece, which leads me to think it’s on the newer side,” she said, adding that she thinks it was made between 1880 and 1930. “The copper and coloration should have more signs of age if it was an older piece,” she explained.

She added that the piece is an art form known as cloisonn, a French word for a product that was first made in China in the 14th century, according to the handy "Miller’s Antiques Encyclopedia." The description goes on to explain that the earliest colors were dark green, cobalt blue, red, yellow and white on a turquoise background, with enamel decoration applied to a cast-bronze base. “Their artistic refinement and deep colours (sic) are highly regarded by collectors,” it says, adding that it was later introduced to Japan where it became popular in sword decorations beginning in the 17th century.

The appraiser said she’s among the art form’s many fans.  “I love cloisonn,” she told the Drosts. “It comes in many beautiful forms, including bowls like this but also vases, incense burners and other pieces. The colors are just gorgeous, as you can see in this dragon design. It’s often signed in the enamel.”

The Drosts piece has Asian letters and symbols on the bottom, which Page said could be the maker. The appraiser also said she had recently purchased a similar piece at auction for $175 but would value the Drosts’ piece at $200 to $400 because of condition and coloration.

The Drosts said they will keep it – at least for now. “We will put it back in the cabinet,” Anita said. “It belongs officially to his sister but everything comes to me because she’s decluttering.”

About this item

Item: Cloisonnbowl

Owned by: Conrad and Anita Drost

Appraised by: Catherine Page, DuMouchelles

Estimated value: $200 to $400 at auction

Upcoming appraisals and more

Have something you’re curious about? We are currently scheduling the next appraisal sessions in late October at the Michigan Design Center in Troy and at DuMouchelles in Detroit. If you have a treasure (with or without a good story or history), send an email to the column at trashortreas@aol.com with what you know about your item and a few photos. If chosen, we will be in touch. We are also seeking collectors for our occasional Collectors Spotlight column. Tell us what you collect and why along with a few photos and you might find yourself in a future column.