Q: I have had two verbal appraisals saying this liquor set was worth between $6,000 and $8,000. The piece is egg shaped and made from amethyst gemstone and painted with real gold. It has a decanter and six glasses inside. What can you tell me about this piece?
A: The ancient Greeks believed that amethyst could prevent intoxication, and the name is derived from the Greek for “not intoxicated” — which is slightly ironic since this object is indeed a liquor or cordial set.
It is said that the ancient Greek and Romans made drinking vessels out of this violet-colored variety of quartz thinking that the imbiber would not get drunk if such a container was used. We suspect that those who believed this fable were proven wrong every time.
Amethyst is typically found in geode form — a “geode” is a roughly spherical or oblate geological structure that appears rather plain and drab on the outside, but when it is broken open, the inside is found to be covered in crystals. The largest amethyst geode known (at least to us) is the “Empress of Uruguay,” which is 11 feet tall and weighs in at approximately 2 tons.
Before the 18th century, amethyst was considered to be among the “cardinal” or most valuable gemstones. These included rubies, sapphires, emeralds and diamonds. But then vast deposits of amethysts were found in many locations around the world (including Brazil, Siberia, Sri Lanka, Austria, South Korea, Zambia, and yes, the United States) and world price declined significantly.
It is unfortunate, but the item in today’s question is not amethyst stone, which might indeed make this cordial set worth thousands and thousands of dollars, but from amethyst glass, which is worth much, much less. How do we know so definitely? Well, these egg-shaped cordial sets are not particularly rare and over the course of our careers we have seen hundreds of them in a wide variety of colors including the purple that collectors call “amethyst glass.”
Amethyst glass is a very popular hue with many American glass collectors. It can be found in shades that range from transparent violet/purple to a translucent shade that is almost black and shows its purple hues only when held to the light.
Amethyst glass has been made for hundreds of years by glass makers around the world. The glass in the cordial set belonging to L.B. was made in Bohemia, which is the present day Czech Republic. The metalwork is clearly marked “Czechoslovakia,” which was a country that did not come into existence until 1918, after the end of World War I.
This “country-of-origin” mark indicates that this piece could not possibly predate 1918 and was probably made in the 1920s or early 1930s.
There is one last issue to address and that is the statement in the letter that this piece is “painted with real gold.”
There may have been gold in the paint used to make the very simplistic grass-like decoration, but even if real gold were used in the paint, there is not enough of the precious metal present to fill a gnat’s tooth. In other words, even if real gold had been used, the amount is so minute that its presence does not raise the value of the cordial set.
We feel this set has an insurance replacement value in the $100 to $125 range, and we know that L.B. is going to be very disappointed with our evaluation. We urge her to get a second opinion to set her mind at rest.