Q: This piece is Bavarian. It bears the name “Mary S. Wilson,” the artist I presume. It is also marked “J H R” in a circle above “Hutschenreuther,” “Gelb” and “Bavaria.” I understand it was used to conceal a milk can or jam jar. Any idea of the current value?
A: We looked up the mark and found it is very easy to misread the name of the town in which it was made — Selb, Bavaria, not “Gelb.” Selb is a small town located in far eastern Germany near the border with the Czech Republic.
From 1847 to 1857, Lorenz Hutschenreuther managed his father’s porcelain factory, then in 1857 he established his own manufacturing facility in Selb. Lorenz must have been very successful, because his company expanded several times. Today, the company is still producing a wide variety of objects, from hotel wares to fine figure groups and household porcelains.
The mark shown appears to have been in use until about 1920, and the decoration itself with the gold leaves and sprays of fruit and leaves was most popular around 1910.
The mark shown appears to have been in use until about 1920, and the decoration itself with the gold leaves and sprays of fruit and leaves was most popular around 1910. It should be emphasized that all Hutschenreuther did was produce the white porcelain “blank” and then exported it to the United States, where Mary S. Wilson did the china painting.
At the turn of the 20th century (and before), it was customary for women of some means to take up a hobby, and china painting was one of the most popular ones. (Every now and then china pieces decorated by a man will turn up.) In some cases china painting became a cottage industry that earned the skilled decorators extra money.
Mary S. Wilson certainly had some skills, but her thematic material was based on designs seen all the time on American pieces. The container itself was indeed designed to make either a can of evaporated milk or a jam jar more attractive on a dining table. In the early 20th century housewives who did not want it known that they did not make their own jams and jellies hid the store can or jar in a pretty container such as the one belonging to T. B.
Evaporated or condensed milk was not popular with the American public until the turn of the 20th century — and then the average American homemaker wanted to hide the can when it was on the table. The large round hole in the bottom was there to facilitate the removal of the commercial can or jar for later storage.
This circa-1910 example should be valued in the $65 to $85 range for insurance purposes.
Write to Joe Rosson, 2504 Seymour Ave., Knoxville, TN 37917, or email firstname.lastname@example.org. Include a high-resolution, in-focus photo of the subject.