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Treasures: Pharaonic table lamp contains hidden features

This piece looks like a sarcophagus for a mummy, but what’s inside is no ancient Egyptian.
This piece looks like a sarcophagus for a mummy, but what’s inside is no ancient Egyptian. TNS

Q: I received this piece in a box of items left to me by my grandmother in about 1985. It is signed “L.V. Aronson” and dated “1923.” The statue has almost all of its original gold finish. Can you help me out with its history and value?

J. A.

A: Maybe we can help a little by starting with the story of Louis V. Aronson (1869-1940). He was an American inventor and industrialist born on Christmas Day in New York City to parents who were natives of Prussia.

He was a gifted child who graduated from school at age 12, then entered a New York technical school majoring in metallurgy, metal working and mechanical drawing. He completed the program at age 16 and set up a laboratory in his parents’ basement.

Using money he received from selling patents (he tended to sell half the patent rights while retaining the use of his processes for himself), Aronson, along with Max Hecht and Leopold Herzig, established the Art Metal Works in 1897 in Newark, New Jersey, and the firm was incorporated in 1898.

Initially, Art Metal Works was famous for its lamps, bookends, art statues, ink wells and hood ornaments. The company began manufacturing these ornaments circa 1910. In the 1890s, Aronson began working with new technology in the development of the safety match. This led to the “All-Weather Match” wind-match, which stayed lit even in a high wind. Later, he received a patent for the automatic pocket lighter and this eventually led to the Ronson brand lighters of the 1920s and beyond

Meanwhile, Art Metal Works was turning out high quality objects that current collectors find interesting.

The piece in today’s question is based on the work of Viennese artist Franz Bergmann and is in fact often termed a “copy” of a Bergmann design. It is not evident in the photo, but the front of the sarcophagus is hinged and opens to reveal a gilded nude inside.

Bergmann’s original was cold-painted bronze, but his example is white metal that appears to have a bronze plating and is also cold-painted (the surface is not fixed by heating, thus “cold”-painted). This erotic piece is a table lamp and should stand approximately 11 inches tall.

Now, to the value. The crux of the matter is the condition of the exterior surface. Unfortunately, there are large patches of missing gilding, especially the large patch on the forehead of the pharaonic figure on the outer cover.

Examples of this table lamp with near-perfect original surface bring around $3,200 at auction, but that value can fall to as little as $850 for pieces in rougher condition. We believe that the example belonging to J. A. has an auction value near the lower end of this range.

Write to Joe Rosson, 2504 Seymour Ave., Knoxville, TN 37917, or email treasures@knology.net. Include a high-resolution, in-focus photo of the subject.