Q: We are curious about this decorative vase. My grandparents married in 1902, but my grandmother brought several items with her when they immigrated to the United States. What can you tell us about it?
S. G., The Villages, Florida
A: After looking at the first few pictures there was no doubt in our minds that this piece was made in Central/Eastern Europe sometime in the last half of the 19th century. Our first guess would have been that it was made in the Austro Hungarian Empire — probably Bohemia (modern-day Czech Republic) or possibly Hungary. Then we looked at the last photo and got a pleasant surprise.
The mark was an oval cartouche in brownish red with a flying bird soaring toward the sun and below that the initials “ES” written in cursive. This is the mark of a company that has a famous last name, but is almost unknown to many non-specializing collectors.
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The famous last name is “Schlegelmilch,” which is generally associated with Reinhold Schlegelmilch, who was responsible for porcelains usually found marked “RS Prussia” and “RS Germany.” But the “ES” found in the mark on the piece in today’s question is for Erdmann Schlegelmilch, who does not appear to have been related to Reinhold Schlegelmilch.
Reinhold had his porcelain factories in Suhl, Prussia (now Suhl, Thuringia, Germany) and Tillowitz, Silesia (now Poland) while Erdmann had his single factory in Suhl. Actually, the porcelain factory that bears the name of Erdmann Schlegelmilch was founded after his death in 1844 by his three sons — Leonhard, Carl August and Friedrich Wilhelm.
In the beginning, this company was an iron forge, but the scarcity of iron ore motivated the brothers to convert part of their operation into the making of porcelain in the 1860s. This new enterprise was under the direction of Leonhard Schlegelmilch.
Leonhard was trained as a sculptor, and the early ES wares were very artistic. The competition was great in this field, however, and this caused the company to switch to more utilitarian wares such as dinnerware and decorative but practical wares. Over the years, the Erdmann Schlegelmilch Co. was managed and owned by a variety of members of the Schlegelmilch family, but it is said to have closed in 1937.
The mark on this piece indicates that it was made in the 1880s (certainly pre-1891). Similar examples with one handle were made as cognac bottles, but this one is a two-handled vase that about 10 years ago would have been valued in the $700 to $900 range at retail, but currently the interest in this type of decorative object has fallen and the price is half that amount or a bit less.
Write to Joe Rosson, P.O. Box 27419, Knoxville, TN 37927, or email firstname.lastname@example.org. If you’d like your question to be considered for the column, please include a high-resolution photo of the subject, which must be in focus.