Q. I inherited these cups and saucers—what were they used for? Do they have any value?
A. This is a nice demitasse set. This one, still in its original satin lined case, has sterling silver holders with porcelain cups. Also included are the dainty sterling silver demitasse spoons which are a necessity, as a teaspoon is too big to use in a cup this size. The sterling holders were made by G. H. French silver company of North Attleboro around 1920-1932. The porcelain liners are from Lenox China. There were many silver companies in the area at that time, all of which are now gone or have merged with Reed & Barton.
Small cups for tea and coffee have been in use across Asia and Europe for the last two centuries, but became particularly popular in the 1800’s in France. The word demitasse “de-me-tas” means “half cup” in French. The smaller size was preferred for drinking stronger coffees such as espresso, cappuccino and Turkish coffee after dinner. Demitasse cups usually measure 2-2 ½” high and the saucers 4½” in diameter. During the Victorian period, formality was at its peak. Dinner services of porcelain and silver included special pieces for every purpose. Not many of us are that formal in our entertaining nowadays, but demitasse cups are the perfect size for children or a nice way to serve a rich dessert.
Your demitasse service is missing a couple of porcelain liners which are still available through some specialty retailers. Your set has sterling holders, is in overall good condition and is in its original case. This set would have a likely value in the $300 range.
Q. I have a number of objects I inherited which I am considering donating to a local museum. What would I need to consider for doing this and can I write the donation off on my taxes?
A. There will be a process which the museum will do to “accession” the object and formally accept it into their collection, and they will produce a “deed of gift”. They will ask you for basic information and what your terms of the gift may be—which may include if the object can be sold or disposed of. If you want to get a tax deduction, you need to have an approximate value if you think it is under $5000. If it is over $5000 in value, you will need a professional appraisal to submit with your return. There are different levels of appraisals and if the value exceeds $20,000, the appraiser will need to provide specific details in the report (as well as sign your return) in order for the IRS to accept it. You should seek advice from a professional appraiser and an accountant if the object is in this value range.
Karen Waterman is an antique furniture and decorative arts appraiser in the East Bay area and will answer as many questions about your own “hidden treasures” as possible. By sending a letter or e-mail with a question, you give full permission for use in the column. Names, addresses or e-mail will not be published and photos will be returned if requested. Send e-mails (digital photos are encouraged) to firstname.lastname@example.org. Send snail mail to East Bay Newspapers, Attn. Karen Waterman, P.O. Box 90, Bristol, RI 02809.