Trash or treasure: Majolica, and a newsworthy sale

This leaf plate is an example of American Majolica made by Griffen, Smith & Hall from 1878-1892. This leaf plate is an example of American Majolica made by Griffen, Smith & Hall from 1878-1892.

This leaf plate is an example of American Majolica made by Griffen, Smith & Hall from 1878-1892.

Q: I have a plate in the shape of a leaf. It has been passed down in my family and I think it is very old. Can you tell me something about it and how much it is worth?

Karen Waterman

A: Your leaf plate is an example of American Majolica made by Griffen, Smith & Hall from 1878-1892. Griffen, Smith & Hall (from Phoenixville, Penn.) were the premier majolica makers in the United States. Majolica pottery originated on the Italian island of Majorca and is very collectible including examples from Griffen, Smith & Hall.

This leaf plate is referred to as a “begonia leaf server” and this shape was replicated in many ways. All of their designs were borrowed from nature, using flowers, ferns, butterflies, seashells, vegetables (asparagus and cauliflower were popular), oak leaves, etc.

These styles and shapes were hugely popular during the period referred to as the Arts and Crafts movement which largely began in 1860 with its influence lasting until the 1930s.

The stamp on the bottom of yours is one of two stamps used, your plate having the older of the two. A plate in excellent condition with the older stamp is worth in the range of $125.

A newsworthy sale

Several lots of newspapers made up of mostly Providence Gazette and Country Journal from the 1770s to the 1780s sold on Nov. 18 at Skinner’s Auctions in Boston. The total of $44,000 far exceeded the estimated sell price. The Providence Gazette was the predecessor of the Providence Journal, which bills itself as “America’s oldest daily newspaper in continuous publication.”

Some of the earliest issues sold were from Jan. 13, 1770 and included articles on the Boston Massacre and the death of Crispus Attucks (whose murder is credited with starting the Abolitionist movement). Other issues included notable events like the Boston Tea Party, Shay’s Rebellion, treaties signed between various Indian Nations and the new United States government, text from the Constitution and news of the Revolutionary War.

Other than the content and age of the papers being of interest, there is what the papers are physically made of. Anyone who has ever tried to save anything in newspaper knows that newsprint deteriorates quickly. Before the mid 1800s, newspapers were printed on paper containing cotton rag fiber, which means they can survive for hundreds of years in excellent condition if cared for properly.

When the newsprint that we use today was invented (using wood fibers), it helped alleviate an expensive process and materials which allowed for greater production. Unfortunately, the acids in the paper weaken it and are susceptible to heat, light and dampness. It is the cheapest and least stable form of paper manufactured. This necessitates that all archived newspapers be preserved on microfiche.

Newsprint may be nearing the end of its prime and online subscriptions are on the rise. How will our news be preserved in the future?

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 trashortreasure@ymail.com. Send snail mail to East Bay Newspapers, Att. Karen Waterman, P.O. Box 90, Bristol, RI 02809.

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