Portland Vase Plaster Cast
Appraised Value: $60 (1999)
IMAGE: 1 of 4
Appraisal Video: (2:46)
Decorative Arts, Glass, Pottery & Porcelain, Silver
Vice President of Special Collections
GUEST: Bought it in an auction about two months ago. I had no idea even what it was or who... you know, where it came from or anything else. I just had a gut feeling that it was old, so I took a chance. The woman that put it in the auction said it was her grandfather's. It was supposed to be Wedgwood. It was supposed to come from a museum back in the 1850s called Avon Hall in Virginia. But in my research I can't find an Avon Hall. I don't know anything about it.
APPRAISER: Well, you have a model here of what is perhaps one of the most famous vases in history. We call it today the "Portland vase" because in the 1780s, it was acquired by the duchess of Portland in England. But it's much older than that. The Portland vase is actually a glass vase made in the Roman empire-- probably made about 2,000 years ago-- and it stands today in the British Museum in London. And it has a very celebrated history. It first came to light in what you might call modern history in the 17th century when it was owned by a series of notable Italians. And it was mostly known at that time as the "Barberini vase" after the family that owned it in the 17th century. And it changed hands in the late 18th century when there was a period of intense archaeological excavation in Italy and it's now owned by the British museum. Wedgwood comes into the story when they started making copies of it in 1790 and Josiah Wedgwood I made fabulous copies and they've been making them ever since. And, in fact, Wedgwood even today uses the Portland vase as its symbol. It's printed on the base of most Wedgwood product. So you'd think with all that history it's going to be a valuable object. But if you don't mind, tell me how much you paid for it at the auction.
APPRAISER: Well, I'm going to have to disappoint you because what you've got is not a Wedgwood Portland vase, it's a copy of the Portland vase cast out of plaster of Paris, which is not a difficult thing to do. It may have been made last century, but the age is not really that important. I'm afraid $60 is about where the value lies, so...
GUEST: I kind of figured that.
APPRAISER: All right, curious object and great story but not a valuable item.
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