Follow the Stories | Memphis, Tennessee (2005)
Worth More Broken?
Time and again you hear ROADSHOW appraisers talking about the condition of a piece brought in to be appraised. We sometimes note the scarcity of a piece in mint condition, how refinishing a piece of furniture affects the value, what a chip on a piece of porcelain does to its desirability in the eyes of collectors.
For example, in Memphis I met John, who brought in the Steuben gold aurene vase, and the Loetz extruded-handle vase. The Steuben was in mint condition, and the Loetz vase had been repaired. At one point it had been taller, but was subsequently "cut down" in size to remove chips around the top rim of the vase. As a result, its value went from $15,000 to $18,000 to around $300 to $500 — that's significant.
So the question occurs: Would the vase have been worth more broken? Would John's vase had been worth more if left as it was with the chips in the rim? Is there ever a right or wrong time to repair a piece of glass? Good questions, but as with most things, the answer is not a simple yes or no.
Chips happen. But should you try to repair minor damage to your precious glassware?
Imagine that for years you have admired your Aunt Millie's wine glasses. She received them as a wedding gift in 1923. The etching, floral leaf and vine decorating the cup, the twisted stem. On weekend trips to her house you would pretend to have cocktail parties and drink milk from the glasses.
Over the years, and many dinner parties later, the stems become your own. Yours to use at Christmas dinner or other special occasions. However, you notice a few of the stems have not survived as well as others. One has a chip on the foot, and another has a few nicks on the rim. What do you do?
Dealers and collectors alike will tell you, glass enthusiasts like their pieces to be in mint condition. Some will not buy with damage of any kind; others will buy only at a fraction of the mint value.
Several things are taken into consideration when evaluating a piece of glass with damage. Most important, how rare is the piece? If a piece is uncommon, it is more likely to garner interest from a collector because he will know it is hard to find in any condition; or, he might not be able to afford the same piece if it were in mint condition.
Second, what is the value of the piece in mint condition? Would it be smart to hold out for a piece that is pristine if they are readily available?
Finally, if you must have that very piece, what is the value of it damaged? Remember, the cost to repair a piece can often run more than the value of the piece itself.
Back to Aunt Millie's stems. If you plan to use them more than just to display, it is best to have the chips polished out. My advice would be to look for a glass restorer in your area in the Yellow Pages. She can smooth out the chips so that you will no longer feel a sharp spot. If the chips are very small, you can try polishing them out yourself with a small piece of sandpaper. Lightly "file" the area until smooth. But if the chip is larger, work with a professional.
It is not surprising to find glass with chips or cracks. After all, much of what you are looking at in antiques shops and shows are 50 to 100 years old. Many of the pieces were utilitarian, and vases and bowls were made to be used. They rarely sat on the shelf purely for display.
How does one spot damage? There are a few ways. The first thing to do with glass is to run your finger or your nail all around the top and bottom of a piece. Do you feel any rough spots? Does your nail catch on any spot as it is run over the edges? If so, you most likely have damage. If your piece has handles, or sharp sides, you should look closely at them as well. Chances are, it has bumped into something a time or two over the years and might have been nicked.
An easy way to spot repair on glass that has been hand-blown is to look at the top, and then the bottom. Is the opening, or rim of the vase polished flat? That can mean one of two things. It is either "blown from the top" or it had damage to the rim and was polished down. To determine this, look at the bottom of the piece. Is there a pontil mark? It is a mark — either smooth or rough — found in the middle of the bottom of the piece, left by the rod, called a pontil, that is used in blowing the glass. The pontil mark shows that the piece was blown from the bottom, and there should not be a finished rim on the top as well. The piece should have either a polished rim, or a pontil mark on the base — not both.
Another great way to check for damage (or previous repair) is to bring a blacklight with you. A blacklight can make spots that have been repaired or damaged areas stand out in a dark room.
So, does this mean you should not buy anything that has damage or has been repaired? That decision is up to you. Some people are purists and only want things like new. Other people buy because they enjoy the asthetics of the piece, and if it is damaged, it is an inexpensive way to own something that in some cases might be too pricey to buy otherwise.
Is it worth more broken? That depends on who you are asking. For a seasoned and dedicated collector, no. But for the person who was thrilled to inherit Aunt Millie's stems, nicks or no nicks, they are probably priceless.
See the Memphis, Tennessee (2005) page for a list of all appraisals from this city.
More ANTIQUES ROADSHOW articles from the Glass category:
What "Patina" Really Means (Las Vegas, 2008)
Reyne Haines is owner of the Reyne Gallery in Cincinnati, Ohio, and appears regularly on Antiques Roadshow.