Vietnamese Rhino Horn Presentation Cup, ca. 1850

Value (2009) | $8,000 Auction$12,000 Auction

GUEST:
My mother was an interior designer with very eclectic and unusual taste, and when she passed away, this was one of the items that was left to me. I put it on a mantel, and it looked like a gravy boat.

APPRAISER:
Okay.

GUEST:
I never used it as a gravy boat, but that's what it looked like.

APPRAISER:
I have shown this to a number of my colleagues and all of us were scratching our heads and trying to figure it out. But I think we figured it out.

GUEST:
Oh, good.

APPRAISER:
The easy part is identifying the material. And this is made of rhinoceros horn.

GUEST:
Rhinoceros horn. Okay.

APPRAISER:
And we know that from the overall shape. Rhinoceros horn is fairly easy to identify. It's got a very distinctive pattern to the material. In looking at this, we'll see that the motifs on the side incorporate jungle animals of various types. We see that there's mountain landscapes and, if we turn this around, it's the same sort of thing on the other side. Now, the quality of the carving you'll see is fairly sketchy, but the overall design is something we call a libation cup. So this was a special type of cup, usually made as a presentation piece, because rhinoceros horn was associated with having an ability to ward off bad occurrences, longevity, and protect you against poison. The next clue is this metal. As we looked at this more closely, we saw that the decoration on this side here incorporates motifs that you would find on printed fabrics or woven fabrics. So we were thinking, "Gosh, maybe it's from Indonesia." However, we also then found this small little mark here, and we identified the mark, which is a little smudgy mark of someone's head and profile that was actually used in France between 1838 and roughly 1900. But the motifs are most certainly not very French. So we got to thinking, "Okay, where is it in South Asia "that we had a French colony, "where you had mountainous areas with elephants and jungles?" We ended up in Vietnam.

GUEST:
Vietnam...

APPRAISER:
So, we believe that this in fact was made by a Chinese craftsman working in Vietnam sometime probably around 1850, 1860, and that this was mounted with silver as a presentation piece probably for the Vietnamese court. Now, the reason it doesn't stand very well-- you see it's about to fall over-- is because originally the base, you can see here, there's this little cut-out section. There was originally a silver foot.

GUEST:
Okay.

APPRAISER:
Now, rhinoceros horn is an endangered species... I thought that as soon as you said that. So there are various regulations that govern the export of this. Fortunately it's of an age that we could document that that would not be a problem, but for a lot of items, that can be a problem. In terms of value, at auction it would not surprise me at all if this sold in the $8,000 to $12,000 kind of price range. So a little bit better than a gravy boat.

GUEST:
Better than a gravy boat. Best tchotchke I got. (both laugh) I can't believe it.

APPRAISER:
It's really cool.

Appraisal Details

Appraiser
Lark Mason Associates
New York, New York
Appraised value (2009)
$8,000 Auction$12,000 Auction
Event
Atlantic City, NJ (June 06, 2009)
Period
19th Century
Form
Cup
Material
Horn

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