Clobbered didn't mean the same thing in the 1700s as it does now

Terry Kovel
A pair of clobbered Chinese urns decorated with blue-and-white pictures of houses and a river were overpainted with colored flowers, leaves and a cracked ice design. The pair sold for $5,750. 

The English word "clobbered" has been used since at least the 1600s, but its meaning has changed. It still means beaten up, badly injured or damaged. But the word had a very different meaning in the 1700s.

It describes porcelain dishes or ornaments with blue-and-white underglaze decoration that were altered. And in an auction catalog or antiques display, the clobbered alterations are not bad and not damaging, but enhancing, and not a reason to pay a lower price.

The Chinese made most of the blue-and-white pieces in the late 1700s to early 1800s. They were shipped to many countries and overpainted with colored glazes because the public would pay more for colored urns or dishes. The decorations did not follow the blue-and-white outlines of the original glaze, but were applied as new pictures and ornamental designs over the old glaze.

The English did the same overglaze decorating, but many thought it was damaged, not improved. The Germans called it "schwarzlot" (blackish) decoration. A pair of "Chinese Export clobbered porcelain vases" were sold at a New Orleans auction for $5,750. Clobbering in green, pink, yellow and copper red in the mid-1800s has added to its value today.
Q: I got a teapot, sugar and creamer, and cup at an auction when I was 10 years old for 10 cents. I raised my hand, and the auctioneers said, "You own them for 10 cents." I'm now 96. The mark on the bottom shows two crossed flags with a star and crescent moon between them. One flag is the Japanese flag. What can you tell me about them?
A: This mark was used by A.A. Vantine & Co., an importer in New York City from 1870 to about 1951. It had factories in Japan, branches and representatives in several states and countries, and a mail-order business offering pottery, clothing, toys and other goods imported from China and Japan. Rugs were imported from Turkey. This mark represents the flags of Imperial Chinese and Japan with the Turkish crescent moon and star between them. 
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Q: Wouldn't spoons made in the 1800s be worth more than the silver meltdown price? What makes sterling silver flatware eligible to be called "museum quality?"
A: Most old silver flatware is no longer popular and doesn't sell well. People don't want to bother cleaning silver. It needs to be washed by hand, polished regularly and stored properly in order to avoid tarnish, scratches and dents. It shouldn't be put in the dishwasher with stainless steel or other metal flatware. Certain foods, rubber, felt, wool, oak and some types of paint will cause silver to tarnish. Silver flatware should be stored in special flannel bags or chests lined with tarnish-resistant flannel. Storing silver in plastic wrap or newspapers, or in cardboard boxes, causes it to discolor. Sterling silver has a "meltdown value," the cash price of the amount of silver the piece contains. "Museum quality" is whatever the museum decides it wants to include in exhibits as interesting art, design or history. Even the name of a famous or early maker doesn't guarantee the piece is of great value. Best sellers include Tiffany, Georg Jensen and some top-of-the-line Gorham.
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Q: I bought an old print of the Cathedral of Notre Dame at an auction. It's in a dark gothic style and is in an elaborately carved old wood frame. The label on the back says: "Edward Gross Company Inc., 826 Broadway." I can't see an artist's name. Can you give me any information about it?
A: The Edward Gross Company was in business in New York from about 1908 until the 1950s. It was located on Broadway in 1920, but later was listed on East 16th Street. The company published prints and postcards. Some of the pictures are reprints of work done by well-known artists. Some pictures were done by the company's own artists. Prints picturing work by well-known artists sell. Most of the prints sell online for under $10 to about $25. The frame may be worth more than the print.
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Q: How much is a book of sheet music called "Treasure Chest Songs of Sacred Beauty" worth? The cover has a picture of a musician and two singers in front of a beautiful stained-glass window. 
A: Treasure Chest Publications was located in New York City. It published several collections of songs in the 1930s and '40s. Price depends on condition. If the book is complete and there are no tears, marks or turned-down corners, it might sell for a few dollars. The book of sacred songs you have is listed online for $3 to $10.
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Tip: If a white powder forms on a piece made of lead, or glasses or pottery decorated with a lead glaze, immediately remove the piece from your house. The powder is poisonous. Consult an expert conservator if the piece is valuable and should be saved. Do the ecologically correct thing if you must dispose of the piece.
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Terry Kovel and Kim Kovel answer questions sent to the column. By sending a letter with a question and a picture, you give full permission for use in the column or any other Kovel forum. Names, addresses or email addresses will not be published. We cannot guarantee the return of photographs, but if a stamped envelope is included, we will try. The amount of mail makes personal answers or appraisals impossible. Write to Kovels, (Name of this newspaper), King Features Syndicate, 628 Virginia Dr., Orlando, FL 32803.
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Current prices are recorded from antiques shows, flea markets, sales and auctions throughout the United States. Prices vary in different locations because of local economic conditions. 
Porcelain vase, double handles, leaves, flowers, pink, green, brown, continental, 13 x 17 inches, $70.
Chelsea figurine, John Milton, standing, leaning on pedestal, gilt highlights, print shirt, purple draping, 1800, 12 1/2 inches, $120.
Japanese print, Utagawa Kuniyoshi, samurai holding large staff, beach, waves, blue, orange, cream, 1840, 15 x 10 inches, $145.
Tazza, bronze, gilt, cat, owl, arabesque, leaves, vines, berries, Antoine-Louis Barye, 7 1/4 x 6 1/2 inches, $170.
Fireplace, andiron, brass, steeple finial, ball, scrolling legs, ball feet, 22 inches, pair, $480.
Evans-Carlson Commander Bicycle, yellow and green, fenders, luggage rack, cruising handlebars, white grips, 1954, 37 x 65 inches, $500.
Carousel horse, prancer, gilt mane, roses, daffodils, flowers, tassels, ribbons, 1960, 56 x 64 inches, $825.
Cloisonne figurine, Tara Buddha, sword, lotus flower, multicolor, copper, 20 inches, $960.
Secretary desk, shaped crown, 2 doors, 3 drawers, ribbons, birds, cream ground, 84 x 35 inches, $1,680.
Ivory figurine, fisherman, reed hat, barefoot, pulling full net from water, Japan, 5 x 6 1/4 inches, $3,120.
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Mid-century to contemporary ceramics made since 1950 are among the hottest collectibles today. Our special report, "Kovels' Buyers' Guide to Modern Ceramics: Mid-Century to Contemporary" identifies important pottery by American and European makers. Includes more than 65 factories and 70 studio artists, each with a mark and dates. Works by major makers including Claude Conover, Guido Gambone, Lucie Rie, as well as potteries like Gustavsberg, Metlox and Sascha Brastoff, are shown in color photos.

Find the "sleepers" at house sales and flea markets. Special Report, 8 1/2 x 5 1/2 inches, 64 pp. Available only from Kovels for $19.95 plus $4.95 postage and handling. Order by phone at 800-303-1996, online at; or mail to Kovels, Box 22900, Beachwood, OH 44122.