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What Is It? What’s It Worth? Alabaster Lamp

Posted by The Boss on September 18, 2010 in Collecting News

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Jason B. bough this alabaster lamp at a self storage sale not knowing a thing about it. By using WorthPoint’s “Ask a Worthoilogist,” he now knows a little more about his buy.

Jason B., taking advantages of some really terrible weather during a sale of forfeited items at a self storage business, bought what he thought was a marble lamp. Not knowing anything about it other than it was wrapped in newspapers from the 1960s, Jason turned to WorthPoint’s “Ask a Worthologist” service to find out what he had. The question was forwarded to me. Here is Jason’s question:

“This marble lamp was bought at a auction sale held at one of those self storage places. It was in a box with some bits and pieces of china. I didn’t pay a lot for it, but then it was pouring down rain and windy. There were not a lot of people left at the auction towards the end when I bought the contents of the box. It looks pretty old, and has a name scribed on it that looks like “Mascogni,” but it is hard to read. The newspapers it was wrapped in dated to the 1960s, but who knows?”

I was able first to determine that it was made of and then was able to tell Jason the value of other lamps like his made by the same artist. He made a good buy, even if he had to suffer through a rainy sale. This is what I was able to tell him:

Looking at your images, this lamp is Italian and is not actually soapstone; it’s Alabaster. Alabaster is a fine-grain gypsum that has been used for centuries for statuary, carvings and other ornaments. It normally is snow-white and translucent, but can be artificially dyed. It may be made to look similar in appearance to marble by heat treatment. You can test for alabaster very simply: alabaster rates 2-2.5 on the Mohs hardness scale*, and can be scratched with an old copper penny. Marble is harder, rating 3-5 and generally can be scratched with a pen knife blade.

Most lamps of this type are Continental pieces made during the first quarter of the 20th century. Some are marked, but quite often the markings are not visible, hidden under a base plate or felt pad on the bottom. The figures themselves are most often based on 18th- & 19th-century porcelain examples produced by Meissen or Sevres. Figures used as lamp pedestals are of two types: those that are custom made pieces, using existing 18th- or 19th- century statuary converted to a lamp; or those that use late 19th- to mid 20th- century figures and were “ready made” as lamps.

This lamp is of the second variety which uses components originally meant to be fitted as figural lamps. The artist whose name is inscribed, “Mascogni,” is unknown. Values for these alabaster lamps vary depending on the quality of the carving, subject matter and their size. This one is in very good shape, I’ve seen other lamps signed “Mascogni” go at recent auction sales in the $ 1,300-$ 1,800 range.

*The Mohs scale was devised by Friedrich Mohs in 1812. It’s a 1-10 scale used to indicate the hardness of materials; diamonds being rated “10” as the hardest, talc being the softest at “1.” Each mineral on the list being capable of scratching the one below it as a test of hardness.

Mike Wilcox, of Wilcox & Hall Appraisers, is a Worthologist who specializes in Art Nouveau and the Arts and Craft movement.

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