Gold is selling for very high prices today, but porcelain was more precious than gold in 17th century Europe. Thin white porcelain was first made in China in the 10th century, but it wasn't seen in Europe until 1260, when pieces were brought back by Marco Polo. It was treasured as a rarity and valued like gold, but Europeans couldn't figure out how it was made. In 1700 Augustus the Strong, the Elector of Saxony (Germany), heard that Johann Bottger, an 18-year-old German, was trying to make gold from base metals. Augustus kept Bottger a prisoner in Dresden to make gold. At the same time, another scientist with the long name Ehrenfried Walther von Tschirnhaus was working to discover the secret of the other treasure, porcelain. Tschirnhaus and Bottger were told to work together, and porcelain was finally created in 1713. Augustus was pleased and built a royal porcelain factory in the city of Meissen. But the secret of porcelain was out, and it soon was made in many countries. For centuries, Bottger was credited with the discovery of porcelain, but now research suggests it was really Tschirnhaus. Many types of ceramics - majolica, stoneware, bone china, ironstone and pottery - were soon being used in households for tasks like cooking and storing. Decorations included ceramic figurines and tiles. It is not surprising that artists sometimes pay homage to ceramics in the designs they create on ceramics. Well-known designs include a famous Chinese pattern picturing urns and vases, a Japanese Satsuma lidded jar picturing Asian ceramics from many different centuries, and English and American dinnerware sets decorated with examples of 1950s dishes.
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Liquor decanter worth less
Q: I would like information about a liquor decanter I was given about 20 years ago. It's in the shape of a sailboat. The bottom of the decanter is marked "Famous Firsts, Edition No. 5, 1851 Yacht America, 1970, R.E.M. Originals." Is it valuable?
A: Famous Firsts Ltd. of Port Chester, N.Y., made limited edition figural liquor decanters from 1968 until 1985. The initials on the bottom of your bottle are those of Richard E. Magid, the owner of Famous Firsts. The designs were based on "famous firsts," like the first yacht race. In 1851, the yacht America won the first race between the United States and England in what became known as the "America's Cup." The name honors the winner of the first race. Other Famous Firsts decanters include famous cars, planes, ships, phonographs, sewing machines and telephones. Your decanter sold for $50 when it was new. The value of figural ceramic liquor bottles has plummeted, though, and it's worth about $25 or less today.
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Sign is big Coca-Cola bottle
Q: I have a metal Coca-Cola sign that I'm curious about. It's shaped like a bottle, 37 inches high and 11 1/2 inches wide. On the bottle are the words, "Trade Mark Registered, Bottle Pat'd Dec. 25, 1923." On the bottom of the bottle it says "Made in U.S.A., American Art Works Inc., Coshocton, Ohio."
A: The patent issued on Dec. 25, 1923, was for the contoured shape of the bottle. This was a renewal of a 1912 patent for the shape, which is sometimes called a "hobbleskirt" because it's the shape of a woman in a hobbleskirt. Bottles with this patent are sometimes called "Christmas bottles." American Art Works was in business in Coshocton from 1909 to 1950. The company made blotters, calendars, fans, signs, trays and other advertising items for various companies. The sign must have been used in the 1930s and '40s.