Q. I have an R.S. Prussia tankard. I was wondering if you might help me find the value.
A. When we first looked at this tankard pitcher, we thought the bird depicted on it might be an ostrich, but we were wrong. It is a bird of paradise, and it is an image that is rarely found on R.S. Prussia porcelain.
Reinhold Schlegelmilch established his porcelain factory in Suhl, Prussia, about 1868, but it was not formally registered until 1869. The factory specialized in making good-quality porcelain tableware that was affordable to the growing middle class.
Previously, most of the porcelain made in European factories was intended for use by the upper classes and was much too expensive even for the prosperous and growing merchant class. Schlegelmilch discerned an opportunity to open a new market and he took it.
But he did cut some corners to keep prices down. His molds, for example, could be fancy, but they required no handwork, and his decoration was transfer printed, which required only unskilled labor to apply designs from special paper.
By the end of the 19th century, the Schlegelmilch factory was a large concern and began marking its products (most of the time) with the famous R.S. Prussia wreath mark -- which we assume is found on the piece in today's question. Unmarked pieces with this design are known to exist and this transfer-printed design also can occur on "R.S. Germany" items, which were produced later and are generally less desired by collectors.
Most R.S. Prussia objects are decorated with beautiful flowers, but rarely examples will turn up with non-floral images that can excite serious collectors. Those include snow scenes with snowbirds, swallows, "Dice Throwers," "Melon Eaters," ships, various beautiful women, farm scenes, "Man in the Mountain," barnyard animals, pheasants, turkeys, peacocks, old mills and, occasionally, lions and tigers.
Birds of paradise rarely show up, but when they do they most commonly turn up on vases and plates (often the plates are marked "R.S. Germany"). Their appearance on a tankard pitcher is uncommon. So, yes, this is a very rare piece, and once upon a time, it might have been valued in excess of $4,500 for insurance-replacement purposes. Unfortunately, that day is long gone.
European porcelains have taken a severe hit in the antiques-market downturn. It is hard to watch an auction these days and see porcelain items fall far below what they should be selling for -- or not sell at all.
R.S. Prussia items have been particularly hard-hit, but in a recent sale we noticed that there is still some life in this category. On today's market, this R.S. Prussia bird of paradise tankard should be valued at $2,000 to $2,400. And because of its rarity, we expect this price to rise (at least a little) in the short term.
• Contact Helaine Fendelman and Joe Rosson at Treasures in Your Attic, P.O. Box 18350, Knoxville, TN 37928.