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posted: 9/7/2013 5:00 AM

Valuing an old potpourri jar

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  • This potpourri jar is very Victorian, but does the damage hurt its value?

    This potpourri jar is very Victorian, but does the damage hurt its value?
    SHNS photo courtesy Joe Rosson and Helaine Fendelm

By Helaine Fendelman and Joe Rosson

Q. Can you help me date my grandmother's potpourri (?) jar and possibly value it? The top lid has a crack and a small wedge-shaped piece missing from the edge. The rest of it is in mint condition. On the underside of the lid is the number "52."

A. Before air fresheners came in a can (jar, plug-in dispenser or whatever), finicky homemakers who wanted their homes to smell like flowers rather than cooked cabbage kept potpourri jars to perfume the rooms where guests might be received. These jars usually contained dried flower petals -- often roses and lavender -- and other fragrant botanicals.

These were kept in a jar with an inner lid to keep the potency of the aroma and essence of the petals intact until they were needed to freshen up the air in a room. When the inner lid was removed, a decorative outer lid with piercing was placed over the opening to allow the scent to permeate the space.

This particular potpourri jar was made by the earthenware factory Franz Anton Mehlem, which was founded in Bonn, Germany, in 1836.

The style of this jar is circa 1890, and has a kind of tapestry look that is often associated with the Royal Bayreuth factory, which has been located in Tettau, Bavaria, since 1794. We think the design on this Bonn piece is rather romantic and very Victorian, with big pink and yellow flowers dominating the image along with what appears to be a castle tower and maybe a bridge.

The outer lid on this jar does have a short crack radiating from a missing wedge-shaped piece on the rim. The reader describes this missing section as "small," but to a collector it is a huge gaping loss that devalues the potpourri jar significantly.

Bonn earthenware is not uncommon, and does not bring (as a general rule) high prices. The most valuable items tend to be large urns and vases (47-inch-tall urns are known to exist) that are lavishly decorated with portraits and images of beautiful women.

In perfect condition and before the great price decline of the mid-2000s, this piece in perfect condition probably had an insurance value in the $175-$225 range, but now, with a soft market in this type of Victorian ceramic and the poor condition of this particular piece, the value may be no more than 20 to 25 percent of that figure.

• Contact Helaine Fendelman and Joe Rosson at Treasures in Your Attic, P.O. Box 18350, Knoxville, TN 37928.

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