Q. Can you tell me anything about this 4- by 7-inch piece? It is neither a porcelain plaque nor a painting. I was told that maybe it had been embossed, but the level of the detail is so high that I cannot see how this could be. You can see the design embroidered on the veil and the figures' toenails. The scene shows four women bringing offerings to a smoking altar. Please help. I've had it for years and no one seems to know what it is.
A. We are a bit surprised that no one has been able to identify this piece because this type of ware is commonly found in American homes. In fact, when we do estates, it is unusual not to find an example or two or 10.
It is indeed pottery -- in this case, a very hard stoneware -- and this type of body was invented around 1774 (some sources just say it happened "in the 1770s") by the famous English ceramicist Josiah Wedgwood. He called his new body "Jasper" and described it as being "... of exquisite beauty and delicacy ... receiving colors through its whole substance, in a manner which no other body ... has been known to do."
Originally the color of the body was throughout the entire piece, but then it was found that just tinting the surface was sufficient in some instances. Pieces like this are referred to as being "Jasper-dip."
The most common background color found in Wedgwood Jasperware is blue. Several shades of blue can be found. Green is also commonly found, and this came in a variety of hues as well.
Other Jasperware colors include brown, crimson, yellow, gray, lilac, pink, primrose and taupe. Some of these shades are quite rare and objects with one of these colored backgrounds can be quite valuable. It should be mentioned that while Jasperware usually has just two colors (a background color and the white figures), sometimes more than two colors were used. Such items can be highly sought after and very valuable.
Now, let's get to the "embossing" issue.
The raised figures on Jasperware items are not raised out of the body, or painted on. No, each individual figure is made in a separate mold and then "sprigged" (permanently attached) onto the surface of the item being made.
On the best pieces, the sprigged-on figures are given some detail by hand. They are undercut a bit by hand and details like curls in the hair are sharpened-up.
Unfortunately, we do not know if today's item is signed "Wedgwood" on the back. That would help establish the time it was made. If it is marked "England," it was made after 1891; if marked "Made In England," it is at least post-World War I. We're not completely sure it was made by Wedgwood, but 95 percent certain.
Several other companies -- such as Adams, Turner and Copeland -- made Jasperware. If this is indeed a mid-20th-century Wedgwood tablet or plaque with its typical neoclassical sacrifice scene, it should be valued for insurance purposes in the $200-$300 range. If it is not Wedgwood, that figure should drop by about one-quarter to one-third.
• Contact Helaine Fendelman and Joe Rosson at Treasures in Your Attic, P.O. Box 18350, Knoxville, TN 37928.