Dear Helaine and Joe:
I have a set of place card holders for a formal table setting. They once belonged to an aunt who married a Cleveland millionaire in the early 1900s. They are glass and very fragile. They are engraved with the number "129" on the bottom along with the word "Germany." There is also a blue crown over a shield containing three leaves on two of the pieces. Are they worth anything? Any information would be appreciated.
L. L. C., Santa Ynez, Calif.
Dear L. L. C.:
You have sent us two pictures each showing six identical place card holders, and we are going to assume — a very dangerous thing — this is meant to indicate there are 12 place card holders in the set. If this is correct, it's a good thing.
We want to begin by saying the place card or menu holders were not made from glass. They were made from hard paste porcelain, which simply means they are composed of two different kinds of substances: kaolin or china clay and petuntse or china stone. Most people just call this "china" or "porcelain," and it is very different from glass.
Glass place card holders exist. They are often made in a plaque form and decorated with deeply etched or intaglio designs. These can be rather more valuable than the examples in today's question. Sterling silver and silver-plated place card holders also turn up, as do examples made by such famous companies as Herend, Swarovski, Baccarat and Lalique.
The pieces belonging to L. L. C. were made in the German town of Plaue, which is located in Thuringia in central Germany. The manufacturer was established in 1817 under the name C.G. Schierholz & Sohn Porcelain Manufactory Plaue. In about 1900, the family was knighted and the name of the company changed slightly to Von Schierholz's Porcelain Manufactory Plaue.
The marks on the place card holders indicate the pieces were made sometime after 1907, but probably before the 1920s. They were probably a wedding gift to L. L. C.'s aunt, and the early 1900s date is probably correct, though it's a bit vague.
The decoration is generally called "applied flowers" — large pink roses and smaller blue flowers that may be intended to be cornflowers. The pink roses may be symbols of happiness, while the cornflowers are one of the national symbols of Germany and may represent hope and beauty.
Applied floral decorations, such as the ones found on the place card holders, are often associated with porcelain made in the town of Dresden. But many other German manufacturers located in a variety of other cities used the technique as well. The decorations are very delicate, and it is unusual to find examples that do not have chips to petals and petals that are missing altogether.
We notice some of these problems in the photos, but nothing that is too unsightly. Unfortunately, a set of 12 of these would probably have a fair market value of less than $100, and we have found some sets that sold for much less.
Helaine Fendelman and Joe Rosson have written a number of books on antiques. Do you have an item you'd like to know more about? Contact them at Joe Rosson, 2504 Seymour Ave., Knoxville, TN 37917, or email them at firstname.lastname@example.org. If you'd like your question to be considered for their column, please include a high-resolution photo of the subject, which must be in focus, with your inquiry.