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Hello, I have inherited this decorative item, possibly Chinese, and I am trying to find out any information I can about it including:

- age

- origin

- material

- purpose

- restoration

- value

I don't see any kind of identification marks on it, but maybe I just need help finding them. Any help would be appreciated. Thank you. 

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Replies to This Discussion

Thank you for your opinion, Tom. If the item is stone, shell or bone will the hot needle make a hole? 

Just to reiterate, I did not buy the item. It was given to me about twenty years ago by a relative, who received it from a friend about fifty years before that. It is at least that old, so it is not laser or computer made.

I am aware of the rules around buying and selling ivory. I read up on them before I accepted the item, even though I'm not sure that's what it is made of. The Endangered Species Act provides exemptions, including some for inherited antiques, which is another reason I would like to get more information. It has to be 100 years old to qualify as an antique under ESA rules, and the little information I do have does not go back that far. 

Ivory ban Q&A

ESA antiques exemption

However I would like to also make clear, it is also NOT for sale. I am trying to find the value etc. so I know how to clean and protect it, and whether I should insure it like jewelry, put it in more appropriate storage, or even donate it to someone who can look after it (museum, etc.)

Hi Walter, Such pretty discs, whatever they are! :) I'm sorry one of yours is damaged. That is sad and it probably cannot be fixed, it looks like far to complicated a process to repair, though I wonder how that sort of damage had occurred, Any ideas? Do you know where they were kept before?

A hot pin or needle test will not harm your item Walter or even penetrate the surface if it is any of the natural materials you mention. You see, the idea for the test is only to determine if your item is "other" than a natural material, because if it is an Early plastic like "Celluloid" you need to know this, It's terribly important as a matter of fact, BECAUSE, if your discs are very old celluloid plastic they are Flammable - terribly so, and the way in which you care for them is Very important! and quite a cause for concern if you've got them in any unsafe boxes or places in your home. You see?

Early Celluloid plastic is NOT without value itself Walter, in fact complicated pieces such as yours would be incredibly important and significant to any collector of them! Have you ever heard of Bakelite plastic? Old, original Bakelite plastic jewelry in many cases is actually worth more $$ then most gemstone/silver and in some cases Gold jewelry! Hard to believe I know, but it's true!

If I owned your pretty items, I would test the damaged disk, and leave the other perfect as it is. This way you will not cause any undue harm, but you will be educating yourself on the proper way in which to proceed. If the needle or pin does not go through, we can then proceed to see if you have Ivory, Stone or possibly shell, though I don't think shell or stone are likely - What is the approx. weight would you say? Only if it's very heavy for it's size, might it be onyx or marble for instance, it might be Soap stone though too. So Soapstone, will only scratch a tiny bit, a hot pin will not go through it either.

So think on it. and Here is some info on Celluloid, just in case that's what you have here. :)

Sorry, I meant to edit my reply and deleted it by mistake. I had posted that the article linked says to never use the hot pin test if you think it might be celluloid. 

As for the damage, it was an silly mistake during packing/transit, and the relative that damaged it was nearly inconsolable about her mistake. It has taken years to get past that and get it out to even look at it. 

LOL. You are correct Walter! I'm afraid I would have done it anyways, as I'm a bit fearless when it comes to this sort of thing! But, I would have done so very carefully outside or perhaps in my garage, just in case.

But, what is recommended sounds like an excellent idea too! Why not try it first? Let us know if Camphor or Pine-ish scent is there, ok?

OOOh  - and I forgot to tell you, that your first item, (undamaged one) has what I think is an artist signature on the back! It might also be a town or something, but I think it's Japanese, and maybe you can decipher that marking??

Yeah I tried looking it up, there are "handwriting recognizers" online but I didn't get any hits. 

character handwriting recognizer

Actually, I have a few Chinese acquaintances, I might contact one of them and see if they  have any ideas. 

Did you try Goggle Translate? Might have a bit better luck! :)  The way that mark is layed into your first piece too Walter, I'm really thinking it's ivory. It's so hard to tell from photos though. Why not try the hot water test on the damaged one first, then let us know. 

Is there perhaps a reputable Antique dealer or better quality Auction house, not too far from your home? 

I was going to try The Winterthur Conservation Clinic or perhaps a dealer or museum in Philadelphia. 

Oh Yes, a smaller Museum would be an Excellent idea! Curators, especially those with smaller collections are much more willing to help, then say a major, large established Museum, in  your downtown for instance. I think you have a couple excellent Auction houses in your area too. Give me a few minutes to find which one I'm thinking of, but you could probably send these better photos via online to the better auction house as well, they might know immediately what you have?

This is the one I was thinking of:

But, I see there are a few more that have high customer compliments too, maybe send photos to the one above and this one:

Thank you for the idea. Do such businesses charge a fee or have any other conditions for the appraisals, do you know? 

No, The museum or the Auctioneer do so free of charge in most cases. In an Antique shop, an appraiser may charge something to review and give an appraisal on your items. 

An Auction house always wants quality items for their upcoming sales, and they do look at items in hopes of finding good things and then asking if you would allow them to sell, but you are under no obligation to do so. It's a good way to discover what you have without cost though. I would send pics to Freeman's first, and see if they get back to you. That might be the best way to proceed for now. 


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