This small bowl should be valued in the $150-to-$200 range for insurance purposes.
Dear Helaine and Joe: Can you tell me the approximate age and value of this small bowl? It is 3 inches tall and 5 inches across. It is attributed to Francis Gardner, who started a factory in Russia in the 1750s. — J.R., Sebastian, Fla.
Dear J.R.: The early history of Russian porcelain is a dismal one, marked by failure and deceit. Peter the Great (1672-1725) attempted to found a porcelain industry by sending envoys to discover the secrets of making this wonderful material.
Unfortunately, Peter failed. His daughter, Empress Elizabeth (1709-1762), continued the effort, but in 1744 she hired the adventurer, and fraud, Konrad Christoph Hunger (aka C.K. Hunger). He was supposed to make porcelain in St. Petersburg, but in three years all Hunger managed to produce was about a dozen crooked and discolored cups.
Hunger was greedy and incompetent, but he knew how to make porcelain and he was forced to divulge the secrets to Dmitry Vinogradov. Sadly, Vinogradov was a violent drunk, and the director of the Imperial factory had him chained to a wall until he finally revealed the secrets he had learned. The Imperial factory eventually achieved great success under Catherine the Great, who reigned from 1762 to 1796.
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Meanwhile, a private factory was established about 1756 by Englishman Francis Gardner, who had probably settled in Russia some 10 years earlier. Gardner’s factory was located in the Gjelsk region just outside Moscow. Gardner used local Russian clays to make his porcelain, but employed a German manager, a German artist and other German workers until local workers could be trained.
The Gardner factory was known for its figures and figure groups, which can be compared favorably to those made at the prestigious Meissen factory in Saxony, Germany. The Gardner factory’s products were so good that they made several dinner services for Catherine, despite the fact that the Imperial factory was at her disposal.
By the beginning of the 19th century, the Gardner factory was separating itself from the influence of the factories to the east in Germany and France. It began working in a more Russian style with sensitive depictions of peasants, but in the mid- to late 19th century, the quality of the work declined.
The Gardner family ran the factory until the late 19th century, when it was taken over by Dulevo Porcelain Manufactory in 1892. This giant manufacturer still makes Gardner wares to this day.
The bowl in today’s question is a rather simple one with a typical Gardner red ground. Unfortunately, the marks in the picture are unreadable, but we are certain that this small bowl was made no earlier than the third quarter of the 19th century and may have been manufactured in the fourth quarter.
We think the date is probably circa 1880, but cannot be absolutely sure without seeing a better picture of the marks. Some Gardner items can be very valuable, such as a cake basket from the Imperial Order of St. Vladimir service (1785) that sold at auction for almost $100,000 some years ago.
But this small bowl was made later and is much less distinguished. It should be valued in the $150-to-$200 range for insurance purposes.
(Helaine Fendelman and Joe Rosson are the authors of “Price It Yourself”(HarperResource, $19.95). Contact them at Treasures in Your Attic, PO Box 18350, Knoxville, TN 37928, or firstname.lastname@example.org.)