Saturday, March 22, 2014

Antique Victorian Porcelain Backed Vanity Sets

These pretty vanity items were produced during the 1890s and continued for a few more years up until around 1920 or so. The hand mirror and brush were sold along with a comb in most cases. Sets were available to adults as well as children, the children's set being a bit smaller than the adults of course. Masculine sets were offered to men as well.


The porcelain backs commonly had transfer designs, usually with some handpainted enameled accents to make the designs look more lifelike. These porcelain backs were probably manufactured at Limoges France or in Dresden Germany and very rarely Nippon (pre WWI Japanese). They featured gilded brass, aluminum, Roman gold finished brass, German silver,  or quadruple plated handles that were embossed with floral motifs, Art Nouveau whiplashes, nudes with flowing hair, mermaids, rococo swirls and scrolls.

I have come across some of the backs that were entirely handpainted with the most lovely of subjects.

The most common subjects on the porcelain backs were usually of a floral nature, especially lush roses, pretty violets, lilacs, colorful daisies, lily of the valley, poinsettias, poppies, and delicious fruits such as raspberries.




 Less commonly found are the portrait backs. These would generally be pretty Gibson type ladies, children, fairies, cupids at play or scenes of a neo-Classical or romantic Colonial/Regency period nature.



Sometimes the decorative motif will be Nippon floral motifs with intricate moriage beading.
The masculine sets would feature animals such as elk, deer or waterfowl.



The borders of the porcelain backs were typically gilded scrolls or floral swags, a flow blue edge, and some had no extra accents at all.


Every now and then I see those beautiful jasperware backed pieces with Neo-Classical motifs, most likely produced by Wedgwood, Adams or a look alike manufacturer. I have had jasperware pieces in a pink color, a sage and a deep cobalt blue color over the years.



It is not uncommon to find these items on ebay, I see about 2-3 pieces weekly. I have seen them in pristine condition as well as poor condition.

I have broke down several condition grades to make it easy for you to list or purchase. Some people may not agree with my condition grades, so feel free to adjust to your own ideas if you'd like.
Pristine or mint condition would mean: virtually no wear to transfer or finish on handles, no chips or cracks to porcelain, no spots or streaks on mirror, no missing plugs of bristles, no scratches on porcelain, no dents on handles. In other words, looks like it was never used.

Very good condition would mean: very light wear to transfer (a faint scratch here and there), very light wear to finish on handles, no streaks or spotting on mirror, one or two of the plugs missing on brush, a dent or two on handle. Looks like it was used very little.

Good condition would mean: some visible scratches on transfer, normal wear to finish on handles, spotting or streaks on mirror, some dents to handles, over three plugs of bristles missing on brush. Looks like it was used, but with care.

Poor condition would mean: cracks or chips to porcelain, cracked mirror, considerable loss or scratches to transfer, considerable loss to finish or rust on handles, plenty of dents on handles, numerous plugs of bristles missing. Looks like it was used often!

These items make the most beautiful collections and even if an item has a cracked porcelain back, but unusual or lovely motif, don't hesitate to pick it up and add it to your collection.

Here are some images shown in an advertisement from a 1907 Fort Dearborn Watch & Clock Co. Catalog, Chicago, Il.








I have found the best website to find these pretty items, visit www.antiquepeek.com for fabulous handmirrors, brushes and sets. The pictures shown in this guide were taken from her website and you can see the high quality items she offers at reasonable prices.

All photos used in this guide are from Antiques Off Broadway on www.antiquepeek.com

In Roseann Ettinger's book Antique Dresser Sets 1890s-1950s, she has a reprint of a Lyon Brother's catalog from 1899. On this catalog page, several porcelain backed dresser sets are being offered for sale. Her book also shows some porcelain backed vanity pieces in color with values.

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