Dear Helaine and Joe:
Enclosed please find a photo of a vase I have had for several years. On the bottom is the following information: numbers 3720, some markings I cannot clearly make out but look like a pipe on either side of a windmill. There are other markings – one looks like ZZ15. I would appreciate any information about age and value. Someone told me they thought this piece was made in Bolivia.
Dear R. G.:
This piece was not made anywhere near Bolivia unless they have moved the entire state of Connecticut south without our knowing it.
The mark described of a windmill flanked by what appears to be smoking pipes is the mark of the Barbour Silver Company of Hartford, Conn. In either 1881 or '82, Samuel Barbour moved from Chicago to New Haven Conn.
Along with his brother Charles, he founded Barbour Brothers Company, but they only sold silver-plated items other companies made. They were in Hartford by 1889, but the Barbour Silver Company, which manufactured both sterling and silver-plated wares, was not formed until 1892.
The second company was known for its heavily chased and engraved pieces, and its silver-plated wares were done on a heavy base of nickel silver. Barbour became factory "A" of the International Silver Company, incorporated in 1898. From 1921 to 1931, the company made their "Dutch" silver-plated line. The pieces were made using a copper base.
The grouping was often decorated with very intricate scenes that were supposed to be somewhat reminiscent of Dutch life. We have seen such descriptions as "bawdy tavern scenes" and so forth. The baskets came in a variety of styles, generally with numbers starting with 37.
The example in today's question is too tarnished to see what the scene might be, but we have seen other 3720 pieces on both eBay and Replacements.com that have been polished. One site calls the scene "courting couples in a garden with cherubs."
Barbour made the flower baskets in several sizes (most people seem to call them "wedding" or "brides" baskets, but we think this is too limiting a description), but the one belonging to R. G. is probably about 15 1/2 inches tall. It is almost certainly from the 1920s, despite the online descriptions that place it in the late 19th century. We attribute this to wishful thinking.
We have seen this Barbour Silver Company flower basket retailed at approximately $140, but the value of the piece in today's question depends very much on whether or not it can be cleaned so the surface looks like silver again. If the silver-plated surface is significantly degraded and the piece looks dark and unappealing, the price could fall below $50.
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.