For the past few years, auctions of Chinese antiques have attracted many bidders. A recent auction sold a "Chinese polychrome-decorated inkcake" for more than $1,000.
I had to do some research. An inkstick or inkcake is a piece of solid ink that might be a mixture of soot and animal glue made from egg whites, fish skin or animal hides. Its scent was enhanced with cloves or sandalwood or other natural products. Other types of inkcakes were made of burnt material, plant dyes or minerals. The mixture was kneaded and pressed into a carved mold to dry. The inkcake had to be ground on an inkstone with some water. The ink could be mixed to be thick or thin.
An ink brush was dipped into the ink and then used to write or draw on paper. Early examples date back to the 12th century B.C. New ones are in stores now. The auction's inkcake dated from the mid-1700s. The colored raised decoration on one side pictured a landscape with a temple, table, sculpture and candle. The other side was decorated with a dragon in the sea, a mark and an inscription. The inkcake was stored in a carved wooden box. Inkcakes, inkstones, inkbrushes and paper, are highly regarded as symbols of culture.
Q: I have an unusual chest that I would like to sell. It has many small drawers. On the inside of one it reads, "The Practical Glove Holder, Patented October 7, 1897, A.N. Russell & Sons, Canadian Patent August 7, 1897."
A: A.N. Russell & Sons was founded in Ilion, N.Y., around 1883 by Albert N. Russell. The company made cabinets for gloves, ribbons and thread. It later made bronze- and aluminum-framed museum cases until the business closed down in 1932. In 2007 an A.N. Russell & Sons ribbon cabinet in very good condition sold for $1,300 at auction.
Q: I have a cookie jar that looks just like the Shawnee Smiley pig cookie jars, but it's not marked "Shawnee" or "Smiley." The only mark on the bottom is "USA." Is it real or a reproduction?
A: Shawnee Pottery Co. of Zanesville, Ohio, began making these cookie jars in 1942. At first they were called "Smiling Pig." The earliest ones were cold-painted or plain and had a triangular rim. Later jars had round openings and were hand-painted or decorated with decals. Some were marked "Pat. Smiley USA" or "Shawnee Smiley 60," but many are just marked "USA." When the company went out of business in 1961, the molds were sold to Terrace Ceramics, which made the cookie jars in plain white. There are also many fake Smiley Pig cookie jars on the market. Price of a genuine Smiley pig jar is determined by condition and decoration and ranges from $140 to $250.