Jacob Petit (1796-1868) was a talented porcelain painter who worked for the Sevres factory in France, then opened his own shop. He moved his company to Paris in 1869. In less than 10 years, he had hired about 200 people to make and decorate porcelains. They made ornamental vases, statues, clocks, inkwells and perfume bottles. A specialty was figural veilleuses shaped like sultans or fortunetellers. These were tea warmers meant for use in the bedroom. Each was a stand with space for a candle heater and a teapot. Most of the Petit pieces had decorations that were colored pink, light green, pale purple, black and gold. He used the cobalt-blue initials “J.P.” as his mark, but many of his pieces were not marked. His customers wanted “antique”-style china, so he made copies of Sevres vases, Meissen figurines, many patterns of English dinnerware, Chinese export porcelain and more. These copies often are mistakenly identified as original old pieces. But Jacob Petit porcelains are so attractive and well-made they are almost as pricey as originals.
Q: Years ago, my great-aunt gave me a hand-colored etching done by Robert Dighton in 1802. It shows an actor named Mr. Braham playing the character of Orlando from Shakespeare’s play “As You Like It.” My great-aunt thought it was worth some money.
A: Robert Dighton (c.1752-1814) was a British actor and printmaker. His first prints were for John Bell’s edition of Shakespeare’s works (1775-76). He eventually made etchings of actors, actresses, military officers and lawyers and sold his prints at his own London shop. He wound up in legal trouble when it was discovered that he had stolen some of his store’s stock from the British Museum, but he wasn’t prosecuted. Even if your print is an original and in great shape, it would probably not sell for more than $100. It should be seen by an expert to be sure.
Q: I own a heavy wooden chair that I purchased years ago for $25. The back of the chair is marked “P. Derby & Co. Inc., Gardner, Mass.” I am interested in the history of the chair and its value.
A: Derby, Knowlton and Co. was established in Gardner in 1863. Several years later, Mr. Derby bought out his business partners. In 1880 he established P. Derby & Co. By 1897 P. Derby & Co. was listed as the second-largest chair manufacturer in the country. It had branches in Boston, New York and Chicago. The company specialized in cane furniture, but also made traditional wooden tables and chairs. It went out of business in 1935. Most Derby chairs are worth $25 to $50.
The old-fashioned way to whiten linens? Bring water to a boil and add lemon slices. Take the pot off the stove, add linens and let them soak for an hour or so. Launder as usual.