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Victorian Bric-A-Brac - Lustres
Domestic bric-a-brac is the obvious goal for the beginner in Victoriana. It is normally quite cheap, only reaching high prices with certain `fashionable' objects, such as paperweights and Wolverhampton papiermache trays. The larger pieces of furniture are difficult to accommodate in modern rooms, and it is often heartbreaking to have to pass by a magnificent bargain of a fine Victorian sideboard or cabinet simply because one hasn't the space for it. But the bric-a-brac is easy to take, especially if you enjoy playing what was obviously the Victorians' favourite game - seeing how many hundreds of articles you can cram into a room without positively stumbling over them every time you cross the floor.
Among bric-a-brac, lustres are some of the most rewarding objects, and every collector should have at least one pair of these beautiful glittering toys. No one seems to know very much about their history, but the majority are apparently of Bohemian (i.e. Czechoslovakian) origin, though a number were also made in England, principally at Stourbridge. They occur in various colours, ruby (the most common and apparently the most admired), emerald green, white and gold, pink, and occasionally yellow. I have a pair in a rich royal blue, overlaid with gold, and I have heard of, though have never seen, a pair in black. They vary little in design, all consisting of a long stemmed vase with a bowl or cupshaped top from which depend the `drops,' cut-glass prisms which reflect and break up the sunlight and radiate it all over the room. When they are slightly agitated the rainbow coloured flecks `dance' on the walls and floor in the most enchantingly pretty way. It is no wonder they were so popular, since they are the only antiques, apart from clocks, which can be said to come to life at a touch from outside.
Although they don't vary much in pattern they vary tremendously in quality, and the prices they reach naturally reflect this. A plain ruby glass pair with, say, ten drops to each vase, will normally fetch about $15 if in good condition. There are smaller specimens, sometimes in pink and white with a little design of painted strawberries or other fruit, which can sometimes be picked up for about $6.
Generally speaking, it is the quality (and quantity) of the `overlay' (i.e. the painted decoration on the vase itself) which determines the price. Very splendid specimens were produced, and can still be bought, which were entirely covered with a fine diapered or floriated design in gold, the bowl of the vase being handsomely enriched with flower-panels or perhaps heads of kings and queens. The most elaborate of these are usually on a ground of ruby or emerald glass, and the effect, with sunlight streaming through their finely-cut drops, is gorgeous indeed.
If in good condition they may realise up to $90 or even more. If the drops are broken they may still fetch a very good price because all drops are detachable and it is fairly easy to get `new' ones (i.e. old ones from a dealer who may have some in stock) to match. Even if this is not possible it is always worth buying a fine pair of overlay lustres at a reasonable price, whatever the state of the drops, provided the vases themselves are perfect. For you can always, if the lustres are very handsome, buy up a cheaper pair sometime which happen to have the drops perfect and simply transfer them to your overlay pair so that they will then be perfect.
If you have in this way obtained a pair worth $90, and had been able to buy them, owing to the damage, for $27 or $30, it will clearly have been worth spending another $15 or so on a second pair in order to make them perfect. Unfortunately, this is a game which dealers can play as well as you, and you may find even damaged `overlays' fetching nearer $60 than $27 or $30. Still, it is always worth trying.