Q: I inherited this antique upright piano marked “R. Gors and Kallmann, Kaiserl. U. Konigl. Hoflieferanten, Berlin.” I believe it dates from approximately 1913 or 1914. The black finish was polished but all else seems to be original. I know it was given to my family by an emperor and would like to know its true history and value. We still play it and intend to keep it in the family for the near future.

 

A: We understand why you might believe this was given by an emperor because of the double-headed eagle insignia and the words “Kaiserl U. Konigl. Hoflieferanten.” But all this means is R. Gors and Kallmann were purveyors to the imperial household and royal court of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. It does not mean an actual emperor ever owned this particular piano, played it or gave it away.

R. Gors and Kallmann of Berlin had a royal warrant to supply pianos to the court. But the same company made many more pianos for everyday use by everyday people.

To put this piano into the hand of an actual Austro-Hungarian Emperor, indisputable, written proof would have to exist. Anecdotal family legend is nice, but far from conclusive.

Gors and Kallmann is said to have used serial number 1,000 in 1881 and made pianos with numbers in the 55,600 to 57,000 range in 1914. The instrument in today’s question has a serial number of 52,628, which makes it pre-1914 according to some sources, but serial numbers on Gors and Kallmann pianos are not absolute proof of a specific manufacture date.

Unless upright pianos are regularly and rigorously serviced, they tend to wear out and have a life span of around 60 to 70 years. Older uprights often require a complete rebuild. This keeps their value down on the secondary market.

Upright pianos will sometimes sell as practice pianos for beginners, but they are seldom rated as fine musical instruments. Realistic values of old/antique upright pianos seldom rise above the $500 mark.

Television lamps

Q: I have a vintage television lamp that depicts a ballerina on a marble base with a glass globe on a stand over a light bulb. The only marking I see indicates it was made by Murano Glass in Italy. It still works. What can you tell me about it?

 

A: We are old enough to remember the days when televisions were new in most homes. We were fascinated by Roy Rogers and Howdy Doody, but our parents were a little unsure about the new technology and insisted we would damage our eyes if we watched too close to the glowing tube or in the dark.

This resulted in television lamps, which had fairly small bulbs and were often shaped like animals or people. Today, these are rather collectible, but we do not believe the lamp in today’s question was originally intended to be a television lamp.

Most television lamps were products of the 1950s and ’60s, but we believe this lamp was initially used as a boudoir lamp. Many people would look at this and call it an Art Deco lamp with a dancing harlequin either kicking a ball or playing with the moon.

We feel the piece may be from as early as the late 1920s, but early to mid-1930s is probably more accurate. We have seen this exact lamp with a different paint job offered for sale with the glass ball identified as having been made by the Pairpoint Glass Co. of New Bedford, Mass., but your example proves this to be incorrect.

The bubbled glass sphere was manufactured on the Venetian Island of Murano, but the rest of the lamp was probably made elsewhere. The other example of the lamp we have seen has paint that appears to be a verdigris green with brown outlines. The paint seems to be original.

The metal used to make the piece is described as being “bronze,” but we would not be surprised if it turned out to be bronzed pot metal. In any event, Art Deco boudoir lamps such as this one are in demand, and this one should be valued for insurance purposes in the $500 to $650 range.

Three-bottle Tantalus

Q: I would like to know more about the Tantalus in the enclosed photographs. This piece once belonged to my mother-in-law. Any information including the value would be appreciated.

 

A: A “Tantalus” was a liquor decanter or decanters in some sort of frame that prevented the stoppers from being removed without a key.

It was designed to keep servants from drinking their employer’s liquor. In other words, the servants could see the liquor, but they could not drink it. Thus, they were tantalized by the contents of the decanter or decanters in the Tantalus.

The example in today’s question has three cut glass decanters with faceted ball stoppers. The cut glass pattern is a rather standard “Harvard” design. The English registration number of 425022 was issued in 1904, but the Tantalus could have been made anytime over the next few years. We think the piece is probably circa 1910.

There are two small rectangular plaques on the wooden frame that appear to be ivory, but we are almost 100 percent sure are actually celluloid (also called ivorine). One plaque has “Regd No 425022,” and the other reads “Made in England.”

The wooden portion of the Tantalus frame appears to be mahogany, which is more desirable than the oak examples that were also made in this time frame. We see a number of scratches on the wood and some losses to the finish. The wood also appears to be very grungy. But it does have its original key and the mechanism is apparently in good working order.

Tantaluses are rather commonly found and this one should sell at auction in the $200 to $250 range and retail at around $500.

Heirloom tapestry

Q: Can you tell me something about the subject matter in the tapestry shown in the picture? It is 47 by 65 inches and is about 100 years old. Is it a mythological scene and what are the people doing? Because this is a cherished family heirloom, I am not interested in knowing about the value.

 

A: There are tapestries and then there are tapestries. Some tapestries are hand-woven; some are hand-embroidered. They often tell a significant historical story, or a tale taken from the Bible or Greek mythology. Other tapestries, mainly products of the 20th century, are machine-made. And in most cases, the stories those tell are much less clear because they were meant to be merely decorative.

Your tapestry was mechanically made using a Jacquard loom, and the image does appear to suggest a Greek myth mixed up with some European themes.

This was decoration, so the Continental European makers (possibly Belgian) were not all that fussy about the image and what it depicted. The closest we can come is only a suggestion. The female figure might be Penelope, the male figure Ulysses (or Odysseus), the dog might be Argos, and the two figures departing the scene might either be Penelope’s suitors or Telemachus (the son of Penelope and Ulysses) and Eumaeus, the swine herd, Ulysses’ friend and the first mortal person to see Ulysses on his return to Ithaca.

This fits the image, but it is only speculation on our part. It was probably produced in the 1920s, so yes, it is about 100 years old. At auction this would sell in the $80 to $100 range and probably retail around $150 to $175.

Helaine Fendelman and Joe Rosson have written a number of books on antiques. Contact them at Joe Rosson, 2504 Seymour Ave., Knoxville, TN 37917, or e-mail them at treasuresknology.net. 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.