Q: I found this vase at a junk shop and have never been able to identify it. I have sent the markings on the bottom. Are you able to help me with identification?
A: Although this would make a perfectly fine vase, its original purpose was to be a water pitcher — and in its day, a very elegant water pitcher at that.
Right now, the surface is a dull gray reminiscent of the lead used to make a fishing weight. But when the piece was new, it had a shimmering coat of silver and it gleamed, warmly in the reflected light. The scene depicted appears to be romantic with at least one bridge and a rural image that would have made it a star on a family sideboard or dinner table.
The marks on the bottom tell me the piece was made in Cincinnati. The mark consists of a crown, a castle and a bird's head (eagle?) over initials "Q. C. S. Co" in blocks.
The first letter is sometimes stamped so it looks something like a "B." This can be a bit confusing, but it still indicates the Queen City Silver Co.
Not much information is available about the company beyond that it was founded in 1888 and liquidated in 1949. Printed sources say it manufactured silver-plated hollowware; it may have made pewter as well (we have doubts about that).
Most silver-plated hollowware was placed on a base of a pewterlike metal called britannia. Pewter is an alloy of tin and copper, though low-quality pewter may be composed of tin, copper and lead (and/or a variety of other metals with relatively low melting points), while britannia is an alloy of tin and copper with a soupçon of antimony.
Britannia metal and pewter are extremely closely related, but britannia never has lead in it and has a more silvery-white surface coloration. Looking at photographs of Queen City Silver Co. pieces described as "pewter," we feel some may have begun life with a layer of silver, but others may have never had the lustrous coating. It is a bit hard to tell.
Your once silver-plated pitcher was probably manufactured sometime in the early 20th century. The shape and the scene suggest the 1920s, but the piece could be as early as the World War I era. Restoring it to its original appearance is possible, but a new electroplated silver surface would be rather expensive. And it would enhance the aesthetic value greatly, but the monetary value only marginally.
This is really a cool junk shop find and we feel you should just put flowers in it and enjoy the result. Retail value of the piece in this condition is $45 to $65.
Helaine Fendelman and Joe Rosson have written a number of books on antiques.