Q: I found this piece of Desert Rose china in an antiques booth at the gift shop of a local tourist attraction. It is about 5 inches wide and looks like a cover of some kind but has a small vent hole on top. What is it? I gave it to my sister-in-law, who collects Desert Rose, and she has never seen it before nor is it in her books on the subject. Can you help?

A: When we first saw the piece, with its domed shape and small vent hole near the three-dimensional rose finial, we guessed it might be a pancake or toast cover. Breakfast services from the first and second quarter of the 20th century sometimes had them. But this raises the question as to whether covers of this sort were made in the Desert Rose pattern.

Desert Rose is associated with the trade name Franciscan Ware or Franciscan Pottery, but the actual corporation responsible for making the products was Gladding, McBean, originally of Lincoln, Calif. Lincoln is in the Sacramento metropolitan area and was essentially settled in the 1860s (the population in 1880 was 275).

Early in the 1870s, high quality deposits of kaolin — one of the essential ingredients for making hard paste porcelain — along with coal and sand were discovered. Gladding, McBean was founded there in 1875 to turn the raw ingredients into building materials such as terra-cotta and vitrified sewer pipe.

Over the years, Gladding, McBean acquired several other companies, including the Los Angeles Pressed Brick Co. and Tropico Pottery, also located in Los Angeles. In 1929, the stock market crash and the advent of the Great Depression curtailed Gladding, McBean's building trades business significantly and they decided to go into the manufacture of earthenware dinnerware, which they made at the old Tropico Pottery facility in L.A. near Glendale.

Their first efforts were solid color wares, and in 1934 the trade name "Franciscan Pottery" was introduced. This became "Franciscan Ware" by the late 1930s. Apple, an embossed, hand-decorated line, was introduced in 1940 and became Gladden, McBean's bestseller. Desert Rose, the second embossed, hand-decorated line, was introduced in 1941.

The still very popular Desert Rose pattern was designed by Mary Jane Winans and is still being made by an English successor to Gladden, McBean. In 1942, a Desert Rose breakfast set was introduced, and the company's catalog indicates the set contained the 869 toast cover, which is what you appear to have.

This toast cover should have a diameter of approximately 5 ½ inches. (We suppose it could also be used to keep pancakes warm.) It is a fairly uncommon piece in the Desert Rose pattern, and although we have seen it offered for sale for much less, it should retail around $150 to $175.

Earthenware vases

Q: This pair of vases belonged to my husband's grandmother. We inherited them when she died and are wondering if they are valuable. They are marked "England" along with some numbers on the base. One has a small crack but the other is in good condition. Anything you could tell us about these vases would be greatly appreciated.

A: Recently we answered a question about a vase made by an important English potter that was worth thousand of dollars and was very rare.

This week we want to point out that for every vase like that, there are hundreds of thousands of others that are essentially worth little. The vases in today's question are earthenware, made sometime between 1891 and the end of World War I, say circa 1910, and unfortunately, they fall into the latter category.

Some earthenware items from this era can be exquisite and made to exacting standards by an artist who sold his wares at upscale venues such as Liberty & Co. and Tiffany's. But the vast majority was less glorious in workmanship and retailed for a small amount of money at mass-market outlets. The lesser objects are now often referred to as being "cheap lines."

They were molded, sometimes a bit crudely and for the most part inexpensively embellished with transfer prints of floral designs, as well as some quasi-historical scenes. The pottery pieces decorated cottages and row houses across the English-speaking world, and today they are still cheap, as a general rule.

The pair of vases in today's question is actually a tad better than this. They are hand-painted, but poorly so with globs of paint that go here and there around the rims and tint the applied leaves and flowers in a rather haphazard way.

The circumstance that elevates the pair is the applied leaves and flowers, which did require the work of some semiskilled labor. You should note the numbers found on the bottom of your piece were placed there by the workmen who did the embellishment.

It looks like workman "347" did most of the work, with some other workmen doing their bit here and there and adding their numbers or symbols to the bottom. The marks are there because the workmen were getting paid on a piece basis and had to leave a notation of who had done the work to get paid.

The "England" is probably there because the manufacturer thought the vases might be exported to the United States, and the McKinley Tariff Act of 1890 required the country of origin to be noted on all foreign items shipped into the U.S. The vases were probably designed to be mantel decorations, and we do like the raised lizards (alligators?) with the open mouths on either side of the top. Insurance replacement value with the damage is probably in the $125 to $175 range for the pair.

Helaine Fendelman and Joe Rosson have written a number of books on antiques. Do you have an item you'd like to know more about? Contact them at Joe Rosson, 2504 Seymour Ave., Knoxville, TN 37917, or e-mail them at treasuresknology.net.