Dear Helaine and Joe:
This curious object has been in my family for a number of years. The plate is set in an elaborate wooden frame. The only other information I have is that the back of the plate is faintly marked "Empire Ware England." I have done a bit of internet research with little success. Any information would be appreciated.
S. P., Eden Prairie, MN
Dear S. P.
The internet is a wonderful convenience, and we use it every day to do research. But we know we need a well-stocked library both to check the accuracy of what we find online and to provide answers to questions that have fallen through the proverbial cracks on the web.
The key here is the mark "Empire Ware England." This immediately took us to Geoffrey A. Godden's Encyclopaedia of British Pottery and Porcelain Marks, and the tome told us much of the tale. We quickly learned the plate was made from earthenware and was the product of the Empire Porcelain Company, Stoke-on-Trent, Staffordshire, England.
Yes, we know the word "porcelain" is in the company's name, but they specialized in making relatively low-end earthenware (pottery), not finer porcelains. The company was founded in 1896 and remained in business until 1967. Their marks often include the words "Empire Works" or "Empire Ware," but some of their products have the initials "E. P. C.," along with one or the other of the two phrases and occasionally a crown.
According to Godden, the mark found on the plate in today's question was used by Empire between 1928 and 1939. The plate itself has a cobalt blue ground with some gold sprigs (a little faint in the photograph). In the center is a transfer printed, neoclassical picture of three robed figures, one of which is holding a laurel crown over the head of the central figure.
But the frame that holds the plate is the star of the show. It is also neoclassical in design with a gilt surface and three-dimensional embellishments of shells, foliate scrolls and an oval reserve at the top with hanging tassels in low relief. This is surmounted by a rococo-style bow with trailing ribbons that terminate at the base with a flower garland.
It is a rather busy design, but it is one that decorators might like. But in most cases, these interior designers would want there to be a pair of the plates with frames for symmetry. We think this particular frame was pressed in a mold to create the designs and was not hand-carved. We cannot see the back of the frame, so we think we are talking about a piece that was meant solely to be decorative, not an "art" piece.
S. P. failed to tell us the size of this attractive, vintage wall decoration, which makes it hard to assign a value. Guessing, we think the Empire "plate" is probably saucer-sized, and if this is the case, the insurance value would be in the $125 to $175 range. But if the Empire insert is larger - say, luncheon plate size or even larger - that value might jump to the $175 to $225 range.
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 email them at firstname.lastname@example.org. 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.
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