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the dinner was served on Dresden china, painted after Watteau, which had been for fourscore years in the possession of the family of my host, while the centre piece, of Venetian glass richly traced by the diamond, containing roses yellow and damask, was priceless. In fact a combination of simplicity and refinement, not to be surpassed, but most agreeable; the china far more pleasing to me than the most massive silver, and incomparably superior to the ofttimes modern vulgarity of an every day ill-chosen dinner-service.
THE NEW ERA.
AND now let me return to the New Era. Some
years since I was the amused listener to a conversation, let me rather say a lesson given to two English ladies by an Israelite dealer, if memory fail me not, at Weisbaden.
“What is ‘Frankenthal'?” said the younger, taking up a cup marked with the C and F interlaced, surmounted by a crown.
“ It is, madam,” said the dealer, “the name of the fabric of the Elector Palatine, more ancient than Sèvres ; indeed Sèvres copied from Frankenthal ; the Germans, to render them only justice, produced admirable specimens of rare ceramic art.”
The ladies listened as if the man was speaking Chinese. “Frankenthal,”—they had never heard the name; Sèvres and Dresden were about the limit of their knowledge even as to porcelain.
“And how do you know one class of china from another?” said the elder.
"By the mark, but far more so by the eye and touch, and practical experience,” he replied. “All fine, rare specimens are for the most part marked; but even marks from the same fabrics vary according to the era of their production and value. Frankenthal, as I have shown you, bears the cipher and crown, old Dresden crossed swords, the Marcolini period headed with a star”—(and modern also, I observed to myself).—" Chantilly is known by a French horn, Venice an anchor, Berlin a sceptre, Mayence a wheel. A, for Antoinette, surmounted by a crown, called porcelaine de la Reine. In fact, during the eighteenth century all the states of Europe rivalled one another in the production of the most chaste works of art. Fine pieces of Chelsea were represented by a small red or gold anchor, adorned with charming groups after Watteau. No wonder, therefore, they were, and are, priceless.
“In those days the art of painting on china was exquisite, as witness some of the works of Sèvres,
Buen Retiro, and Dresden; and, elegant as much of it is in the present day, the past was a reality, the present is a fiction, and first-rate works are
daily becoming more rare and expensive.” ... “Then what does your shop contain, Meinherr, for
which you ask so much?” added the lady. “I thought I knew something of old china ; it appears I know little or nothing."
“Excuse me, madam, less than nothing : less than I knew when first I invested my whole capital, not twenty pounds, in a Sèvres vase that I sold for a hundred, and which was the foundation, at least of a competence, to a man in my position. You ask me how I gained knowledge of the art ? By reading, attending sales, watching and marking the opinions of others; losing to-day by knowing too little, and believing I knew more than my neighbour; gaining the next, having found out my error by practice and care. The eye can only be educated through the mind.
"The articles I have for sale are neither the worst, and certainly not the finest specimens of ceramic art, Some are equal to the past, most superior to the present. Yet, be assured, years of experience, practice, and theory are not sufficient to obtain that perfect knowledge necessary to select the good from the bad, and you may die ere you obtain it; although there are men who have risen from the most humble position in life to far superior practical knowledge than those of a higher class who fancy they know more. Do you visit Paris, madam ? if so, attend the sales in the Rue Drouot; I fancy they are almost daily in the season. If a known dealer bids a hundred francs for a work of art, you may safely bid ten more; though, forsooth, there are some persons who know where to place their purchases at any price, in these days of Manchester millionaires."
I confess to having felt so interested in the remarks of this dealer, that, having secured a few moderate articles, I subsequently paid him many visits and gained from his knowledge and kindness some valuable information. If memory fail me. not, he stated that he formerly kept a small grocer's shop; but, having become by chance the owner of an elegant and well-shaped majolica vase,