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Q: How do I find the value of three Webb Burmese vases? They have no maker marks, just a circle on the bottom.

A: The query came without images, but after we asked, the reader sent several views. Eyeballing the two matching, medium-size glass vases plus a similar singleton was vital to identifying the trio.

To clue readers, original Burmese glass was made by the Mt. Washington Glass Co. of New Bedford, Mass., starting in 1885. Later, it was made under license by Thomas Webb and Sons in England.

Burmese glass, characterized by a soft-yellow body shading to salmon pink at the edges and rims of pieces, achieved its coloration through a heat-sensitive process involving gold. The finished glass has a soft finish due to an acid wash.

Authentic Burmese by both glass companies is sought by collectors. Last month, Maine auctioneer James D. Julia sold a pair of small Webb Burmese vases, remarkable for their deep coloration and fine hand-painted decoration, for $460.

Of course, in collecting, when something is that popular it is copied. And that's the story on our reader's vases. We can't call them repros because neither glass company made blanks of that shape. They're fakes, made to look like Burmese, but they were not made to deceive.

Through the years, many companies, including Fenton, have made versions of Burmese in many forms, from vases to biscuit jars, whimsies and you name it. These vases, probably made around the 1950s or after, are not Fenton.

While the pieces are attractive and decorated with florals that look somewhat like designs on Burmese, these florals are applied, not hand-painted. There are spots of hand work, but the overall design lacks the delicacy of the real thing.

The bottom "circle" is a pontil mark, where the piece was snapped from a blowpipe or mold. On original Burmese, the pontil is polished or ground down.

I suggest asking a local dealer or collector who knows old glass to look them over and perhaps use a black light to test the glass. A second opinion never hurts.

Q: My photo titled "The Skin Game" is dated 1898 and marked Knaffel (and) Bro., Knoxville. I believe it is an authentic original. Any info on its history, and how I can sell it?

A: Our reader adds that the photo shows two men attempting to cheat a third, elderly man at a card game.

Knaffel and Brother was one of two photography studios owned by Joseph Knaffel. Founded in 1884, he worked with brother Charles, specializing in art portraits along with religious themes.

In the 1890s, the brothers produced a line of photographs reflecting racial stereotypes. "The Skin Game" is from that series.

The series, outrageous by today's standards, now interests collectors of black Americana and early photography. Some have sold at auction for $100-$150. A Knaffel Bros. photo of African Americans working in the fields brought $400 at auction last month. As a piece of history and not commercial stereotype, the print brought more than "Skin."

To sell, I suggest shopping the photo to auction houses that sell old and historic photos. Selling at auction involves costs. Get all the facts before you consign.

Q: Do you assist in valuing autographs for future sales? Games I attended in the 1950s and '60s let kids like me get autographs as players warmed up on the sidelines. Some of the players are Mickey Mantle, Willie Mays, Jackie Robinson and more. How do I sell?

A: I don't ascribe value - "Smart" is about teaching readers how to be smart collectors - but I can tell you this: Those autographs need to be seen by a pro.

I suggest you make clear photocopies of the signatures, convert them to images, and ask sports auction houses to take a look. If interested, they can tell you the next step. You may be asked to have the signings authenticated.


Which of these art glass varieties also came from Mt. Washington?

1. Amberina

2. Royal Flemish

3. Mary Gregory

4. Verona

5. Peach Blow

A: Mt. Washington made all but Mary Gregory. It originated in Bohemia.

Danielle Arnet welcomes questions from readers. She cannot respond to each one individually, but will answer those of general interest in her column. Send e-mail to or write Danielle Arnet, c/o Tribune Media Services, 435 N. Michigan Ave., Suite 1400, Chicago 60611. Please include an address in your query. Photos cannot be returned.