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Decorative Silver

Collectors and makers alike know that there are many ways to decorate silver. It can have an engraved design or monogram. It can be pierced or reticulated with lace-like cutouts. A textured design may be hammered, gadrooned, repousse, or made with another technique.

Some of the most elaborate and complex decorations on silver are applied; that is, made separately and then attached to the silver piece. Applied pieces may be functional, like handles or finials, or strictly decorative. Three-dimensional figures, especially natural elements, human figures, or mythological creatures, are popular.

This Italian silver plate bowl was listed as the Sealife Bowl at a Rago auction, where it sold for $1,188. Its design is more complex than a typical decorative silver bowl; instead of being applied directly onto the bowl, the three-dimensional silver sea creatures are caught in a wirework net attached to the rim.

Another feature of this bowl, its gilt enameled interior, may serve a purpose besides decoration. As any collector knows, silver is prone to tarnish, especially when exposed to substances like salty, acidic, or sulfurous foods. Some tableware is coated with gold or enamel on the interior, which protects the silver as well as adding decorative value.

Q: I bought some toys at an estate sale. One is a 4 1⁄2-inch by 2 1⁄4-inch box that contains six smaller boxes that form puzzles. The boxes can be turned to make two different pictures. Each of the smaller boxes contains a tiny bisque doll. I would like to know more about these tiny dolls in puzzle boxes.

A: We’ve seen a set like this marked made in Japan, which means it was imported into the United States. The 2-inch dolls are painted wearing various costumes. The set was probably made in the 1930s. It’s listed for $125 but hasn’t sold yet, so the price is probably too high.

Tip: Be sure to remove salt and pepper from shakers and dishes after use. Wash, then store.
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