Friday, June 1, 2012

James Monroe's monogram china formerly in my collection

A oval platter and four Custard cups/Pot de crème & lids used in the White House by President James Monroe 1817-1825. gilded, monogrammed French porcelain dinner service.

In October 2006 I tuck a 2 week trip to New Orleans. My beloved home for many years until Hurricane Katrina made her unwelcome visit to the Big Easy at the end of Aug 2005, Since then I had relocated to the lovely city of Baltimore, Maryland. On this trip to New Orleans I was cleaning out storage spaces, buying antiques, selling antiques, socializing with old friends and going to party's at night, My lifestyle before the Hurricane. But the difference was  the Hurricane had happen and it seamed to be talked about by every one you met. I was so tired of hearing & talking about the Hurricane and was happy with my move to Baltimore where I did not have to talk about the Hurricane that much.
In the processes of offering some of my antiques I had in storage to friends, dealers and pickers.  I got a reply back from an old acquaintance that I knew. At one time I had been very close friends with the person that replied back to my email.   We had, had a big falling out and over the years I thought that maybe I had been a little childish on my part. At the time I had realized this The person in question was living part time in Paris and Louisiana. On one of my trips to the city of lights I remember writing a letter apologizing to him and dropping it off in the mail slot in the Art Nouveau building his apt was in, in the  Bastille District of Paris.
After dropping off the note we slowly began a email friendship over the years. During this trip he had invited me to see his collection of Early Louisiana furniture and decorative arts that was for sale. At this point in my life I was not doing a lot of buying as I was trying to clean out two storage spaces full of antiques. I explain this to him and he told me to come anyway because I might have customers that would be interested in the pieces.  I arrived at his lower Garden district cottage on a sunny morning.

Four Custard cups/Pot de crème & lids used in the White House by President James Monroe 1817-1825. gilded, monogrammed French porcelain dinner service.

The first room in the house the parlor was entered straight from the front door.  This room and every room was full of Fine 18th and early 19th century Louisiana furniture and architectural pieces. Distinctive Creole and Acadian style, beds, chest of drawers, chairs, armoires, cabriole leg tea tables, mantels along with silver, porcelain and paintings used and made for Early Louisiana homes. I remember asking the price of most of the items. A mahogany armoire was $60.000, a chair was $10,000 but most pieces were in the $40,000-$50,000 price range. A little too expensive for my blood. He insisted that I photograph the collection to show to my customers.
I remember him opening a large Federal period Louisiana armoire in the dinning room. Inside was a large Early 19th century Paris porcelain dinner service in the Empire style with geometric designs painted on very piece. The service was large as it had well over a hundred pieces, a rarity for a large 200 year old service to be so intact. The price was $6,500. I believe a good price Although I thought I could not make any money on top of that price. Also displayed in the large interior of the armoire were early 19th century pieces of Louisiana made silver. On one of the armoire shelves I noticed four Paris porcelain Pot de crème each hand painted with American Eagle surround with stars. 

Detail of Custard cups/Pot de crème & lids used in the White House by President James Monroe 1817-1825. gilded, monogrammed French porcelain dinner service.

I asked the price and was shocked as it was much lower then I had expected to hear, The cheapest thing in the house. After examining each piece including a matching platter. I said I will take it. At this point I knew it was Rare French porcelain made for the American market and that the pieces appeared to date from the early 19th century.  I bid my host farewell and visited antiques shops on Magazine street were I had, had a shop 5 years earlier. During this trip I had bought other pieces of Paris porcelain a weakness of mine. A few days before departing to Baltimore I packed and ship the Eagle painted platter & Pot de crème back to Baltimore and tuck other favorite pieces of porcelain with me on the plane.  
A few days after I arrived back in Baltimore my Eagle decorated porcelain arrived safe to my Baltimore door. I displayed the pieces in my apt and did not think about them for a few months. Then one day I remember thinking "You know that Eagle decorated porcelain is special I need to find out something about it. After reexamining the pieces carefully  I typed in Eagle surround by stars on google and less them 30 min I was looking at other pieces of porcelain that matched the pieces in my collection. But there was one big problem the pieces that matched my pieces were on a site Woodmere's the reproduces  Presidential china. Were my pieces copies of early 19th century porcelain? Are were they actual period pieces of presidential china. The excitement was almost to much to bear.


After a quick call to Woodmore's I discovered that they never reproduced the Pot de crème and the platter that they copied was not the same size as my pieces. I reexamined my pieces to make sure that they were period early 19th century pieces. All of the gold and painted decoration was done by hand. Although all of the Eagles and stars look the same each one was a little different because they were handpainted. The pieces were heavy like Old Paris porcelain and had scratched potters marks on the bottom of the pieces as most Old Paris has. I had the real thing pieces of porcelain that had belonged to our fifth President James Monroe.  
After emailing photo's of my pieces of porcelain to the curator of James Monroe's house Ash Lawn-Highland she confirmed  that the pieces were from Monroe's "Gold monogrammed dinner service". Ash Lawn-Highland  has the largest collection of pieces from this dinner service 95 pieces out of the original 286 pieces. Although I loved the pieces and there history I had decided to sell the pieces. The research and sale of the pieces led me on a fascinating journey of corresponding with The White House Historical Association. The Metropolitan museum of art in New York city. The James Monroe Presidential library, Museum curators and Presidential porcelain collectors.  

After placing the items on ebay for sale I was contacted by a Presidential porcelain collector in California that could not afford my asking price of  $13,000. for the Monroe porcelain. He asked if I would sell him two of the Pot de crème for $6,800.  I did not want to brake up my pieces but after much thought I decided to sell him the two Pot de crème for his collection and small museum. A few months latter I placed a ad in the Maine Antiques digest with the remainder of the Monroe porcelain that I had. At the same time that ad came out the pieces were up for auction on ebay thru goantiques. A Washington D. C. dealer called me about buying the pieces. I informed her that she had to bid on the items on ebay. A few days latter she was the high bidder and new owner of the Monroe china. 

The ad I placed in the Maine Antiques digest

A article about the porcelain after I sold it. 

 Wednesday, April 11 2007 
Dealer Profile

Each month we profile one of our dealers that have sold an exquisite piece through either our LiveAuctions or retail site. 

Dealer Profile: Old Paris Porcelain 
Owner: Andrew La Mar Hopkins
Location: Baltimore, MD
Years in Antiques Business: 10 Years 
Member of GoAntiques: January, 2006

Research Helps Dealer Sell Old Paris pieces for $13,000

At age 29, Andrew Hopkins is one of the youngest antiques dealers in the GoAntiques community. He has been an antiques enthusiast since he was seven years old. After school, instead of going home to play, he would go to his local library to read reference books. At age ten he started collecting. While most ten year olds collected baseball cards or Matchbox cars, Andrew would go to garage sales and antique malls to look for carte de visite photographs, old books, odds and ends silver pieces and French Old Paris porcelain that was damaged; because that was the only way he could afford it. Primarily, he was interested in anything pre-1860.

At age 19, he opened a French Antiques shop on Magazine Street in New Orleans, Louisiana. Andrew traveled to France three times a year bringing back fine French porcelains, decorative arts and furniture. He sold his antiques through his shop, his home and the Internet. Andrew amassed a large clientele of antiques dealers, decorators and collectors and had a very successful business. Then hurricane Katrina hit. Nine days later Andrew decided to move to a city that reminded him allot of New Orleans... Baltimore, Maryland. 

After moving, Andrew decided to run his business out of his home and through the Internet instead of opening a retail shop. "Running a shop can be very draining if you are doing it by yourself," he explained, "the hours are long and it gives you very little time to look for more merchandise to sell. Having a home Internet business gives me the liberty to constantly look for new, quality, merchandise."

Because of the hurricane, Andrew knew that his regular business would be disrupted. That's when he decided to join GoAntiques. "GoAntiques has been a great deal for me; they have brought me new customers from all over the world." 

Andrew uses pickers and the Internet to source new merchandise. He bought a large porcelain platter and two custard cups with lids from one of his pickers. He knew it was special, but wasn’t sure exactly what it was. After much research he concluded that the pieces belonged to President James Monroe. He contacted a curator at James Monroe's house "Ash Lawn-Highland" in Charlottesville, Virginia and she confirmed that the pieces were indeed from James Monroe's famous monogrammed 360 piece dinner service. The curator told him that there they had the largest collection of this service, 95 pieces, at Ash Lawn-Highland. So there is still a lot to be found.

Andrew did a beautiful job of describing the pieces which brought over $10,000 through GoAntiques Live Auctions. He wrote... "A rare, early 19th century, American Presidential French porcelain (Old Paris) oval platter and two custard cups with lids used in the White House by President James Monroe (1817-1825). After the War of 1812, President James Monroe moved from his home on "I" Street in Washington, DC into the newly re-furbished "Executive Mansion" in the White House, bringing with him many personal articles, including his gilded, monogrammed French porcelain dinner service. Marked with his monogram on the rim in a gold gilt shield, Monroe ordered this porcelain service to be personalized by adding a spectacular eagle and shield surrounded by twenty stars, trimmed in gold. Monroe sold his own personal furnishings from his home on "I" Street, N.W. to the government. Included in the list of items was one table set of French China, White and Gold: 286 pieces for $600. This set included 12 oval dishes assorted sizes and 20 Custard cups. Each piece of porcelain has a hand painted American eagle with a red, white and blue shield and an oval gold gilt shield that is engraved with an anchor. Each eagle is a little bit different. The platter is the only piece that has the James Monroe monogram in a gold gilt shield. The platter measured 17"-1/2 inches by 12" and the custard cups were 4" 1/2 inches tall. There was some wear to gold gilt which is to be expected. One Custard cup had a 1"1/2 inch hair line on the side. Other pieces of this service are in private collections, White House Collection, and Ash Lawn-Highland, Monroe's home in Charlottesville, VA which has the largest collection of this Presidential china dinner and the James Monroe Museum & Memorial Library has a few pieces. See the book "Official White House China" pages 42, 46, and 291.

His detail in this description as well as his reference to the "Official White House China" book would make any buyer comfortable that they were buying authentic pieces.

After buying the Monroe porcelain, Andrew was able to purchase a set of six Old Paris porcelain dinner plates that were also hand painted with a decoration of the arms of the United States as well as an American eagle holding a red, white & blue shield, clutching a red banner and olive branch. They also have in gold gilt an olive and olive leaf motif in etched gold bordering the plates with a "ZT" monogram in the middle of the plate. Although he is still researching this set, he believes they may have belonged to President Zachary Taylor.

When asked what makes him successful on the Internet, Andrew replied, "First, I try to have good, high quality 18th & 19th century Old Paris porcelain on hand. This is my first love, but I also have museum quality French decorative arts and furniture as well as Southern decorative arts and furniture. Second, I constantly research my findings to offer my customers the best I can. If I find out something new about a piece, I rewrite my description. Third, I try to find rare, high quality merchandise that is hard for both buyers and sellers to find. Your customers realize this and keep coming back for more."

Andrew's advice to new sellers coming on board with GoAntiques is..." to offer the public the best quality items you can. Try and have a large inventory and to list as much information as you know about the items. I have been a buyer and seller online since 1999 and have had many great experiences buying and selling. The good thing about Internet buying is that you can go to a major museum like the Louvre in Paris to look at rare 18th century French porcelain from Marie Antoinette's factory or you can go to GoAntiques and buy great quality pieces that will arrive at you door in a week or so, all from the comfort of your home. You've got to love technology!"

After selling the Monroe porcelain to the Washington D.C. antiques dealer I was still getting phone calls from Presidential porcelain collectors and big time Antique dealers looking to buy the porcelain. One caller was very made that I had sold the pieces. He ask me how much I had sold the pieces for and informed me that the price was too cheep. He would have given me a lot more. He also informed me that If I came across anymore Presidential porcelain to call him first as he would pay more for pieces then any other collector in America!  

Now was my time to shine again. I called the Presidential collector that paid the highest pieces for presidential porcelain in America and sold him two of the soup bowls. The Washington D.C. antiques dealer that bought at auction the other pieces bought the other soup bowl and my picker friend traded the dinner plate for some of my Southern Historical Folk art paintings. When it was all said and done I have made $20,000 off of the second batch of Monroe porcelain that I did not have one penny invested in. Sometimes it's great to sell quality items on consignment.

 large soup bowls from the James Monroe monogrammed gold dinner service 

Detail of the large soup bowl 

The one dinner place and three large soup bowls from the James Monroe monogrammed gold dinner service 

Now it was time for me to travel to France and sip martinis on the French Riviera toasting James Monroe. I never told my acquaintance that sold me the Porcelain that I discovered that it belonged to James Monroe. In the antiques world sales happen every second. If you happen to sale a long lost Leonardo Da Vinci unaware of what it is, it's the sellers lost and buyers gain.  I did see him a few more times in New Orleans and we had pleasant conversations when I did see him but he has since passed away. I don't believe in chance or luck. I think all things happen for a reason. When I think back to this interesting chapter of my life I can't help but to think about the What if's. 

What if I had not reached out to the person I had a bad falling out with? What if I decided not to go to his home to look at the collection?  what if the porcelain was damaged during shipping to Baltimore?  What if I had not talked about the Monroe porcelain to my picker friend that also had pieces from this service. What if he had decided to sale his pieces himself and not give the pieces to me. At this point there is no use of thinking about the what if's. It happen. 

In the meantime I have studied all of the 18th and 19th century Presidential patterns in china in case I happen upon pieces in the future. A good porcelain friend found 6 James Madison White House china plates singed Nast a Paris in a antique mall  worth $25,000 each. The seller did not know what they were and they were priced as 19th century plates. So keep a look out for 19th century Presidential china it might show up at your next Garage sale or antique mall. 

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