An incense burner used as a flower pot, a bronze of an unclothed female displayed in a laundry, a brooch with 25 diamonds of varying sizes, a small teapot with a blue and gold lion for a handle, all objects with stories to tell, some by the appraiser and some by the heirs.
These and many more items were assessed Saturday by Lark Mason, star of "Antiques Roadshow" on PBS, who donated his expertise to the Northport Historical Society, which charged $30 for members and $40 for nonmembers.
Tim Drew, 65, Northport’s former fire chief and highway superintendent, said his great-grandfather brought the bronze incense burner from China. Edward Bangs Drew served a “half-century career with China’s Imperial Maritime Customs Service,” according to the Harvard-Yenching Library at Harvard University.
According to family lore, Edward Bangs Drew helped Herbert Hoover and his wife survive the Boxer Rebellion of 1900, when the Chinese tried to oust Western powers. Hoover had been working as a mining expert, according to history sites.
Drew said he learned the slightly battered bronze that usually sits on the mantle dates back to the mid-1800s and would fetch $6,000 to $8,000. “I’m going to keep it; it’s got family history, I can’t get rid of it.”
Similarly, Dennis Tannebaum, with his wife, Wendy, said his grandmother’s diamond Art Nouveau brooch likely will stay in the family. It was valued by Niki Tilakos of Lark Mason Associates at an auction price of $5,000 to $8,000 or half its retail price.
Saying his daughter held it that morning, he said: “I think she’ll lay claim to it.”
The couple’s cast iron jester's mask that might have graced an amusement park in Coney Island or Atlantic City around 1895 to 1910 was worth about $300 to $500, Mason said.
Learning the bronze statue of a woman with her arms raised overhead by Theodore Riviere might fetch $800, Richard Krulik, 55, of Northport, wondered if his wife, whose grandmother gave it to her, might move it to a new spot. "She won't want to sell it," he said.
It was placed in the laundry, he said, so his wife could always see it without it clashing with other furnishings. "It doesn’t really fit in our house just from a decorating point of view.”
And that conundrum, the way styles and tastes shift over the decades, is one of the thorniest problems confronting auction houses, explained Mason, who founded the online site iGavelAuctions.com.
Why millennials now spurn antiques is not fully understood, he said. Does this generation, born in the 1980s and 1990s, value experiences, such as travel, more than beautiful objects?
The little Chinese teapot with the lion handle dating from 1720 to 1730 represents a time in Europe when tea and other novel hot beverages — coffee and chocolate — soared in popularity because they were safe to drink, Mason explained.
Water that had not been boiled was known to make people ill though no one knew why. “That’s why they took the effort to make an exquisitely composed vessel to hold tea; this was the equivalent of a magical elixir.”
Ale, wine and liquor also were known to be safe to drink — and sometimes were imbibed throughout the day. “The whole population was basically sloshed all the time,” he said with a laugh.
Informed her teapot would fetch much less at auction than the retail price she paid, Katherine Kovins of Fort Salonga said, "I’m disappointed though I am enjoying it.”
Similarly, her scholar’s stone, a stylized depiction of a root intricately carved from soapstone, might fetch only $1,200 to $1,800 versus the $7,000 she paid for it.
“It’s ludicrous when I think about what I paid,” she said, though she was not about to part with it or her other objets d'art.
Mason reassured her: “You bought the best of the best so there is some upside potential.”