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What's It Worth?

What is it? A 5-by-4-inch, hand-painted German miniature portrait on ivory in an ivory and tortoise-shell frame.

September 19, 1998|KATHY BRYANT

What is its history?

In the 1800s, especially in France and Germany, miniature portraits were used much as photographs are used today--as remembrances of family or friends or as artwork.

Miniaturists were plentiful and often made more than one copy of a painting. Paintings were done with watercolors and oil on paper, vellum, porcelain and ivory.

Sometimes artists copied popular works of art, and they often worked on commission.

What's the history?

This ivory miniature was given to Gisela Milne of Anaheim by her aunt who lived in Munich, where Milne was also born.

"It was a joke in the family that on the back of the miniature it says 'The beautiful girl from Munich,' and I'm from there. My aunt gave it to me in the late 1970s because I was her godchild."

Why is it popular today?

"People like the romance of the paintings, and they're small so they go well in smaller rooms, like bedrooms and bathrooms," said Nina Khodorovsky, owner of Antiques 4 U in Newport Beach. "I've even seen miniatures put on purses.

"Usually miniature ivory paintings are the most desirable, but those on porcelain are also nice."

What is it worth today?

This miniature is probably worth $250 to $300, even though the signature is not listed in "Davenport's Art Reference and Price Guide.

A miniature from the 1830s by a well-known miniaturist recently sold for more than $8,000, according to Khodorovsky. As with other art pieces, the talent of the artist also determines the price.

How do you check for quality?

Miniatures are still being made, but they are reproductions painted on porcelain with French ivory frames. French ivory is the name given to plastic that mimics ivory.

Ivory yellows over time and has a grain running through it. Unfortunately, both of these features can be faked.

Also, check the bottom right-hand or left-hand corner of a piece to see if there's an artist's name. A magnifying glass may be needed. Sometimes the writing signifies only "In the school of ..." rather than a specific artist.

Where can I find it?

Antiques stores are best. They can tell the difference between genuine miniatures and reproductions.

How can I find out more?

Check "Davenport's" for prices of miniatures. Many books on antiques also dedicate chapters to miniatures.

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