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Chalkware antiques what to look for when collecting.

Updated on October 20, 2010

Do you know what to look for?

Chalkware was a very popular collectible during the 1860 thru 1890’s. They were usually made from gypsum and or plaster of Paris, formed in a mold and then hand painted in oils or watercolors. Items such as: birds, animals, figurines, banks, toys and religious ornaments were modeled after expensive  Staffordshire  wares that were often sold door to door. Their origins are attributed to Italian immigrants. Today there are some types of chalkware that is out on the market but it is mostly considered to be folk ware. 19th century American pieces bring a price in the hundreds of dollars, if you are wanting to start collecting pieces here are a few things to look for.

  • Be aware of what the item that you are looking at is made of gypsum and or plaster of Paris. I know that seems like common sense but there are modern art supplies out on the market that can duplicate the look of gypsum and or plaster of Paris, so be careful.
  • I would also closely examine the piece to see if there are small chips or nicks at the base of the piece or anywhere. If there is, you can usually tell if the body of the piece is “chalk looking” or has it been painted over. If there has been some unprofessional restoration work on the piece, you will clearly notice a color difference because old plaster or gypsum absorbs fresh paint differently than original paint. So the color variations will be noticeable.
  • Always inquire from the dealer the provenance of the piece. Just a friendly discussion with the dealer could reveal a great deal amount of information, from how old is the piece, to who the original owner was. This is important because it will give you a guideline to match with the history that you have learned from this article. A helpful hint to remember is that chalkware pieces usually start at an asking price of approximately in the mid two hundred dollar range and go up from there(Schroeder’s Antiques Price guide 1995.)
  • Lastly look for the obvious, look at the overall piece for it style. Does it have an Italian feel to it? Are there bold colors within the piece that are a little too flamboyant for the time period that it was stated from the dealer? Also make note that bright colors do not always mean that it is a modern piece because there are chalkware pieces that are orange and some that are in duller color scheme. So what I can truly say is, that buyer beware of what you are buying. Remember we all make mistakes when collecting, so if you do buy a modern piece, think of the experience as a learning curve for future purchases.


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      Leonid Brezhnev 4 years ago

      Ochen' interesno!