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Fu dogs have been guarding the door for centuries

By Danielle Arnet, Tribune Media Services

The Smart Collector

9:30 AM EDT, September 30, 2013

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Q: We bought this pair of fu dogs at an estate sale. What can you tell us about them?

A: Our reader adds that her carved stone sculptures are each 21 in. high x 7 in. wide. Their weight is over 100 pounds, though no word on if that is for the pair or for each.

To clue readers about the pair, we add that the stone dogs originated in ancient China and are alternately called foo dogs, fu dogs, or stone temple dogs. Their image is seen in stone carvings such as the reader's, as embroidery, in carved furniture, in jades and other forms.

Andrew Lick, specialist in the Asian Art department at Bonhams San Francisco, told us that "in modern times, fu dogs can be found everywhere, and are used as ornaments in nearly every place imaginable." Add that they are favored by interior decorators as a way to add a touch of the Orient to any setting.

In ancient times, added Lick, fu dogs were found in front of temples, at Imperial tombs, and at the entry of homes belonging to the wealthy upper class. There, they were ornamental protection.

In the same spirit, some today have large versions that "guard" their front door. Outdoor versions are called Chinese garden lions. And some regard them as good luck as well as protection.

Fu dogs are created in pairs. Often one, the female, rests a paw on a playful cub. The other, a male, rests his paw on an embroidered ball that represents the world.

According to Lick, the reader's fu dogs seen in photos sent probably date from the 20th Century. Their style and crispness of carving, especially the whorls called "snail knots" in their manes, indicate recent origin.

He recommends insurance replacement value for this particular pair at $2,500.

But -- and this is a big deal -- insurance valuation and market reality are often wide apart. Smart collectors know that retail value, or what you may actually get, constitutes reality.

Looking over price database results for carved stone fu dog pairs, we found a huge variety of size and quality. Prices were all over the place depending on size, aesthetic appeal, age, and quality of carving. In truth, none were as well carved as those of the reader.

On the no-charge site http://www.liveauctioneers.com, we saw auction results from October 2012 ranging from $70 for a carved soapstone pair to $400 for a stone garden pair 18 in. high. The site http://www.artfact.com had an 18-in.-high pair similar to the reader's that sold for $325 late last year.

I'm thinking that the higher insurance valuation in this case was because this pair is so well carved and visually pleasing. Don't forget that shipping such heavy stone pieces also impacts value.

Q: Through the years, I've accumulated paper items such as folio-size photos of Queen Elizabeth's coronation and other photos of the royal family from the same era. I also have menus from famous restaurants. Do these have value? Would any non-profit accept them as donations?

A: Yes, the items have value. In some cases, it might not be much, but there is value. Value, of course, depends on rarity, demand, and condition.

Collecting the British royal family is done worldwide, and early primary paper ephemera is a definite favorite. In today's foodie-obsessed culture, menus, especially those from famed but now defunct restaurants, are prized as collectibles and/or framed décor.

To research potential value for the items, I suggest you search eBay for similar items in completed and current sales. Also check the liveauctioneers.com site. All that should give you an idea.

If donation is your decision, perhaps a local thrift shop has a staffer willing to undertake selling the ephemera online. Reaching a worldwide pool of motivated buyers is key to optimizing sales.

Contact the manager of your local Goodwill or Salvation Army shops, as well. Some branches post their most sellable donations online for that very reason.

AUCTION ACTION: In a recent sale titled "The World of Opals," Bonhams Los Angeles demonstrated that there are black opals and then there are black opals. Each stone is unique.

Top lot in the sale was "The Black Prince," a classic black opal of more than 60 carats that sold for $134,500. From Lightening Ridge, New South Wales, Australia, "Prince" was dominated by red plus orange, yellow, green and electric blue.

A carved and signed black opal of about 123 carats measuring approx. 2 in. x 2.5 in. called "The Eagle's Head" had different coloration. Sold for $68,500, the carving is also from NSW.

COLLECTOR QUIZ

Q: Before Avon even thought about going into jewelry, Sarah Coventry Jewelry was sold through a home party plan. When was SCJ founded? Who was Sarah Coventry? And when did it end business?

A: Sarah Coventry was a Stuart family name. Founded by "Bill" Stuart in 1949, the company went out of business in 2009.

Source: "Identifying Sarah Coventry Jewelry 1949-2009" by Sandra Sturdivant and Shirley Crabtree (Schiffer, $39.99). Includes values based on original prices adjusted for today's inflation according to the U.S. Consumer Price Index Calculator.

(Danielle Arnet welcomes questions from readers. She cannot respond to each one individually, but will answer those of general interest in her column. Send e-mail to smartcollector@comcast.net or write Danielle Arnet, c/o Tribune Media Services, 435 N. Michigan Ave., Suite 1400, Chicago, IL 60611. Please include an address in your query. Photos cannot be returned.)