The 1999 Chevrolet Suburban wagon driven by Tony Soprano and signed by actor James Gandolfini sold for $12,100 in a recent Leake auction in Dallas. ( / December 6, 2013)

Q: These vases have been in the family for years, but I know nothing about them. Any info on their origin and age?

A: In images sent, we see a pair of transparent glass vases on short, stemmed bases. Original glass color may have been a soft green, now darkened by age and sunlight.

Standing 7 in. high, the vases were blown as round, then flattened at the front and back. Teardrop-shape glass handles were then applied, and have attractive pontil marks at the top edge. Fish-shaped glass blobs were applied to the fronts, then hand-painted with enamels. Hand-painted enamel water plants and sea grasses fill out the design. The total effect is an aquatic scene.

A specialist in 20th Century decorative arts at Bonhams New York, Frank Maraschiello looked over the images and told us he believes the vases are French, circa 1890-1910. The enamel painting is in the Japanese style, which was fashionable in the West at the time and was a huge influence on Art Nouveau. Japanese artworks have used a fish theme for ages.

When new, the vases were quite chic and expensive. I suspect they may have been a wedding present. As a pair, they probably decorated each end of a turn-of-the-century mantel.

Maraschiello surmises that the vases might originally have been signed in enamel by the artist, but the name has worn off over time.

Our reader asks about function, plus the raised glass beads that ring the necks. Despite their unusual shape, the vases may have been used to hold flowers; their prime function was as decorative objects. The beads are moriage, a technique used by the Japanese as decoration, particularly on ceramics. Nippon ceramics are a top example.

Value depends on how and where sold. Retail differs from auction and/or online. Maraschiello values them at under $1,000 for the pair.

Q: We got these glass flamingos and penguins for a Christmas gift and we're hoping you know something about them. There is a sticker that says made in Germany. They are about 3 in. high. There was a card that read Germany c. 1920s.

A: In images sent, we see three winsome black/white glass flamingos and four (two chicks) penguins. All very Art Deco.

Our first thought was that they look very much like Bimini Werkstatte studio glass from 1920s and '30s Vienna.

Their output is often confused with Murano Glass.

The studio produced a variety of delicate blown glass, including animals. And it is collected, especially their delicate goblets, today.

In 1938, the studio moved to London and surviving paper Bimini stickers are rare. Authenticating the birds will take an expert.

We found Bimini birds offered on eBay for $22.50.

BOOK IT! "Home," by Orla Kiely (Conran Octopus, $34.99) follows the mid-century and European aesthetic of Conran, the British designer and retailer. As a designer, Kiely demonstrates how mid-century furnishings heavy on natural materials fit into like homes in England, Norway and Ireland. All aspects, from furniture to furnishings and fabrics, are covered. A great idea book for modernists.

AUCTION ACTION: A 1999 4-door Chevrolet Suburban wagon driven by Tony Soprano in the TV series "The Sopranos," sold for $12,100 in a recent Leake car auction in Dallas. Signed by actor James Gandolfini, the four-wheel drive, 5.7 liter V-8 engine vehicle was one of two vehicles from seasons 1-4 that sold. The wagon, vetted by a company that documents movie/TV used vehicles, sold with a letter of authenticity.


Q: Where in Italy is the city of Murano?

A: Trick question! Murano is a series of islands in the Venetian lagoon, where independent glass studios have operated for centuries.

(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