The watercolor portrait of novelist Jane Austen sold for $270,561 recently at Sotheby’s London. (Sothebys / January 24, 2014)

Q: I inherited this vase from my mother but know nothing about it. Here are images, including the Japanese signature on the bottom. Info?

A: The glass vase seen in an image is a tall cylinder with crimped top and bottom. We have no details on size, but such vases were usually about 12 in. high.

Color ranges from near clear at the bottom to light yellow fading into cranberry glass at the top.

The reader correctly IDs the vase as hand blown and hand painted, but she errs in thinking the signature is Japanese.

Our reading on the signature is totally different. We can see why she thinks the vase is Japanese: Enamel flowers painted on the vase are chrysanthemums, a popular Japanese theme, and the hand painted enamel signature is a cipher that looks somewhat Japanese.

Researching period vases, we found several that were similarly shaped and decorated. Their graduated glass colors matched, as well.

This vase is Bohemian glass. It dates from around 1890-1915, a time when Japanese and Oriental themes in general were considered exotic and became wildly popular in the West. That explains the mums.

Sales records call it a Moser-style vase. Smart collectors know that certain pieces of circa 1900 art glass made by the Ludwig Moser and Sons Glassworks in Karlsbad, Austria are prized by collectors as experimental works. At the time, Moser artists and artisans produced works that won prestigious awards at international exhibitions.

As with other celebrated glassmakers (think Steuben, Orrefors and Tiffany), Moser products ranged from rare one-of-a-kind presentation pieces to more common production pieces for wider distribution.

Many Moser lines made then are now highly collectible. Some pieces are etch-marked with the company name, but many pieces were unmarked. The enamel mark on the bottom of the reader's vase is from the painter; it IDs the decorator. Workshop painters were customarily paid by the piece.

Much output was exported to the U.S. and sold through jewelry stores or finer department stores. This vase may well have been a wedding or other significant gift.

On, we found a similar vase that sold at auction in October, 2013 for $500. On we found another sold for $300 in a different auction.

The Moser factory still operates in the Czech Republic, but serious art glass collectors go for pieces from the early days.

Q: Are my grandfather's Civil War discharge papers worth anything? How can I sell them?

A: Civil War collectors hunt for just about anything authentic from the war. For discharge documents, interest (value) depends on condition, the soldier's company, his rank, and what items, if any, accompany the papers.

As example, auction records for 2013 show that a basic set of Civil War documents, including discharge papers dated 1863, sold for $125. A Civil war dog tag for William Heinecke, a private in the 2nd Regiment of Pennsylvania Volunteers, along with his framed discharge certificate noting that the soldier lost an arm, sold for $1,100. You can see the difference.

If you think your family papers fall into the high-interest group, shop them to auction houses. If not, try an online auction. Most standard discharge papers sell for under $100.

FYI: Civil War discharge papers "signed" by President Abraham Lincoln and Secretary of War Edwin Stanton were issued by the War Department. The signatures are engravings, printed onto the document. A clerk added written info pertaining to the individual soldier.

AUCTION ACTION: A circa 1869 watercolor portrait of British novelist Jane Austen, originally commissioned by her nephew for his biography of the novelist and brought to auction by her family, sold for $270,561 at Sotheby's London last month. Considered a definitive portrait of the author, it shows her as a young woman without a cap, which she adopted later. This is the image that will appear on the new Bank of England 10-pound note starting in 2017, Austen's bicentenary.


Q: Why is identifying the makers of old Bohemian glass so difficult?

A: The glass industry in Austria and Czechoslovakia was extremely diffuse. Glassmakers operated as individuals or in small studios. Moser and other factories were an exception.

(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