This Old Thing: Communication solves chess table mystery

Q. Here are the results of our continuing investigations into our mysterious chess table. My friend, who originates from Iran, confirmed that the inscription was Arabian — not Persian. My cousin, owner of the table, takes part in chess tournaments for seniors all over Switzerland and he noticed an inlaid chess board from Andalusia, Spain, that strongly resembled the table’s inlay. Historically, the southern part of Spain has been heavily influenced by Arabs. Independently, two different Arab acquaintances confirmed the script. My source commented that “It is an unusual decorative Arabic phrase that says, ‘Wa la ghali ella Allah,’ which translates into ‘And none more precious than Allah.’ I am very happy that we solved this mystery.

Chess table inscription

A. Congratulations on your laudable diligence in using your worldly contacts. I have always believed that there is more information on “the tips of people’s tongues” than in all the libraries of the world put together. It turns out that your table was made in Syria. Since the mid-1800s, in the center of Damascus, large amounts of inlay illustrating traditional Middle Eastern architectural designs have been produced — marketed easily to bordering countries and in the general area of ​​the Mediterranean Sea — so connections with Spain and Saudi Arabia make perfect sense. Any decorative script is unusual to find which suggests a custom order. The table is no more than 50 years old. Regardless, similar tables retail well over $1,000.

Q. I bought a jewelry box for $20 that looks and measures exactly like one shown online that was listed for quite a price. It has left me intrigued about the actual worth of my purchase. It measures approximately 5 x 14 x 10 cm (2 x 5.5 x 4 inches). Let me know what you think.

Francine, Casselman, Ont.

Crystal regulator clock

A. Your interesting hinged box is made with lapis lazuli stone — likely sourced from Afghanistan. The box is contemporary — dating, at the oldest to the 1970s. The lid is made from several pieces and sellers describe this as “mosaic” work. Your box, with the lined interior and hinged with one described as a “piano” style is in the more expensive group of related boxes with asking retail values ​​from $1,000 to $2,500. Those without hinged lids usually lack linings carrying values ​​from $150 to $250. Only high-end big-city retailers, in places such as New York City or London, England, can sell at these high prices. Lapis is popular and those boxes, having interesting pyrite composition (the white or gold highlights) and large single pieces, are more expensive. The front piece on yours is very attractive and appears to be a single piece, which carries better value. These boxes do seem to be attention-grabbing but are readily available. Cautiously, the realistic selling price of your box today is $650.

Q. I suspect my father bought this round crystal regulator clock years ago in a clock shop in Winchester, UK, which he frequented. It has mercury in the two pendulum tubes which, I think, is fairly unusual. The top and bottom are pale green marble with a brass surround and cute feet. It stands about 28 cm (11 inches).

Margaret, St. Thomas, Ont.

Lapis box

A. You do have an unusual round version of a French crystal regulator. Most are rectangular. The marble top and bottom sections are even more unusual for these clocks — and very attractive. The pendulum style is not that unusual and when mercury is involved it poses problems for its salability and transport. It was made circa 1900 and it will run for eight days when it is fully wounded. The enamelled face, often called “porcelain,” is in excellent condition. An advanced collector will pay $1,200 for your timely treasure.

John Sewell is an antiques and fine art appraiser. To submit an item to his column, go to the ‘Contact John’ page at www.johnsewellantiques.ca. Please measure your piece, say when and how you got it, what you paid and list any identifying marks. A high-resolution jpeg photo must also be included. (Only email submissions are accepted.) *Appraisal values ​​are estimates only.*

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