0802 pin tray.jpg

This papier-mâché pencil tray was likely made in Japan in the late 19th century, probably as part of a desk set. The black varnish background finish was known as “Japanning.”

John Sikorski

John Sikorski


Dear John: I picked up this pin tray in an antiques store about two decades ago. I have never really used it other than for decoration since I think it is rather fragile. The Chinese figures and scene are all hand-painted. The tray is quite light and feels almost like papier mâché. It is 10 1/2 inches wide by 3 1/4 deep. The lip of the tray stands about 1/2 inch high. I assume it was already old when I bought it, but how old is the question. Is there anything you can tell me about it? Was it made in China? I paid about $20 for it back then. What is its value now? I look forward to what you find out, thanks. — M.O., internet

Dear M.O.: I think your papier-mâché pencil tray was made in Japan for the export market as part of a desk set. Papier-mâché was produced by mixing paper shavings with glue, chalk, sometimes fine sand and other ingredients. It was then molded under high pressure and baked until hard. It was decorated with various finishes, e.g., paint, enamel, or varnish in scenic views, florals, people, and more. During the Victorian era, papier-mâché was produced for a wide range of uses, such as photograph cases, snuff boxes, jewelry, desk sets, powder boxes, various toys and furniture like tilt top tables, chairs, etc.

The black varnish background finish on your tray became known in Europe as Japanning decoration. The tray was likely made in the 1880s to 90s. Potential dollar value is $25 to $75.

Dear John: I am supporting my 89 year old mother in disposing of Alaskan and Asian items collected by her now-deceased second husband. He and his first wife collected these things in the 1950s and 60s while living and working as a scientist in Alaska. Yes, he was a part of the scientific team connected to the nuclear testing done there at that time. My mom and I are great fans of your Sunday articles; however, there is far too much to address via email.

Can you share your fees for an in home appraisal, as there is far too much to carry to a shop? Thank you. — L.H., internet

Dear L.H.: Yes, I am an appraiser. It sounds like you have some interesting items. I offer what I call a verbal walk-through. I come to your residence and look at the items you are curious about with regard to collector interest and potential dollar values, as well as advice about how best to sell those items you are wanting to sell. It goes quickly and is very affordable. If you would like, call me at my office and we will discuss the details. The phone number is 352-351-1009.

John Sikorski has been a professional in the antiques business for 30 years. Send questions to Sikorski’s Attic, P.O. Box 2513, Ocala, FL 34478 or asksikorski@aol.com.