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Many family heirlooms—or future heirlooms20140509_153237—have sentimental value because of the stories behind them. But the stories of others are lost to time.

I have a porcelain coffee pot and six matching demitasse cups and saucers that are in the latter category. My mother sent the set to me not too many years after I got married, along with a single cobalt blue cup and saucer. These pieces had been my grandmother’s, but I don’t remember them in my parents’ house. I don’t know if my grandmother gave the set to my mother many years earlier or if my mother got it not long before she passed it on to me. Or maybe my grandmother, in one of her downsizings, decreed it should come directly to me.

20140509_153325I don’t remember my grandmother ever using it in her home, though I recognize it as something she owned. All I remember is that it somehow came into my possession.

I’ve never used the coffee pot. I think I served coffee in the tiny cups once or twice, shortly after I received them. I know the service has sat untouched on the top shelf of my dining room hutch for many years.

20140509_153623I’ve always liked the set—its daintiness, the lovely floral design, the gold trim. But my lifestyle doesn’t lend itself to use of delicate china demitasses. First, I don’t drink coffee. Second, when I drink tea, I want a lot more liquid than these tiny cups can hold. Third, I like dishwashers, and don’t want to hand wash such fragile treasures.

But is the set a treasure or not? If I don’t know the story behind it, it has no sentimental value, and its only other attraction is its intrinsic loveliness. Does it have any financial value?

My husband and I have many things we have inherited from one family branch or another. For example, some paintings from older relatives hang proudly on our walls, because we like them. Others sit in closets, because we don’t know the appropriate way to dispose of them. Should we find an appraiser? Hold a garage sale (horrors!)? Simply throw them out or give to charity? Without knowing if they have value other than as bearers of family memories, it’s hard to decide what to do.

2014-05-16 10.55.32I recently set out to explore whether my grandmother’s coffee service had any value. The starting point was a trademark on the bottom of several of the pieces (the mark had worn off other pieces in the set). The mark says R.S. Prussia, and a little internet research turned up references to the Reinhold Schegelmilch Porcelain Factory in Prussia.

Reinhold exported porcelain to the United States as early as 1880, but most of their tableware did not come into this country until 1894 or later. The mark on my grandmother’s coffee set was not used regularly until 1905, and Reinhold discontinued this style of elaborate florals and other scenes enhanced with gold around 1910.

2014-05-16 10.58.50My best guess is that my set originated between 1905 and 1910, but it could have been made several years earlier or later. My grandmother was born in 1908, so the set was probably acquired by someone in her parents’ generation. But I have no way of knowing for sure. Nor do I have any way of knowing whether my grandmother’s family used it daily or kept it for special occasions. The pieces show wear, but they are in relatively good condition.

Is the set valuable? Well, it depends on which eBay seller you believe.

There are collectors of R.S. Prussia pieces. So someone might want it someday. I’ve looked through several sites that have pictures of R.S. Prussia sets, but I haven’t seen mates to my set. Does that mean I have something unique? Or does it simply mean no one wants to collect this pattern, because it was so common? And, of course, there were forgeries, purporting to be R.S. Prussia works. So who knows what it might be worth?

For now, I think I’ll keep the set on the top shelf of my dining room hutch. It is pretty, after all. And it saves me deciding what to do with it.

What possessions do you have that you’d like to know more about?

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