Brazier Used to Heat Bath

Three men with animal feet hold this Roman brazier on their heads. It is a copy of an excavated piece from Pompeii that was buried in 78 A.D.

During the late 18th century, the very rich made a long trip to Europe to admire the architecture and art of Europe, including the ruins of past civilizations. The town of Pompeii was a major attraction. It had been covered with ash and lava in 78 A.D. and forgotten until 1748, when it blocked some construction. Historians have been studying the remains, and the art and culture, since then. The city was a summer home for wealthy Romans, and the eruption covered and saved the furnishings under the rock. Information about furniture and paintings inspired copies in the 18th century.

A brazier that was used to heat a Roman bath in the city and a similar one in a brothel were copied and sold in the late 1800s. The popular bronze brazier had a pieced rim and a three-part foot with men with paw feet holding the fire pit on their heads. These copies were made with a green patina. One sold at a Cakebread auction in New Orleans for $500. It is 10 inches high and almost 6 inches in diameter.

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Q: I have heard that some antiques and vintage items are dangerous to own. Is this true? I am afraid to use my orange Fiesta dishes because friends say they were made with uranium and are radioactive.

A: Yes, some antique medicines, cosmetics and other objects can be dangerous or even fatal. Most vintage or antique things you buy at shops or shows have been cleaned or checked for dangerous things. Some are mercury (barometers), flammable materials (stove polish that explodes when heated), arsenic (cleanser for complexion), opium (medicine to relieve pain), morphine (to soothe teething babies), alcohol (a high percentage in bitters, medicines, etc.) and, of course, anything in a bumpy poison bottle or a bottle labeled poison.

Uranium was used in the clay or glaze of some items before the strict food and drug laws were passed in the U.S., but some countries still use glazes that are not safe. Your orange dishes are safe to use. If you find forgotten drugstore stock, clean it carefully in a well-ventilated area. Empty all medicine bottles; children may try to drink something.

Q: My wife was a collector of mustache cups and she accumulated about 50 of them before she died. I’m not sure what to do with them and would like to know if they have any value.

A:  Mustache cups were popular from 1850 to 1900 when large, flowing mustaches were popular. A mustache cup had a ledge of china or silver that kept the hair out of the liquid in the cup and kept the mustache wax from melting. Mustache cups have sold at auctions in the past year for about $30 to over $100. Left-handed mustache cups are rare and have sold for over $400, but have been reproduced. You can consign your collection to an auction house or contact an antiques store in your area to see what they will offer you for them.

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