Dear Helaine and Joe:
I would appreciate your opinion on this five-cup, four-arm candelabra – I have only one. The finish, which might have once been silver plate, is now largely worn down to the base metal. It is an unusual style, and I would like to know its history and value.
Dear L. K.:
The over-the-top, flamboyant American pianist Liberace got by with only one candelabra, so a single is probably OK for specific purposes. Pairs of the lighting devices do look elegant on dining room tables and even mantelpieces, but there are times when just one will have to do in a pinch.
The pierced, inverted central portion of the candelabra announces to the eye that it was made around the beginning of World War I – perhaps a little before or a little after. It was made in Cincinnati by a company founded in 1847 by Henry Homan and Asa Flagg.
Flagg was an English potter and maker of “Britannia metal,” which is a type of metal akin to pewter, but composed of tin, copper and antimony with no lead in its formula. “Britannia” metal is a little more “silvery” in color than good-quality pewter (poorer quality pewter contains a lot of lead, can be grayish, and by modern standards, is not appropriate for food or drink service).
Flagg was so involved with the production of this type of metal that he became known as “Pewter Flagg.” Although examples can be found marked “Flagg and Homan,” initially the firm was known as Homan and Company. After Flagg’s death in 1854 the company went through a merry-go-round of partners and family members and became the Homan Silverplate Company until 1896.
The name was changed to the Homan Manufacturing Company in 1904 and they were out of business in 1941. 1904 is the earliest date the candelabra could have been made. The firm’s initial products were Britannia metal wares, pewter and German silver items. But after 1864, the emphasis shifted toward manufacturing electroplated silver wares.
Ordinary, silver electroplated wares of the 19th and 20th centuries are for the most part not well received on the current marketplace. Ordinary utilitarian objects that have lost their precious metal coating over time have little interest to most serious collectors, who prefer fancier, more decorative pieces with a shiny finish. It should be noted that professional, cosmetically attractive resilvering does not harm the value, but it can be expensive.
If L. K. had a pair of these wonderful early 20th century candelabras with an intact or suitably restored surface, the value for insurance purposes would be in the $2,500 to $3,000 range. Unfortunately, a single with a scabby surface is worth only about 10% of that figure.