July - Mailbag - Researching sitters and decorative miniatures

I thought it may be helpful to miniature portrait collectors generally if I record my replies to two recent queries I received. The queries were about researching sitters in miniatures, and about decorative miniatures.

The first writer asked me about how to start researching sitters.

Hi Don, Do you have any sites you can recommend to start research of a sitter? The girl I showed you was a named sitter and although she isn't my piece I would love to see if I can find anything to add to her name as to her life. I'm assuming children might be a bit more difficult to research as well--? Thanks so much for writing, Joy

Hi Joy,
As you would guess, successfully researching sitters depends upon how unusual their name is! If common, it is very hard, unless there is a full name and a date. As an example, John Williams is a common name, but via the notes on the reverse of his miniature I tracked him down and have shown quite full details of the way to go about it at;
The Case of the Lord Mayor of Melbourne - View
If you have looked at my recent account of Mary Branford Shubrick (probably much too long for most of my readers!! - but still was an ongoing thrill for me to research), there is a lot of data, which all came via the Internet, and much via Google. But it can be quite time consuming as sometimes there are conflicts of information and many times there are dead ends. Just like any detective story! See
June - The Case of the Military Matriarch - View
One free site that is quite good to start with for pre-1900 sitters is As an example, if you put Shubrick in there you will see some of my source data.

Another free site is, but remember here that some people's family trees will have errors, and so you need to satisfy yourself as to the accuracy.

See also its sister site at The latter requires a subscription to get full details. The cost is not too bad for USA, but quite expensive for world wide. My subscription to this site has lapsed, but I think I will need to renew it for some Stout family miniatures which are transit. It is an excellent site for USA up to the 1930 census, but for UK the census detail only goes up to 1901. However, even the worldwide cost can be worthwhile if it enhances the value of a miniature.

Just Googling a name can also help a lot. With Shubrick I scanned pages and pages of Google references and found many new clues to follow up. It all helps a great deal if you have done some family history work on your own family. Thus, I would suggest you contact anyone else in your own family who has done any research and or have a go at researching your own family history.
Kind regards

Decorative Miniatures
Many emails I receive ask about decorative miniatures and as my answers are usually quite similar, I have repeated a recent email exchange here for interested collectors. This one is a little different, as an encouragement to collectors, with the writer revealing that bargains can be found at garage sales. The writer only paid $1 each for them!

Dear Don, I recently purchased three miniature portraits at a local garage sale and would like to know if you might be able to tell me anything about them. After reading your article about copies, fakes, and decorative miniatures, I think I may have three decorative miniatures. I have enclosed pictures of them in the Attachments.

All three are in what would appear to be ivory--possibly made from old piano keys, as you said. Two of the portraits are signed "Stieler"--a name you said is commonly found on decorative miniatures. All three have newspaper print in a foreign language on the backs of the frames. One has a woman's name on the back, possibly the name of the sitter. Two have "Property of Col. F.W. Maxwell" stamped in larger, darker ink across the newspaper print. One has a paper label pasted on the newspaper print that says "Elfenbein Miniature, antik Bildnis: Charl.von Hagen." I'm thinking that Charl. von Hagen might be the name of the sitter for that portrait.

The picture of the woman with the beads around her head has a great deal of foxing. It looks like the foxing is on the underside of the glass rather than on the portrait. Her frame is also missing one small piece of ivory. All three frames have a metal piece attached at the top for hanging. If you would be so kind as to tell me anything you might know about these miniatures. I look forward to hearing from you. Thank you so much, Diana

Hi Diana, I am glad you found the website helpful, as there is not a lot I can add to what you have already written! Your conclusions are correct and I often think there is scope for someone to form an interesting collection of decorative miniatures like these and research the sitters.

As you say one is Charlotte von Hagen and using Google should tell you more about her. I recognize the other two, but cannot remember their names. "Elfenbein" is German for "elephant bone" and so equals ivory. I think Bildnis means painting.
Kind regards

Dear Don, Thank you for your response. I will check further into Charlotte von Hagen. One of the other miniatures has the name Katherine Bozzaris (I think--if I am reading it correctly). I do get the impression from your website that there is not a lot of value to the decorative miniatures, but would you have any idea what might be the value of mine? Might you also have some idea as to when these were painted? I cannot find any information about a portraitist named Stieler. I am also curious if these are truly watercolors painted on ivory. Would you know? Again, thank you very much, Diana.

Hi Diana,
Google may help with the other sitter's name as well. Yes, they are most likely on ivory and painted around 1900, although some similar items are on ivorine, an imitation ivory made out of cellulose, but the poorest types of decorative miniatures are on celluloid. Values are relative. If you search on Ebay under miniature portraits you will probably find some similar decorative miniatures selling around $100/$150, but with some sellers asking as much as $350/$450, so values can be anywhere in between. Like most things in life "beauty is in the eye of the beholder" and so depending upon how much a potential buyer gets attracted to a miniature, the end price will vary! If one is unbiased, the decorative miniatures are often more attractive than the "boring old 19C men" in many miniatures! For Stieler see Biography of STIELER, Karl Joseph in the Web Gallery of Art in the Web Gallery of Art and also search for him via Google images.
Kind regards

Dear Don, I appreciate all of the information you have been able to provide. While I am excited that the miniatures have some monetary value, I will probably hang onto them. I've never sold on e-bay and don't really know much about that. I love anything old, so I am thinking about having these enclosed in a shadowbox-type frame (done professionally) so they can be preserved. However, I do think the one with the foxing and the missing piece of ivory on the frame should be restored. I may have to check into that!

I am only confused about the name Stieler on the two pictures. It looks like it says "M Stieler" or "N Stieler." I did find something about a Joseph Karl Stieler who did the portraits in the Gallery of Beauties (commissioned by Ludwig I) in the early to mid 1800's. He could not be the same Stieler who painted the miniatures if they were done in the early 1900's. So...did another artist just put the name Stieler on the miniatures just because Stieler did the portraits in the gallery?

Both of the miniatures that I have with the name Stieler on them (Charlotte von Hagen and Katherine--or Katherina--Bozzaris) are women whose portraits are in the Gallery of Beauties at the Palace of Nymphenburg in Munich, Germany. That explains why these two women might have been so popular that decorative miniatures were made of them. I do not know the name of the sitter in the other miniature, so I'm not sure I'll ever find out anything about her. I sure am having fun learning about miniature portraits--only wish I had stumbled on the real thing!! Thank you for being so kind to respond to all of my questions. I appreciate it so much. Diana

Dear Diana,
Just re the signature. Yes, you are right. I think I mentioned in the blog somewhere that the copyists often used fake signatures to make the buyer think that it was painted by the real artist, but slightly different. This was so they could not be prosecuted for using a false signature. Thus in your examples the copyist used fake first initials.

If you think for a moment, you have probably learned quite a bit about miniatures already and so will be better prepared for your next garage sale or local auction. Provided you do not spend too much, actually buying, holding, inspecting, and researching is the best way to learn. Even if you do not buy on eBay, just watching items during their auctions, reading the descriptions, and trying to understand the final price, is also a good way to learn more.
Kind regards
P.S. Here are some eBay links to look at:
Beautiful Portrait Miniture on Ivory by STEILER Germany

Hi Don, Thanks for the e-bay links. I'll be sure to look at them. Yes, there is so much to learn about the miniatures. Finding them at a garage sale was such a quirk really. I actually picked them up, looked at them, and put them down when my husband told me he thought they were sort of ugly. After we got in the car, I asked my husband to run back up to the house and buy the miniatures because I just couldn't get them out of my mind. You won't believe, but they were only $1.00 each!! Why I would put them down is beyond me!!! But I'm awfully glad no one else picked them up before my husband went back. The woman who was selling them told my husband that the miniatures had belonged to her husband's grandmother. My husband, needless to say, is astonished that they have the value they do. I feel very fortunate to have found them. I'll keep you posted if I should ever find a "real" miniature portrait!! Thank you so much, Diana


Sallie said...

I write in response to a 2008 posting from "Diana" about miniatures with ivory surrounds marked "Property of Col. F. W. Maxwell." I came across this while doing casual research on my grandfather.

Yes, those miniatures are the REAL thing! Fredrick Ward Maxwell was a Colonel in the Army during WWII. He grew up in a family of porcelain designers and his special background/knowledge caused the Army to assign him to assist in post-war Germany and Japan with porcelain and glass factories, primarily.

During those years, he and my grandmother (she moved to both countries with him) were avid collectors of high-quality, decorative arts. We have numerous miniatures still in our family. Sometimes, we have found my grandmother's handwriting on them with more explanation. It is our understanding that he purchased them in Germany from his antique dealer friends. They are stamped that way because anything he bought would have been shipped by the Army and needed to be "cleared."

I wish I knew the "sitters." If grandmother knew the history, it would be on the back. You can be rest assured, however, that they are real and considerably valuable based upon our last appraisal some years ago.

My grandfather passed away in the 1970's in Denton, TX, and was buried with full military honors in Dallas. Our family is quite extensive as was my grandparents many collections. Don't be surprised; especially if you live in Texas, to see more "Property of..." items come up for sale. They are all the real thing.

Hope this helps someone!

Sallie; granddaughter of F.W. and Louise Maxwell

Unknown said...

Hello sallie,
My great grandfather was colonel F.W. Maxwell I have his book from the Nuremberg trials

Jeremy Watson said...

Hello Sallie,
My great grandfather was col. F.W. Maxwell. I still have his book from the Nuremberg trials.