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Legendary Vase Almost Sold on Ebay
by Bob Brooke



A 13 ½"-inch-high porcelain vase, featuring an elaborately painted portrait of Catherine the Great of Russia and a mark on its base of a dark red, inverted "N" surmounted by stars, recently went up for auction on eBay for a staggering minimum bid of $30,000. However, at the auction’s closing, only one bidder had placed a bid of $30,100 on it, but the reserve on the item hadn’t been met.

The vase features an elaborate portrait of Catherine the Great on its face and on its base is a mark featuring a dark red, inverted "N" surmounted by five stars.

The April 8, 1927 issue of the New York Times displayed a story about a valuable porcelain vase that was set to go up for auction. According to the story, Catherine the Great had presented the vase to Count Louis de Cobenzel, a prominent Austrian diplomat, who Napoleon had come to meet to negotiate a treaty between Austria and France. During the negotiations, Cobenzel insinuated that Austria intended to ask the Russians for aid. Upon hearing this, Napoleon became so enraged that he declared, " The truce is over. We are once again at war. Before autumn is over, I shall shatter your empire as I shatter this vase." And with that, he picked up the vase and threw it into the fireplace, smashing it pieces.

Napoleon’s brother, Joseph, standing at his side, rushed to gather up the pieces of the shattered vase and later had it restored. After Napoleon’s downfall, Joseph escaped to America, bringing the vase with him. He later gave it to his friend, Adam David Logan, who, in turn, gave it to his fiancé, Mary B. Alburtis, a young New York society woman. But Logan died before their wedding and Alburtis kept the vase as a reminder of him until she left it to her personal physician, Dr. Martha Huson.

Dr. Huson borrowed $3,000 from her nurse, Miss Margaret Conway, using the vase as collateral for the loan. She estimated the vase to then be worth $150,000, given its provenance. As it turned out, she couldn’t repay the loan but refused to give up the vase to Conway. However, Conway had a judgment issued against Huson, and a judge ordered her to sell the vase at auction to pay off the debt.

But the auction never took place, and Huson had to turn the vase over to Conway. The current owners of the vase are relatives of a friend of Conway’s to whom she eventually gave the vase.

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How to Recognize and Refinish Antiques for Pleasure and Profit

Book: How to Recognizing and Refinishing Antiques for Pleasure and Profit
Have you ever bought an antique or collectible that was less than perfect and needed some TLC? Bob's new book offers tips and step-by- step instructions for simple maintenance and restoration of common antiques.

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