Collecting Stone Fruit
Hand made, hand painted, realistic looking fruit is a wonderful accompaniment to any early interior. It is relatively easy to find and collect, and adds a real element of color and interest to early woodenware and china.
Stone fruit is not made of stone - it is Italian alabaster, made in Italy and not as old as other primitives and antiques that you probably seek. The best is 60-100 years old, so not new. It is still being made today in Italy, still hand painted and very pretty, but later pieces do not have the mellow color and patina that the earlier pieces have.
There is a lot of it on the market. But beware! Cheap imitations are made in China, and shiny new ones are made in Mexico, but more about that later.
The best stone fruit has a mellow color, and it may have nicks and scratches, but that's to be expected. There is almost an infinite variety of pieces - the more unusual, the harder to find and collect. This is part of my collection:
How Do You Collect It?
If you're just starting out, buy only from dealers who guarantee their items and accept returns. Same with a shop. Look for pieces that appear to be hand carved and hand painted. Avoid anything with a shine, and go for the mellow colors and pieces that may not be perfect, although you should avoid big chips, missing parts, or plastic stems.
Start with the most common pieces; oranges, pears, apples, lemons, which are easy to find and usually, the cheapest. Expect to pay about $25 - $50 for a good one.
After you establish a base of these, look for other forms - probably more expensive and a bit harder to find.
Grapes are great! They should have wood stems - which are actually grape stems, not plastic. The Italians made grapes with plastic stems in the 60's, so as a filler they're fine. But the wood stems are much more realistic. Look for variations in color.
Note that these have a bit of paint missing here and there - that's okay and is one indicator of age. Expect to pay $75 and up for good grapes.
Cherries add size and texture to your arrangement. You can find cherries with plastic stems, but the good ones have wire stems, twisted together to form bunches of 3. They are also about $55 - $75 for a group of 3.
Bananas are another fairly common fruit and they add another shape which makes them interesting in an arrangement. Note the differences in color in these two - the one on the right has some "bruising" which is so interesting. The hand painting is obvious. Good bananas cost around $50-$70.
More Unusual Types
You can create a wonderful arrangement with those mentioned above. But if you really get into it, finding more unusual pieces is fun, and often expensive.
I've been looking for different and unusual fruits and vegetables for years. Here are some of my collection:
Carrots, cucumbers, peppers, eggplants, okra - all hard to find and different.
I love mushrooms - note the hand carving marks on the stems. You can find all sizes and lots of shapes of mushrooms, although they are relatively rare.
Unusual ones like onions, tomatoes, pomegranates, artichokes make really interesting additions to your collection. All of the unusual ones mentioned above can be $70 - $150 each.
There are lots of little ones to collect as well:
Beans, strawberries and nuts are usually quite a bit smaller than the larger fruits and vegetables. There are so many varieties, colors and shapes. One piece of any of these can be had for $20 - $50.
When you get to really expensive territory a good piece of watermelon tops most.
These can be well over $200 if they are right. Note the graining of the marble showing through on this piece, the carved tip and the painted seeds. Lots were made in Mexico and are realistic looking, but very shiny.
Another available and interesting type of stone fruit is half-fruits.
Here are mine: a potato (very unusual) , a pear, an orange, a peach, a peach with its pit and an apple. Note the wood stem on the pear. You can see the hand carving marks and hand painting that make these so wonderful. Each would be $100 and up. Sometimes up, up, up!
Miniatures are another collectible - they look best when displayed by themselves and not mixed in with the larger pieces.
They look just like the realistically sized fruit, but are about 1/3 the size. You can find them for $25-$45 each, depending on rarity.
The opposite of miniatures - oversize fruit is also collectible. This shows an oversize half pear compared to a life size one.
Large pieces are relatively rare, and don't come in many types. They can be very expensive,- hundreds,- and I don't find them easy to display. But they are a desirable collectible, and a whole bowl would be wonderful!
What to Look For
There are fakes, new ones, and bad ones in the market place right now. If you look on Ebay, for example, you will see a lot of pieces listed as Italian antique stone fruit that are not old, and are either from China or Mexico. It's often hard to tell from the photos people put up.
The ones you want to collect, and those which are worth the money are hand painted, hand carved, and have mellow colors. The ones you don't want are shiny, bright in color, have plastic stems or leaves. They may be made of marble, but some are made of resins.
These are Mexican. They are usually stained, not painted, and are polished to a high shine.
These are Chinese - note the plastic leaves. The paint is often quite realistic, and usually bright in color.
There is also modern Italian stone fruit which is quite good, but not hand carved. Lathe marks are often noticeable. They may be hand painted, but the colors are brighter than the ones which are so sought after. They can make good fillers, though.
How to Display Them
I use a couple of pedestal glass plates which I like. They aren't very old, but they really can't be seen much with the fruit in them. And they hold it off the table which is good on a dining table.
I have a big blue wood tray with handles that holds a lot of my collection:
(No, the tray's not for sale!). I keep saying I'm going to stop collecting, but this tray accommodates a lot.
Little baskets, especially ones you can see through are great:
I sold this collection last year and placed it in an old wire basket painted orange. It looked great, and sold right away.
And bowls are always great fruit containers. Any size or shape.
At first I thought I didn't want to collect stone fruit because it is 20th century, and what place does it have in an 18th century house? But the beautiful, mellow colors, the interesting shapes, the hand work convinced me otherwise. I've never been sorry.