Growing up in her family’s restaurant, Spenger’s Fish Grotto in California, Alicia Spenger was drawn to the maritime collectibles scattered throughout the building.
One piece in particular drew her in and was the stuff of family folklore.
Her great-grandfather, Frank Spenger Sr., apparently surprised her great-grandmother with an enormous vase, set atop a roughly 2 foot high, 4 foot wide base in the penthouse they shared above the Berkeley restaurant, she recalled. It was so large that her great-grandmother politely requested it be relocated downstairs with the rest of his ever-growing collection.
“My great-grandmother was like, what the heck is this thing?,” Alicia Spenger recalled with a laugh Wednesday. “I always thought it was stunningly beautiful, but of course, I didn’t know anything about its history.”
Spenger’s closed in October, and now, as the memorabilia is about to be auctioned, the family has found out the giant vase is one of three rare vases made with the enamel technique known as cloisonne that Japanese artists produced for display at the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago.