JOANNA ELM, Author, Journalist, Attorney

Okay folks, does anyone know what a “nef” is?


It’s News Squib Saturday. Time to share the best, most interesting (or most entertaining, or most outrageous) tidbit of information I’ve gleaned from all the stuff I’ve read –or done– this week: Never Heard of a “Nef” Until I Went To the Palm Beach Jewelry, Art and Antique Show



There aren’t too many words that I come across in my daily life where I have to resort to a dictionary because I can’t even glean the meaning. But, yes, there was one of them staring me in the face this week. It was on a little display card in a display cabinet at the Palm Beach Jewelry, Art & Antique Show at the Convention Center in West Palm Beach.

Walking Shoes & Checkbook

I was with my good pal, Florence. The show is an annual pilgrimage for the two of us. We go for the day wearing comfortable flats, and with our checkbooks at the ready.  Then we go home to torment our husbands about what we’ve bought and what we’ve spent. As in, the 12-piece enameled Faberge set of sherbert cups  and spoons (right)  for $285,000 which we’ll tell them we split (6 each.)  Yep! In our dreams! But we do compile wish lists. Here is mine, and the Nef is right at the top of it.

Another Word for a Nef?

As anyone can see, the Nef appears to be a sailing ship. And, that’s what the exhibitor, M.S.Rau Antiques  told me. It’s a French word for ship. Well, I’d never heard that French word for a ship either so I looked it up when I got home. Turns out that a nef is  an extravagant table ornament used in the Middle Ages  and made of precious metals in the shape of a ship. Or as wikipedia so helpfully explains “nef is another word for a carrack in French.” Yeh, yeh, I had to look up “carrack” as well (which turned out to be a three or four masted ocean-going sailing ship.)


Is the only word I focused on, however, after being told that the piece would set me back $138,000. That’s right : one hundred and thirty-eight thousand dollars! Lest anyone think that’s way over the top, though, let me explain: The Nef is solid silver, and there are moving parts as the exhibitor demonstrated. The oars move, and the cannon actually fires a tiny silver cannonball.

The thought of placing this as a centerpiece on my dining table where I could load and fire the cannon at unruly or very vocal guests was truly tempting. Unfortunately, the rowing is done by galley slaves who are rhythmically whipped by another moving part, the slave master. Oops! Next exhibit please.

A Robber Baron’s Forks

Every year I salivate over a couple of displays of Downton Abbey-type flatware. This year, New Orleans-based M.S. Rau Antiques (definitely one of my favorite exhibitors; they have such very neat stuff!) brought a Faberge set of 154 pieces in their original custom-fitted oak chest with the Faberge logo (in Russian) stamped on the inside. This complete service for 18 is priced at $395,000. Another service was made by Tiffany & Co. for John Jacob Astor (one of those robber barons)  before he went down with the Titanic. This one is priced at a very reasonable $24,000.

What I totally love about the flatware services are all the utensils that come with the usual lunch, dinner, fish, steak and dessert knives and forks and which conjure up an image of elegant, leisurely dining. Oh yes, you would need several hours of dining to utilize bouillon spoons (or the cream soup spoons) as well as the sardine fork, fish server, caviar spoon, the cranberry jelly spoon, — and the little round flat serving spoon for individual tomato slices!

And Dutch Flowers

Two paintings (below) also caught my eye: they are by a contemporary Belgian painter, Pieter Wagemans. The fascinating tidbit behind the rose paintings is that only one rose was used for each painting but was painted in its various stages of blooming for each picture.

The paintings were brought to Palm Beach by the London gallery, Gladwell & Patterson, and are each priced at $8, 250.00. Wagemans studied art in Antwerp which is where he now works.





Photos Top to Bottom: “Wild Warhol” ($34,000) by Alexi Torres at the Evan Lurie Gallery ( ; Six of a 12-piece set of Faberge sherbert cups at John Atzbach (;  automaton silver nef, and custom oak chest of Faberge silver flatware at M.S. Rau Antiques  ( & two paintings by Pieter Wagemans at Gladwell & Patterson (






  2. I love opening my inbox on Saturday mornings to find your latest “squib”. What a way to start my day! Great article, and I love the “nef”; although I definitely think you should have bought it. I would love to be a fly on the wall at that dinner party! Or not!

  3. A NEF IS


  4. No,but Recall the samavar that had a majestic setting on the side table of my grandparents in Grand Rapids,Mi,as well as grandpa Ezra sipping his tea witn a cube of dominoe sugar placed between his upper and lower teeth.

  5. Joanna, I chuckled when I read about our pilgrimage to the Palm Beach Jewelry, Art, and Antique show, definitely flat shoes are a must, check book could take a steep hit! I did like the Nef a lot, but the Dutch Flowers paintings were striking, I could almost experience the rose opening its petals.
    This show is a very well spent day, or should I say pleasing pilgrimage.
    Your pal, florence

  6. Well Joanna, I think I have to side with Cathy H. on this one. 🙂

    To have seen the facial expressions and body reactions to your answering, “Oh, that’s just the slave master whipping the galley slaves.”, would have been worth every penny.

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