Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Hess Toy Trucks Roll On

QUESTION: What is the best way to sell a 1966 Hess Voyager Tank Ship? And how do I figure the asking price?  The tanker is in the box which is slightly faded and has some damage to two of its corners, plus one of the stickers on the side of the tanker is torn.

ANSWER:  It’s Thanksgiving time once again and along with Black Friday comes an equally long-standing tradition—the sale of Hess toy trucks. But the poor economy has most everyone watching their pocketbooks, so even Hess Toy Truck sales, both of previous models and the newest one are suffering. T.V. ads touting the features of Hess’s new truck toy prompt many owners to perhaps dust off older models in preparation for selling them.

But selling Hess toy trucks isn’t easy. The group of true collectors of these toys is a small, very selective one. These are people who are searching for the premier pieces to fill out their collections. One of these prime models is the “B Model Mack Tanker,” which first appeared in 1964. At first the company produced these toys in limited quantities and limited each customer to two trucks. Back then the B Model Mack cost $1.29, but today it can sell for as much as $2,000, down $500 from two years ago.

Leon Hess knew a good thing when he saw it, and soon the company produced more trucks to meet the demand, including a series of minitrucks. For many years, people lined up at Hess Stations on Black Friday morning to get their hands on the coveted toy “truck” of that year, then last year, the company started selling their trucks a week ahead. This year, sales began on November 11, two full weeks ahead. But popularity killed their potential and resale prices fell.

Because Hess toy trucks didn’t gain mass popularity until the 1980s, those few collectors savvy enough to pack one away in its box without touching it are the only ones who can cash in on the higher values of Hess toy trucks from 1964, when they first came out, through the 1970s.

More than half the value of each truck depends on the condition of its box. If the truck, itself, is also in perfect condition, then it’s considered to be “MIB” or Mint-in-Box. Those who saw the collecting potential of these toy s bought two, giving one as a gift to their child and keeping the other in pristine condition for their collection.

Probably the best place to try to sell the tanker in question is on eBay. This saves a lot of searching for markets—let the collectors search for the models they want. However, most Hess trucks sell on eBay for about $20, around the price of a new truck since 2000 or so.
In one case, four of them, listed for a starting bid of $9.99 on one auction with $21 shipping—twice the cost of the trucks themselves—didn’t even sell. Unless a Hess truck is an early model and new in a pristine box, it has little value.

Hess trucks were one of the first toy trucks to have working lights and sound operated by batteries. The first one came in three different versions. The rarest of these was a Bills 18-wheel tanker with a white top and the Hess logo with a yellow border placed over the Bills logo. The side decals on this model display only the word "Gasoline", its battery card has printing on both sides, and the bottom of its box is black. The most common version features a green cab with yellow fenders. A similar version of this tanker truck appeared in the late 1960's, 1970's and 1980's, but the tank is green, with a white strip, displaying the Hess name, down the center. The tanker then returned in 1990 with a white tank, with the Green "HESS" name on the side. Hess introduced another version of this white tanker truck in 1998 as the first in the Hess mini series.

Leon Hess, founder of Amerada-Hess Oil, originally had these toy trucks made as thank-you gifts to his customers. Some, produced as gifts for stockholders and staff, never went on sale. These are the most highly prized by collectors since only a few of these special trucks were made.

Throughout the years, Hess has offered non-truck vehicles as part of its toy truck collection, including a tanker ship, based on the Hess Voyager, in 1966, a patrol car in 1993, a helicopter in 2001, an SUV in 2004, and a race car in 1988, 1997, 2009, and this year, 2011. In recent years, boxes have contained one larger vehicle transporting smaller friction-motor vehicles, such as motorcycles, race cars, or cruisers.

For the first time in the collection's 47-year history, the two vehicles in the current set offer sounds and 34 lights in both on and flashing modes, activated by a button on the truck cab, a chassis switch, and the ramp. The newest truck also features four-wheel spring suspension and a pullout ramp that automatically activates a hydraulic sound. The truck's flatbed trailer carries a race car modeled after an American stock car that sports a pull-back racing motor and Hess Express logo. A push of the race car's gas cap activates flashing lights and the sound of the car's engine. The lucky kid who gets this as a gift on Christmas morning will also be able to play with it immediately since the package contains two Energizer 'C' batteries. But the hottest feature of this year’s truck is an app with which a child can virtually race the car online.

The Hess Toy Truck is one of the longest-running toy brands on the market. As in past years, the truck will be sold exclusively at Hess retail stores in 16 East Coast states from Massachusetts to Florida, while supplies last. However, the price has gone up considerably from that first truck selling for $1.29 in 1964 to $26.99 for this year’s truck and race car.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Onions Grow More Than in Patches

QUESTION: I have several plates by Meissen with what I believe is called the Blue Onion pattern. Can you tell me more about it?

ANSWER: The Blue Onion pattern is the Meissen company’s most popular and has been for over 250 years.  Because Meissen never copyrighted it, more companies have copied it than any other ceramic pattern. But the pieces made by Meissen, itself, stand above the others because of the way its workers meticulously hand painted the design on each piece.

After Marco Polo introduced Chinese blue and white porcelains to Europe, the demand rose until by the beginning of the 18th century, Europeans clammered for more and more of the finely painted pieces. To satisfy this demand, the East India Company established trade with China and brought to Europe as much of the blue and white porcelain as it could.

But try as it might, the East India Company couldn’t keep up with the demand, so in 1710 Augustus the Strong formed a new porcelain company to produce blue underglaze decorations like those of the Chinese. Johann Gregor H√∂roldt, a talented porcelain painter who had worked for the Du Paquier Porcelain Company, a competitor of Meissen’s, perfected the blue underglaze paint, which the Meissen Company used to decorate its wares with the Blue Onion pattern, in 1739.

The model for this unique pattern most likely came from a flax bowl from the Chinese K'ang Hsi period, dating from 1662-1722. Originally, Meissen called it the “bulb” pattern. However, since Europeans were unfamiliar with the fruits and flowers shown on the original Chinese pieces, the Meissen artists created hybrids that were more familiar to the company’s customers. The so-called "onions" really aren’t onions at all, but stylized peaches and pomegranates modeled after the original Chinese pattern. They made the flower in the design a cross between a chrysanthemum and a peony and wove the stems of both the fruits and the flower around a stalk of bamboo.

As production continued, Meissen changed the pattern slightly. Originally, the fruits on the border pointed inward with the stem on the edge. But they altered this design by pointing the fruits alternatively inward and outward.

Not only did the Blue Onion pattern become Meissen’s most popular, but it also was its least expensive to produce. The company made money by using lower-paid “blue painters” as well as apprentices to do the decorating. In addition, the pieces decorated with the pattern didn’t need a third firing which was necessary to fix the enamel decoration on Meissen’s other wares, plus the company chose not to add gilding to the standard pattern.

The Blue Onion pattern achieved popularity again during Victorian times when home furnishings became darker and heavier. It complemented the more elaborate Victorian furniture styles preferred by the new wealthier middle class. Immediately after the Civil War, the pattern took off. Everything from napkins to tablecloths, utensil handles to enameled cooking pots featured it. By the 1870s, the Meissen Company had adapted it to fit nearly every shape of porcelain ware it produced. To distinguish its Blue Onion pattern from those of its competitors, the company put its now famous emblem of Blue Crossed Swords at the foot of the design’s bamboo trunk in 1888.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Ring, Ring—Bell Telephone Calling

QUESTION: I have one of those large black rotary telephones. Are those collectible now that we have such advanced technology?

ANSWER: You might want to consider holding on to your black phone for a while as they and many 20th-century models are coming into their own as collectibles.

When Alexander Graham Bell spoke those now famous words to his colleague during the first telephone call on March 10, 1876, he had no idea where that would lead us. Today, many people have smart phones that do just about everything except make a cup of fresh coffee, although I suspect they’ll soon offer an “app” for that.

But what about all the phones that came before the smart ones. The long-time standard Western Electric 302 black rotary phone, introduced in 1937, is probably the most well known. Some people have game rooms in their homes in which they install a working pay phone. These workhorses, once owned by AT&T, were meant to last a long time.

When people think of old telephones, however, they usually imagine the Western Electric 102 candlestick-type phone, which went into use in 1927. Today, you can purchase an original for a modest $469 at the TelephonyMusuem online.

In the 1930s, Western Electric produced 202 model with an oval base, and later a sleeker handset, now selling for $289. Both the 102 and 202 models required a ringer, which customers had to buy separately. The large rotary 302 phone was the first to house the ringer in the phone. It was made from metal until World War II and sells for $199, then from plastic, selling for $169, until the late 1950s. Western Electric stamped the date of production on the base of its phones, so it’s easy to tell the age of the unit.

One of the big problems in collecting old phones is that many of the more unique ones have been reproduced, in working order, of course. While the originals sell for as much as $500, the repros sell for half that. Vintage phones from the 1920s can sell for as much as $2,000. So it’s important to watch for reproductions being sold as originals, especially on auction sites like eBay.

And don’t forget the sleek and colorful Princess phone, introduced in 1959, and the Trimline phone with dial in the handset, dating from 1965. Both replaced the stodgy desk phones of the past. Rotary dials continued to be offered even after touch-tone came out because phone companies charged an extra fee for touch-tone service and many customers didn't want to pay for it. The hotter the color of a Princess phone, the higher its price. The more common colors—pink, red, peach, and black—in touch or rotary sell for about $200 each while green, beige, white, aqua and yellow command prices of $150 and up.. The most common Princess phone in ivory sells for no more than $119. Most of the Princess phones require a $30 transformer to light the dial.

Collecting old phones isn’t difficult, but like clocks, you can have just so many in your house.