Monday, July 29, 2013

The Master of Inks

QUESTION: I recently began to collect old bottles. I found and bought an old blue glass bottle with what looks like a spout at a flea market. Do you happen to know what this might have been used for?

ANSWER: It sounds like you discovered a master ink bottle. Master inks could be found everywhere—at universities, in town halls, in schools, and even at Civil War campsites, to record the horrific events and write letters home to loved ones.  Without masters, much of history wouldn’t have been recorded.

People used master inks to fill smaller ink wells. Many survived because they could be reused. People often threw smaller ink containers away after use. Unfortunately, there’s little information about them available.

Prior to the 18th century, ink came in the form of a cake or powder, which the user would mix with water. It was only in the late 18th century that liquid ink in wide-bottomed bottles became widely available. This was a black or blue-black writing fluid that the user dipped a pen made from a goose quill into a small container. Different makers used a variety of recipes, but the most common types were Gall ink, deep black Indian ink  and blue-black ink. P& J Arnold of London was one of the pioneering companies in the ink industry in Great Britain. Other well known English ink companies included Stephens, Price and Hyde, and Cochrane. In the U.S., Sanford and S.S. Stafford were two of the earlier companies. As the ink industry grew, so did the need for ink containers.

Ink bottles differ from inkwells in that makers designed the bottles to serve a purely utilitarian purpose—to hold ink. Inkwells, on the other hand, were often more decorative, the sort of thing you’d want people to notice on your desk. Consequently, inkwells were more expensive than ink bottles.

No single manufacturer had the monopoly on ink bottles. Indeed, just about any company that produced glass dabbled in ink bottles at one point or another. Generally, manufacturers made master inks of glass, ceramic, or pottery. They came in several varieties , including “pourer” inks, used to top off ink wells, and the bulk type used for filling the inkwells.

Master inks are highly collectible. Their larger size allows collectors to display them more prominently than the smaller inks. They also came in a wide variety of colors, and as with all glassware, color is paramount to collectors. The most valuable colors are unusual ones like yellow and purple, while colors like aqua and clear are more common. Embossed bottles or ones with intact labels also increase an ink bottle’s value.
Signs of wear and color variants affect the quality. Some examples carry the residue of stains that still remain. Collectors usually categorize master inks by makers, countries of origin, and age.

Prices for master inks vary greatly from a few dollars for the more common ones and to hundreds of dollars for some of the rarer ones. Great examples from different ink makers can be found from $50-100.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Protecting Your Investment

QUESTION: I’ve been collecting antiques and such for a number of years. Do I need extra insurance or will my homeowner’s policy cover what I have?

ANSWER: As a collector, you’ll want to take care to see that your treasures are adequately insured. And even if you have coverage, you may find that coverage you purchased several years ago leaves you financially vulnerable today.

Most collectors use one of three types of insurance—that found in a standard homeowner's policy, special endorsements to that policy, or a "floater" policy for valuables such as art and antiques.

The policy that covers your home includes insurance for your personal property as well as the structure it's housed in, usually at 50 percent of the amount of coverage for the dwelling. This means that if you have insured your house for $150,000, your belongings are protected for up to $75,000.

Is this amount sufficient for your collection as well as all your other belongings? That all depends on what your collection contains. If you have a small collection of "collectibles" or less expensive items, the coverage in your homeowner's policy is probably enough. But keep in mind that standard policies usually fix limits on certain types of items such as currency, documents, silver, and jewelry. You should read your policy carefully to see if these limitations affect your collection.

The coverage in homeowner's policies is "unscheduled," that is, it groups all of your goods together rather than listing and valuing them separately. Should a theft or fire occur, it’s your responsibility to prove ownership and the value of the items in your collection. The insurance company will then calculate your losses on the "actual cash value" of those items, figuring in depreciation. If you collect anything other than certifiable antiques, complications can arise over the settlement.

Your insurance company may deem "old and worthless" items you consider “vintage.” So you should keep receipts and other records, especially for less expensive "collectibles" and offbeat items—be sure to print out receipts for anything you purchase at online auction sites. Though claims adjusters are usually on target, any documentation will help —the more the better.

Even if you decide to work within the limits of your standard homeowner policy, you may find that increased coverage is necessary. While that $75,000 may sound like a lot of insurance, you’d be surprised how quickly the normal, everyday contents of a house add up, leaving only partial coverage of your losses.

To remedy this problem, most policies offer the option of a special "endorsement" which allows for a higher percentage of personal property coverage for an additional fee. If you have a collection of any size or value, you’ll probably want to take inventory of your home's entire contents to see whether you should purchase such an endorsement.

Finally, you can also purchase a separate policy to cover valuables such as art, antiques, silver, and the like. And in this case, silver means Sterling, not plate. These policies, known generally as "floaters," cover "scheduled," or listed, items. Each item is listed separately with its own value, usually by means of a written professional appraisal. Those cheap or free online appraisals just won’t do. The benefits of floaters are that each items is covered for its full replacement value because ownership and value are  pre-established, In addition, most floaters will protect the collection against loss as well as theft, a benefit not available through most homeowner's policies.

The cost of such a floater will of course depend on where you live and what you’re insuring. Very portable items of recognizable value command the highest rates. For instance, the amount for jewelry is always higher than for artwork. Prices may also be lower if you store your collection—or part of it—in a safe or safety deposit box, or if your home has a security alarm system. If your collection is worth more than $50,000, your insurance company will probably insist that you install such a system.

Monday, July 1, 2013

A True Premium Collectible

QUESTION: My mother died recently and left me, among other things, her set of Autumn Leaf china. When I was a kid, I remember her setting our dining room table with this colorful china on holidays like Thanksgiving and Christmas, but especially Thanksgiving because the pattern seemed to complement the occasion. The set is still in pretty good condition since she only used it on special occasions. Do you know if this has any value today? While I like it and it does bring back memories, it seems a bit old-fashioned for today’s use.

ANSWER: Your Autumn Leaf china definitely has value today. In fact, it’s held its value over the last 20 years. However, it all depends which types of pieces you have and on their condition.

The Hall China Co. began producing this decal pattern and offering it exclusively through the Jewel Tea Co. of Barrington, Illinois, in 1936, during the Great Depression. This door-to-door sales firm offered Autumn Leaf pieces as premiums for the purchase of other items, such as teas, coffee, grocery items, and laundry products.

During that time, this china was popular with housewives, who literally had to watch every penny. And the only way for them to obtain pieces were as premiums from Jewel Tea. Since the china was of good quality and had a somewhat elegant and colorful design, many housewives considered Hall’s Autumn Leaf Dinnerware as their good dishes, to be used primarily for company. Most pieces stayed in excellent condition because they washed them and put them away immediately after each use.

Determining the value of this dinnerware can be tricky. Prices vary from coast to coast and in different parts of the country. Since most pieces of this pattern would have been used, even as good dishes, they’re usually not sold in mint condition. This means that your mother’s dishes would only sell for half of the mint price. Also, Hall produced many of the more common pieces from 1936 all the way to 1976, a span of 40 years.

Generally, it seems the more odd a piece of Autumn Leaf is, the more it’s worth. Age doesn’t seem to enter into the equation. So this china is a pure collectible.

For instance, a dozen cups and saucers, labeled as “Breakfast cups and saucers” in Jewel Tea advertisements, brings about $120, or $10 each. An Irish coffee mug, on the other hand, sells for around $40. Four berry bowls also sell for $10 apiece while an oval meat platter brings only about $10.

The big money is in some of the more unusual pieces. Since Autumn Leaf sold as a premium, housewives bought a piece or two at a time—a cup and saucer, a dinner plate, a water pitcher, etc. They bought what they needed in quantities they needed. Jewel Tea never sold this china in complete sets. So the number of the more unique pieces sold—coffee and teapots, mixing bowls, salad bowls, cake plates, and such—was smaller in comparison to ordinary place settings.

One of the hottest items is the cookie jar. Introduced in 1957, the "modern-style" cookie jar has two big handles which Jewel liked to call "easy grip." The original selling price of the cookie jar was only $3.That price has since soared to nearly $200. An earlier cookie jar, introduced for Christmas 1936, sold for $1.50 and Jewel Tea offered it for only three years. Ironically, it sells for about the same price as the other jar.

Another item that’s at the top of most Autumn Leaf collectors’ wish lists is the butter dish. These came in several styles, sized to fit either a quarter pound or a whole pound of butter. The first one to be offered by Jewel Tea was a one-pound model with a long handle on the top. Introduced in 1959, it sold for $3.25. But its style proved to be inconvenient, so the company discontinued it after only one season. As with any item offered by Jewel Tea, those which housewives disapproved of were quickly discontinued. Hall produced improved versions of its butter dish with easier-to-grip bud or "bud ray" knobs. Today, collectors can’t buy a butter dish for less than $150. Those with special “wings” handles sell for over $2,000.

The Autumn Leaf pattern includes many types of accessories, including several clocks. One style, made from a regular Autumn Leaf cake plate, produced from 1956-1959, now sells for $400 to $550.