Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Sweets from a Queen

QUESTION: I have an old tin candy box with a picture of the Queen Mary on the front. It says on the side that the box contains candies made by Bensons Confectionery Ltd. of Bury, England. I’ve always like this box and keep extra buttons in it. What can you tell me about it and the Queen Mary?

ANSWER: Bensons was the official confectioner of the Cunard Line, the company that built and operated the R.M.S. Queen Mary. While your box is the more common type, they come in a variety of shapes, including a full rectangle with rounded corners, a more angular rectangle with the corners cut off, and one that has its corners cut off further to almost produce an oval.

The Queen Mary her illustrious career as the most luxurious passenger liner of her day, catering to the rich and famous, on May 27, 1936, the day she departed Southampton, England, on her maiden voyage to New York City, with a stop in Cherbourg, France.  Measuring 1,019 ft long, 118 ft wide, 185 ft high, and weighing in at more than 81,000 gross tons, it was built to accommodate 815 first class, 787 second class, 573 third class passengers and 1,200 crew members.

But the liner’s early days weren’t so smooth sailing. Construction began as job Number 534 on December 1930 at the John Brown Shipyard in Clydebank, Scotland. A year later, Cunard halted construction as the Great Depression took its toll. To get things going again, the British Government loaned Cunard the money to get the project going again with one requirement—that the company merge with its rival The White Star Line.

The infusion of cash was enough to get the ship afloat, and in September 1934, Cunard launched the ship it now called the Queen Mary to great fanfare.

Everyone wanted a piece of the action. Fashion magazines positioned themselves in association with the Queen Mary, as the pinnacle of style and elegance. Advertisers, including   the National Hotel Management Company, which operated a chain of top-end U.S. hotels, also used the maiden voyage to launch promotions of their own.

Unfortunately, World War II put a temporary hold on the ship’s main service. The Queen Mary was just two days way from ending its 143rd crossing cross the Atlantic. The British Admiralty instructed Captain Irving of the Queen Mary to put his ship on war alert in a coded message.

Warned of possible submarine attacks, Irving posted additional lookouts and ordered work crews to extinguish all exterior lights and black out the ship's 2,000 portholes and windows. He also instructed his helmsmen to steer a zigzag course.

Apprehension gripped the passengers as its 2,332 passengers, many of them Americans, realized that they had narrowly escaped Europe as the threat of war became a reality. Two days later, on September 5, 1939, the Queen Mary arrived safely in New York Harbor.

She remained docked at Pier 90 on the Hudson River until March 1940, when the British Admiralty called her into active service. A coat of drab gray paint replaced the bright Cunard livery of black, red, and white. Workers also blocked out the huge letters spelling out the ship’s name. They also removed most of her carpeting, furniture, artwork, as well as 200 cases of crystal, china and silverware and stored them in Cunard warehouses along the Hudson.

The ship then sailed to Sydney, Australia, where Cunard workers transformed the Queen Mary into a troopship. They removed any remaining furniture and all 2,000 stateroom doors
put them into storage. Then they installed wooden bunks and hammocks for troops, converted shops into military offices, and converted her ballroom into a 50-bed hospital.

On her first wartime voyage in 1940, the Queen Mary carried 5,000 troops. Between 1940 and 1946, she made 72 voyages, safely transporting 765,429 military personnel. In fact, in July 1943, she carried 16,683 troops, the largest number of humans ever transported on one vessel at one time—a world record that still stands today.

Until Cunard installed stabilizers in 1956, the Queen Mary was also known as “Rolling Mary.” Cunard even had peach-colored glass used in mirrors in first class so that green-skinned complexions could take on a rosy glow. During a wartime crossing, Bing Crosby spent three days in the cargo hold because the lower on the ship, the steadier the ride.

Following the war, Cunard demilitarized the ship and refitted her. From February to September 1946, she made 13 round trips between Southampton and New York under the U.S. Army's "Operation Diaper," more commonly known as the “Bride and Baby Shuttle.”

A typical war bride menu included a choice of roast loin of fresh pork or cold roast beef, mashed or baked potatoes, salad, fruit, cheese, biscuits and coffee. Not the luxury of prewar meals, but certainly a feast by the standards of the time.

In July 1947, the Queen Mary resumed its role as a luxury passenger liner. She continued to make transatlantic crossings for another 20 years, eventually falling victim to a decline in the number of passengers, as modern travelers embraced air travel.

In May 1967, the Queen Mary had outlived her usefulness. Cunard put her up for sale and the City of Long Beach, California became her new owner for $3,450,000. The ship made a final voyage from Southampton to Long Beach but was too  large to fit through the Panama Canal. As a result, she had to travel down the coast of South America and around Cape Horn.

Conversion from luxury passage liner to floating hotel and tourist .attraction took four years to complete. Today, you can experience her Art Deco opulence and marvel at the 56 different varieties of wood veneers used throughout the ship.

Today, collectors actively seek out any piece of Queen Mary memorabilia, such as this Benson’s candy tin. While the tin sells for around $40 online in good condition, a variety of other items, including posters, timetables, commemorative medallions distributed by the Daily Record, and brochures issued by Cunard White Star Limited announcing the "Launch of No. 534, in the presence of Their Majesties, The King & Queen, Wednesday, September 26, 1934, at Clydebank, are also available.

Monday, June 22, 2015

History in a Jar

QUESTION: I’ve just begun to collect old jars and bottles. Recently, I found an old blue Mason jar at a church sale. Embossed on the front of it are the words “The Clyde.” The letters “CGW” appear on the bottom. I haven’t been able to find any information about this jar. Can you help me out?

ANSWER: It appears that you found an old Mason jar made by the Clyde Glass Works of Clyde, New York, in 1895.

When New York Governor DeWitt Clinton proposed the Erie Canal that would cross the state, linking the Hudson River with the Great Lakes, people sarcastically called it "Clinton’s Big Ditch." A construction project of that magnitude, completed entirely by hand labor, seemed impossible. But by July 4, 1817, construction of the canal had begun. It wasn’t until October 26, 1825 that a canal boat made the first full-length voyage on the new canal.

Frederick Augustus Dezeng, an immigrant from Saxony, Germany, who operated a window glass factory near Geneva, New York, was a good friend of Governor Clinton. He understood the importance of being able to transport goods by water from Lake Erie all the way to New York City via the Hudson River. But more importantly, he realized that shipping his glass by canal boat would be safer and cause less breakage.Even carefully packed, glass didn’t  travel well in horse-drawn carts over bumpy dirt roads of unpredictable condition.

Dezeng saw the potential of doing business via the Erie Canal. Access to firewood to fuel the glass furnaces was a major reason, as was the ease of packet boats bringing in sand from Oneida, New York, along with quantities of potash lime via the Canal. He encouraged his  youngest of five children, William, to set up a glassworks along the Canal in nearby Laurelville, which later changed its name to Clyde.

William S. Dezeng and his brother-in-law, James R. Rees, went into partnership to open a glass factory to make cylinder window glass in 1827. They laid the cornerstone for their new enterprise on March 27, 1828, and the factory began production that year. A newspaper advertisement from 1833 promoted the firm’s glass as  first quality and free from imperfections. This was a major achievement in itself since up to that time window glass had many imperfections. In the process, a glassblower blew molten glass into a cylinder, then cut it it open and annealed it to flatten it out. However, ripples and small bubbles in the finished glass were almost unavoidable.

Though Dezeng and Rees’s glass factory in Clyde, New York, began operation in 1828, the plant didn’t begin producing bottles until 1864. Over the years, the company reorganized periodically—mostly due to retirements, deaths, and new partners— although it maintained a continuity of ownership. In 1880, the owners incorporated as the Clyde Glass Works.  The firm made soda and beer bottles, liquor flasks, and fruit (Mason Patent) jars marked with the Clyde logo.

The G in the logo is very distinctive. The wide-angled G included a downward slash as the serif or tail of the letter, tilted at a much greater angle than most. The “Clyde” embossment on the front of the jar is in a upwardly slanted cursive style.

The firm probably made these jars in 1895 to commemorate the anniversary of the incorporation of the Clyde Glass Works. Originally hand blown, they were eventually made by machines by 1903 but only for a short time. In fact, there are more hand-blown jars on the market today because the factory produced more of them. Workers at the plant ground some of the lips of these jars while leaving others unground. It’s unclear why.

Lackluster sales caused the Clyde Glass Works to close in 1915.

While the Clyde Glass Works’ Mason jars sell on ebay for $15 to $75, those embossed with the words “The Clyde” usually sell for a price at the higher end of the range.

Monday, June 15, 2015

Copycat Camera

QUESTION: I found what I think is a unique 35mm camera this week. I believe it’s from the early 1950s. However, even though I’ve looked, I can’t seem to find too much information about it. It’s called a Leotax, but I’ve never heard of this brand before. What can you tell me about it?

ANSWER: The Leotax isn’t the most prevalent camera on the collectible market, mostly because not a whole lot of them were made. It’s main claim to fame is that it was the Japanese equivalent of the then popular Leica M3, a rangefinder camera with excellent optics and precision.

In January 1938, Nakagawa Kenzo founded a company called Kyoei-sha, based in Nippori, Tokyo. Nakagawa, a former engineer of Konishiroku, obtained financial support from Minagawa Shoten.

By the end of 1938, Kenzo had renamed his company G.K. Showa Kogaku. Its main product was the  Leotax, a Leica-style 35mm camera, initially made with an uncoupled rangefinder. However during its early years, the company manufactured mostly Semi Leotax folding cameras.

Kenzo had a special fondness for Leica cameras, so he set out to develop a Japanese counterpart. But he ran into problems because of the numerous patents Leica had registered for its products. The camera design that Kenzo finally settled on was a rangefinder—a camera in which the photographer views his or her subject through a separate viewfinder. While Leicas had two viewfinders, the Leotax had only one round one, positioned in the upper left hand corner on the back of the camera. Kenzo’s major challenge was finding a way to circumvent Leica’s coupled rangefinder mechanism—that is connecting the viewfinder to the lens.

The Leotax had an uncoupled rangefinder mechanism which had to be set manually on the lens by looking through the viewfinder and rotating a control dial on the top of the camera for the measured distance. While not such a good solution, it did work.  This was the original Leotax camera.

Following World War II, Kenzo changed the company name again to Showa Kogaku Seiki K.K.  In 1942 with the introduction of the Leotax Special A and Special B, the company adopted a coupled short base rangefinder with a scissor strut arrangement for the sensor arm, presumably to circumvent the Leica patents. This sensor arm arrangement necessitated moving the viewfinder of the original Leotax from just above the lens to a position at the extreme left of the top cover as viewed from the rear. These cameras emulated the Leica III with exposure times to 1 second.

Early Leotax Leica type cameras had nicely finished exteriors but crudely finished interiors. By the time the Leotax DIV appeared on the market, the firm had produced a good camera with an equally fine interior and exterior.

Renamed Leotax Camera K.K. in 1956 or 1957, the company continued to produce cameras until 1961. It made only 50 of the pre-World-War-II Leotax models. This particular one seems to be the Leotax DIV (D4), the sixth in a line of 18 models made by the firm from 1938 to 1961.

By 1947, Kenzo had substantially changed the Leotax as a result of the invalidation of all the Leica patents by the Allies. So beginning with the Leotax DIII (D3), all Leotax cameras featured a coupled rangefinder mechanism. In 1950, the firm changed its name again to Showa Optical Works Ltd. and in 1956, underwent its final name change to Leotax Camera Company, Ltd.

In 1961, the company filed for bankruptcy, mainly due to the large quantities of the Leica M3 that had finally come on the market. This Leica featured the far superior bayonet mounting system for its lenses, something which the Leotax didn’t have. And despite the lower price of the Leotax models, they just couldn’t compete with the excellence of the Leica M3.

The final straw came with the introduction of the single lens reflex camera (SLR), with its instant-return mirror, motorized film advance, and modular construction. From then on, the makers of interchangeable lens rangefinder cameras were relegated to oblivion.

The Leotax Camera Company became the second oldest Japanese camera manufacturer, the oldest being Canon.  Of the many small Japanese companies that tried to copy the Leica cameras, the Leotax was the most well-known. A relatively small firm, it produced no more than 50,000 cameras during its lifetime.

Today, most Leotax camera fetch decent prices.  A model of the Leotax DIV in average condition recently sold for $336.  In mint condition, this camera can fetch nearly $1,000.

Monday, June 8, 2015

A Penny a Pack

QUESTION: I recently discovered what looks like a toy slot machine while browsing in a local thrift shop. But instead of different types of fruit in the window, it shows packs of cigarettes.  The machine is painted bright red and blue with silver accents. An emblem showing a sophisticated lady smoking a cigarette appears on the front under the window. What can you tell me about my new toy?

ANSWER: To begin with, your little slot machine isn’t a toy. It’s what’s called a trade stimulator, an item certain businesses used to stimulate business.

Trade stimulators were countertop machines used to encourage shoppers to indulge in a game of chance. They became popular in American saloons during the 1880s. Eventually, cigar, confectionery and general store owners saw their potential for generating business and began using them. Produced in a wide range of designs, these little machines originated around the same time as slot machines. Players inserted a coin and pulled a lever. If they got a winning combination, they won prizes of cigars, cigarettes, candy and other goods. When certain states prohibited gambling, business owners could use these machines without fear of prosecution.

The Groetchen Tool & Manufacturing Company in Chicago, one of many companies that manufactured these little machines, produced a variety of models of trade stimulators from 1936 through 1948. This particular one is known as the Liberty Bell or just Liberty. It stood 10 inches tall, 9 inches wide, and 10 inches deep and weighed about 14 pounds. The Liberty dispensed tokens for l or 5 packs of cigarettes. The three reels in the Liberty Bell have pictures of seven different brands of cigarettes. On the front cover of the slot machine is the image of a sophisticated lady smoking a cigarette that’s almost Art-Deco looking.

Many of these trade stimulators used tokens rather than coins, also known as mints. In many cases, players could exchange these tokens, especially ones marked “mints” for cash "under the counter." Other tokens displayed the words “candy” or “cigarettes” and could be exchanged for them.

J. H. Keeny & Company, which made amusement and gambling machines in Chicago, also produced the tokens used in trade simulators. In the 1960s, the Mills Novelty Company bought J.H. Keeny & Company.

Some machines also disguised themselves as vending machines by giving winners cigarettes or cigars rather than mints. For only one cent, the customer could play the machine by inserting the penny and pulling the handle. If they would line up three of a kind on the reels than the machine dispensed a special token good for a pack of cigarettes at the lower right side of the machine.

To further hide that a machine gave winners cigarettes, some tokens had different numbers of stars rather than saying “2 packs” or 5 packs.” Groetchen also made a trade stimulator machine called the Ginger, which appeared on the market in June of 1937 and took the star tokens. The stars disguised the gambling nature of the machine. As with the mints tokens, it was probably possible to exchange tokens for cash, at least at some businesses.

So what’s a Liberty Bell Penny Cigarette Slot Machine worth?  The "Liberty" Trade Stimulator dates from the early 1940's. The basic model of this machine came in many different configurations, and model types. Many still exist today. This trade stimulator still holds it's own with an average value of $200 in today’s market, despite surviving in great numbers.

During the peak of popularity for trade stimulators, a lot of companies copied each others’ models and gave them different names. However, collectors today are well aware of the many reproduction trade stimulators that have been flooding the market. Even though some began to appear as early as the late 1970’s, most came on the market in the mid-80’s.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                          

Monday, June 1, 2015

Step Right Up and Try Your Luck

QUESTION: I just inherited my mother’s collection of carnival glass. I always admired it while growing up, but she never really told me much about it. Now that I have it, I’d like to continue collecting, but I have no idea where to begin. Can you give me some background on carnival glass and also some tips on growing and maintaining my mother’s collection?

ANSWER: Carnival Glass is pressed glass—glass that has been formed by being pressed into a mold while in a hot molten form—that has had an iridescent coating applied. As it cools, it takes on the shape and detail of the mold. Once removed from the mold, and while still somewhat hot, the glassmaker sprays it with metallic salts in liquid form which gives it an "oil-on-water" multicolor appearance. He then refires the piece.

The Fenton Glass of Williamston, West Virginia, first produced carnival glass, which it called "iridescent ware," in 1907. The company called its first line Iridill and labeled it "Venetian Art."  They wanted to mass-produce a product that could compete with the expensive, iridescent art glass made by Tiffany and Steuben. Though half a dozen companies, including Northwood, Imperial, Millersburg, Westmoreland, Dugan, and Cambridge, originally made it, Fenton did so longer than any of the others.

Competition became so fierce between makers that new patterns appeared regularly, so each company ended up making a wide range of patterns of most types adding up to a panoply of choice.

Its eye-catching multicolor shimmer seems to change colors when viewed at different angles. Over the years, carnival glass has been dubbed "Taffeta," "Cinderella," and "Poor Man's Tiffany," as it gave the average housewife the ability to adorn her home with fancy vases and decorative bowls a prices she could afford.
But this new type of glass didn’t catch on with the public the way Fenton had hoped, especially since they tried pricing it higher than their regular pieces without the carnival finish. Unfortunately, most consumers didn't see carnival glass as quality glass and refused to pay higher prices for it. Other glass manufacturers soon began making carnival glass using the same iridization techniques. This overloaded the market and soon prices plummeted. To get rid of their excess inventory, carnival glass makers at first began giving it away to carnival owners to use as prizes, but later sold sample pieces to them in hopes that winners could then purchase additional items in the same or a similar pattern. Together all the manufacturers produced over 2,000 different patterns.

This new market for carnival glass was a boon for Fenton, which produced iridescent ware in 150 patterns up until the late 1920s. Carnival glass sold for pennies at five-and-dime stores, and businesses could buy it wholesale at minimal cost. This allowed movie theaters and grocery stores to give it away as premiums. For example, Imperial Glass struck lucrative deals with companies like Woolsworth's and Quaker Oats.

Fenton's earliest patterns included Waterlily and Cattails, Vintage, Butterfly and Berries, Peacock Tail, Ribbon Tie, Wreath of Roses, Thistle, and Diamond and Rib. Among Northwood's first glass patterns were Waterlily and Cattails, Cherry and Cable, and Valentine, but Grape and Cable became their most popular. Millersburg collectors look for Hobstar and Feather, Blackberry Wreath, and Rays and Ribbons.

Collectors call the most popular color of carnival glass “marigold,” although the companies, themselves, didn’t call it that. Marigold has a clear glass base and is the most easily recognizable carnival color. The final surface colors of marigold are mostly a bright orange-gold turning perhaps to copper with small areas showing rainbow or 'oil-slick' highlights. The highlights appear mostly on ridges in the pattern and vary in strength according to the light.

Carnival glass is highly collectible. Prices vary widely, with some pieces worth very little, while other, rare items command thousands of dollars.

However, identifying carnival glass can be a challenge. It involves matching patterns, colors, sheen, edges, and thickness from information contained in old manufacturer's trade catalogs, other known examples, or other reference material. Many manufacturers didn’t include a maker's mark on their product, and some did for only part of the time they produced the glass. Since many manufacturers produced close copies of their rivals' popular patterns, carnival glass identification can be difficult even for an expert.

By 1925, carnival glass started to fall out of favor with Americans, and many U.S. glass companies quit producing it during the Great Depression.