Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Over the Topp

QUESTION: When my son was just a young boy back in the 1960s, he seemed to be constantly buying bubble gum. I told him it wasn’t good for him, but he bought pack after pack. It wasn’t until later that I realized he wasn’t buying the packages for the gum but for the cards that came along with it. He’s got his own family now and his kids are grown and off on their own. Recently, I was going through some old shoe boxes and discovered over 100 of these bubble gum cards. To my surprise, they didn’t picture sports heroes, like baseball players, but instead showed everything from animals to stars of T.V. shows. What can you tell me about these cards and are they worth anything?

ANSWER: Believe it or not, your son’s cards are highly collectible. While they may not have a high monetary value, their value is in their collectibility. These cards, often called “bubble gum” cards are commonly known as “non-sports” cards because they depict subjects that aren’t sports related. They’re also referred to as “entertainment” cards because their subject matter, at least in the past 20-30 years, has portrayed subjects such as comic book heroes, T.V. shows, movie stills, cartoon characters, as well as pop culture, science fiction, trains, dinosaurs, music, history, and the military.

The original makers, including bubble gum makers like Topps, the leading producer of sports and non-sports trading cards, designed them to be collected into sets. But to do so required young collectors to buy lots and lots of packages of bubble gum in order to find the cards they needed to complete a set.

Cigarette makers over a century ago provided the earliest popularly collected versions of most trading cards—issuing one per pack. At that time, most of the cigarette cards featured images of sports figures, but eventually, cigarette manufacturers began including images of various subjects from outside the world of sports. These included scenes of famous places, exotic animals, and people from the world of entertainment.

As the cigarette makers stopped issuing cards with their products, bubble gum, cereal, and candy makers began to include a non-sport or sports card as a bonus in their packages. By the 1950s both sports and non-sport cards had achieved a popularity that made the cards, themselves, the point of sale. While bubble gum makers continued to include a piece of gum in most packs of non-sport cards up until about 1990, after that, they stopped including the cards in their packs. Very few card issues since 1990  have included bubble gum in the packs, making the once common term "bubble gum cards" a misnomer today.

While non-sports cards initially featured real world subjects such as entertainers, animals, and famous places, their success expanded with the introduction of new concepts created specifically for the cards. These included the popular Wacky Packages product label parody sticker cards from the Topps Company, issued originally from the late 1960s through the mid-1970s. Cards depicting historical events have also been popular with collectors.

Over the past 50 years, cards based on television series and movies have really gained a foothold. In fact, media-based cards account for a large portion of the cards produced. Some of the most popular media-based non-sport cards have been based on Star Wars, Star Trek, Batman in both T.V. and movies, Planet of the Apes, Lord of the Rings, and Buffy the Vampire Slayer. There are also sets from the Munsters, the Addams Family, and the Three Stooges.

Cards based on movies and TV shows such as Star Wars often relate the story of the movie or series in both picture and editorial form. The front of the cards have a picture of an event or person from the show or movie, while the back describes the event pictured on the front. Often these sets will include character cards as well as behind the scenes or quote cards.

Other popular modern day non-sport cards feature characters from comic books, including Batman and Spiderman and others from Marvel Comics, DC Comics, and comic books from independent publishers.

While most card sets include a title card and a checklist card—the first and last cards respectively—most non-sport card sets now include different levels of insert cards in the packs. Topps and other companies started this by including a sticker in each pack of cards. Now inserts can include autograph cards, sketch cards (featuring the original sketch for a card), cards that complete a nine-card puzzle (usually by combining the backs of the cards), memorabilia, along with parallel sets which mimic the standard cards in the set with some slight difference like the color of the border or the finish on the card. For instance, the background might be plain or holographic as in a set from Star Trek Voyager.

The goal for collectors is to assemble complete sets, either of different subjects or variations of one subject. For instance, take Batman from DC Comics. The character has been the subject of dozens of trading card sets. A collector interested in assembling a complete collection of Batman trading cards today needs to search eBay for unopened boxes of up to 60 cards—six packs of ten cards each. Out of these boxes, a collector should be able to compile a complete set, as well as several duplicate cards for trading or resale.

The greatest potential for investment-quality cards lies in the vintage sets published before 1980. These sets, in premium condition, can be difficult to complete but are highly collectible. Collectors may also choose to assemble complete sets of the same cards printed specifically for the Canadian or UK markets. Because of the popularity of these sets, it’s common to find reprints on the market that look similar to the originals. Beginning collectors should remember that it’s unlikely that a 1966 Batman Black set in mint condition will appear on eBay for $20.

Virtually every major pop culture phenomenon of the past 50 years has at some point been immortalized in non-sport trading cards. However, the places where collectors can find these cards have become limited. Non-sport card shows, held in every major city around the country, feature dealers selling every type of non-sport card. And while retailers like Walmart do carry sets devoted to hit movie blockbusters, they do so for only a  short time. Comic book stores used to be a great source for purchasing and trading these cards but even they sell fewer of them. Besides the card shows, the best place to find cards to start or fill out a collection is online.

There are plenty of vintage sets and cards worth hundreds of dollars and many more worth tens of dollars, but newer cards aren’t really worth the paper they’re printed on. The availability of non-sports cards allows collectors a quick and relatively inexpensive way to begin or add to their collections. With non-sport trading cards, it’s all about the love of collecting. 

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

The Purity of Milk Glass

QUESTION: I just purchased a service for eight of milk glass dishes made by Westermoreland Glass of Pennsylvania at an estate sale. The set seems complete and came with serving dishes, a meat platter, and beautiful hand-painted dessert plates. It’s a stunning set, but I know nothing about it. What can you tell me about my set?

ANSWER: Your set of dishes only dates from the late 1940s or early 1950s, so it isn’t that old. By this time, the Westmoreland Glass Company specialized in making opaque white milk glass and was the leading manufacturer of it in the country.

In 1889, a group of men purchased  the Specialty Glass Company of East Liverpool, Ohio. They relocated the firm to Grapeville, Pennsylvania, to take advantage of the area’s abundant supply of natural gas. By the following year, two brothers, George and Charles West, had begun to oversee the production of tumblers, goblets, pitchers, and glass novelty items.

George and Charles West eventually became majority stockholders in the company.  They decided to buy out the Ohio founders and enlisted the help of Ira Brainard, a financial backer from nearby Pittsburgh, and changed the firm’s name to the Westmoreland Specialty Company.

Brainard’s son, James J. Brainard, became an officer in the company in 1924. At that time, Westmoreland mainly produced glass tableware, mustard jars, and candy containers.

Operation of the factory ran smoothly for nearly 30 years. During this period, Westmoreland produced virtually every type of glassware, from inexpensive pressed glass to pricier cut glass. Disagreements between the two brothers eventually resulted in George leaving the company, which Charles ran on his own. Around the same time, Charles changed the name of the company to Westmoreland Glass Company to eliminate the confusion among consumers about what a “specialty” company might actually produce—adding the word “glass” made the company’s mission clear.

Throughout World War I, the Westmoreland Glass Company manufactured and distributed intricately molded, candy-filled glass jars in the shapes of automobiles, trains, and even revolvers to newsstands and dime stores across the U.S. The jars were made of high-quality milk glass, or opal, a signature material that distinguished Westmoreland glass from its competitors.

In the 1920s, Charles added a large decorating department, which allowed for the distribution of impressive crystal and decorated ware. But it was milk glass that kept the company in the black. Indeed, over 90 percent of all Westmoreland glass produced between the 1920s and 1950s was milk glass.

In 1937, Charles West retired and sold his interest to the Brainard family, which controlled the company until 1980. In the 1940s, the Brainards phased out the high-quality hand-decorated glass and began to produce primarily milk glass. James J. Brainard’s son, James H. Brainard, took over the firm upon the death of his father.

Thanks to their high level of craftsmanship, many considered Westmoreland milk glass pieces to be the finest in the country. Many of the patterns produced in the 1950s  capitalized on the material’s earlier popularity. Among the most successful patterns were Paneled Grape, Old Quilt, Quilted, English Hobnail, Beaded Edge, and American Hobnail.

The Beaded Edge pattern was Westmoreland’s own creation. It can be found in both plain and decorated milk glass.  Beaded Fruit was the most popular hand-painted decoration for these wares. There are eight different fruits represented—apples, pears, plums, strawberries, blackberries, cherries, grapes, and peaches. Items bearing these fruit decorations are usually harder to find.

Hand-painted birds are another decoration that Westmoreland used on its Beaded Edge wares.  The dessert plates in this set would have been a special order, so they’re scarce today. Some Beaded Edge wares also featured floral decorations.

As the 1950s drew to a close, though, the popularity of milk glass waned. Westmoreland struggled through the 1970s, and by the time the 1980s rolled around, the company needed a new owner to stay afloat. The enthusiastic David Grossman purchased Westmoreland in 1981, but despite a valiant effort to revive the business, interest in milk glass just wasn’t there. On January 8, 1984, almost 100 years after its founding, the factory shut down.

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

As the Apple Turns

QUESTION: A few months ago, my family set about cleaning out an old barn that belonged to my grandfather. Boy, did we find some interesting stuff. We can’t identify one of the items and wondered if you can help us. It’s a machine type device with a crank and what seems like crab-like claws hanging from some sort of gear system. Can you tell us what this is and a bit about it if possible?

ANSWER: I believe you’ve found what would have been a treasure to the farm family that previously owned the barn. Today, we don’t see machines like this anymore, but back in the second half of the 19th century, they were commonplace. What you’ve found is a commercially made apple paring machine, dating around 1880.

To paraphrase the opening line of one of America’s longest-running soap operas, “As the apple turns, so do the days of our lives.” And so it was for many people, especially farmers and their families, who relied on the ordinary apple to quench their thirst in the form of cider and to fill snacking and baking needs throughout the year. But before they could do anything with their apples, they had to remove the skin. And that’s where the lowly parer comes in.

When the apple parer first appeared in England during the 1840s, it caused much amusement. But it had been a staple of American life since the late 17th century. Apples played a vital role in the diet of the American Colonists. Fearful of drinking the local water, lest they become ill, the Colonists took to making apple cider. Plus they dried apples for use during the cold winters.

William Blaxton, a clergyman from Beacon Hill in Boston, Massachusetts, planted the first apple orchard in 1635. Later he propagated a sweet yellow apple which he dubbed Blaxton’s Yellow Sweeting.

Colonists picked apples in the fall, then pared, cored, and cut them into slices which they strung on strong linen thread and hung to dry. They also made applesauce, apple butter, and apple vinegar, all of which required the apples to be pared and sliced.

To offset the drudgery of paring apples, they held “apple bees.” Members of various farming communities gathered together, rotating from farm to farm, to socialize and pare apples. According to the November 1859 Harper's Weekly, a popular pastime during such bees was for a young woman to throw the string of apple paring over her shoulder where it would form the initial of the name of her future husband when it hit the ground.

But there was still the drudgery of paring apples until Yankee inventiveness created a wide variety of paring machines. The first parer, devised by 13-year-old Eli Whitney of later cotton gin fame, appeared in 1778. But it was Joseph Sterling of South Woodstock, Vermont, who came up with a mechanical parer in 1781. In 1801, Thomas Blanchard, another 13-year-old, from Worcester County, Massachusetts, came up with his version of an apple parer. Finally, Moses Coates of Downing’s Field, Pennsylvania---now Coatesville---obtained the first U.S. patent for an apple parer on February 14, 1803.

Whether basic or complex in design, one thought was clear—pare the apple as quickly and as efficiently as possible.

The first parers were wooden and featured a shaft with a turning crank on one end and a wood or metal fork on the other to hold the apple. The operator turned the crank with one hand and guided, with the other hand, a wooden handle with a mounted blade or knife, paring the apple.

Farmers made early parers by hand. They copied the devices of other farmers and borrowed ideas from farm magazines to fashion their own devices. The various types of early parers are amazing, including, to name a few, the straddle board, table top, table mount, table mount gallows, floor pedestal, leg strap, knee hold, and bench.

As these primitive machines evolved, their makers speeded up the turning of the fork holding the apple with the addition of cords, belts and gears, and anchored the paring cutter in an upright post, although still guided by hand, as in Coates’ parer.

It was inventor Ephraim C. Pratt who was credited with the first practical parer with the blade being guided over the apple mechanically with spring tension, leaving the operator a free hand to pull off the pared apple and put on " a new one. Pratt’s parer  allowed the knife to vibrate and accommodate itself to any irregularity in the surface of the apple.

Essentially, apple parers can be organized into five categories—Lathe, Turntable, Arc or geared segment, and Return, quick or otherwise, as well as the Commercial models added later on.

Tuesday, April 4, 2017

An American Tradition

QUESTION: My grandmother always had several hooked rugs on the floors in her house. I grew up playing on them and grew to love them. As an adult, I’ve learned how to make them and have purchased several antique ones. But no one seems to know anything about antique hooked rugs, other than approximately when they were made. Can you tell me more about these beautiful old rugs? I’d love to know how rug hooking began and how it got to where it is today.

ANSWER: The making of hooked rugs dates from New England in the early 19th century. Poor farmers’ wives, in need of some padding on cold dirt floors, began using old fabric scraps no longer suitable for clothing which they cut into strips and pulled through old burlap sacks to create mats for their floors. And while these original rugs were somewhat crude, the women who made them got ideas for improving the process and for decorative patterns from their friends and neighbors.

For centuries the method of pulling loops of colored material through a mesh of open fabric was well known but the settlers who came to America. The technique of pulling up or hooking rag strips and woolen yarns through a woven fabric base proved to be an economical and undemanding method of making floor coverings for drafty homes. Plus the simplicity the simplicity of the hooking process allowed rug makers the freedom to express their individual creativity.

While the craft began earlier in the 19th century, it wasn’t until the 1850s, when jute burlap from the Indies, which lasted longer than earlier materials, came into common use for burlap feed sacks, that rug hooking gained popularity. Women would stretch the empty burlap feed sacks onto a wooden frame, draw a pattern with a charcoal stick, and then draw yarn or thread through the burlap. And while the result was usually artful as well as very practical, it look a long time to make a rug. To make a rug with an intricate pattern took nearly as long as it took to sew a full quilt. 

By the 1860's, the art of making hooked rugs had spread all over New England and as far away as Ohio, Tennessee, and North Carolina.

By 1867, Philena Moxley of Massachusetts had begun stamping patterns of horses, dogs and other animals onto the burlap to allow homemakers to then produce hooked rugs without first sketching a pattern. By the 1870's peddlers were traveling from house to house selling stenciled designs on burlap. It wasn’t long before general storekeepers began selling hooked rug patterns and completed rugs.

Ebenezer Ross enhanced the process of hooked rug making in 1886 with the invention of a mechanical punch-hook in Toledo, Ohio. Prior to that time, rug makers used crochet hooks made of wood, bone, or metal. Ross and his company became a major supplier of the punch-hook in both the eastern and central United States, and by 1891 the company also published a catalog of 56 color-printed patterns. Ross’ catalog stated, "every household has a supply of odds and ends, rags and ravelings which can be woven into articles beauty and utility.”

In 1895 the Montgomery Ward catalog featured patterns that included a Spaniel dog with  lake and mountains in the background.

Rugs depicting ships, landscapes, and people required far more skill than the simpler deigns. Those who were unable to purchase a commercial pattern often relied on a talented family member or friend to  draw the design. One or more family members would then hook the rug.

Because pictorial patterns took longer and required more skill, many rug makers chose, instead, to use floral or geometric patterns.

Floral patterns very often involved combinations of trees, flowers, vines, branches, and leaves. One of the most common featured a bouquet of flowers in the middle surrounded by a vine border. They were frequently produced on commercial patterns following the Civil War and into the1920's and 1930's.

Rug makers usually produced geometric patterns—featuring rectangles, squares, circles, and ovals—freehand. They were as popular as homemade patterns as they were commercial ones.

Still, commercial patterns persisted. Among the many innovators was Edward Sands Frost, a disabled veteran, who sold patterns made from metal stencils to the women of New England and built up a business which flourished into the 20th century.

By 1908, Sears, Roebuck and Company joined the many companies offering patterns with a selection that included a pretty flower design, Arabian horse, a large lion, and two kittens playing on a carpet.

During the 1920's and early 1930's, cottage industries of hooked rug making flourished in sites like Deerfield Industries in Deerfield, Massachusetts, Rosemont Industries in Marion, Virginia, Pine Burr Studio in Apison, Tennessee, and the Spinning Wheel in Asheville, North Carolina.

The popularity of hooked rugs peaked in the 1850s and again in the 1890s as part of the Arts and Crafts Movement which lasted well beyond the turn of the century, and as part of the American Colonial Revival of the latter 1920's. They were also popular for a time during the 1950s era of Early American decor.

Because hooked rugs were made in the home for personal use, they can seldom be traced back to their original maker or pinned down to an exact date. Those believed to be over 100 years old command the highest prices. 

Monday, March 27, 2017

Up and Down and Around the World

QUESTION: I used to love playing with yo-yos as a kid. In fact, I was quite good at it. Recently, while rummaging through some boxes in my attic, I came across my favorite yo-yos. At the time in the late 1950s, I thought they had just been invented, but saw a kid playing with one in a period drama on Netflix. Can you tell me when and how these neat little toys came to be? Are they collectible today?

ANSWER:  A yo-yo in its simplest form is a toy consisting of an axle connected to two disks, similar to a slender spool, with a length of string looped around the axle. To play with it, a person creates a slip knot into which he or she inserts one finger, allowing gravity or the force of a throw to spin the yo-yo and unwind the string, then allowing the yo-yo to wind itself back to the hand. This process is known as  "yo-yoing" and first became popular in the 1920s. But the yo-yo goes back a lot further in history.

Although first recorded on ancient vases from early Greece showing boys playing with thin disks on a string, the invention of the yo-yo probably first occurred in China. The first yo-yos probably consisted of two painted terracotta clay disks, followed by ones made of wood, then metal. But once the yo-yo became commonplace, its popularity spread. By the mid 18th century, its use had spread to India where a handpainted miniature box depicts a young girl playing with a yo-yo. Over the next 25 years, yo-yos made of glass and ivory appeared in all over Europe and the Orient.

During the French Revolution, people used yo-yos to relieve stress—they had to do something while waiting for the next head to fall. They also became fashionable toys, called l'emigrette—a French word that referred to leaving the country---for the nobility. A painting of future King Louis XVII displayed in 1789 depicted the four-year-old palming his l'emigrette. Sketches of soldiers made during the 1780s, including General Lafayette and his troops, show the men tossing their yo-yos. As yo-yo usage gained in popularity throughout France in the late 18th century, the toy became known as the joujou de Normandie, or toy of Normandy, which some believe to be the origin for the modern American name of "yo-yo."

The yo-yo earned the title "Prince of Wales" toy in 1791 when a picture appeared of the future George IV twirling a bandalore as the English called it. Legend says that during the Battle of Waterloo on June 18, 1815, Napoleon and his troops used their yo-yos to "unwind" before battle.

But it wasn’t until 1866 that the yo-yo reached the United States after two Ohio men applied for a patent for their invention which they called "an improved bandalore." Their  improvement was a weighted rim.

An article published in the Scientific American Supplement in 1916, entitled “Filipino Toys,” included a picture of what it called a yo-yo, a word some people defined as Filipino for "to return"or "spring."

Pedro Flores, a Filipino immigrant, introduced the Filipino yo-yo to the United States in the 1920s. He established the Yo-yo Manufacturing Company in Santa Barbara, California in 1928. Flores’ yo-yos had a unique feature. His workers hand-carved his yo-yos from one piece of wood. They were the first such toy that could spin or "sleep" because the string looped around the axle. Players could not only make this forerunner to the modern yo-yo go up and down, but they could also perform endless tricks. Flores began making a dozen handmade toys, but by November 1929, he had two additional factories in operation, one in Los Angeles and one in Hollywood, which together employed 600 workers and produced 300,000 units daily.

One day, Donald F. Duncan Sr., an American businessman, watched Flores perform his tricks in San Francisco. Eyeing the large group of people watching Flores' demonstration, Duncan realized the possibilities of this toy. In1929, he bought the rights to Flores’ yo-yo, patented the name "yo-yo," and promoted it in the United States. Duncan hired 42 demonstrators— one of whom was Pedro Flores—to teach and demonstrate yo-yo feats and hold contests as a means of increasing sales throughout the country and in Western Europe.

In 1946, Duncan relocated his company in Luck, Wisconsin. The company produced  3,600 yo-yos each hour. Four years later, Duncan introduced the Electric Lighted yo-yo, marking the first such toy to light up. During the late 1950s, Duncan released the Butterfly model yo-yo, a high-tech design that made it much easier to land on the string while executing complex tricks. Plastic yo-yos soon followed in 1960. In 1962, the company sold a record 45 million yo-yos.

An expensive lawsuit to protect the yo-yo trademark from competitors forced the Duncan family out of businesses in Nov. 1965. Flamboyant Products, manufacturer of Duncan’s plastic models, bought the company and still owns it today. The yo-yo’s popularity hasn’t waned.

The yo-yo holds the honor of being the first toy in space when astronauts put it through its paces in 1985 aboard the Space Shuttle Discovery. They discovered that gravity is needed to play with a yo-yo.

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Nothing to Get Depressed About

QUESTION: My mother loves Depression Glass. She’s been collecting for over 20 years. I love the colors, but all the patterns confuse me. Other than being made during the Great Depression, why did so many companies make this type of glass and why is it so popular with collectors?

ANSWER: Of all the collectibles out there, Depression glass is one of the most popular with collectors, most likely for its rainbow of colors and its myriad of patterns. Depression glass is far from a depressing collectible. In fact, companies made it in such bright colors to raise the mood of people going through one of the worst times in their lives. They also made it affordable so that this little bit of joy could reach as many people as possible.

The common belief is that this clear, colored translucent, or opaque glassware got its name because it was made during the Great Depression. This is a bit of a misnomer because decorative glass of this type had been around since as early as 1914 and as late as 1960. However, the production of Depression glass did indeed reach its peak during the years of the Great Depression.

During the first half of the 20th century, the Ohio River Valley was the epicenter of glass production. Companies like Westmoreland and Fenton Glass had access to the raw materials and power they needed to keep their glass production costs down. Over 20 manufacturers made more than 100 patterns of Depression glass, some in entire dinner sets.

Although mass production of this low-quality molded glass made it fairly inexpensive at the time, not everyone could afford it. Everyday essentials were far more important, but thanks to glass companies like Indiana, Imperial, Federal, Jeanette, Hazel Atlas, and Anchor Hocking, the wares were available to everyone for a few pennies or nothing.

For instance, a bag of Quaker Oats flour might include a premium piece of dinnerware. The company also made laundry detergent, in which it packaged “a little extra something” to make the drudgery of  wash day more bearable. The pattern, size, and color were a mystery to the user until she opened the box. Collecting the pieces to use became a common pastime and made people’s lives a little brighter.  Other companies followed Quaker Oats’ lead and began using Depression glass as a premium to help sell their products.

Depression glass pieces also lined the shelves at five-and-ten-cent stores like Woolworth’s or if people went to the movies on Tuesday or Wednesday nights when patronage was low, they might win a set of dishes. Some theater owners handed out small pieces just for attending a show.

The Cherry Blossom pattern, made by the Jeanette Glass Company from 1930 to 1939, came in both pink and green. While most collectors of Depression glass favor the color green, it also came in a rainbow of other common colors, including crystal (clear), pink, pale blue, green, and amber. Less common colors included canary (yellow), ultramarine, jadeite (opaque pale green), delphite (opaque pale blue), cobalt blue, ruby (red), black, amethyst, and milk glass (opague white).

Later Depression Glass, made during the 1940s and 1950s, included American Prescut, sold only in clear crystal, and other patterns in ruby and forest green. The top-of-the-line pattern has always been Pink Miss America, made by the Hocking Glass Company from 1935 to 1938.

While over 100 companies made Depression Glass during the Great Depression, by the time it had ended, only half that many were still producing it. And of these, only seven—Federal, Hazel-Atlas, MacBeth-Evans, and U.S. Glass—produced this glass exclusively through the mid-1940s.

The Imperial Glass Company produced the first pattern, Fancy Colonial, in 1914, well before the Great Depresssion began. Westmoreland Glass has the distinction of making the English Hobnail pattern the longest.

The most colors made for any one pattern are 11, done for Moondrop and Rock Crystal, followed by English Hobnail by Westmoreland, Lincoln Inn by Fenton, and Floral by Jeanette, all with 10 colors each. 

Identifying Depression glass by mark can be difficult because few of the companies marked or labeled their wares. The only way to identify a maker is to know which company made the pattern. Using the numerous books and Web sites on Depression glass available today, it’s a fairly easy process. Some of the most common include Adam, American Sweetheart, Block Optic,Cherry Blossom, Dogwood, Floral, Georgian, Hobnail, Lake Como, Manhattan, Starlight, and Windsor. While some of the names reflect the style of the glass pattern itself, most do not. 

The best way to determine a genuine piece of Depression glass is to learn the pattern, dates of manufacture, colors the pattern, and any other known identifying marks. One example is the Cherry Blossom pattern by the Jeannette Glass Company, introduced in 1930 and made until 1939. The set consisted of 43 pieces different pieces, and the company made it in seven different colors—green, pink, crystal, yellow, ruby, jadeite, and dark green.

Depression glass was never made to be durable as it was only made to meet people’s immediate needs. Due to its popularity as a collectible and its breakability, Depression glass is becoming harder to find. Rare pieces often sell for several hundred dollars. Popular and expensive patterns and pieces have been reproduced, and reproductions are still being made, which has watered down the market for some patterns.

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Mementos From the World of Tomorrow

QUESTION:  My grandmother gave me this item from the 1939 New York World’s Fair,  which I am guessing is a jewelry box. It had been in her possession since she visited the Fair. If you would have any information it would be greatly appreciated.

ANSWER: Corporations, makers of fine china, novelties, and toys made over 25,000 different souvenir items for the 1939 New York World’s Fair. Each represented an exhibit or the general theme of the Fair and gave fairgoers something to take back home. There were plates and puzzles, pencil sharpeners and typewriters, and even birthday candles in the shape of the Fair’s symbols—the Trylon and Perisphere.

As the Great Depression came to a close, the optimism expressed by the 1939 New York World’s Fair gave our nation hope. It was not only a look into the future, but a way to let people know about the accomplishments that had been made, even as many fought poverty and starvation.

The 1939–40 New York World's Fair, which covered 1,216 acres of Flushing Meadows, was the second most expansive American world's fair of all time, exceeded only by St. Louis's Louisiana Purchase Exposition of 1904. Sixty foreign countries participated in it, and over 44 million people attended its exhibits during its two-season run. This Fair was the first exposition to be based on the future, with an opening slogan of "Dawn of a New Day", and it allowed all visitors to take a look at "the world of tomorrow."

World’s fairs have introduced new ideas to the world ever since the first one held in London in 1851. They were momentous events and visitors to them wanted things that would make their experience at a fair memorable and lasting. Souvenirs of these fairs not only offer a look at how people lived at the time but also give us a snapshot of history.

Modern marketing techniques had been in practice since before the turn of the century. Everyone knows Coca Cola’s bold ads featuring everything from pin-up girls to Santa Claus. Marketing the New York World’s Fair wasn’t to be any different. While radio was common, television was not, so one of the ways companies advertised was through samples and giveaways. The souvenirs of the 1939 Fair provided ample opportunities for them to tout their wares to a public recently freed from the bonds of the Great Depression.

Fiesta made plates depicting a potter at his wheel, there were numerous types of hand-painted Nippon ware to choose from, and there were even knockoffs of Wedgwood and Lalique. RCA made a commemorative radio, Remington offered a portable typewriter, and Macy’s sold Dutch Girl dolls. Lighters, compacts, and ashtrays were also popular, as were coins, pins, buttons, badges, and pocket knives.

The variety of souvenirs and items from World's Fair events is seemingly endless—everything from dainty handkerchiefs to trivets. Even the most avid collector is sure to find a never-before-seen piece from time to time.

The fair opened on April 30, 1939, with 260,000 people in attending. This date coincided with the 150th anniversary of George Washington’s inauguration in Lower Manhattan as the first president of the United States.

To show off the exhibits in the best possible way, the New York World’s Fair planners  divided it into themed zones, such as the Transportation Zone. the Communications and Business Systems Zone, the Food Zone, and the Government Zone. While there were general souvenirs of the entire Fair, each zone and pavilions within it had their own special ones.

Planners chose blue and orange, the colors of New York City, as the official colors of the Fair, so many souvenirs bear these colors. Only the Trylon and Perisphere were  white. Avenues stretching out into the zones from the Theme Center featured rich colors that changed the further out they went from the center.

Each day at the fair was a special theme day, for which the Fair Corporation issued special souvenirs, including buttons, postage stamps, and first day covers, cancelled at the event honoring that special day. The fair opened on April 30, 1939, with 260,000 people in attending. This date coincided with the 150th anniversary of George Washington’s inauguration in Lower Manhattan as the first president of the United States. So this day had its share of appropriate souvenirs.

Some of the more popular pavilions included that of General Motors, Ford, and Chrysler. The railroads were another prominent exhibitor at the Fair, as well as A T&T and IBM. And each participating country, including France, had a pavilion. Most likely this jewelry box came from the French pavilion since Art Nouveau, the style of the box, was a decidedly French creation.

For more information on souvenirs of the 1939 New York World’s Fair, please read
Souvenirs from the 1939 New York World's Fair Highly Collectible” and “1939 New York World’s Fair Lives On Through Collectibles.”

Monday, March 6, 2017

And Away We Go

QUESTION: I’ve always loved to go sledding. And as an adult, I still love it. My trusty companion is an old Flexible Flyer sled. It has seen many a snow-covered hill. But I really don’t know very much about it. What can you tell me?

ANSWER:  The Flexible Flyer, invented by Samuel L. Allen in the late 1880s, was the first steerable sled.  With his invention, sledding would never be the same.

Allen’s prominent Philadelphia Quaker parents sent him to the Westtown Boarding School in Chester County, Pennsylvania, as age 11. After graduation, he moved to the family farm in 1861 near Westfield, New Jersey, half-way between Moorestown and Riverton, where he married became a farmer. Soon he established a company to manufacture farm implements. But since this was seasonal, Allen needed a product he could make in the summer and sell in the winter. He decided to make sleds.

Allen’s first sled, known as the "Fairy Coaster," was a double runner bob sled that held three or four adults. Light and folding easily for transport, the sled’s runners and supports were made of steel with plush seats. But at $50.00, it cost too much to sell in quantity. He began testing his sleds at Westtown School —also known for its part in the development of the game Monopoly—near West Chester, Pennsylvania and his alma mater.

It wasn’t until he came up with the ideas for a T-shaped runner and slatted seat, both new concepts at this time, that he made any progress. After it was proven, Allen called his sled the Flexible Flyer, an appropriate name because the sled was fast considering its weight and size and the only steerable sled at the time.

Allen eventually convinced two great department stores, John Wanamaker in Philadelphia and R.H. Macy in New York, to sell his Flexible Flyers. By 1915, he was selling 2,000 sleds a day. But what put Allen’s sled over the top was the interest of the exclusive Tuxedo Club in Tuxedo Park, New York. Tobogganing was already in vogue at Tuxedo Park when the New York State Tuxedo Club purchased Allen’s Flexible Flyer sleds.

If a collector has two sleds with the same name, he or she might think they were made by the same company, but this isn’t necessarily so. Names were interchanged from one company to another. Collectors should look for variety of sleds. There are lots of sleds, unnamed and dilapidated that sell for cheap.

Collectors should first look for the company’s name, mark, or model number which is usually found on the back side of the center deck board unless it’s worn off. If there are no markings, then collectors must rely on visual differences like the design and style of the frame, steering bar, and deck.

As with other collectibles, condition, availability, desirability, rarity, and potential for resale. A slight change in style, design, or color can put a sled in a different decade, increasing or decreasing its value.

Every company that manufactured sleds "copied" the revolutionary design of the Flexible Flyer, in some cases right down to the advertising. There are reproductions.

Well-preserved early 20th-century sleds make infrequent, yet steady appearances on the market and collectors hotly pursue them. Generally, they sell in the low to mid $100s. And, yes, prices are rising in that a fine sled rarely slips through without attracting the attention of someone who appreciates its value. The older 19th-century sleds appear rarely and some sell for up to $1,000.

The 1914 Flexible Flyer, with an all-steel frame, original trademark eagle, shield and ribbon-scroll work on deck, and pinstriped steering bar sells for $100-150. It originally sold for $3.50.

Old sleds are readily available. Those in the best condition command the highest prices. A Flexible Flyer in excellent condition can sell for over $500.

Monday, February 27, 2017

Getting an Appraisal

QUESTION:  I have inherited a tall case clock and am looking for some guidance. The clock is said to be at least from the time of the Revolutionary War. There’s a slit in the back that I’m told is from a soldier putting a sword through. I’m trying to get a value for shipping and also for fairness for other family members in the event it’s really valuable. Can you help me?

ANSWER: Contrary to popular opinion, not just anyone can valuate an antique or collectible. Asking someone how much an object is worth is like asking if it will rain tomorrow. The only way to know what an antique, especially a potentially valuable one such as this clock, is worth is by having it “appraised” by a professional appraiser. And only a professional appraisal is legally binding when it comes to insurance claims or inheritances.

Exactly what is an appraisal? An appraisal is the paid opinion of an expert on the value of an object based on known facts. In the case of antiques and collectibles, known facts include records from more than one sale at more than one auction, the latest published price guides, and personal experience gained from buying and selling similar items many years.

While a verbal appraisal may offer an indication of how much an item is worth, a professional written one is the only one legally recognized by insurance companies and the courts. It must be based on fact and able to stand challenges in court. However, written appraisals, even for one item, can take hours to prepare and are expensive, but are absolutely necessary to prove an item’s worth.

A verbal appraisal, on the other hand, is an informal one. Usually, the person giving the appraisal spends no time researching auction records and price guides. Therefore, a verbal appraisal is an opinion based on first hand knowledge.

Formal appraisals fall into two categories—replacement and fair market value. Insurance companies require the former, while estate valuations require the latter.

Replacement value is generally defined as the price at which an object would be available on the retail market. In other words, what an antique dealer would charge for a particular item.

When you try to insure a collection, the insurance company wants to know how much it will cost to replace it. The same applies for a single piece of furniture. The insurance company won’t accept a verbal appraisal as the basis of settling a claim. Instead, they require a written appraisal with proof of replacement cost.

Fair market value, on the other hand, is best described as "the price that property would sell for on the open market between a willing buyer and willing seller, with neither being required to act, and both parties having reasonable knowledge of the reasonable knowledge of the relevant facts.

But whatever the appraised value, an object will bring only a percentage of its replacement value when offered for sale—generally between 40 and 60 percent below replacement cost. Items that sell extremely slow will sell for only about 30 percent of replacement value, while those that sell fast may bring 80 to 90 percent of replacement value.

With so many auction sites online these days, it’s easy to pull one up and do a search for a particular antique or collectible to see what it may be selling for. Most people use eBay. Unfortunately, the amounts listed on eBay may not reflect an object’s true value. If the object is listed on an auction site, then, as with live auctions, the price could go way above the object’s current value due to competition between bidders. If someone really wants an antique or collectible, they may stop at no amount of money to obtain it.

Too many homeowners use this as an easy way to price items in a yard or garage sale. Flea marketers do the same. This is why so many items that are actually worth much less are selling for higher prices today at these venues.

Prices of objects at antique shows usually sell for the amount of their value or a little less. However, some sell for what the dealer perceives to be the value of the object. High-end dealers selling objects for four to six figures do their research and know their market. Those selling at middle-market shows, sometimes do research about an item, but, more often than not, just guess at an item’s value and price it for what they think the market will bear.

To find a professional antiques appraiser near you, contact the International Society of Appraisers

For more information, read my article on appraisals in The Antiques Almanac.

Monday, February 20, 2017

Selling Your Antiques and Collectibles

QUESTION:  I was a Hess dealer from 1969 to 1982, station Numbers 30293 and 30298 in Maple Shade and Millville, New Jersey. I clamped the Hess Toy Truck gasoline tanker display  to the top of the oil rack on the gas island. Hess Oil issued one of these for each island oil rack. Have you ever seen one of these? The Hess Training Vans came packaged six trucks to a box and four boxes to a master carton. Only one of these have been out of the box to take photos. Notice  the sharp corners on the boxes that are still green and not white and end flaps are still flat and not rolled. I’d like to sell these items but don’t know how or where. Can you help me?

ANSWER: People ask about selling Hess Toy Trucks all the time.  Unfortunately, the market for them is flat, so sales are sort of in the dumps at present. However, there are other ways to unload your antiques and collectibles. Have you ever considered crossover sales?

Most people associate the word “crossover” with SUVs. But in fact many antiques and collectibles can also be crossovers—they have collector appeal in more than one field or category. For example, an early 20th-century calendar showing bicyclists attracts not only ephemera collectors, but also antique bicycle enthusiasts.

This person has some really unique pieces which although they may not appeal to the typical collector of Hess Toy Trucks—except for the trucks, themselves—they may appeal to a wider market of both advertising and gasoline memorabilia collectors, especially since Hess Oil sold off its gas stations last year. The display cases are particularly interesting. Also, anything bearing the company logo will sell.

In order to get the most for whatever type of antique or collectible you have, you must look at this from a broader perspective and begin to see the crossover possibilities. First, you have the people who collect the trucks, themselves. Then you have those who collect toy trucks, Third, you have those who collect Hess memorabilia, and fourth those who collect gas station memorabilia. Most people only think of the collectors of the items they have. You have to think beyond them.

Second, you have to plan to sell to a targeted audience. Let’s look at some of the right and wrong possibilities.

The first marketing level, the yard or garage sale, depends on people who impulse buy. The regulars make the rounds each Saturday, hoping to find some items that interest them. Sure, there may be some collectors in the group, but the chances of a collector of a particular type of antique or collectible finding an item they collect is a million to one shot.

The second marketing level, the flea market, depends on a similar group of people. However, this group includes more collectors, who browse flea markets looking for items to add to their collection. It’s always hit or miss. A collector never knows what he or she will find on a given day.

The third marketing level is the antiques or collectibles dealer. Most people don’t realize that when selling to a dealer, they’ll only get half or less of what their items are worth. Here, the number of collectors is higher than previously, but the monetary returns are low.

Computer technology and the Internet have dramatically changed how people sell things. For the most part, the audience is made up of mostly collectors—people who are searching for specific items to add to their collections. It’s so much easier to sit at a computer and search for a specific item than it is to go out hunting for it. Plus it saves on gas.

When eBay began, it was the only game in town. And in this case, “game” was the right word. People went on eBay to play the “bidding” game before sophisticated video games began to take up their time. They would bid on items for which they had only a marginal interest, bidding them up to see if they could “win” the item in the last second. This caused the prices of antiques and collectibles to rise substantially beyond their actual value.

But now eBay is just one of many online sales venues. In fact, bidding plays only a small part in eBay sales as more and more buyers prefer the “Buy It Now” option.

To successfully sell online, divide up what you have and sell individual pieces. This applies especially to items like Hess Toy Trucks. Some people have been collecting them for years and want to sell their entire collection to one person. Although that’s the easy way out, they’ll make a lot more money selling everything a la carte.

Before attempting to sell any antique or collectible online, see what others like it are selling for, then either match or offer a slightly lower price. Offer the item in several categories, maximizing its crossover potential. It’s all about competition—and there’s loads of it online today. Lastly, be patient. It may take a while for the right buyer to come along.