Monday, June 19, 2017

Memorabilia From the Golden Age of Flight

QUESTION:  This watch belonged to my father-in- law. I've looked and looked for a similar one, so I would know how to insure it or even if its worth insuring, but I couldn’t find anything. What can you tell me about this wristwatch and is it collectible?

ANSWER: Your father-in-law evidently was a pilot for American Airlines. As the captain of the plane, he would have logged more flying hours than his co-pilots. Back in 1939, flights over long distances took many hours compared to those of today, so he could have easily amassed a million miles or more.

It seems that American Airlines chose to award its loyal, long-time pilots with something to commemorate their years of service. In this case, they gave your father-in-law a Bulova Montgomery watch from 1938, inscribed on the back “American Airlines, Million Miler,1939,” along with his name.

American Airlines had contracted with the Bulova Watch Company to be their official timekeeping company. This particular model was a popular one in the Art Deco style, however, it originally had a leather band with three horizontal groves running its length which accentuated the design of the watch case, itself.

This watch belongs in the category of aviation collectibles which includes anything used by employees of the airline, that never gets into the hands of passengers. It’s these unique items---awards, plaques, objects from the boardroom, luggage tags, models, uniforms, etc.—that make up aviation memorabilia collectibles. Most collectors prefer older objects, though some focus on specific carriers to narrow their field.

The Golden Age of Flight might be defined as the period extending from the first flight by the Wright Brothers to about 1950 or so. Items in this category are more out of the mainstream than those in the airline collectibles category—and naturally are harder to come by.

From the start of regular U.S. passenger service in 1914, travelers have saved a wide variety of airline memorabilia. Generally, these items have to do directly with passengers. But there’s a lot of items,

When the early airmail routes began offering seats for traveling passengers, they often included free meals or refreshments to tempt big-spenders away from traditional rail transport. Full meals were first served during the 1930s on china made by well-known companies like Wedgwood, Hall, Syracuse, Royal Doulton, and Homer Laughlin. These sets, designed to be lighter than household dinnerware, often included the airline’s logo or name in their graphics.

Besides these china place-settings, airlines required a variety of glassware, flatware, napkins, menus, and other food service items. But passenger travel also necessitated the use of more disposable pieces, like safety-direction cards, amenities kits, swizzle sticks with the airline’s logo, blankets, headrest covers, and baggage labels, all of which people collect today.

Aviation collectibles also include any equipment used by airline personnel or ground staff, much of which is linked to certain carriers. Crew uniforms and badges or “wings” have been used since the earliest days of air travel, with specific designs to indicate employee positions from flight attendants to pilots. Early figural metal badges, like a Transcontinental Air Transport (TAT) pin with its Native American headdress logo, are sought for their rarity and their aesthetic appeal.

Many aviation collectors are former employees of the airlines. They would have had easy access to some of the materials, especially when things like maps and timetables needed to be updated. Old ones would have been thrown in the trash. Uniforms also needed to be updated from time to time, so older ones would again have had no use.

Collectors also favor certain defunct airlines, like Eastern, People, Braniff, and especially TWA and Pan Am. Pan Am was the trendsetter for the first half of the history of the airline industry. It was the first to offer long-distance, trans-Pacific travel on its Clippers and set the standard for design and style throughout the industry.

For more information on airline collectibles, read "Up, Up, and Away" in The Antiques Almanac and "Eating Above the Clouds" from the October 5, 2011 post of this blog.

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Ring the Bells for Bell Pottery

QUESTION: While out antiquing at a cooperative this past weekend, I came across a beautiful hand-painted, porcelain water pitcher decorated with flowers jammed on a shelf full of junk. The price was $10, so I figured for that price I could afford to buy it. It stands about 11 inches tall and has “BBC/CHINA” stamped on the bottom in black. I’ve never saw a mark like this before and the vase looked like a copy of more expensive Haviland china.

ANSWER: It seems that you’ve stumbled upon a rare piece of china made by the Bell Pottery Company of Findlay, Ohio. The firm only produced fine china rivaling French Haviland and Limoges porcelain for five years, from 1899 to 1904. And for that reason, the pieces are scarce. The dealer in that coop probably also thought it was a copy.

Located in northwestern Ohio, Findlay is better known for its glass. Bell located there because of cheap natural gas which it used to fire its kilns. The pottery began as a partnership between three East Liverpool, Ohio, men—brothers William M. and Edward F. Bell and Henry W. Flentke—who named their new company the Bell Brothers & Co. Pottery. Unfortunately, a series of disasters befell the young company, so it’s life was short lived.

Bell Pottery fired its first wares in July 1889, and by the following month 150 workers kept the dinnerware, toilet ware and hotel china rolling out. By March 1890, the pottery was running night and day and unable to keep up with orders. The partners added three new kilns to increase production.

The first problem occurred in January, 1891, when all the employees struck because of an attempt by the owners to reduce wages. By July, the Bells and Flentke settled the labor dispute and most of the old hands went back to work. But in March 1892, a shortage of natural gas became a problem, and the pottery had to rely on purchased gas from the city. In January 1893, the pottery converted to coal, which meant that all of their raw materials now had to be imported, and in May 893, a rumor that the plant would be leaving Findlay surfaced. That same month, a severe windstorm blew the roof off the decorating room on the third floor of the south building and destroyed six kilns north of the decorating room, causing over $8,000 damage.

In April 1894, the partners began to disagree and with the dissolution of the partnership, the court ordered the property to be sold. Flentke, then living in Evansville, Indiana, stopped the sale of the pottery. He resolved the differences between himself and the Bell brothers before the sale date, enabling the pottery to resume operations in August 1894, after a year of standing idle. But the peace lasted only two years, and in January of 1896, the court once again ordered the property sold for not less than $30,000. The  Bell brothers purchased the pottery for 36,450 and paid Flentke $7,295 for his share. By that time, the pottery hadn’t been in full operation for four years, and foreign imports had reduced the demand for its wares.

In 1898, the Bell brothers incorporated the firm as the Bell Pottery Company. A sherd from one of the early wares, marked “BBC/CHINA,” was discovered at an Ohio farmhouse site.

In August 1899, the Bell Pottery announced that it would begin producing hand-decorated white china, employing about 25 decorators. Common decorative motifs included currants, roses, blackberries, chestnuts and hops. By December, improvements included the installation of an oval dish jigger to enable the production of footed dishes for use as nut bowls or candy dishes.

Following a serious fire in April 1900, and more storm damage in June 1900, which knocked down both smokestacks for the decorating kilns, the Bell brothers erected a new brick building, and in 1901, issued additional stock with the intention of doubling the pottery’s capacity, employing 400. Their intention was to produce fine china that rivaled Haviland.

As often happens with small, young companies, they expanded too much and too fast. The Bell brothers planned on building a second factory in Columbus, Ohio, but William Bell died suddenly in 1902. His brother Edward took over management of the pottery, which soon became a union shop.

Edward had grand plans for the Columbus operation. He planned on 17 buildings with 12 kilns, to be doubled as the need arose. Lack of equipment caused more delays. By November 1904, he announced that he would move the Findlay operation to Columbus. The new pottery produced wares for about a year but by September of 1906, it was in the hands of a receiver.

Today, Bell vases and pitchers sell for $150 to $200 while smaller mugs and nut bowls sell for $50 to $75 each.

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

Blue Chip Beatles

QUESTION: I loved the Beatles when I was a kid. I had all their albums and even got to see them in concert where I purchased a signed photo of them. I was digging around in some old boxes yesterday and came across it. After they became superstars, I imagine any kind of memorabilia would be worth a good bit. Do you think I have an authentic autographed photo?

ANSWER: The fact that you have a photo is definite—in the early years, photos of the Beatles were a dime a dozen, as the old saying goes. But whether you have one with authentic signatures from all four of the Beatles is another matter altogether.

It’s been 53 years since the Beatles invaded our shores and turned the music world upside down. They seemed the prim and proper teenagers, dressed in black suits and ties, until they opened their mouths and hit their guitars and such.

In 1964, the Beatles became the rage of American popular culture, seemingly overnight. Due to a combination of timing, luck and the expertise of their manager Brian Epstein, they were able to take their music and communicate it to an audience of teens that wanted something different—and they got it.

In the beginning, John Lennon, Paul McCartney and George Harrison performed with Pete Best and Stu Sutcliffe in clubs in Liverpool and Hamburg. Though they were accessible to their fans, they weren’t pursued for autographs as they would be in the years to follow. As a result, finding authentic autographs of the original five Beatles together on a single item is the Holy Grail of Beatles memorabilia collecting.

After Sutcliffe's sudden death from a cerebral hemorrhage, music store owner Brian Epstein, who had a desire to manage a pop group, took over the group’s management. From late 1961 through 1962, John, Paul, George and Pete played gigs every night, often in clubs, meeting fans and signing autographs freely. Mostly, they signed on autograph book pages for girls. who carried them around in their purses. Fans went into shock when Epstein replaced Pete with drummer Richard "Ringo Starr" Starkey. The new Beatles began performing in large concerts, usually sharing the bill with several other acts, and their music and their lives changed forever. In fact, Epstein was only their manager for a little over a year.

The reality is that most Beatles autographs available today are probably not authentic and those that are sell for stratospheric prices.

So how would you know if you have a real autograph signed by one or more of the Beatles? The best advice is to speak to an expert.

There are several hundred authentic autographs that came from signing sessions in England. The first event was at Dawson's Music Shop in Liverpool on October 6, 1962, one day after the release of their first Parlophone single,“Lone Me Do.” The Beatles reportedly signed their autographs directly onto the records' labels. The second signing session took place on January 24, 1963, at Brian Epstein's music store in central Liverpool, coinciding with the release of their second single, “Please, Please Me.”

Again, the band applied their signatures to the records' labels. The third event, organized by the band's British fan club, took place December 14, 1963, in London. It was a signing session organized by the band's British fan club, and this time the Beatles signed some copies of the albums “Please, Please Me” and “With The Beatles.” Experts believes there are numerous authentic autographed records from these sessions that remain unaccounted for.

Many people may not know this, but "Beatles” signatures have been signed by many people over the years, sometimes on the Beatles' behalf. The group authorized many of the people working for them to sign the band members' signatures. Their roadies, Mal Evans, Neil Aspinall and Alf Bicknell, were all "signers." Aspinall, who became the Beatles' road manager in 1963, signed hundreds of items for the group. Fan club presidents and secretaries also signed many requests for signatures sent through the mail.

Most important with Beatles’ autographs is the item on which the autograph occurs. A signed record album cover from the 1960s, for example, is the most desirable, selling for between $20,000 and $60,000, based on a series of important criteria. But because signed record covers are so valuable, they’re usually what the most forged. “Sgt. Peppers Lonely Hearts Club Band” and “Meet The Beatles” are the most commonly forged LPs.

Original photographs are very rare and particularly prone to forgery. An authentic signed 8 by 11-inch photograph sells for $15,000 to $25,000, depending on the condition of the photo, the boldness and completeness of the signatures, the time period, and even the identity of the photographer.

Signed tour programs are also very desirable. Most examples from British concerts in 1963, when the Beatles were still accessible – especially from the Beatles with Roy Orbison tour—sell in the vicinity of $15,000-20,000. Autograph album pages are the most commonly encountered examples, selling for $8,000-10,000, depending on size, condition, whether they include drummer Pete Best or Ringo Starr, and whether or not one or more of the members has added "Beatles," "Love" or "xxx" to the autograph. When the word "Beatles" appeared, Paul McCartney was the one who penned it..

Monday, May 29, 2017

The King of Glass

QUESTION: I have a beautiful green glass cordial set that belonged to my great grandmother. It’s been passed down to me. I just love this set and would like to know more about it. I was told that it was made by the Moser Glass Company in Czechslovakia. What can you tell me about it?

ANSWER: It’s difficult to tell if your cordial set is in fact made by Moser. It’s definitely in its style but other company copied it. Moser was one of the only Bohemian glass companies to sign some of their works. Usually the signature is in gold enamel somewhere on the piece, but many pieces remained unsigned.

Of all the Bohemian glassmakers of the 19th century, Ludwig Moser, known as the “King of Glass,” is probably the most famous. The company was well known for its heavy and intricate gold enameling. But Moser wasn’t the only glass decorator to adorn blanks with this type of decoration. Glassmakers copied each other in an effort to get their share of the market. Like many Bohemian firms, Moser sold blanks to other companies for decoration and decorated blanks bought from other companies, such as  Loetz, Meyr's Neffe and Harrachov, so it can be difficult to tell if Moser indeed made a particular piece.
Ludwig Moser was born in 1833 and began his apprenticeship in the glass business at age 14. From there, he became a skilled engraver. In 1870, he opened a refinery in Karlsbad, Bohemia, today Karlovy Gary in the Czech Republic, and employed other glass cutters and engravers who decorated glass blanks purchased from other companies. The firm's work earned Moser international recognition for his engraved drinking glasses.

By 1880, Moser was making the intricately enameled glass that’s most often associated with him. He designed them for the Oriental market, intending them to resemble the work of Arabian goldsmiths. In 1893, he took over a glassworks factory in Meierhofen bei Karlsbad, employing 400 workers, under the name of Karlsbaderglasindustrie Gesellschaft Ludwig Moser & Söhne and where his sons Gustav and Rudolf also worked. Here he produced shaded transparent engraved glass. Within a short time Moser’s company gained the reputation as the most prestigious producer of crystal in the Austrian-Hungarian Empire.

Because of the excellent quality of his work, Emperor Franz Joseph I appointed Moser as the exclusive supplier of glass to the royal family. He won numerous awards at the World Exhibitions in Paris in 1879, 1889 and 1900, and the World Exhibition in Chicago in 1893.

The firm also introduced pieces with applied glass flowers and fruits. These remained popular through the 1920s and marked Moser's departure from the intricately enameled luxury glass he had made earlier. By 1922, Moser Glass became the largest producer of luxurious drinking and decorative glass in Czechoslovakia. Moser's son, Leo, who had taken over the firm upon the death of his father in 1916, sold the firm in 1938. When the Communists took over Czechoslovakia, the government took over the Moser glass works but continued to use its name.

Moser glassware commands top prices, so collectors need to know their glassware or purchase pieces from reputable dealers to avoid paying top dollar for similar work by a less famous firm. Cups and saucers run about $300 a set, with larger pieces or those with unusual forms hovering around $2,000.

Prices for Moser engraved glass run about the same. Amethyst or green en-graved miniature rose bowls run around $275 to $350. Larger, more detailed pieces command more money. An amethyst intaglio engraved perfume and stopper runs about $650, a covered box about $800, and a tray about $500. Vases run $600 to $1,000 and up, depending on size and design. Green and crystal enameled pieces, which date anywhere from the late 19th to the early 20th centuries sell for under $200.

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Let the Action Begin

QUESTION: When I was a kid, my friends and I used to sit on the porch and read comic books. We especially loved those featuring the Super Heroes, such as Superman, Batman, and Aquaman. Naturally, we were thrilled when the first comic book action heroes came out. We all had a selection of them from a company called Mego. I had the biggest collection. Recently, while moving, I came across several boxes of these action figures. My interests have moved on to other things—now I have my own kids—but I’d like to know more about them and how this phenomenon got started.

ANSWER: You aren’t the only one. There are thousands of men out there reliving their childhood through these action figures. Only now they collect them and must have them “mint-in-the-box.” While collecting these action figures has been popular since they appeared in the 1970s, it’s only through the T.V. hit show “Big Bang Theory” that their popularity has risen to the stratosphere. And these little playthings aren’t only popular with “nerds.”

The Mego Corporation was a toy company founded in 1954. Originally known as a purveyor of dime store toys, the company shifted direction in 1971 and became famous for producing licensed action figures, including its long-running "World's Greatest Super Heroes" line.

D. David Abrams and Madeline Abrams founded Mego Corporation in 1954. Originally, they imported dime-store toys until advertising costs forced them to switch directions. In 1971, their son, Martin, became company president, and, as often is the case, the younger generation had other ideas.  Under Martin’s leadership, Mego began producing action figures with interchangeable bodies. He kept costs low by mass-producing generic bodies from which an endless assortment of figures could be created using different heads and costumes.

In 1972 Mego secured the licenses to create toys for both DC and Marvel Comics. The popularity of this line of 8-inch figures which it called "The World's Greatest Super Heroes," created the standard action figure scale for the 1970s. The line featured both superhero and villain action figures, including Batman and Robin, Superman, and Aquaman. Early on, the company released the figures in a solid box, but fans soon began tearing the boxes open to see the figures inside, so Mego changed the design to a box with a window that showed the figure. It produced the line from 197s to 1983.

The company began to purchase the licensing rights of films, T.V. shows, and comic books, enabling it to produce action figure lines for Planet of the Apes and Star Trek: The Original Series.

In 1976, Martin Abrams made a deal with Japanese toy manufacturer Takara to bring their popular lucite 3-inch fully articulated “Microman” figures to the U.S. under the name "Micronauts." This lead to even more licenses to hit shows like Buck Rogers in the 25th Century and hit films like Star Trek: The Motion Picture.

To reduce costs, Mego began producing a line of smaller plastic action toys called “Comic Action Heroes” in 1975. These had costumes modeled onto the figure, eliminating the cost of creating them. In 1979, the company re-released the line under a new name, “Pocket Action Heroes.”

The Star Trek line was by far Mego’s biggest success. The first wave of figures included Kirk, Spock, McCoy, Scotty and a Klingon, soon joined by Uhura, later followed by a Star Trek Bridge playset with a “transporter” room—a revolving platform that allowed kids to simulate the dematerializing of the characters.

The second and third series of figures featured alien adversaries the Keeper, Neptunian, the half-black, half-white Cheron, the Gorn, Talos, the Mugato, and Trek baddies Andorian and Romulan in outfits that approximated what they wore on show. A second playset, Mission To Gamma VI, featured a dragon-like temple and four small alien primitives.

Although Mego produced action figures for such T.V. shows as Happy Days, the Waltons, and The Flinstones, their sci-fi figures were their biggest sellers. The company based another figure line on the animated series Flash Gordon which included Flash, Dale Arden, Dr. Zarkov, and Ming the Merciless.

Even the robot dog, K-9, and villains like Cyberman and Giant Robot from the long-running BBC series Doctor Who came alive in Mego action figures.

Although Mego produced thousands of action figures, their value continues to rise because the company went bankrupt and closed its doors in 1983. And with increased demand, especially for mint-in-box figures, comes higher prices in today’s collectibles market.

Monday, May 15, 2017

Would You Like to Have Tea With My Dollies?

QUESTION: I have a child’s tea set that once belonged to my grandmother’s mother.  Each piece has an illustration from a nursery rhyme. Each piece is stamped “Made in England” on the bottom. Can you tell me more about it?

ANSWER: You have child’s tea set made by Bilton’s of Staffordshire, England made sometime after World War I when the pottery began producing what they called  “nursery wares for children.” Each piece features a traditional nursery rhyme---Little Red Riding Hood, Little Bo Peep, Old Mother Goose, Ride a Cock Horse, Tom Tom the Piper's son, and others. The set, in particular the teapot, has pure the Art Deco styling of the mid 1920s..

Biltons Limited began making ceramics in 1900. The company continued until 1911 when Joseph Tellwright acquired it and changed the name to just Biltons. Prior to World War 1 they had specialized in the manufacture of tea and coffee pots, jugs, kettles, and such. After the war, the pottery produced tablewares, plus figures and devotional wares known as “grotesques.” 

However, when technical advances occurred in the 19th century, faience and porcelain became widespread since their use was no longer restricted to making tableware and decorative vases. Potteries began using faience and porcelain to make certain types of toys, and European faience factories started to produce toy tea sets and doll's accessories, in addition to their usual production.

Potteries began to make toy tea sets on a small scale for children to play with their dolls. Originally, potteries made these sets by hand. As such, people gave them to little girls as precious gifts. Because of their fragility, parents only let their daughters play with them on special occasions under their supervision.
While toy tea sets belong to the world of toys, the art and craft required to make them is directly linked to the skills required to handle whatever material used, whether it be copper, pewter, tin, silver, faience, or porcelain. In the 19th century, France, together with England was one of the leading producers of faience in Europe. While porcelain was for a long time the prerogative of Germany, the situation in the 18th century changed, and the French revival raised faience production to a peak. While contemporary toy tea-sets continue to be made in ceramic, the quality is no longer  equal to the former production.

The first toy tea sets appeared in the 16th century. These early sets, made in pewter and copper, came from Germany, a country known for producing toys in wood and metal. Until the end of the first half of the 19th century, France turned to Germany for many of its toys. Before the era of faience and porcelain toy tea sets, most of them were made from metals, including gold and silver, pewter and copper. Silver and goldsmiths especially catered to the wishes of the young princesses of Europe.

But back in the 18th century, when faience and porcelain tea sets weren’t yet a phenomenon, potteries made them only on order for wealthy customers. These toys didn’t reach the height of their popularity until 100 years later, with the advent of the Industrial Revolution. Toy tea sets finally came into vogue during  the 1850's, specifically when they appeared on display at the Universal Exhibition of 1855.

And while this tea set may not be the most exciting or the most valuable, it’s a great example of a phenomenon that still exists today.

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Beat Those Biscuits

QUESTION: I live in South Carolina, though I’m not a native. Recently, I attended an estate sale at an old farm. Out of all the items for sale, I bought an old clunky table that looks like it may have been used for baking. It stands higher than a regular table and has a hinged top under which is a rectangular stone block. What can you tell me about this table?

ANSWER: It seems that you stumbled upon an old biscuit table. These specially made baking tables were a stable in 19th-century Southern kitchens.

When people think of Southern biscuits, they imagine fluffy, buttery pillows of golden, flaky pastry made from White Lily flour. But these delicacies weren't always common fare on the Southern dinner table. Until baking powder came on the market in the late 19th century, most biscuits were unleavened and beaten.

Housewives and plantation cooks back then pounded the dough, Iayer upon layer, to make the otherwise tough dough flaky and palatable. Recipes in the 1850s required the dough be worked for at least a half hour. The work was so labor intensive that rhythmic pounding resonated from plantation kitchens in the early mornings. One neighborhood in Danville, Kentucky, along its historic Third Street became known as "Beaten Biscuit Row." According to legend, the steady pounding of biscuits from the outdoor kitchens of the houses lining the street greeted passersby during the 19th century.

Preparing biscuits was a tiring job, so cooks, who had to bend over their kitchen tables to knead and pound biscuit dough, needed a special table to save their backs. The result was a worktable of appropriate height at which they could stand and beat the dough into layers for the required 30 minutes. In the beginning, slaves on plantations probably made the first biscuit tables from wood. They were about three feet in diameter and four feet high.

The biscuit table, like the sugar chest, evolved into a furniture form as the 19th century progressed. Increased sugar production and the demand for candies in Creole New Orleans fostered the concept of using marble slabs to prepare confections. This worked so well that the idea crossed over to bread making. By the 1850s, biscuit table makers began incorporating slabs of marble, limestone and granite into the once simple wooden biscuit slab. Going one step further, they added hinged covers to the tabletop to allow dough to rest without fear of insects or other critters ruining a morning's labor. Like the beaten biscuit, itself, the biscuit table seemed to appear in Kentucky, Tennessee and Alabama, all of which take credit for its origin. Cooks in Louisiana used a related form to make candy confections.

Carpenters used mostly poplar wood to make plantation biscuit tables, though tables of yellow pine and walnut have been known to exist. Most biscuit tables that have survived are sturdy but crude in construction, with many having been fashioned from roughly finished lumber and square nails or pegs. The slabs or stones were generally of locally quarried limestone.

The biscuit table lost its usefulness with the invention of the beaten biscuit machine, a roller contraption cranked by hand much like that found on old wringer washers. This little device could be mounted onto the kitchen worktable or a cook could order one attached to a cast-iron table that could be delivered to a home. Factories in St. Louis commercially produced and shipped biscuit tables to eager housewives throughout the South.

It seems that by the beginning of the 20th century, the beaten biscuit had become Southern folklore, though still preserved in many old-fashioned kitchens of the day. But as the century progressed, southern biscuit tables were either destroyed or stored in barns.

Tuesday, May 2, 2017

The Most Printed Book of All Time

QUESTION: Last year I purchased an old Bible at a church festival. It’s one of those big Victorian pictorial family ones and seems to have all kinds of features besides just the Old and New Testaments.  As far as I can tell, the copyright date is 1881 from George V. Jones of Boston, Massachusetts. The presentation page says a woman gave the Bible to a man, most likely her husband, on Christmas Day in 1882. While the exterior shows some wear, the interior is in pristine condition. I also own two other Bibles from the second half of the 19th century. What can you tell me about this particular Bible and perhaps others like it?

ANSWER: From what I can tell about your Bible, you may possibly have a winner. In the world of Bibles, especially those from the later 19th century, only a few stand out.

George V. Jones of Boston did indeed print your Bible. This particular edition includes the Old and New Testaments, as well as the Concordance, Aprocypha, and Psalms. In all, it contains 2,500 illustrations. But what makes your Bible stand out is that it won a Diploma of Merit at the International Cotton States Exposition in Atlanta, Georgia in December of 1881.

With Bibles, condition is all important. Large family Bibles from the 19th century, particularly study Bibles with illustrations, maps, and commentary are very popular with collectors. But what do old Bibles include? Surely, the Old and New Testaments, but there’s often much more. Bibles published for various Christian religions may include different features, such as a Bible Dictionary, a History of the Religious Denominations of the World, and detailed studies of the events and persons in the Bible’s text. Then there’s the endless variety of translations. For most Bible collectors, figuring out how to narrow the scope of their collection can be a challenge.

The King James version of the Bible, revised many times over the centuries, is probably the most famous one in the English language. But prior to its printing, at least 239 editions of the English Bible were in print. Since 1611, the number of English versions has exploded.

Gustave Doré was one of the most acclaimed and popular illustrators of the 19th century, and his illustrated Bible is a landmark in the field. He made more than 200 engravings, illustrating the events of the Bible with great detail. The first edition appeared in France in 1866, but publishers like George Jones reprinted his work throughout the following decades. This Bible features the engravings of Gustav Dore.

The elaborateness of the binding doesn’t affect a Bible’s price. A Bible’s value depends mostly on the completeness, condition, content, and size of its pages, not on the age of the piece of leather that it happens to be bound in at the time. Many collectors prefer a new leather binding, to one that’s worn and less attractive. They’re more interested in the quality of the pages of text.

Ninety percent of all Bibles, including this one, are standard "Quarto" size printings, measuring about 7 to 10 inches wide by 9 to 12 inches tall by 3 to 4 inches thick. Larger pulpit "Folio" size printings are ten times as rare, and therefore more expensive.

Old Bibles are always hardbound. Most have full leather covers and spine while some have leather spines and corners but fabric centers on the front and back covers. Armored or ornamented bindings with metalwork at the corners and center and clasps and latches that hold the book shut also adorn some of these Bibles. Most old family Bibles also have raised bands on their spine known as a “hubbed” spine.

Bible makers used two decorative techniques—blind stamping where an impression is stamped into the leather resulting in a design or "Gold-Stamped", where gold has been applied into the groove of the stamping, such as the words "Holy Bible" might be stamped in gold on the spine. The cover of this Bible has extensive gold stamping.

Older Bibles often include a “concordance,” also referred to as “The Table of Names and Table of Things.” This is essentially an alphabetical index to the scripture which helps readers locate a passage based on what words appear in that passage.

Some older Bibles offer a 36-page illustrated "Family Tree of Man" which traces every generation of the first 4,000 years of mankind, from Adam and Eve through Noah through David to Joseph, Mary, and Christ.

Gutenberg’s 42-line Bible is probably the most valuable printed book, with single leaves selling for $60,000 and up. Bibles are the most common book in the world, especially in the English language.

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.