Wednesday, December 6, 2017

Let the Star Wars Force be With You

QUESTION: My son was a big Star Wars fan when he was younger. He had just about every Star Wars action figure that came out—at least of the smaller ones. But now he’s grown and has his own family, and I seem to be left as the caretaker of his collection. I’d really like to know if these figures are worth keeping. Can you tell me something about them and if they’re collectible now or were they just a fad like Beany Babies?

ANSWER: Even though the first Star Wars movie premiered 40 years ago, the action figures that came out as a result of it and other Star Wars films are still highly collectible. Whether or not they’re still in their original packages will tell how much they may be worth.  If they’re still in unopened packages, then you have something. If not, maybe not.

In May 1977 "Star Wars: A New Hope" exploded across the big screen in a symphony of sound and light unlike anything audiences had ever seen. Fans went crazy over the film, some seeing it hundreds of times, and sci-fi films haven’t been the same since. Star Wars was the first movie franchise which created a voracious demand for film-related products. Fans clamored for tangible souvenirs of the new universe they were coming to know and love. Director George Lucas and film industry leaders were all taken by surprise.

While the variety and forms of Star Wars items are almost as numerous as the stars themselves, the most popular objects of Star Wars collectors’ desires are the toys. Furthermore, among the toys, the  most sought after are the 3 3/4-inch action figures.

Kenner Products is responsible for the most of the Star Wars toys that are on the collectibles market today. The firm obtained the original license to manufacture toys, games, puzzles and a few books prior the release of the first film in 1977. In time, the resultant outpouring of products from the Kenner factories far outstripped Lucas’ expectations. In fact, all he expected from his merchandising rights were a few posters and T-shirts with which to lure more children to his film. At a base price of just $2 or less, not only kids but adults quickly bought up the stock of figures. And over the years came back for more in a variety of re-incarnations.

Following Kenner, other toy manufacturers joined in on Stars Wars’ success. Chief among was Galoob, a company determined to "out-small" Kenner with its Star Wars Micro Machines. Play sets and spaceships were this company's main products. Action figures by Galoob were about the size of the smaller accessories that accompanied Kenner's figures. Galoob sold these tiny action men and women as part of  play sets. No other company ever came close to the Star Wars toy output of these two firms.

By definition, action figures are molded of plastic and designed for play. While they’ve varied in size over the years, the original ones were only a little over three inches high.  Kenner made these figures to have five points of articulation—at the neck, shoulders, and hips. They also had their clothing molded as part of the body, while some of the larger figures have removable clothing.

Toy companies package action figures of different sizes differently. The 12-inch and 8-inch figures generally are packaged and sold in boxes. The 3 3/4-inch-tall figures most often appear on store shelves sealed against a decorated cardboard backing within a plastic bubble commonly referred to as a blister. The package for the 3 3/4 inch figure is thus referred to as a blister pack.

Kenner designed its 3 3/4-inch high Star Wars figures for use with play sets, spaceships, and other accessories. But their 12-inch figures of Luke Skywalker, Darth Vader and such were too large to be equipped with play sets. But one thing that action figures have in common is that the come with a array of small accessories that tend to disappear quickly once a child removes the figure from its packaging.

Then Kenner’s line seemed to die out for a while. In 1995, the firm re-introduced its Star Wars figures with a new design and/or a repainting that appealed to both kids and adults. But one thing to be aware of is that the newer figures tend to come and go. From time to time, Kenner would play with the mix of figures on the market at any one time. It would remove some of the older models and replace them with newer ones.

Kenner first released its line of 12-inch figures in the late 1970s, sticking mostly to the film’s main characters. But these 12-inch figures didn’t compete well with Kenner’s 3 3/4-inch ones and the company stopped making them. But its smaller figures live on. 

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Monday, November 27, 2017

Hold That Door

QUESTION: My mother collected doorstops. She had a collection of about 50 which she left to me when she died. I know very little about them, but I’d like to continue collecting them. What can you tell me about them—how did they originate and when, and how collectable are they today?

ANSWER: It’s great that you plan on continuing your mother’s collection. Most people seem to want to get rid of whatever items they inherit while others just warehouse them. But curating and growing a collection is different. Now it’s up to you to figure out just what doorstops you have, selling those that aren’t very good and adding those that will enhance your collection. But first, you need to learn a bit about their history.

Doorstops date back to the last quarter of the 18th century, around the time of the American Revolution, but in England. They came in a variety of shapes and sizes and held open large doors. The British called them “door porters” and liked the cast in iron or bronze.

By the early 1800s, doorstops began appearing in a variety of materials, including wood, glass, and earthenware. The cast-iron doorstops had flat backs from the hollow molds used to make them, allowing them to stand flat against the surface of the doors.

By the middle of the 19th century and especially following the Civil War, doorstops had evolved into full three-dimensional figures and were becoming increasingly popular in the United States.

American manufacturers followed the basic English tradition of making cast-iron doorstops in the familiar shape of baskets and flowers. They also began to develop a variety of attractive shapes, including houses, ships, stagecoaches, and all kinds of wild and domestic animals. American makers hand painted them in bright colors until all sorts of colorful doorstops were readily available.

By the 1880s, it wasn’t unusual to find iron birds, story book characters, and even a few human-type figures propping doors where ventilation was seasonally so important in so much of the country.

Some believe the Amish developed the use of the human figure as a doorstop to its fullest form starting in the 1880s and continuing into the 1930s. They cast figures of men, women and children, painted them with pleasing facial features, and dressed them in time-honored Amish clothing. These seven to nine inch high doorstops today sell for a minimum of several hundred dollars each.

Casting techniques had improved enough prior to the turn of the 20th century to enable foundries in the U.S. to manufacture nearly every design of doorstop a home owner could want. In fact, some of the firms invited customers to send detailed sketches of doorstops, so that they could create them. But all this variety of design resulted in variations in both the size and weight of doorstops. Heights ranged from four or five inches to two feet.

One of the most popular forms of doorstops was the dog. Manufacturers produced doorstops in the shapes of just about every breed of dog, from Alaskan Malamutes to Russian Wolfhounds to a variety of terriers. Many of these animals were full figure, cast in two parts, screwed together, and painted.

The Albany Foundry Company of Albany, New York, and A.M. Greenblatt Studios of Boston, Massachusetts, were among the major manufacturers of doorstops in the early 20th century. Both did a booming business in the late 1920s, selling cast-iron doorstops  for about a dollar each.

Additional firms included Hubley Manufacturing Company in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, which made toys, Littco Products, National Foundry, and Eastern Specialty Manufacturing Company.

Doorstops were still quite effective and desirable well into the 1930s. Generally, production ceased abruptly at the onset of World War II, since factories converted to production of war materiel.

Today, antique doorstops sell for $50 or so in good condition, but can go as high as $200 for some special ones.

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Monday, November 20, 2017

A Platter Fit for a Turkey

QUESTION: For my family, Thanksgiving was the biggest gathering of the year. I remember my mother planning the event as early as October. Back in the 1950s, we'd pile into the car and drive to the local turkey farm to order a very large bird. My mother would have never considered buying a frozen turkey at the local market. I heard her speaking on the phone to my grandmother about how many were corning, what kinds of pies should be baked, or whether we would add some new recipe for cranberry sauce. At the center of it all lay the traditional turkey platter, which had been handed down for generations. Can you tell me how these platters came to be, who made them, and why they became so popular?

ANSWER: Many families still use a large turkey platter. Though large but not very sophisticated, it often features a 22-inch pattern with yellow roses manufactured by Homer Laughlin. It’s got high sides and can hold a very large turkey, and by now it’s even got a few rim chips, but it’s part of the family, so it means a lot.

The turkey was the last dish to be brought to the table and the senior member of the family would always carve the bird. Everyone would say grace and eat more than any thought humanly possible. While sitting around the table, family members would tell stories—Grandpa always seemed to tell the same ones to the embarassment of his wife. In many cases, this holiday feast was just as Norman Rockwell painted it.

The first turkey platters appeared in the early 1870s, when East Liverpool, Ohio, was the setting for the founding of several important American potteries due to the existence of raw materials such as clay, coal and natural gas. One of the largest and most successful, was the Homer Laughlin China Company, founded by brothers Homer and Shakespeare Laughlin in 1897. It went on to become one of the world's major producers of institutional china, including Fiesta ware. They based their holiday platters on several of their most popular dinnerware lines and decorated them with colorful printed transfers.

Thus, the same image often appeared on many of their turkey platters—a bird with its tail feathers fanned out fully, set against a rural farmyard background. The platters featured wide rims in Harlequin yellow and turquoise blue.

In the mid-1950s, a similar design appeared on Thanksgiving platters made by Taylor, Smith & Taylor, which the company sold to retailers to use as an advertising premium.

In its "Historical America" series, Laughlin also produced an elaborate scene from 1621 called "The First Thanksgiving," transfer printed in rose pink and sold exclusively through F.W. Woolworth. The company also produced a similar "Bountiful Harvest" platter showing Pilgrims and Indians gathering and sharing food.

A somewhat scrawnier bird appears on platters and plates made by Southern Potteries Inc., a Tennessee firm formerly known as Clinchfield Potteries. It began in 1917 by producing commercial, semi-vitreous china tableware decorated with stock transfers.

Its better-known trademark, Blue Ridge, debuted in 1932. By the late 1930s, it had switched from transfers to underglazed hand-painted decoration. Within 15 years, it had become the largest American producer of hand-painted china, with an annual production of 24 million pieces. Some of the firm’s top artists signed a limited number of special designs, and these are among the most coveted pieces for collectors.

For example, there’s a wild turkey platter painted and signed by artist Mildred L. Broyles, depicting a standing, long-necked bird eyeing a bug, valued at over $2,000. Another, signed by Louise Gwinn called “Turkey Gobbler,” shows a bird in a woods and sells for over $1,750.

While Homer Laughlin and Southern Potteries dominated the market, there were several other companies, from California and elsewhere that staked their own claims. Among these are platters produced by the Nelson McCoy Pottery Comapny of Roseville, Ohio, featuring a solid brown embossed relief of Tom Turkey, the Delano Studios of Long Island, featuring a soaring bird in flight, and the Hadley of Louisville platter, with its whimsical, schematic turkey in blue on vitrified stoneware.

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Monday, November 13, 2017

How Low Can You Go

QUESTION: I just purchased an antique coffee table and would like to know more about it. What can you tell me about my table? Is it a valuable antique?

ANSWER: I hate to burst your bubble, but your table isn’t an antique. In fact, coffee tables are a modern invention. No one knows exactly where they came from or who designed the first one.

The current definition a coffee table is a low, wide table placed in front of a couch or sofa to receive drinks, TV remotes, magazines, ashtrays, and miscellaneous other items, including feet. Yes, some people do prop their tired feet up once in a while. But a quick look back in time doesn't show many similar tables in our Western history. Old photos of late Victorian room settings show taller tables, often placed behind a sofa to receive cups and glasses when not in use. The only other table offering close to the service of a coffee table was the parlor table, often placed in the middle of the room with a gas lamp on it. Here, the lady of the house could serve coffee or tea to guests.

During the latter half of the 19th century, wealthy people became interested in the exotic furniture of Turkey. They would set up a special corner or an entire room using pillowed benches and ornately carved, low, round tables from which they drank strong Turkish coffee and tea.

Americans became especially fond of Japanese design after the Philadelphia Centennial Exposition in 1876. They particularly liked the idea of sitting on pillows on the floor and eating at low tables like the Japanese do. When the Aesthetic Movement took hold in the 1880s, furniture designers blended Eastlake and Renaissance Revival styles with Turkish and Asian ones.

While some sources note the production of low tables in various Revival styles during the last decade of the 1800s, no one has ever seen any.

The coffee table appeared in the 20th century, most likely in the 1920s and 1930s. As Americans began to purchase parlor sets, consisting of perhaps a couch, two chairs, and several small tables, the coffee table idea became more popular.

In 1903, F. Stuart Foote founded the Imperial Furniture Company in Grand Rapids, Michigan. He had learned the furniture business from his father, E. H. Foote, who had founded the Grand Rapids Chair Company in 1872. Foote claimed to have invented the coffee table himself while helping his wife prepare for a party. He simply lowered the legs on an existing table, and a new type of furniture came into being. Unfortunately, so far this hasn’t been proven.

Prohibition may have also played a role in the development of the coffee table. From 1920 to 1933, America was legally "dry." That led to a shortage of well blended, smooth tasting liquor. “Bathtub gin" and "white lightning" to the place of traditional spirits but both had quite a kick.  To soften that kick, people began mixing fruit juices and other beverages with the hootch which eventually led to the invention of the "cocktail."

During Prohibition, people often used this low table to serve coffee to their guests. But with the repeal of the law, they could once again legally serve cocktails, so it became known as a “cocktail table.” Sales for these low tables soared even during the Depression.

To make them seem older than they were and thus more elegant, many furniture manufacturers began producing their coffee/cocktail tables using stylized designs of the past. This was a direct result of the appearance of the Colonial Revival style of the early 20th century which encouraged furniture makers to create pieces in supposedly “colonial” styles. All of a sudden coffee tables appeared in the Queen Anne, Chippendale, Federal, and even Jacobean styles. Thus, many people today are fooled into thinking that their coffee tables are really antiques.

The only way to have a truly antique coffee table is to cut down an existing antique table as F. Stuart Foote did in 1903. And while your coffee table will be a true antique, it won’t be worth very much.

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Tuesday, November 7, 2017

Fire in a Box

QUESTION: My father recently passed away and left me a number of things, including his collection of matchboxes. No, not the toy cars but the real thing—boxes that hold matches. I believe there are several hundred in the collection. Frankly, I’d like to continue collecting them, but I have no idea where to start. Can you help me? And can you tell me a bit about the history of matchboxes?

ANSWER: When a person, such as yourself, inherits someone else’s collection, they need to decide whether to merely curate the collection, that is take care of it and preserve it, or to make it there own. It sounds like you’d like to make your father’s matchbox collection your own. The first thing you need to do is learn about the history of these unique containers, then you need to find out which types are the most collectible, not necessarily the most valuable.

Matchboxes consist of a sliding-drawer within a sleeve, and since their appearance, they have made possible a variety of graphic designs and artistry.

Before 1844, when Gustraf Eric Pasch invented the safety match, finding a source to light a fire in an emergency was a challenge. He devised a system of impregnating little sticks of pinewood with sulpher and storing them ready for use. At the slightest touch of fire they burst into flame. Formerly called a "light-bringing slave", it later became known as a “fire inch-stick.”

But it was Edvard Lundström who developed Pasch's idea of a safety match and applied for its patent with a phosphor-free tip. Johan's younger brother, Carl Frans Lundström was an entrepreneur and industrialist who helped him set up a safety match factory in Jönköping, Sweden, between 1844 and 1845. They began making matches  in 1853 and won a silver medal for their invention at the World Expo in Paris 1855.
Although expensive to produce, their matches became known throughout the world as Swedish Matches.

Once the manufacturing of safety matches had begun, the Lundström brothers came up with a practical form of packaging that’s still used today—the matchstick box with an inner box and an outer sleeve. They coated the sides of the outer sleeve with a striking surface containing red phosphorus. And they made each box by hand. The designs on Swedish matchboxes dominated the market and soon most of the matchbox labels in the world imitated these designs.

In 1892, Alexander Lagerman invented a machine that revolutionized safety match manufacturing. The
machine dipped matchsticks in sulphur, paraffin and the match head substance. It split them, dried them, then packed them into matchboxes. Everything was automated. When the brothers built their safety match factory in Jönköping, production reached 4,000 boxes a year. By 1896, the firm produced over seven million boxes a year.

In that same year, a brewing company ordered more than 50,000 matchbooks to advertise a new product, thus the practice of matchbook advertising was born. Once they became common, advertisers were eager to use these popular items to get their messages to the public.

Advertisers display a wide variety of both consumer and industrial goods and services using matchbox ads. However, restaurants clearly dominate all other categories of trade. Next in line are probably hotels and motels, yacht and country clubs and other types of membership organizations; industrial firms, retailers and financial institutions. Represented to a lesser extent are food products, liquor, tobacco, tourist attractions, transportation, mostly airlines, real estate, insurance, automobile dealers, sports, public utilities, and governmental agencies.

A matchbox has two trays instead of one. Most feature colorful holographic or 3-D illustrations and other decorative motifs, such as seashells or holiday symbols on their covers. Manufacturers made some matchboxes in sets, commemorating historical events or popular cultural icons, to enhance their retention value. Subjects vary widely, from zoo animals, British royalty, museum pieces, jokes, old ads, classic autos, and scenic points of interest. Holiday Inn issued one of the largest numbers of different collectible matchboxes.

Some matchboxes can be personalized with a loyal customer's name imprinted to reward patronage in restaurants and other businesses. These often have a few blank lines printed on the back so that the user can note names, addresses, phone numbers and notes.

Generally, matchbox sizes range all the way from "micro" at 1 5/8 x 7/8 x 1/4 inches on up to 4 1/2 x 2 1/4 x 1 3/16-inches and some are even larger. The bigger sizes house kitchen, fireplace, pipe and cigar matches. In addition to rectangular, boxes can be square, hexagonal, round, or in odd shapes like miniature barrels.

While manufacturers used plain cardboard for the majority of matchboxes, there are some made of glossy coated cardboard, foil, plastic, and wood.

Besides the United States, collectible matchboxes can also be found in other countries, such as England, Canada, Japan, Australia, Korea, Italy, Austria, Hungary, Sweden, Spain, Ireland, Wales, and France.

Matchboxes are an affordable collectible with many examples selling for mere pennies. There’s also a great deal of variety with over 250 different matchbox categories such as military or hotels. While the U.S. matchbox collectors is facing a diminishing supply because people are quitting smoking or using lighters, the foreign hobby is still going strong. Diligent U.S. collectors can also still find giveaway matchboxes, however.

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Wednesday, October 4, 2017

The Rarity of Napoli

QUESTION: Recently, I discovered a glass biscuit jar at a regional antiques show. I collect art glass but have never seen anything like it before. What’s so unusual about this piece is that it seems to be painted on both the inside and outside. Can you tell me anything about it?

ANSWER: The only type of art glass that’s painted on both the inside and outside is Napoli glass, produced by the Mount Washington/Pairpoint Glass Company of New Bedford, Massachusetts.

Albert Steffin, the head of the Mount Washington decorating department, patented Napoli glass on May 22, 1894. He had found a way to decorate clear glassware on both the inside and outside. In a way he used another method of glass decoration called “reverse painting,” which originated in Antioch around 200 A.D., as his inspiration. During the 18th and early 19th centuries, American and European mirror and clock makers used this type of decoration to ornament the tops of mirrors and the glass doors of wall clocks.

Steffin’s method began by first outlining the basic form on the outside of the glass in silver or gold metallic paint. This outline then served as a guide for producing the design on the inside using colored enamels. This decoration process produced a novel and almost three-dimensional effect unlike the decoration on any other type of glass.

But Steffin didn’t invent this type of decoration solely as a way to produce a unique type of glass. He actually was more concerned about the savings it would give him because with two different types of paint, each on a different side of the glass, he would only have to fire his pieces once, thus offering him a big savings on fuel. If he applied the two different types of paint on the outside, he’d have to apply and fire one, then do the same for other and firing again. Firing both types of paint separately also resulted in a brighter finish and correct coloration.

Workers at the Mount Washington factory produced the majority of Napoli glass pieces using the same forms as the firm’s other art glass lines—Verona, Royal Flemish, and Crown Milano.  But the Napoli pieces have an interconnected network of lines that looks like a spider web which makes them stand out from other kinds of art glass.

One unusual decoration on Mt. Washington glass depicts Brownie figures, created by author/illustrator Palmer Cox. Brownies were extremely popular within a few years after Cox published his first children’s book in 1887.

Of all the art glass on the market, Napoli is the hardest to find. At first glance, it doesn’t look like it would be particularly valuable, but its rarity drives the prices of pieces upward. Many pieces have gilt lines painted on the outside which makes them especially appealing to collectors.

Each piece bears a mark on the bottom in gold enamel. with the word “Napoli,” followed by the shape number.  If the mark is in silver, then the piece may also bear another mark of “MW” for Mount Washington. Common shapes include vases, punch cups, marmalade and cracker jars. Salt and pepper shakers are the rarest.

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Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Gotta Light?

QUESTION: I used to be a smoker, so I’ve owned my share of cigarette lighters. Most of the recent ones were of the disposable variety, but I had some earlier ones that were sort of unique. My favorite was one shaped like a little pistol.  Recently, I started seeing some of the earlier lighters for sale on eBay. I think I’d like to start a collection, but I’m not sure where to begin. Can you help me?

ANSWER: As with any collectible, the more you know about it before you start collecting, the better.

First invented in 1823 and improved in the 1880s, pocket cigarette lighters were as common as wallets by the beginning of the 20th century. Basic vintage lighters were mechanical, in which a spark from a flint striking a wheel ignited a wick or created a flame above a gas valve. Semi-automatic ones had a wheel which also opened the fuel-source cover while automatic ones had a push-button that did everything.

The first manual lighters, called strike lighters, worked like matches. Users would scratch a flint using a wand with a hard metal tip and an attached wick. The flint would create sparks to ignite a wick, soaked with flammable fluid. Lighters had become functional as well as artistic with the invention of the semiautomatic lighter in the 1920s, in which the user flipped open the lid and a flint wheel simultaneously spun and ignited the wick.

Louis Aronson, the founder of Ronson lighters, invented the automatic lighter in 1926.  It requires only the push of a button to create the flame, which stays lit as long as the user holds down the button. Early electric lighters, which were simple to use, worked like the lighters in classic cars: The lighter had a metal coil at its tip and plugged into a larger housing, which would heat the bottom enough to ignite a cigarette.

Through World War II, most lighters ran on Naptha, a petroleum mixture—after the war, compressed butane replaced it.

Vintage lighters vary from expensive, elegant objects made from precious metals to cheap novelty items, such as lighters that look like lipstick cases or little T.V. sets.

Cigarette lighters come in a vast variety of shapes and sizes, from tiny pocket-sized to huge table lighters. Most of the unusual-shaped lighters are Japanese models. They made some interesting shapes, mostly from 1950 through the 1970s. Lighters took the shapes of revolvers, pistols, derringers, and even machine guns.

Lighters came in lots of other shapes, such as animals and forms of transportation. Sports cars, train locomotives, motorcycles, yachts, submarines, helicopters, and airplanes are just some of the few.  But they also took the shapes of shoes, fire extinguishers, lighthousses, cameras, and even grenades.

Name an object and somebody probably designed a lighter that looks like it. One took the form of a working slot machine—by pulling the handle, it would light. Ronson even made a Kewpie doll lighter in 1916. And then there’s one shaped like a pool table with an attached pool cue. There was also a jukebox that played a tune while the user lit up.

The craze for vintage lighters has heated up in recent years. With the invention of disposable lighters and the drop in the market for more ornate models, plus fewer people smoking, vintage cigarette lighters have become an art form that will probably never be duplicated. As a beginning collector, you can spend as little or as much as you want. But more important is the story behind the lighter and the history that goes with it.

Collecting vintage lighters is affordable and they don’t take up much room, so they’re perfect for those living in smaller spaces.

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Monday, September 18, 2017

Thanks for the Memories

QUESTION: When I was a kid, my parents used to take me to Atlantic City every summer. As I get older, my memories of those summer vacations are but vague recollections. Recently, I was browsing a local antique cooperative and came across a small, red and white cream pitcher with “From Atlantic City 1897" scratched into what looks like a red coating. Immediately, memories from those vacations from my early childhood came flooding back, so I bought it. What can you tell me about my little pitcher?

ANSWER: Obviously, your little cream pitcher dates from before your birth, but like other souvenirs of summer destinations, it’s no less important. In fact, with the coming of the railroads in the early part of the 19th century and the Industrial Revolution, middle-class Victorians took to the road, rail, and sea in great numbers. Most of them wanted to take home a souvenir of their trip, and your little cream pitcher is one of them.

One of the most popular of these were ruby-stained glass toothpick holders, tumblers, goblets, creamers and pitchers inscribed with their name or the name of the destination and the date.

Glass souvenirs did not first appear at the Philadelphia Centennial in 1876, as many believe, but much earlier. Little keepsakes had always been made in blown glass. After less expensive pressed glass appeared in 1825, owners of fairs and expositions sought out these more profitable items. Manufacturers pressed plates and tumblers with pictures of an event. But it was the smaller items, such as match and toothpick holders and little creamers and mugs that became popular. Makers often stained these pieces red or amber and engraved them with an inscription. Glass makers created thousands of these small articles for the large expositions, such as the Chicago Fair in 1893, as well as the popular county fairs.

Staining a piece of glass involved painting an already-pressed piece of clear pattern glass with a ruby-colored stain and reheating it to 1000 degrees in a kiln which turned the coating bright red. Sometimes, makers used an amber stain to decorate their pressed pieces. Pieces stained in this fashion could then be engraved with flower or leaf bands or souvenir inscriptions.

Produced in the United States from 1880 to 1920, there were eventually thousands of patterns of pressed glass that flooded the market. Makers produced many of the more popular patterns in a variety of forms. They combined different colors of glass and different decorating techniques to produce hundreds of thousands of pieces of glass. People would purchase a piece of blank stained glass at an event or travel destination and could then have it personalized with their name and date.

One of the more popular ruby stained patterns, Button Arches, introduced originally around 1898, continued in production until the 1960s and 1970s. The design consisted of slightly overlapping pointed arches around the bottom edges and covers of pieces, each arch containing tightly packed "buttons."  Made in clear, clear with ruby staining and gold-stained bands, collectors can find this pattern highlighted with souvenir inscriptions.

In the late 1890s, the U.S. Glass Co., a consortium of smaller companies, came up with the idea of marketing a series of glass patterns named after the various states. Though a few of these patterns were new to the series, some were reissues of earlier lines reintroduced as part of this line. The state series continued through the turn-of-the-century. Most of the state patterns featured geometric or imitation cut-glass designs, but a few had a plant and flower motif that added to their appeal.  Obviously, state patterned glass was popular as a souvenir from the state for which the pattern was named.
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Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Harmonica Memories

QUESTION: When I was about six years old, my dad gave me a harmonica. It was just a basic one, nothing special, but to me, it was very special. This was back in the mid-1950s and westerns were big on T.V. I watched several of them in which the cowboys would be sitting around the campfire and one of them would invariably be playing a harmonica. I loved that harmonica. What can you tell me about the history of the harmonica? I’m considering starting a collection of them and would like to know what types to collect.

ANSWER: Most harmonica collectors can trace their interest in them to their childhood. Fathers would often give their sons a harmonica—it was definitely a boy thing—when they were five or six years old.

The modern harmonica was invented in Germany. However, the distinctive element that makes a harmonica play—the "free reed" that vibrates to produce a tone as wind passes over it—dates to a Chinese instrument called the sheng, supposedly invented by an empress named Nuwa around 3000 BC.

This deceptively simple, portable instrument—also known. as the mouth organ, mouth harp, pocket piano and tin sandwich—does span a surprisingly broad range of American culture. It has been said there are as many harmonicas in the United States as other kinds of musical instruments combined, although they aren’t as visible today as they once were.

Besides the standard versions, harmonicas have featured such entertainment icons as Mickey Mouse, Popeye, Roy Rogers, the Lone Ranger, to name a few, as well as sports figures such as Stan Musial, an avid harmonica player who published a song book. Novelty harmonicas come in a variety of shapes, including crabs, alligators, a cob of corn, even guns.

A basic Hohner Marine Band 10-hole diatonic harmonica can often be found for around $20-$25. One could collect just Marine Band models, in fact, for this name has been applied to at least 30 different models over more than 100 years, each available in a variety of keys and packaged in an array of boxes. Some collectors specialize in particular models.

Most collectible harmonicas sell for $45 to $200. A small number go for $200 to $400, and there are just a few higher than that. As with all collectibles, their rarity, age and condition are important.

The Holy Grail of harmonica collecting is the Pipeolion by the C. Weiss Company, a 10-hole, 7-inch model with sounding pipes that fan out from the body.  About eight are known to exist.

Beginning harmonica collectors often have difficulty determining the age of a particular model.  In fact, they may be fooled into thinking a harmonica is older than it is because some companies, especially Hohner, stamped  a variety of 19th and 20th-century dates on the cover plates of most of their harmonicas. These don't indicate when the harmonica was made, but rather important dates in company history, such as the founding of the Hohner factories, or in some cases when the company won a prize, such as the Grand Prix Paris of 1917.

But reasonably accurate dating is possible by carefully examining both the external and internal structure of a harmonica. Some manufacturers stamped their instruments with registration numbers that can be tracked. Early harmonicas had reed plates made of lead, with nickel-plated covers of stamped steel or tin. Reeds and covers became brass in the late 1800s or early 1900s. Celluloid cover plates became common on some harmonicas in the early 1900s, and both bright metallic colors and a streamlined look clearly mark harmonicas made in the Art Deco 1920s and 1930s.

The material of the central body, or comb, of a harmonica evolved, as well. Early on, pear wood was the standard, but swelled and become rough with moisture over time. Very old instruments sometimes show the marks of whittling or trimming to alleviate this problem. Mahogany and other hardwoods proved more durable. And synthetic bodies, sometimes translucent, took over on less expensive models beginning in the 1950s.

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Tuesday, August 29, 2017

The Shimmer of Marble Glass

QUESTION: I was browsing at a flea market recently and discovered a beautiful green glass vase that looked like marble. The dealer didn’t know anything about it and said she had picked it up at a garage sale. I’ve never seen anything like it. It had veins like marble and shimmered in the sunlight. I had to have it. And now that I do, I’d love to know more about it. Can you tell my anything about this marble glass? How old is it and where was it made?

ANSWER: It’s seems that you’ve purchased what’s commonly known as “malachite” glass. The mineral malachite is a green copper carbonate stone which occurs naturally and has concentric layers. It’s especially prevalent in Russia and was a favorite of the czars. The inventors of malachite glass intended it to simulate marble. Many 19th-century glassworks used the term and each created their own variation on this theme. Those items made of this type of glass from the former Czechoslovakia go by another name—Ingrid.

Ingrid is the name of a series of artistic pressed glass items created by Henry Schlevogt and named for his daughter. Henry was the son of Curt Schlevogt, who around 1900 founded a firm in Jablonec, Bohemia, to produce glass beads and buttons. His wife, Charlotte, was the daughter of Heinrich Hoffmann, the owner of a glass company that made and exported sculptures, beads and hollowware.

But Henry knew that the "beads and buttons" business was a difficult one because of the tough competition from so many companies in the area and from other countries. He wrote to his daughter, Ingrid, that knowledge he gained in other countries had led him to create items that were so beautiful that the price wouldn’t matter.

At the Spring Trade Fair in Leipzig in 1934, Schlevogt introduced a line of ornamental crystal sculptures, and the same year presented the line at the Chicago World's Fair. The Ingrid brand was born. And while it was Curt Schlevogt who designed most of the molds used to make the glass, it was Henry who knew how to promote their new line of glass. Ingrid was so well received at the Fair that the firm began producing it on a large scale.

Schlevogt reached out to designers working with the Wiener Werkstatte, including Franz Hagenauer, Ena Rottenberg, and Vally Wieselthier, and also to designers who worked for other major glass firms, such as Bruno Mauder, Eleon von Rommel, and Alexander Pfohl. The result was a complete line of ornamental sculptures, perfumes with figural daubers and/or impressed stoppers, liquor sets, toilet sets, devotional items, figurines, table ware, and vases.

Henry Schlevogt utilized the technology at the Riedel glassworks in Polubny, Czechoslovakia, to make this artistic, marbled, pressed glass. But just because his firm pressed the glass into molds, didn’t mean that it was of inferior quality. The glass, itself, was pure. Workers ground out the mold marks and frosted or polished the surfaces. They even engraved some of the details.

The most common items are those made of jade green and lapis blue marbled glass. The company’s 1939 catalog shows more than 200 crystal and another 80 jade/lapis items.

Schlevogt's crystal perfumes aren’t as easily identified. Some appear in the firm's catalogs, but the vast majority have been included in the broad category of Czechoslovakian glass in most listings. The designs for perfumes included bottles in various Art Deco shapes, and stoppers with relief-pressed nudes, couples, flowers, and butterflies.

By 1936, Schlevogt had business representatives in several European cities. When the Czechoslovak pavilion won a Grand Prize at the 1937 Paris World's Fair, Schlevogt's ornamental sculptures by Ena Rottenberg and Josef Bernhard were part of the reason. By 1940, the Schlevogt firm owned more than 1,300 glass molds, coin molds, and hand presses. It had its own cutting, sandblasting, and acid-etching workshops, but continued to have the glass shapes pressed at the Riedel firm.

The Czechoslovak government nationalized the glass industry after World War II and sentenced Henry Schlevogt to prison in Siberia. After his release in 1948, the Communist government in Czechoslovakia t banished him. He first went to Austria, then accepted an offer to manage the glassworks in Romilly-sur-Andelle, France. He sold this firm in 1972 and died in Paris in 1984.

Collectors need to be cautious, however, since the Ingrid molds have been used continuously. In addition, unauthorized versions of Ingrid items have been made from reverse-engineered molds.

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Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Tea for Two or More

QUESTION: I recently started going to antique shows. I’m new to antique collecting and find the whole thing fascinating. On a trip to a recent local show, I saw several unusual boxes. The dealers told me they were tea caddies. All of them had locks. Can you tell me a little about these unique boxes? I’d love to collect them, but they seemed rather pricey.

ANSWER: Tea caddies are one of the more unique items available to antique collectors. They’re good to collect because they don’t take up too much room, but their age and quality can make them prohibitively expensive, especially for the beginning collector. Before discussing tea caddies, themselves, it’s important to know how the tea trade began and why each of the caddies had locks.

People have been drinking tea since 2737 BC, when, according to legend, a few leaves from a nearby tree blew into Chinese Emperor Shen Nung's pot of boiling water. Apparently, the Emperor took a sip of the  brew, only to discover that it was both delicious and refreshing.

Tea brewing and drinking evolved into a ritualistic exercise. During the Ming Dynasty from 1368 to 1644, people brewed the delicate leaves in vessels with lids in which they steeped them in boiled water. Early 17th-century Dutch and Portuguese silk and spice traders tried to introduce Chinese tea to Europe, but it took time to catch on. Even the English, known for their love of a "cuppa," waited until the mid-17th century before trying it. Since tea was expensive, only the aristocracy could afford to drink it.

People believed it was therapeutic as well as delicious. Asians had known the health benefits of tea for thousands of years. And even though Portugal and Holland imported tea 50 years ahead of England, tea remained a precious commodity, so people used it sparingly.

The first recorded sale of tea in England occurred in 1657. At first it was available only in apothecaries, coffee houses, snuff shops and through shops catering for ladies needs. However by the second half of the 18th century smuggled tea was so widely available, that even respectable people bought it illegally for less money.

William Pitt tried to address this problem in his Commutation Act of 1784, which reduced taxes on tea and halved its price. The legitimate imports quadrupled making tea more accessible to a wider section of society.

It wasn’t until the 1750s that tea caddies became a home style accessory. The word caddy derives from the Malay word "kati," meaning a measure of weight about 3/5 of a kilo. The 17th century tea containers were bottle shaped tea jars in china, glass, silver, enamel and straw-work covered metal.

Cabinetmakers began to make tea caddies out of wood in box form beginning in the late 1820s. The made the first ones of mahogany in the shape of small chests which contained three metal canisters. They generally came in two styles—simple and ornate.

Both styles shared certain characteristics. Both had handles on top and stood on either bracket feet or a plinth-style base. They had stepped lids and molding of some sort along the edges. Usually, these caddies had straight sides. The fancier tea caddies often had gilded brass mounts and feet. As time went on, cabinetmakers introduced new designs, woods and shapes to their caddies.

Tea caddies came in three sizes—single, double, and triple.

Single caddies could be square, polygonal, oval, or elliptical and sometimes  urn-shaped. Tops were mostly flat with sometimes a small loop handle or finial in the center. Escutcheons of inlaid ivory, bone or boxwood surrounded the keyhole. Inside they had a free standing lid. Sometimes, the tops were shaped like pyramids, continuing the proportions of the side panels.

Double caddies were usually oblong sometimes octagonal or oval. They had two lids, or two removable canisters with hinged tops. Some had one lid and a space for a glass bowl that people usually used for storing sugar. Others had a second bowl for mixing the blend of tea.

Triple caddies had either two lids, three lids, two canisters, three canisters or two lids or canisters flanking a space in the center for a glass bowl. They had rectangular shapes and rarely contained two glass jars and a bowl.

Cabinetmakers covered the more elaborate tea caddies in luxurious veneers. Cutting veneers by hand was a highly skilled job. The veneers were much thicker than those used today. This created a problem because moisture could be absorbed into the veneer’s edge. To solve this problem, cabinetmakers edged their caddies with strips of contrasting plain wood, usually holly or boxwood or in herringbone designs.

Caddies made of plainer mahogany often had marquetry decoration. Makers inserted per-made panels, mostly of oval shape, of marquetry or penwork enhanced marquetry, onto the box by cutting the veneer to the required shape. The most common designs were in the Neoclassical style of flora, urns, garlands, paterae, lyres, stylized baskets, birds and mythical beings.

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