Monday, March 27, 2017

Up and Down and Around the World

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Nothing to Get Depressed About

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Mementos From the World of Tomorrow

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, March 6, 2017

And Away We Go

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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