Tuesday, June 27, 2017

The Real McCoy

QUESTION: I love to collect cookie jars. I don’t have too many unusual ones in my collection, so you can imagine my joy when I came across this Mission Apollo cookie jar, made by the McCoy Pottery Company.  It’s one of the most unique ones I’ve seen. What can you tell me about this cookie jar and about the company that made it?

ANSWER: Cookie jars are a very popular collectible and have been since the 1960s when figural cookie jars reached their peak. You found one of the more unusual ones because not only is it one of McCoy’s best, it also commemorates the Apollo mission to the Moon in 1969. But the McCoy company in all its forms has been around for a very long time.

In 1848 William Nelson McCoy started a modest pottery business in Putnam, Ohio, producing simple, sturdy, utilitarian stoneware items for both local consumers and folks located further downriver from the plant. This began a four-generations family potting venture that would continue for over 40 years. As decades passed, the factory site shifted from Putnam to Roseville, Ohio, and the product lines evolved from utilitarian stoneware to useful earthenware table and artware. At its height in the 1950s, the Nelson McCoy Pottery Company employed 500 people whose combined efforts produced 500,000 pieces every month. The design department created up 50 new designs every year. Then potters produced them in three or more glaze colors.

Early on, the company produced mostly stoneware,  decorated with a variety of glazes. Glaze decoration on stoneware ranged from solid colors to blended and matt glazes. Common matt glazes included a brown and green combination, a dark green, and a white glaze color.

In 1886, J.W. McCoy, the son of W.N. McCoy, opened the McCoy Pottery Company, which over the next 12 years would merge with another company and sold to yet another.

J. W. McCoy, assisted his son, William Nelson McCoy, to form the Nelson McCoy Sanitary Stoneware Company on a site north of Roseville, Ohio, on April 25, 1910. The company employed a combination of local and English immigrant potters. Among the company's early wares were butter crocks, churns, jars, jugs, meat tubs, mixing bowls and storage containers. Other practical early products included foot warmers  and poultry fountains. Workers labeled early churns, jars and jugs on the side with the company's stenciled “M,” double shield and clover mark. By the 1920s, the company began putting its mark on the bottom of its pieces.

In 1926, the firm expanded its range of wares, producing earthenware specialties and artware for the first time. Among the new wares, glinting with the bright glazes popular during the period, were cuspidors, umbrella stands and jardinieres with pedestals, for which McCoy became widely known.

The 1930's brought a lot of changes at the company, including a change in name to "The Nelson McCoy Pottery Company." They also shed their old image of the producer of crocks and jugs and ushered in the new techniques, designs and products. In 1934, Nelson McCoy hired an English designer named Sidney Cope, whose designs were very distinctive.

By the end of the 1930s, the demand for jardinieres and large vases was decreasing. The Nelson McCoy Pottery Company turned its attention to the production of artwares, along with novelties like figural cookie jars, an idea that came from Duncan Curtiss, from the firm’s New York sales department. Curtisss felt that cookie jars shaped in the forms of fruit, flowers and characterizations would be well received by the public. And he was right.

By 1967, McCoy Pottery had begun to have financial problems because it couldn’t compete on the international import market. The Mount Clemens Pottery Company bought the company, and in 1974 , they sold it to the Lancaster Colony Corporation. In 1990 the McCoy Pottery ceased operation after a number of declining years of sales and profit. Today the company is best remembered for it's many collectible cookie jar.

Though McCoy marked most of their cookie jars with an incised “McCoy” on the bottom, there  are some exceptions. Over the years they used a variety of styles for their logo and a jar can often be dated by knowing which styles where used during each era. But be careful, as the McCoy mark is one of the most copied marks out there. Just because a jar or seller says it’s a "real McCoy" doesn't mean it is. Caution is always advised when it comes to the higher priced cookie jars.

Because of the prolific production of the company, collectors of McCoy pottery will be able to find pieces in a variety of designs and colors for a long time. This Mission Apollo or “Astronauts” cookie jar, produced in 1970, is one of the harder ones to find.

For more information on collecting cookie jars, read “Cookie Jars—Good as Gold” in The Antiques Almanac.

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..