By Terry Kovel
Honey has a history going back to 2,100 b.c. It is mentioned in some Babylonian writings. It was used for sweetening food, for medicine, for religious ceremonies, and even as a form of money.
In the 18th and 19th centuries, a special serving dish and usually a special serving fork or spoon were devoted to each type of food, so it’s not surprising to find special antique honey pots. The wealthy used silver serving pieces, and honey pots might be shaped like bee skeps or have a sculpted or engraved bee as decoration.
Skeps were made of woven straw and were portable. If a skep was not destroyed to get honey out, another swarm of bees could inhabit a skep the next season. Old skeps sell today for about $50 to $100 as decorations. It is illegal to raise bees with a skep today. Beekeepers must be able to open hives today so mite medicine can be applied.
Old and new honey pots can be found made of glass and pottery. If you plan to use a sterling- or silver-plated pot, it must have a glass liner. Honey encourages silver tarnish, and tarnish destroys some of honey’s nutrients.
A window shelf that holds a collection of cobalt-blue bottles attracts attention, so many new collectors buy their bottles by color. Most early bottles were made of pale-blue or aqua glass. It was difficult to produce clear glass in the 18th and early 19th centuries. Early bottles were blown, sometimes shaped by the maker or sometimes blown into an iron mold. A bottle had small imperfections caused by tiny pieces of sand or other ingredients. Dark colors were rare.
By 1880, the quality of glass was improving. Whittle marks and tiny bubbles were seen less often, and chemicals were added to make colored glass smooth. Amber, green, brown, light blue, and clear bottles were made to hold medicine, whiskey, soda, ink, mineral water, and canned food. The most popular cobalt-blue color was made by adding cobalt oxide to the glass mixture. The automatic bottling machine came into use in 1903, so cobalt-blue bottles seen most often today were machine-made. Many held medicine, like Bromo-Seltzer or Milk of Magnesia. These are very inexpensive. But old cobalt bottles made earlier can be worth hundreds of dollars.
Buying tips: Old bottles probably have pontil marks (a pontil mark is a scar on the bottom), flaws, and raised lettering identifying the contents or maker. Many new cobalt-blue figural bottles have been made. Bottles marked “Wheaton” on the bottom are new. There are cobalt-blue bottles in stores today that hold water or vodka.
Most people have heard about the bout of “Tulipmania” that spread through the Netherlands in the 17th century, but few know about “Pteridomania,” or fern madness.
In the 19th century, ferns were part of a popular health regimen. People would go into the woods to hunt for ferns or to study nature. It was good exercise for body and soul. People from all levels of society joined in searching for new varieties of ferns they could record, plant, or dry and put in albums. The many varieties of ferns were soon featured on porcelains and iron garden furniture, and in paintings and interior decors. Green majolica plates shaped like fern leaves, iron benches by Coalbrookdale, and children’s toy porcelain dishes by Ridgways were decorated with ferns.
The madness continued into the 1880s, but even today, ferns are popular house and garden plants. More than 10 varieties are offered in new mail-order garden catalogs, and even more can be found in nurseries in cities with a fern-friendly climate. It would be easy to find decorative examples of Pteridomania and form a collection today.
A 7-1/2-foot-high safety pin that looks like a modern sculpture actually is a floor lamp made in 1975 by modern artist Yonel Lebovici (1937-1998). In the 1960s, he started making very unusual lamps and other items inspired by everyday objects. His marketing ideas were unusual for an artist at the time. He made a limited number of each creation, which means he was among the first to sell “limited editions.” He was ahead of the huge popularity of limited-edition plates, figurines, and other collectibles.
In the late 1960s, machine-made plates and figurines often were limited to the number made in one year. Collectors paid more for those no longer made. In the 1990s, limited editions lost favor and prices fell. But to own “the-only-one-made” art piece by a known artist gives extra prestige to a collector, and prices are high. Work by an important artist limited to about 20 examples also entices collectors to pay higher prices.
Lebovici was influenced by everyday household items, fish and perpetual motion. He created cordless lamps using the then-new low voltage technology. The large safety-pin lamp, from an edition of 10, auctioned for $37,500 at Sotheby’s in 2012.
Q: I have an original program from the Candlestick Park Dedication Dinner held at the Garden Court of the Sheraton-Palace Hotel in San Francisco on April 11, 1960. It’s autographed by a few baseball players and by some of the people who spoke at the dedication, including Vice President Richard Nixon, Major League Baseball Commissioner Ford Frick, Giants owner Horace Stoneham, and Giants manager Bill Rigney. What is it worth?
A: The San Francisco Giants played at Seals Stadium for two seasons before Candlestick Park opened in 1960. The team played there for 40 years, until its new ballpark on San Francisco Bay (now called AT&T Park) opened in 2000. Your program would interest collectors of baseball memorabilia, but the Nixon signature means it also might appeal to people who want political collectibles. If you want to sell, contact an auction that specializes in sports collectibles. The program could sell for $100, but it might also bring $500 or more, depending on the program’s condition and the fame of everyone who autographed it.
Q: I still have my Alice Marble wooden tennis racket my parents gave me when I was about 10 years old. It was made by Wilson® and reads “Court Queen” on the handle. Is this of any value, or is it just a piece of tennis history?
A: Tennis player Alice Marble (1913-1990) was ranked No. 1 in the world in 1939. She broke world records when she won the singles, doubles, and mixed doubles titles at both Wimbledon and the U.S. Open that year. During World War II, she was a spy for the United States and was wounded when trying to get some Nazi financial information. Wilson made more than one model of Alice Marble tennis rackets. The Court Queen model was introduced in about 1938. Old wooden rackets aren’t particularly valuable today. Rackets like yours sell for under $40. They are hung on the wall as decoration, not used to play tennis.
Q: We have a set of toy American Indians that consists of 11 figures, including the chief, an Indian on horseback with bow and arrow, another Indian with a gun, a female figure and others. They were in my husband’s family for years. The box they’re in reads, “Elastolin, Made in Germany.” I would appreciate any information you can give me.
A: Elastolin is a trademark used by toy manufacturer O. & M. Hauser of Stuttgart, Germany. The company was founded in 1904 by Otto and Max Hausser. In 1912, Hauser began making miniature military figures out of a mixture of sawdust and glue. The figures were hand-painted and marked “Elastolin.” Figures representing soldiers from many wars, medieval characters, cowboys and Indians, and other figures, including animals, were made in several sizes. Figures representing members of Nazi organizations and their leaders were made in the 1930s. The figures of Hitler, Goring, Goebbels, and other Nazi leaders had movable right arms that could be raised in the Nazi salute. No figures were made between 1943 and 1945, when German industries concentrated on the war effort. Hard plastic figures were made beginning in 1955, and soft plastic figures beginning in 1970. Production ceased in 1983. Your American Indian figures are sought by collectors. Depending on complexity and condition, the figures sell online for $10 to $100.
Q: I inherited 13 Bessie Pease Gutmann prints when my cousin died. They are all framed and look very old. Some are named and several are not. I would like to know how to find out what they’re worth.
A: Bessie Pease Gutmann (1876-1960) was an American artist who did illustrations for advertisements, books, magazines, postcards, and calendars. She is best known for her prints of babies and young children. She stopped working in 1947. Her prints have been mass-produced. Original prints were done on matte paper and include the print number and the name and city of the publisher, “Gutmann and Gutmann, New York, N.Y.” Titles on early prints were written in block letters. Later, prints had titles in script. Original prints can be worth a few hundred dollars, while copies sell for as little as $10 to $15 each.
Q: We have a cast-iron wood-burning stove in our garage that we salvaged from an old cabin. The markings on it read, “Lakeside Foundry Co., Chicago, Ill., Bell-Wood, Windsor.” Can you tell us anything about it?
A: Lakeside Foundry Co. was in business from about 1902 until 1920, when the foundry was sold and the name became Lakeside Forge. Lakeside Foundry made stoves, bells, tableware, and other items that were sold by Montgomery Ward. Windsor was one of the brands sold by Montgomery Ward.
Q: When I was going through my father’s belongings after he died, I found a framed photo of a horseracing scene above an uncirculated U.S. $2 bill with gold embossing. The framed pieces are titled “The $2 Bill,” and between the photo and the bill are these words: “The two-dollar bill with its unique gold embossing and portrait of a smiling Thomas Jefferson was the favorite of Nevada sportsmen and countless American horseracing enthusiasts. It was retired from circulation in 1966 never again to adorn the winner’s circle.” The bill shows it’s from “Series of 1928 F” and the signatures on it are “W.A. Julian” and “John W. Snyder.” Can you tell me anything about this?
A: The $2 bill was introduced in the United States in 1862. All U.S. paper currency was produced in its current size starting with Series 1928, and the bills began circulating in 1929. The $2 bill was discontinued by the U.S. Treasury in 1966, but it was reintroduced in 1976. The bills have not been widely used by the American public, but they’re favorites at horseracing tracks where the minimum bid is $2. The signatures on your bill indicate that it was issued between 1946 and 1949, when William Alexander Julian was U.S. Treasurer and John W. Snyder was the Secretary of the Treasury. The gold embossing was done by a private company, not by the U.S. Mint. An uncirculated $2 bill the series and age of yours could sell for about $35. We spotted another framed collage like yours mounted with a Series 1963 A $2 bill. It sold online for $20.
Q: When I was six or seven years old in the late 1930s, I played with a small tin toy boat that held a bit of water and below it was another compartment with a candle. When I lit the candle, it would heat the water and turn it into steam. The steam went through a small pipe to the water in the boat and propelled the boat forward. I think the toy was made in Japan and cost just a few pennies at the time. Can you give me more information about the toy?
A: Your toy boat has several different names. Most common is the name “pop-pop boat,” but it’s also called a “puf-puf boat.” Its history dates back to France in the 1880s, but it was patented by Frenchman Thomas Piot in 1891. Heat is created with either a candle or a small oil burner. The toys were popular playthings in the 1930s, ‘40s and ‘50s, but they lost favor when plastic toys took over the market. Collectors hunt for toys like yours, but they don’t pay more than $15 to $25 for a used boat. If yours were in its original and unopened package, it could sell for up to $50.
Q: I would like some information about my grandfather clock. It was made by by J.J. Welsh from Heton Lehole, Scotland (not sure of the spelling). I have tried to look up the name of the clockmaker and the town but have had no luck. The clock must be about 200 years old. A previous owner painted the clock’s face plate, which was rusted out, so the face is not original.
A: Your clock may have been made by John James Welch, a clockmaker who worked in Hetton-le-Hole, Durham County, England, from 1877 to 1884. His last name is sometimes spelled “Welsh.” He worked in Seaham Harbour, also in Durham County, England, in 1864. We did not find a town in Scotland called Heton Lehole. Maybe when the dial was repainted, the name and location were mislabeled.
Q: I’m 92 years old and am trying to get rid of some old possessions. A copy of the April 20, 1865, Philadelphia Inquirer has been in my family for ages. The front page has several articles about President Abraham Lincoln’s funeral. There are drawings (not photographs) of the funeral car and coffin. I’d like to sell it but don’t know the value. Can you help?
A: Newspapers covering the death of President Lincoln are collectible. The value of old newspapers varies, depending on the importance of the historical event covered as well as condition and rarity. A front-page article with graphic art is more important than articles on inside pages or those without pictures. Before photography was commonly used, illustrations were made from woodcuts. Some newspapers that are old but don’t cover significant events sell for under $10, while newer papers covering important events can sell for hundreds of dollars. Old newspapers become yellow and crumble if not stored properly, but newspapers printed on paper made from rag linen, common before 1876, don’t deteriorate as quickly as those made on modern paper. Newspapers should be stored flat and away from light, heat, and moisture. Don’t store them in the attic or basement. Newspapers with stories about Lincoln have sold in recent years for $10 to a few hundred dollars, depending on condition and content.
Q: I was given an antique secretary, but the desk section is locked and I have no key. How can I open it without ruining the lock?
A: Don’t try to pick the lock. Call a few professional locksmiths and find one who is comfortable working with an antique lock. You will find someone who can open it safely.
Q: I have a tea cart that my parents bought in England in the early 1950s. It has been used by our family ever since, but not for serving tea. It’s on wheels and has two removable trays. There are two metal tags on the rail. One reads, “Staples Trolley, Prov Patent 22852/52.” The other reads, “Made by Staples & Co. Ltd., Wire Mattress & Bedstead Maker to the late King George VI.” Can you tell me how old the tea cart is, and if it has any value?
A: The patent is a United Kingdom patent dated June 12, 1952, for improvements to “tea trolleys, dinner wagons and like dispensing trolleys.” Your tea trolley was made shortly before your parents bought it in the 1950s. A tea trolley is what the English call a tea cart or tea wagon, a wheeled cart that usually has two shelves and can be pushed from room to room. It’s handy for transporting dishes or food from kitchen to table and back. The patent lists Staples & Co. Ltd. and Robert Garnett Heal as applicants. Staples & Co. was founded by Harold Heal and received a royal warrant of appointment as wire mattress and bedstead maker in 1923. Wooden trolleys from the 1950s sell for about $200 to $600, depending on design and condition.
Q: My old creamer is marked with the outline of what looks like Ohio and the words “Leigh Ware by Leigh Potters, Inc., U.S.A.” inside. Underneath that it reads, “Patent applied for, warranted 22K gold.” Is this worth anything?
A: Leigh Potters was in business in Alliance, Ohio, from 1926 to 1931. The company’s mark is outlined by the shape of the state of Ohio. Leigh Potters made dinnerware, kitchenware, and decorative art ware. Your creamer is part of a set of dishes and has a low value if it’s not partnered with the sugar bowl. Price: under $20.
Q: Can you give me any information about a “John Bull” chess set made in India? The elaborate carved ivory pieces are British soldiers versus Indian Raj soldiers. I never see them for sale on the Internet.
A: Sets like yours usually are referred to as “John Company” sets because that was the nickname for the British East India Co. The origins of the game of chess can be traced to India before the sixth century, and the game continues to be very popular there. During the British Raj (British rule) from 1858 to 1947, many sets with ivory pieces — some elaborate and some simple — were made. The value of yours depends on how elaborately it was carved and what condition the pieces are in. Sets that predate 1989 can sell for very high prices. That’s the year a worldwide ban on the sale of ivory was implemented. But you won’t see the sets for sale on eBay®. It will not allow the sale of any ivory on its site. If you want to sell, contact a reputable auction house that sells on land.
Ask The Expert: Terry Kovel welcomes letters from readers and answers as many as possible, but unfortunately, the volume of mail makes most personal answers or appraisals impossible. Write to Terry Kovel, c/o TREASURES, 316 West Fifth St., Waterloo, IA 50701.
© 2013 by Cowles Syndicate Inc.