By Terry Kovel
Small rooms need small furniture, but large families need large tables. This problem has been solved in a variety of ways since the 17th century.
Homes with long center halls, which were needed to keep the house cool, filled the space with several tables that could fit together to form one large table. A favorite style was a four-legged center table and two end tables with curved leaves that could be raised to be level with the center table or dropped to hang at the side. By Victorian times, the table could be on a center pedestal with sides that pulled out so leaves could be added. By the late 1890s, patented slides and hardware made it possible to pull both ends of a table out, then to fill the vacant space with leaves that matched the tabletop. And by the 1900s, some tables had self-storing leaves that popped into place from under the tabletop when the top was turned or pulled out.
But the most interesting and rarest are round tables made larger by the addition of wedge-shaped pieces, or a group of tables that could be made into one round table. Peter Hvidt (1916-1986) was an architect and furniture designer in Copenhagen, Denmark. He made furniture, usually of teak and steel, in the 1960s. Pieces were very streamlined in the prevailing Danish style — thin legs and arms, no fancy trim, very little upholstery. The unique table was made of curved shapes that could be put together in different ways. There could be one large round table, a middle-size table, or a small table for one. Rago Arts and Auction Center in New Jersey sold one recently for $3,750.
Frances and Michael Higgins both went to art school, taught art and created art before they met at the Chicago Institute of Design. They were married in 1948. The couple decided to open their own studio to make fused (not blown) glass, a technique used in ancient times. Their pieces were marked “Higgins” to represent both artists.
Their glass was like a glass sandwich — one piece coated with enamel decoration, the other placed on top and heated until both pieces were fused together. Their work created a new type of colorful, well-designed glass that immediately became popular in gift shops. Each of the artists had a personal style. Frances liked to hand-paint designs; Michael used small pieces of glass to make designs.
Michael was born in England in 1908 and died in 1999. Frances, born in 1912, was still working when she died in 2004. Higgins Glass Studio of Riverside, Ill., continues the couple’s tradition of making fused glass. It is run by artists trained by Michael and Frances. Vintage Higgins pieces are popular today with collectors, but because the studio still makes glass for department stores and gift shops, pieces can be found for moderate prices.
The work is unique and recognized as artistic, yet early pieces are undervalued by both museums and collectors.
Folk art is unique and often is both useful and humorous. At a Cowan’s auction in late 2012, an example of these traits was seen in a mirror offered for sale.
The 19th-century mirror’s pine frame was carved to look like a man, with his head at the top, shoe-clad feet at the bottom and hands held up near his neck. One hand holds five fingers up, the other just two. The artist seems to be referring to the seven years of bad luck that awaits anyone who breaks a mirror. Or perhaps it was a gift for a seventh anniversary or just a suggestion of the lucky number seven. It was good luck for the seller. The mirror, only 17 inches high, was estimated at $1,000 to $1,500. It sold after a bidding battle for $5,700.
Don’t forget to look in the backyard when you go to a yard or house sale. If the house is old, you may spot a concrete birdbath, an iron garden gnome, old tools hanging on a fence or even a log cabin playhouse. Landscaping and outdoor decorating styles have changed through the years just as styles for houses and living rooms have changed. And a modern landscape can update any house.
During past centuries, trees and plantings were not placed near a house. They were far enough away to provide shade but not harm the roof. By the 1930s, a flat row of bushes, trees and other green plants were placed in a straight line against the house. Today, homes have curved beds and walks, colorful flowers in the front and back yards, paved seating areas, patios, fountains, and other water features.
In the 1900s, Weller Pottery of Zanesville, Ohio, began to make “Gardenware.” It was not part of the company’s art pottery lines, but it has become popular with today’s collectors. Weller garden figures include a pelican, pop-eyed dog, a variety of frogs, hen and chicks, dogs, squirrels, swans, rabbits, ducks, a boy fishing, and even Pan with a flute or rabbit. The figures are about 19 to 20 inches high. They are all realistic. Weller also made a variety of large frogs with coppertone glazes — a bold green with large blotches — and some figural sprinklers and birdbaths.
All of these are popular today and expensive, many costing more than $1,000.
Wooden dolls date back centuries. The earliest were crude carved pieces of wood shaped like a human figure. But today, it’s rare to find a doll made before the 1600s, when English and German draftsmen skillfully carved wooden lifelike dolls.
Most collectors today look for later carved “peg wooden” dolls like those made in Grödnertal, Germany. The dolls, which date from about 1820 to 1840, were created with arms and legs that could bend because of their pegged joints at the knees, hips, elbows, and shoulders. The early ones have heart-shaped faces, long necks and elongated bodies. Their extra-long legs showed off their high-waisted Empire-style dresses. After the 1840s, doll carvers took shortcuts and the dolls had round faces and chunky bodies.
A 2012 Theriault’s auction offered a Grödnertal peddler doll. The 13-inch doll had her original painted face, human hair wig, and jointed arms and legs. Her value increased because she wore her original clothes, from dress to cap, cape, and undergarments. She was holding a peddler’s tray filled with lace, sewing materials, household goods and a tiny miniature Grödnertal wooden doll. Because she was old, attractive, and in good original condition, a collector paid more than $2,900 to take her home.
Q: I have some plates marked “Edelstein, Bavaria, Maria Theresia.” There’s also a number I can’t read on the bottom. The plates have a plain center and a slightly scalloped edge trimmed in gold, gold leaves, and gold flowers. Can you tell me who made them?
A: The Edelstein Porcelain Factory was located in Kups, Bavaria, Germany, from about 1934 until a few years ago. Dishes marked “Maria Theresia” can be found with several different decorations, so it may be the shape’s name. The number is a pattern number. Maria Theresia dishes are part of an inexpensive line. A plate is worth less than $10.
Q: I recently acquired a Mobo pressed-metal child’s riding horse. The label on the front reads “It steers!” and “Sebel Products Ltd., New York.” It’s in good condition, with little paint loss. Can you tell me when it was made and its approximate value?
A: D. Sebel & Co. was founded in East London in 1921 and made various metal products. It made metal furniture and toys beginning in the 1940s. The Mobo Bronco riding toy, the company’s best-known toy, was made from 1947 to 1972. When the rider pushed on the stirrups, the horse moved forward. The mechanism was patented in 1942, but production didn’t begin until 1947. Several different models of the horse were made. “Magic Steering” was added in 1950. The horse could be made to turn by pushing on one stirrup. The company opened a factory in Erith, Kent, England, in 1947 and a subsidiary in New York City in 1948. A Mobo horse probably would sell at auction for $100 to $325. The better the condition, the higher the price.
Q: Does old sheet music have any value? We have some that was published between 1880 and the 1940s. We’re trying to raise money for a local charity, and thought we could frame some of the more colorful ones and see if they would sell. We don’t know what to charge for them. Can you tell us?
A: A piece of sheet music published in the 20th century usually sells for about $5. Earlier sheet music may sell for more, especially if the cover is interesting, colorful, or appeals to collectors. Most collectors want sheet music that’s complete, untrimmed, unframed and in good condition. Start at $5 to $30 for unframed examples. Ask more if they’re very unusual.
Q: I have a John F. Kennedy “friendship spoon.” One side of the handle is marked with the year “1961.” The other side just has the number “19,” because the last two numbers of the year are missing. I saw one online that had all four numbers on each side. Why would two numbers be missing? What is the value of this spoon?
A: Wm. Rogers Manufacturing Co. made souvenir spoons honoring the 1962 flight of Friendship 7 in both silver plate and gold plate. Piloted by astronaut John Glenn, it was the first manned orbital flight launched by the United States. In 1961, President Kennedy announced the goal of landing a man on the moon by the end of the decade. Seven astronauts were chosen, and a tradition of letting the astronauts choose the name of their space capsules began with the first flight. John Glenn’s children chose the name “Friendship,” and the number “7” was added in honor of the original group of astronauts. Most of the Rogers spoons found online have “1961” and “1963” underneath a bust of President Kennedy, and obviously were made after he was assassinated in 1963, but we found one pictured that had only the number “19” on the right side of his bust. It was listed as being made in 1962. Value: about $10.
Q: My ceramic angelfish is a little over an inch high. It’s gray with a blue base and is embossed on the bottom “Wade, England.” When was it made?
A: The Wade Group of Potteries was founded in 1810 near Burslem, Staffordshire, England. Your fish is one of the “Wade Whimsies,” little figurines no more than 2-1/8 inches tall. More than 100 different Whimsies were made. The first were little animal figurines, sold from 1954 to 1958 in sets of five or four to a box. Ten different sets were made. During the 1960s, Whimsies were made only as promotional items. Best known are the figurines given away with Red Rose Tea and other products. Another 12 sets of animal figurines were made from 1971 to 1984. Your angelfish is part of Set Nine, made in 1978 as part of the second series of Whimsies. Whimsies are popular with children and teenage collectors. Each Whimsy sells for about $5 to $15.
Q: I bought a house built in the 1890s, and when I renovated the kitchen I found a jug inside a wall. No telling how long it had been there. It’s eight inches high and still has part of the label, which reads “Mohawk Green Creme de Menthe, Made & Bottled by Mohawk Liqueur Corporation, Detroit, Michigan.” I would like to know if the company is still in business.
A: Mohawk Liqueur Corp. was formed in 1933. In 1966, it was sold to 21 Brands, which became a subsidiary of Foremost-McKesson in 1970. Mohawk was still in business until at least the 1980s.
Q: We have an old violin that my husband’s father played. It has a label inside that says “Giovanni Paolo Maggini, Brescia, 16(60).” The first two numbers are printed but the last two look like they were added in pencil. How old is the violin and where was it made?
A: Giovanni Paolo Maggini (1580-ca. 1630) made several different kinds of stringed instruments and was one of the most important makers in Brescia, Italy. His instruments are known for the quality of the woods, unusually large sound holes and mellow tone. Some have a crest, medallion, scene or other decorations on the back. His later instruments are considered his best. They usually have a double row of purfling, a decorative inlay, around the edge. Maggini made at least 60 violins. An original violin made by Giovanni Paolo Maggini could sell for several hundred thousand dollars, but reproductions have been made and sell for low prices.
Q: I have a beautiful rock-maple dining set given to me by my husband’s grandmother. The set includes four chairs, and the table has pullout extensions at each end. The table is 40 by 60 inches without the extensions. It’s 96 inches long when the two extensions are pulled out. The bottom of the table is stamped “Consider H. Willet, Manufacturer of Fine Furn., Louisville, Kentucky.” I would like to know more about this company and what my table and chairs might be worth.
A: Consider H. Willett founded his furniture company in 1934. The company made bedroom sets, bookcases, cabinets, and other furniture in maple and cherry, as well as upholstered furniture. Pieces are marked with a metal tag or stamped with the name of the company. At one point, Willet was one of the largest producers of maple and cherry furniture in the United States. The company went bankrupt in 1962. Mass-produced furniture from the 1930s is low-priced. The value of your table and chairs may be about $400 — $200 for the table and $50 per chair.
Q: I am thinking about remodeling my home office and am agonizing over replacing my old desk and chair. I bought the very heavy desk about 20 years ago from an elderly couple. It was made by the Imperial Desk Co. of Evansville, Ind. It has a few nicks, but it’s in very good shape. The chair was made by Domore Chair Co. of Elkhart, Ind. I had it reupholstered about 18 years ago. It has a cast-metal frame and also is heavy. Are the desk and chair valuable antiques I should keep? And if so, is it okay to use them?
A: Your desk and chair are not valuable antiques. But they are good, solid pieces of office furniture. Depending on their style and condition, the desk might sell for about $350 and the chair for about $200. Base your decision on how useful the pieces are and if you like their “look.”
Q: I recently found what I thought was a very unique item at a yard sale. It’s a ceramic pig with many tiny holes on its back. It took me all weekend to figure out what it is. I think it’s an hors d’oeuvres server because the holes are just the right size to hold toothpicks. Is it unique and valuable?
A: Toothpick holders in the shape of animals became popular in the 1950s. Hedgehogs and porcupines probably were the first animal shapes made, since inserted toothpicks look like the animal’s quills. After that, cats, dogs, pigs and other animals were made in pottery, wood, plastic, silver, and other metals. They are fun to use at a party, but most aren’t worth more than $20 to $25. Toothpick holders made of silver are worth more.
Q: We have an eight-inch gold-rimmed plate with a painting of a large hotel on it. At the bottom of the plate is the phrase, “New West Baden Springs Hotel, West Baden, Ind., The Carlsbad of America.” It’s marked on the back, “Hand Painted, the Jonroth Studios, Germany.” We don’t know how old it is, but my mother is 93 years old, and she recalls that her mother bought it on one of the family’s trips to West Baden when she was a little girl. Can you tell us its approximate age and value?
A: The “new” West Baden Springs Hotel was built in 1902, after the original hotel burned down. It was advertised as “The Eighth Wonder of the World” because its main circular building is topped by the world’s largest dome. It was called “The Carlsbad of America” because of nearby mineral springs, similar to those in Carlsbad, Germany. Jonroth Studios was a name used by an American importing company, John H. Roth & Co. The company was founded in 1909 and imported china from Germany, Japan, and England. Your plate probably was made in the 1920s and is worth about $30.
Q: I have a lithograph published by Associated American Artists. I’ve seen some sell for thousands of dollars. Can you tell me something about this group?
A: During the Depression, most people couldn’t afford fine art, so Reeves Lewenthal founded Associated American Artists in 1934 to provide art for the middle class. He hired well-known American artists, including Thomas Hart Benton and Grant Wood, to make lithographs, which were reproduced and sold in department stores. Later, the art was sold in the Associated American Artists gallery in New York City and by mail order. Watercolors, oil paintings, and other works, including home furnishings and accessories, were also sold. Prints originally sold for $5 unframed and $7 framed. Today, some sell for hundreds or even thousands of dollars, depending on the artist.
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.
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