Wednesday, July 30, 2008


Collecting--A Global Phenomenon

Collecting is indeed worldwide. We just read in a newspaper based in India that a fishing creel was sold in England by Bonhams for a record price of about $26,695. We may be a little off on the price because we had trouble converting it from lakh (100,000 rupees) to dollars. The 19th-century pot-bellied creel was made of stitched leather. It had a brass hinged lid of embossed leather. There were five brass plaques on it dated 1890 to 1894 with information about trout and grayling caught during those years. It also had a brass plaque engraved "W. Randell, Aysgarth, Yorkshire." William Randell (1855-1901) was the original owner of the creel. The seller bought it in 1951 for a little over $2 at a summer fair with money he won for collecting the most "cabbage white" butterflies. Since cabbage whites lay eggs that turn into destructible cabbage worms, he did himself and the environment a good deed.


Fraud in the Antiques Industry

The PMSA (Professional Show Manager's Association) is fighting fraud in the antiques industry. They are giving away bookmarks that remind buyers to ask the dealer, "How long have you been in business?" "Will you give me a written guarantee that the item is authentic?" "What is your return policy?" And other questions. It also suggests that for more information visit (Federal Trade Commission site) and click on Consumer Information.


Insurance Fraud

A bad deed in Detroit will be repaid. A man is accused of stealing more than $4 million from an insurance company and using some of the money to buy dolls, dollhouse furniture and miniature toys for a woman. The woman sent the dolls, valued at over $500,000, to Theriault's to be sold. The authorities hope the dolls sell well--the money will go to the insurance company or the insurer covering the theft.


Q: The other day I came across a beautiful comb my husband thinks belonged to his aunt, a Hollywood starlet in the 1930s. It has a peacock feather design with green rhinestones. Do you know anything about its history and value?

A: Your art deco comb could date from the 1930s. It imitates the style of Spanish mantilla combs used for holding lace in a hairdo, a shape popular about 1910. Vintage combs do not sell as well as more wearable pieces of jewelry. It is worth about $50 to $100.


Information about this mark on a pottery mug was sent by the readers who owned it. They found the information in an obituary for William T. Exton. Exton was born in 1855 and died in 1915. He was a nephew of Adam Exton, owner of Exton Cracker Bakery and inventor of the oyster cracker. William T. Exton worked at the bakery as a boy, and established his own cake and cracker store in 1888. He became a jobber in general pottery wares about 1905 and continued in that business until late 1914. A jobber buys goods from wholesalers in "job lots" (small lots of miscellaneous goods), and sells them to retailers. This probably is his mark used about 1905 to 1915. Anyone know more?


Furniture Tip

Treat your furniture the same way you treat your face. Wash it to remove the dirt. You do not want to remove the skin. Don't sand too much or use a "dip strip."

Tuesday, July 22, 2008


This is the 100th edition of Kovels Komments. Our very first Komments reported on "everybody's dream." A $15 piece of glass from a thrift store sold at a Green Valley auction in Virginia for $22,000. It was a Boston & Sandwich Glass Co. Tulip vase in dark cobalt blue with white striations.

Since then we have continued to report the news with an eye to how it affects the world of antique collecting. There have been strange stories: an elbow through a multimillion-dollar painting (Oct. 19, 2006), the discovery of more dodo bird bones (June 7, 2007), record prices for the Honus Wagner baseball card as it went up and up to $2.8 million (Jan. 3, 2008), how an empty paper box added $40,000 to the value of a pistol (Jan. 10, 2008), and the paintings of saints purchased for $500 that sold for $3.4 million (April 26, 2007).

We have also identified 100 marks, answered 100 Collectors Concerns questions, and given 100 tips. Best of all, everything we've written is all still "out there" in our free ezine archives for you to read (look under "Free Resources" on our homepage). We are adding more features to our website all the time. Have you visited our blog at And don't miss the "Directory" that lists information like matching services, appraisers, people who refinish furniture, and where to get old nails. Our "Store" is filling up with useful leaflets and special reports on subjects like costume jewelry, record prices, and how to be sure you do the right things before, during, and after a natural disaster to protect your collection.


A federal judge ruled that Tiffany & Co., not eBay, is responsible for the sale of Tiffany fakes on eBay in the United States. Tiffany is appealing the ruling. It means collectors must be extra careful when buying online. Another word of warning: Auctions can be so exciting they create "auction fever"--and you can pay more for an item than it's worth. Check before the sale and set the top price you think something is worth. Avoid emotional bidding. And be sure you know the auction gallery. Recently several lawsuits have been filed over prints and paintings bought at art auctions on cruise ships. The appraised values turned out to be too high and some of the prints had forged signatures.


Q: These vases were given to me by a friend as "compensation" for helping out at her garage sale a few years ago. There are several repaired cracks, but I love their vibrant color. They are about 10 inches tall. I can't make out the mark on the bottom, but they look like vases we saw in Florence that were dated in the 1700s. Can you give me some history and an estimate of value?

A: The mark on the bottom of your vases is similar to the scrolled cartouche with date letter used by the Sevres Manufactory in Sevres, France. The letter "c" is the date letter for the year 1755, but your vases are not that old. They are in the style of early-19th century Sevres. Other manufacturers in France, Germany, England, and the United States copied the Sevres mark on their porcelain, so we can't be sure who made your vases. There appear to be metal rivets on the bottom of your vases--an early repair. Riveting the pieces together was the best method of repair until epoxy and resins became available in the 20th century. Pieces were often repaired because they were expensive and not easily found. The rivets add interest to the vases, and some collectors search for pieces repaired with rivets. The pair, repaired, could sell for a few hundred dollars.


Q: A friend asked me to look at some dinnerware she had inherited to determine the maker. I think it might be an old Noritake mark, but I have not seen one exactly like it. Can you help?

A: You are right, it's an early Noritake mark. The mark was used about 1935. Noritake porcelain was made in Japan after 1904 by Nippon Toki Kaisha. The M in a wreath represents the Morimura Brothers, a New York City distributing company. The best-known pieces of Noritake are marked with one of the many "M in wreath" marks.


Be careful when using Scotch tape, duct tape, adhesive tape or sticky labels. The adhesive can discolor paper long after the tape is removed. It can take off some of the thin sheet of silver used over copper on old Sheffield plate, it can discolor or remove over-glaze colors (especially gold) on ceramics, and it can leave a discoloration on metal patina. It can even tear off a loose piece of veneer on furniture.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008


Check on your wall-hung valuables...

We told you so--but the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York evidently didn't read our warning. Check the wall-hung hooks and shelves holding your valuables once a year to be sure they are still secure. Be especially careful of wall-hung shelves that "creep" a little each year until they finally tip and fall. A 15th-century Italian terra-cotta relief sculpture of St. Michael, 62 by 32 inches, fell from its metal mounting on the Metropolitan Museum's wall and landed on its back. It broke, but can be repaired. The museum is now inspecting all pedestals and wall mounts to be sure they are secure.


Global "cooling" seems to be one reason that Stradivarius violins have a unique sound. A mini-Ice Age that started in the middle of the 17th century caused a new pattern of tree growth. Trees grew more slowly, growth rings were narrower, and wood became denser, which could account for the difference in the sound of violins made during the 1600s and 1700s. Then again, maybe other theories explain the sound of a Stradivarius violin--perhaps 300 years of aging or a unique treatment for the wood creates the special sound. Whatever the reason, the "Strad" is still the most admired violin ever made.


Q: My husband has a Buck Rogers Disintegrator XZ-38 gun that he received as a child in the late 1930s. Can you tell us how much it's worth?

A: The Buck Rogers 25th Century Disintegrator Pistol, Model XZ-38 was made in 1935 by Daisy Manufacturing Company of Plymouth, Michigan. It was available with either a nickel finish or a copper finish, like yours. The gun was sold in stores and was also given away as a Cream of Wheat premium in 1935 and a Popsicle premium in 1939. Its advertised features include a sub-atomic condenser, electronic compression viewplate, an electronic compression chamber with cooling ribs, and an impulse generator cell. In other words, it has a flint tube at the top that flashes and sparks and makes a loud popping noise.

With its original box, The Buck Rogers Disintegrator sells for anywhere between $540 and $1700, depending on the conditions of the gun and the box. The gun alone sells for $150 to $400.


Q: I have looked high and low for this mark and can't identify it. It says "Wilmer Keramik" on it. Can you tell me anything about this?

A: Your dish was made by Ulmer Keramik. Ulmer vases, plates, and other decorative pieces are often offered for sale on the Internet, but there is very little information about the company. The words "Made in Germany" indicate that the piece was probably made after 1915. We have seen Ulmer Keramik pieces marked "Made in W Germany," indicating they were made between 1949 and 1990. Your dish was probably made before World War II.


Fake Alert

We have received lots of flack about our comments (Kovels Komments, June 4) on crystal skulls, the basis of the movie "Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skulls." A Paris museum discovered a few months ago that its crystal skull was not an Aztec carving but a fake, and this month the British Museum and the Smithsonian Institution also found they had fakes. All of the skulls were made with modern tools. Maybe the legendary skulls of the movie are still to be found, or maybe it's all just a good story.


Taking care of paper antiques

Do not store newsprint with other paper antiques. The high-acid paper used for newsprint can discolor or even destroy other paper documents. Even if the newsprint does not touch the other paper, acid is carried through the air and your paper antiques will suffer.

Wednesday, July 9, 2008


"Breaking news," as they say on TV, describes this week. Steiff, the famous German firm that has made stuffed bears since 1902, moved about 20 percent of its production to China five years ago. Now all manufacturing will return to Germany and to factories in Portugal and Tunisia. The company will have better quality control and fewer shipping delays, according to the Financial Times. Steiff toys made in China were sold at lower prices. Now the company plans to return to higher-priced, top-quality products like those made years ago. "For children, only the best is good enough," says Steiff's chief exec.


Donating your collection

If selling your collection is out of the question, you might want to donate it for the tax deduction and the pride in knowing you have created an important resource for other collectors. The inventory of Records Revisited, a Manhattan store, was given to Syracuse University by the estate of Morton Savada. The collection of 200,000 recordings made from 1895 to the 1950s, catalogs, and other materials was valued at $1 million. Now students can hear the real sound of a 78 rpm recording. If you have records that won't sell--and most won't--see if there issee if there is a local historical society, library, or museum with an interest in recordings that would accept your collection. You are then entitled to a tax deduction for the value of the collection, which is often more than the total sale value of your single records. But beware. Most old records, including the earliest ones, are worth very little or nothing. Look at sales online to see what we mean.


Talon Merchant Capital, a private equity group in Chicago, is buying Lava World International from Haggerty Enterprises, also of Chicago. The company will sell lava lamps to more countries. The new owners are also planning new versions of the lava lamp featuring children's characters and new colors. The lava lamp was first made in 1963, went out of fashion in the late 1970s, and came back in the 1990s.


George Washington's boyhood home in Virginia was excavated over the past seven years, and more than 500,000 artifacts were found. They included nails, glass, building parts, soil samples, and bits and pieces of all kinds. But alas, no hatchet and no traces of a cherry tree


Q: I have a vase that was left in my grandmother's apartment garage in the 1940s. They hired immigrant farmers to help with their cattle farm. The vase has a mark with five steeples and the words "Zsolnay, Pecs." It is also marked with an impressed "1063" and the printed number "68." What can you tell me about its origin?

A: Vilmos Zsolnay founded a pottery in Pecs, Hungary, and was producing ceramics by 1853. The trademark with five churches was first used in 1878. The medieval name for the town translates as "Five Churches." The initials "T.J.M." that appear in the mark on your vase stand for Terez, Julia, and Miklos, the children of Vilmos Zsolnay. They took over the factory after his death, but their initials were used as early as 1878. The impressed numbers indicate the year the piece was introduced. Number 1063 tells us that vases like yours were first made between 1882 and 1885. The other number might be a design or shape number. Similar vases have auctioned for $65 to $90 in the last year.


Q: I can't identify this glass mark. Any ideas?

A: The mark on your paperweight is a variation of a mark used by the French glass factory, Daum Freres & Cie. It is an acid-etched mark that was used from 1900 until 1905. It has the word "Nancy" and abstract pictures of an iris and a dragonfly found on other Daum marks. Daum was started by Jean Daum in 1875 as "Verrerie de Nancy." The company, now called Cristalleries de Nancy, is still working.

Daum marks have many variations, but they almost always appear with the name "Nancy." They can be found painted, acid-etched, engraved, wheel-cut, or in cameo relief. Modern pieces are stamped or etched with "Daum France" and the Cross of Lorraine. But beware: many acid-etched glass marks are modern fakes added to old or new pieces.


A tip from a reader

Add this to your tips on what to wear while treasure hunting: Carry a face mask. My friend and I picked up mold spores from some old barn wood and my doctor said a mask would have helped. Good for dusty attics and damp basements, too.

Tuesday, July 1, 2008


Uncle Sam and the Kovels wish you a Happy 4th of July! Uncle Sam, in this case, is a 5-foot-4-inch strength tester that was displayed for years at the Liberty Belle restaurant and saloon in Reno, Nevada. People could deposit a coin in the figure's slot, squeeze Uncle Sam's right hand, and determine their strength by looking at the dial on the figure's chest. Uncle Sam, on his cast-iron stand, auctioned this past weekend for $25,875 at James D. Julia Auctions in Fairfield, Maine.


Fireworks History

The Fourth of July celebration started in 1777 in Philadelphia with speeches, parades, fireworks, and extra rum for the troops--a day of drinking and explosives. Fireworks were invented 3,000 years ago in China and were part of European celebrations by the 1600s. Eighteenth-century fireworks could last for hours, but there were no automatic lighting systems (like those used today), so there was a long wait between blasts. But fireworks are made with explosives and accidents happened. Houses were sometimes set on fire and it was not unusual for people to be killed or wounded at the displays.


Handle World War II Souvenirs with Care

Souvenirs from World War II and the wars that have followed it are aging and may be dangerous. Hand grenades, bullets, mortars, mines, and guns came home with the soldiers and were often stored in attics after a few years. Last month a Columbus, Ohio, woman found a hand grenade among her father's belongings stored in a shoebox in the garage. She put it in her car and after driving around running errands for a few days, she stopped at a fire station to dispose of it. Imagine her surprise when the firefighters quickly evacuated the parking lot.

In other incidents during the past year, some World War II grenades were taken to an auction house to be sold--the bomb squad was called and shooed everyone out of the building; and a landmine was found in a trash bin and everyone nearby had to be moved out of the way.
Explosives deteriorate, become unstable, and can explode unexpectedly. Although the Army sends out posters to veterans to remind them about the danger, children and veterans have died in the past year from handling war souvenirs.

Don't throw any type of explosive in the trash. It could harm city workers. We found a box of rifle bullets in our very hot attic a few years ago. Our son had stored the box with his hunting rifle years before when he moved out of town. We took the bullets to the nearby firehouse but kept the empty box as a collectible.


eBay Fined in Europe

EBay was fined $61 million (38.6 million Euros) by a French court for damages to the French company LVMH, makers of Louis Vuitton leather goods, Dior perfume, and more. LVMH claimed 90% of the products sold online under its brand names were fake. EBay did not do enough to keep counterfeit merchandise off the site, the court ruled. EBay said it will appeal. In another French case, eBay was fined $31,400 (20,000 Euros) for not protecting sales of Hermes handbags. Tiffany & Company in the United States has also sued eBay, but the case is pending. Collectors have been trying to get eBay to remove fakes quickly but have been frustrated. Maybe the European lawsuits will help the U.S. eBay see the wisdom in trying to keep fakes away.


Q: I have a soup dish marked "Indian Tree Ridgway." How can I tell if it is a replica or the real thing?

A: It's not a replica. The Indian Tree pattern is based on a Chinese design from the 1700s. It was a popular design in the 19th and 20th centuries and was made by several different manufacturers, including Ridgway. Pottery marked "Ridgway" or "Ridgways" has been made in the Staffordshire district in England since 1808. Your dish is also marked "detergent proof," which means it was made after c.1944.


Dr. Swayne's Medicine Bottle

Q: I found this bottle when I was digging and I can't find any information about it. It is square, 6 inches high, and the embossing on the sides reads "Dr. H Swayne's Compound Syrup of Wild Cherry." It is an unusual color. Can you tell me anything?

A: Dr. H. Swayne's Compound Syrup of Wild Cherry was made by Huston Swayne, M.D., of Philadelphia. It was a "patent medicine" advertised as early as 1840 as a "sovereign remedy" for consumption, coughs, colds, asthma, difficulty breathing, pain in the side and breast, palpitation of the heart, influenza, croup, sore throat, nervous debility, and diseases of the throat and lungs. It claimed to purify the blood and restore the liver and kidneys to healthy action by invigorating the nervous system. Dr. Swayne's son, William Phillips Swayne, ran the business for 40 years after his father died. William died in 1906 at 81 years old.

The iridescence on your bottle is caused by deterioration. Buried glass is subject to slow corrosion by moisture. The colors are a reflection as light rays are broken passing through the corroded layers. This generally lowers the price of a bottle for serious collectors, though common bottles that have iridescence are bought for their decorative value. Near-mint bottles marked Dr. H. Swayne sell for $75 to $150.


Tips on Care and Repairs

Last week's tip about ivory included a suggestion about holding the ivory near an open flame and sniffing the smoke for a telltale odor. It is not a good idea for an amateur to try this; the ivory may be burned. The website given in the tip had an incorrect letter. It should have been