Tuesday, January 27, 2009


Michelle Obama wore an antique silver and paste pin at her husband's inauguration

Vintage jewelry attracted worldwide attention last week. Michelle Obama wore an antique silver and paste pin ("paste" is imitation diamonds made of leaded cut glass, often with a foil backing) at the neckline of the lemongrass-colored dress she wore at her husband's inauguration. The news media at first said the dress had a "beaded neckline," but the decoration was actually a large rectangular pin with an open, double-circle pattern originally made to be worn on a sash. The pin, dating from Lincoln's era, had been bought in Florida a few years ago for an online shop in Canada. It was sent to a store in Chicago and purchased there for the dress. It probably was originally made in England.


And the past continued to be celebrated during the inaugural events. The music played by the famous quartet--cellist Yo-Yo Ma, violinist Itzhak Perlman, pianist Gabriela Montero and clarinetist Anthony McGill--included "Simple Gifts," based on a Shaker song from the mid 1800s. The Shakers came to America in the 18th century and settled in their own villages. Their furniture and household goods are in a unique, simple style that's popular with museums and collectors today.


Crown Bank Q: I have a cast-iron bank that has been in my family for over a hundred years. Can you tell me something about it?

A: Your bank is called the Crown Bank building. It was made in three sizes by both J. & E. Stevens (from 1873-1907) and the Grey Iron Casting Co. (from 1903-1928) and was painted in various colors. The largest version, 5 inches high, sold for $700 last year.


Willets Belleek
Q: I have a vase with this mark on it that has been in the family for years. Can you tell me who made it?

A: This mark was one of several used by Willets Manufacturing Co. of Trenton, New Jersey. The company was in business from 1879 until at least 1909. Willets began making Belleek in 1887. Its successor, New Jersey China Pottery Co., made Belleek marked with the Willets name until c.1914. Willets also made white ware that was decorated by others. A 12-inch vase with hand-painted decoration like yours is worth $350 to $500.


Paste jewelry was first made in about 1767. You can tell 18th- and 19th-century paste from gemstones using these clues: Paste is warmer than gemstones and more easily scratched. Old paste was cut to fit the setting--the stones were not a consistent size. Settings for paste are usually closed at the back to protect the foil backing. The settings can be silver or pot metal, and they're rarely marked.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009


Are you a shopaholic? Or more likely a collectorholic? Scientists have been doing tests to find out what makes us spend money. Beware. We buy more if we use a credit card or are unhappy. The insula, the area of our brains that registers negative feelings like bad smells, becomes more active when we use cash. There is no negative emotion when we use plastic. The insula also registers disgust when we think a purchase is too expensive. But we tend to ignore negative feelings when we're unhappyand then we tend to overpay. So go to your next antiques show with a friend who makes you happy and a bundle of twenties. And find the perfect antique at a bargain price.


Blow Torch

Q: I have this brass fire starter that has "Clayton & Lambert Mfg. Co, Detroit, Mich., U.S.A." on the front. It is marked Mar 18 1902 on the pump button. This belonged to my grandfather, who was a friend of someone who worked on the railroad. Someone told me it was used to keep the tracks from freezing. Is this true?

A: You have a blow torch probably made c.1915. Railroad workers used blow torches to prepare wooden surfaces for painting and sometimes to melt ice on switches. Clayton and Lambert traces its history to 1888. Three Lambert brothers began making gasoline-burning blow torches in Ypsilanti, Michigan, in 1882. Clayton, an inventor of firepots, joined the firm in 1887 and the name of the company soon became Clayton and Lambert Mfg. Co. In 1899 the company built a plant in Detroit and by 1915 Clayton and Lambert was making auto parts as well as blow torches and firepots. The company moved to Louisville, Kentucky, after World War II and moved production to Buckner, Kentucky, in 1961. Gasoline torches and firepots continued to be made until 1970. The company is still in business in Buckner and now makes swimming pools and industrial storage structures. Your tool is interesting but not very decorative. It would sell for about $90 in a sale of tools or railroad memorabilia.


Union Porcelain Works Q: I have a platter marked Union Porcelain Works. The front of the platter has a star that says "Memphis Route." Can you tell me what that means and how old my platter is?

A: Union Porcelain Works was established at Greenpoint, New York, in 1848 by Charles Cartlidge. The pottery made bone china. C.H.L. Smith and Thomas Smith bought the company and began making porcelain about 1863. Union Porcelain Works is known for its white porcelain decorated in bright colors, often with patriotic motifs or fanciful shapes, like a vase shaped like a jack-in-the-pulpit held by a turtle or frog. The pottery also made railroad china and other dinner sets. Your dish with the well to catch juices is a meat platter. Memphis Route is a nickname used by the Kansas City, Fort Scott & Memphis Railroad. Union Porcelain Works closed in the 1920s.


Light tarnish is easy to remove from silver. Wash the silver with a non-lemon-scented phosphate-free detergent before tarnish starts to discolor the silver. Another cleaner for light tarnish is a non-abrasive, unscented, aloe-free hand sanitizer like Purell. Rub the surface with a cotton ball and dry with a cotton dish towel. For darker tarnish, a silver polish will be needed (from Jeff Herman, silversmith, www.silversmithing.com/silver).

Tuesday, January 13, 2009


The 1937 Bugatti Type 57S Atalante

Image Courtesy of Bonhams

Always be nice to your eccentric, compulsive collector relatives. A British family hit the jackpot with a classic "car found in the barn" story. When their eccentric bachelor uncle, Dr. Harold Carr, died in 2007, he named his extended family his heirs for much of his estate, including his house packed with 6-foot piles of belongings and several packed garages. It took 18 months to sort his things. The house was filled with old medical machinery, 1,500 beer steins and much ephemera. Then the family finally got to the garages. One was filled with trash and a hidden treasure--an old car. But not just any old car. It is a rare Bugatti Type 57S Atalante, one of only 17 made. In 1937 a famous racing fan ordered the car, a sporty two-seater. It was bought and sold several times until Dr. Carr bought it in 1955. He parked it in his garage in the 1960s. The car is in good condition with almost all of its original parts. Estimated value for the car, which will be sold in February at Bonhams in Paris: $8.7 million. Dr. Carr's eight relatives will share the money.


Millions of collectors visited Kovels.com in 2008 looking for antiques and collectibles prices. Here are the top 20 categories they viewed.

1. Occupied Japan
2. Jewelry
3. Coca-Cola
4. Stove
5. World War II
6. Furniture
7. Capo-di-Monte
8. Lladro
9. McCoy
10. Lighter
11. Cookie Jar
12. Knife
13. Doll
14. Planters Peanuts
15. Shawnee
16. Hutschenreuther
17. Bavaria
18. Royal Bayreuth
19. Clock
20. Josef Originals


Q: I own the following unused politically inspired matchbooks made by the Diamond Match Co.: The Inaugural Ball, January 20, 1969; Salute to Eisenhower Dinner, January 20, 1956; and John F. Kennedy with a color Presidential Seal. Can you tell me their value?

A: Bookmatches were invented in America by Joshua Pusey, a Philadelphia patent lawyer, in 1892. He called his invention "Flexible Matches," but they were unreliable, even dangerous. He held the patent for two years, then sold it to the Diamond Match Co. of America for $4,000. Soon they were made more safe and usable. At the end of the 19th century, the striking surface was put on the outside of the book instead of inside the flap. A match salesman is said to be the first to suggest using the covers for advertising. The first political matchbook was handed out in 1900 by a Congressional candidate from Pennsylvania. Every time a smoker used a match, he saw the candidate's picture and message. Every president of the United States since William Howard Taft has had matchbooks printed, but in recent years with smoking less popular, fewer matches are giveaways.

Collectors look for matchbooks that have not been used and are in mint or excellent condition. The abrasive sections should be intact. If the matchbook is going to be pressed and displayed in an album, the staples can be removed. As for your matchbooks' values: the John F. Kennedy matchbook with the Presidential Seal is worth about $75; the Eisenhower Dinner matchbook, about $20; and the 1969 Inaugural Ball, $2 to $5.


Japy Freres and Cie. Q: This blue Delft clock was given to me by an elderly friend in 1972. It is marked "Royal Bonn Delft" and "Bailey, Banks & Biddle, Philadelphia." On the back of the clock is a medallion that says "Japy Freres & Cie Grd Med. D'Honneur." Can you tell me about the clock?

A: Royal Bonn was the trade name used by Franz Anton Mehlem, who had a pottery in Bonn, Germany, from 1836 to 1931. Bailey, Banks & Biddle is a jewelry store founded in Philadelphia in 1832 that now has locations across the United States. The clock was probably sold at its Philadelphia store. Japy Freres & Cie. made the movement for your clock. The words "Grd Med. D'Honneur" indicate that Japy Freres was awarded the Grand Medal of Honor, the highest award, at the close of the Paris exposition in 1855. Your clock was probably made between 1855 and 1867, when another Exposition Universelle was held in Paris. It would sell for up to $600.


Does your wooden dining room chair wobble? Cut a slice off a cork and put the circular piece under the short leg. Once you determine the right thickness for the cork pad, glue it to the bottom of the leg.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009


Waterford Wedgwood, the famous British firm, lost so much money in the past few years it was forced to file for bankruptcy protection on Monday (January 5). Most of the firm's ceramics are now made in Jakarta, Indonesia (look at the bottom of new dishes in any store), and much of its Waterford Crystal is made by subcontractors in Eastern Europe. Waterford and Wedgwood are brands that have been around for almost 250 years. The Royal Doulton and Rosenthal brands are also owned by the company. Royal Worcester and Spode filed for bankruptcy last November. Collectors will have to wait to see what happens to these famous English glass and ceramics brands. They could disappear.


Another company that makes figurines for collectors, Goebel of Germany, announced in August that it was discontinuing production of M.I. Hummel figurines. We just heard from Goebel that while it does not yet have "official" news about the future of the figurines, a formal announcement is expected between January 12 and 15.


Fenton Art Glass Co. announced in August 2007 that it would close that December. By the time December rolled around, sales had improved. So the company offered a line of 2008 glass. Fenton Art Glass continues to make more pieces while streamlining its operation. Fewer items, fewer colors, no catalog, and fewer dealers were part of the cost-saving moves. They expect to continue making new products in 2009 and hope to diversify into non-gift glass.


Mermod and JaccardQ: I'd like to know what this silver-plated thing is. It is marked Mermod and Jaccard, St. Louis, on the bottom of one foot.

A: You have a double spoon holder. This was one of many unique silver serving pieces used in Victorian times when elaborate table settings indicated wealth and social status. Mermod and Jaccard was formed by the merger of E. Jaccard and A.S. Mermod in 1845. Most of the silver the company sold was made by other manufacturers. Goodman King joined the company in 1865 and the name was changed to Mermod, Jaccard & King Jewelry Co. in 1905. Your spoon holder was probably made in the 1880s or 1890s. It was put on the table filled with teaspoons for the next course.


William Adams Q: I recently bought a dish with this mark for $5. I have been doing research but only find information on William Adams and Sons. This mark is just William Adams. When was this mark used?

A: Members of the Adams family began making pottery in the Staffordshire area of England almost 600 years ago. The name "William Adams" appeared in several generations. In the late 18th and early 19th centuries, there were three different potteries operated by cousins named "William Adams." One of them established a pottery at Greengates, Tunstall, in 1789. After he died, the pottery was operated by his son, then changed hands again, and later was bought by another William Adams (b.1798-d.1865). Your mark is loosely based on the English royal coat of arms and includes the English monarch's motto, "Dieu et mon droit" ("God and my right"). Marks similar to yours were used 1896-1949. Marks were sometimes copied, so it is impossible to date the piece without handling it. We have seen recent dishes with a similar old-looking mark.


Don't try to restore old Christmas ornaments. A little damage and wear add to the charm of old ornaments. Wear indicates the ornament is an antique that has seen many holidays. Restoration lowers the value for collectors.

Monday, January 5, 2009

Kovels.com Top 50 Antiques and Collectibles for 2008

Millions of collectors visited Kovels.com in 2008 looking for prices for their favorite antiques and collectibles. Here are the top 50 favorites out of the 700,000+ listings in the Kovels.com Online Price Guide.
  1. Spatterware Festoon Plate
  2. Monmouth Crock
  3. Berkey & Gay Furniture Catalog
  4. Hutschenreuther Figurine
  5. Capo-di-monte Basket
  6. Cow Bell
  7. Home Comfort Stove
  8. Chrome Cocktail Shaker
  9. Bowie Knife
  10. Schumann Arzberg Bavarian Plate
  11. Fada Catalin Radio
  12. Clarabell the Clown Figurine
  13. Beech Nut Gum Poster
  14. Occupied Japan Ashtray
  15. Cushman Humidors & Tables Catalog
  16. Flow Blue Bone Dish
  17. Pickle Castor
  18. RRP Water Cooler
  19. Moreau Spelter Figurine
  20. Thomas Bavarian Cup & Saucer
  21. Pee Wee Herman Costume
  22. Nautical Compass
  23. Indian Chief Bookends
  24. Smokey & the Bandit Costume
  25. Shenango Restaurant Ashtray
  26. Scientific Chronometer
  27. Radio Flyer Wagon
  28. Man at Hollywood & Vine Toy
  29. A. Walter Bookends
  30. John Stuart Hutch
  31. Celluloid Hair Receiver
  32. Field Binoculars
  33. Miss Kitty Gunsmoke Costume
  34. Victorian Floor Safe
  35. Campus Queen Lunchbox & Thermos
  36. Super Magnum Motorcylce Helmet
  37. Ponytail Barbie Guitar
  38. MZ Austria Bone Dish
  39. Jaeger & Co. Bavarian Plate
  40. Heubach Piano Baby
  41. Swashbucklers Bookends
  42. Vose & Sons Pianos Trade Card
  43. Radford Floral Chintz Cup & Saucer
  44. Maastricht Charger
  45. Chrome Canister Set
  46. Swirl Pickle Castor
  47. Victrola Phonograph
  48. Laundry Stove
  49. Campbell's Soup Kids Dish
  50. Drexel Federal Dining Set