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The following article was published in The Historical Record, a Publication of the Wyoming Historical Society.
A person wrote to antique experts, Helaine Fendelman and Joe Rosson, for their column for the Tribune News Service. A miniature painting had been purchased in a local thrift shop for a penny. It was an oval-shaped religious painting of Mary holding Jesus encased in an elaborate frame. The buyer wanted to know its history and worth. After research, the experts believed the painting was European in origin probably created in Germany or Italy or perhaps even France around the turn of the 20th century. It was possibly purchased on a European tour as a souvenir at a spiritually significant place.
Luckily, there was a clue written on the back…. “W. H. McCurdy, 206 Worthington, Wyoming.” Their first though was, of course, the state of Wyoming but came to believe it referred to our city.
So who is McCurdy and how does he tie to Wyoming? William H. McCurdy (1853-1930) was a famous industrialist who moved to Cincinnati in 1889 and became secretary of the Favorite Buggy Company. Previously, McCurdy had met Julius Rosenwald, whose company supplied Sears and Roebuck with men’s clothing. With Rosenwald’s financing, McCurdy founded Hercules Buggy Company which supplied farm wagons and buggies to Sears. The company became so successful that McCurdy, in 1902, moved the company and built a new manufacturing facility in Evansville, IN. With foresight, this modern industrialist, over the next decades, was involved in the manufacturing of truck bodies, gas engines, refrigeration units, tractors, hotels, and trolley companies. He became an integral part of Evansville’s expansion and development. McCurdy was a generous philanthropist notably making significant donations to the struggling Evansville University. The McCurdy Hotel in Evansville, now a national historical landmark, was named after Will MCurdy.
Now to the worth of the anonymous painting – $200 to $300 if it’s not associated with this national figure or double if it is.
This may seem to be the end of the story but there is more “I can’t believe it” associated with this newspaper article. While researching McCurdy, it was learned he married Helen Eliza Hess in 1880. Her parents, Alfred and Jane Mariah Coates, and many relatives lived in Wyoming. Checking the Historical Society genealogical files and checking with family members, McCurdy’s name appears in the RaymondRitchie-Hess family tree. Thus, making this seemingly unconnected newspaper story about a miniature painting a true part of Wyoming history.
We received the article from Ibby Potter Davis, Wyoming High School Class of 1957 who lives in Cheyenne, Wyoming. That Wyoming out west!!!! She received a copy of the article from her nephew who lives in Lake Forest, Ill. Ibby thought the Historical Society would like to know about the painting.
Fast-forward two days from our receiving the article and we received an email from the Evansville Museum in Evansville, IN. Attached to the email was the same article…and the question, could we verify that William H McCurdy lived in Wyoming at 206 Worthington? That we could do!
By this time, the story had taken on a life of its own. And that story was begging to be turned into a newsletter article. So we contacted Helaine Fendelman, the appraiser, and through her were put in touch with the owner, Aliena Ray, who provided some of these pictures.
What a story! Don’t you wonder what adventures this little painting had since being acquired by Mr. McCurdy?
Dear Helaine and Joe:
I believe this frame to be tramp art, and while researching this 19-inch by 14-inch frame, I discovered that Helaine was a collector and appreciator of this kind of art. I live in Ontario, Quebec, Canada and found this piece in a second-hand store for $10. What can you tell me about it?
Dear Helaine and Joe:
I found this in my parent’s basement and am not sure what we have here. It looks to be a portion of a cannonball with markings that say “Battle of Gettysburg.” Any information would be appreciated.
Dear J. K.:
The American Civil War Battle of Gettysburg was horrific. Tens of thousands of Union and Confederate soldiers were killed, and many historians consider this to have been the turning part of the war.
When the battle was over, the farms around the small Pennsylvania town were strewn with bodies and bits and pieces of ordnance — cannonballs plus various kinds of shot and bullets. The battlefield was also strewn with objects such as uniform buttons, belt buckles, canteens and other accoutrements worn or carried by soldiers.
The partial cannonball in today’s question is beautifully engraved.
The top line, which we cannot quite make out, is a reference to Gen. George G. Meade. The rest of the inscription reads, “in command in the Battle of Gettysburg 1-2-3 July 1863.” We speculate that this piece of memorabilia might have been harvested near Meade’s first headquarters at the Leister Farm on Taneytown Road, or his second headquarters at the widow Pfeffer house on Baltimore Street.
After the titanic conflict, the battlefield became a sacred site and attracted both tourists and veterans. Various individuals and enterprises in Gettysburg went to the battlefield and gathered relics, which they assembled into trays or mounted as desk sets or other remembrances to sell as souvenirs.
Perhaps the most famous of the scavengers/assemblers was John Good, who was a cabinetmaker with a shop on Race Horse Alley. We have also seen such items attributed to J. A. Good, Gettysburg Battlefield Novelty Works located at 30 N. Washington St. These may be one and the same enterprise with different business addresses, but the information available is a bit sketchy.
Associated with Good was someone named John Woodward, but the exact nature of the connection is unclear. Groupings of Gettysburg souvenirs were typically made for Grand Army of the Republic Halls, small museums, veterans and sightseers.
It is hard to tell in this case who might have salvaged this shard from the field, but we do believe it was once part of a larger collection of artifacts assembled and retailed as a grouping.The engraving on the shard does look like Good’s work, which we have seen pictured on a much more complete cannonball that was said to have been engraved by Good in the 1870s. It is our understanding, however, that Good normally nailed his artifacts to boards, and the piece is today’s question appears to have been attached with a screw. We think the engraved fragment is authentic and of interest to collectors as well as to the Gettysburg History Museum, 219 Baltimore St., Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, (717) 337-2035.
Assigning a monetary value to this piece would be pure speculation, so we will refrain.
DEAR HELAINE AND JOE: I am curious to know what you can tell me about this pair of cookie jars. I got them from my grandmother, and if I remember correctly, they were given to her by a pair of sisters who boarded with her, my mom and my uncle in Grand Island, Nebraska, during WWII. A friend tells me her family had the female and called it “Susie Cookie Jar.” I am trying to find four identical sets for my four children, but all I can find have different patterns. Can you help?
H. H., Chicago
Dear H. H.:
We would never say this is an impossible task, but it is pretty darn close. But like horseshoes, hand grenades and thermonuclear weapons, close may have to be good enough.
First of all, it is important to know that although the jars are just marked “USA,” they were made by the Shawnee Pottery Company of Zanesville, Ohio, which began operation in 1937 and went out of business in 1961. It should also be mentioned that during the WWII years of 1941 to 1946, Shawnee was taken over by the United States Army Air Corps and used as a supply depot and parts manufacturing facility.
During their relatively brief time in business, Shawnee made everything from aquarium ornaments to salt and pepper shakers, pie birds, flowerpots, lamps, planters, pitchers, miscellaneous kitchen wares, dinnerware and yes, cookie jars. The list could go on and on, and they made vast quantities of many items.
Shawnee is perhaps most famous for their “Corn King” and “Corn Queen” lines and for their cookie jars. “Smiley Pig” is well known, as are “Winnie Pig,” “Muggsy” (an adorable pup wearing a toothache scarf around his head), “Puss n’ Boots,” “Sailor Boy” and “Drum Major.” Collectors especially look for elaborately decorated “Lucky the Elephant” and “Cookie House.”
The pair in today’s question are “Dutch Boy” and “Dutch Girl,” which we have also seen referred to as “Happy Jack” and “Happy Jill.” Most of the character jars came in a variety of decorations and color schemes. Those with unusual coloration, various decals and gold trim can demand something of a premium. In the case of “Dutch Boy” and “Dutch Girl,” look for the examples marked “Great Northern.”
In this case, Jack’s stripped pants are a plus, but if decals representing patches or small florals had been added, that would have made the piece much more monetarily valuable. The tulip on Jill’s dress is nice, but a color to the skirt, some decals and gold trim would have made the piece more desirable.
That H. H. has a pair is very nice and does help the dollar value a bit. As for finding four sets that exactly match, good luck, but we discovered similar examples are for sale on eBay and Etsy for prices as low as $20. Most, however, were in the $50 to $80 range. Add the interest in a pair and we think the retail value of this couple would be in the range of $150 to $200, if they are in perfect condition.
Dear Helaine and Joe: Enclosed are photos of a belt with ornaments on it. There are six circles on it, and I think each one must have a special meaning. Can you tell me what they mean? Why was this made? What organization does it represent?
C. H., Whitefield, N.H.
Dear C. H.: One of the photos shows the owner bending this around in a circle like a belt, but the circumference is so small it would not fit even a person with a wasp-like waist. No, this is not a belt, and it was never meant for humans to wear.
The piece is part of a martingale, but it probably never adorned a horse. Unfortunately, we are not horse people, so we can only relate what our research tells us. But in short (actually, very short), a “martingale” is a strap (i.e. a harness strap) that is sometimes called a “breast-strap.”
The strap is the perfect place to display the decorative brasses, which might consist of geometric designs (moons, stars, hearts, etc.), political and royal portraits, castles, crowns, lions, horses, wheat, symbols for brewing companies, Masonic symbols, rare pieces with colorful pottery centers or bells that actually ring.
This example features representations of British coins. One is a halfpenny with a date that looks like 1943, a sixpence dated 1953, a penny with the image of Britannia dated 1903 and a farthing with a wren dated 1968. This last one is a fantasy coin since the last British farthing was minted in 1956. The farthing is worth 1/4 of a British penny. Interestingly, the wren is symbolic because it is Britain’s smallest bird on Britain’s smallest coin.
It is possible that the 1953 sixpence piece was made to commemorate Queen Elizabeth II’s coronation, but this is only conjecture. Collecting horse brasses became a hobby sometime around 1880, but the horse brass itself traces its history back to the European Iron Age. In Roman times they were called “phalerae.”
Examples made from cast brass are generally earlier than those made from stamped brass. For a time, modern examples were sold at tourist attractions and gift shops because they were very British and very horsey. C.H.’s martingale with six horse brasses was made sometime after 1968 and we would give it a circa (plus or minus 10 years) date of 1970.
This makes it about 50 years old, but horse brasses of this vintage and later are abundant and have only a modest monetary value. Currently the retail value of this piece appears to be between $50 and $85 and might be of interest to both a horse brass collector and a numismatist.
Greetings: I would appreciate any information you might have on this colorful cow platter and its value. The marks on the back are not very good or distinguishable — it looks like a crown and a blue stamp. There are some impressed letters that appear to be “DERD.” It is approximately 18 by 15 inches. It has four holes on the back for hanging, and we have found no initials or name on the front. My husband suggests there is a “Spanish cowboy” in the background.
B. S., Richfield, Minn.
Dear B. S.: Yes, there is a tiny, shadowy herdsman on horseback in the background, but we doubt very seriously he is Spanish.
We have stared at the piece’s marks until our eyes are collectively bleary, and we agree these are probably marks used by the Derby Porcelain Works, which was founded sometime in the 1750s, appropriately in the city of Derby in Derbyshire, England. The time is a little loose because we know that William Duesbury, who was a decorator in London, was buying undecorated porcelain from someone in the early 1750s.
Who that actually was is open to conjecture. Some theorize Derby can trace its ancestry back to the Cockpit Hill Potworks, which was working as early as 1708, and is sometimes referred to as the Derby Potworks. Be that as it may, there is a contract dated Jan. 1, 1756, between Duesbury, John Heath and Andrew Planche to manufacture “English China” in Derby.
The firm sometimes referred to itself as being the “Second Dresden” — or as we might say today the “Second Meissen” — because they produced such finely decorated wares. Sometime between 1811 and 1815, the factory was acquired by Robert Bloor, and pieces can be found marked “Bloor Derby” with a crown.
In 1848, the original Derby factory closed. Some former Derby employees reopened the works on King Street in Derby, and this factory operated until 1935. It was absorbed by Royal Crown Derby, which was established in 1890 and is still in business.
The marks on B. S.’s oval plaque seem to indicate it was made sometime between 1878 and 1890. The shape and size of the plXaque say Derby to us, and when the incredible enamel painting of cows in a bucolic landscape is added to the equation we are even more comfortable with this attribution. Plus, we read “DERD” as “DERBY” to seal the deal.
We feel the image of the cows is a reproduction of a painting in the English Romantic style or the Barbizon School, which was founded in France. We are reminded of the work of Barbizon artist Constant Troyon (1810-1865) or the English artist David Cox (1783-1859).
B. S. should search the bottom of the oval in the darker areas for an artist signature that would tell us who did the rendition. As for value, we feel it should sell in the $2,000 to $2,500 range at auction and insured in the neighborhood of $3,500 to $4,500.
Dear Helaine and Joe:
Might you be able to help us determine the approximate value of this Mobo horse. We would also like to know a little of its history.
Thank you for your help,
Dear K. P.:
Ride ’em, cowboy! The phrase echoed through the minds of many boys and girls (ride ’em, cowgirl!) during the early years of television.
Many of us can remember lying on our tummies in front of the television watching shoot-’em-ups as long as Mom and/or Dad would let us. Merchandise associated with these Westerns was in toy boxes in many homes in America. In many more cases, more generic-themed toy riding horses took up floor space in bedrooms, playrooms and almost any other room in the house where there was a TV.
Mobo Toys were made in Erith, Kent, England, between 1947 and 1973 by D. Sebel & Co. David Sebel immigrated to England from Russia about 1912 and went into business as a wheelwright. Over the years the business developed into making such things as fronts for motion picture theaters, milk churns and cleaning carts.
Shortly after the initial startup, the toy division was moved to the old Vickers Gun Works in Erith, and when the name “Mobile Toys” was rejected, “Mobo” was chosen instead. The symbol for the new company was a circus clown, and in later advertising, there was Mr. Mo and Miss Bo.
The piece in today’s question is “Bronco,” which was Mobo’s most popular product. First made in 1947, it is said that schoolchildren chose the color scheme of red and yellow. Initially Bronco could only be ridden straight ahead, but in 1950, “magic steering” was introduced that allowed Bronco to be ridden straight ahead and steered either left or right.
In the photographs of K. P.’s Mobo Bronco, we see the emblem on the horse’s chest, and we think there is a banner above that says “It Steers,” which signifies this example was made after 1950. Unfortunately this model stayed in production until 1971, so we cannot narrow the time frame further.
Dear Helaine and Joe:
My husband and I are curious about a chair that has been in his family for many years. As you can see from the photographs, it appears to have its original finish and the seat is original. Is the chair valuable? I would like to refinish it, but not if it will adversely affect the value.
Thank you, B. B.
Just one look at the photographs of this braced bow back Windsor armchair with a rush seat and we knew it was not an original from the late 18th or even early 19th century. We were also sure it was not 19th century at all.
B. B.’s email was titled “Sikes Chair Company Windsor chair” and in one of the photos we saw the proof of this by the appearance of a label that read “Sikes Chair Company, Buffalo Branch (we think) Buffalo, New York.” This was indeed a good thing to see.
Samuel D. Sikes founded a furniture-making company on Clinton Street in Buffalo in 1859. Originally it was called S. D. Sikes & Brother, but around 1875 Samuel died and Edwin Sikes took over the company as its president. The information we could find was more than a little vague, but Edwin is said to have “reorganized” the company and we infer that the name was changed to Sikes Chair Company.
Sikes produced all sorts of chairs, from oak press backs and a variety of Windsor-type chairs to swivel office chairs, rocking chairs and Morris-style chairs in the Arts and Crafts mode. This last type of chair is generally the most desired of Sikes’ products on today’s market and has brought as much as $700 at auction. Sikes also produced some non-chair items such as tables that might be used with their chairs.
Except for the back braces, the chair in today’s question might be called a “sack back” Windsor. Odd name, and we have seen the explanation that it was so called because a sack could be placed over the spindles that make up the back to keep the cold draft from blowing through during the winter. Colorful, interesting, but doubtful in our opinion.
A single Sikes high style Windsor armchair with a pierced central back-splat in the English style made from walnut with graceful turnings can sell at auction for as much as $850, but chairs such as the one in today’s question bring much less. The last one we found had an auction estimate of $100 to $200 and failed to sell.
B. B.’s chair is probably from the 1920s or perhaps a tad earlier. But unless it is in need of repair, it should not be touched. A good clean and polish should do the trick; refinishing it would lower the value.
DEAR HELAINE AND JOE: I bought this miniature painting at a local St. Vincent de Paul thrift store for a penny. I love it and hope you can tell me more about its history.
— A.R. DEAR A.R.: A penny for our thoughts we understand. But a penny for a painting encased in an elaborate frame is a bit more than we can comprehend in these times. To be sure, religious paintings such as this one depicting Mary holding the baby Jesus are not hot sellers, but a penny does seem like an extremely low price.
This is a small painting on an oval porcelain plaque in a curlicued brass frame that is European in origin. We would speculate it was probably made in Germany (our first choice) or Italy (the runner-up). We feel the piece was probably bought around the turn of the 20th century by a person on the tour of Europe.
More specifically, we think it was bought near one of the great Gothic cathedrals in Germany, Italy or perhaps even France as a souvenir of a visit to a
spiritually significant place by a devout individual. But who? Luckily, in this case we have a clue that leads us to a theory.
On the back of the painting is written, “W.H. McCurdy, 206 Worthington, Wyoming,” and this leads us to some conclusions. At first the word “Wyoming” made us think of the square state north of Colorado.
But we think it refers to the town of Wyoming, Ohio, which is a suburb of Cincinnati.
If this is the case, it follows that “W.H. McCurdy” might be the rather famous industrialist William Harvey McCurdy, who is associated with Cincinnati and later Evansville, Ind. McCurdy (1853-1930) moved to Cincinnati in 1889 and became secretary of the Favorite Buggy Co.
McCurdy met Julius Rosenwald, whose firm Rosenwald and Weil supplied Sears, Roebuck with men’s clothing. With Rosenwald’s financing, McCurdy founded the Brighton Buggy Co., which became an important supplier of farm wagons and buggies to Sears.
With the help of Rosenwald and Sears, the company was so successful McCurdy had to build a new manufacturing facility. He chose Evansville for the location, and the Hercules Buggy Co. was formed. McCurdy has been called Evansville’s first modern industrialist, and he was involved with everything from truck bodies and gas engines to refrigeration units, farm tractors, hotels and trolley car companies.
But he is also remembered today for his philanthropy, including significant financial donations to help the struggling Evansville College (now Evansville University). McCurdy is something of a national figure, and if this small anonymous painting is not associated with him, the insurance value would be in the $200 to $300 range. With this association, the price should double and might be of interest to the Evansville Museum.