Treasures: Diorama is carved in the style of Black Forest

This diorama, or shadowbox, provides a view of a French or German tavern from the 19th century.

I was given this piece by my grandparents and am interested in knowing when it was made, where and why.


Tribune News Service

Dear Helaine and Joe:

I was given this piece by my grandparents and am interested in knowing when it was made, where and why.

Thank you,


Dear C.:

Some pictures may be worth a thousand words, but this particular picture’s words are a little garbled.

At one time vital information was on the label on the back, but now the small paper rectangle is not easy to read, at least not in the photographs we have. What we can decipher appears to be the word “Grenoble” and “1815,” which may refer to Napoleon’s visit to Grenoble, France, in 1815 when he was once again proclaimed emperor.

We may or may not be reading this correctly because the scene appears to depict a rather common tavern interior with three men sitting at a table inscribed “1762” and a woman in a doorway. Instead of this having anything to do with Napoleon and his 1815 visit to Grenoble, it may just be a souvenir that represents a tale from popular literature or a folk tale — or maybe just a romanticized scene of an 18th- or 19th-century tavern.

Generally a piece like this would be called a “diorama,” which in this case is a small-scale replica of a scene. (A diorama may also be a full-size 3D depiction, often found as museum exhibits or visual aids in a visitor’s center of some sort of historical attraction.)

The word “diorama” originated in 1823 in France when Charles-Marie Bouton and Louis Daguerre (of daguerreotype photography fame) created a full-sized theatrical attraction in Paris that made the audience feel as if they were experiencing a real scene when actually they were seeing cleverly lighted paintings on linen panels.

This diorama is somewhat in the style of the Black Forest, which was a kind of carving that can be traced to an 1816 famine in Brienz, Switzerland. Looking for a way to buy food, the local woodcarvers began turning out furniture, household accessories and decorations that would appeal to tourists.

Black Forest items were made primarily in Switzerland and Austria and consisted of such things as the familiar cuckoo clocks, boxes decorated with a variety of animals, benches supported by bears and figures of everything from human hunters to owls, wild boar, dogs and pheasants. Some items were very fanciful, while others were more practical.

Some of the Black Forest dioramas were carved from single boards to form a 3D scene, but others appear to have had some assembly. Pine was often used, as was black walnut. The piece belonging to C. appears to have been made at least partially from black walnut and then painted.

This example is probably from the last quarter of the 19th century (circa 1890) and at auction would probably sell for around $400. Its retail value would be in the $600 to $750 range.

Read the original article online here.

TREASURE HUNT: Wire hook suggests antique porcelain dog was not a ring holder

This watch holder is shaped like a pug, but it is far from “being a dog.”

DEAR HELAINE AND JOE: My aunt, who was an avid collector, left us what she called a “ring holder.” We have found no markings on the piece or on the base. We would be interested in any information you have.

Thanks in advance,

M. & J. McM, Bedford, N.H.

DEAR M. & J. MCM: This late Victorian piece has a great deal of cute going for it. The idea — we think — was that this was meant to suggest a dog cart with a flower decorated open umbrella or parasol. The real question here is whether or not it was meant to be a dressing table piece? Or was it designed to sit on a mantel or chest of drawers?

We want to start by discussing the origins of this piece, which is far, far away from Bedford, N.H. The porcelain used to make the dog appears to have been made in Germany — or perhaps in nearby Czechoslovakia, which at that time was called “Bohemia.”

The dog appears to be a pug with gilded bells on its red collar; unfortunately, over the years much of the gilding has been rubbed off. As we said before, the pug is made from porcelain, but it seems to be standing on a base that was made from some other material such as alabaster — but that may be just an optical illusion in the photographs and the base could be porcelain as well.

The cart itself is made from iron wire and the dish shaped cranberry glass insert that makes up the rear of the cart is probably hand-blown with an edge that has been carefully ground and polished. The enameled flowers are very typically Bohemian, and the large posy in the center along with the crossing of the iron wire may hide where the pontil scar is located.

But what is the purpose of the large wire hook that is suspended over the dog’s back near his head? M. & J. McM’s aunt thought it was to hold a ring; and yes, it could be used for this purpose, but we suspect that its original purpose was similar but not quite matching. We think this is actually a watch holder.

We are not sure of the size of this piece, but this whimsical item might have been designed to hold a lady’s watch during the hours when milady was sleeping or bathing. This device would have sat on her dressing table and the watch was probably contained in a small hunter case (a watch case with a hinged lid to protect the crystal).

If this watch keeper is larger than we suspect, it might have held a man’s watch and would have been kept on a dresser or perhaps on a mantel. A man interested in this sort of dog might have used such a watch keeper, but we really feel it was meant to be a charming accessory on a lady’s dressing table.

Ring trees are generally saucer shaped with a finger-like spike in the middle that was designed to stand in for a finger when the ring was off its owner’s hand. If this watch holder is the size we imagine (and is in great condition), it should have an insurance value in the $225 to $325 range.

Read the original article here.

Card table’s refinishing hurts its value

Made from walnut, this table is a good deal.

Dear Helaine and Joe:

I am wondering if you can help me with information about a card table my wife inherited from her great-aunt. It has been in the family for many years. As you can see from the photos, the tabletop is hinged. It opens up to card table size and then can be spun around to accommodate four people at the table. Under one side of the top there is a space that looks like it was meant to store cards/games, etc.

Thank you very much,

J. S., Minneapolis

Dear J. S.:

Card and game tables have been around for a long time. It has been speculated that the first were just boards placed on top of low chests to facilitate playing games like backgammon, chess, draughts (checkers) and dice. Playing cards did not come into vogue until the Elizabethan era. Card tables began to appear in English and American homes after the Queen Anne period (1702-1714).

By the late 18th and early 19th century, card tables were quite common in American and British homes. Some were quite elaborate, with intricate inlay and extravagantly carved features such as richly embellished legs and pedestals. Some card tables can be quite valuable. But what about the one in today’s question? How old is it and what are its origins?

First, let us say that the wood is walnut. It has attractive drop pendants on the corners that are echoed in the four feet that support the pedestal base. The pedestal itself is nicely turned and is vasiform with some nice ring embellishments. It’s nice, but not the sort of thing that wows a collector.

The card table is probably American, but it has two things that have significant negative impact on both its monetary value and interest on the current antiques market. The first problem is the sweet little card table has been refinished to within an inch of its life. It is what an old antiques dealer we used to know called “slick as a ribbon.”

Some might say all the old has been rubbed off, leaving behind a piece of furniture that does not show the beautiful patina of its age. Refinishing can be done respectfully and carefully to leave behind a surface that is clean and refreshed, not sanded down and stripped of life and history.

But as sad as the refinished state of the card table is, its bigger problem is it is Victorian and probably dates to the third quarter of the 19th century. Unless a Victorian piece of furniture has a great deal of pizazz or was made by a famous maker, this sort of furniture is suffering on the current market and anonymous pieces often go begging.

Still, we feel if the card table were offered for sale in a good Midwestern auction, it would probably bring in somewhere in the $175 to $225 range and retail around $450.

Read the original article here.

Treasures in Your Attic: Portrait was part of scheme to sell overpriced frames

This tinted photograph by the Chicago Portrait Company did not require a trip to Chicago to make it.

Dear Helaine and Joe: Enclosed are pictures of a portrait of my paternal grandparents.

My grandfather was a coal miner in War, W.Va., so you can guess that a trip to Chicago and this grand portrait was something special for them. The story I was told is that it was a gift from “the company.” They lived in a company house and shopped at a company store. This has sentimental value, but does it have any monetary value?

— G.W., Norfolk, Va.

Dear G.W.: The back of the piece has an impressive plaquelike label that tells us in flowery language that the image was made from a photograph in 1941 and that it was meant to be passed on as a “priceless heirloom.” It is also stated the image was from the Chicago Portrait Co.

We need to make it clear that we feel this is a priceless heirloom that should be treasured by the family of the people in the photograph. But when the piece was made, it was basically a fraud perpetrated upon G.W.’s grandparents as a scheme to sell overpriced picture frames.

It appears the Chicago Portrait Studio’s modus operandi was to have salesmen go to rural Americans and send ordinary photographs of people both living and dead to Chicago, where they were enlarged and turned into impressive-looking portraits.

The portraits were printed on curved card stock and were not suitable to be framed in ordinary flat frames. Typically, the photographs were also enhanced with watercolor, India ink, oil paint, pastels or crayons. They were said to be hand-painted but were not.

When the newly enlarged and tinted portraits were returned to the customer, the picture was routinely housed in a striped frame that looked something like burled wood and had bubble glass over the image. The customer was presented with the choice of just getting the portrait and paying a few dollars or paying significantly more for photograph and frame.

The Chicago Portrait Co. was in business from 1893 to the early 1940s, and the description above is what happened during much of the company’s history. The frame in today’s question has what appears to be an attractive rope-twisted brass frame that, according to a certificate, was electroplated with a minuscule amount of 14-carat gold. It cost G.W.’s grandparents $27.50, which at the time was probably close to the cost of a month’s worth of groceries for a family of three or four.

We cannot tell from the photographs whether the portrait itself is on curved cardboard, but we do know the glass covering was protected by a design patent No. 65031, which is for bubble glass. It is possible your paternal grandfather did something noteworthy and the mining company rewarded him with the picture and the $27.50 frame. But there is no way of knowing for sure.

Sentimentally the piece is priceless, but monetarily it is worth in the $45 to $65 range.

Read the original article here.

22 Savvy Garage Sale Tips to Pad Your Summer Budget

Would you be surprised to learn that garage sales have been around since the early 1800s? A longstanding American tradition, these types of sales originated in the shipping yards as a way to sell unclaimed cargo at discounted prices, then became wildly popular in the 50s and 60s when people started to move to the suburbs and accumulate goods in excess.

Today, they’re still going strong, generating over $4.2 million every week.

How to Have a Successful Garage Sale

Although the overall estimated price of a garage sale item is only $.85, a successful garage sale can generate a healthy chunk of change—especially during the summer months when garage sale season is in full swing.

To learn how to make your next one profitable, check out these 21 garage sale tips, featuring advice from a variety of experts on planning, organizing, advertising, pricing, and much more.

Before the Sale

Plan ahead
Your garage sale has a much better chance of being successful if you do a lot of the legwork early. That means the bulk of your efforts should take place well before the big day—at least a week or two in advance. “Go through your entire house a few weeks before your sale and start putting aside items you will be selling,” says celebrity home stager and best-selling author Tori Toth.

Choose the day of your sale wisely
When choosing a day (or days) for your yard sale, make sure to consider the timing and the weather. “Check the weather forecast ahead of time and make sure the day is pleasant,” counsels Chhavi, a blogger for Mrs Daaku Studio. “A pleasant day would mean more people on the street!”

“If you can start on Thursday evening, go for it — but at least try to get the party started Friday. That way you can catch people on their way to drop kids off at school or on their way to and from work,” suggests, well-known couponer and budgeter The Krazy Coupon Lady

…And the location
“If you live off grid or live far away from a busy street, it can be difficult to sell off the items quickly,” says Chhavi. “So, if you are planning a summer garage sale, choose your location carefully. You can look at alternatives like your friend’s or relative’s house for a few hours. Remember, the busier the better for the business.”

Partner up for a bigger sale
According to Chris Michals of the Frugal Reality website, “It’s always much more successful if you can band together several neighbors to sell as a group. A larger sale will offer a wider variety and draw a more diverse group of buyers who may stumble on additional items you have for sale.”

Don’t forget to advertise (a lot)
“As soon as you know the date and times for your garage sale, start advertising!” say budgeting gurus Brittany and Kelan Kline of The Savvy Couple. “There are so many free ways to advertise for your garage sale. Craigslist is the first place I would start. Start your ad with just the dates and times. This way you feel committed to the sale and people can plan their routes. Then as you finish up decluttering and you have your sale set-up you can upload pictures.”

There are also a number of websites now devoted entirely to buying and selling local items online. “Today, free apps like 5miles and Yard Sale Treasure Map allow local sellers to advertise their upcoming sales—and shoppers to find them,” according to Eric Kuhns of 5miles.

Fine arts appraiser Helaine Fendelman also suggests advertising in your local paper, on local radio stations, on community bulletin boards, and even in antiques publications.

Sign, sign, everywhere a sign
“Signage can make or break a yard sale,” advises Pam Holland, member of the National Association of Productivity and Organizing Professionals and owner of the Clutter Free Now website. “It doesn’t have to be expensive: you just want to be smart. Signage works best if it is in a consistent bright color (poster board can be purchased at many dollar stores.) Your signs should be readable from a car at a distance.”

Your signs should include your address, an arrow pointing to your location, and ideally something extra to entice drivers to stop by. However, don’t cram your sign with so much information that passersby can’t read it.

“Convey your information with thick, black, block letters,” says professional interior decorator Leah French, writing for The Spruce. “Yard sale signs with a white background aren’t as noticeable, and letters of a single marker width aren’t thick enough to read from a moving car.”

Check on permits and local laws
“While posting colorful signs on telephone poles is great advertisement, there are laws prohibiting this in many areas, so check in to see what local laws are in your area about holding and advertising yard sales,” says Tori Toth.

Though permits are pretty cheap, fines for bypassing them may not be, so it’s worthwhile to check.

Put a price on everything
“It’s important that every item is marked with a price tag, and that the price is visible to anyone visiting the garage sale,” says Nathan Ripley, who runs the San Diego-based house cleaning service Maid Just Right. “It’s also good to bundle items and sell them with a 3-for-1 marking. For example, old VHS or DVDs can be bundled like that, and they’ll more likely sell that way.”

“It helps to price items by category to keep it simple,” adds the Krazy Coupon Lady. “For example, make all clothes $3 and all books $1. For anything more expensive, mark it with an obvious price tag.”

…And price to sell
According to The Savvy Couple, “Pricing your items to sell is important as you are trying to get rid of them. As you are pricing, think as if you were the buyer at another garage sale, how much would you pay for the item you are pricing?”

Chris Michaels of 5miles adds, “After curating the items you wish to sell, research the sale price of comparable items (new or used) listed online. This way, you can ensure that your items will be priced fairly, competitively.”

Consider an alternate plan for your valuable items
If you have expensive items such as jewelry or antiques you want to sell, your garage sale may not be the best—or safest—venue.

“Consider selling higher-value items individually, through a local classified website, rather than a yard sale,” advises Miranda Marquit of the budgeting blog Wisebread. “You’re more likely to find people willing to buy the items and pay a better price than you would at a yard sale.”

Make sure everything is spotless
“Make sure your wares are clean,” says Jennifer Snyder, certified professional organizer and owner of the organizing and cleaning company Neat as a Pin. “You can get more money for clean toys than dirty toys, clothes, housewares, etc.”

This also goes for the space you’ll be using. “Make sure you clean your garage, vacuum any dust, air it so it’s easy to breathe and remove any unnecessary items stored there,” adds Maids Just Right’s Nathan Ripley.

Day of Sale

Start on time
“It is common for professional garage sale hunters to arrive very early,” says Frugal Reality’s Chris Michaels. “It is also common for them to ring on your doorbell if you are a minute late.”

Organize your wares
“Before opening the doors to your garage sale it’s very important to have everything organized and sorted,” says Nathan Ripley. “A chaotic or messy garage sale will not attract as many people, or they will give up while searching for something particular in the mess.”

Pay attention to your display
Angie’s List, a company that helps people connect with local service providers, recommends grouping items together as if you were running a retail store. “Some of your departments might include collectibles, tools, furniture, sporting goods, decor, linens, kitchen electronics, books, toys and framed photos.”

“Only display very large items on the ground,” adds Jennifer Snyder. “You want to have as much as possible at eye level.”

Create an inviting space
“If you are holding a true ‘garage sale,’ the first step is to make sure your garage is ready,” says The Savvy Couple. “If you are holding it in your driveway or yard, mow the lawn and spend some time making sure the outside of your house is presentable.”

It also helps to” have good music playing,” says fine arts appraiser Helaine Fendelman.

The Krazy Coupon Lady agrees. “People who spend money on unplanned purchases tend to buy more when there is music in the background,” she says. “Set up a speaker and a Spotify or Pandora playlist and you’re all set.”

Don’t forget to have change
“This one step is often forgotten in the hustle of getting the garage sale ready,” according to The Savvy Couple. They advise having the following change available:

2 $10 bills
6 $5 bills
33 $1 bills
1 roll of quarters
1 roll of dimes
1 roll of pennies

Offer refreshments
“Serve coffee and have water available, advises Helaine Fendelman. “Cookies are a treat, too.”

“People are more likely to approach a garage sale when they see delicious goodies,” agrees The Krazy Coupon Lady. “It puts people in a friendlier mood and make them more willing to make a purchase.”

Be helpful and friendly (but not too friendly)
“Have item specs, sizes, etc. readily available for shoppers, as well as a tape measure handy for measuring any furniture pieces,” advises 5miles’ Eric Kuhns. “Also, offer prospective buyers a chance to test out items—e.g. opening an umbrella to make sure it works, plugging in a curling iron to show that it heats up, or starting up that lawn mower you have for sale.”

One caveat: Don’t hover—no one likes to be followed around, whether it’s at a clothing boutique or a yard sale. Be friendly, say hello, and offer help when asked, but otherwise let your customers meander at leisure.

Price items lower at end of day
“Most sellers want the stuff out of their house while making a few dollars,” says Chris Michaels. “It’s worth advertising that everything will be half off or negotiable for the last two hours of the day. Every extra dollar you get at the end of the day is more than you started the day with.”

“Start cutting prices about an hour before your sale ends,” adds The Krazy Coupon Lady. “A great way to do this is to sell everything 50% off the marked price. Make sure you make a sign for this so it’s obvious to the shoppers.”

Stay safe
Chances are that most folks who show up to your garage sale are just looking for a bargain, but it’s still a good idea to take a few precautions. “Recruit family or friends to help customers and keep an eye out for thieves,” counsels Tori Toth. “And remember to keep windows and doors of your home locked to avoid intruders.”

Adds Chris Micheals, “Keep one person stationary at a table who collects and keeps the money safe. If one person is running it alone, a thief can either distract the seller from the items or the money.”

After the Sale

Donate unsold items
“At the end of the yard sale, using your inventory, check off what didn’t sell and consider taking it to a thrift shop,” says Wisebread’s Miranda Marquit. “You can donate the items for a tax break if you itemize. You can use your inventory as part of your record-keeping for the IRS.”

“The only time it might be worth keeping an item that didn’t sell is if you know you can sell it on Craigslist or eBay for a quick profit,” adds The Savvy Couple. “You were selling everything for a reason, to organize and minimize. Pack up the car and bring the items to a local Goodwill. Keep your receipt for tax season.”

Don’t blow your earnings!
When your garage sale is in the rear-view mirror, give yourself a pat on the back and take some time to relax. Garage sales are a lot of work, and you deserve to enjoy the fruits of your labor.

Just try to avoid the temptation of going right out and spending all the money you just made. Instead, deposit the cash into your savings account and consider using at least a portion of it to pay down any outstanding debt. Your pocketbook—and your summer budget—will thank you later.

Read the full article here, on the RISE Blog.

Treasures in Your Attic: Porcelain pink pigs are cute but common

These pigs in a purse were likely made between the end of World War I and the beginning of World War II.

DEAR HELAINE AND JOE: I inherited these items from various family members, and I am hoping you can tell me something about their possible value. The piggies in a poke are 4 inches wide by 3 inches tall. It is just a knickknack and has no markings. This piece was given to me by a great-aunt who died in the 1980s. The other piggies are salt and pepper shakers. There are no chips or cracks.

— Thank you, C. W., Bentonville, Ark.

DEAR C. W.: Sometimes we have to choose what to concentrate on when we write a response. In this case, we are going to pass over the teapot and the tureen — both of which are attractive — but we cannot decipher the mark on the teapot and the tureen is only marked with pattern numbers.

The teapot appears to be circa 1925-1950 American and probably worth in the $35 to $50 range, while the tureen is European, possibly French, and from the first quarter of the 20th century. Value? Probably $100 to $125 because it is attractive and useful.

Now on to the main event: the pigs. The three little piggy salt and pepper shakers are beyond cute with their flirty eyes and saggy overalls, two with painted blue stripes, one with painted flowers. We took a close look, hoping they might have been made by Shawnee pottery, but the little porkers do not appear to have been made in one of the company’s molds.

The three pigs were probably made in the third quarter of the 20th century. Their country of origin might have been either Germany or Japan. But without a mark, we cannot be sure which (we favor Japan). In any event, the three should probably be valued at around $10 to $12 each at retail.

The piggies in a poke, however, are German in origin and are part of a collecting group known as “pink pigs,” which is part of a larger collecting group called “fairings.” Fairings are generally small, inexpensive pieces of porcelain that were either given away at country fairs or sold for just a few pennies each. In the case of some pink pig items, they were emblazoned with the names of cities and/or tourist locations and sold as souvenirs in gift shops.

Fairings can be found in the form of small dresser boxes and figures, but examples found in the form of pink pigs can be toothpick holders, chamber sticks, match holders and ashtrays. Mainly, they were just little novelties meant to amuse and sit on a cottage mantel.

Collectors of pink pigs can find examples riding in an early automobile, playing piano, posed beside a bean pot, sitting on a sofa or mailing a letter. The pigs in a purse C. W. owns is not uncommon and was probably made some time between the end of World War I and the beginning of World War II. The pink pig fairing has a retail value in the $50 to $65 range.

Read the original article here.

Treasures in your Attic: Cut overlay vase has superb craftsmanship

This tall vase was probably once part of a pair.

DEAR HELAINE AND JOE: What can you tell me about this vase? It is 15¾ inches tall and 5 inches across the base. It appears to be made from several layers of glass: clear, ruby then white. The design seems to be perfectly symmetrical and appears to have been made by cutting or grinding through the outer layer of white glass, but there are no grinding marks visible. There are no chips and all the edges are sharp and crisp.

— Thank you, J. F.

DEAR J. F.: Once upon a time, this was probably one of a pair of vases that comprised a garniture set used to decorate a Victorian mantel. Its mate has vanished into the lost and found of history, but this one with its superb craftsmanship remains a thing of beauty.

This vase began its life in central Europe in a place that is now part of the modern Czech Republic. Then, the region was called Bohemia, and it was part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. It is now the far western part of the Czech Republic and on the map appears to be approximately half the land mass.

Archeologists have found Bohemian glass works dating to approximately 1250 AD. But this glass vase, which was probably made around the Karlovy Vary area (Karlsbad), is much later and might date to the last quarter of the 19th century. It’s hard to tell exactly how old the piece is without a little family history because this sort of piece is currently made in Bohemia.

Cut overlay pieces such as this one came in a variety of color schemes. White on top of clear is very common, as is blue over clear, white over green, cranberry over clear, white over cranberry and on and on. Rare color combinations such as pink and white over yellow can be found. But unless the color combination is aesthetically pleasing (and the cutting well-done), the value is not greatly enhanced.

J. F.’s piece started out as a “gather” (or “blob,” if you prefer) of clear glass on the end of a glassblower’s blow pipe. The gather was then coated with red (cranberry) glass and then with white glass. The blob was then inflated and laboriously shaped until it was the vase seen today.

It was then sent to the decorating department, where skilled workers created the notching around the top and cut through the layers of white and cranberry to create the graceful and symmetrical “windows” seen on the finished piece. The surface was then polished to remove any telltale signs of the cutting process.

Tons of this glassware type is being made for tourists visiting Bohemia and other parts of Europe today. But the pieces tend to be smaller and rather less well-done. At 15¾-inches tall, J. F.’s example is a far larger than average specimen that would have been improved only by gilding and a more imaginative pattern to the cutting. Still, for retail purposes, the vase should be valued in the $500 to $650 range.

Read the original article here.

Treasure Hunt

This typewriter is old, but is it a mod-el and maker collectors want?

DEAR HELAINE AND JOE: This typewriter once belonged to my parents. The name on the piece is “L.C. Smith.” I do not know its age, but I do know it needs work. Any information would be welcome.


Dear S.L.: Many current collectors seem to love certain types of innovative technology. Old televisions and radios, toasters, phonographs, sewing machines (common varieties of Singer or Minnesota sewing machines are of little interest), mixers (both drink and batter) and electric fans.

Certain kinds of coffee makers, waffle irons, telephones and the like do have a collector following, but unless they are pioneer models or have a special design, microwave ovens, computers and pressure cookers — yes, we do get questions about these — are generally outside the scope of collector interest. Typewriters can be a fun area of collecting because there are so many types and varieties.

It is hard to imagine, but Hugh Hefner’s college typewriter recently sold for $130,000 at auction (other Hefner-associated typewriters sold for much, much less). In addition, a model called the Malling-Hansen Writing Ball from 1867 has sold for more than $100,000, also at auction. Unfortunately, run-of-the-mill 20th-century typewriters made by L.C. Smith with no celebrity associations are not in this exalted company.

In the 15th century there was Gutenberg and his movable type, and then, almost 400 years later, there was Englishman Henry Mills, who in 1714 invented a mechanical device designed to imprint letters and numbers on a piece of paper. All we have of Mill’s machine is some patent papers. A practical typewriter did not appear until the mid- to late 1860s.

Many inventors tried their hands at making an efficient typewriter, but the father of the American typewriter is said to be Christopher Latham Sholes, who, among other things, originated the QWERTY keyboard still in use today. In 1886, Lyman Cornelius Smith and his brothers (Wilbert, Hurlburt and Monroe) founded the Smith Premier Typewriter Company to manufacture a typewriting machine designed by Alexander T. Brown.

The brothers left Smith Premier Typewriter Company because of a disagreement concerning the production of a frontstroke typewriter. They founded L.C. Smith & Bros. Typewriter Company in Syracuse, N.Y. in 1903. They merged with the Corona Typewriter Company in 1925 to become L.C. Smith Bros. & Corona Typewriters and Company (i.e. Smith Corona).

Studying the photographs S.L. sent us, we believe (but cannot be 100% sure) this is an L.C. Smith No. 5 with a 10-inch carriage that was made between 1911 and 1923 (the serial number would have provided an exact date of manufacturer). This is not an uncommon typewriter, and it was made when such machines were standard office equipment.

The photograph along with the note in the letter (“it needs work”) suggests to us that this particular machine would probably retail in the $35 to $75 range.

Read the original article here.

Treasures in Your Attic: Hatpins an unusual find with an unusual history

These are hatpins, but they were also used for self-defense by respectable ladies back in the day.

Dear Helaine and Joe: I am attaching pictures of what I have been told are hatpins. They belonged to my wife’s great-grandmother. I would appreciate any information you are able to provide.

Thank you in advance.

— J. H. W.

Dear J. H. W.: There is a debate in this country about gun control, but a little more than a century ago, there was a debate in certain American communities about the ubiquitous hatpin being a dangerous weapon that needed to be banned. Women of the day used the pointy devices to keep their elaborate millinery creations from being dislodged, either in a bustling crowd or in a high wind.

But this was also the age of the “masher,” or spiffily dressed man who tried to force his “attentions” on unwilling women who were unknown to them. The term originated in the 1875-1885 period. The response to the advances of a masher was either to hit him with a purse or umbrella, or stick a wickedly long hatpin into him as far as it could go.

Hatpins were also used to scratch the face, and the use of the devices was sometimes characterized as the “hatpin peril.” A 1904 edition of the San Francisco Call and Post featured illustrations showing how a woman might defend herself from the unwanted attentions of an unsavory man.

The era of the hatpin was roughly between 1875 and about 1920, when women’s hairstyles became too short to use the devices. Hats of the period could be large and rather elaborate, embellished with everything from stuffed birds to entire flower gardens with ribbons and buckles thrown in for good measure.

Sometime a chapeau required as many as six hatpins to keep it anchored to her head, but one or two were more usual. Hatpins came in a variety of sizes with the pin being anywhere from 6 to 12 inches long. Shorter pins (usually with far less elaborate heads) were used for corsages, stick pins and lapel pins and should not be confused with actual hatpins.

Hatpins can be found in the shape of golf clubs, bulldogs, flags, shields, buttons, Art Nouveau women, flowers, lions, birds, insects (bees, ladybugs and spiders), cameos and a myriad of other shapes and varieties.

We would have liked to have seen the hatpins in today’s question in person because we vacillated about the material from which they were made. Was it stone? Was it painted wood? And then, after looking at thousands of hatpins, we decided they were probably made from celluloid, which is an early plastic that can trace its roots to the 1850s.

Celluloid is really nitrocellulose, and it acquired the name “celluloid” in 1870. It is also known as “ivorene,” “synthetic ivory” and “French ivory.” Some hatpins had gold or sterling silver heads and real gems — even diamonds — in their design, but hatpins meant for everyday use by women of modest means were more likely to have heads made from brass, glass or molded celluloid. The two hatpins belonging to J. H. W are interesting, and they are early 20th century, but monetarily they are only worth $25 to $40 at retail for the pair.

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Treasures: Viennese chocolate set is attractive, but not of superior quality

It’s pretty, but is the neoclassical scene painted by hand?

Dear Helaine and Joe:

Like all “boomers” I am in the process of shedding all those things acquired or passed on to me throughout many years. My mother-in-law insisted on giving us this chocolate set. It has been boxed in the back of a closet for a couple of decades now. Any thoughts on how to price or dispose of it?



Dear N.J.:

We are “boomers” also and understand all too well the predicament. And as estate specialists, we deal with this potential problem every day.

The first rule is a biggie: Never dispose of anything until you know what it is and what it may be worth. That old painting some people think is hideous might be worth big bucks, or that piece of glass purchased years ago while on vacation in Italy might now pay for another trip to an exciting place.

To be clear, most of the household junk we collect over the years is that — just junk. But some of it might have potential value, and the possibility needs to be explored before things are sold, given away or just trashed.

The pieces in today’s question are marked with an image that looks something like a bullet with the word “Austria” boldly printed underneath. Many collectors call this bullet-shaped symbol with its two stripes across the middle a “beehive.” But it is actually a “Bindenschild,” which was the shield-shaped symbol in the center of the Austrian or Hapsburg coat of arms.

The mark was first used by the Vienna Porcelain Manufactory as an impressed mark in 1744. Founded by Claudius I. Du Paquier in 1718, the firm was soon taken over by the Hapsburgs and became the Imperial & Royal Porcelain Manufactory, sometimes shorthanded to “Royal Vienna.” This chocolate set is a commercial interpretation of Royal Vienna’s more artistic work.

The company ceased to exist in 1864, but the Bindenschild mark continued to be used by many other companies around the world to this day. Because the pieces in today’s question are marked “Austria,” we feel they were made in that country sometime between 1891 and the World War I era. The mark was placed there in response to the American McKinley Tariff Act, which required that items exported to the United States after 1890 had to be marked with the country of origin.

Austrian companies that used the mark during this timeframe include Josef Vater (Vienna), Franz Dorfl (Vienna), Carl Knoll (Fischern, Bohemia), Radler and Pilz (Vienna), and Josef Riedl (Giesshubel, Bohemia), among a few others. The decoration on the example belonging to N. J. is transfer printed, not hand painted, and while this is an attractive set, it is not of superior quality. It’s a fragmentary set with six dessert plates, five cups and saucers, one creamer and one chocolate pot, but it still should bring around $150 to $175 at a good mid- to lower range auction.

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