Iron toys made in the late 19th and early 20th centuries are so interesting and attractive that they are collected today to be displayed as decorative objects on a shelf. Some toys depict a character from a long-forgotten cartoon or book, or a legend that children of olden times knew but we do not.
Why is a walking toy marked "Yellow Kid"? Because one of America's first Sunday newspaper comic strips featured a character called the Yellow Kid. Why does a mechanical bank show a man trying to shoot a bear cub? It's telling the story of President Teddy Roosevelt, who went hunting but did not kill a cornered bear and was praised by newspapers.
But why do so many toys show monkeys driving cars or tricycles or riding on other animals? Was there a famous circus act featuring talented monkeys? No one is sure, but old monkey toys are popular. In September, a cast-iron toy in very good condition made by Hubley Manufacturing Co., a famous Pennsylvania toymaker (1894-1965), auctioned for $1,948. It sold at one of the four Bertoia auctions held so far of the famous Donald Kaufman collection of toys. Perhaps the fame of the collection added to the value of the toy. Who owned a toy often can affect its value.
Q We found a commercial icebox with the brand name "Lorillard" on it in an old home that we are restoring. It has been repainted several times. We would like to restore it. I've heard several theories about what we ought to do. Should we strip it down to the wood and shellac it or repaint it? Or should we leave it as it is? Your guidance would be appreciated.
A The Lorillard Refrigerator Co. was established in New York City in 1877. A 1901 advertisement for the company called its iceboxes the "highest-priced" refrigerators made and listed several millionaires, including Andrew Carnegie and George Vanderbilt, who were installing them in their homes. Vanderbilt ordered five Lorillard refrigerators for his Biltmore mansion in Asheville, N.C., in 1894. The company was in business until at least 1920. There's not a big market for old commercial ice boxes, but you probably will increase its value by restoring the finish. Most were originally shellacked over wood.
Q I inherited a 19th-century vase from my grandmother. It is 28 inches high and is signed "H. Despres, Sevres." It's painted with scenes of what looks like a rich family going for a ride in the country. What would be the insurance value of this vase?
A The scenes you describe are typical of Sevres vases decorated by Henri Desprez from about 1875 to 1890. Vases as large as yours sell for more than $5,000, depending on condition. It should be seen by a qualified appraiser to determine its value. Contact some of the major auction houses or an appraiser in your area for an estimate. The insurance value should be the same as the price it would cost to replace the piece if it were damaged or destroyed.
Q I have a Singer sewing machine that still works. I was told it is Model 15. The serial number is G8666585.
A Singer's Model 15, the Improved Family machine, was made for more years than any other Singer model. It was introduced in 1879 as a hand-crank machine. It was later made as a treadle machine and, finally, as an electric sewing machine. Model 15 was still being made in the late 1990s. The serial number on your machine indicates the year and location where it was made. The initial letter "G" refers to Elizabeth, N.J., and the numbers indicate that it was made in 1921. Isaac Merritt Singer (1811-1875), inventor of a sewing machine for home use, founded I.M. Singer & Co. in 1851. The company, now called Singer Sewing Co., still is in business. Isaac Singer held patents for several inventions and led a colorful life that included multiple marriages and mistresses, 24 children and lavish homes in the United States, England and France. At the time of his death, he was married to Isabella Eugenia Boyer, a Frenchwoman whom some believe to have been the model for Bartholdi's Statue of Liberty.
Q I have a cornet that my family says is 100 years old. I would like to know more about. It is marked "J.W. Pepper, Standard, Philadelphia, 52014." The horn has all its parts, including the piece that held the music. Is it worth anything?
A James Welsh Pepper (1853-1919) established J.W. Pepper, a music publishing company, in Philadelphia in 1876. The company started manufacturing brass instruments in 1883. "Standard" is one of 98 models made by J.W. Pepper in the 1890s. The company also imported musical instruments. It stopped manufacturing instruments in 1909. The serial number on your cornet indicates it was made in about 1909. In 1910 the company became J.W. Pepper and Son. By then, it was selling imported instruments and sheet music. The company is still in business and is the largest sheet music retailer in the United States. The value of a musical instrument is determined by its tone quality as well as the rarity of the instrument. It should be seen by an expert in the music field to determine its value.
Tip: Turn over reversible rugs once a year. Turn the rug end to end every three years. This will even out wear and fading.
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