Old Watch Fobs Get Better With Time

Times Staff Writer

Question: Some of the old watch fobs in my grandfather's collection are quite beautiful, and I've decided I want to add to the collection, which I am inheriting. What's most desirable in terms of expanding the collection?--A.B.

Answer: A collector acquaintance of ours said that he goes for industrial watch fobs that date back almost to the turn of the century. At that time, it was not uncommon for a firm to give out fobs of various designs that displayed the names of their products--thus it was an attractive advertising tie-in. Railroad watch fobs also are quite popular and even more valuable if they have inscriptions on the back.

As you'll recall, watch fobs were quite popular--and fashionable--half a century ago and more; then they gradually appeared to lose their popularity. Recently we saw a gold one being worn by a Los Angeles businessman, and it was quite handsome.

For our younger readers, a watch fob usually consisted of a metal chain or leather strap attached to the watch, which typically made it easier to pull the timepiece out of a vest or side pocket. The chain or strap had a tag or fob attached to it, which invariably dangled out of the pocket.

The fobs came in an assortment of shapes and sizes and, depending on what they denoted or how they were inscribed, may not be too difficult to date. For example, aside from being given away by hundreds of companies, they were also used in political campaigns to support particular candidates.

Obviously the more ornate, older fobs command top prices and could exchange hands for several hundreds of dollars each. When such collections are put on public view, they are, indeed, beautiful to behold.

Q: In the area of tool collecting, which periods bring the highest resale prices among collectors?--M.A.

A: According to our research, the American Colonial period has generated the highest price tags--at least among those collectors specializing in American tools. One collector says that some of the early toolmakers stamped their names and places of production on their products, which, of course, makes them even more valuable.

Handmade tools--those produced by professionals--were marketed well into the 19th Century, but as the years progressed the practice of stamping one's name, brand or place of origin on a tool diminished.

Collectors, however, are not confined to simply searching for the generally more expensive early Colonial tools. Many also collect factory-produced tools. Many of these tools can be traced through old catalogues.

Among the most popular tools, however, are the handmade planes from the 19th Century and older hammers and mallets, the latter of which are not too difficult to locate.

Naturally, the value of such collectibles depends on age, condition and the type of material used in making the tool. Because tools were made to be used and not to be put on display, condition can become a problem. Whether you should attempt to restore a potentially valuable find is open to question because, in the restoration process, you may damage the intrinsic value of the tool.

Q: In terms of a collectible, how far back can we trace the American toaster?--W.A. A: The toaster appears to date back almost to the turn of the century with General Electric and Westinghouse producing some of the earliest varieties. These early toasters were quite simple, employing heating elements and wire racks for the bread. The pop-up toaster, as we know it, didn't make its appearance on the American scene until the late 1920s.

As a kitchen collectible, old toasters don't appear to be as sought after as other pieces of Americana such as ancient cookware, so the field is still fairly wide open for collectors with a keen eye in antique shops and flea markets.

Ronald L. Soble cannot answer mail personally but will respond in this column to questions of general interest about collectibles. Do not telephone. Write to Your Collectibles, You section, The Times, Times Mirror Square, Los Angeles 90053.

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