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It’s Junk Mail Today; Tomorrow . . .

Times Staff Writer

Question: In your recent comments on paper collectibles, wouldn’t old advertising circulars fit into this category of items that have some value? --L.C.

Answer: What you’re referring to is what the public lovingly calls junk mail. Most of us generally toss the stuff out. But the dedicated collector thumbs through it for samples of this decade’s life style that might be both illuminating and worth something to collectors several years up the road.

Circulars that reflect fashion and prices may be particularly interesting. Reflect, for example, on ads of the 1920s and 1930s. When you see a food, clothing or car ad in an old magazine, it probably has the same nostalgia kick as a mailed flier from that time period.

Collectors who keep this stuff either specialize in a particular area or keep meticulous files. Otherwise, the paper pile can get out of hand and become unwieldy for showing to fellow collectors.

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Q: How important is it to the collector of old musical instruments to make sure that the instrument is in working condition before it is purchased?--M.K.

A: Veteran collectors usually insist that the instrument be in operating condition before they lay out any cash. So, if you are at a flea market, for example, try for a seller demonstration before you buy. If you’re purchasing the instrument from a dealer by mail, try to work out an arrangement so that you have an opportunity for a refund if the item doesn’t perform the way you thought it would.

Among the most important factors in determining the value of old phonographs, music boxes and the like are how rare it actually is and its condition. Since a machine that is several years old undoubtedly has had some repair work done, check out the repair craftsmanship to make sure it hasn’t been done in such a sloppy way as to dilute the value of the instrument. The other side of this issue, some dealers say, is that some instruments have been repaired so expertly that their value actually increased.

Q: How do margin notations affect the value of books?--N.R.

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A: Margin notations and scribblings could enhance a book’s value by providing added insight into a particular period. For example, a doctor’s notes in a medical book that is a couple of centuries old could give a fascinating glimpse into the ideas of the medical profession at a point in time that had far different views on illnesses and their causes and cures.

Moreover, an author’s notes could prove quite valuable in terms of providing the collector with a “bonus” in the form of the writer’s insight into his work.

So before you attempt to erase book notes, particularly in older volumes, read the notes carefully to see whether they enhance the value of the volume.

Q: When did the Tootsietoy line of die-cast autos go into production? --F.L.

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A: The first Tootsietoy cars appeared to have been in circulation by 1915, but the name wasn’t actually applied until after 1920. The company that produced them got its start at the Columbian Exposition in Chicago in 1893.

The small metal cars, replicas of autos in production at the time, were manufactured in such large numbers that they usually can be bought for well under $50.


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