Product Packages Remaining Popular

Times Staff Writer

Question: What sort of demand is there for advertising boxes--the kind in which products were packaged several decades ago?--P.B.

Answer: The product's popularity has a great deal to do with collector demand and value. Moreover, colorful, old advertising packages have found their way into funky art and grace many dens.

The old Arm & Hammer boxes, for example, are quite popular among collectors; dealer catalogue and flea market prices seem to still be under $10 for these boxes in good condition. But a company that has gone out of business translates into top dollar for a colorful vintage box. An unopened box of George Washington cornflakes was listed at $60 in one catalogue we have seen. Given the deterioration of the product over the years, it's undoubtedly best that the box remain closed!

Old seed and chewing gum packages also can exchange hands at prices above $20 each. Some collectors arrange them in a montage for wall display. (One of the most colorful chewing gum-wrapper displays we've seen is the large framed exhibit at Macy's men's store in San Francisco.)

A word of caution: Advertising items pick up a lot of their value from sheer nostalgia--the love of acquiring something old that generates warm memories. Counterfeiters know this, and the category of advertising collectibles is ripe for fakes.

Company histories will help collectors verify what package designs were used in what years.

Collectors familiar with the lithographic process often magnify the package artwork. They know that the more uniform the pattern of dots, the greater the chance the package is of more recent vintage. Older package designs have more irregular lithographic-dot patterns.

Q: Who created the Kewpie doll? We have a few in our doll collection, which I believe to be originals.--A.L.

A: The Kewpie doll's creator was Rose Cecil O'Neill, a well-known artist of her period who was born in 1876 and who died in 1944. Collectors say the first Kewpie pattern appeared in an illustration in a 1909 Ladies Home Journal Christmas article. The first doll, however, isn't believed to have been produced until about four years later.

Production license for the dolls appears to have been granted to a number of companies, including some based in Germany. And although they are not produced in as great a quantity today, Kewpie dolls are still being manufactured for collectors.

Prices vary according to condition and availability. But there is one common price denominator: There are few cheap Kewpie dolls on the market. It is not uncommon for an original Kewpie doll to sell for $500 or much more. And if the doll has a Rose O'Neill inscription, then it will be more valuable.

Big Ticket Department: We get inquiries from toy collectors, but the "intellectual toy" category was new to us. The label was coined in a recent Christie's newsletter and refers to clocks, watches and scientific instruments.

Collectors in this field had better have fat wallets. The Christie's inventory included a 16th-Century European sundial ($2,500 to $3,000); an 18th-Century London-made brass mechanical ring dial used for time measurement ($8,000 to $10,000), and an astrolabe, a 17th-Century astronomer's tool, which was also used by Muslims to determine the proper direction of their holy city during prayer ($10,000 to $15,000).

Don't expect to find these items at your local flea market.

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