Chinese Furniture Risen From the East


Antique Chinese furniture blends with many decorating styles, from Art Deco to modern. Some of the plainer pieces of furniture have been copied.

The Chinese made furniture of hardwoods such as zitan or huali. They also used softwood, such as elm. Some of the softwood pieces were covered with red or black lacquer.

The Chinese used chairs and tables by the year 900. By the 12th century, sitting on the floor was uncommon, usually something reserved only for a ritual event.

Very little furniture made before the 1700s survives. Experts agree that it is almost impossible to date Chinese pieces accurately.


The methods of construction and forms have changed little during the last 300 years.

Most Chinese furniture was made from solid wood; little veneer was used. Parts were joined by concealed mortice-and-tenon or tongue-and-groove joints. No nails were used. That permitted shrinking and expansion of the wood with almost no cracking.

It is difficult if not impossible to buy any of the antique furniture still in China, but many pieces were exported to Europe in the 18th and 19th centuries.



Question: I have a drawer filled with Cracker Jack toys I collected as a child. Someone told me they could be valuable. True?

Answer: That depends on how old you are.

Cracker Jack snacks were first made in 1896 and were sold in individual boxes by 1899. The company started giving away prize incentives about 1910. Two years later the company began packing a small prize in each box.

A few Cracker Jack toys from the mid-1910s, such as a Hall of Famer’s baseball card or a tin litho Model T, are worth hundreds of dollars each. Most of the prizes from the ‘50s are valued at $5 to $20; from the ‘60s and ‘70s, $3 to $10; and from the ‘80s and ‘90s, pennies up to a few dollars. Early toys were often made of tin, later toys of paper and recent ones of plastic.


Q. When was Frankoma’s Wagon Wheel pattern dinnerware first made?

A. Wagon Wheel dinner sets were made from 1941 to 1983. Some pieces are still being made. The wagon wheel shape was used for many of the pieces, including the dinner plate.

Most sets were made in colors called “Desert Gold” or “Prairie Green,” but the factory also used other colors.


Early pieces were made of a light-cream-colored clay from Ada, Okla. After 1956, the dinnerware was made from a red clay from Sapulpa, Okla., the location of today’s Frankoma Pottery buildings.


Q. Please tell me something about battery-oil bottles. At a mall show, I paid $20 for a small, clear, round bottle marked “Edison Battery Oil, Thomas A. Edison Incorporated.” Edison’s signature is pressed into the glass on the back. What was battery oil? How old is my bottle?

A. Your bottle is interesting but relatively common.

Thomas A. Edison Inc. was formed about 1910, so your bottle was not made before that date.

In 1890, Edison started selling wet-cell batteries in ceramic jars to conduct electricity. The batteries were commonly used to power railroad signals.

The ceramic jars soon were replaced with glass jars, so that the level of the electrolyte--the fluid inside that conducted electricity--could be checked more easily.

Battery oil floated on top of the electrolyte to prevent evaporation or contamination.


Wet-cell batteries that required renewal--and fresh oil--were used until after World War II.


Q. Can you tell me how my small electric sterilizer was used? It is porcelain on the outside, with a metal top, lining and perforated tray. It measures 5 inches long by 2 1/4 inches wide by 3 inches tall. The front once had a paper label, but it has worn away.

A. You have a Renewal brand syringe sterilizer made by the American Sundries Co. of Brooklyn. It was designed to be used in small medical offices.

It was also sold to diabetics who gave themselves insulin shots at home.

Boiling water in the sterilizer would heat syringes and needles placed in the tray.

Your sterilizer was made sometime during the 1930s or early ‘40s.


Q. My great-aunt called to tell me she is cleaning out her china cabinet. She told me she is sending me a “charger.” What is a charger?

A. A charger is a large round or oval dish used for carrying meat. Its origins are in the Middle Ages. A roasted joint was carried to the table on a large round dish made of pewter or pottery. The word “charger” referred to both the dish and the servant who carried it.

Over the years, chargers have been made of several other materials, including porcelain and ornately decorated silver.

For a copy of the Kovels’ 1998 leaflet listing 153 books and pamphlets that are price guides for all kinds of collectibles and antiques, send $2 and a self-addressed, stamped (55 cents) No.-10 envelope to Price Guides for Antiques and Collectibles, Kovels, P.O. Box 22900, Beachwood, Ohio 44122.


Current Prices

Current prices are recorded from antiques shows, flea markets, sales and auctions throughout the United States. Prices vary by location because of local economic conditions.

* Felix pencil box, “Swing Time Felix,” copyright 1938, American Pencil Co.: $75.

* Boy Scouts Progress game, 1926: $95.

* Hood’s Sarsaparilla calendar, die-cut, full pad, 1894: $120.

* Madame Alexander flower girl doll, hard plastic head, blue sleep eyes, brush lashes, blond wig, five-piece walker body, 1954, 18 inches: $130.

* Coro Craft pin, spray of grasses, rhinestones, faux aquamarine in center, sterling setting, signed, 1940s: $145.

* C.F. Spencer’s improved fruit jar, aqua, patent 1868, 1 quart: $160.

* Gaudy Dutch waste bowl, Carnation pattern, 5 1/2 inches: $225.

* Pairpoint goblet, white twist stem, swag, star and tassel cut body, 6 1/4 inches: $300.

* Patchwork and appliqued quilt, bar pattern, American flags, stars, blue border, 1920, 84 by 77 inches: $825.

* Chester County Queen Anne tall chest, walnut, circa 1750, three arched short drawers, tall bracket feet, 48 1/2 by 38 1/2 by 21 inches: $3,000.