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A menagerie of vintage figural lighters

NEW YORK – Cigarette and cigar lighters come in all shapes and forms. While mass-produced plastic disposables a la Bic are common today, there are elegant antique and vintage rectangular ones by Dunhill, Zippo, Ronson and other makers that are collectible as fine vintage models.

Their shape can likely be traced back to early match safes and containers as some early lighters used match strikes to ignite the flame. These latter lighters can fetch several hundred dollars each. Increasing in value, however, are figural lighters made of silver and other metals whose looks are limited only by the artist’s imagination.

A Faberge silver table lighter formed as a seated elephant, Moscow, 1895, sold for $25,000 + the
buyer’s premium in January 2019 at Shapiro Auctions. Photo courtesy of Shapiro Auctions and
LiveAuctioneers

Mastering fire has been a critical part of civilization from prehistoric times on and having a portable fire one in one’s pocket was a game changer in the 1800s. The earliest lighters were an adaptation of a flintlock pistol, using gunpowder. An early lighter made by German chemist Johann Wolfgang Döbereiner in 1823 created a flame by creating a chemical reaction when flammable hydrogen gas came into contact with a metal strike.

Some of the finest silver firms created figural lighters in either silver or sterling silver with rare and exceptional examples, particularly from the 19th century, comfortably bringing five-figure sums. Cast-iron figural lighters also elicit strong demand from collectors.

A ram’s horn dolphin cigar lighter by Black, Starr & Frost fetched $4,750 + the buyer’s premium in September 2020 at Showtime Auction Services. Photo courtesy of Showtime Auction Services and LiveAuctioneers

As Russian silversmith Faberge is renowned for fine silver, it’s little surprise that the firm produced some highly detailed and attractive lighters, particularly in the form of wild animals. A silver table lighter cast as a seated elephant features finely chased details to replicate the texture of wrinkled skin. Bearing the mark for master assayist Aleksandr Vladislavovich Skovronsky, an 1895 example brought $25,000 + the buyer’s premium in January 2019 at Shapiro Auctions. Faberge also made these objects in the form of a seated monkey, bearing the workmaster’s mark of Julius Rappoport, that were realistically modeled, the silver chased to simulate fur. One sold at Christie’s London in November 2012 for £85,250 ($135,010) + the buyer’s premium. Both lighters had a hinged cover that opened to reveal a lighter fluid compartment. Other desirable Faberge lighters by Rappaport include one in the form of a standing rhinoceros with a circa 1890 example selling at Sotheby’s London in June 2019 for GBP 47,500 ($60,060) + the buyer’s premium.

Established in 1845 in Sheffield, England, Walker & Hall is well known for its dragon-form cigar lighters that feature silver and antelope horn. A circa 1895 example made $8,500 + the buyer’s premium in October 2016 at Heritage Auctions. Reportedly, this lighter was likely made for military officers, as theorized by the inclusion of a flaming cannonball/grenade under the dragon’s right foot.

A rare Walker & Hall Victorian silver and antelope horn dragon-form cigar lighter, Sheffield, England, circa 1895, made $8,500 + the buyer’s premium in October 2016 at Heritage Auctions. Photo courtesy of Heritage Auctions and LiveAuctioneers

“Several variations of this lighter exist, most in silver-plate, including some that attribute the dragon figure to the comic tale of the Dragon of Wantley,” according to the catalog lot description.

Cigar cutters and lighters, combined in one object, are also collectable. Not exactly portable and much too big to put in one’s pocket, these were likely designed to be tabletop models, and after a gentlemanly game of cards, the men could gather to light their cigars. At 6 inches tall, a rare J.E. Smith cast-iron cigar cutter and lighter with match dispenser would have been perfectly suited for this purpose. It achieved $7,000 + the buyer’s premium in October 2018 at Morphy Auctions.

Thought to be the only known example, this rare J.E. Smith cigar cutter and lighter with match dispenser went out at $7,000+ the buyer’s premium in October 2018 at Morphy Auctions. Photo courtesy of Morphy Auctions and LiveAuctioneers

Patented Dec. 1, 1896, this cigar cutter and lighter uses a cast bird to both cut the cigar by lifting the tail of the bird, pierce the match supply with its beak and then light the match. While most lighters are silver, a few are gold such as a horse head cigarette lighter made by Tiffany & Co in 18K yellow gold that was heavily chased to realistically detail the mane and head of a horse. One sold in December 2017 for $5,500 + the buyer’s premium at Kodner Galleries Inc.

A vintage Tiffany & Co heavily chased 18K yellow gold horse head cigarette lighter made $5,500 + the buyer’s premium in December 2017 at Kodner Galleries Inc. Photo courtesy of Kodner Galleries Inc. and LiveAuctioneers

Dunhill also is renowned for its lighters, particularly its large “Aquarium” lighters with scenes painted on the sides of the lighter, of which Winston Churchill was said to be a fan. A Dunhill “Aquarium” lighter with a painted scene of parrots drew $7,500 + the buyer’s premium in October 2020 at Clarke Auction Gallery. While the Aquarium lighters are not figural per se, Dunhill created quite a few novelty lighters such as a silver and brass hunting horn lighter and its lighter in the form of a bible.

Whether you prefer flintlock lighters to one that operates by match, naptha-infused wicks or butane, there is a figural lighter for every collecting taste.

Vintage buttons, brooches featured in online auction Sept. 2

More than 200 lots of vintage buttons and brooches comprise much of a Jasper52 online auction that will be conducted Wednesday, Sept. 2. The collection ranges from the Victorian age to the mid-20th century. Additional vintage jewelry rounds out the sale catalog.

Edwardian/Victorian 12K gold filled chatelaine brooch, 4 ½in long. Estimate: $90-$110. Jasper52 image

View the auction here.

Learn more about the auction on Auction Central News.

Inkwells: vintage reservoirs of the written word

NEW YORK – “Ink was black, in inkwells and bottles, in the past. It would get all over your fingers because it would run and flow relentlessly,” wrote Alain Badiou in Black: The Brilliance of a Non-Color.

Not if you were an Egyptian scribe. These highly trained court members, penning bills and magic spells with pointed river reeds, moistened their mineral-based, powdered pigments in small, hollowed-out stone mortars. Millennia later, Chinese calligraphers moistened ground gum-and-soot inksticks on similar, exquisitely carved soapstone, onyx, porcelain, jade or marble creations.

Jade Dragon ink-stone depicting two sinuous, horned, clawed, horned dragons amid swirling cloud patterns, 18th century. Realized $24,000 + buyer’s premium in 2013. Image courtesy of Imperial Auctioneers and LiveAuctioneers

During the Middle Ages, when writing was deemed a lowly craft, European scribes and scriveners copied texts with quill pens fashioned from goose, eagle, hawk or swan wing-feathers. Because their flexible, sharpened nibs offered unmatched ease and precision, they particularly suited parchment and vellum work. Their brownish iron-gall, black “India ink” and bright naturally dyed inks were stored in inkhorns or practical pots deep enough to accommodate these quills.

As more people became literate, writing became not only socially acceptable but also a source of pride. Though simpler folks might keep their inks in unadorned pots, affluent writers adorned their fine-wood writing desks with finely crafted silver, pewter, jade, bronze, brass, cut crystal or pressed glass models. Some, like an Italian bronze cylindrical well, featuring a body supported by three, massive legs shaped like eagles and an outsized, seated putti finial holding an open book, were extravagant.

Footed silver tray featuring ink and pounce jars with engraved, monogrammed bell stand, 29 x 21cm, mid-18th century. Realized €20,000 ($22,360) + buyer’s premium in 2015. Image courtesy Cambi Casa D’Aste and LiveAuctioneers

Small wells, which held several ounces of ink, were generally square, rectangular or faceted. Larger ones were domed or shaped like capstans, mechanical devices used aboard ship to move heavyweights. Other sizeable wells featured sloping sides and flat, stable, wide-bottom bases. All, large or small, were lidded to prevent contamination, evaporation and spillage.

The wealthy, instead of inkwells, often acquired lavish desk standishes, known today as inkstands. These shallow rectangular, circular or oval trays, crafted in silver, gilt-bronze, onyx, brass, inlaid wood or porcelain, were the ultimate in writing luxury. In addition to matching wells, many featured grooves to store writing instruments and perforated “sand” shakers or pounce pots. Their fine- ground cuttlefish-bone powder, when sprinkled, not only smoothed rough, “unsized” paper. It also prevented ink from smearing.

Bronze-mounted Chinese porcelain double inkwell on cartouche coromandel lacquered panel with pen rest on raised feet, 14in wide. Realized $3,000 + buyer’s premium in 2016. Image courtesy of Abell Auction and LiveAuctioneers

Travelers in coach or on horseback, if wont to write en route, tucked tiny, hinged glass inkwells – snug in small, protective cases – into their pockets or luggage. Others toted plain or plush sloped, wooden travel-writing desks. Besides ink bottles, these often contained quills, quill knives, parchment, ponce pots, slate pencils and sealing wax.

Traveling 12-gore Globe ink wells, 4/5cm high. Realized £320 ($538) + buyer’s premium in 2014. Image courtesy of Bloomsbury Auctions and LiveAuctioneers

Innovative dip-pens, featuring small capillary-like channels and interchangeable mounted-metal nibs, replaced quills in the early 1800s. Every few words – for want of a reservoir, they had to be re-dipped in wells. Each dip could prove perilous. Nibs, falling off, could sink in the ink.

As European steamship and train travel increased, dressing cases (hand luggage) in addition to toiletries and writing implements, were often fitted with glass or rubbery, non-breakable gutta-percha ink wells. On the other hand, wells resembling the Liberty Bell, the Arc de Triomphe or the Eiffel Tower, made enviable souvenirs.

Limited edition Baccarat ‘Zola’ lead crystal inkwell, marked and numbered, 6in high. Realized $600 + buyer’s premium in 2019. Image courtesy of Ahlers & Ogletree Auction Gallery and LiveAuctioneers

Well-off Victorians often sought gilt-mounted silver, cut-crystal, or ornate porcelains ink wells. Others decked their desks with ceramic tortoise, owl, camel, or elephant-shaped charmers. In time, sensuous Art Nouveau wells gave way to dramatic Art Deco models. Tiffany’s mother-of-pearl, pattern-stamped, patinated bronze, favrile glass and crab-shaped wells were particularly popular.

Tiffany Studios ‘Byzantine’ inkwell featuring glass cabochons, with glass insert for ink, 4³⁄₈in diameter, 1920s. Realized $2,900 + buyer’s premium in 2011. Image courtesy Bruce Kodner Galleries and LiveAuctioneers

The advent of the Waterman fountain pen, which prevented ink-reservoir overflow, eventually spelled the end of decorative ink wells. Though ink no longer runs and flows relentlessly, collectible wells embody art, fashion and a world of literature. Each also evokes those intimate moments when writers put pen to paper.

Remembering the suffragettes

NEW YORK – The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of sex – 19th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution guaranteeing women the right to vote, Aug. 26, 1920.

“All men are created equal,” says the Declaration of Independence, except when it came to voting rights. Without property, (white) men couldn’t vote and it left out women entirely. It would take the 19th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, adopted in August 1920 to finally guarantee women the right to vote (owning property as a qualification was discontinued by 1856). It was a long struggle that would take 144 years from the founding of the United States before half of its population could participate in its democratic principles through the simple act of voting.

Three ways to show support for women suffrage are these different lapel pins, one in felt and two in distinctive lithographed color prominently supporting ‘Votes for Women’ that sold collectively for $248 + plus the buyer’s premium in 2019. Image courtesy Hake’s Auction and LiveAuctioneers.com

The struggle known as the women’s suffrage movement began soon after the Constitution went into effect in 1789. While women in many Colonies were allowed to vote before its adoption, the Constitution left it up to the states to determine voting rights. And none immediately granted that right to women, except New Jersey, which then rescinded the right in 1807.

Popular opinion was changing, though. The Seneca Falls Convention of 1848 was the first women’s rights convention that demanded the right of women to vote in its Declaration of Sentiments. Susan B. Anthony, Elizabeth Cady Stanton and others emerged as leaders of an activist movement intending to secure that right across the country, instead of state by state. Adoption of a federal statute, though, was slow. Wyoming Territory was the first to grant full voting rights to women in 1869, with Colorado, Utah and Idaho granting women the right to vote in the 1890s, mostly to attract more women into these mostly desolate regions. No other state would comply.

A framed advertising broadside highlights the four states that allowed women to vote; Wyoming in 1869 and Colorado, Utah, and Idaho in the 1890s – but not yet in New York – that sold for $1,400 in 2010 plus the buyer’s premium. Image courtesy Skinner and LiveAuctioneers.com

World War I was the catalyst for the suffragette movement both in the United States and the United Kingdom. With men on the battlefields in Europe, women were granted the right to work in factories and other wartime occupations not normally available to them before the war. This led to an increase in popular opinion that women can contribute more to society than just as housewives and schoolteachers. “Votes for Women” became less of a slogan and more of a genuine movement, especially with the increased cooperation of men.

And it was a tortuous movement. Labor and hunger strikes, parades, editorials, court cases, legal arguments, large demonstrations, abuse, legal torture and jail time were the norm. Demonstrations in front of the White House were unheard of before a “picket” of women from the National Women’s Party in 1917 camped out day and night to bring the cause directly to the president. They wore sashes and pins, held up banners, carried flags and waved signs with the ubiquitous “Votes for Women” specifically directed at President Woodrow Wilson. All the while, they were routinely carted off to jail, where they were often abused and sometimes beaten while in custody. Yet the pickets continued.

One of the key factors in ‘Votes for Women’ was the ‘picket,’ a demonstration such as this one in front of the White House in 1917. The sashes, banners and protest signs were the hallmark of the movement since the 1848 Seneca Falls convention, which began the women’s suffrage movement. Image courtesy: Harris & Ewing and the Library of Congress

The focused picket worked. President Wilson, at first reluctant, finally supported the adoption of a constitutional amendment. The 19th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution was finally adopted on Aug. 18, 1920 with the vote of Tennessee and certified eight days later on Aug. 26 guaranteeing women the right to vote. Their first federal election was for president that same year.

One of the last images of Susan B. Anthony along with other prominent women’s rights pioneers taken at a suffrage convention in Los Angeles in August 1905. The photograph sold for $1,300 + the buyer’s premium in 2018. Anthony died almost one month after turning 86 in March 1906. Image courtesy Jasper52 and LiveAuctioneers.com

Throughout the struggle for women’s right to vote, getting the message out without social media was a difficult, time consuming and a constant process. Yet, after World War I, suffragettes in the United States and the United Kingdom were creative in the use of visual items to keep “Votes for Women” in the public eye. Of all the protest movements throughout the history of the United States, auction values for women suffrage items are increasing because so many types of buttons, flags, playing cards, sheet music, posters, broadsides, clothing, sashes, signs, banners, salt shakers, currency, coins, jewelry, ceramics and other items exist that were made in relatively small batches. The book Women’s Suffrage Memorabilia: An Illustrated Historical Study by Kenneth Florey highlights the sheer number of collectibles the movement produced.

This bright yellow and black button and ribbon (colors of the suffrage movement) supported the 1920 election of Republican Warren G. Harding, who won in a landslide over Democrats James Cox and Franklin D. Roosevelt. The button and ribbon combination in such great condition sold for $340 in 2018 + the buyer’s premium. Image courtesy Heritage Auctions and LiveAuctioneers.com

Another reason for suffrage collectibility is in the branding. The slogan “Votes for Women” carried well throughout the movement in the United States and the United Kingdom for its clear and concise message.

Part of the movement’s branding was the adoption of official colors. Buttons, ribbons, sashes and banners are usually yellow and black because the colors simply stood out well (although yellow may have been adopted because the Kansas cornflower was favored by Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton). Purple, white and green were UK movement colors while U.S. suffragette colors were purple, white and yellow.

Most clothing worn by suffragettes was mostly white, especially in parades and demonstrations to contrast with the darker clothing normally worn by spectators. Their white attire was also intended as a subtle sign of nonaggression signaling that the votes of women would help keep politics “clean.” In fact, wearing all white outfits by women in power today is a tribute to the women’s suffrage movement. All the women members of Congress did just that during the State of the Union address of President Donald Trump in 2019 when all 126 women of both Houses of Congress – only 26% of the total elected members – wore all white outfits to show the under-representation of women in Congress.

So it seems that even with the 100th anniversary of the 19th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, issues of representation and electability still persist. Electing a woman as president of the United States still hasn’t been achieved while the UK has had only two women prime ministers since they gained the right to vote there in 1928.

At times, women could vote on a special issue that men thought women would have an interest in, such as children’s education, according to the auction description of this metal japanned ballot box intended only for women votes. It sold for $2,600 in 2010. Image courtesy Heritage Auctions and LiveAuctioneers.com

As a protest movement, ‘Votes for Women’ has come a long way, but much still needs to be done. Women have voted in higher numbers, around 55% or so, since the first election of 1920 when only 34% voted. Women legislators have steadily increased since the 1960s from the courthouse to Congress and continue to make a difference with their votes overall. However, women are still in the minority in economics, housing, finance, careers, education, as business CEOs and as major power brokers overall.

Perhaps just collecting and displaying women suffrage memorabilia will serve to underscore that no man is created equal until women are, too.

Antique kitchen tools: cooking with style

NEW YORK – Cookware and kitchen tools are a million-dollar business today. While new products are readily available, many people still prefer to use antique and vintage tools. Often contributing to this phenomenon is the desire for having tools just like Grandma’s, which brings up fond memories of being a child and watching her cook. The aesthetic appeal of old tools is also powerful from an Art Deco toaster with its elegant streamlined shape to an ornate soup ladle.

The great thing about old kitchen tools is most are affordable and can readily be found at flea markets and garage sales. Barring rust or broken parts, tools made 40, 50 or more years ago are still functionable. In many cases, they even work better than their modern counterparts. And sometimes they are no longer made anymore or not to the same level of quality.

Early metal tools often are highly collectible. This rare set of four Pennsylvania iron and brass kitchen tools, circa 1830, went for $12,000 + the buyer’s premium at Pook & Pook Inc. in April 2013. Shown are a ladle, a flesh fork, a strainer and a taster, all with inlaid floral vines. Photo courtesy of Pook & Pook Inc. and LiveAuctioneers.

“Even if you can find food mills more easily now, I’ll stick with my old one that came from my next-door neighbors because I know it can stand the test of time,” wrote Kristin Appenbrink in a blog about the appeal of old tools on thekitchn.com.

They also make decorating a kitchen fun. Instead of artwork, wall decor could be copper molds in whimsical forms such as fish. A collection of wrought iron trivets or wooden spoons can make for attractive groupings.

A collection of 18th century copper kitchen tools realized $820 + the buyer’s premium in December 2019. Photo courtesy of Bolli & Romiti and LiveAuctioneers

Cooking used to be an hours-long process in Colonial times, from roasting meat in a Dutch oven over an open fire or turning fresh-picked fruit into preserved jam. Heading into the 19th century, time-saving kitchen utensils became readily available from salad spinners to molds and potato peelers. Well into the 20th century, nonstick coated metal pans replaced copper pots for most home cooks even though many professional chefs still favor copper cookware. Cast-iron cookware, especially vintage examples, has seen a resurgence in recent years.

Among old kitchenware, vintage canisters are popular. From brightly colored enamel or metal canisters, often decorated with flowers, to ceramic examples, either round or squared off, canisters blend function and form.

This black metal canister designed to hold and sift flour, for example, has five extra drawers labeled to hold other spices, including cinnamon and nutmeg. It sold for $600 + the buyer’s premium in 2016. Image courtesy Morphy Auctions and LiveAuctioneers

Among popular kitchen tools that collectors seek out are hand mixers, waffle irons, graters and potato mashers. Collectors are often drawn to items that have a striking design and the handles/ material can increase a tool’s value. Lobster forks with Bakelite handles or tools having wooden handles in certain paint colors are sought after. Cookie cutters are also desirable, and older examples made of copper usually bring higher prices than aluminum ones.

Mason jars have wide cross collecting appeal. While they were, and continue to be made, for canning fruits and vegetables, they are versatile storage containers. As far as actual kitchen and food storage goes, vintage Corningware, Pyrex and Tupperware remain perennially popular.

This huge lot of wrought iron kitchen tools, including a scrolled toasting fork, ladles and a pierced skimmer with a rattail twist handle made $550 + the buyer’s premium in June 2017. Photo courtesy Forsythes’ Auctions LLC and LiveAuctioneers

Famous chefs and the tools they use often inspire budding chefs. Even their kitchens can be of interest. Julia Child’s home kitchen is where she began cooking and filmed her television cooking show in Cambridge, Massachusetts, for a decade. In 2001, she donated her kitchen and its tools and equipment dating to the late 1940s to the Smithsonian Institution, where it is on display.

A Pennsylvania horse and rider tin cookie cutter, 9½ inches long, sold for $1,100 + the buyer’s premium in July 2016. Photo courtesy of Conestoga Auction Co. and LiveAuctioneers

Toasters have long been collectibles and their design has changed much over the years. Before early electric toasters, people would use long forks to hold the slices over an open fire to toast the bread. In 1893, Alan MacMasters invented the first electric bread toaster in Scotland, which he called the Eclipse toaster. Dozens of design changes have been made since. By 1926, Waters-Genter of Minneapolis offered a redesign called Toastmaster. “It was the first automatic pop-up, household toaster that could brown bread on both sides simultaneously, set the heating element on a timer, and eject the toast when finished,” notes Linda Gross, a reference librarian at the Hagley Museum and Library in a blog on the museum website.

Enterprise cast-iron coffee grinders are a staple of flea markets and common ones are not hard to find. This fine example, retaining the original 1876 decals, sold for $650 + the buyer’s premium in April 2017. Photo courtesy of Leonard Auction Inc. and LiveAuctioneers

One sometimes finds at auction examples of an Coca-Cola electric sandwich toaster/sandwich press, made in St. Louis, Missouri, around 1930. Having decorative scrollwork and an elegant black Bakelite handle, this device embossed a Coca-Cola script logo onto the bread. Several have sold between $1,500 and $3,500 in recent years.

Antique and vintage kitchen tools are not merely utilitarian items, they are also pieces of history and often a family heirloom with many stories to tell.

Disney pins: trading up and beyond

NEW YORK – While people flock to Disney’s theme parks for the rides and photo ops with costumed characters, a popular attraction for about 30 years has been Disney pin trading. These colorful enamel or enamel cloisonné pins make for perfect souvenirs; they are cute, small and don’t take up much room in luggage or when displayed.

While new ones can be bought affordably at retail outlets, buying vintage pins to create – or fill out – a collection can provide hours of enjoyment. For collectors, it’s the thrill of the hunt that keeps them going. There are pins for all tastes and budgets with some rare pins going for hundreds, even thousands of dollars.

Walt Disney used to say it all started with a mouse and Mickey Mouse pins are a staple of most collections. Photo courtesy of Morphy Auctions and LiveAuctioneers

While pins have been part of Disney experience for years, it was not until the Millennium celebrations in 1999 that Disney began marketing the concept of pin trading at its parks, which quickly took off. Pins were soon on sale at nearly every shop at Disney World in Florida and Disneyland in California as well as at Disney stores in malls across America. At parks, Disney cast members would gladly trade certain pins with park visitors that they wore, usually on their ties, sashes or cards.

Today, there are millions of Disney pins in existence and in every imaginable type, from characters to park attractions. Mickey Mouse pins are prolific and there are also pins for nearly every Disney character from classic movies to contemporary ones such as Chip and Dale, Goofy, Cinderella and all the Disney princesses, Maleficent, Jiminy Cricket and Buzz Lightyear and, of course, the Star Wars franchise. A “Memorable Scenes” series captures key moments from movies on pins. New pins are often launched to celebrate Disney anniversaries, the opening of park attractions, movies and other special events.

A set of five ‘Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride’ limited edition pins quadrupled its high estimate to bring $1,400 in May 2019. Photo courtesy of Van Eaton Galleries and LiveAuctioneers

Some collectors seek out “First Release” pins, which was a new classification introduced in 2008 to mark a pin’s first year. “Our guests like adding new Disney pins to their collections, especially pins featuring brand new designs,” Steven Miller, project manager for Disney Pin Trading, said at the time. “The concept of ‘First Release’ gives our guests a way to prove they were one of the first to purchase a particular open edition pin.”

Proving indeed it all started with a mouse, Disney also awards its longtime cast members and employees with service pins, the rarest of these being the Steamboat Willie pin (the first cartoon short featuring Mickey Mouse), given to those Disney staffers celebrating 50 years of service. Reportedly, this pin has resold for around $5,000.

This Disneyland tour guide pin, circa 1970s, realized $1,600 in December 2019. Photo courtesy of Van Eaton Galleries and LiveAuctioneers

“Generally speaking, the rarest are the pin releases with a smaller edition number. If Disney created only 500 of a certain pin, they are going to be harder to find than something they’ve made tens of thousands of,” said Toby Osbourn, co-creator of the Pin Trader Club, said. “That isn’t always reflected in the cost; there are some super low-edition-size pins that don’t go for that much because no one collects that character or series of pins.”

Rarity is definitely a factor in price, but the other main driver is collectibility, he added. “For example, Stitch pins seem to go for more than some other characters, because people know the resale opportunities are higher (he is a very popular character),” he said.

These pins of the Stitch, an extra-terrestrial fugitive marooned on Earth, were included in a bag of more than 100 Disney pins that sold for $300 at an auction in March 2020. Photo courtesy of Appraisal & Estate Sale Specialists Inc. and LiveAuctioneers

Early pins from the 2000s tend to bring the most money, likely owing to scarcity (they were likely produced in smaller numbers than today) and collectors seek out older pins to fill out holes in their collections.

Ryan Mondics, owner/founder of Disney Pins Blog, said typically it’s the older 2000s pins from Disney Auctions and Disney Shopping that are the scarcest. “It all depends on the collector. Most people go after what their interest is, whether that is a favorite character or attraction at the parks. Disney makes open edition pins (large quantity) and limited edition pins. Of course, limited edition pins have a higher value,” he said.

A collection of eight boxed Disneyland pin sets for Disneyland’s 50th anniversary brought $1,600 in a May 2019 auction. Photo courtesy of Van Eaton Galleries and LiveAuctioneers

With so many pins available, both new and old, new collectors would be wise to start small and focus their collections on what they love. Instead of placing importance on pin value, collectors can start with pins that bring them joy (to borrow a phrase from Marie Kondo) such as their favorite park attraction or character.

In a Disney blog, four Disney store artists, who have designed pins, were interviewed on the design process and how they embraced whimsy to create a new take on favorite characters. Keith Fulmis, who has created pins based on Disney movies Lion King, Pocahontas, Hunchback of Notre Dame, said he was excited to see a resurgence in pin culture. “Pins have been part of our culture in America going all the way back to political pins that were used in Lincoln’s era and pins have been part of Disney culture from the beginning as well.”

Chess sets enable bloodless battles

NEW YORK – Two armies with one objective; the total surrender of the other. One move by your opponent equals another move by yours. Centuries in the making, chess is where kings and queens are always triumphant, until they’re not. It just depends on the moves and it’s not always so black and white.

In sixth-century India a competitive board game played by two people called chaturaṅga was introduced, although its origins may predate it to the third-century B.C. This military game included pieces representing a player’s military strength and its command structure from the king, his infantry, cavalry and even its mobility in the biggest advance in military technology, the chariot. Each piece had specific strategic importance and were quite lifelike showing the visage of a king, the troops and even horses and elephants. You moved specific pieces a certain number of spaces based on throwing a die. The object, then as it is now, was to capture or isolate the king.

Fashioned from ruby, lapis lazuli, quartz, obsidian, gold, mahogany and inlaid with zebrawood, this chess set is a unique example of history, art and fashion that sold for $162,500 (inclusive of a 25% buyer’s premium) in 2013. I.M. Chait Gallery/Auctioneers and LiveAuctioneers image

Within 100 years, the game of military strategy was being passed along trade routes such as the Silk Road to Persia, where it was known as shatranj, to Russia along the Volga-Caspian trade route, where it was known as shakhmaty, then along the entire Arabian Peninsula. Since Islam doesn’t allow representation of people, the pieces became less lifelike and more of an abstract design. With the conquest of Spain by the Moors in the 10th century, the board game was introduced to Europe where the abstract design became more representational once again.

Changes in play

At first, a game of chess would be played for days. By the 14th century, the queen and bishop pieces were introduced. Pawns replaced the original military troops and their moves enhanced to two spaces rather than just the one. A die that was initially intended to add a bit of gambling to the game had long been lost and now only the individual pieces and their moves mattered.

By the beginning of the 16th century, the rules that we understand them were becoming standardized, but it still took hours for players to make a move. So, with exhibition chess becoming commonplace by 1834 a timer was added in 1861 to speed decisions along and games became quicker, not lasting for days, but usually in hours. A new competitive sport was born.

This hetian jade chess set show representational warrior figures of the Ming Dynasty that were not unusual for the 15th century when it was carved by hand. It sold for $100,800 (inclusive of a 26% buyer’s premium) in 2019. Empire Auction House Inc. and LiveAuctioneers image

The Pieces Change

The change of play over the centuries is important to collectors because of the types of pieces used throughout its evolution. Early on, the individual pieces were made of materials usually available in the area it was played. In China and India, for example, ivory was a preferred material. In Africa, carved wooden pieces of ebony and boxwood were more prevalent. Europe produced more manufactured variations after the Industrial Revolution. While the material used was indigenous, the pieces themselves were at times noticeably carved with different representations and different names for the king, queen, chariot, footman and even bishop.

By 1849, though, a more standard set of pieces was needed for international exhibitions. Nathan Cook, an architect in London, redesigned the chess pieces to imitate classical Greek, Roman and Italian architectural details such as balustrades, pediments, and columns. The horse head for the knight, for example, may have been inspired by the chariot of Selene, the Moon Goddess as part of the Parthenon, as the story is told. This is the chess set that became standard.

Curiously, this redesign of all of the chess pieces is named for Howard Staunton, an influential authority on chess who organized the first international chess tournaments beginning in 1849. Today, the Staunton Chess Set, as it is known, is the only standard allowed for international play.

Collectible Types

Before 1849, though, there were other versions of the chess set, some more unusual than the next. The most popular sets include the Calvert English chess set that featured more of a finial design popular from 1790 to 1840 that were made and sold by chess dealer John Calvert. The English Barleycorn chess set used unique carved bone for the white pieces and colored red bone for the dark pieces and was popular from 1820 to 1850. The Northern Upright chess set was popular from 1840 to 1860 where the pieces were rather slim and considerably top heavy, but it’s design was similar and may have inspired the Staunton design.

The Staunton chess set features the standardized pieces for international tournament since 1849 when architect Nathan Cook named his design for the influential early chess master Howard Staunton. This complete set of carved wooden pieces sold for nearly $130 (inclusive of an 18% buyer’s premium) in 2018. Soulis Auctions and Live Auctioneers image

Even after standardization, chess pieces can still be found in all manner of geometric, representational, colorful, ornamental patterns. Historic battles can be refought with Civil War-inspired sets or imaginary contests in the Harry Potter, Star Trek or even professional wrestling patterns. Regional chess variants in Asia, the Americas, India, the Russian steppes, and the foothills of the Himalayas will always fascinate and inspire the competitive spirit.

Different materials are routinely used for chess pieces, too. They are carved from stone, wood, ivory, bone, onyx, jade and mother-of-pearl, molded from ceramic, glass and colorful plastic and even brightly lit by electronics and LED lights. Gold, silver, platinum and other precious metals have been made into highly valued chess sets on occasion.

Another variant of the chess board is this three-dimensional version based on the ‘Star Trek’ franchise in which moves are played on three separate tiers instead of the standard checkerboard. Franklin Mint released the set in 1994. It sold for $180 (inclusive 20% buyer’s premium) in 2018. B.S. Slosberg Inc. Auctioneers and LiveAuctioneers

But don’t overlook the variants of the chess board itself.  While the 8×8 black and white chess board predominates, there are also boards that are hexagonal, multi-level, circular, 16×16 squares, rhombic and even a masonic version. According to Wikipedia, there are about 2,000 different chess boards available to create a unique collection all by itself.

Going to “war” has never been more enlightening than a game of chess. Whatever the age, strategy and conquest never gets old. Can the king survive? That’s a question that has been answered each time chess has been played for at least the last 2,000 years.

Felix the Cat: A century of smiles in comics, toys

NEW YORK – Felix the Cat is not only a pop culture icon but he was television’s first star. Today, with thousands of toys and comic books bearing his likeness, often depicting his famous walk, he remains a hot collectible. Head down, lost in thought, walking with his hands behind his back, the plucky Felix stole the scene in hundreds of movies and comic strips.

Back in 1919, Felix got his start in a New York City animation studio with a Felix prototype named Master Tom, making his film debut in the short, Feline Follies. By his third movie released later that year, he took on a new name, Felix the Cat, which would soon become famous.

Among highly desirable and rare Felix the Cat toys is this large windup Frolic platform toy by J. Chein, one of four known, that achieved $35,000 + buyer’s premium in September 2017. Photo courtesy of Morphy Auctions and LiveAuctioneers

The name reportedly comes from the Latin word for happy (felix) and is similar to the cat term, feline. Both New Jersey cartoonist/animator Otto Messmer and Australian cartoonist/filmmaker Pat Sullivan (whose name appears in the credits for Feline Follies) have both claimed credit for Felix’s creation.

In 1928, Felix became a TV star when NBC/RCA was testing television transmissions and chose a Felix the Cat figure to use as it could sustain the heat of the TV lights and the contrast of its black and white coloring would reproduce well. By this time, Felix was already a household name as a Felix the Cat comic strip was syndicated, first in England and then in America, in 1923. He was so popular that his likeness appeared on U.S. Navy fighter planes during World War II, chosen as a mascot of sorts for his “never give up” attitude.

A Felix the Cat litho tin windup scooter in original box, made by J. Chein, earned $2,500 + buyer’s premium in May 2015. Photo courtesy of Bertoia Auctions and LiveAuctioneers

Felix’s look is striking in its simplistic elegance. His jet-black body stands in sharp contrast against the whitest whites of his eyes and his figure is basically composed of circles (from his eyes to his nose and head), which likely made it easy for different animators to draw him without much stylistic differences.

Felix was first syndicated as a comic strip in England and was beloved there, where many Felix collectibles and dolls were made. “In that country, a popular song was composed called Felix Kept On Walking,” according to this website surveying the Mel Birnkrant collection. On the cover of the sheet music, one can see Felix in his classic pensive walking pose and the song title served as a catchphrase for Felix.

This freestanding Steiff Felix the Cat toy, retaining its original Steiff ear button, went for $4,000 + buyer’s premium in March 2019. Photo courtesy of Morphy Auctions and LiveAuctioneers

A Felix the Cat fandom website notes the surrealism of the cartoon strips and the versatility of Felix’s tail. “Felix’s expressive tail, which could be a shovel one moment, an exclamation mark or pencil the next, serves to emphasize that anything can happen in his world,” it wrote. The comic strips were popular for a few decades and then gave way to TV cartoons, which ran for over 20 years.

Felix the Cat has appeared on thousands upon thousands of collectibles and items, including

animated clocks, flashlights, salt and pepper shakers, lamps, dishes, music boxes, cookie jars and much more. Toys, of course, are his predominant medium and range from dolls and wooden or stuffed figures to wooden pull toys, platform and balance toys, nodders and vehicle toys.

A Daven ‘Home Brew’ scanning disk television with a 13-inch-tall Felix the Cat composition doll sold for $3,000 + buyer’s premium in August 2018. Photo courtesy of Morphy Auctions and LiveAuctioneers

Companies such as Schoenhut, Steiff and J. Chein & Co. were among those licensed to produce toys and figures of Felix and other King Features Syndicate characters.

Among top-selling Felix the Cat collectibles and Felix-inspired items are a stencils and spray paint on canvas artwork by the artist known as Seen (b. 1961) painted in 2012 that realized $70,000 in February 2014 at Fine Art Auctions Miami and a large Felix the Cat Felix Frolic platform lithographed tin toy that achieved $35,000 in September 2017 at Morphy Auctions.

For the cartoon ‘Felix Brings Home the Bacon,’ released in July 1924, original four-fold lithograph poster on linen backing, 27 x 41 inches. Price realized: $2,600 + buyer’s premium. Photo courtesy of Soulis Auctions and LiveAuctioneers

This oversized toy measured nearly 14 inches and consequently, it broke easily and was probably in production for only one year because of this issue. Wooden flex dolls from the 1930s, having leather ears and marked Felix on the chest, standing around 4 inches or 8 inches tall, are quite collectible and affordable, selling for about $300 to $600. Steiff Felix dolls with the ear button are also desirable.

Armed with a memorable theme song and his bag of tricks, Felix has endeared himself to fans across the years, becoming a pop culture icon and sought-after collectable in the process.

Jasper52 auction Jan. 14 tuned in to vintage electronics

Vintage electronics comprise the bulk of an online auction that will be conducted by Jasper52 on Tuesday, Jan. 14. The items are from a well-known radio shop in the New York area, one of the largest East Coast collections of land and air communications retail inventory. The owner was one of the most knowledgeable radio experts in the United States.

IFR NAV-401L ramp test set. Turns on but not tested beyond power. Power cord not included. Estimate: $3,000-$3,500. Jasper52 image

View the auction here.

Learn more about the auction on Auction Central News.

PEZ: tasty and fun collectibles

NEW YORK – Collectibles are rooted in nostalgia but perhaps none more so than PEZ, with many children having fond memories of getting a colorful PEZ dispenser, filling it with equally colorful candy and eating every piece. The variety in both dispensers and flavors of PEZ candy tablets is staggering.

PEZ candy was invented in Vienna, Austria by Eduard Haas III as a substitute to smoking, according to a company history. The moniker comes from the German word for peppermint, “PfeffErminZ” taking its name, PEZ, from the first, middle and last letters. In 1952, the company made its U.S.-debut and built its first American manufacturing facility in Orange, Connecticut, where it also has a visitors center that opened in 2011.

PEZ candy refills were often sold in boxes like this in the 1940s. The candy tablets were originally round, but by 1930 changed to a rectangular shape to facilitate packaging by having tablets with a flat surface, Peterson said. Photo courtesy of PEZ Candy Inc.

PEZ collectors are as diverse as the candy itself. Some collect only dispensers or candy packs while others seek out different variations of heads or stems. Some buy everything associated with PEZ. There is no official company count on how many dispensers have been made over the years as some models have been issued in dozens of variations. There are likely well over 1,000 unique dispenser models. Movie, Disney and comic characters are perennial fan favorites as well as holiday themes.

“Some people love to collect new and old displays and, of course, vintage PEZ still in the package,” said Richard Belyski of the Fliptop Pezervation Society and founder of PEZ Collectors News in 1995. “There are also licensed items like Giant PEZ, PEZ lunchboxes and many more items with the PEZ name on it,” he said. “The latest hot PEZ collectible that some collect is called POP!+PEZ. It’s made by Funko and they took their POP concept and made many characters (new and old) that PEZ never did or will not do and put them on the top of a PEZ dispenser.”

This set of 10 unopened PEZ dispensers made $1,300 + buyer’s premium in December 2019 at Leonard Auction Inc. Photo courtesy of Leonard Auction Inc. and LiveAuctioneers.

Unusual dispensers are hot, especially those made in a full-body style. PEZ made a full-body Santa Claus and another that is called Space Trooper, a ’50s-looking spaceman, Belyski noted. The full-bodied Santa seen here was made in Austria or Germany.

Santa Claus is the top-selling dispenser of all time and there have been many variations in its appearance. The Santa Claus and Mickey Mouse dispensers are among the oldest ones PEZ made (and still makes). “We have been producing a version of Santa since the late 1950s. It goes hand-in-hand with the holiday season and it’s a perfect stocking stuffer,” said Shawn Peterson, Direct to Consumer Business Manager, PEZ Candy Inc.

About 30 to 40 new PEZ dispensers are released each year, depending on how many gift sets are offered or if PEZ is revamping its seasonal lines.

Introduced in 1964, this baseball set came with a glove, ball, bat and home plate. It is difficult to find with the original vending box. Photo courtesy of PEZ Candy Inc.

Historically, dispensers’ stems are made in what is known as a non-footed style and many collectors still prefer this look, Peterson said, explaining footless dispensers don’t have the little tabs at the bottom of the stem to help them stand upright. “For collectors, generally that is the division between a vintage and a modern dispenser even though we’ve been putting feet on dispensers since 1987.”

Rarities and unusual examples obviously are of key interest to collectors. “There are some things that are exceedingly rare and then there are other things that can be found with some patience and persistence,” Peterson said. The Make-A-Face dispenser was issued in the 1970s as a kind of Mr. Potato Head where one can affix various pieces onto the PEZ face. It’s not exceptionally rare but highly desirable, Belyski said. “To find a dispenser with all of the pieces sells for around $3,000.”

Northeast PEZ Con attendees shop for rare dispensers and displays. Photo courtesy of Fliptop Pezervation Society-PEZ Collectors Club

Among high-selling dispensers are the Space Guns such as this one from the 1950s that fetched over $2,000. Peterson also cited the psychedelic flower-themed dispensers from the 1960s. “It was a hand holding an eyeball and a flower with the eyeball in the center,” he said. According to lore, the flower dispensers featured flower-flavored candies, which didn’t go over well. The psychedelic dispensers were reissued in the 1990s as a nostalgic throwback via a direct-mail offer where customers could write in to acquire them.

Serious collectors also want the store displays and cardboard that goes along with the dispensers. “What a lot of retailers would deem as trash, we have a base of people that want those items. If it says Pez, they are interested,” Peterson said. This football-themed display stand, for example, nearly 20 inches long and outfitted with 18 rare football dispensers, sold for nearly $5,000 in 2012.

This PEZ collector at a recent Northeast PEZ Con (convention) really loves his dispensers. Photo courtesy of Fliptop Pezervation Society-PEZ Collectors Club.

PEZ dispensers have long been made of hard plastic but in 1979, three prototype lines of soft-head dispensers were introduced: a Disney line, a monster line and a DC Comics superhero line. “The Disney one is the rarest so if one of those came up [for sale], they can get pretty pricey. I’ve seen them sell for $3,000 to $6,000 each,” Peterson said. “It was a rubber-based head … and the price of petroleum was going up significantly and there were gas shortages. What sounded like a good idea initially proved to be more expensive than anticipated so they decided to go back to the traditional plastic.”

From authentic vintage dispensers to fantasy ones covered in Swarovski crystals, there is a PEZ for all tastes. “It’s a favorite among generations because it’s relevant to just about any generation. That’s how we stay on the leading edge of what’s happening, and we are able to keep true to our original product,” Peterson said. “I don’t really know of any other product that can do that. It’s what makes Pez unique. It was really the first interactive candy that came about and that it’s a candy and a toy all in one.”

PEZ is a registered trademark of PEZ Candy Inc.