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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.

Colorful Christmas board games of McLoughlin Brothers

NEW YORK – Move two spaces. Roll the dice. Learn if your turn has been naughty or nice. That’s the nature of a competitive board game, especially one played during the Victorian era. And no one created Victorian board games better, then or now, than McLoughlin Brothers Inc.

There have always been competitive board games since ancient times. The earliest incomplete board game is said to be senet found in Egyptian burial sites dated as early as 3500 B.C., including that of Tutankhamun. Its rules are unclear, but it’s thought to be a personal journey from this life to the afterlife, according to Wikipedia. The Royal Game of Ur dates back to at least 2500 B.C. with other examples such as backgammon (Iraq, Syria), chess and parcheesi (India), and Go (China) from around the world during the ancient period that are still played today.

This 1899 board game shows the wonderfully colorful illustrations of children enjoying the snow in vivid colors is what makes McLoughin Bros. board games so desirable. This set recently sold for $10,000 (inclusive of a 25% buyer’s premium) complete with all its pieces. Image courtesy of Bertoia Auctions and LiveAuctioneers

Board games in Europe from the 16th century through the Victorian era centered around vice and virtue such as Goose – roll the dice, land on vice (get punished) or virtue (get rewarded). Land on ‘goose’ and you get another chance to be a saint again. The winner was the most virtuous – simple and straightforward.

Not much different than the games published in the United States, except the first one was a Traveller’s Tour Through the United States published in 1822 by bookseller F&R Lockwood in New York City, but morality games like The Mansion of Happiness (Heaven being the Mansion), published in 1843 by W. & S.B. Ives, were more the norm. Each game board had simple, two-color, hand-painted graphics with an average cost of $1.63 (about $45 today).

By the 1850s advancement in printing brought chromolithography, a process that allowed full-color printing on paper more economically feasible and much less labor intensive. One of the first companies to take advantage of this new process was the McLoughlin Bros, a New York City publishing company of children’s books, paper toys, and, most important to collectors, multicolored board games.

 

A series of three Christmas-themed McLoughin Bros. board games features an1899 Santa Claus Scroll Puzzle, a 1904 Automobile Race Game with Santa motif on cover and the Visit of Santa Claus board game that sold together for $5,182 (inclusive of a 22% buyer’s premium) in 2019. Image courtesy: Showtime Auction Services and LiveAuctioneers

What’s remarkable about the board games published by McLoughin Bros. was not that they were the first (the Mansion to Happiness was) it was the distinctive multicolor process that created the high quality of its box illustrations. Many well-known artists worked for McLoughlin Bros. creating dazzling images for each of the children’s books, card packs and board games. Ida Waugh, for example, is a well-known illustrator and portrait painter who had exhibited at the 1893 World’s Columbia Exhibition and Woodmere Museum in Philadelphia, among others. She ultimately contributed many painted illustrations to books, games and booklets along with William Bruton, Sarah Noble Ives and so many well-known illustrators of the era. Their superior pen and ink and watercolor illustrations helped set McLoughlin Bros. apart from other publishers of the era.

The sheer number of board games offered by McLoughlin Bros. is astounding and varied. There’s the Game of Catching Mice, the District Messenger Boy (one of its first), College Boat Race, The King’s Highway, The National Game of Baseball, the Game of Three Blind Mice, and so many others. By 1920, McLouglin Bros. sold out to Milton Bradley and board games were no longer produced under their name.

Luckily, we can still appreciate the wonderful art and history of McLoughlin Bros. board games and other children’s books and educational games at auction. As with other collectibles, condition is most important, but with vintage board games, particularly those from McLoughlin Bros., the graphics are just as important. Board games were meant to be played, so some wear and tear can be expected. However, the best condition reaches a higher auction value. Every small tear, rip or discoloration will matter.

Not just board games, but books by McLoughin Bros also tell the story of Christmas such as a complete set of Game of Christmas Jewel and several children books ‘Christmas Surprise,’ ‘Christmas Joys,’ ‘The Night Before Christmas and Nellie’s Christmas Eve’ that sold for $671 (inclusive of a 22% buyer’s premium) in 2016. Image courtesy of Morphy Auctions and LiveAuctioneers

Pieces matter, too. Many of the board games have more than just a board; the dice, cards, playing pieces need to be all original and intact. Even if one piece is missing, no matter how small, the value drops significantly.

The type of game usually matters as well, but with McLoughlin Bros., all board games, no matter the condition will have an interested collector. For Christmas-themed games, for example, the Game of Tobogganing at Christmas, Automobile Race Game (showing a red-suited Santa similar to Kris Kringle on the cover) and a Visit of Santa Claus shows the vivid colors and storytelling graphics on the cover. They are as special now as they were played with then.

So many collectibles were made for a certain time and place. Board games may be the exception. Even if they were created over 150 years ago, their original purpose to entertain, amaze and bring out the competitive spirit is still going strong. Vivid artwork, fanciful design and the life lessons of McLoughlin Bros board games will easily transcend the next 150 years as new generations appreciate their genius.

As Jumanji says, “A game for those, who seek to find, a way to leave their world behind.” But not too far behind. They will always live as cherished collectibles.

T206 cards king of sports collectibles

NEW YORK – Casual collectors of baseball cards will instantly recognize makers Topps, Bowman and Fleer, but seasoned veterans will also know the letter-number set known as T206 (aka the “White Border” set and, more descriptively, “The Monster”). T206 cards were a tobacco card set issued for three years, from 1909-1911, by the American Tobacco Co., which inserted them into cigarette packs, loose tobacco packs and tobacco tins, through the firm’s 16 different brands.

Many Hall of Fame stars and other players (even minor leaguers) are represented in the revered and iconic 524-card group – names like Cy Young, Walter Johnson, Home Run Baker, “Wee Willie” Keeler, Nap Lajoie, Ty Cobb, Chief Bender, Christy Mathewson, John McGraw, Zack Wheat, Tris Speaker, “Iron Man” McGinty, Rube Marquard and, most famous of all, Honus Wagner, whose T206 card sold for a staggering (and record) $3.12 million in October 2016.

T206 Honus Wagner Sweet Caporal 150/30 PSA-Authenticated card, sold for $540,000, a record for the card in a PSA Authentic grade, in the second edition of the David Hall T206 Collection held Sept. 19, 2019. by Heritage Auctions in Dallas.

The T206 set is considered a landmark in sport card collecting because of its diminutive size, rarity (hundreds of thousands were printed and distributed, but many have been lost to time) and the high quality (for its time) quality of the color lithographs. Stars from baseball’s “Dead Ball Era” are forever enshrined in the set, which has been an ongoing source of fascination since its introduction to the market over 100 years ago. They were, in fact, the first mass-produced cards.

“There are almost a quarter million T206 cards in the population of the hobby’s leading grading service – no other issue from that era even comes close,” said Chris Ivy of Heritage Auctions in Dallas, Texas. “But it’s clearly much more than that. The T206 is just a masterpiece. The graphics are bold and simple, the roster is virtually endless and inclusive of so many Dead Ball Era icons. The majesty of the T206 issue is so self-evident that it’s actually difficult to verbalize the reasons for its greatness. It just is.” Ivy added, “The T206 market is red-hot, and there is no sign of that changing. It’s a blue-chip stock. Always has been.”

T206 white border card circa 1909-1911 for Eddie Plank of Philadelphia, with a Sweet Caporal 350 back. Condition: Good+ 2.5 in a PSA graded holder, EX+ 5.5 on the front and overall VG/EX+ 4.5 net. Est. $5,000-$50,000, sold for $50,000 at an auction held Oct. 19, 2013. Conestoga Auction Co. and LiveAuctioneers image

Tens of thousands of the cards still survive today. However, not all are in great condition. As of June 2017, PSA had graded more than 170,000 T206 cards; of those, only 13 were given a perfect grade of 10. Like with many collectibles, condition is key, and the T206 cards in better condition are worth considerably more than their shabbier counterparts. The high value of the cards has led to a good bit of counterfeiting over the years, so the caveat emptor rule applies.

1909-11 T206 Piedmont Cy Young (Cleveland) card, glove Shows. Clean card with sharp corners that may be trimmed. Est. $100-$200, sold for $550 at an auction held Aug. 18, 2016. MBA Seattle Auction and LiveAuctioneers image

PSA once said that T206 cards are “without a doubt, the most studied, dissected and discussed set in the history of the hobby.” The cards were printed at the American Lithographic Co. in New York City, using a six-color process, before being inserted into packs of tobacco products. Even though that market was exclusively adult, the cards proved to be hugely popular with children from the era, who collected and traded the unique color pictures of the ballplayers.

It was the legendary card collector Jefferson Burdick who coined the term “T206” in the first edition of his American Card Catalog, published in 1939. The cards were nicknamed the “White Border set” from the distinctive white borders surrounding the lithographs on each card, which measured 1 7/16 inches by 2 5/8 inches (considered by collectors the standard tobacco card size). A more thinly cut card was made for American Beauty cigarettes due to the small package size.

There were multiple cards for the same player in different poses, different uniforms or even with different teams after being traded, since the set was issued over a three-year period. Ty Cobb was featured in four different poses (a red portrait, a green portrait, with a bat on his shoulder and a bat off his shoulder). The best known and most valuable card, of course, is the Honus Wagner, partly because of his place among baseball’s immortals and partly because of the card’s rarity.

Group of six T206 cards from 1909 to 1911, including Cy Young, Christy Mathewson, Rube Waddell, and McGinnity. The gold border cards (1911) include Joe Tinker and John McGraw. All cards have some creasing; Cy Young card has heaviest creasing. Est. $200-$600, sold for $450 at an auction held Sept. 7, 2013. Morphy Auctions and LiveAuctioneers image

Remarkably, it’s estimated that only 50-200 of the Wagner cards were ever distributed to the public, and only a precious few survive today. There are several theories as to why the card is so rare. One is that the printing plate used to create Wagner’s card broke early on in the production process. Another is that there was a copyright dispute between the American Tobacco Co. and the artist who created the Wagner lithograph. But a third theory is most commonly accepted.

It states that Wagner himself simply objected to the card, possibly because he was a nonsmoker who didn’t want to encourage kids to start smoking (although it’s a fact that Wagner was a user of chewing tobacco and allowed his image to appear on cigar boxes and other tobacco-related products prior to 1909. Some think he objected to the card because he wanted more financial compensation for the use of his image. Whatever the reason, it’s the Holy Grail of cards today.

Eight 1909-11 T206 Beckett Graded Cards — Rube Marquard, Cy Young, Frank Baker, Jack Pfeister, Addie Joss, Rube Waddell, Roger Bresnahan and Nap Lajoie. Minimum bid: $50, sold for $1,262 in a Holiday Catalog Auction held Dec. 7, 2016 by Grey Flannel Auctions in Scottsdale, Ariz.

A high-quality example of the Wagner T206 card sold on eBay in 2000 for $1.27 million. The same card sold in 2007 for $2.35 million. Later that year, it changed hands for $2.8 million. In April 2013, a T206 “jumbo” Wagner (so-named because it measured a little bit larger than most other known examples) went for $2.1 million. The same card (the current record-holder, graded PSA 5) made $3.12 million in 2016 thru Goldin Auctions. The price included buyer’s premium.

The card that sold in 2007 for $2.8 million was previously owned by hockey star Wayne Gretzky and was purchased by Ken Kendrick, owner of the Arizona Diamondbacks baseball team. At the time of the sale, the card was rumored to have been trimmed. This was later confirmed, in 2013, when Bill Mastro, the former head of Mastro Auctions, who was deeply involved in the card’s sale history, admitted to the trimming as part of a plea deal stemming from mail fraud charges.

“In my opinion the popularity of the T206 cards is based on the wide array of top-notch Hall of Fame players in the set,” said Troy Thibodeau of Saco River Auction Co. in Biddeford, Maine. “Many of the other sets put out around the turn of the century were not inclusive. The cards themselves are considered fine art in the hobby, due to their vibrant colors.”

1909-1911 T206 Ty Cobb red background card with Polar Bear back, graded 45 VG+ 3.5. Est. $2,000-$3,000, sold for $2,600 at an auction Jan. 3, 2018. Saco River Auction and LiveAuctioneers image

Thibodeau continued, “The T206 cards carry great mystique, as some of the most expensive baseball cards ever sold came from the set, like the Wagner card and several Ty Cobb backs. It’s also so large, with so many variations, that any collector can spend a lifetime working on it. I know people who only collect them by the tobacco ads on the back, or rare factory designations. It’s a wonderful set.”

As for market demand, Thibodeau observed, “In recent times I have noticed that prices have leveled off slightly. It seems that there is a huge interest in collecting 1950s cards and most of the recent action has been on high-end 1950s stars and rookies. Like anything, the hobby goes through ebbs and flows based on what people are hooked on currently, but I have no doubt that tobacco cards, especially the T206 cards, will always be near the top of the hobby.”

Salesman’s samples: small scale, big demand

NEW YORK – Sometimes confused with toys, salesman’s samples are small-scale versions of products, such as farm equipment, machinery, furniture and drugstore goods. They once were a salesman’s best marketing tool.

In the late 1800s–early 1900s, when traveling salesmen would go town to town to take orders for products, these samples became a critical part of their sales pitch to show a buyer what he would get before placing an order. Some companies still make salesman’s samples today but with the advent of digital marketing, salesman’s samples are not as common as they once were.

A sample of a 19th century horse-drawn walking plow with steel blade and iron wheel turned up $6,500+ buyer’s premium in December 2018 at Pook & Pook Inc. with Noel Barrett. Photo courtesy of Pook & Pook Inc. with Noel Barrett and LiveAuctioneers

Salesman’s samples were scaled-down replicas of the original item, say a plow, with nearly all the features of the full-sized versions. Most were working models. Ranging from a few inches to about 2 feet tall (sometimes larger as with a canoe), they often featured complex mechanisms that the salesman would demonstrate to explain to a potential customer how the item worked. Customers could also inspect the sample to be assured of its manufacturing quality. A sample’s small size allowed salesman to carry them in a case as he peddled his wares, traveling by horse and buggy or train.

This 48-inch-long sample of an Old Town canoe, circa 1930, in original green paint, realized $16,500+ buyer’s premium in November 2015 at Saco River Auction. Photo courtesy of Saco River Auction and LiveAuctioneers

“Salesman’s samples were a key part of persuasive demonstrations and getting the order in 19th century and early 20th century America,” noted Rodney Ross, curator of the DFW Elite Toy Museum in Fort Worth, Texas, in a press release for an exhibition on salesman’s samples the museum presented from its collection. Seeing how a working scale model functioned would have instilled buyer confidence from municipal agents to order such equipment as road graders, tillers and tractors when these items were brand new and unfamiliar to most potential buyers.

This sample of a horse-drawn Adriance Buckeye sickle mower sold for $4,000+ buyer’s premium in June 2019 at Pook & Pook Inc. with Noel Barrett. Photo courtesy of Pook & Pook Inc. with Noel Barrett and LiveAuctioneers

In general, the most collectible samples are those with mechanical moving parts. The more authentically made they were in resembling their full-size counterparts, the more money they bring from collectors. “These types of samples were often intricate and difficult to assemble. Farm equipment samples are one of the most collectible because they had the most mechanical parts,” says Dan Morphy, CEO and owner of Dan Morphy Auctions in Denver, Pennsylvania.

Besides tractors and farm equipment, all sorts of products were made as salesman’s samples, including typewriters, folding attic ladders, stoves, sleds, windmills, well pumps, furnaces, barber chairs, books, household furniture, bank safes, humidors, Coca-Cola coolers, garage doors, pocketknives and even burial caskets.

A Coca-Cola double Glasscock ‘standard’ salesman’s sample cooler, circa 1929, brought $14,000+ buyer’s premium in March 2017 at Dan Morphy Auctions. Photo courtesy of Dan Morphy Auctions and LiveAuctioneers

As they were made to scale, usually 1:6 or 1:8, sometimes these salesman’s samples can be mistaken for dollhouse items or children’s toys. “Samples generally have actual working components integrated in the sample and were created true to scale,” Morphy said. One good way to tell the difference is that samples often will have a label announcing the product’s name, and sometimes a patent date; toys usually would not. They are also usually more mechanically complex and detailed than a toy would be but not always. Miniature cookstoves are often referred to as salesman’s samples but most are actually highly detailed toys.

A fine example of a complex salesman’s sample was a Murphy bed, circa 1870, that auctioneer Noel Barrett of Noel Barrett Antiques & Auctions Ltd. in Pipersville, Pennsylvania, appraised in May 2018 for an episode of Antiques Roadshow. “It’s really a complicated little device,” Barrett said on camera, while pointing out the owner how it worked. A longtime aficionado of salesman’s samples, Barrett opened several small doors to reveal areas for blankets, storage, a wash basin and even a shaving area with mirror. When the doors are opened another way, however, one large panel drops down to reveal the Murphy bed complete with a scaled-down mattress. The bed displays a label indicating it was made by William Kelly, Bath, Maine, and patented April 19, 1870.

Complete with its original carrying case, this salesman’s sample of the leaning wheel road grader, with metal maker’s tag reading ‘J.D. Adams & Co., MFR’S Road Building Machinery, Indianapolis, Ind.,’ sold for $31,000+ buyer’s premium at Rich Penn Auctions in May 2014. Photo courtesy of Rich Auctions and LiveAuctioneers

Another rare example Barrett came across was a butcher block sample that he sold at auction in June 2019 for $2,600, well over its estimate. The sample set on three legs measuring 3½ inches tall still had its original decal reading “Wolf, Sayer & Heller – Chicago Butcher Supplies – Handsome Market Fixtures.”

Dan Morphy Auctions has also sold quite a few salesman samples over the years, particularly barber chairs and Coca-Cola display items. Highlights include a sample of the Koken barber chair that was sought after because of its attention to detail and authenticity. A 16-inch-tall sample chair has white porcelain, leather upholstery and nickel-plated details, and folds upright. It realized $17,000 in October 2018.

This sample of a Koken barber chair made $17,000+ buyer’s premium in October 2018 at Dan Morphy Auctions. Photo courtesy of Dan Morphy Auctions and LiveAuctioneers

The highest price seen on LiveAuctioneers’ price database for a salesman’s sample barber chair was a Victorian-era chair constructed of quartersawn oak that earned $41,000 at Cottone Auctions in June 2012. That 25-inch-tall chair featured elaborate carving with lion’s faces and a nickel-plated cast-iron adjustable framework.

As with most cases, rarity drives demand. “Since they were meant to advertise a product, not many were produced. It was a sales tool that salespeople took with them from business to business,” Morphy said, saying the scarcity of samples spurs their appeal among collectors.

Treenware: the natural ‘green’ collectible

NEW YORK – One can look at a large tree and see its natural lines spoiled by a somewhat cancerous growth along the base or trunk that we would call a knot. Yet, to a woodcarver, this deformity hides lovely, durable bowls, tureens and containers.

Today this knot or burl and wood objects in general are known as treenware (loosely “of the tree”). Early examples are now collectible art, but it wasn’t always that way. Wooden bowls, cups, utensils and storage containers were household necessities throughout the millennia, mostly because wood was the only affordable and plentiful resource around. Woodworking has been found in China, ancient Egypt, early Rome, and as far back as the Neolithic period 12,000 years ago.

The bulging growth on a tree trunk is call burl, in which the grain has formed in a deformed manner. Wood turners shape burl into bowls and other useful and decorative pieces.
Image courtesy: Evelyn Simak photo. This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic license.

By the 1600s, though, most of the old growth forests in Europe were long depleted to meet the needs of a growing population. With a population of the known world at about 580 million, wood was a main source of building, heating, shipbuilding and domestic implements. Wooden bowls made from burl, for example, were hard to find and not an everyday household item for everyone. The Age of Exploration of the 15th to 17th centuries helped change that. The New World, once discovered, provided not only expansive new territory but also a much needed resource – trees.

Colonial America

That was certainly a welcome surprise when Colonists first landed in the Americas of the early 17th century. There was an overwhelming abundance of old growth trees and virgin forests of every variety of hard and soft woods. Needing household cooking and working implements, the new Colonists relied on the skills of Native Americans for their first set of treenware because woodworking was a skill most early Colonists did not possess.

This 18th century New England Native American trencher bowl made of an elm burl sold in February 2018 for $2,100+ the buyer’s premium. Image courtesy of Thomaston Place Auction Galleries and LiveAuctioneers

Native Americans had perfected the skill of carving their wooden household necessities. Bowls made from hardwood burl utilized a long process that included using fire to shape a burl bowl, then patiently smoothing it with a hard shell, beaver tooth or smooth stone. Later, woodturners, the most familiar of European woodworkers, would join the Colonies who specialized in turning bowls on pole and treadle lathes, a method unknown to the Native Americans, but most familiar to Europeans for nearly 2,000 years. The skills for learning how to fashion bowls from burl, though, had to be learned by the Colonists over time, so trading for the more highly skilled Native American burl and wooden items predominated for most of early America.

Peaseware

By the middle of the 19th century American craftsmen forged their own identities and specializations. The Native Americans had long stopped hand carving bowls and other wooden treenware and instead used the tools traded with the early Colonists such as axes, knives, adzes and other metalware to continue creating their own distinctive styles.

Peaseware is more basic and utilitarian without elaborate decoration. This 19th century lidded canister with handle sold for $1,400+ the buyer’s premium in 2009. Image courtesy: Pook & Pook Inc. and LiveAuctioneers

One such craftsman was David Mills Pease of the Cascade Valley of northeastern Ohio. Beginning about 1850, his woodturning skill produced the everyday useable lidded and unlidded household items to store grain, seeds, salt and general cooking implements. Natural, unadorned, practical and stable, Peaseware, as it is known, is usually turned and varnished maple, but sometimes combined with other woods. They were always more functional than decorative and made to last for generations. By 1876, Peaseware could be found at world’s fairs and international expositions until about 1906.

Lehnware

More distinctive treenware was created about the same time by Joseph Lehn in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania. What’s particularly noteworthy about Lehnware, as it is known, is that it is quite decorative. Lehn was a wood turner, cooper and furniture maker by trade but by 1856 or so was being recognized by his elaborately designed treenware.

Turning boxes, cups, barrels, buckets, kegs and barrels wasn’t quite enough. Lehn decorated them in patterns of strawberry, pomegranate and floral decorations using yellow, blue, red, green and salmon colors. All had a repeated sequence and were uniquely hand-painted and at times, had decals added.

A colorfully painted Lehnware eggcup exhibits the floral motif associated with Joseph Lehn. It sold for $2,900+ the buyer’s premium in 2010. Images courtesy: Conestoga Auction Company and LiveAuctioneers

Lehn died in 1892 at the age of 94, but his distinctive style of treenware survives as collectibles today. Some of his later pieces bore a paper label that read: “Made by Joseph Lehn in his 91 year Jan. 1, 1889.”

Other Artists

Peter Stauffer was a neighbor of Joseph Lehn and made blanket chests with similar decorations as Lehn. William Carl Heilig turned cups and saucers as well as chests and chairs. He may have signed his work “Wm. C. Heilig Ephrata” in the same period as Joseph Lehn. Robert F. Lausch of Ephrata, Pennsylvania, continued the turning and decorating of boxes in the Lehn tradition in the 1960s, 100 years later.

This Northwest Coast-style grease bowl carved from cedar, 4in. x 13½in. x 6½in., is attributed to Edward Saburo Ohashi (1931-2010 American). Similar carved effigy bowls have been faked. Image courtesy of MBA Seattle Auction and LiveAuctioneers

Treen Can Be Faked

Vintage treenware is difficult to date, according to Steven Powers in his book North American Burl Treen: Colonial & Native American. “Exact dating can almost never be attained with treen,” Powers writes. “Our best gauge for dating treen is dating it to like forms in other materials that have a known date … [and so it] becomes quite instinctual or more of a feeling.”

Because of this, many early Native American burl bowls have been modified to attract more buyers at auction such as adding handles or figures into the bowls or other native treenware. Additional carvings are noticeable because the wear would be quite different, for example. Powers suggests that most faked Native American treenware at auctions are the carved effigy bowls that are carved too thin and rounded at the bottom which is not usual. Other small footed bowls have been made in China and Tibet made of ash burl and claim to be early Native American treenware, but a well-trained eye can notice the discrepancies of added carvings and unusual use of nonnative woods.

A close-up view of the finished surface of maple burl shows its irregular figuring.
Images courtesy: LiveAuctioneers

A ‘Green’ Collectible

Treenware handcrafted or turned from burl or any wood wasn’t usually as long-lasting as the metal pots, pans and other implements that were more the norm in the industrial age. But for the early Colonists and Native American communities, treenware was plentiful, strong and dependable. Only later would treenware become more decorative, artistic and collectible and yet still maintain its ability to be useful for generations to come. What could be more “green” than that?

Lacquered wares cross many cultures

What started as a utilitarian need for watertight objects eventually became its own art form known as lacquerware. To keep wood, pottery tin and other metal objects watertight, layers of natural lacquer were brushed onto boxes, buckets, trays and other household items. Once dried, though, lacquer turns a distinctly dark black which is not always a designer choice of color. That’s why, over time, artistic designs were added to help make the item more decorative as well as useful.

Carved lacquer, known as diaoqi, is a buildup of many layers of different color lacquer and carved with small knives. Image courtesy Bally Auction and LiveAuctioneers

Lacquerware:  5000 BCE China, Japan, Korea

Around 7,000 years ago, sap from Toxicodendron vernicifluum, a tree grown and cultivated only in East Asia, was refined into a useable waterproof compound used to coat household items such as tableware, boxes, furniture, trays, bowls, screens and even coffins.

Known in China as a varnish tree, the sap is tapped by cutting into the bark and collected. Smaller branches are soaked in water and its sap is collected, all of which contains urushiol, the skin irritant in poison oak. Once exposed to air, the sap slowly turns black. After being strained and heated to remove moisture, the final product, lacquer, is stored in airtight containers ready to be brushed onto wood, tin or another metallic object.

A 17th century Chinese lacquerware dish in the collection of the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

The process of applying lacquer is a time-consuming process, usually over several days. Each successive layer, 20 or more at times, is left to dry and harden before another layer can be applied. Curiously, in order for lacquer to dry it must be placed in a moist atmosphere such as caves, according to early Chinese accounts. This process can take as long as 18 days before a design can be introduced. This process was eventually spread to Japan and the Korean peninsula by the sixth century.

Decoration can include gold, silver, charcoal, white lead, and mother of pearl surrounding decorative plants, animals and intricately carved domestic scenes. Carved lacquer, known as diaoqi, started with a buildup of many layers of different color lacquer (red, known as cinnabar, green, brown and even purple) until it was quite thick. Once dried, an intricate design was carved by hand into the object.

Chinese lacquerware was prominent throughout each dynastic period with its process a closely guarded state secret. Exports of generally mundane consumer items began in the 17th century to Europe but by the middle of the 19th century Chinese lacquerware was no longer a stable export.

An example of a 19th century European ‘japanned’ tea tray on display at the Birmingham History Galleries, UK. This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license.

Japanning: 17th Europe

Chinese exported its lacquerware to Europe by the early 17th century, mostly to the Netherlands, Italy, France and Great Britain by the East India Company, but it was mostly utilitarian items, not its most noted artwork. Yet, Chinese lacquerware became popular at all levels of society. The process of lacquer production as practiced in East Asia for thousands of years was limited to the sap from the varnish tree which grew only there. And China wasn’t sharing its secret. An alternative needed to be developed.

A viable lacquer was finally discovered from the secretions of the female lac bug known as Kerria lacca. Mixed with ethyl alcohol, these secretions became known as shellac, which dries into a high-gloss finish.

Black lacquer as a base with Japanese motifs such as this 18th century pocket watch was made in the UK and is on display at the Walkers Art Museum in Baltimore, Md. Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

With this discovery, Italian craftsmen saw an opportunity to expand a market for the popular East Asian lacquerware, particularly from Japan, by creating their own Asian-themed designs that they felt represented daily life there usually on heavily lacquered tin and ironware in stark black or red with gold painted decoration. Because Asian societies were generally closed to outsiders, particularly to Europeans, scenes depicted by Italian craftsmen were more imaginary than realistic.

Still, japanning, as the art form was known in Europe, became popular from the early 18th century until the late 19th century. Once its popularity declined by 1920, the focus moved away from japanning metal items to japanning bicycles. In fact, by 1887, the Sunbeam bicycle company was formed to create the ubiquitous black japanned bicycle with gold stenciled markings.

A painted toleware coffeepot that sold for $1,200. Image courtesy Conestoga Auction Co. and LiveAuctioneers

Toleware: 18th century Americas

By the time lacquerware was introduced in 18th century America, rolling mills were being perfected in Pontypool, England. Pressing bars of steel and iron between rotating wheels allowed for the cost-effective formation of plates, coated with tin, then stamped into household goods like trays, candle holders, breadboxes, plates and utensils for export and commercial trade.

Once formed, the goods were coated against corrosion with a special blend of linseed oil, an asphalt compound, turpentine and other industrial compounds. The final dark varnish (a version of lacquer) is called “japan black.” Henry Ford’s Model T was painted with “japan black” giving rise to his quote that “Any customer can have a car painted any color that he wants so long as it is black.” Once the varnish is applied to iron, steel or tin-plated items and cooled, the item is decorated similar to the Japanese lacquerware, known as japanning.

An example of a hand lamp that is varnished with basic ‘japan black’ without the added decoration that sold for $50. Image courtesy Conestoga Auction Co. and LiveAuctioneers

Rather than import these items from England and France, communities in North and South America, particularly in 18th century New England (mostly Boston and Hartford, Conn.) and the Pennsylvania Dutch, manufactured, hand-painted and later stenciled their own tin, pewter and metal goods for trade and home use. It was called toleware from the French term tôle peinte or painted sheet and practiced as tole painting.

The production of hand-painted toleware lasted from early 18th century to late 19th century when its popularity declined. There has been a resurgence of tole painting from the late 20th century within communities as an individual art project with classes, workshops and even organized groups such as the Society of Decorative Painters or the National Society of Tole and Decorative Painters.

Collectibility

Acrylic paints have replaced the variations of natural and industrial lacquers common before 1950 or so. Their use is simply more efficient, cost effective to produce and is more conducive to innovation where the early lacquer was easily more time consuming and toxic to create.

Lacquers aside, in the end it is difficult to distinguish vintage lacquerware in any of its forms. The use of different lacquers might just help on an atomic level (which is why this article focuses on types of lacquer) but the decorations applied, styles used or even what colors are predominant simply don’t lend itself to specific periods, which can be easily categorized without knowing each local style. Even the carved lacquer of early China is faithfully reproduced today.

Varnishing with lacquer wasn’t limited to just household items. Furniture was also ‘japanned’ such as this chest of drawers that sold for $375. Image courtesy Dumouchelles and LiveAuctioneers

Still, certain characteristics do stand out. Japanned items from France in the 17th and early 18th century, for example, have a rougher surface and more rust from peeling varnish because they hand stamped their iron or steel plate which produced more uneven surfaces.

What do collectors like? Collectors like bright colors, intact inlays like mother of pearl or gold leaf, regional styles such as “thumb work” of the Pennsylvania Dutch, flowers, Japanese or Chinese motifs, or any number of combinations. Decorators love the blend of colors that stand out. Most examples after 1950 are widely available for under $100.

Since variation is the main theme of lacquerware, whatever its name, the first rule of collecting applies: Collect what you like first.

Blockbuster movie posters starring in Jasper52 sale May 14

Jasper52 will debut an Affordable Vintage Movie Collectibles auction on Tuesday, May 14. Original posters, lobby cards and movie stills comprise this 50-lot collection that ranges from film noir to modern cult classics.

‘Key Largo’ (Warner Bros., 1948) vintage original lobby card featuring Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall, 14in. x 11in. Estimate: $200-$300. Jasper52 image

View the auction here.

Learn more about the auction on Auction Central News.

Get hooked on collecting vintage fishing lures

NEW YORK – Anglers have their favorite fishing holes, especially deep and dark spots few know about where the big fish lurk, and have their favorite lures to catch them. Much like their decoy compatriots, fishing lures have become highly collectible.

Gary Smith, an editor with The National Fishing Lure Collectors Club, said the best-known fishing lure makers are referred to as “The Big Five” and are Heddon, Shakespeare, Pflueger, South Bend and Creek Chub.

Heddon’s Deep Dive River Runt with original box and pocket catalog from 1951. Photo courtesy Heddon Museum

While a top five list of the most highly collectible fishing lures is debatable, and certainly personal, most collectors would likely agree that the original Heddon Frog tops the list. “Very few are known to exist, and provenance is extremely important because reproductions/fakes are out there in circulation,” Smith said. “After that, I would say that the Haskell Minnow is number two.”

This Haskell Minnow marked with the typical ‘R. Haskell Painesville, O., Pat’d Sept 20, 1859,’ 3½in. long, sold for $6,000 at Dan Morphy Auctions on Nov. 3, 2017. Prices do not include the buyer’s premium. Photo courtesy of Dan Morphy Auctions and LiveAuctioneers

Smith’s third pick for the top lure would be the Flying Helgrammite, which was made by Harry Comstock in upstate New York and was notable as one of the earliest lures having glass eyes. “Beyond that, it’s anyone’s guess or preference but good candidates would be the Chautauqua Minnow, first production Heddon Minnows, early Rhodes Minnows [Rhodes morphed into Shakespeare] and first production Pflueger lures,” Smith said.

This Comstock Flying Hellgrammite earned $5,000 in November 2014 at Crossroads Angling Auction. Prices do not include the buyer’s premium. Photo courtesy of Crossroads Angling Auction and LiveAuctioneers

Founded in 1996 by Don and Joan Lyons, the Heddon Museum stands today in Dowagiac, Michigan, where the Heddon company made its fishing tackle.

“The James Heddon & Sons company began selling wood lures on a commercial scale in 1902 in Dowagiac, Michigan. In fact, they named their first lure the ‘Dowagiac.’ That lure today is referred to by collectors as a ‘Slope Nose in recognition of its upward facing snout,” Don Lyons said.

From that first Dowagiac lure, Heddon quickly developed a number of new lures that for the next two decades they referred to generically as Dowagiac Minnows, and added a number such as “100” or “150,” or a name such as Artistic Minnow or Crab Wiggler to distinguish the different lures.

Heddon’s Dowagiac Slope Nose lure from 1904. Photo courtesy Heddon Museum

For years, fishing tackle was purely functional and it’s hard to say just when tackle collecting, especially bait lures, took off but it took shape in the mid-1970s with the formation of the National Fishing Lure Collectors Club. The club (spawning many localized clubs) promoted regular shows across the United States – initially referred to as swap meets because lures were traded, not sold – and it encourages members to share information via club publications, a mission it continues to embrace today.

“As with most hobbies, the popularity of antique fishing tackle was fueled by people who had matured, gained some disposable income and could now afford to own those things that they could only dream about as young kids who had made do with what they could afford, not what they really wanted,” the Lyons said.

A collection of South Bend fishing lures with a National Fishing Lure Collectors Club pin sold for $4,500 in July 2016 at Ellenberger Brothers Inc. Photo courtesy of Ellenberger Brothers Inc. and LiveAuctioneers

Lures were made in different price points and when collecting today, potential buyers must evaluate not only condition but how a specific lure was decorated (glass eye vs. painted eye), material (wood, rubber or hard plastic) and what color. Some lures were made in multiple styles. With regard to condition, Smith suggests buyers consider: “Do you want a lure that appears to be factory-new or would you prefer a lure that exhibits good honest use and therefore tells you it has tempted fish, and maybe caught them?”

People collect vintage lures for various reasons, he noted, including, “the beauty of lure construction and finishes, the link to an earlier (and seemingly less complicated) period in our history, fraternity, investment/profit, the thrill of the hunt or an appreciation of fishing lure history and owning a tangible part of it.”

Various lures like this grouping were offered at the 2016 Nationals show held by the National Fishing Lure Collectors Club. Photo courtesy of the National Fishing Lure Collectors Club

Offering advice beyond doing homework, Smith said, “Be disciplined. Stay within your budget. You might want to limit your search for one company, like Creek Chub. Don’t display your lures in direct sunlight and keep artificial light to a minimum. Excessive exposure to light will cause lures to fade. Control climate as much as possible. Extremely dry air can cause paint to crack; extreme moisture encourages rust.”

“Again, as with all collectibles, collect what you enjoy,” the Lyons advise. “It’s a large and diverse hobby with regional and national clubs that will be glad to help newcomers to the hobby gain knowledge and make new friends.”