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'Fire Grenade' Wasn't So Hot at Its Job

May 30, 1985|RONALD L. SOBLE | Times Staff Writer

Question: I'm a bottle collector, and I would like to know what the "fire grenade" bottle is all about.--M.I.

Answer: The fire grenade is unusual in that its origins date back to the Roman Empire. At that time, there were no fire departments as we know them, no fire hydrants and probably not much of an organized bucket brigade. So someone came up with a brainstorm: a baseball-shape bottle containing water that was to be flung into a fire with the hope of dousing the flames. But, in the process, this firefighting method undoubtedly created a mess of glass.

Historians tell us that Rome's public buildings were required to have the so-called fire grenade on hand the same way public buildings today are required to have fire extinguishers. Naturally, this gimmick was only helpful when a fire was just breaking out. And, it would seem, it was practically useless against spreading flames.

In any case, during the American Civil War, the fire grenade experienced something of a revival and, as a result, has become a collector's item.

Q: How difficult is it to distinguish a counterfeit phonograph record from the real thing?--S.W.

A: Fast-buck artists appear to have swarmed all over the collectible record business in recent years. Collectors and dealers say the worldwide popularity of the Beatles, for example, is made to order for this sort of scam--especially in light of the high prices for their albums. Moreover, as is the case with the Beatles and some other artists, the album cover may command top dollar. So you also want to be sure that this too is the real thing.

How do you spot a fake? Try to familiarize yourself as much as possible with the original recording. Many of the fakes have poor sound reproduction that even the relatively inexperienced ear should be able to pick up with a little practice. Usually, the copy isn't made under professional studio controls, and distortions will jump out at you.

Also check the record label. Some counterfeiters overlook the label and believe that a photograph of the original glued to the record will do the job. That's where doing your homework once again comes in; you should be familiar with record-label designs and colors.

Then there are the super-serious record-collecting pros who claim that they can spot the fakes by studying a record's grooves and the space between the last groove and the label. They then compare this spacing with what they know to be the measurements on the original.

If all of this sounds like a lot of work, it's probably worth the time and effort when you consider the cash outlays involved in becoming a serious record collector.

Q: What tips can you give in collecting children's books?--L.P.

A: The same pointers that apply to collecting books in other categories can generally be applied to children's books.

For example, the book usually has more value if it can be bought in its original box or dust jacket; the binding should be intact, and, of course, no pages should be missing.

Try to attend some book and paper collectible shows where you'll get to talk to dealers and collectors who can give you some tips on how to make inroads in this field. Your local library is another resource.

As you'll see, among the most popular children's books among collectors are those that are liberally illustrated or that have some novelty features such as three-dimensional art.

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