Question: What most determines the value of chalkware, and where are collectible chalkware pieces most plentiful?--T.C.
Answer: Because chalkware pieces can be fragile, condition seems to count for a lot, and a piece that is chipped could seriously reduce the value of chalkware figurines.
As far as where pieces can be bought, they're popular throughout the country, but if you're "country" shopping, your chances of finding some genuine folk art may be better if you go east--particularly to New England, the Midwest and the Pennsylvania Dutch country.
American artists cast their plaster-of-Paris molds in the shapes of birds, animals and, sometimes, people and sold them for just a few cents each in the latter part of the last century. Today an authentic piece in good condition could carry a price tag of several hundred dollars.
More often than not, chalkware pieces were colorfully painted with either an oil-base paint or done with watercolors. In their heyday and right through the early part of this century, they could be found sitting on kitchen shelves and fireplace mantles.
Serious collectors would do well to study Early American pottery and folk art before venturing forth because, collectors say, chalkware could be a tricky collectible area in terms of authentication and attempting to verify artists and locations.
A book that touches on the subject is "Pennsylvania Dutch Art" by Ruth Adams (World Publishing, 1950).
Q: I have what appears to be a giant Christmas tree ornament, a blue glass ball maybe six inches in diameter. It is embossed with all sorts of apparently abstract decorations. Having picked it up at a flea market, do you think it would be of interest to a glass collector?--P.G.
A: What you may have uncovered is a glass ornament for, of all things, a lightning-rod device sold to homeowners and businesses in the late 19th and early 20th Century. Usually, the lightning-rod devices themselves were not very functional--Rube Goldberg devices made of metal cables and rods. The glass ball itself certainly had no functional use but was there to decorate the contraption.
The most common type were made from plain opaque glass generally colored white. Other colors are harder to find, so you may have a valuable sample of this turn-of-the-century artwork. Some of the colored glass balls have the name of the manufacturer or the company's initials and can increase the value of the item.
As you might guess, the wrought-iron rods themselves are popular collector's items, usually standing a yard or more high on their own rooftop stands. The idea was for lightning to strike the rods, which were connected to ground rods stuck in the earth. Some we've seen are fairly ornate, and one even was designed like a weather vane.