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Determining the Value of Ornate, Old Ink Bottles

November 07, 1985|RONALD L. SOBLE | Times Staff Writer

Question: I have an opportunity to purchase an ink bottle shaped liked an old-fashioned one-room schoolhouse. How can I date it, and what value would you place on it? Incidentally, the owner, who says he bought it from a New England source, wants several hundred dollars for it.--R.A.

Answer: We usually don't appraise in these columns, but here is some information for your own guidance.

If the ink bottle is an authentic piece, it might be one of a number manufactured in the late-19th Century, a local dealer says. The bottle, in good condition, could sell anywhere in the range of $100 to $400, he says . This is well in excess of the price of more commonly found ink bottles, which usually don't sell for above $50 or so, he adds. Out-of-the-ordinary colors and unusual designs, however, have caused some ink-bottle prices to skyrocket.

One problem you might encounter in researching an ink-bottle collection is that you probably won't find a manufacturer's name on early productions, and so researching where it was produced and its age may prove difficult.

You'll need to do some research in your field because widespread commercial production of ink in bottles goes back a couple of centuries--to the late-18th Century in Great Britain and the early-19th Century in this country.

By the mid-19th Century, U.S. manufacturers, particularly on the East Coast, began producing ornate and shaped bottles, which were proudly put on display. But then the invention of the fountain pen in the 1880s greatly diminished interest in unusual ink bottles as the public began shelving its traditional pens in favor of more sophisticated writing instruments.

Q: You have discussed the history of baseball cards and their prices several times. Aren't football cards also a collectible that draws considerable attention? I have several hundred in my collection going back a couple of decades.--C.E.

A: Football-card collectors are not as numerous as the baseball variety. And the prices of the cards are not as astronomical. Although a Bronko Nagurski or Knute Rockne card can exchange hands for more than $300, the norm is more in the range of $5 or $10 for a sought-after card.

Like baseball cards, the football variety appear to have been produced since the late-19th Century. But it wasn't until the early 1930s that the first football bubble gum cards began to be distributed on a national basis.

In 1950, Topps Chewing Gum of Brooklyn, N.Y., entered the picture and, like its baseball-card line, began dominating the marketplace. Since then, Topps has produced college All-American and professional football sets. A competitor in the field has been the Philadelphia Gum Co., which concentrates on National Football League cards.

A hint on price appreciation: Look for players who enter the national spotlight in other fields once they retire from professional sports.

For example, Republican Congressman Jack Kemp's 1961 Topps football card only listed for $4 in a dealer catalogue. But should the former Buffalo Bills quarterback ever gain the nomination to a presidential ticket, to which he aspires (or election to the White House!), his card's price will jump through the ceiling.

Ronald L. Soble cannot answer mail personally but will respond in this column to questions of general interest about collectibles. Do not telephone. Write to Your Collectibles, You section, The Times, Times Mirror Square, Los Angeles 90053.

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