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Prices Soar on Old-Fashioned Carriages

September 01, 1988|RONALD L. SOBLE | Times Staff Writer

Question: My grandparents regaled me with stories about traveling in the Ohio countryside in a horse-drawn carriage. They said they sold the carriage for just a few dollars before World War II. We'd love to find one or two to decorate our Northern California farm. Are there still collectors out there who buy and sell these wonderful old contraptions?--A.F.

Answer: When your grandparents sold their carriage, these cost just a few dollars. Now, however, they have become expensive, and it's not unusual to hear of a sale in the hundreds or thousands of dollars, depending on the carriage's condition.

Most horse-drawn carriages in this country were produced between 1800 and 1900. If you see one in need of major restoration, you'll probably be in a good bargaining position to knock down the price. But unless you have the talent to do it yourself, you may still find it an expensive proposition, because proper restoration could cost several hundred dollars. That's because we're not simply talking about slapping together some metal parts, but attempting to restore the fine wood that helps make these vehicles so distinctive and collectible.

Everyday Use

The two-wheel variety is most collectible. This rig could be handled by one person for everyday use. Hundreds of thousands of these carriages were produced into the early 1900s until the advent of the motor car ended the carriage era.

Among the most sought-after carriages are those produced by the firm of Brewster & Co. of Connecticut and New York. Brewster carriages were expensive in their day, retailing for several hundred dollars each; and, as you might expect, they can sell for several thousand dollars today.

Therefore, a collector would want to make sure that an authentic Brewster is being offered for sale. This can be done by checking the Brewster name on the carriage or looking for a serial number. Often the number can be referenced against company records kept by some public libraries and historical societies.

Q: This may sound like a weird thing to collect, but a number of years ago stores and manufacturers gave out clickers as promotional items. They were a novelty that did just that--made a loud clicking sound when you pressed together two pieces of metal. Do you know anything about them?--H.F.

A: From our research, clickers may date back to the turn of the century. Undoubtedly, they were most popular as a vehicle on which to print an advertising message. Products appearing on clickers ranged from shoes to beer.

Most clickers were made of tin, although celluloid was used in earlier versions.

The message on the clicker is important in terms of measuring value. Clickers without a message have little value. But an old Buster Brown shoe message, for example, could bring $30 or more.

Clickers that carried non-advertising messages and illustrations usually sell for much less, but they allow collectors to get into the field relatively cheaply.

Update

Collectors tell us that old handbags from the turn of the century and other periods are making a comeback. Apparently, they're becoming trendy as something different to wear for a night on the town.

Some of these old purses were made of precious stones, fine leather or exotic materials and, as a result, have become expensive collectibles.

Unfortunately, an announcement of the annual national convention of the Orders & Medals Society of America in San Diego, Aug. 11-14, was delayed in getting to us, so readers weren't notified about it. According to spokesman Alan G. Harrow, this is a "fascinating but not widely known area of collecting." For further information, Harrow can be reached at (213) 874-3474.

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