Question: We have a number of snowdome paperweights as part of a family collection. How long have snowdomes been around, and who are some of the early manufacturers?--L.S.
Answer: The snowdome paperweight has been a relatively popular item among collectors. Typically, it is filled with water, which has a magnifying effect on a figure or painting inside the paperweight.
The water may contain loose particles for added effect--such as snow--so that when you shake the paperweight it creates a "moving" scene.
There are a great many categories of this type of paperweight, ranging from animals to tourist scenes to geographic sites to those used for their advertising value. Veteran collectors say because so many different subjects have been produced, it's best to attempt to specialize in an effort to enhance the value of your collection.
Typically, collectible paperweights were made of round glass with a ceramic, plastic or wood base and stand about 4 inches high. Usually, they had a single figurine inside.
An original label telling the collector that the paperweight was manufactured for a specific purpose or event, such as a world's fair, would increase a snowdome's value.
Cracks or Blockage
Collectors are, naturally, wary of any cracks in the glass or any blockage that would obscure the snowdome scene.
Among the earliest snowdome paperweights were those produced by the Atlas Crystal Works of Covington, Tenn., and of Trenton, N.J., which received patents for its snowdomes in the 1920s. The firm continued to manufacture them through World War II. Many of their earlier snowdomes had Christmas themes.
About the same time, snowdomes were being produced in Germany and Italy, many of which were exported to this country.
More recent U.S. production in the 1940s and 1950s included works by such firms as Progressive Products of Union, N.J., and the Driss Co. of Chicago. Since then, many snowdomes have been produced in Hong Kong.
As for prices, they are fairly wide ranging. Dealer catalogues show a plastic snowdome produced in the 1970s selling for only about $8. On the other hand, a 6-decade-old snowdome complete with a glass ball and a ceramic base, showing a Niagara Falls scene, has resold for more than $40.
Q: We have an old gum-ball vending machine as a conversation piece in our den. Do you have any idea as to its value?--H.M.
A: In this highly collectible field, condition counts for a lot. We've seen some vintage 1930s machines sell in the $50-$60 range. But they were relatively plain, in fair condition and made of aluminum construction.
A Victorian-style machine from that same era, however, could--and has--sold for $1,000 or more.
Peanut vending machines from around the turn of the century, nickel-plated and in top working and display condition, have even sold for $2,000 and more, according to dealers.
Collectors say they like to see as many original parts as possible, as well as original paint on these machines. If the paint or parts are chipped or damaged, there are experts who engage in restoration, which could enhance value, they add.
The most popular collectible years are 1910-1940, when the globe-type peanut and gum-ball machines could be found on street corners and in stores and theaters.
When you consider that it only took a penny to operate most of them, the fact that many entrepreneurs claimed to have struck it rich in the vending machine field appears astounding in the context of modern economics.
Still, much of the small change they collected came in during the Great Depression, when even pennies could ultimately add up to a small fortune.
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.