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COLLECTIBLES

Bovine Beauties and Other Tools of the Dairy Trade

October 10, 1998|RALPH KOVEL and TERRY KOVEL | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Cows and cow-related collectibles were the rage during the 1980s. Some just wanted collectibles that pictured the animal. Others became fascinated with the history and tools of the dairy industry.

Cows have been a popular part of advertising since the mid-19th century. Trade cards and labels for milk-based beverages, shortening using butter, condensed milk and cheese used the obvious symbol of a cow.

A few cow trademarks have remained famous. Cow Brand Baking Soda and Elsie, the Borden cow, are the best remembered.

Cow collectors always want more--including dairy equipment, milk bottles, ice cream containers and anything else related to the cow and its milk.

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Question My Danish Modern side chair was made by Fritz Hansen. It is also labeled "Herman Miller." I thought Herman Miller was an American company.

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Answer The Herman Miller Furniture Co. was founded in 1923 in Zeeland, Mich. The company started using modern designs for its furniture in the 1930s. Fritz Hansen is a Danish firm with headquarters in Copenhagen. The company designs and manufactures furniture. In the early 1950s, Fritz Hansen furniture was distributed in the United States by Herman Miller. That explains the two names on your chair. Later, Fritz Hansen handled its own American sales.

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Q I found a barrel-shaped 5-inch mug in my parents' attic. It has a handle that looks like a country bumpkin. The mark on the bottom says "Twin Winton." How old is it?

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A Your mug is one of several ceramic pieces in a series called "Hillbilly Humor." The series was created in 1947 by Don Winton's Pasadena company, Twin Winton Studios. Most pieces have a handle shaped like a hillbilly. The Hillbilly series included not only mugs, cups and steins but also pitchers, ashtrays, lamps and salt and pepper shakers. The series was enormously popular for a few years. Twin Winton continued to sell Hillbilly pieces until the 1970s. Your mug is worth about $30.

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Q Among my mother's collection of Depression glass there is an amethyst vase she always called a "sweet potato vase." It is shaped more like a flowerpot with three ribs than a vase. The paper label on the bottom says, "Genuine Hand Made, Cambridge." What does the vase have to do with a sweet potato?

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A The Cambridge Glass Co. of Cambridge, Ohio, advertised the vase as just the right shape to use to grow a sweet potato vine. The potato fit across the top part of the vase. Customers were instructed to fill the vase with water to cover half of the potato, then to place the vase in sunlight. After two or three weeks, vines would sprout from the potato to make an attractive houseplant "more desirable and less expensive than ivy." Cambridge sold the vases during the 1930s and '40s.

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Q My daughter received a kaleidoscope as a birthday gift. I wonder, who invented the kaleidoscope and why?

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A A Scottish scientist named Sir David Brewster invented the kaleidoscope in 1816. He hoped it would amuse people and inspire artists. The first kaleidoscope was tube-shaped, with a viewing hole at one end. Fragments of colored glass were placed inside a brass cell at the other end.

In the middle, there were two reflecting plates of flat, polished glass or metal joined at an angle. When the tube was turned, the simple forms of colored glass were multiplied into compound and symmetrical forms. Children and adults found the kaleidoscope fascinating. It became the most popular parlor amusement of the 19th century. Brewster was unable to protect his patent, and his invention was copied by many manufacturers.

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Q I still have a single-shot cap gun that my uncle gave me when I was 9 or 10. Now I'm 60. The gun is heavy metal, dark silver in color. The word "Zip" and a red star in a circle are just above the metal handle.

Can you tell me when the gun was made, what it's made of and what it's worth?

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A Your cap gun is cast iron. It was made around 1935 by the Hubley Manufacturing Co. of Lancaster, Pa. Hubley was founded in 1894. The company made cast-iron toys of all kinds, including fire engines, circus trains, cars and cap guns. Hubley stopped making toys during World War II. If your cap gun works, it would sell for about $50.

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Q My lamp looks like a woman in a flowing robe. She is surrounded by vines and flowers. There is a lightbulb in the center of each flower. The lamp is about 24 inches high. When were figure lamps popular?

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A Your lamp is in a very popular Art Nouveau style. The earliest examples were made in France in the 1890s. They were soon sold in many stores in America. The Frankelite Co. of Cleveland is still in business. It offered several such women lamps in a 1910 catalog. Most of them were made of a bronze-coated white metal.

For a listing of helpful books and publications, include a self-addressed, stamped (55 cents) envelope to Kovels, Los Angeles Times, King Features Syndicate, 235 E. 45th St., New York, NY 10017.

(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX / INFOGRAPHIC)

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