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Enjoying a Refresher Course in Teas and Teapots

April 24, 1999|RALPH KOVEL and TERRY KOVEL | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Tea was discovered in China around 2700 BC. By the 1400s, the tea ceremony was part of the culture of Japan, but it was not until the 1600s that tea was available in Europe. In today's dollars, tea sold for $100 a pound in those days. It was so expensive that the teapots made in the 17th and 18th centuries were small. Each pot held about two cups (16 ounces) of tea. Tea was kept in a small, locked tea caddy. Guests were seated at a special tea table, and the precious tea was brewed and poured into small cups. Sugar was not used in tea until around 1665. Milk was used beginning around 1670. The idea of iced tea began in the United States during the 1880s. Tea was made with small infusers and strainers. The first tea bag was made in New York City in 1908. The custom of serving afternoon tea started in the late 1600s and has remained popular in many countries. Tea parties have become fashionable once more.

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Question: At a recent auction, I bought a color-lithographed, metal Mickey Mouse wastebasket. One side is decorated with a picture of pie-eyed Mickey hitchhiking in front of the U.S. Capitol. He is carrying a gas can and a pocketful of "gas ration stamps." Minnie is sitting in a blue convertible, which has apparently run out of gas. The side of the wastebasket is marked "(c) Walt Disney Productions." The bottom is marked "Cheinco Made in USA." Can you tell me date and value?

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Answer: During World War II, gas was rationed in the United States, but your wastebasket is not from the 1940s. It was made between 1972 and 1984 by J. Chein & Co., a New Jersey manufacturer. Chein is best known for making lithographed tin mechanical toys and reproduction tins. Chein used 1930s-style drawings of Mickey on its 1970s-'80s Disney-licensed wastebasket designs. Wastebaskets like yours are worth about $20, although we have seen some priced at $90. Many people do not realize that the wastebaskets do not date from the war years.

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Q My husband and I read somewhere that any imported item marked "Made in (country name)" cannot be very old. Is that true? An antiques dealer we know says he has 19th century items marked that way.

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A The words "Made in . . ." were usually used after 1915 by companies that exported items to the United States. A few English manufacturers may have used the words earlier. There are other ways to date a piece of porcelain from the mark. Some pre-1890 imports were marked with a country name. We have seen such pieces from England, Denmark and Portugal. The McKinley Tariff Act of 1891 required that imports be marked with the name of the country of origin. Only one item in a set had to be marked, and paper labels were allowed. A change in laws made the favored marking "Made in (the country name)" from 1915 to 1921. In 1921, U.S. Customs required that marks on imported goods use English words. That was because the Japanese were using the name "Nippon," which confused American buyers. The 1921 rule was abolished in the 1980s. Today ceramics are often marked with removable paper labels.

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Q My grandfather once owned a tobacco shop. Going through his belongings, I found an old trunk with large lettering that reads "Cremo Export, Always in Perfect Condition, the Band Identifies It the World Over." The trunk has small ventilation holes on each side and measures about 30 by 22 by 25 inches. Can you tell me what the trunk was used for?

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A Your trunk was probably used around 1930 to ship cigars from Cuba to the United States. Cuban cigar makers started exporting a wide variety of brands and types of cigars to the United States in the mid-1800s. Cremo is a known brand, and Cremo cigar labels are still found. We have seen other large, trunklike shipping boxes marked "Always in Perfect Condition, Largest Sellers in the World." Collectors of advertising or tobacco memorabilia would be interested in buying your shipping case.

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Q I know old sports magazines are sometimes worth more than old issues of magazines like Life. I have a first issue of the Ring, a boxing magazine. It is dated Feb. 15, 1922. What is it worth?

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A The Ring was founded by Nathaniel S. Fleischer. He was a big fan of heavyweight boxing. The cover of the first issue pictures Tex Rickard and Lord Lonsdale, two powerful promoters of the sport. The magazine's success over the years was affected by the success of great boxers like Jack Dempsey, Gene Tunney, Joe Louis, Rocky Marciano and Muhammad Ali. A near-mint copy of your magazine is valued at $650. Any tears, creases, stains or missing pages decrease the value considerably.

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.

Current Prices

Current prices are recorded from antiques shows, flea markets, sales and auctions throughout the United States. Prices vary because of local economic conditions.

* Fostoria cup and saucer, Seville pattern, amber, $12.

* Pepsi-Cola glass, Slow Poke Rodriguez, 1973, 16 oz., $50.

* Advertising, Woman Suffrage stove polish, two girls fishing, circa 1880, 3 3/4 by 2 3/4 inches, $55.

* Black leather woman's shoes, high-top, upper laces, 1910, size 8 1/2 inches, $65.

* Bakelite trinket box, golfer in knickers on top, made by Beetleware, 1930, 4 by 4 inches, $85.

* Cut-glass celery vase with fan, horseshoe and diamond cuts, 9 1/2 inches, $175.

* Blue Crown Husky Spark Plugs sign, embossed tin, 1946, 20 by 10 inches, $310.

* Georgene Novelties Sluggo doll, cloth face, painted features, blue pants, striped shirt, black jacket, 13 inches, $775.

* L. & J.G. Stickley oak settle, model No. 738, 13-slat back, four post supports, circa 1902, 39 by 76 inches, $2,760.

* Rookwood vase, ovoid form, flying, perching and swimming geese among trees and branches, impressed mark, circa 1920, 18 inches, $5,325.

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