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Collectibles

Rare Items Not Necessarily Valuable

August 28, 1999|RALPH KOVEL and TERRY KOVEL | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Ads and auction catalogs often list pieces as rare. What makes an antique or collectible rare? Sometimes it is a one-of-a-kind piece made as a special order, like a piece of Chinese export porcelain decorated with a family coat of arms.

Sometimes an artist with limited facilities made something in very small numbers. Sometimes a piece is rare because it did not sell well, so few were made. A set of beautiful female figurines is usually easy to find; the unattractive monsters that weren't popular are rare. Breakage also causes rarity.

When looking for the hard-to-find pieces in a set of dishes, don't be surprised that the cups, large serving pieces and other pieces with easily damaged handles are in short supply.

A thin piece of glass or a child's toy is often broken. It could be something that few people saved, like gum wrappers or trolley-car ads.

Rare-book buyers have recently discovered that many books that have been hard to find are becoming more available, thanks to Internet capabilities.

Prices have actually dropped for some titles. Rare means in short supply--it does not necessarily mean valuable. So don't pay extra because it is rare.

Buy what you like or what you can use, or buy something because it reminds you of some part of your family history.

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Question: My doctor has several Wallace Nutting pictures hanging in his office. He also has one that's signed "Fred Thompson."

I have heard of Nutting, but who is Fred Thompson?

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Answer: Fred Thompson was the signature used by Frederick H. Thompson (1844-1909) and his son, Frederick M. Thompson (circa 1876-1923). The older Fred founded the Thompson Art Co. in Portland, Maine, about 1908. His son joined the company shortly before his father died. The Thompsons knew Nutting, and they produced hand-colored photographs similar to Nutting's. The most popular Thompson photos are of Maine outdoor scenes.

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Q When I was browsing through an antique shop last week, I found a very short, crook-handled bamboo cane that is only 2 feet tall. The dealer said it dated from the late 19th century. I bought it because it was very well made. Now I am wondering whether it is a toy or a salesman's sample.

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A Your cane is neither a toy nor a sample. It is a child's cane. Children's canes were almost exact replicas of canes their fathers used. Canes were fashionable during the 19th century. Some were fancy, with ivory, gold, silver or brass handles. You will sometimes see children holding canes in 19th century photos or drawings.

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Q You have written about Royal Winton chintz pattern china, but my Royal Winton china bedside tea set is not chintz. The pieces in the set are light green on the outside and white on the inside. Some are trimmed with gold. The set includes a teapot, cup, small cream and sugar containers and toast rack. The mark on the bottom of each piece reads, "Royal Winton, Grimwades, Made in England," with the first two words forming the top of a circle. Can you tell me when the set was made and what it's worth?

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A Your Royal Winton tea set was made by Grimwades Ltd. of Winton, England. The mark on your set was used for exported wares made between about 1934 and 1950. Most people refer to the pattern of your tea set as "Mottled Ware." It was made in several colors, including green, pink, cranberry, yellow and rouge-red. Your set, with no flaws, chips or cracks, is worth more than $400.

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Q I found four old, cardboard lobby cards in my attic. Each one is 14 by 22 inches and lists, in a section at the top, the name and address of a local movie theater.

The movies are "Ladies of Leisure" with Barbara Stanwyck, "Montana Moon" with Joan Crawford, "Soldiers and Women" with Aileen Pringle and "The Ship From Shanghai" with no stars listed. They are all in color, but the movie scenes are paintings, not photographs. Can you tell me how old these cards are and what they're worth?

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A Your discoveries are window cards, not lobby cards. Lobby cards are smaller and do not include the name of a local theater. Window cards included a local theater's name because they were posted in drugstore and barbershop windows around town to let people know where the movie was showing. All four of your window cards advertise films of the 1930s.

The most valuable is "Montana Moon" because it stars Joan Crawford. It would sell for $150 to $200. Because Barbara Stanwyck was also famous (but not as famous as Crawford), the "Ladies of Leisure" card is worth $50 to $75. "The Ship From Shanghai" starred Conrad Nagel. That window card is worth about $20, slightly more than the value of "Soldiers and Women."

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, N.Y. 10017.

Current Prices

Figures are recorded from antique shows, flea markets, sales and auctions throughout the United States. Prices vary in different locations because of local economic conditions.

* The Three Little Kittens board game, by Milton Bradley, 1938, $25.

* General Motors Corp. catalog, Detroit, 1949, 32 pages, $35.

* "Dragnet" sheet music, Jack Webb photo, 1953, $40.

* Homer Laughlin Orange Tree pattern bowl, green, 10 inches, $60.

* Streetcar sign, Wrigley's Gum, cardboard, pack of gum, man, green and white, 1950s, 21 by 11 inches, $90.

* Florence ceramic figurine, Melanie, gray and maroon, 7 1/2 inches, $110.

* Smoky the Pipe Smoking Bear, by SAN, battery operated, 1950s, 9 inches, $200.

* Effanbee doll, Honey, bride, walker, blue sleep eyes, blond Saran wig, 1954, 15 inches, $345.

* Martin Bros. art pottery pitcher, grotesque fish, four-sided, signed, 1903, England, 9 inches, $1,100.

* Pennsylvania butterfly/bird cage Windsor side chair, bamboo turnings, yellow pin-striping, circa 1830, 34 inches, set of six, $5,750.

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