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Before the King, the President Ruled

Collectibles

July 03, 1999|RALPH KOVEL and TERRY KOVEL | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

It's possible to buy plates, scarves and even bedspreads that feature Elvis Presley. At the turn of the 18th century, however, it was President George Washington who was the idol of the nation. Knowing there was an immediate market for images of the president, the best artists began making statues and paintings.

Glassmakers, clockmakers, potters, tinsmiths, folk artists, furniture and textile designers put images of Washington in their work.

At least 27 professional painters and sculptors did portraits of Washington before his death. Gilbert Stuart did the most famous portrait and copied it more than 200 times after Washington's death. During the next century, photographic copies were made and hung in most public schools.

Few people actually ever saw Washington; people's image of him was taken from the formal portraits. Today, few living rooms are decorated with a drapery fabric covered with a former president's face, or with iron figures that picture the president as part of a pair of andirons.

There were even heating stoves modeled like the figure of Washington. The fame and adulation of Washington continued until the Civil War, but by the 20th century, his fame had diminished. Souvenirs and images appeared briefly at the 1876 Centennial and the 1932 celebration of the 200th anniversary of Washington's birth. We no longer even celebrate his birthday as a national holiday. Instead, Presidents Day honors Washington and Abraham Lincoln, who were born in February.

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Question: We recently bought an antique marble-top center table at a Midwest auction. The tabletop sits on an elaborately carved pedestal that fans into four legs. The legs are on casters. The auctioneer assured us that it was made by Thomas Brooks, but there is no marking on the table. How can we be sure of the maker and the table's value?

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Answer: Thomas Brooks (1811-87) was a New York, N.Y., craftsman who made Victorian furniture in the Renaissance Revival and Rococo Revival styles. His firm, called Thomas Brooks & Co., worked from about 1856 to 1876. Some of his pieces have paper labels, but many are unmarked; collectors will accept a Brooks "attribution" from an expert. If you bought the table at a well-advertised auction that attracted knowledgeable bidders, the price you paid is probably an accurate reflection of its value.

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Q I have a young-girl doll that belonged to my mother. She called it an American Victory Doll. The composition head is marked "L.A. & S. 1918, 60." The doll is ball-jointed, with blue metal sleep eyes and an open mouth with teeth. My mother had her restrung about 1965. We would like to know who made the doll and what she originally wore.

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A Your mother's doll, called a Victory Doll, was made by Louis Amberg & Son of Cincinnati and New York, N.Y. The company manufactured and imported dolls from 1878 to 1930. Amberg made Victory Dolls from 1917 to 1920. They came in four heights: 40, 50, 60 and 70 centimeters (the "60" on your doll's head refers to her height). An original Victory Doll had a brown, human-hair wig. She wore a white dress, a slip, pantaloons, shoes and a hair bow.

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Q We bought a floral-decorated Roseville vase at an auction. It is green, 3 1/2 inches high and decorated with large, green leaves and heart-shaped, pink blossoms hanging from falling stems.

The vase has two small, pointed handles near the curving rim. It is marked "651-3" on the bottom. The vase is marked "Roseville U.S.A."

Can you tell us the pattern, age and value of the vase?

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A The Roseville Pottery Co. opened in Roseville, Ohio, in 1890. The company made pottery in Roseville and in Zanesville, Ohio, until 1954.

The numbers on the vase refer to its shape and size. Your vase is the company's shape No. 651 (a small jardiniere) in the 3-inch height. The pattern is called Bleeding Heart. It was introduced by Roseville in the late 1930s.

Your Roseville piece is not rare. Price books list the Bleeding Heart jardiniere at $50-$100.

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Q I'm wondering about a piece of American historical pressed glass. It's a clear glass pitcher commemorating Admiral Dewey's victory in the Spanish-American War. At the time of the war, there were only 45 states, but there are 48 stars on the flag design on the pitcher. Why?

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A We can suggest a theory. Pressed glass reached the height of its popularity at the end of the 19th century, but glass factories continued to produce pressed glass into the 1920s.

Historical glass items such as the Dewey were made for years after the May 1, 1898, battle of Manila. By 1912, the number of states reached 48, so the pitcher could date from that year or later.

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 antique shows, flea markets, sales and auctions throughout the United States. Prices vary by location because of local economic conditions.

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