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Sinking Teeth Into Coral Bells

July 10, 1999|RALPH KOVEL and TERRY KOVEL | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Infants like to play with toys that rattle or make strange noises. They also like to chew on toys. The teething ring-rattle is not a new idea. In America during the 18th century, the wealthy gave babies silver or gold "coral bells." The handle was made from coral, which was hard, cool and pleasant to chew. On the top was a group of small bells and often a whistle. These valuable toys were saved and passed from generation to generation. A surprising number still exist. Most of them were made by English silversmiths, but some American coral bells are known. The bells would be declared unsafe today because the small bells held by thin wire links could be swallowed by a baby.

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Question: Nearly 30 years ago, I paid $100 for a large, oak roll-top desk I was told was used in the offices of the Anaconda Copper Co. in Montana. A label inside one of the desk drawers reads, "Leopold Desk Co., Burlington, Iowa." The desk has four drawers on each side, reaching to the floor. How old is it, and how much would it sell for today?

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Answer: Your desk was probably made during the first decade of the 20th century. A 1908 Leopold Desk Co. catalog describes a desk like yours as a "200 Grade" model. The catalog pictures a "200 Grade-Sanitary" desk. A Sanitary desk was considered an improvement on a regular 200 Grade desk because a Sanitary model sat a few inches above the floor on four legs. That way, the area under the desk could be kept clean. Your desk is practical and still usable. It would sell for about $500.

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Q I am 71 and have a blue glass flask passed down from my great-great-grandparents. There's a log cabin and a tree molded on one side, and an anchor with a pennant circling it on the other. Words on the pennant read, "Spring Garden Glass Works." I was told the bottle originally held camphor. How old is the bottle, and what is it worth?

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A Your "pictorial" flask dates from the 1850s, when the Spring Garden Glass Works operated in Baltimore. It was made in pint and half-pint sizes to hold gin, rum or whiskey, not camphor. The value of your flask is determined by its color and size. Dark-blue pint flasks sell for more than $10,000. Half-pint light-blue or aqua flasks sell for less than $200. The flask was also made in other colors.

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Q My vase was left to me by a relative. I thought that it was worth something because of the crown-and-lion marking, which reads, "Royal Doulton, England." It also has several other marks, including a K, the intertwined letters E and S, and the number 479.

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A The Royal Doulton mark on your vase was used by the famous English pottery after 1902. The other marks tell the shape, the glaze used and the name of the decorator, Elise Simmance. She worked until 1928, but the painting style used on your vase suggests that it was made about 1910.

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Q About 20 years ago, an elderly neighbor gave me a plate 12 inches in diameter with a white, black and gold Art Nouveau floral design on the front. The mark on the back includes a tower, "Mettlach VB" within a banner, and the words "Ges. Gesch. Reg. U.S. Pat. Off. Made in Germany, 2960." There are a few more small letters and numbers under the mark. Do the various numbers mean that it is a limited edition or one of a kind? I thought Mettlach only made steins.

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A Mettlach is a town in western Germany where Jean Francis Boch founded Boch-Buschmann pottery in the early 1800s.

In 1836, Boch's company merged with Nicholas Villeroy's factory to become Villeroy & Boch Co. The word Mettlach has become the common name for the wares produced at the Villeroy & Boch factory there.

The wares have included not only steins but plaques, vases, beakers, punch bowls and sets of Art Nouveau dishes.

Your plate, from one of the Art Nouveau dinnerware sets, was made about 1904. The English words in the mark indicate that the plate was made for export, and the number 2960 is a factory form number. The tower design in the mark is a factory trademark, and "Ges. Gesch." is the abbreviation for the German words meaning copyrighted. Your plate is worth more than $250.

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Q Can you tell me when the first electric can opener was made?

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A The first patent for a portable electric can opener was issued in 1931 to Preston C. West of Chicago. But there's no evidence that West's machine was ever made. It wasn't until 25 years later the first electric can opener was sold to the public. It was a wall-mounted model made by Udico Corp. of Santa Monica. It was sold in Los Angeles department stores in 1956. The next year, Klassen Enterprises of Centerville, Calif., marketed the first counter-top combination electric can opener and knife sharpener.

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.

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