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1940 Contest Spurred Modern Design

July 17, 1999|RALPH KOVEL and TERRY KOVEL | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

In 1940, the Museum of Modern Art in New York City sponsored a design competition called "Organic Design in Home Furnishings." The booklet that published the results defined "organic" and said there could be no extra ornamentation, just the "ideal choice of material."

The competition publicized several new designers and showcased the free-form, rounded, sculptural shapes that are now called "organic" or "organic modernism." To most collectors it is known as "modern" furniture.

Charles Eames and Eero Saarinen designed the winning chair while teaching at Cranbrook Institute in Bloomfield, Mich. The chair was a molded plywood shell with foam-rubber cushioning and custom reddish-orange upholstery. The chair was to have been made by Heywood Wakefield Furniture Co. in late 1941, but because of World War II it was never made.

The chair is not only an important piece of furniture, but also a unique piece of the history of decorative arts. Because of its makers and design, it recently sold for $129,000.

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Question: I have a cookie jar shaped like a brown cow with a small dog on its back.

I just saw an article that pictures my cow and says the McCoy jar sold for $100. My jar does not say McCoy. It says "Brush USA" on the bottom.

Is it as valuable as the McCoy jar?

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Answer: The Brush Pottery was started in 1925 and closed in 1982. George Brush worked with J.W. McCoy in a pottery called Brush-McCoy Pottery Co. They marked their pieces with a symbol and the name Brush.

There was also a Nelson McCoy Pottery Co., founded by Nelson McCoy and J.W. McCoy.

It worked from 1933 to 1990. The cookie jars made there are marked McCoy. Collectors are often careless about the confusing names and incorrectly call Brush-McCoy by the shortened and wrong designation McCoy.

Your cow cookie jar was made by Brush-McCoy.

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Q I bought an odd-looking, 6 1/2-inch-long, silver-colored metal "trowel" at a flea market. It has cross-shaped holes along both sides of the bowl.

It is lightweight, so I doubt that it was ever a garden tool. Do you know what it is?

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A Your "trowel" is probably an absinthe spoon. It was specially made to hold sugar cubes at the top of an absinthe glass.

The drinker of absinthe (a green liqueur that's laced with bitter oil of wormwood) poured ice water from a carafe over the sugar cubes and into an absinthe glass that sat on a ceramic saucer.

Most absinthe spoons are made from a combination of silver and tin.

The liqueur was popular in France from the mid-1800s until 1915. At that time, it was banned because of its strength and hallucinatory effect. It had been banned in the United States by 1912.

Absinthe collectibles, including spoons, glasses, carafes, saucers, labels, posters and bottles, are prized possessions.

If your spoon is mint and is not a reproduction, it would sell for about $100.

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Q My parents are selling their house, and they insisted I take my old toys from the attic--unless I wanted the toys to go in the trash.

One of the toys I found is a 5-inch, bendable vinyl doll with a flat body, shaped face and long, blond hair. She is boxed on a beach background with a surfboard labeled "Sandy Flatsy."

Can you tell me anything about this toy?

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A Flatsys were introduced by the Ideal Toy Corp. in 1968 and were available for only a few years. They came in a standard-doll style and in a taller, more glamorous fashion-doll style. Most of them were sold mounted in framed scenic backgrounds. Your doll is worth about $25.

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Q Over the last few years, I have collected electric lamps made between 1915 and the early 1920s. They are complete, with original wiring and parts.

I would like to use them in my home, but I am concerned about the threat of fire. If I replace the wiring, will it decrease the value of the lamps?

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A No. In fact, the wiring and other working parts of any electric lamp more than 25 years old should be carefully checked before the lamp is used. The cord should not be frayed, and if it is old, stiff rubber or wrapped in silk, it should be replaced. Local lamp shops can rewire your lamps. If the sockets or pull chains need to be repaired, ask the shop to use as many of the old pieces as possible. Old sockets are made of solid brass. New ones are usually just brass-plated.

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 in different locations because of local economic conditions.

* Cottage Hearth Magazine, August 1877, home arts and home leisure, $25.

* California pottery fish, dark pink, trimmed in black, large eyes, swimming, marked, 8 1/2 by 11 inches, $40.

* Eastside Keglined beer can, gold can with red logo, eagle in center, 1930s, 8 1/4 inches, $65.

* Mysto Magic Exhibition game, by Gilbert, No. 2001, with instruction booklet, box, 1930, $70.

* Cut-glass inkwell, Hobstar & Fan pattern, 3 1/2 inches, $130.

* Compact with matching lipstick, green pear-shaped stones, powder well, puff and mirror, Flato, 2 1/2 by 2 1/2 inches, $200.

* Chauffeur's cap, black, embossed 1915 touring car on front, leather and tin, $415.

* Sheraton stand, cherry, one drawer, turned, splayed legs, Eastern Pennsylvania, circa 1820, 30 1/2 inches, $550.

* Coffee grinder, cherry with iron fittings, handle stamped D. Small 1828, dot design, dovetailed drawer, York, Pa., $950.

* Simon & Halbig doll, No. 886, Mignonette, bisque, jointed, four teeth, red silk suit, circa 1890, 6 inches, $1,040.

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