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Early Bikes Were Really Big Wheels

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

It may have been hazardous to your health to ride a bicycle in the 19th century. High bicycles, or high-wheelers (actually tricycles or velocipedes), were in fashion. A bike had a large front wheel, with a diameter of more than 60 inches, and small back wheels to keep it steady when you got on and off. The large wheel made it possible to travel farther with each push of the pedal. It also helped make bumps less noticeable. The high-wheel bicycle with only two wheels was made by the 1880s. The spokes of the wheel were redesigned to keep the wheel from bending, and stronger, crossed spokes were used. The biggest problem with these bicycles was mounting. It was an athletic feat in itself. It was easy to fall forward over the large front wheel and land on the ground.

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Question: I have an old, mahogany, Queen Anne-style, bonnet-top highboy. In the drawer, there's a burned-in circle hallmark enclosing the words "Charak Furniture Co., Boston, Mass." Do you know its age and value?

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Answer: The Charak Furniture Co. of Boston was a leading 20th century manufacturer of reproductions of traditional Colonial furniture. Your highboy is a reproduction that's worth more than $1,000. Unlike many American furniture manufacturers that thrived during the 1920s, Charak survived the Depression of the 1930s. In the 1950s, the company hired Donald Deskey, a well-known American designer, to create a line of colorful, plastic-laminated modern furniture.

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Q Is there any value in saving a large Tiffany hanging light that fell from the ceiling and broke a glass panel?

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A If your hanging dome light was really made by the company owned by Louis Comfort Tiffany, it has a value even with a broken glass panel. Many companies made lamps similar to those made by Tiffany, but a real Tiffany shade will probably be marked on the inside edge. The broken panel can be fixed by an expert in stained glass, or the shade can be sold at an auction without being repaired. A hanging dome shade by Tiffany with an acorn design sold recently for $20,000. Many sell for much more. A local antiques auction gallery can look at your shade and determine the maker and value.

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Q I have some flow blue china dishes I cannot identify. The mark on the bottom is "Upsala-Ekeby, UE, Sweden, Vinranka." My library could not help with the mark or pattern name. Can you?

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A Your dishes were made by the Upsala-Ekeby ceramics firm, which operated in Upsala, Sweden, from 1886 to 1978. "Vinranka" is a Swedish word meaning "grapevine." That may be the pattern name. The company probably made your dishes for export, since the word "Sweden" is in English.

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Q My silver-colored, lightweight metal cigar case was a souvenir from the 1904 St. Louis World's Fair. It is 5 inches long, 2 1/2 inches wide and holds three cigars. There's a small, black latch on one side and four hinges on the other. The top of the case appears to be incised by hand with a central sunburst design and the words "World's Fair, St. Louis, 1904."

Inside the case, machine-printed in black, are the words "Introduce Me is a grand 10c. cigar which we sell for 5c. Straight and with a purchase of 12 we give one of these beautiful cigar cases. Anti-Monopoly Drug Co., 600 Market St., St. Louis, Mo."

What is the case worth?

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A Souvenirs from the St. Louis World's Fair are sought by collectors who specialize in World's Fair memorabilia. All sorts of manufacturers and retailers, including tobacco companies, made fair souvenirs that advertised their products. Your case is made of aluminum, which was a valued metal in 1904. It was one of many small cigar cases offered at the fair. It is worth between $75 and $100.

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Q I just bought a set of three carved wooden monkeys posed as "See No Evil, Hear No Evil and Speak No Evil" (one uses his paws to cover his eyes, the second to cover his ears, and the third to cover his mouth). The phrase is familiar, but where did it originate?

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A The phrase is ancient, based on a Japanese legend about a benevolent ruler whose kingdom lay on one side of a mountain. On the other side of the mountain lived the "Great Evil." The ruler's counselors were three wise monkeys who did not want the ruler to know about the danger lurking across the mountaintop. One day when the monkeys were playing in the woods, they were confronted by the Great Evil. They defeated his curse by posing as you see them in your carvings.

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.

* Elvis Presley charm bracelet, Elvis' photo, guitar, broken heart, hound dog, RCA emblem, 1956, gold tone, $54.

* Match safe, Hunter Baltimore Rye, steeplechase jumper, bottle shape, nickel and celluloid, $120.

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