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Toy Cars Keep Pace With Real Ones

July 31, 1999|RALPH KOVEL and TERRY KOVEL | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Toys can be fanciful, or sometimes they can be exact replicas of objects used by children's parents. Automobiles, whether authentic copies or generic examples, are popular with collectors.

Those that move by themselves--powered by steam, wind-up mechanisms, batteries or other means--are among the highest-priced toy cars. The oldest cars sell for very high prices, often for thousands of dollars. The first toy tin cars were made about 1900. They looked much like horseless carriages. By 1914, real cars and toy cars had changed. Toy companies started making racing cars, touring cars, buses and trucks. Most toy cars were made of lithographed pressed tin with hard, rubber tires and authentic trim.

After World War I, toy cars looked more like real cars, but they were not exact models. By 1930, the toys were recognizable replicas or fantasy cars with detailed construction. The tradition of real and dream cars being produced as toys continues.

Today, the lithographed tin toy car is less available. A child can play with a copy of the family car or an imagined car of the 21st century made of metal or plastic. Almost any toy car that's more than 20 years old is in demand by collectors, but it must be in excellent condition.

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Question: My antique folding rocking chair has a wooden frame with a spindled top rail. The seat and back are upholstered with a floral, carpetlike fabric. On the lower part of the chair is a metal plate with "E.W. Vaill, Patentee and Manufacturer, Worcester, Mass., Patented July 18, 1876, No. D4-A." What is it worth?

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Answer: E.W. Vaill made Eastlake-style folding chairs and folding rocking chairs from about 1876 to 1895. Similar designs were made by other manufacturers as well. Charles Lock Eastlake was an English architect who disliked ornate Victorian designs. He advocated a return to simpler forms and careful craftsmanship. Folding chairs in the Eastlake style were popular during the last quarter of the 19th century. They made excellent spare chairs. Chairs with scenic upholstery bring the highest prices. Your chair is worth $350 to $500.

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Q: In the 1970s, my grandmother gave me her glass jewelry box that's shaped like a ship. On the front of the ship are the words "Remember the Maine." Can you tell me anything about the box?

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A: Your grandmother used a pressed glass covered dish as a jewelry box. The battleship Maine dish was made to commemorate the sinking of the U.S. battleship Maine in Havana Harbor on Feb. 15, 1898. The sinking, caused by a submarine mine, was blamed on the Spanish and precipitated the Spanish-American War. The rallying cry for the war was "Remember the Maine." The glass dish does not resemble the Maine, but it does look like a battleship of the period.

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Q: A pretty blue vase I inherited is marked "Catalina" on the bottom. I know Catalina Island is off the coast of California. Was my vase made there?

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A: Yes, thanks to William Wrigley Jr., the entrepreneur behind Juicy Fruit gum. Wrigley bought Santa Catalina in 1919. He founded the Catalina Clay Products Co. in 1927 to make bricks and tiles necessary for construction work on the island. The high quality of the tiles produced at the factory led Wrigley to add glazed vases and dinnerware to the production line. Red clay was used from 1927 through 1932; white clay was used from 1932 to 1937. The pottery was then sold to Gladding, McBean & Co., which moved Catalina's pottery production to Los Angeles. Pieces made on the island were marked "Catalina," "Catalina Island" or "Catalina Isle." The Catalina pieces made by Gladding McBean are marked "Catalina Pottery" or "Catalina Rancho." The most valuable pieces of Catalina pottery are the early pieces made of red clay. Anything made on the island sells for twice as much as pieces made on the mainland.

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Q: At a local flea market, I bought an 18-inch-square souvenir throw pillow. It is decorated with a map of Iowa and with pictures of Iowa crops and livestock. The capital and a few other cities are marked on the map. I would like to start a collection of state pillows. Do you think I will have a hard time finding more?

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A: Most throw pillows from the early 1900s were made of a heavy, canvas-like fabric and were printed with pictures of children or women. Fringed souvenir pillows, with multicolored designs stamped on softer fabrics, were popular from the 1930s until the early '60s. They were made as souvenirs of states, cities, military bases or tourist destinations like Niagara Falls. It is not hard to find them at flea markets and antiques malls all over the country. If you want to look for a specific state, you might have some luck at a vintage-textile store or an Internet auction. Most souvenir pillows are sold as cases, without the pillow inside. Prices for souvenir pillowcases in good condition range from about $15 to $50, depending on the design.

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