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Match Safes Kept Home Fires From Burning Too Brightly


Smoking may be losing favor, but collectors still search for old matchboxes. Matches were invented in the 1820s; they were a big improvement over the flint, steel and tinder method previously used to start fires. Early matches had one big disadvantage, however: They sometimes caught fire accidentally.

Match safes (small containers for matches) were produced about 1840. They made it easier to store and carry matches. Some were designed to be carried in a pocket; others were made to be kept on a table or hung on a wall. Most had a ridged striking surface somewhere on the box.

The safety match was introduced in the 20th century, and by the 1920s the need for match safes was gone. The new safety match was sold in disposable wooden boxes or in paper matchbooks.

Figural match safes sell for $50 to $500, depending on the attractiveness of the figure and the value of the metal used. Some were made of gold or silver, but most were brass or white metal.


Question: Have you ever heard of Skywater furniture? My friend has a simple wooden table with two matching chairs she calls Skywater. The chair backs are made of six taut strands of clothesline.


Answer: Skywater furniture was designed in the 1940s by Minneapolis architects Elizabeth Scheu and Winston Close. The pair had been hired to design, build and furnish a two-room vacation cabin on the St. Croix River between Minnesota and Wisconsin.

The architects' budget for the whole project was $1,200, including $50 for furnishings. Scheu and Close designed and built a table, chair and stool using fir plywood and simple geometric shapes. The house was named Skywater, and the furniture has taken the same name.

Birch plywood reproductions of the original furniture are available from the Minnesota Historical Society in St. Paul. The pieces come ready to finish and assemble.


Q We just purchased a turn-of-the-century metal field plow at a rural flea market. It's the kind of plow that was pulled behind an ox or plow horse. It has five prongs that dig into the ground and two handles that the farmer held as he walked behind it. The plow is rusted, and its paint has worn off. We want to place it in our flower bed, but we would like to protect it from the weather. Would painting it decrease its value? Should we coat it with clear shellac?


A Your plow has already weathered to the point where you don't have to worry about leaving it outside in your garden. Painting or shellacking it will lower its value, but it wouldn't hurt to try removing the rust. You can buy a rust remover at your local hardware store.


Q My mother has an old cast-iron skillet with the name "Puritan" impressed on the bottom. A friend of mine told me that it might be a Griswold skillet. How can I tell?


A The brand name Puritan belonged to Sears, Roebuck & Co. During the 1920s and '30s, Sears contracted with the well-known Griswold Manufacturing Co. of Erie, Pa., to make Puritan brand skillets that would be sold only by Sears. The problem for collectors is that Sears also contracted with another skillet manufacturer, probably Favorite Stove & Range Co. of Piqua, Ohio, to make Puritan brand cast-iron skillets.

There are clues that can help determine who made your skillet. The easiest clues to spot are the impressed numbers on the bottom of the skillet. Puritan skillets made by Griswold have a size number, 3 to 14, above a four-digit pattern number. Puritan skillets made by Favorite have a size number, 3 to 14, with a one-letter suffix. There is no four-digit pattern number.


Q My mother left me a set of 12 blue-and-white china plates. Each is decorated with a picture of a different Duke University building. The marks on the back include "Wedgwood, Etruria, England" and "Jones McDuffee & Stratton Co., Boston, Sole Importers." Can you tell me when the plates were made? Why would an English company like Wedgwood make plates picturing an American university?


A You have a complete set of Duke University souvenir plates made by Josiah Wedgwood & Sons in 1937. Jones, McDuffee and Stratton was a major American importer of ceramics from about 1810 to 1955. In the 1890s, the Boston company helped launch the hobby of collecting souvenir plates. It commissioned Wedgwood to make a series of blue plates decorated with scenes of Boston. The plates, with their borders of roses, resembled old Staffordshire ware.

Over the years, Wedgwood produced plates decorated with more than 1,500 American scenes, including more than 100 designs for U.S. colleges and universities. Souvenir plates like yours sell at antique shops for about $40 each.

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 Unites States. Prices vary because of local economic conditions.

* Betty Crocker Cookbook, "Dinner for Two," hardcover, 205 pages, 1958, $3.

* Cambridge plate, Martha Washington pattern, 7 1/2 inches, $30.

* Higbee candy dish, Bijou pattern, 1900, 7 1/4 by 5 1/4 inches, $40.

* Coca-Cola sidewalk marker, brass, 1933, 3 1/2 inches, $100.

* "I Dream of Jeannie" game, Milton Bradley, 1965, $135.

* Embroidered stocking, crewel work, 1830s, $225.

* Kelva ormolu-enameled humidor, all-over floral design, gray ground, labeled "Cigars" in gilt, 1906, 5 3/4 inches, $375.

* Golden Rule coffee grinder, viewing window, iron, wall mount, 9 by 5 inches, $440.

* Florence Knoll credenza, walnut veneered, four sliding doors, steel legs, 27 by 71 inches, $805.

* Chad Valley Pirate doll, felt body, glass eyes, painted features, costume, 20 inches, $1,210.

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