Halloween became a popular holiday in the United States in the 1880s. It may have been introduced by Scottish immigrants about 20 years earlier. Some of the first Halloween decorations included thistles and plaids. Victorian Halloween parties used decorations--such as pumpkins and cornstalks--found in the fall.
By the early 1900s, special paper decorations were being imported from Germany or made in the United States by companies like Dennison of Framingham, Mass., or Beistel of Shippensburg, Pa. Today, collectors like anything with a Halloween theme: old costumes, decorations, games, candy containers, jack-o'-lanterns, toys, noisemakers, even trick-or-treat bags.
The design helps to date a piece, but so do the markings. Early pieces were marked "Germany." About 1918, pieces were marked "made in" with the country name (usually Japan or Germany). "Made in U.S. Zone Germany" (1945-1949) or "Western Zone Germany" (1949-1990) or "Made in Occupied Japan" (1945 to 1952) are other marks that were used after World War II. A ZIP Code was added to U.S. addresses after 1963. Many Halloween decorations were made in Hong Kong in the 1970s, then in Taiwan or China in the 1980s. Plastic decorations were first used in the 1940s.
Question: When I turned 13 in 1961, I received two cute ceramic figurines as birthday gifts. One is a girl holding a plate and dish towel. The other is a girl holding a spatula and a frying pan.
I have kept the figurines all these years and just recently checked them for marks. They both say "Josef Originals" on the bottom. Are you familiar with this company?
Answer: In 1946, Muriel Joseph and her husband, Tom George, started making pottery figurines. They worked first in their garage and later in a rented building in Arcadia. Muriel modeled the clay, and Tom used her models to make molds. The printer who made the labels for their first commercial figurine misspelled Muriel's maiden name "Josef."
Rather than correct the spelling later, the couple stuck with the company name, "Josef Originals." Some figures were made in Japan in 1959, and by 1962 all Josef Originals were made there. The company's most popular figurines are the "Birthstone Dolls." Each doll held a flower with a simulated birthstone center.
In "Birthday Girls," another favorite series, each doll stood behind a number that indicated its age, ranging from 1 to 16. Your figurines are titled "Frying Egg" and "Drying Dishes." They are two of the six figurines in the "Housekeepers" series, which was made in Japan. Each figure is worth $25 to $35 if undamaged.
Q In the 1940s, a friend of mine gave me a Cadillac hood ornament from the early 1930s. It is in the shape of a woman leaning forward, with her face and arms up and her hair blowing backward. Can you tell me what it's worth?
A Your Cadillac hood ornament is called a "mascot," and it was used from 1930-32. It is called the "Cadillac goddess." The goddess ornament was an option available to Cadillac buyers at the time. Today, it is worth from $400 to $500. Reproductions are being made.
Q We cleaned out my father-in-law's house recently and found a wooden washboard. How long have washboards been made? Are old ones valuable?
A Rectangular washboards with a center scrubbing surface were first made in the mid-1800s. Early ones had corrugated or spool-shaped wooden rubbing surfaces. Rare ones had ridged pottery scrubbers. Later, washboards were made with glass, brass or zinc-plated metal. Old, rare washboards with glass or pottery scrubbers or that were printed with advertising slogans can sell for several hundred dollars. Common wood-and-metal washboards are worth less than $25. Washboards are still made.
Q My husband inherited an antique secretary that belonged to his great-uncle. It is quite plain, with a single drawer in the base and a pull-down, rectangular writing surface. The front of the desk compartment is flat, not slanted. The back is marked, "From Mitchell & Rammelsberg, Manufacturers of. . . , 23 & 25 E. 2nd St., Cincinnati." Can you tell us anything about the maker?
A Robert Mitchell and Frederick Rammelsberg, both European immigrants, were cabinetmakers in Cincinnati before they formed a partnership in 1846-47. The partners' factory produced a huge amount of furniture, using steam-driven machinery. Their lumberyard covered 2 acres. Rammelsberg died in 1863, but the business name stayed the same until 1880, so your desk was made sometime between 1847 and 1880. In 1881, the business name changed to the Robert Mitchell Furniture Store. Robert Mitchell died in 1899 but the company was run by the Mitchell family until 1940.
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 are recorded from antique shows, flea markets, sales and auctions throughout the United States. Prices vary in different locations because of local economic conditions.
* "Witch Doctor" record, by Alvin and the Chipmunks,
45 rpm, $15.
* Sterling silver flatware ice cream fork, Salem pattern,
by Rogers, $25.
* Hall teapot, Ronald Reagan, white, 10 1/2 inches, $75.
* Archie Halloween costume, by Ben Cooper, 1969, $90.
* Munsters lunch box, metal, King Seeley Thermos, 1965, $95.
* Bud Man advertising doll, rubber, flesh color, red outfit, Budweiser back, 1960s, 18 inches, $175.
* Sam the Strolling Skeleton toy, windup, tin, Mikuni, Japan, 1950s, 6 inches, $285.
* Royal Bayreuth creamer, red devil, full-bodied,
3 3/4 inches, $310.
* McCoy Jack-o'-Lantern cookie jar, $455.
* Staffordshire figurine, cat, seated, c. 1860, 8 inches,