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Phonographs Were Furniture Too

April 21, 2001|RALPH and TERRY KOVEL | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Phonographs became popular household items in the early 1900s. A large, clunky wooden box topped by a metal or wooden horn was the most popular shape for the new music-making machines. The phonograph had to hold a record that was shaped like a disc or a cylinder. It had to be open so that the record could turn. The horn amplified the music.

The strange-looking device was tolerated because the idea of music on demand was so appealing. A few of the early designers tried to hide the phonograph mechanism by making it resemble a piece of furniture.

One phonograph, made about 1910, was a forerunner of the jukebox. Twelve cylinders were kept inside the top of a round table in a restaurant. A coin was inserted, and one could select a song. The music played and could be heard through a small earphone on a flexible tube. A small, portable phonograph was housed in a box shaped like a stack of books. Another was put inside a box topped by a statue of Buddha.

The most unusual were the Lampaphone and Phonolamp. They were popular around 1920. One was a table lamp, the other a floor lamp. Each had electric light bulbs and a phonograph hidden beneath large, fringed parchment shades. One of these oddities is now worth about $4,000.

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Question: My vase has a glossy green glaze and raised designs that seem to be lions. The bottom is marked "University of North Dakota, Made at School of Mines, N.D. Clay, Grand Forks N.D." Do you know about this pottery?

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Answer: The University of North Dakota's School of Mines was established in 1898. The school was interested in the mineral resources of North Dakota and wanted to promote the use of North Dakota clays. The first clay pieces made at the university were done in 1904. By 1910, there was a ceramics department.

Local clays and designs were used. The school stopped using North Dakota clay in 1963, and the mark used on your piece was discontinued.

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Q: My daughter paid $30 for a quilt she bought at a house sale. The owners of the house said they found the quilt stored in an attic. The quilt is made of small circles of fabric gathered by a thread around the edge of the circle. The process of gathering the thread doubles the fabric. The edges of the doubled circles are stitched together to form a quilt that is large enough to cover a queen-size bed.

We are displaying it on a quilt rack right now. Some of the circles are loose. Should we get it repaired?

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A: Your daughter bought a "yo-yo" quilt. It is also called a "powder-puff" quilt or a "shower-cap" quilt. It's really a coverlet or spread, not a quilt. It is only one layer and was not made with batting or backing.

The yo-yo design was especially popular during the 1920s and '30s. You can repair it, but we have two suggestions: Don't display it on a quilt rack, because the single layer of fabric can be pulled by its weight, and more threads will come loose. And have the repairs done by a professional. The correct needle and thread are critical.

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Q: My pressed-glass-covered dish has a raised scene of a log cabin, a buffalo and two deer. The cover has a finial shaped like a kneeling Indian. When was it made?

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A: You have a piece of Westward Ho patterned glass, first made by Gillinder and Co. in the 1870s. It is popular but has been reproduced in the last 40 years.

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Q: Among my family's papers is a deed for a quarter-section of land that my great-grandfather homesteaded in Arkansas in 1876. The deed is signed by Ulysses S. Grant, the president at the time. Is this deed valuable?

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A: Thousands of quarter-sections of U.S. land were homesteaded after Congress passed the Homestead Act in 1862. After a homesteader filed a claim and "proved up" the land by living on it for the required length of time, the U.S. government issued a deed to the homesteader.

Look carefully at the handwritten signatures on the bottom. These deeds are generally signed by a "secretary," who also signed the president's name. Without a genuine Grant signature, your deed is not worth more than a few dollars.

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Q: My grandmother left me a large brooch. It is unlike any that I've seen. Under the crystal cover is a design showing a bird perched on a branch above a lake. Part of the design appears to be painted. The bright-blue bird and the lake look like they are made of feathers. Are you familiar with this type of jewelry? It must be about 75 years old.

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A: During the 1920s and '30s, jewelry made from the brilliant blue wings of the South American Morpho butterfly was especially popular in England. It sounds as though you have a brooch with a reverse-painted design (the design was painted on the inside of the glass) that's highlighted with blue butterfly wings. Butterfly jewelry has always been popular with collectors, but it is not high-priced. Your brooch would sell for less than $50.

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.

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