Antique napkin rings are used today as part of the new “green” movement. The cloth napkin used at dinner, if almost clean, can be carefully folded, rolled up and saved in the napkin ring. It saves soap, water and the energy needed to launder it after each meal.
The idea is not new. It probably started in 19th-century France. Plain wood, porcelain or metal rings were used in the 1800s, but the figural napkin ring was the height of fashion from 1869 to about 1900. At first, porcelain rings were decorated with colored glazes or the silver was engraved with a name or design. But technology made it possible to plate a pewter-like metal and make an inexpensive napkin ring that looked like expensive sterling silver examples.
Today, it is the silver-plated figural ring that attracts the collector and the high prices. Hundreds of designs were made silver-plate manufacturers in America. They are like small sculptures. Realistic figures of people, animals, birds, plants or mythological and literary characters often in scenes with familiar objects held the rings. Kate Greenaway-type boys and girls are among the favorites. Sometimes a horse or donkey was designed to pull the napkin ring in a cart. Some figural rings also included a bud vase to hold flowers or even a bell to ring for a servant.
A recent auction featured a Kate Greenaway-type boy sitting in a chair and reading a book. To add to the value, there also was a girl standing behind the chair. And another price plus was a maker’s mark for Simpson, Hall, Miller &Co. It was no surprise when the auction price was $889. Be careful if you want to buy figural rings. Many copies have been made in recent years.
Q: I have five figurines that are at least 50 years old and have paper labels that read “Josef Original California.” Do they have any value or are they just plaster?
A: Josef Originals was started by Muriel Joseph Georges, who began designing and making ceramic figurines in the basement of her home in California in 1945. When Muriel ordered labels for her figurines they came back with “Joseph” misspelled as “Josef,” and that became part of the company name. Production moved to Japan in 1962. The company was sold in 1982. The new owner continued to make Josef Originals figurines designed by Muriel until 1985, when the company was sold again. The figurines are no longer being made. Those made in California are worth more that the later ones made in Japan. The value of your figurines: $15 to $55.
Q: I found some old tin toys in my grandmother’s attic. There is a trolley that reads “City Passenger Car” on the side. It’s pulled by two tin horses that need some repair. I always asked to see it when I was a child, and “see” was all that was allowed! Are these worth anything?
A: Old tin toys sell for high prices. A horse-drawn City Passenger Car trolley attributed to Hull and Stafford, a Connecticut company in business from the 1860s to the 1880s, sold at auction recently for over $3,000. Your trolley will be worth less because it needs repair, but can still sell for several hundred dollars or more. If you plan to sell them, contact one of the major auction houses that specialize in toys or a local store that sell old toys and other antiques.
Q: I’d like to sell our Hall Type Writer. It’s in a wooden case and has this plate that reads “Manufactured for National Typewriter Co.” and serial number 8648. It doesn’t have the traditional typewriter letter keys. What is it worth?
A: You have an index typewriter. The letters are selected from the index on the front of the machine and a stylus is used to push through the hole to print the letters. The first index typewriter was invented by Thomas Hall of Brooklyn, New York, in 1881. Hall moved his company to Salem, Massachusetts, in 1887, and to Boston in 1889. Your typewriter is the Boston model, made by the National Typewriter Co. in Boston from 1889 to the 1890s. The Boston model was the last of the Hall typewriters. Hall typewriters have sold for $500 to $1,500. The oldest Hall typewriters sell for the most money.
Q: I have my grandmother’s plate marked with initials “T.V.” inside a bell and “France” underneath it. Who made it and how old is it? I want to tell my daughter the plate’s history.
A: This mark was used by Tressemanes &Vogt of Limoges, France, from 1891 to 1907. Gustave Vogt and Emilien Tressemanes started the company in 1883. It was bought by Reynaud in 1919.
Q: I have a George Zee cabinet that’s missing the metal tag on the back. Does this affect the value? What do you think it’s worth?
A: George Zee &Co. was in business in Hong Kong from the 1960s until 1997. The company used different metal tags to label its furniture. One of the tags lists the company as “Kiln Dried Art Carved Manufacturers.” The company made heavily carved teak and camphor wood furniture. Later, furniture made by other manufacturers was sold under the George Zee name. A George Zee heavily carved cocktail cabinet with lift top sold at auction for $500 a few months ago. Other cabinets have sold for only about $100. The quality and intricacy of the carving affect the price but an original metal name tag would give extra provenance and add to value.
Tip: Think about the signature on glass. Acid etched marks can be added. So can signatures. Be sure the mark seems appropriate.
Write to Terry Kovel and Kim Kovel at Kovels, The Herald, King Features Syndicate, 300 W. 57th St., New York, NY 10019.
Current prices are recorded from antiques shows, flea markets, sales and auctions throughout the United States. Prices vary in different locations because of local economic conditions.
Basket, Quinault Indian, basket, coiled, red and green design, flared bottom, c. 1950, 11 inches, $70.
Riviera pottery, butter, cover, cobalt blue, 1/2 lb., $130.
Beatles, bracelet, celluloid portraits, metal, c. 1965, 6 inches, $140.
Furniture, cradle, Chippendale, oak, hooded, raised panels, finial post, c. 1790, 31 x 38 inches, $230.
Barometer, stick, thermometer, Georgian, burlwood, silver dial, narrow throat, Scotland, 1800s, 36 inches, $590.
Stoneware churn, white glaze, cobalt-blue banding, Globe Pottery, Crooksville, Ohio, 1902, 20 inches, $960.
Advertising sign, Red Crown Gas, center crown, porcelain, paddle shape, 2-sided, 14 x 17 inches, $1,140.
Silver tea kettle, stand, sterling, repousse scroll, flowers, bird mask spout, 1855, 17 inches, $2,204.
Bohemian glass vase, slender trumpet shape, ruby color, scroll, scallop foot, c. 1900, 22 inches, pair, $4,750.
Shirley Temple costume, Captain January, sailor pants, middy blouse, anchor, eagle, zipper, black tie, white poplin, 1936, $9,520.