19th-century cabinets of curiosities tend to sell quickly

This strange cabinet was made in the 19th century to display many small, unusual items, known then as curiosities. It auctioned for $1,936. (Cowles Syndicate Inc.)

“Cabinet of curiosities” was the name of an important room in the 1600s and, years later, a “cabinet of curiosities” meant just a cabinet.

The room often had displays of skeletons, minerals, horns and plants, and some man-made fantasies like a mermaid or piece of the “True Cross.” Collections of medals, silverware, stamps, minerals and other unusual things were popular in later cabinets. The early elaborate rooms with unusual displays were a sign of social importance. The simpler cabinet suggested the owner was a scientist or researcher with less status.

A recent James Julia auction sold a Victorian bird’s eye maple specimen cabinet with carved trim, columns, cases, drawers of various sizes, locks, keys and a mirror. It had been refinished, so the 63-inch high cabinet sold for $1,936. The cabinets sell quickly, no doubt to be used by a 21st-century collector.

Q: I have a coffee service made by the Ilmenau porcelain factory. The set includes a coffeepot, sugar shell and creamer, and five cups, saucers and cake plates. I’ve never used it because of lead concerns. Are these safe to use?

A: Porcelain has been made in Ilmenau, Germany, under various names since 1777. The factory is in business now as Neue Porzellanfabrik Ilmenau G.m.b.H. It was granted a patent for its method of decorating porcelain with metallic glaze before 1897. The formula included minium, also called “red lead,” a pigment that was a form of lead tetroxide.

The Food and Drug Administration set limits on the amount of lead in dishes in 1971, then stricter limits were set in 1993. Under the guidelines, dishes may contain minimal amounts of lead and still be considered safe. Dishes made before 1971 may contain more lead than what is now considered safe. Lead can leach out if the glaze is damaged or if acidic foods are cooked, served or stored in the dish.

You can test the amount of lead in your dishes yourself by using a lead-testing kit, which is available at some hardware stores or online. Cups and hollowware pieces are considered “lead safe” if the tests show lead leaching is not more than 0.100 parts per million.

Q: I have an ashtray marked “The Hyde Park, No. 1900,” and would like to know if it was made by Roseville. I see people posting the Hyde Park ashtrays as being made by Roseville, but some say it was made in Massachusetts by the Hyde Park Co. Which is true?

A: Roseville Pottery, located in Roseville, Ohio, made these ashtrays for the Hyde Park Co. from the late 1940s until about 1954, when the pottery closed. The Hyde Park Co. sold giftware. The ashtrays have a copper-colored metal disk embossed with the initial of the intended recipient. The disks were made by DiPierro Manufacturing Co. Inc., of Shrewsbury, Massachusetts. The ashtrays came in several different shapes and colors. They usually sell online for about $15 to $20.

Q: I have a doll that I would like to know more about. It’s a boy doll, and the name “Huck” is on it. “Magge Head K” is on the back of the doll. He has painted red hair and a copyright date of 1973. Can you tell me what the head, arms and legs are made of? And can you tell me about the maker?

A: Your doll depicts Huckleberry Finn, a character from the book “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn” by Mark Twain. The “shoulder head,” lower arms and legs are made of porcelain, and the body is cloth. The doll was designed by Magge Head Kane, a Midwest U.S. doll artist who worked from the late 1950s into the 1980s. She specialized in realistic portrait dolls, and made many dolls that depict historical and storybook figures.

Kane was recuperating from an illness when she began to study ceramics and painting. She was one of the founding members of the National Institute of American Doll Artists in 1963, and gave courses in mold-making and doll-making. Her dolls often are marked “Magge Head,” but some also have her married name. Her husband, Keith Kane, became her partner and helped to reproduce her dolls and to teach their seminars.

Your doll is worth about $50 to $75. Her Ike and Mamie Eisenhower dolls (1957) sold for $1,150.

Q: How much is an old World War I helmet worth?

A: Steel helmets, sometimes called trench helmets, were developed in France in 1915 to provide protection to troops fighting in the trenches during World War I. Most soldiers wore leather or cloth hats before that. The British and Germans developed their own version of the steel helmet.

When the American Expeditionary Forces entered the war in 1917, they only had wool hats. Helmets were bought from Britain to outfit troops until the U.S. began making a version known as the M-1917 later that year. The helmets were coated with sawdust while the paint was still wet, making a harder, non-reflective surface.

There are collectors who want anything from World War I, and re-enactors who want authentic equipment. Complete World War I steel helmets in good condition sell for over $100.

Tip: Decorators say you should think in threes. Accessories on a table look best when grouped in odd numbers.

Current prices

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.

Yo-yo, tin lithograph, space shuttle, astronaut in rocket, red, yellow, blue and white, Japan, 1950s, $15.

Donald Duck bank, Donald holding coin, white porcelain with red, yellow and blue paint, 1940s, 6 1/2 inches, $60.

Corncob holders, skewers, sterling silver, corncob shape handles with spear-shaped spikes, signed, Webster, 1960s, 3 inches, set of eight, $135.

Water dropper, turquoise glaze, monkey holding a double gourd sack, molded fly, flat base, Chinese, 1800s, 6 1/2 inches, $220.

Fishing rod, wooden halibut rod with copper reel, Mathews Conveyer Co., circa 1910, 39 inches, $365.

Juggling clubs, wood, carved ring pattern, brown patina, aged black paint, slender design and knob tops, circa 1910, 16 inches, pair, $480.

Candy dish, green and gold iridescent glass, butterfly, ruffled rim, loop handles, beaded edge, Northwood, circa 1905, 2 x 8 inches, $605.

Butter churn, barrel, wood with metal bands, tapered, cast-iron hardware, wooden disc and knob crank handle, circa 1880, $850.

Poison ring, silver and gold gilt, garnet cabochon center, oval locket with clasp, rope twist and scroll design, circa 1800, size 10, $1,040.

Farm table, dining, chip carved oak, overhang top, drawer, tapered block legs and square feet, circa 1810, 29 x 70 inches, $4,000.

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