This working model of a Ferris wheel is almost two feet high and made from toothpicks. It took a bid of $660 to take it home from a Cowan auction in Ohio.

This working model of a Ferris wheel is almost two feet high and made from toothpicks. It took a bid of $660 to take it home from a Cowan auction in Ohio.

Art crafted by prisoners is prized by today’s collectors

  • By Terry and Kim Kovel
  • Tuesday, February 23, 2016 2:25pm
  • Life

There are many kinds of folk art, but some of the strangest collectibles are called “prison art,” which is art made by prisoners in prisons or jails using the very unorthodox materials that are available. In earlier centuries, when prisons often were on islands or in isolated places, inmates carved coconuts, tortoiseshells or shells found in nature.

By the 19th century, now very valuable sailing ship models were made of scraps of wood with thread or string for rigging and fabric for sails. Today, these amazing scale model ships made by captured French sailors sell for thousands of dollars each.

In the 20th century, toothpicks and matchsticks by the hundreds were carefully put together to make buildings or boxes or toys. Old cigar boxes were taken apart and the pieces were carved to make picture frames or boxes with clever geometric carvings. And the wannabe painter used a white handkerchief and a pen to draw detailed black and white pictures.

Much of this work was sold to visitors along with some of the more familiar paintings on board or canvas. The money went to the prisoner-artist to use at the prison store.

A very elaborate Ferris wheel with surrounding fair buildings was made of thousands of toothpicks and lots of patience about 1940. A ticket booth and entries to the fair are covered with paper printed like bricks. There are 12 chairs with red cellophane seats on the wheel, and a flat wooden base and border with fence posts. But most amazing is that the chairs swing while the Ferris wheel turns. And it is almost all made from toothpicks.

The construction is covered by a Plexiglas case with a label explaining that the art was made by an Ohio State Prison inmate between 1940 and 1950. It sold at an Ohio auction for $660 at the end of 2015.

Q: I have a table marked “Kiel Furniture Co., Milwaukee, Wis., Guaranteed Quality.” The top needs to be refinished. Can you tell me when it was made and if it’s worth refnishing?

A: Kiel Manufacturing Company was started in 1892 by a group of 36 men and one woman to provide jobs for the people in the small town of Kiel, Wisconsin. The area had plenty of lumber and skilled labor. The name of the company became Kiel Furniture Company in 1907. It bought a factory in Milwaukee in 1920 and made dining-room furniture there and smaller pieces of furniture in Kiel. The factory in Milwaukee closed in 1932. The factory in Kiel became A.A. Laun Furniture Co. in 1935. The table would sell as used furniture, but the price will be lower if the top is not in good shape. A 1925 Kiel Furniture table with inlaid decoration and six legs sold for $138.

Q: Can you tell me the value of a charm bracelet with four cigarette packs on it? It has packs of Camel, Chesterfield, Lucky Strikes, and Old Gold cigarettes. The Chesterfield pack has paint loss.

A: The charms picture the four cigarette brands that were the top sellers in 1930 and were among the top five in 1940. Charm bracelets like this sell online for $50 to $130 if in good condition. Each cigarette pack charm has cigarettes that move up and down in the pack. Your bracelet with paint loss would not be worth very much, less than $75.

Q: I have an old cast-iron pencil sharpener marked “Guhl &Harbeck, Hamberg, Germany, U.S.P.” What is it worth?

A: Guhl &Harbeck was founded by Heinrich Guhl and Christian Harbeck in Hamberg, Germany, in 1867. After Harbeck died in 1899, Guhl ran the business. Members of Guhl’s family operated the company until it closed in 1970. Guhl &Harbeck started out making sewing machines and later expanded into typewriters and other office equipment. The company patented its Jupiter pencil sharpener in 1897. It sold for $10, expensive for that era. Several Jupiter model pencil sharpeners were made and many sold in the United States. Value depends on age and condition. An early pencil sharpener in good to excellent condition might be sold for about $275.

Q: I have a stoneware jug that was passed down to me from my grandmother. It’s 14 inches high and is decorated with a blue flower in a pot and the name “Somerset Potters Works” and the No. 2. The jug has a handle and its original cork. It’s larger at the top than at the bottom. I’m downsizing and would like to sell it. What is a good price for both the buyer and me?

A: There were several potteries in Somerset, Massachusetts during the early 1800s. Somerset Potters Works, also known as L.&B.G. Chase Pottery, was in business in Somerset, Massachusetts, from 1847 to 1882. Brothers Leonard and Benjamin G. Chase started making stoneware about 1838 Somerset Potters Works was incorporated in 1847 with Leonard Chase listed as agent. Crocks, jars, bean pots, bowls and other stoneware items were made. The pottery was reorganized in 1882 and a new line of pottery was made. Stoneware jugs made by Somerset Potters Works sell at auction for about $200 to $250.

Tip: Gemstones are colder to the touch than glass. Colored gems like emeralds, rubies, and sapphires should not appear scratched. If there are scratches, the “stone” probably is colored glass.

Write to Terry Kovel and Kim Kovel at Kovels, The Herald, King Features Syndicate, 300 W. 57th St., New York, NY 10019.

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.

Egg basket, splint, woven, painted, stamped, round bentwood wrapped rim, handle, 1856, 6 ¼ x 6 inches, $60.

Candelabrum, 4-light, Aesthetic, cast, chain swags, red marble base, c. 1890, 19 ½ inches, pair, $270.

Advertising, firecrackers, Kent, cherry flash, salutes, marshmallow-shaped, box, 1946, 3 x 4 inches, $330.

Orrefors, vase, fish, green tint, aquatic plant life, graal-blown twice technique, etched, Edward Hald, c. 1950, 5 inches, $380.

Clothing, dress, beads, sequined rose appliques, cut strip hemline, silk, lime green, 1930s, 59 inches, $495.

Clock, Seth Thomas, tower course, Bakelite, metal frame, window, c. 1942, 8 ½ x 12 inches, $615.

Sterling-silver toast rack, William IV, footed, leaves, loop top handle, 1836, 5 x 7 inches, $675.

Rookwood, vase, blue, yellow wreath, red morning glories, leaves, matte glaze, Sallie Coyne, 1924, 9 ¾ x 6 inches, $765.

Toy, man wearing kilt, riding scooter, tin litho, disc wheels, windup, Germany, c. 1922, 7 inches, $1,300.

Furniture, lounge chair, Finn Juhl, teak, brass, upholstery, France &Sons, 1950s, 29 x 27 inches, pair, $5,940.

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