Umbrellas were invented over 4,000 years ago in China. They were used for protection from sun, not rain. Umbrellas became fashionable in the 16th century, when women made use of umbrellas for sun and sometimes for rain. There were few waterproof coverings, and the hoodie wasn’t created until the 20th century.
Umbrellas were hard to store, but they were useful and needed. Large Victorian houses had an entrance hall and a new piece of furniture, the hall tree, was created. It was a tall mirror with a decorative frame with hooks to hold coats, hats, boots and wet or dry umbrellas.
Designers made vases, wire cages and other imaginative holders, shaped like people, animals, tree stumps and more, to store umbrellas. Most were made of iron or ceramics. The most elaborate wooden stands included carved bears, while those made of cast iron were often statues of famous royalty, military men or representations of nature.
Eldred’s Auctions sold an unusual umbrella stand recently. It was cast iron, a platform topped by two griffins holding a higher platform with anchors and a 4-foot-high statue of a man in military uniform. He had a folded jacket sleeve in place of his right arm, shoulder epaulets, medals and a tricorne hat suggesting a high-ranking naval hero.
Horatio Lord Nelson, a famous British admiral, lost his right arm as well as an eye from combat injuries, but still led the English navy to defeat Napoleon’s navy and change history. Nelson died in 1805. Although he was married, he had a scandalous affair with Lady Hamilton, who was also married. It was well-known and is mentioned in many history books as one of the great romances.
This Victorian painted iron umbrella holder depicting Admiral Nelson sold for $600. The white bar keeps the umbrella upright near the admiral.
Q: I’d like to know what an octagonal plate with a map of the Panama Canal in the center is worth. The map is surrounded by a circle with faces of the presidents of the United States from George Washington to Woodrow Wilson. It says “Old Glory” above the circle. There is advertising on the back of the plate. It has a little crack.
A: This plate commemorates the completion of the Panama Canal. Work was started in 1904 and the canal was officially opened Aug. 15, 1914, during Woodrow Wilson’s presidency. Variations of this plate were made by several manufacturers in different shapes and with different designs, though most included the map. Some include the year 1915, which was the year the Panama-Pacific International Exposition was held in San Francisco to celebrate the completion of the canal. The plates were often made as advertisements for a store. If you can read the mark and advertising on the back of your plate, you can find out more of its history. The plates sell for about $10 to $20, but one with a crack is almost worthless.
Q: I’d like some information about my Robert E. Lee spoon. The handle has a full-length figure of Gen. Lee standing on a pedestal, holding his sword beside him. The bowl has “Old Blandford Church, Petersburg, Va.” in raised letters and is etched with a picture of the building. The back of the spoon says “CSA” and “sterling.” The back of the bowl is monogramed with script initials.
A: Silver souvenir spoons commemorating historical events or important places were first made about 1889. Spoons commemorating people and events in the Civil War were popular until the early 1900s. Robert E. Lee spoons were made with many different scenes in the bowls. Old Blandford Church was used as a Confederate hospital during the war. Those with enamel decoration or commemorating a major event sell for more. A Robert E. Lee spoon picturing the Battle of Gettysburg sold recently for $168. A sterling silver spoon is worth its “melt down” value, or more if it has historic importance. Most sell from $20 to $45.
Q: Is there any value to a “McGuffey’s Sixth Eclectic Reader,” copyright 1879?
A: William Holmes McGuffey (1800-1873), a professor at Miami University in Oxford, Ohio, was the author of McGuffey’s Eclectic Readers. The first four readers and a primary were published by Truman and Smith, a small publishing company in Cincinnati in 1836 and 1837. McGuffey’s brother, Alexander, compiled the Fifth and Sixth Readers in the 1840s. McGuffey Readers were revised and re-copyrighted in 1879, 1901 and 1920. First editions of books sometimes sell for high prices. Your book is one of the revisions, not the first edition, and sells online for $10 to $20 depending on condition.
Q: What is a firkin? I keep seeing them listed in antiques auctions.
A: A firkin is a cask for ale or beer. It held a quarter of an imperial barrel of beer, a little more than a quarter of a U.S. barrel. Firkins were originally made of wooden staves held together by iron hoops. Modern breweries use stainless steel or aluminum containers. The firkins in antiques sales are probably made of wood and more than 100 years old.
Tip: Is it cut or pressed glass? Feel the edges of the design on the glass. Cut glass has sharp edges; pressed-glass designs are molded into the glass.
On the block
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.
Decoy, duck, wood, carved, old mottled dark paint, lead weight, Cleve Dabler, Barnegat Bay, N.J., circa 1935, 7 by 17½ inches, $65.
Jewelry, necklace, pendant, rhinestones, shades of blue, oval center stone, smaller stones surround, silver link chain, Schreiner, circa 1960, pendant, 2 inches, $280.
Bank, Devil with 2 Faces, cast iron, black paint, A.C. Williams, circa 1906, 4½ by 3¼ inches, $315.
Advertising clock, Ringling Bros. Circus, Next Free Show, paint on board, stylized sun, rainbow band, white arrow hands, 1960s, 24 by 24 inches, $500.
Cut glass punch bowl, Champion pattern by J. Hoare, notched & scalloped rim, full cut skirted base, American Brilliant Period, 12 by 12 inches, $805.
Furniture, table, tavern, William & Mary, cherry, ash, oak, inlaid compass star, oval, turned legs, New York, 20 by 38 by 28 inches, $960.
Moorcroft pottery vase, Leaves & Berries, shaded yellow, red and orange, burgundy ground, bulbous, tapered neck, flared rim, signed, 10 inches, $1,000.
Baseball card, Joe Tinker, hands on knees, Cubs jersey, Piedmont, T206, 1909-1911, $1,260.
Toy, locomotive, whistler, tin, black and red paint, openwork wheels, bell, clockwork mechanism, Ives, 8½ by 10 inches, $1,845.
Doll, French Fashion, bisque swivel head, brunette mohair curls, jointed wood body, wool walking suit, boots, 15½ inches, $3,000.