Mermaid iron sprinkler proves to be a pricey collectable

Collectors look for figurals of monkeys, frogs, ducks, alligators and even a cowboy with lasso.

Underground sprinkler systems have replaced the need for a sprinkler attached to a hose in many yards, but the antique figural mermaid sprinkler still is a popular but scarce collectible often considered folk art. It took $2,040 to buy this painted sprinkler at an auction. (Cowles Syndicate Inc.)

Underground sprinkler systems have replaced the need for a sprinkler attached to a hose in many yards, but the antique figural mermaid sprinkler still is a popular but scarce collectible often considered folk art. It took $2,040 to buy this painted sprinkler at an auction. (Cowles Syndicate Inc.)

Lawn sprinklers could not be used before the first water distribution systems were invented in the 1870s. The new ways to distribute water through underground pipes were used by public buildings, then private water tanks. Farms, public landscapes and public parks were the next to install the systems.

So by the 1880s, there was a way to use a sprinkler. At first, a plain metal piece with holes was screwed on a hose. Water sprinkled out of the holes. But by the 1890s, some clever companies started making decorative figural iron sprinklers to be used in a private yard. There were sprinklers shaped like monkeys, frogs, ducks, alligators, turtles, a two-faced man and even a mermaid.

At a recent auction a two-sided mermaid sprinkler sold for $2,040. Some experts say only about 18 different characters were used as iron sprinkler figures, although at least six companies made them. Most unusual probably is the 30-inch high cowboy who spins a lasso flinging water on the grass. It is thought that fewer than 100 were made.

If iron sprinklers are too pricey to collect, look for the colorful Bakelite examples that are not figural made the 1940s and ’50s. They often are found at garage sales.

Q: I have a desk made by Sligh Furniture Co. of Grand Rapids, Michigan. It was damaged, and I need to know the value for an insurance claim.

A: Sligh Furniture Co. worked from 1880 to 1932. It was founded by Charles Sligh, who worked the for Berkey & Gay furniture company for six years. He also started several companies in South America that furnished mahogany for his company. It claimed to be the largest manufacturer of bedroom furniture in the world. And when the Depression slowed the furniture business, he diversified into bicycles. The company closed in 1932. In 1933, a new company named Charles R. Sligh was started. This company grew, purchased other companies, changed names and, in 1968, was called Sligh Furniture Co. yet again. The name Sligh is still used as a brand of Lexington Home Brands furniture in High Point, North Carolina. We can’t tell the age or condition of your desk from a picture. An insurance claim usually needs a report from a qualified appraiser who uses a special legal form explaining how the price was determined after examining the condition.

Q: What kind of dishes would my ancestors have used? Pewter? Wood? Porcelain?

A: Dishes used for dinner were made of wood before the 16th century. Then thick ceramics like stoneware was used. It was easier to clean. The Chinese were making thin porcelain dishes from the first century to the 21st century, and thick pewter plates and pottery dishes were popular in the United States by the 1700s. It also was possible for the rich to order Chinese export porcelain that was delivered by ship in about a year. By the 19th century, all these wares were being made in Europe, China and the United States.

In 1945, plastic dishes were sold in a few department stores, although they had been tested by the armed forces since 1940. But by 1948 plastic dishes were often considered the “best” dishes and were used for company. At least 20 companies were making plastic dinnerware. Best were the sets made of Beetle or Melamine plastic by companies like Brookpark or Boontonware. Cheap copies were made, popularity went down, and by the 1960s, plastic dishes were suitable for picnics — not major entertaining.

Q: I have two ship’s lanterns that appear to be copper and brass. One has green glass and one has red glass. They are 18 inches high and have a rounded handle, and still have the oil burners inside. The green one has a label shaped like a crown and reads, “By appointment to the Admiralty and Board of Trade, Nunn Patent Trade Mark, Army & Navy, Lamp Signal & Binnacle Works, London Docks.” The red one has an oval label that reads, “Griffiths and Browett, Brimingham.” Can you tell me anything about them and their possible worth?

A: Ships use red and green lanterns to indicate “port” (left) and “starboard” (right) sides of the ship to prevent collisions when passing other ships. Ships traveling toward each other always pass on the port side. W. Nunn was appointed lamp manufacturer to the Admiralty and Board of Trade. He patented a convertible lamp, which combined port, starboard, masthead and anchor lights about 1863. Griffiths & Browett were iron and tinplate workers, in business from the 1860s until the early 1900s. They were contractors to the British Admiralty and War Departments in 1903 and made brass and copper goods. Your pair is really two single lanterns “married” to make a pair. The lanterns were made by two different companies. A single ship’s lantern sells for $150 to $300.

Tip: Antique clocks should be level both back to front and side to side to keep correct time.

Terry Kovel and Kim Kovel answer questions sent to the column. By sending a letter with a question and a picture, you give full permission for use in the column or any other Kovel forum. Names, addresses or email addresses will not be published. We cannot guarantee the return of photographs, but if a stamped envelope is included, we will try. The amount of mail makes personal answers or appraisals impossible. Write to Kovels, The Daily Herald, King Features Syndicate, 628 Virginia Drive, Orlando, FL 32803.

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.

Bed warmer, brass, punched decoration, turned wooden handle, green paint, 1800s, 45 inches, $40.

Bowl, black, inlay, schooling fish, three fish-shaped feet, porcelain, 2 1/2 by 6 3/4 inches, $300.

Telephone, S.H. Crouch, candlestick shape, intercom, auto dial, brass case, Bakelite horn, circa 1915, $330.

Phonograph, Gapford, model E, soundbox, chromed tone-arm, tapering case, tinplate panels, 1925, $345.

Hanging Lamp, pink opalescent hobnail dome shape shade, scrolls, flowers, Charles Parker Co., 46 by 6 3/4 inches, $935.

Carousel cat, leaping, blue and red saddle blanket, tail up, wood, glass eyes, 41 x 43 inches, $1,000.

Daum sculpture, Electre, woman wrapped in green wave, pate-de-verre, Olivier Brice, 15 inches, $1,190.

Orient & Flume vase, rainbow iridescent, wide shoulders, 9 by 8 inches, $1,700.

Tea and coffee set, tea pot, coffee pot, sugar and creamer, lobes, ebonized handle, silver, Italy, 1965, four pieces, $3,250.

Side table, Paul Frankl, Skyscraper, enamel, silvered wood, chromed metal, silvered glass, 23 1/2 by 14 1/2 inches, $4,060.

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