Why not collect food-storage antiques? Food had to be specially prepared to last during the centuries before ice boxes and refrigerators. Long hours were spent smoking, pickling, drying and canning foods. Fresh fruits and vegetables were available only in season.
Ice boxes were used in the 19th and 20th centuries. A block of ice was cut from a frozen lake then wrapped and stored in a special zinc-lined box. It melted as it cooled, and the housewife had to empty the pan of melted ice water at least once a day. The first electric refrigerator was made in 1911, and by 1923, Frigidaire was selling a home refrigerator. Early refrigerators used Freon in the cooling process, but to keep the planet green, the chemical was outlawed in the 1990s.
The refrigerator-freezer combination we use today was first sold in 1939. But spices still are used to store, flavor, and preserve food. Grocery stores of the 1890s sold spices from a large container or later, the small-sized tins sometimes used today. A spice display was an important part of the store.
A 36-inch-tall Pagoda shaped spice bin with original paint sold at a Showtime auction in 2015. It was a six-sided tower that held ginger, cinnamon, mustard, cloves, allspice and pepper. The revolving tower had ornate lithographed labels on the tin sections. The rare antique sold for $3,300. If that is too big, look for the small (2- to 3-inch) tins that used to hold spices. The best have unusual graphics. Prices range from $5 to $25. They are still found at house sales, flea markets and online, but rarely at auctions because they are so inexpensive.
Q: I have a piece of pottery marked “Anna Van, Colo. Spgs.” When was it made?
A: This mark was used by Van Briggle Pottery of Colorado Springs, Colo., from 1954 to 1968. Van Briggle bought Dryden Pottery in Ellsworth, Kan., in 1954 and the mark was first used on pottery made by Dryden and sold by Van Briggle. In 1956, the molds, clay and glazes were moved to Van Briggle’s site in Colorado Springs, where production of pottery marked “Anna Van” continued until 1968. Van Briggle pottery closed in 2012.
Q: I have a round bowl that makes a bell-like ping when tapped on the side. I bought it at a sale at a retirement community in 2005. It’s yellow outside, white inside and has raised white flowers. The top is wavy and folded in. There is a mark that looks like “G Henn.” It looks like an unmarked cameo-glass cherry-blossom bowl by Thomas Webb. If it is, what is its value?
A: First of all, your bowl is called a rose bowl. And it is not glass; it’s pottery, decorated with a cameo-style design. Henn Workshops was a family business in Warren, Ohio. It was started by Gerald Henn in the early 1980s, when “American country” decorating was becoming popular. Henn was a direct-selling business that sold woodenware, handcrafted baskets, home accessories, bakeware, dinnerware and serving pieces. Eventually the company started making its own products. It’s best known for modern reproduction spongeware. In the mid-1990s, the company moved operations to New Waterford, Ohio. It went out of business in 2009. The factory that housed Henn’s pottery now makes coffee mugs with green signature logos for Starbucks and other collector mugs.
Q: I found a Charlie McCarthy knife handle in things after my mother died. The blade is missing. Is the handle worth anything by itself?
A: Charlie McCarthy was a ventriloquist’s dummy used by Edgar Bergen from the 1930s to the 1970s. They appeared on stage, radio, movies and TV. Four pieces of flatware were offered as premiums in 1939 by Chase &Sanborn Coffee Co., the sponsor of a radio program starring Charlie McCarthy and Edgar Bergen. The set included a knife with Charlie wearing a cowboy hat, a fork with Charlie wearing a top hat, and a two spoons. One spoon has a finial with Charlie wearing a top hat and the other has Charlie wearing a detective’s hat. The pieces usually sell for under $10 apiece, but the knife handle alone probably is worthless.
Q: I bought seven ceramic 7 1⁄2-inch plates at an estate sale. They’re decorated with a big yellow sun with a smiling face and orange rays. The backs of the plates are marked “Vera for Mikasa, happy sun FC 041, oven to table to dishwasher, made in Japan.” I have a collection of Vera scarves but didn’t know she designed tableware. What can you tell me about them?
A: Vera Neumann (1907-1993) was a textile designer who started her own business in 1946. Her first designs were done at her kitchen table and produced on Army surplus silk. The Vera Company was sold after she died. In 2005, Susan Seid bought the assets and contracted with other companies to make products using some of Vera’s designs. Happy Sun is the name of the pattern of your plates made in Japan by Mikasa, an American company. Seid sold the business in 2013. The plates sell for a few dollars each. Vera’s original design drawings and works of art are now being sold in a gallery.
Tip: Don’t use old home-canning jars to preserve food. The jars with wire bails, glass caps, zinc porcelain-lined caps or metal caps with rubber rings do not seal as well as the new two-piece vacuum-cap jars.
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.
Elvis Presley record, All shook up, RCA, 45 RPM, 1957, $10
Folk-art birdhouse, wood, steep pitched roof, two windows and door, 21 x 21 inches, $60.
Toy sand pail, kids playing on beach, tin lithograph, Ohio Art Co., c. 1930, 6 1/2 inches, $380.
Stein, man on bicycle, majolica, enamel, transfer pattern, pewter lid, Rudolph Ditmar, 1/2 liter, $390.
Political embroidery, spread wing eagle, American flag and shield, c. 1900, 20 x 16 inches, $420.
Tricycle, figural horse, leather saddle, wood &metal spokes, 1890s, 22 x 35 inches, $480.
Wigwam Oats box, cardboard, Indian village, multicolor, 9 1/2 x 5 1/2 inches, $775.
Barometer, thermometer, Eiffel Tower, metal fretwork, France, 21 inches, $940.
Lalique figurine, Chrysis, nude woman, kneeling and leaning backward, round base, c. 1931, 5 inches, $2,000.
Bench, softwood, red ocher paint, beaded crest, open back rest, 1800s, 33 x 72 inches, $3,775.