Think before purchasing impractical antiques

  • By Ralph and Terry Kovel Antiques & Collectibles
  • Wednesday, April 23, 2008 4:15pm
  • Life

Most of us buy antiques we can live with — comfortable chairs, dishwasher-safe dishes, desks that can be used with a computer and vases for flowers.

But great wealth allows collectors to buy antiques to look at, not to use. They can afford the high prices and the hidden costs of insurance, huge rooms, security systems and loss of interest on the money that was spent on a work of art.

We know a collector who bought a Jackson Pollock painting for more than $10 million.

The required yearly expense to look at that picture in his dining room was $50,000 (interest lost by spending the money); plus the cost of fine-art insurance, about $20,000; and the added expense of security. Total cost per year to own the painting: more than $70,000.

A much-less-expensive but still pricey antique, a Meissen porcelain-mounted desk, auctioned recently for $54,500. It is an expensive and impractical, yet rare and beautiful, antique.

Once taken home, it will cost $2,750 in lost interest on the money, plus about $150 for insurance and more for security. Total: more than $2,900 per year. The writing bureau (desk) is covered with hand-painted Meissen porcelain plaques surrounded by dore bronze mounts.

Showpiece furniture was not made for the general public, but was popular with the aristocracy. This desk was made about 1878, perhaps for an important international exhibition. It is said the surest sign of wealth is a massive flower arrangement. It is expensive, lasts a few days, then is gone. It gives joy while it lasts, but is not an investment like a diamond ring.

Will your collectible earn its keep by giving you joy, or will it go up in value and make money?

I have a toy monkey that has a red disk on its chest that says “Schuco Tricky” on the front and “Made in US Zone Germany” on the back. The monkey’s head moves when the tail is moved. It’s approximately 15 inches tall. Value?

Schuco made the Tricky Monkey in the 1950s. Heinrich Muller and Heinrich Schreyer started the toy company in Nuremberg, Germany, in 1912 under the name Schreyer &Co. The company’s name was shortened to Schuco in the early 1920s. Schuco began making “Yes/No” toys in 1921. After World War II, “Yes/No” toys were called “Tricky” toys. Toys marked “Made in US Zone” were made from 1945 to about 1949. Schuco became part of the Simba Dickie Group in 1999 and now makes toy cars. Tricky Monkey’s worth about $150.

My father was a career U.S. Navy man. He enlisted in 1910 and served until 1945. Before and during World War I, he collected more than 100 photo postcards of shipboard life. They include pictures of the crew at work, a costume party crossing the equator and scenes with ice and waves. The postcards were issued by an organization called the American Recreation Association. Each one has “ARA” printed in the lower left corner of the photo side. The cards are in excellent condition. I can’t find any information about the ARA or the value of the postcards.

The American Recreation Association was a charitable organization sanctioned by the military during World War I, but it did not have offices on military bases. It’s likely the ARA gave the photo postcards to troops when their ships brought them back to port. ARA postcards carry photos of ships or life at sea. They are not common, so take care of your collection. Store the cards in archival boxes and don’t expose them to too much light. We have seen single ARA postcards sell for $10. A collection as large as yours would sell for a premium to a collector of military postcards.

What is an aurora borealis rhinestone? I have an old pin I was told is set with those stones.

The aurora borealis, or AB, rhinestone was first made in 1956 by the famous Swarovski company for Christian Dior. A rhinestone made of leaded glass was coated with thin bits of metal, then put in a vacuum and steamed. It left a permanent finish that looked like rainbows — a pinkish iridescence. You can date your pin by the stones. If it is a true AB rhinestone, it was made after 1956. Another method was used earlier, but the color was made with a coating on the back of the stone and can be scratched off.

I picked up a Welch’s Howdy Doody jelly glass set at an estate sale. It has a 1953 copyright on it, but someone told me the glasses were made in the 1990s. Is that true?

While it’s possible someone has reproduced old Howdy Doody glasses, we haven’t heard about it. Welch’s packaged jelly in Howdy Doody glasses only in the early 1950s. There were two different sets of Welch’s glasses, each set with six glasses. Your set, with the 1953 copyright date, features glasses with musical notes and lyrics around the rim and some of the TV show’s characters on the body. One glass in excellent condition sells today for about $25.

Write to Kovels, The Herald, King Features Syndicate, 888 Seventh Ave., New York, NY 10019.

&Copy; 2008 by Cowles Syndicate Inc.

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.

Hawaiian Punch wristwatch, Punchy on dial, Swiss parts, Hong Kong dial, original box, 1970s, 9-inch band, $230.

Elsie the Cow lamp, figural, vinyl, head of smiling Elsie, eyelashes, daisy necklace, original cord, 1950s, 9 1/2 inches, $275.

1939 New York World’s Fair juicer, white ground with U.S. Steel Building on both sides, 4 3/4 x 7 inches, $315.

Ringling Bros. &Barnum &Bailey Circus poster, with Col. Tim McCoy, linen, “Circus” spelled out on the backs of six Ringling clowns, 1937, 36 x 41 inches, $445.

“Barbie’s Own Sports Car,” convertible, pink body with powder-blue interior, vinyl, Irwin Corp., Mattel, 1963, 17 1/2 inches, $465.

Pate-sur-pate vase, ovoid, dark-olive ground, medallion with classical figure of nymph on rock, cherub holding net, woodland setting, 1890, 6 1/4 inches, $1,950.

Stoneware jar, wide mouth, oval, coggled band around neck, open loop handle, cobalt-blue sponge decoration, impressed “Liberty Forever, N. Jersey,” c. 1805, 9 inches, $2,115.

Chippendale-style desk with bookcase, mahogany, carved and pierced pediment, fitted interior, leather writing surface, ogee bracket feet, 1940s, 91 x 38 x 23 inches, $3,055.

Glass inkwell, spinach-green jade, foo dog heads with loose rings on each side, sterling-silver base, impressed “Edward Farmer, New York,” 4 3/4 inches, $6,325.

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