Tips for estimating an unsigned vintage quilt’s true age

If you can see dark spots in the quilt when held up to a strong light or sunny window, they may be cotton seeds. Some collectors claim that this means the quilt was made before the invention of the cotton gin in 1793.

This quilt features an American flag with 36 stars, indicating that it was made about 1865. Most antique quilts are harder to date.

Quilting has long been celebrated as an American folk art, and American symbols like flags, eagles and the colors red, white and blue often appear on quilts. Some patriotic quilts have elaborate designs with multiple flags, appliques and complex patterns, sometimes incorporating commemorative banners. Others were simpler, like this quilt with a single small flag on a red and white checked background.

But simple doesn’t mean inexpensive. The quilt sold for $4,750 at a Rago auction. The flag on this quilt provides a clue to its age. There are 36 stars, indicating that it was made about 1865, the year the 36-star flag was introduced. However, the number of stars on a flag quilt isn’t always a reliable way to date it. Quilters may have altered the number because of artistic license. Notice that the flag on this quilt doesn’t have 13 stripes.

If a quilt isn’t signed and dated, its age is hard to determine, but there are some clues that can help. If you can see dark spots in the quilt when held up to a strong light or sunny window, they may be cotton seeds. Some collectors claim that this means the quilt was made before the invention of the cotton gin in 1793, but this is not necessarily true. Quilt makers in rural areas used cotton with seeds in it until the 1920s. The sewing machine was invented about 1850, but quilts were often handsewn after that. Edging or repairs may have been done by machine.

Q: I recently inherited what I think is an original Shirley Temple doll from my grandmother’s estate. What can you tell me about it?

A: In the 1930s during the Depression, toddler Shirley Temple was credited with keeping spirits up and movie theaters afloat. Dolls made in her image were also popular. They were first licensed and made by Ideal Novelty and Toy Co. of New York in 1934, and they are still popular with collectors. Early dolls were made with a mixture of glue, sawdust and other materials called “composition.” Vinyl dolls were made after 1957. Shirley Temple composition dolls from the 1930s have sold recently for about $50 to over $1,000. Price is determined by the doll’s size, costume, condition and whether it has its original tags, box and script Shirley Temple pin.

Q: I have a very rare Hubbell brass hanging five-light fixture in great condition with five signed Quezal Holly shades. It’s in perfect condition. I would like to sell it.

A: Harvey Hubbell, Connecticut inventor and industrialist, opened his first manufacturing facility in 1888. In 1896, Hubbell patented a socket for incandescent lamps. It had a simple on/off switch in the base of the light socket and was controlled by a pull chain — a design that remains popular to this day. He went on to receive another 45 patents, most of them for electrical products. Hubbell Incorporated is still in business today in Shelton, Connecticut. Quezal art glass was made from 1901 to 1924 in Queens, New York. The company was started by Martin Bach, Sr. The Quezal mark was registered in 1902. Vintage light fixtures are popular right now and sell for hundreds of dollars and up to $10,000 in some cases. Price depends on the workmanship and designer of the shades and base. You can sell your light fixture to an antiques dealer, auction house or online. Look for places that sell similar items to get the best price.

Q: I have been trying to find information on Victorian brass fireplace screens, especially with a peacock on them. I would like to know the history of the pieces.

A: The Victorian era is the period between 1837 and 1914, roughly the time of British Queen Victoria’s reign (1837-1901). Fire screens protected people from the light, glare and heat of a log fire, which could be intense for those seated close to a fireplace. The screens were made of wood (mahogany), glass or brass and could be used to display needlework or paintings. After flowers, birds are the most popular design depicted in Victorian items. Some of the best-known screens of the era were made in the image of a peacock with plumage in full display. Because of the wide variety of styles, materials and dates, prices for fireplace screens vary greatly. Peacock fireplace screens have sold at recent auctions for less than $100. Other styles have sold for $50 to $500.

TIP: Don’t turn on the porch light if you will be gone for a long time. It tells everyone that you are away. Install a photocell light that automatically turns on at dusk and off at daylight, or you can install a gas light.

Terry Kovel and Kim Kovel answer readers’ questions sent to the column. Send a letter with one question describing the size, material (glass, pottery) and what you know about the item. Include only two pictures, the object and a closeup of any marks or damage. Be sure your name and return address are included. By sending a question, you give full permission for use in any Kovel product. Names, addresses or email addresses will not be published. We do not guarantee the return of photographs, but if a stamped envelope is included, we will try. Questions that are answered will appear in Kovels Publications. Write to Kovels, (Name of this newspaper), King Features Syndicate, 628 Virginia Dr., Orlando, FL 32803 or email us at

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.

Doll, Barbie, Glinda, The Good Witch, The Wizard of Oz, pink gown with silver star sequins, Hollywood Legends Collection, Mattel, box, 1995, 10¾ inches, $40.

Jewelry, bracelet, bangle, bypass style, three sterling silver bands, large silver bead accents, marked “Sterling/Taxco/Mexico,” inside measures 6¾ inches, $125.

Fan, folding, hand-colored continuous landscape, scenes of courtship and gallantry, pierced bone sticks, silver foil, France, displayed open in conforming beaded gilt wood frame, 12¼ by 22 inches, $245.

Fireplace, pair of andirons, ship’s anchor form, brass, brushed finish, matching log stops, mid-20th century, 18 by 12 by 18 inches, $485.

Furniture, rocker, child’s, mission style, oak, leather seat, “Gustav Stickley Craftsman” on paper label, circa 1910-1920, 25 by 17¾ inches, $575.

Kitchen, pie crimper, carved whale ivory, abalone, silver inlay, crimped six-spoke wheel, swollen and notched handle with hinged three-prong fork, inlaid cube knob, circa 1870, 6 inches, $615.

Steuben martini glasses, set of six, clear glass, cone shape top over weighted inverted cone shape bottom, modern style, early “S” mark, each 4 inches, $735.

Quilt, patchwork, squares with stylized quarter fans in each corner, white ground and backing, red fans and binding, early machine stitching, 1800s, 75 by 78 inches, $860.

Pair of Chinese export porcelain candlesticks, wraparound Canton river landscape, blue and white, rain and dark cloud bands at base, trumpet form, 1800s, 9 by 5 inches, $1,535.

Cane, walking stick, hand holding ball, whale ivory, two ebony spacers, tapered ebony shaft, horn ferrule, whaleman carved, 1800s, 34¼ inches, $2,155.

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