Trick with magic items is knowing their worth

  • Wednesday, January 16, 2008 6:41pm
  • Life

Last year a poster titled “Houdini, Europe: Eclipsing Sensation,” showing Harry Houdini in hand restraints, sold for a record $78,000. It was one of many magic items recently bought by collectors.

There is renewed interested in anything related to a magician or a magic show, including trick locks, cards, handcuffs, scarves, top hats, photographs of magicians, books about magic and larger props like the box used when sawing a woman in half.

A rare magic item is the magician’s table. It is built with hidden compartments, sliding shelves, boxes and other special devices that help with the tricks.

Red Baron’s Antiques auctioned a unique magician’s table this past fall. The front is red and decorated with a rabbit in a hat and playing cards. It’s a conversation piece that sold to a collector or perhaps to an amateur magician.

If you ever find some old magic tricks or props, especially any that were used by a known magician, take the time to research the value. It is determined by the fame of the owner and the rarity of the piece. Long ago we were offered a magician’s desk that would tumble into a pile of wood when the proper knob was turned. We lived in an apartment and needed storage space, not an ornament. We still regret not buying it.

I own an embossed picture of a little boy wearing a big hat and holding a bag of golf clubs. The picture is 8 by 10 inches and is titled “Mother’s Caddie.” To the right of the boy’s feet are the words, “copyright 1905 by Woodward &Tiernan Printing Co., St. Louis.” The back of the picture reads, “Mothers Oats are the Oats for Me” and “Compliments of Mothers Oats, Akron, Ohio.” Can you tell me about the picture/?

Your picture was a premium for Mothers Oats (or Mother’s Oats), a brand owned by the Great Western Cereal Co. of Akron from 1901 until 1911. Quaker Oats bought Great Western in 1911 and continues to sell some products under the Mother’s brand name. Woodward &Tiernan was a lithography company in business from 1882 to 1928. Quaker Oats was one of the first cereal companies to become interested in product premiums — both prizes packed in cereal boxes and premiums like your picture, which were mailed to people who sent in cereal box tops or coupons. It is considered an advertising collectible by buyers, so the price is about $150, more than the value of a nonadvertising picture.

I have a flat silver box with a hinged lid that looks like a calling card case but is too small to hold cards. It could fit in a pocket. On the outside of the box is a fancy raised design and some colored enameling. It has a blurred mark that seems to be “SM &Co.” Any suggestions/?

You probably have a match safe. In England it’s called a vesta. Early matches were not safety matches and they could combust at any time, even in a pocket. So smokers carried stick matches in a small container with a lid, shaped to fit in a pocket. Sampson Mordan &Co. was a silver company in London in the 19th century when this type of match safe was popular. The company closed in 1941.

I am looking for information on the R.J. Horner Furniture Co. I inherited several pieces of bedroom furniture labeled with that name. The label reads, “R.J. Horner &Co., Furniture Makers, 61-63-65 West 23d St., N.Y.” Can the furniture be dated by the label/?

Your bedroom furniture was made between 1886 and about 1914. Robert J. Horner opened a furniture shop on West 23rd Street in New York City in 1886. At first the store sold furniture it manufactured itself, but later it also sold imported furniture. In 1914 or ‘15, R.J. Horner merged with another furniture company owned by George C. Flint. The new firm was called Flint &Horner. It grew into a large retail store.

I’m looking to see how much Mary Dunbar’s old dishes go for. Can you please help me with this/?

The name Mary Dunbar was first used by Jewel Tea in 1924. Mary Dunbar was the maiden name of Mary Reed Hartson, the head of the home-services division of Jewel Tea. After Hartson left the company in 1927, her successors represented the Mary Dunbar name. Dishes marked “Tested and Approved by Mary Dunbar” were made by Hall China Co. of East Liverpool, Ohio, and sold by Jewel Tea’s door-to-door salesmen beginning in 1933. The value of your dishes depends on the pattern and rarity. The most popular pattern is Autumn Leaf, made from 1933 to 1978.

I have a lamp that is a statue of a woman under an arbor of leaves. A light bulb is inside each group of leaves. A metal plate on the lamp reads “Fruits Automne par A. Moreau.” History?/

Auguste Moreau was a French sculptor who worked from 1860 to 1910. He and four other members of his family designed light fixtures, usually based on sculpted figures. If the base looks as if it would fit on a post, you probably have a newell-post lamp. It was put on the railing post at the bottom of the stairs in grand Victorian houses.

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On the block

Current prices are recorded from antiques shows, flea markets, sales and auctions throughout the U.S. Prices vary in different locations because of local economic conditions.

Nut cracker, Grand Old Opry, cast iron, November 1925, Nashville, Tenn., 11x6x5 inches, $50.

Minnie Mouse toothbrush holder, bent right arm moves, footrest for brush, short cord tail, white pants, yellow shoes, 1930s, Walt E. Disney, 23/4×51/4 inches, $130.

Martin fish gill lure, size 6, yellow and red, original box, 1940s, 51/2×1 inches, $140.

Majolica spittoon, woman’s, pink interior, dark-purple ground, blueberries on both sides, marked, 71/2×6 inches, $155.

1919 Willard-Dempsey Heavyweight Championship ticket stub, ringside, Toledo, Ohio, 11/2×25/8 inches, $160.

Charlie McCarthy ventriloquist doll, composition head, hands and feet, muslin body, mounted monocle, jointed jaw, Effanbee, 19 inches, $415.

Good Will soap wagon advertising window display, wood wheels, steel face, comes with five bars of soap, red, c. 1915, 34x18x16 inches, $850.

Pressed-glass table set, Three Face pattern, engraved ivy, butter, cover, sugar, creamer and spooner, $1,010.

Green painted chairs, polychrome and gilt floral design, Pennsylvania, c. 1830, 331/2 inches, set of six, $1,645.

Butterfly-shape velvet pincushion, with glass bead straight-pin eyes, 1840s, 41/2×5 inches, $2,320.

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