Uncle Sam wasn’t our first American icon

  • By Terry Kovel Syndicated Columnist
  • Wednesday, June 27, 2012 6:47pm
  • Life

Many figures have been used through the years to represent America.

The earliest was the Indian Queen, who was the European symbol for North America from about 1570 to 1776. The attractive American Indian woman was represented in figurines and textiles. In 1776 her looks changed to a younger Indian Queen, who remained popular until about 1815.

There was also Miss Liberty, a woman who wore the French cap that represented liberty, and Miss Columbia, similar to Miss Liberty but wearing a tiara and standing near a flag and eagle. They are both seen in paintings as early as the 1770s, but Miss Liberty soon lost favor. Columbia remained a symbol into the 1860s, when she lost out to Uncle Sam.

He was invented in 1812 and is the most important and enduring representative of the United States. Legend says that during the War of 1812, Samuel Wilson, a meatpacker, stamped meat packages for soldiers with the letters “U.S.” for United States.

Folks joked that the meat came from “Uncle Sam,” and soon the tall, thin man with white hair and beard, top hat and striped pants was created and seen in political cartoons, ads, packaging and even toys. He is still a favorite.

Q: My mother has a Little Red Riding Hood mechanical bank. It has Grandma in bed and Little Red Riding Hood sitting on the bed. If you pull the lever, Grandma’s head comes up and reveals the Big Bad Wolf’s face underneath. If you put a penny in, Red Riding Hood’s head tilts back as if she is startled.

The bank is marked “Red Riding Hood” on the side just below her skirt. On the bottom, below Grandma’s head, are the words “Bits and Pieces.”

The paint and condition are excellent. We would like to know if it’s a reproduction or an antique and what its value is.

A: The antique Little Red Riding Hood mechanical bank does not have a maker’s mark but is thought to have been made by W.S. Reed Toy Co., which was founded by William Reed in Leominister, Mass., in 1876. The company was known for its wooden toys.

Reed made three different mechanical banks in the 1880s: Old Lady in the Shoe (patented in 1883), Girl in Victorian Chair and Little Red Riding Hood.

The Little Red Riding Hood bank came in three variations, with a blue, green or yellow bedspread. The company became Whitney-Reed Co. in 1898. Your bank is marked “Bits and Pieces,” the name of a company in Lawrenceburg, Ind., that sells reproduction mechanical banks, puzzles and other gift items.

The original banks sells for more than $30,000. Bits and Pieces sells reproduction banks for about $25 to $35, but the Red Riding Hood bank is no longer listed on the company’s website.

Q: My antique clothes iron has a little fuel tank attached to the front end. The top of the iron is marked “Sunshine” on one side and “Pat Pending, Made in the USA” on the other. The iron is 7 1/2 inches long. Please tell me what type of fuel it burned, when it was made and what it’s worth.

A: The manufacturer of your Sunshine iron is unknown, but it’s not hard to find the model at flea markets. Sunshine irons date from the early 1900s and burned gasoline. Other liquid-fuel irons burned kerosene, alcohol or liquefied natural gas.

Irons that burned liquid fuel were a big improvement over irons that burned coal, which produced smoke and soot. Your iron is worth $75 to $100 if it’s in good condition.

Q: I got a pressed-glass toothpick holder from my grandmother. She told me it’s in the Crocus pattern and that she’s had it for a long time. Can you tell me something about this pattern? Is the toothpick holder valuable?

A: Your pattern is probably “Croesus,” a pattern first made by the Riverside Glass Co. of Wellsburg, W.Va., in 1897. Riverside Glass Co. was founded in 1879 and closed in 1907. The pattern features C-scrolls separated by crosshatching and fan shapes.

It was first made in amethyst, emerald green or clear glass, with or without gold trim. Several different tableware items were made, including a butter dish, pitcher, salt and pepper shakers, sugar and creamer, toothpick holder and other serving pieces.

The National Glass Co. made Croesus at the McKee factory from about 1907 to 1917.

Reproductions have been made since the early 1970s. The toothpick holder was one of the first items reproduced. The value of your Croesus toothpick holder is about $35.

Q: We own a bed with a metal label on the headboard. The label says, “Made by Staples &Co. Ltd. by Royal Warrant.” There’s also a lion and unicorn crest and the words “Dieu et Mon Droit.” Can you tell me anything about the bed?

A: The label attests to the fact that Staples &Co., a British firm, has been a supplier of beds to the British royal family. The company was founded in 1895, when Englishman Ambrose Heal purchased rights to a U.S. patent for a spiral-spring mattress.

King George V bought one of these mattresses in 1915 after his back was injured in a fall from a horse. The king granted the “royal warrant” in 1932, and every British monarch since then has renewed the warrant.

Staples is still in business and, of course, uses the warrant in its ads. The French phrase, which literally translates to “God and my right,” is the motto of the British monarchy, and the crest is the royal coat of arms.

Q: I have a silver tray marked “Benedict” and “Georgian.” Between these two names there’s a diamond-shape mark with “E.P.N.S.,” “B.M.M.,” “Period” and “Plate” written along the four sides. It is also stamped with the number “1758.” I’ve seen a similar tray online, and the seller said that’s the year the tray was made. Can you tell me something about the maker and how old my tray is?

A: The number is definitely not the date the piece was made. It may be a shape or pattern number. “E.P.N.S.” indicates the tray is electroplated nickel silver. The initials “B.M.M.” indicate the tray has Britannia metal mounts or handles.

The M.S. Benedict Manufacturing Co. was established in East Syracuse, N.Y., in 1894. It became T.M. Benedict Manufacturing Co. in 1906. Benedict started making flatware in 1897. The company went out of business in 1953. “Georgian” is the pattern name.

Write to Terry Kovel, (The Herald), King Features Syndicate, 300 W. 57th St., New York, NY 10019.

&Copy; 2012, 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.

Bookmark, March of Dimes, crutch figural, blue plastic, three dimes at top, 1940s, 3 inches, $20.

Hand puppet, Dopey, dwarf from Snow White, rubber head, felt hands, red and white checked shirt, red ribbon at neck, stamped “W.D.P.,” 1940s, 9 inches, $45.

Yellowware bowl, mustard beige, two mauve bands, late 1800s-early 1900s, 4 3/4 x 8 1/2 inches, $70.

“Play Family House,” No. 952, yellow roof, blue and white house, white door and chimney, wooden figures, plastic dog, doorbell rings, Fisher-Price, box, 1969, 15 x 9 inches, $85.

Advertising sign, “Jack Frost Cane Sugars,” cardboard, double-sided, hanging, image of desserts and boy holding box of granulated sugar, 1940s, 10 inches, high, $95.

General Electric Monitor-Top refrigerator bank, white cast iron with steel back, Hubley, c. 1927, 4 1/4 x 2 1/8 inches, $185.

Coca-Cola deliveryman’s hat, white with green stripes, inside tag reads “Brookfield Uniforms, Kansas City, Mo.,” 1950s, size 6 7/8, $225.

Hudson Bay blanket, white ground with red, black and gray stripes, label, 1930s, 62 x 82 inches, $325.

Federal sofa, inlaid mahogany, tapered square legs, horsehair upholstery, brass-tack swag design, Philadelphia, c. 1800, 34 1/2 x 76 inches, $2,600.

Galle vase, cylindrical, blown-out, yellow, blue leaves, green okra, footed, signed, 7 1/2 inches, $5,020.

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