Spring brings flowers, and this year designers are using more floral prints than usual for fabrics and designs. But a picture of a plant as a decoration on dinnerware is an old idea going back to at least the 1600s. In 1761, an Encyclopedia of Danish Flowers (Flora Danica) was commissioned by King Frederik V of Denmark. Thousands of hand-colored illustrations from engraved copper plates were made that accurately showed the wild flowers and plants. It was not completed until 1874, but some of the drawings were used to decorate a banquet service in 1790. The first Flora Danica dinner set of 1,802 pieces was made for King Christian VII to give as a gift to Russian Empress Catherine II of Russia. It is said it was to make up for not helping the Russians in the country's war with Sweden. She died before the set was finished, so it stayed in Denmark. The remaining 1,530 pieces belong to Queen Margethe II and pieces have been used for special occasions. You can still buy new dishes from the Royal Copenhagen factory or old ones at antiques shops and auctions. It is said to be the only 18th-century set that is still being made. Each piece has a single plant pictured as the decoration. Dishes can be ordered with the preferred plant. A Flora Danica platter recently sold for almost $1,000. It was decorated with "Verbascum Thapsiforme Beuspidatum Shad." We call it a mullein or velvet plant. The tall yellow flowers are used in herbal medicine. Today there are more than 300 varieties of mullein, and more are being propagated to get more flowers, shorter flower stalks and other changes. If you own a Flora Danica piece, be very careful. Even a tiny chip in the notched edge can lower the price by half or more.
Q: I have a Cracker Jack AM radio my dad gave me when I was eight years old. It runs on a 9-volt battery. It's in perfect condition and tunes in clearly. Is it worth anything?
A: Cracker Jack was first made in 1896 by Rueckheim & Brother. The company became Rueckheim Bros. & Eckstein in 1902. Prizes were included in the packages beginning in 1912. Cracker Jack radios like this were made in the 1970s in Hong Kong for Just Products, a New York company. They sell for about $25.
Q: My mother saved "soakies," the plastic bottle that held shampoo or bubble bath about 25 years ago. They were shaped like bottles with people or animal heads. She bought them to use the soap and thought they would later become popular collectibles, like milk bottles. Where are they being sold?
A: Soakies were popular as collectibles for a very short period of time in the late 1990s, and a few rare ones did sell for about $100. But the bottles were free and there still are a few used as packaging. Price is determined by supply and demand. There is a big supply and almost no demand. It is a suggested hobby that often doesn't attract collectors. Glass milk bottles were not popular with bottle collectors until the rarer earlier bottles became very expensive. Today a colored milk bottle or one with a war slogan or famous dairy name are the only ones selling for more than a few dollars. Collectors also search for the old round cardboard bottle caps, which sell for 25 cents to a few dollars each to go with the bottles.
Q: When my husband and I were digging for old bottles, we found an interesting old clay pipe bowl, but no stem. The bowl has "Wolfe 98 Tone" on one side and 6-point star above a harp, clover and "Erin" on the other side. I don't think it's worth anything, but I'd like to know something about it.
A: The harp is the national symbol of Ireland. The 6-point star represents the six counties of Northern Ireland. Wolfe Tone, whose full name was Theobald Wolfe Tone, was one of the leaders of the Irish rebellion of 1798. He was born in Dublin, Ireland, in 1763 and was one of the founders of the Society of United Irishmen, which sought separation from Britain. Tone went to France to get French troops to support the revolt. The first attempt, made in 1796, failed because of bad weather. The Society planned another rebellion in 1798, but the British found out about it and the leaders were captured. Wolfe Tone and the French forces were defeated before they made land. He was captured and sentenced to death but took his own life in September 1798. You must have dug in an old dump field with broken pipes from the 1800s. A local historical society might be interested in knowing about your experience and the pipe bowls.
Q: I was given a silver bookmark by my grandmother, who was born in Holland in the early 1890s. It was hers as a child. The bookmark was dagger shape and would slip over the page. It was approximately 2 1/2 to 3 inches long and had a long burgundy tassel. It was stolen from my house. I'm looking for prices for insurance purposes.
A: It's impossible to give an accurate value for your grandmother's silver bookmark without seeing it and weighing it. Do you remember if it had a maker's mark? Was it solid silver or silver plate? Was it heavy? Silver bookmarks sell for $30 to $80 and most of the value is determined by the weight of the silver.
Tip: Doors from a garage should have inside locks. Get a strong door. We know someone who came home to find a burglar had used an axe to "open" the door.
Need prices for your antiques and collectibles? Find them at Kovels.com, our website for collectors. You can find more than 1,000,000 prices and more than 11,000 color photographs that help you determine the value of your collectibles. Study the prices. Go to the free Price Guide at Kovels.com. The website also lists publications, clubs, appraisers, auction houses, people who sell parts or repair antiques, show lists and more. Kovels.com adds to the information in this column.
Terry Kovel and Kim Kovel answer questions sent to the column. By sending a letter with a question and a picture, you give full permission for use in the column or any other Kovel forum. Names, addresses or email addresses will not be published. We cannot guarantee the return of photographs, but if a stamped envelope is included, we will try. The amount of mail makes personal answers or appraisals impossible. Write to Kovels, (Name of this newspaper), King Features Syndicate, 300 W. 57th St., New York, NY 10019.
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.
Johnny Appleseed collector plate, porcelain, American folk heroes series, Johnny planting seeds, girl with apple, c. 1980, 9-inch diameter, $10.
Irish lace collar, ivory shawl, flower blossom pattern, trailing leaf border, c. 1910, 11 x 46 inches, $50.
Cowan, flower frog, dancing nude woman, scarf, opaque white, after Anna Pavlova, marked, 1925, 6 inches, $160.
Side table, tiger oak, four-leaf clover shaped top, reeded apron, spindle spool legs, shaped lower shelf, ball feet, c. 1890, 29 x 24 inches, $275.
Pickle castor, amber glass jar, swirl pattern, silver plate lid, base and frame, molded leaves, beading and scrollwork, 1800s, $520.
G.I. Joe lunchbox, U.S. ARMY, green canvas, brown leather trim, metal latch, plastic top handle, envelope style, 1968, 9 x 5 x 4 inches, $705.
Advertising sign, Bromo Seltzer, figural nurse, pouring medicine, die-cut cardboard, easel back, 60 x 17 inches, $1,200.
Tool chest, trunk shape, oak and steel, brass hardware, leather, lift lid, interior compartments, side handles, lock, 1897, 38 x 19 inches, $1,500.
Jewelry box, metal, incised, oval pietra dura panels, flowers and butterflies, blue beading, lift top, finial feet, c. 1880, 6 x 8 inches, $2,450.
Anna pottery bottle, reclining pig, incised railroad map, hole at rear, c. 1880, 6 inches, $3,100.
Handbag collecting has surged in popularity since 2010 when the first large auctions were introduced. Today purses by brands, like Hermes, are sold for prices over $100,000. Sales, shows, stores and online retailers are selling used, vintage handbags. Build your collection while prices of undiscovered brands are low. This report includes Makers information, trademarks, information on fakes, care and 130 color photos for over 75 brands. Plus a free supplement with current prices. Special Report, 8 1/2 x 5 1/2 inches, 46 pp. Available only from Kovels for $19.95 plus $4.95 postage and handling. Order by phone at 800-303-996, online at Kovels.com; or mail to Kovels, Box 22900, Beachwood, OH 44122.