Death and mourning symbolized in art during 19th century

Terry Kovel
This watercolor is a mourning picture made about 1830. It is in a 7- by 9-inch frame. The picture sold for more than $22,000.

Death was an important part of life in the 19th century. Life expectancy was 38 to 44 years, and many babies died at birth or before they were a year old. Mourning and the rituals that accompanied a death were very important, and lasted about a year. There was a funeral, attended by friends and family, often held at home, and burial in a family plot in the yard if there was no nearby cemetery. Black clothing was worn for the year of mourning; even the jewelry was made with black stones. Pictures, in some cases mirrors, were covered, and weekly visits to a religious service to say prayers were expected.

The next few years also included some objects that took time to make, like mourning rings and memorial pictures often created by a close relative. The picture used symbols of death and life after death. A church, tombstones, anchor, lily of the valley, forget-me-nots, urns, weeping willow trees, a coffin, candles, skulls, oak leaves and of course, angels and the cross were part of the language.

Collectors of folk art search for painted or embroidered mourning pictures that include some of these symbols and information about the deceased, including name, date of death and location. Many are signed by the artist. This framed picture was sold at a Skinner auction. It pictured willows, an urn, a tombstone, black dress, church, flowers and a weeping relative. The inscription on the tombstone says “Amos Tyler.” Research found he died in 1829, probably in Massachusetts, at the age of 38. No wonder it sold for $22,140, about 10 times estimate.

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Q. I’m looking for the value of my Red Wing cookie jars. I have a yellow chef, blue chef and monk cookie jars in mint condition. What are they worth?

A. Red Wing Pottery began making Pierre the Chef (later just called Chef), Friar Tuck (a monk), and Katrina (a Dutch girl) cookie jars in 1941. The cookie jars were made in blue, yellow and tan. Green cookie jars were added to the line in the mid- to late 1940s. Thousands of the cookie jars were made. They were not made after the mid-1950s. The Chef, in fleck blue or fleck pink, was the only one made in 1956. These are harder to find, and they sell for the highest prices today. The yellow Chef cookie jar has sold online at retail for $20 to $60, the blue version for $30 to $77. Friar Tuck sells for $20 to $30 in yellow, $58 to $60 in blue.

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Q. When I got on “Dick Clark’s Saturday Night Beech-Nut Show” in 1959, everyone in the audience was given a big green pinback button with “IFIC” in white letters on it. Beech-Nut Gum was the sponsor of the show and their slogan was “Beech-Nut gum is flavor-ific.” Does this button have any value?

A. Dick Clark’s show ran from 1958 through September 1960. Beech-Nut sponsored the show beginning with the third episode. These buttons were given to audience members and dancers on the show and were also given out as premiums. You could join Dick Clark’s “IFIC” Club and get this “IFIC” button and a button with Dick Clark’s picture on it by sending in two Beech-Nut Spearmint wrappers and 25 cents. Beech-Nut is still in business, but makes baby food. They stopped making gum in the 1970s. Your pinback button is worth about $25.

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Q. My uncle was a railroad accountant in Texas, and I have 62 railroad passes he used from 1926 to 1940. Each pass is good for one year and has my uncle’s name, position and the railway company typed on them. I’d like to sell them or give them to someone who would find them interesting. I contacted a source recommended by a local model train store and was offered 50 cents per card. Are they worth more than that?

A. Collectors of railroad memorabilia might be interested in your uncle’s railroad passes. Passes from the late 1800s and early 1900s are the most collectible. An attractive design, signature of an important person, or rarity of the railroad company adds value. The passes might sell at an auction that sells railroad memorabilia or ephemera. You might donate them to a historical museum near where your uncle lived. The donation would be a charitable contribution and could be a tax deduction, and it would be a permanent memorial of your uncle.

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Q. I’d like to know the age and origin of a print that hung in my grandmother’s house in the 1920s. It’s a winter scene with a person in a horse-drawn sleigh with a farmhouse and lake in the background. Printed on the bottom right-hand corner is “Copyright 1897 by J. Hoover & Son, Phild’a.” The picture is in a carved wood frame.

A. Joseph Hoover (1830-1913) opened a framing shop in Philadelphia in 1856. By 1865 he was also producing prints. The company made chromolithographs beginning in the 1880s and became one of the most prolific publishers of prints in the country, turning out up to 700,000 prints a year by the turn of the 20th century. The subjects and prices were geared to the average American household. Winter landscape scenes were popular. The prints sell today for $50 to $100 if framed.

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TIP: Don’t store dining-table leaves on end. They may warp. Flat under the bed is an ideal storage location.

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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, 628 Virginia Dr., Orlando, FL 32803.

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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.

Tole coal scuttle, black, crackled pattern, gold bands, tapered rectangle, ball feet, domed lid, 17 x 18 inches, $45.

American Indian basket, Choctaw, Mississippi bamboo, river cane, natural dye, large diamond pattern, black, orange, tan, square base flared to round top, c. 1970, 18 x 19 inches, $280.

Architectural, frieze, terracotta, semicircular, shield, 2 stylized dragons, acanthus tails, egg & dart band, squared border, made up of 10 sections, $480.

Weathervane, whale, tail up, cut copper, weathered gold patina, red glass eye, stand, 6 x 17 inches, $610.

Advertising sign, “Twin Drive-In Theater,” “Turn Right” printed inside arrow, metal, painted, green, reflective yellow letters, New York City area, 24-inch diameter, $750.

Doll, Madame Alexander, Cinderella, plastic, Tosca wig, blue taffeta gown, rhinestone crown, 1955, 8 inches, $920.

Garden settee, Georgian style, distressed hardwood, banded circle & slat back, slat seat, scroll arms, 20th century, 38 x 55 inches, $1,045.

Cut glass humidor, Richelieu pattern by J. Hoare, flared rim, flattened hobstar cut lid, ray cut base, American Brilliant Period, 8 1/4 x 5 1/4 inches, $1,610.

Jewelry, cuff bracelet, poured glass stones, various shapes, green, red, blue, amber & aqua, set in gold tone metal, stamped Chanel, 6 1/4 x 2 inches, $2,125.

Furniture, sofa, Chesterfield, worn burgundy leather, button tufted back & seat, roll arms, casters, label, George Smith, Newcastle, England, 35 x 80 inches, $5,760.

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