Bell toys emerged after Civil War

Terry Kovel
This bell toy elephant has the tip of his trunk up, signaling the good luck he rings. The 19th-century toy was offered for sale at a James Julia auction a few years ago.

Bell toys, a type of pull toy that had moving parts that rang a bell, were made in America just after the Civil War.

The Gong Bell Co. of Connecticut made the first one. It was an iron four-wheel platform, holding a bell and an animal. The animal kicked or hit the bell when the platform moved.

A popular bell toy featured an elephant that stepped on the bell to make it ring. The 9-1/2-inch-long toy is made of decorated metal. It was estimated to be worth about $800 to $1,200.

Later bell toys used wood, tin or other metals and added realistic hair or animal hide. The toys were all painted.

The 1880s-1890s were the golden age for the bell toys, and in the 1900s, copies were made of metal and eventually plastic. Today, the bell toys are wood or plastic made by Fisher Price or Playskool.


Q: Is there any way to tell if my press-back dining-room chairs and matching table are vintage or just copies?

A: We just learned a new way to spot the reproductions. We knew the old chairs were almost always made of oak. Any other wood would be suspect. But an easier way to tell is that the chairs, made about 1900, had seats made of three or four boards. Later copies usually had about seven boards.


Q: My mother was a collector of Wedgwood Jasperware. I inherited it all. Some I plan to keep. I have everything from 25-cent-size boxes to 3 different size Portland vases. Any suggestions on liquidation of this collection?

A: How to sell inherited collections is the question we are asked the most. There is no easy answer. Ask yourself what is most important about selling the Wedgwood - money, your time, the amount of physical labor, enhancing family memories or avoiding arguments among heirs. There are companies that take and sell everything to empty a house for a fee or part of the profit. It may be costly, but quick. In- or out-of-town auction companies might be interested in a valuable collection of Wedgwood. Ask collector friends whom to call and ask about what they sell and the services that are offered. (Professionals usually spot any very valuable items and estimate the sale value properly.) No luck? Try the next step, a local shop that will buy your things or take them on consignment. If the dealer has been in business locally, you can get references and check on honesty. An offer to buy from an unknown company's ad in a newspaper can be risky. Next, run your own sale. It takes time, planning, studying and a knowl   edge of pricing to sell in a house sale or online. Last try, take everything usable to a thrift store, church sale, charity fundraising show and sale, or non-profit places. You get a charitable tax deduction, pride in doing a good deed and an end to the problems. Be sure to get advice from someone in the antiques world. You wouldn't get a haircut from someone who just opened a beauty parlor and had no references.


Q: I inherited a pink pitcher that has a white-and-black spotted cat climbing on it. It's 10 inches tall. It's marked "Erphila Fayence Germany." It was my aunt's favorite thing and I'm just wondering about it.

A: Pottery marked "Erphila" was made in Germany and Czechoslovakia and imported by Ebeling & Reuss, a Philadelphia giftware firm. The name is a combination of the letters "E" and "R" for Ebeling & Reuss Erphila and "Phila," the first letters of Philadelphia. Pitchers like this sell online for about $20.


Q: Can an early hard rubber fountain pen be restored? I just found my grandfather's 1920s Waterman 52 pen. It's a mess.

A: Restoring a fountain pen takes patience, know-how and talent. We wondered if we could do it, so we got instructions. The cap should be removed, and then the inside parts and the nib, the lever assembly and the pressure bar. (Don't try this if you don't know what these parts look like.) According to experts, you can't clean a hard rubber pen with water. It makes the rubber swell and parts will not fit back inside properly, so use mineral oil. Use metal polish to clean the metal trim. There is more. Get a new ink sac and clean the pressure bar with special equipment. Clean the nib. Put everything back together. Test it with ink to be sure it is ready to use or sell. You can find fountain pen information at the Pen Collectors of America website, Many pen-repair services are advertised online.


Tip: Never exhibit photographs in direct sunlight.


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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.

Mouse trap, domed wire cage on hexagonal wood base, round opening at bottom, bail handle, France, 1940s, 5 x 5 1/2 inches, $25.

Book trough, carved oak, arched ends with cut-out Winnie-the-Pooh and Piglet figures holding hands, book storage, c. 1940, 8 x 20 inches, $80.

Tabletop lighter, golf club-shaped, putter, golf ball knob, brown and ivory, cast metal, 1950's, 4 1/2 inches, $165.

Model plane, wood and metal with red paint, working engine, propellor and landing wheels, 1950s, 48 inches with 5-feet-6-inch wing span, $350.

Beer stein, Olympic sports design in cameo relief, pewter lid with thumb press, orange and ivory, Mettlach, 1930s, 7 3/4 inches, $475.

Wall hanging, cherub, hand-carved wood, paint and gilt, wings wrap around the neck and spread out, upcast eyes, 1800s, 9 x 12 inches, $615.

Mustard pot, United States Coast Guard, 13-star shield, blue glass and silver plate, thumblift lid, angular handle and spoon, c. 1905, 4 inches, $850.

Game table, mahogany, shaped felt top, card drawer and holders on each side, counters inlaid in corners, Jarvis, c. 1940, 30 x 36 inches, $1,165.

Water filter, tan ceramic with black print, dome lid, lug handles and wood spout, "British Berkefeld Filter Co.", 1950s, 18 x 8 inches, $1,500.

Ginger jar, bright yellow ground with pink and green peaches, butterflies and flowers, porcelain with bronze lid, c. 1800, 9 inches, $4,100.


"The 50th Anniversary edition of Kovels' Antiques & Collectibles Price Guide 2018" will be published in September 2017. The book includes a special new section containing Terry Kovels' reflections on 50 years of collecting, with prices, trends, special events and surprises. Kovels' 50th Price Guide will be available soon at