Talented designer of aluminum furniture

Terry Kovel
This brushed and polished aluminum armchair made in the 1930s has the original paper label. The wooden arms have weathered original green enamel paint. It auctioned for $2,400 at a 2017 James Julia auction.

Sometimes a designer becomes very popular with a new design, sells his products, becomes wealthy, and then his designs become commonplace and he eventually goes bankrupt. That is the sad story of Warren McArthur, a talented designer of the 1930s who was among the first to make aluminum furniture.

McArthur (1885-1961) was born in Chicago and grew up in a house designed by Frank Lloyd Wright. He went to Cornell to study mechanical engineering, and by 1914, he had filed for 10 patents for lamp designs. He moved to Phoenix and, with his brother, owned car dealerships, a radio station and built the Arizona Biltmore. He also patented a useful adapter for a car radiator. All were successful.

In 1929, he moved to Los Angeles and started a metal furniture business. He improved the manufacturing process with his inventions, including an aluminum that didn't tarnish and a way to permanently color the metal. The brightly colored metal furniture was popular in Hollywood, and was featured in movie theaters and stars' homes.

During the Depression in the 1930s, McArthur moved to New York City, and he moved to Connecticut two years later. His company made airplane seats during World War II, but went bankrupt in 1948. McArthur died in 1961.
Q: I have a 22-piece chocolate set in excellent condition. It's marked with an "R," "Bavaria, Germany" and "warranted 18 carat gold." Each plate has a 1-inch border of gold, the cups are gold and the pitcher with lid is gold. Does the gold trim make it very valuable?
 A: The gold trim does not mean it's very valuable. The words "18 carat gold" indicate the alloy used for the gold trim is 75 percent gold, but there is very little gold used on the porcelain. A chocolate set should have a pot, creamer, sugar, six small plates, and six cups and saucers. It would sell for less than $50.
Q: I have a large bowl marked "Z. S. & Co." with a wiggly line underneath and the word "Bavaria" under the line. The bowl is decorated with roses and has a scalloped rim. If my pieces are worth anything, I won't turn it into a bird bath.
A: This mark was used after 1880 by Zeh, Scherzer & Co., a porcelain factory located in Rehau, Bavaria, Germany. The company became part of Allerthal A.G., an investment company, in 1991 and porcelain production stopped in 1992. Porcelain is too fragile to be a bird bath. If the patterns is attractive, your bowl might sell well at an antiques shop. A bowl big enough for a bird bath might bring $50-$75.
Q: Is an empty Chicken Cock Bourbon whiskey bottle of any value?  It has a red metal screw lid, front and back labels, and an Indiana tax label. The bottle is embossed with chickens and the name. Its condition is good. 
A: Chicken Cock Whiskey was originally distilled in 1856 in Paris, Kentucky. It became a popular brand in the late 1800s. During prohibition, Chicken Cock had to move its production to Canada. It was smuggled into the U.S. inside tin cans that were opened with a key. Chicken Cock was a popular whiskey in Prohibition-era speakeasies like the Cotton Club in New York City. Jazz great Duke Ellington wrote about Chicken Cock in his memoirs, referring to it as the "brand that was served in a tin can." After Prohibition, the brand was trademarked by American Medicinal Spirits Company, but in the 1950s, a fire in the distillery meant the end of production. A few years ago, the brand was revived, and Chicken Cock blended whiskies are now being made in Charleston, S.C., and sold in metal cans. Your Chicken Cock pint flask is worth about $20.
Q: I have heard that some antiques and vintage items are dangerous to own. Is this true? I am afraid to use my orange Fiesta dishes because friends say they were made with uranium and are radioactive.
A: Yes, some antique medicines, cosmetics and other objects can be dangerous or even fatal. Most vintage or antique things you buy at shops or shows have been cleaned or checked for dangerous things. Some are mercury (barometers), flammable materials (stove polish that explodes when heated), arsenic (cleanser for complexion), opium (medicine to relieve pain), morphine (to sooth teething babies), alcohol (a high percentage in bitters, medicines, etc.) and, of course, anything in a bumpy poison bottle or a bottle labeled poison. Uranium was used in the clay or glaze of some items before the strict food and drug laws were passed in the U.S., but some countries still use glazes that are not safe. Your orange dishes are safe to use. If you find forgotten drugstore stock, clean it carefully in a well-ventilated area. Empty all medicine bottles; children may try to drink something. 
 Tip: Some types of fumes can damage paper. Don't store your collection near the kitchen, garage, barbecue pit or freshly painted areas.
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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.
Biscuit tin, embossed with blueberries and leaves, square canister, serpentine corners, beaded border, hinged lid, c. 1905, 7 x 7 inches, $25.
Chintz pottery, cheese keeper, ivory with flower clusters & gilt trim, scalloped dish, dome lid with ball finial, Erphila, 4 x 7 inches, $50.
Mechanical bank, Uncle Sam standing on platform, eagle, lever lowers arm and drops coin into bag, cast iron, paint, c. 1910, $175.
Strawberry serving set, sugar and creamer, oval tray with inset holders for jugs, strawberry leaf design, G. Jones, c. 1880, 14 inches, $360.
Lap guitar, steel, wood with inlaid mother of pearl dots, 29 frets, tube amplifier and speaker, case, Kay, 33 x 10 inches, $635.
Trinket box, round, faux tortoiseshell, copper lid with embossed scene of the Siege De La Bastille, 2 x 3 inches, $870.
Ice cream parlor chair, bentwood with stenciled seat, double loop open back, splay legs, Kohn-Mundus, late 1800s, 34 inches, $1,005.
Pudding spoons, sterling silver, medallion handle tips and flower button on reeded stem, Ball Black & Co., 1860s, Set of 10, $1,560.
WWI poster, recruitment, Montreal Canada, Kitchener's army, "Are you one of Kitchener's own?", frame, 1918, 28 x 42 inches, $2,740.
Corner cabinet, carved walnut, seated court jesters, arched glass panel door, shelf, spindle gallery crest and finials, 1800s, 106 x 55 inches, $4,850.
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 KovelsOnlineStore.com.
Special offer: "The Label Made Me Buy It," by Ralph and Terry Kovel. The book is a picture history of labels that once decorated products from cigar boxes to orange crates and salmon tins. The 320 color labels picture American Indians, famous people, everyday and well-known buildings and familiar and not-so-familiar symbols.

Learn how to identify and date labels or just enjoy the rare pictured labels (hardcover, 224 pages). Out-of-print and only a few left in stock. Available at the specially offered price of $9.95 (regularly $40) plus $5.95 shipping at KovelsOnlineStore.com. You can also call 800-303-1996 or mail a check to Kovels, P.O. Box 22900, Beachwood, OH 44122.