Deck prisms shed light under the decks of wooden ships

Terry Kovel
 This glass prism with a slightly green tint is 4 1/2 inches high and very heavy. It was used like a window on vintage sailing ships to get light below the main deck. Just an ornament today, it is worth about $50 in an online sale.

A 4 1/2-inch-high heavy glass pyramid was in a recent house sale. It was inexpensive, but no one knew what it was used for. It was almost too heavy to lift, so it wouldn't be a practical paperweight, but we bought it to display on a table with our obelisks.

A long search of pictures online revealed what it is — a "deck prism." It was used to give extra light to parts of an antique sailing ship that were below the waterline. The first deck prisms were used about 1840. Fire was the best source of light, but it also was very dangerous on a wooden ship, so oil, kerosene lamps and candles were avoided.

My prism was inserted upside down into a hole on the main deck. The glass pyramid point hung down and shed some light into the room below. The base of the prism, now at the top, was set flush into the wooden deck. After a while, the caulking that held the glass would leak and the glass could chip, so the prism was carefully remounted and caulked.

In 1861, a patented threaded light that could be screwed into a metal frame was invented, so prisms lost favor. But reproductions in colored glass still are made and used, and old ones are collected. They usually sell for less than $50.
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Q: I found a box of old printed tablecloths from my parents travels in the 1950s to 1970s. Every time they drove to a new vacation spot, they bought a printed holiday or souvenir tablecloth with a map or pictures of landmarks or other sights in the state. The 50- by 52-inch card table size cloths are in very good shape. Some have never been taken out of the package. Do they have value?
A: Yes. There is even a group, Vintage Tablecloth Lovers Club, for printed tablecloth collectors. These souvenirs were first popular from the 1930s to the 1970s. Their retail price is about $10 or less. Collectors today want tablecloths in mint condition - that is, never used with original paper label and a sewn in tag. A price tag is a plus. Over 1,700 different designs are listed and they were made by hundreds of different manufacturers. You sometimes can date the cloth by the buildings or events pictured or the colors used. They often matched the favorite colors that were used for kitchens when they were made. Recent prices for good, not mint, tablecloths are $40 for a Yellowstone Park souvenir, $18 for a Christmas design, $114 for a view of New York City's Manhattan Island, and $200 for a '50s souvenir cloth with pictures of Florida. About 10 years ago, some gift shops were selling copies of printed cotton souvenir tablecloths for about $75 each.
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Q: Are the paint and glaze on Della-Ware pottery safe? I have a set of Della-Ware dishes and would like to know if they are safe to use.
A: Stangl Pottery began making Della-Ware in 1942. Special pieces, which Stangl called "Fancy Pieces," were made to match dinnerware patterns for Frederik Lunning and for Fisher, Bruce & Co. Pieces made for Frederik Lunning include a salad bowl, candy jar, hors d'oeuvres tray and vase. Pieces made for Fisher, Bruce & Co. include a round tray, two sizes of fluted bowls and a candy dish. Stangl also sold some pieces themselves. Most dishes made by manufacturers in the United States are lead free and safe to use. Glazes on some antique pottery and on pottery made in Mexico may contain lead. Don't use any dishes for food that have cracked glaze. You can find out if the glaze on your pottery is safe by using a lead-testing kit, available at a hardware store or online. If lead is leaching out of the glaze, it will change color when swabbed with the solution in the kit.
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Q: To commemorate a longtime friendship, a friend gave us a Tiffany & Company crystal regulator mantel clock. It is solid brass and measures 15 by 9 inches. It works well. Our friend said it was from the 1820s, but he was unable to find written information. Do you have any information about this wonderful clock and would you have a possible value?
A: First of all, Tiffany & Company was established in 1837 as Tiffany & Young. The name "Tiffany & Co." didn't become official until 1853. And while your clock says Tiffany & Co. on the dial, Tiffany did not make it. They contracted with several makers, mostly in Europe, to produce clocks they sold in their shops. Crystal regulator clocks were popular at the end of the 19th century. Most of the ones sold by Tiffany & Co. had movements by French companies such as S. Marti, Japy Freres, Vincenti and LeCoultre. The name Tiffany & Co. appears on the dial but since the movements are enclosed, it's hard to determine the maker. Tiffany crystal regulator clocks sell from about $150 up to about $1,000. Examples that are more ornate, with added figural details or champleve enamel decoration, can sell for more.
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Q: I have a large collection of lady head vases I want to sell. How should I go about selling them?
A: Lady head vases are figural vases showing a pretty woman from the shoulders up. Most were made in Japan or the United States and were used by florists in the 1950s and '60s. They were a popular collectible in the '70s and '80s, but interest has waned. Today, they sell for a wide variety of prices, from $25 or less to over $100. Vases portraying Jacqueline Kennedy or those with imitation jewelry or other accessories usually sell for the highest prices. You can check prices online, but expect to get half of what they are selling for. If you want to sell the whole collection, you might be able to find someone at a flea market or mall booth who will buy them.
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Tip: A magnet will not be attracted to solid brass. It will cling to brass-plated iron.
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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.
Delft plate, blue, white, women and children standing on river bank, windmills and trees, small boat, c. 1841, 9 inches, $72.
1938 Calendar, Esso, "Happy Landing," child jumping from green plain, Standard Oil Company of Pennsylvania, 21 x 14 inches, $129.
Box, jewelry, mahogany and mixed woods, elaborate inlay, cross on lid, lined with green velvet, mirror and lift tray, c. 1905, 5 x 11 inches, $240.
Sewing stand, drop leaf, mahogany flame veneer and pine, three drawers, dovetailed, original pulls, carved leaves, c. 1835, 18 inches, $300.
Mantel clock, pine, glass painted door with building and trees, carved fruit basket crest, Boarman & Wells, c. 1850, 30 1/2 x 17 inches, $570.
Buff-Lo-Maid cleanser tin, cardboard body, tin lid & base, Indian woman, 4 5/8 x 3 1/8 inches, $672.
Donald Duck figurine, long-billed, movable head, stationary legs, Knickerbocker, 9 inches, $1,357.
Delft vase, tulipiere, blue, green, yellow, white ground, three separate openings, fan shape, flowers, tin glaze, 1800s, 7 1/2 x 7 1/2 inches, $1,450.
Coca-Cola, sign, fountain service, "Drink Coca-Cola, Delicious & Refreshing," red, green, porcelain, c. 1933, 42 x 60 inches, $3,444.
Cloisonne bowl, gilt, blue, fish, flowers, leaves, vines, center medallion, yellow, 3 x 6 1/2 inches, $7,735.
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