Alphabet Man rare toy still exists in some collection

Terry Kovel
Children had to learn to read. First came blocks with letters in 1693, then picture blocks in 1820 and cloth alphabet books with color pictures and cars printed with pictures of an object and a letter. This toy, which had a letter to display and name, recently auctioned for $25,410.

A clever inventor made a rare toy now called "Alphabet Man" or "The Educator," although it was called "The Yankee Schoolmaster" in the original 1889 patent papers.

The 10-inch-tall iron man had his right hand behind his back, his left near to his bow tie. He was started with a lever. He blinked. Then his left hand lowered to point to his bow tie. A letter would appear when he raised his arm. The child was asked to name the letter.

No one is sure who made the toy, but a comparison of part shapes and colors suggests it was made by the J. & E. Stevens Co. of Connecticut. About 10 of these toys still exist in collections, and prices over the years have ranged from $64,500 to $23,600 in 2016 to the $25,410 dollars paid for this example sold by James Julia in 2018.
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Q: There is a roll-top desk in the home I am buying. It looks old, but is in very good condition. There is a metal stamp mounted on the roll top that says "Grand Rapids Desk Co." I might like to buy it before I move in, so could you help me with a value?
A: The Grand Rapids Desk Co. made desks and other office furniture in mahogany and oak. The company was founded in Grand Rapids, Michigan, in 1893. After a fire in 1898, it moved to Muskegon, Michigan, and desks made after 1898 list Muskegon as the city of manufacture. The company changed owners a few times before closing in 1931. Its quality roll-top desks sell from about $275 to $1,400 at auction, but most are in the $500 to $850 range.
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Q: I have a small, oval-shaped metal decanter with a beautiful design on the back, front and lid. It's about 4 inches tall and about 3 inches wide. The mark on the bottom has the initials J. K. with a picture of a swan between the letters. Can you tell me the age of the decanter? Is it silver or silver plate? The only thing I have been able to find about the mark is that it's possibly French.
A: It seems too small to be a decanter. This is not the swan mark used in France on silver sold in France. It used the swan mark on silver watch cases from 1893 to 1970 to indicate that they met the legal fineness standard. The swan on your decanter is not a quality mark. This mark was used by J. Kurz & Co. of Hanau, Germany, a company founded in 1848. It was in business until at least 1961. The company made sterling silver, not plated wares, so the price is partially based on the meltdown weight of your piece.
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Q: Can help me with the year and value of a Shirley Temple doll? She has been in the family for a while. Marked on the back of her head is "IDEAL DOLL, ST -- 12". Is there interest in Shirley Temple dolls anymore? I seldom see information on them.
A: Shirley Temple dolls were a hit when Shirley was in movies. They were first licensed and made by the Ideal Novelty and Toy Co. of New York in 1934, and they are still popular. Artist Bernard Lipfert created the earliest Shirley Temple sculptures. Early dolls were made of "composition," a mixture of glue, sawdust and other materials. Vinyl dolls were made after 1957, until Ideal went out of business in the early 1970s. Collectors love all Shirley Temple dolls, but the 1950s vinyl dolls sell for more than early 1970s vinyl examples. Price is also determined by the doll's size, costume, condition and whether it has its original tags, box and script Shirley Temple pin. Your 12-inch doll's price would start at about $40. It will be higher if the outfit and accessories are original or if you have the original tag or box. 
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Q: I need to find a new home for my antique 3-door Belding Hall icebox, but I have no idea where to begin to get a price or find potential buyers. I have spoken with some local dealers, but have received no solid advice, except to put it on eBay. Is that my best option?
A: The Belding-Hall Company was founded in Belding, Michigan, by Joshua Hall in 1877. The company made wooden cabinets to hold the large blocks of ice used to refrigerate foods. Frank Gibson bought the company in 1908, and it became part of the Gibson Refrigerator Company. Electric refrigerators were made beginning in 1932. Old ornate iceboxes made in the late 1800s can sell for a few thousand dollars at auction, if in excellent condition. More common 3-door models sell for a few hundred dollars, if in good condition. If you live near an auction house, you can see if it can sell it, or you can go to an antique show and contact dealers there. Selling online is difficult because you must pack and ship it. Three-door ice boxes sold recently for $150 to $350.
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Tip: Keep insecticides away from old papers. The sprays may kill the bugs but may also damage the paper.
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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. 
Waterford vase, starburst, footed, clear, glass, foil label, 10 x 6 3/8 inches, $85.
Vase, fluted mouth, raised heartbeat pattern, light blue, speckled, Bodo Mans, Germany, 1950, 21 inches, $180.
Boch Freres, vase, birds, flowers, C. Catteau, full mark, Belgium, 6 1/8 inches, $245.
Jimmy Choo purse, python, clutch, gold tone hardware, suede lining, 9 1/2 x 6 inches, $290.
Folk art, sculpture, cat, crouching, striped, tail up, Gregory Gorby, 22 inches, $315.
Celadon umbrella jar, bamboo and birds, mint green, Japan, 24 1/2 x12 inches, $525.
Roof tile, deity, riding a ram, crown, multicolor, terra-cotta, 13 x 4 inches, $575.
Chrome pitcher, pinched edge, monogram "P," Peter Muller-Munk, 12 x 9 1/2 inches, $935.
Marble sculpture, Aphrodite, fine, carved, unsigned, Italy, 21 1/2 inches, $1,095.
Chandelier, 6-light, alabaster, carved flowers, 1925, 25 x 24 inches, $2,560.
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