Before photographs, life was depicted in paintings, figurines

Terry Kovel
This pair of Royal Worcester water carriers sold for $240. They are large enough to be important decorations on a table, but most of your guests won't realize how important they were to life in a Victorian city.

Everyday life was often depicted in paintings or figurines in the days when photographs were unknown. Familiar workers like firemen, soldiers, farmers or royalty were made from porcelain or metal.

Several important factories, including the Royal Worcester company of England, Royal Dux, Zsolnay, Goldscheider, Hummel, Lladro and KPM, made water-carrier figures of porcelain. Others created bronze figures.

They must have had a very important, very familiar job to have been subjects for so many makers. Most people today do not realize that the water carrier was an important person. Water had to be scooped from a well, then walked to the center of the city or perhaps carried in a cart, where it was ladled into containers held by customers. There were no wells or piped-in water supplies.

The figures were very similar — usually a pair, a man and a woman, each holding a pouring jug and a large container of water. They were wearing the common clothes of the country. The woman often carried the water bottle on her head.

Each figure was 10 to 15 inches tall, and most were glazed in appropriate colors. A pair of marked Royal Worcester water carriers made in the late 19th century sold for $240 at a Cowan's auction.
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Q: I am trying to identify a table I inherited from an aunt. The table has a paneled drawer, applied panels on the sides and a turned trestle like base with a shelf. It had an inset leather top that was tattered, and there is an odd drawer hanging underneath. This piece was covered in black tar from years in a basement. I don't know what is. I think it was part of a home library. Can you help?
A: You have a ladies' work table, probably from the late Victorian era. Sewing or work tables originated in England about 1770 and were used in America after the Revolutionary War. Women gathered in a parlor and worked around a small table with a surface for writing, needlework or other activities. Early work tables were Sheraton or Empire and often made of mahogany. They had a drawer or two for storage. Later Victorian tables were heavily carved with turned scroll legs. Most had an extra storage compartment under the top -- either a cloth sack or a compartment under the central drawer. Ladies' work tables auction for about $225 to $600. 
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Q: What is the value of a Pontiac Buggy Company watch fob. The front has a profile of an Indian chief and the words "Pontiac Buggy Company, Pontiac, Mich." and "Western Amesbury Vehicles." The back says "Child's Co. Chicago." What is it worth?
A: The Pontiac Buggy Company was founded by Edward M. Murphy in 1893. The company made horse-drawn carriages. Western Amesbury Vehicles (carriages) were made by the Pontiac Buggy Company. Amesbury, Massachusetts, was a center of carriage building -- first for horse-drawn carriages and later for automobiles. The Pontiac Buggy Company made its first "horseless carriage," the Oakland, in 1907. Oakland Motor Car Co. became part of General Motors in 1910 and became the Pontiac division in 1932. The Indian pictured on the watch fob represents Chief Pontiac. Value of your watch fob: about $20.
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Q: I was cleaning a field behind my house and found a lot of very old barbed wire. I just want to find out when it was made and who made it. I'm probably going to keep it for decor.
A: The first barbed wire was invented by Lucien B. Smith of Kent, Ohio, in 1867. Several patents for improving wire fencing were issued in the next few years. In 1874, Joseph F. Glidden of DeKalb, Illinois, was granted a patent for a double-strand wire fence with wire barbs. Barbed wire began to be mass produced. Farmers and ranchers also made their own barbed wire. More than 2,000 variations of barbed wire have been made. Collectors want 18-inch samples. A collection of samples of approximately 125 different varieties of antique barbed wire sold at auction recently for $960. There are books, museums and websites that help identify and date barbed wire. The Antique Barbed Wire Society ( has a magazine for collectors. 
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Q: I have a lot of professional photographs taken by Anthony Ugrin on Hollywood movie sets. These are 8-by-10-inch black and white photos of Shirley Temple and others. There are about 200 photos altogether. I'd like to know the value and where I can sell them.
A: Anthony Ugrin (1900-1973) was a still and portrait photographer at several Hollywood studios in the 1930s-1950s. Unknown photos of movie stars taken by known photographers sell at auctions of movie memorabilia. Prices depend on how famous the actor is and how rare the photograph is, and can range from $5 or $10 to a few hundred dollars each. 
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Tip: Collectors of teddy bears and other stuffed animals must beware of allergy to dust mites --microscopic critters that live in pillows, bedding and carpets. Use dust mite-proof covers for all bedding. Get a vacuum with a HEPA filter, and limit the number of stuffed animals in the bedroom. Put any stuffed toys in baggies in the freezer for 48 hours. Dust mites need air and do not like freezing temperatures.
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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. 
Silver creamer, repousse, roses, c-scroll handle, S. Kirk & Sons, 4 1/2 inches, $190.
Jewelry box, gilt, reclining nude woman, flowers, hinged lid, 6 x 11 inches, $240.
Hall stand, stick and ball, oak, bentwood, mirror, 6 coat hooks, hat shelf, 22 1/4 x 39 1/2 x 8 1/2 inches, $480.
Side table, rosewood, rectangular planter, metal H-shaped legs, 1950, 73 x 14 inches, $950.
Louis Vuitton suitcase, monogram, leather, brass straps, pull-out tray, 1920, 31 x 20 inches, $1,025.
Cigarette case, enamel, scroll decoration, diagonal stripe, green, blue, white, garnet clasp, 4 x 3 inches, $1,375.
Judaica, Star of David sculpture, 18-karat gold, wirework, fitted box, France, 5 1/4 inches, $1,875.
Honore Pons Paris clock, mantel, seated woman, reading book, acanthus, gilt, 1827, 18 x 15 inches, $2,115.
Art pottery vase, turned squares, circles, black, Emile Lenoble, 1926, 11 1/2 inches, $3,750.
Wooden, bowl, black walnut, turned, Ed Moulthrop, 17 3/4 x 20 3/4 inches, $5,000.
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NEW! Handbag collecting has surged in popularity since 2010, when the first large auctions were introduced. Today, purses by brands like Hermes are sold for prices over $100,000. Sales, shows, stores and online retailers are selling used, vintage handbags. Build your collection while prices of undiscovered brands are low.

This report includes makers information, trademarks, information on fakes, care and 130 color photos for over 75 brands. Plus a FREE supplement with current prices: Special Report, 8 1/2 x 5 1/2 inches, 46 pp. Available only from Kovels for $19.95 plus $4.95 postage and handling. Order by phone at 800-303-996, online at; or mail to Kovels, P.O. Box 22900, Beachwood, OH 44122.