Era of inkwells that interests collectors began in 18th century

Terry Kovel
This "snail," an antique inkwell form, was made around 1860. It is porcelain with painted flowers as decoration. A collector paid $156 for it at a New Jersey auction.

In ancient Egypt, a rich man would not write his own letters but would travel with a scribe who wrote his letters for him. The scribe used a crude pen that had to be dipped in ink; he carried it on a stone with a slight hollow. As more learned to write, the ink holders became fancier, and carved stones like jade or marble were used.

Liquid ink, a mixture of the blackening and liquid, made a different type of inkwell necessary. A traveling man had a pen and ink in a leakproof container made of ceramic, glass, shells or later, metal or plastic.

The era of the inkwells that interests most collectors began in the 18th century. Elaborate ceramic containers to hold ink on a desk as part of a set in an inkstand were important accessories. Soon all inkwells were glass set in metal or other leakproof containers that could screw or clamp shut.

One of the most unusual is the porcelain "snail," a revolving, tilting inkwell. It looks like a snail shell on a metal frame standing on a saucer. The bottle revolves so the snail's head tilts up, exposing the opening for the pen. There are even twin snail holders.

When the fountain pen was invented by Lewis Waterman in 1880, the need for inkwells vanished. Then, in 1939, the ballpoint pen was made and few now use pen and ink. But collectors search for old inkwells. A snail inkwell sold at a Glass Works online bottle auction in New Jersey recently for $156. It was made of white porcelain and decorated with hand-painted multicolored flowers.
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Q: My old desk has a partial label that reads J.B. Van S[something]. It's kneehole style, with a bank of drawers on each side of the opening and a narrow drawer in the middle. Any chance you can help with the maker and maybe a value?
A: Joseph Bishop Van Sciver (1861-1943) was 21 years old in 1881 when he started a small furniture business in Camden, New Jersey. The company quickly expanded to larger facilities, and pieces made at Van Sciver's plant were delivered by wagon throughout southern New Jersey and Pennsylvania. By 1900, more shops, storage facilities and showrooms were added, and the company was selling inexpensive, well-made living room, bedroom and dining sets, and more costly reproductions, lamps, clocks, rugs and draperies. Sales declined by the 1970s, when business was affected by lower-cost imported furniture. The last location closed in 1985. The price is determined by the style, condition and size. The desks sell for $125 to $500. Tiger maple adds to the value.
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Q: I inherited over 30 Bossons wall head sculptures and I don't really want them. Could you recommend an organization or collectors group that might help me find a buyer for them? 
A: Bossons character wall masks were made by W. H. Bossons, Ltd. Company in Congleton, England, from 1946 to 1996. W. H. Bossons and his son, Ray Bossons, trained as potters and designed the pieces. After W. H. died in 1951, Ray ran the business. The company also made figurines, shelf ornaments, plaques, lamp bases, bookends, wall clocks, thermometers, barometers and more. There is limited interest in the wall sculptures today, and they are hard to sell. Try contacting the International Bossons Collectors Society at to reach collectors. One sculpture could sell at retail for $35 to $100.
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Q: I have a Bausch & Lomb microscope from the early 1900s, last used from 1933 to the 1960s. There are two numbers on it: 14738 and 17227. It's a family heirloom, but I'd like to sell it.
A: Bausch & Lomb was established by John Jacob Bausch and Henry Lomb in Rochester, New York. Bausch had an optical goods store starting in 1853. He borrowed $60 from Lomb and made him a partner when the business became successful. The company made rubber eyeglass frames and other optical products. It began making microscopes in 1876. Binoculars, eyeglass lenses, photographic lenses, telescopes and other optical products were made by the end of the 1800s. The company is still in business, a division of Bausch Health Companies Inc., and is the world's largest maker of eye care products. The numbers on your microscope indicate that it was made in 1894 or 1895. Prices have dropped. Brass microscopes made in the 1890s sell for under $150. 
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Q: My grandmother got a W. Adams & Co. dinner service as a wedding gift in 1916. I only have the tureens and serving plates and wonder if they are worth anything. The serving plates have some "age" spots, but the tureens are in perfect condition. The dishes are marked with a crown over a circle with a pretzel-shaped mark in the middle, the words "crown, semi-porcelain," and "W. Adams & Co., England." We'd like to know what they are worth and how to sell them.
A: Adams and Sons of Staffordshire, England, was founded in 1769. The mark you describe was used from about 1879 into the early 20th century. Serving pieces sell for a wide variety of prices, from under $20 to over $100, depending on pattern and condition. You can try a matching service like, but it's probably easier to sell them to a local antiques store or resale shop. Dinnerware is hard to sell. Platters sell for $20 to over $100, tureens for $24 to $50 or more online.
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Tip: Never store a rug in a plastic bag. The fibers need to breathe. Wrap the rug in a clean white sheet. Don't store rugs in a hot attic.
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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. 
Rumrill, bowl, green, stacked rings, tabs at shoulders, 7 3/4 inches, $25.
Medical fleam, brass, lancet-shaped blade, spring mechanism, leather box, 2 1/2 inches, $105.
Lamp, electric, Harris Strong, tile, landscape, teak, 38 inches, $115.
Roseville double-wall pocket, pine cone pattern, green, 8 3/4 inches, $160.
Royal Copenhagen sculpture, horse, standing, head down, ribbons, multicolor, 11 1/2 x 13 inches, $270.
Blown-glass sculpture, flower, trumpet shape, blue, purple speckle, John Leighton, 27 inches, $345.
Teco vase, matte green, yellow speckles, handles, 11 inches, $515.
Tiffany glass bowl, blue iridescent, overlapping petals, pontil mark, 1925, 3 x 7 1/2 inches, $795.
Roycroft vase, hammered bronze, silver inlay, geometric, Dard Hunter, 1915, 6 1/4 inches, $1,200.
Coffee Table, Gianfranco Frattini, Kyoto series, beech, ebony, openwork grid, 1974, 14 x 36 inches, $2,930.
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