Handmade needlework pieces are collected as vintage folk art

Terry Kovel
Would you have kept a crocheted crepe paper flag for more than 80 years? An Oklahoma woman, probably a collector, made the flag, and her family saved it until last year when they realized it might be valuable. They sold it at auction for $344. Unique vintage pieces are often of interest and will sell for a good price.

Folk art, by definition, is a homemade or handmade piece by an untrained artist. It can be as large as a huge sculpture of found pieces of metal or as small as a peach pit carved and made into a pendant. A realistic duck decoy, a quilt with original designs or a carved wooden bust of a president can also be folk art.

Women often made needlework pieces to use that are collected today as vintage folk art. A 33- by 55-inch crocheted flag was sold at a Garth's auction in Ohio recently. It was made of crepe paper and signed by Meta Schmitt of Omaha about 1936. The 48-star flag was probably made to display at a patriotic gathering, like a Fourth of July or a "Welcome Home Soldier" party. After the event, she must have carefully stored it in a dry, dark place away from newspaper ink or loose colored crepe paper that might bleed. With the flag was a 90-inch-long pole painted silver to look like a metal pole. It must have been stored with the flag.

Collectors learn the hard way that parts of a set or a combination of parts often get misplaced when moved around in storage areas. Boxes or wrapping must be marked or labeled on the outside. If there is a special history or story, such as who made it and when it was used, write it down and put it in the box or tape it to the wrapping. Family photos of the party with the flag also will add to a selling price. Meta's paper flag sold for $344. She probably would have been pleasantly surprised.
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Q. I just started collecting stuffed toys made by the Steiff company. Can you give me some advice about what to buy and how much the toys should cost?
A. Margarete Steiff made the first Steiff toy, a stuffed elephant, in 1880 and soon she had a factory in Germany making all sorts of stuffed animals. So, you have thousands of toys to choose from. Look for the button in the animal's ear, a trademark used since 1904. They have also used labels and other tags. The button and tags give assurance that it is really by Steiff, and the price will be higher than that of a similar unmarked toy. Like all antiques, condition, size, supply, demand and that intangible "appeal" also determine price. Serious collectors and experts say to buy the best example you can afford, and original condition is the most important feature. Some still want toys that have "been loved," but that is another way to say they are in bad shape. The ugly toys are rarer than the pretty or cute ones, so the prices are higher. Large ones (over 10 inches tall) are rare, cost more when new, and are more expensive as antiques than small ones.

Keep accurate records of what you bought, price, description, history and a picture, so when eventually your collection is sold, all the information for taxes or claims to importance are available. And remember to sound like an expert. "Steiff is an animal for life," was their rhyming slogan, so you can remember not to mispronounce the name as "Steef."
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Q. I have just been given an antique vinaigrette, but I don't know how it was used. The gift tag says it was to help revive a person who felt faint or had fainted. I thought from the name that it had something to do with vinegar and food.
A. Before 1900, an 18-inch waist was an important part of a fashionable look. Women wore corsets at the waist, and someone would have to tighten the lacing at the back to shrink the waistline. This uncomfortable clothing often interfered with proper posture and breathing, so women would feel faint and sniff a vinegar or ammonia-soaked sponge in the vinaigrette. The shock of the sharp smell would revive the woman. Vinaigrettes came in many shapes, from boxes with a grill to fanciful containers shaped like fish, cornucopias or books.
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Q . My antique bisque-headed doll is marked on the back of the neck with the impressed letters S. F. B. J. /301/ PARIS. Does that tell who made it?
A. The letters stand for the French company Societe Francaise de Fabrication de Bebes & Jouets. The firm was in Paris and Montreuil-sous-Bois, France. The mark was used from 1899 to the 1950s.
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Q. I sold Avon during the 1960s and '70s, and I have a large collection. I'm downsizing and wonder if anyone would be interested before I throw them out.
A. Avon started as the California Perfume Company, founded by David H. McConnell in 1886. The name Avon was used beginning in 1929. Collecting Avon bottles became popular in the 1960s, and at one time there were more than 60 Avon collector clubs in the United States. Interest has waned and most of the clubs are gone, but you can still find people selling vintage Avon bottles that held beauty products. Some are crossover collectibles, especially figural bottles, so you might find someone interested in your collection by contacting online sellers. Most Avon collectibles sell for under $10. A few that are shaped like cars are about $25.
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TIP: Don't scour a seasoned iron pan to clean it. Scrape off any particles with a spoon.
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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. 
Satin Glass vase, blue, cased, ruffled mouth, 8 1/2 x 5 1/2 inches, $20.
Bowl, Findlay Onyx, shaped rim, flowers, leaves, cream, 2 1/2 x 8 inches, $150.
Vase, Celadon, bottle shape, lobed, cranes, 10 x 4 inches, $300.
Carnival Glass, Rose Bowl, blue, roses, basket, 8 3/4 inches, $310.
Buffalo Pottery Chamberstick, white flowers, green leaves, turquoise band, Emerald Deldare, 6 3/4 inches, $625.
Vase, Loetz, iridescent diaspora, bag shape, flared mouth, ruffled, dimpled, red, 1920s, 6 1/2 x 3 1/2 inches, $1,420.
Cigar store figure, holding cigars, headdress, green tunic, yellow leggings, 23 x 5 3/4 inches, $1,320.
Console table, Dunbar, midcentury modern, 3 file drawers, 2 doors, shelves, 29 x 136 1/2 inches, $1,970.
Steamer trunk, monogram canvas, leather & wood bound, fitted interior, four compartments, lock, Louis Vuitton, 22 x 43 1/2 inches, $7,380.
Box, Cloisonne, oval shape, cobalt blue border, flowers, turquoise ground, gold trim, 3 x 6 inches, $1,190.
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There is hidden value in contemporary pottery. You can find it at shops and garage sales for low prices because the marks are unknown. Kovels special report "Kovels' Identification Guide to Contemporary American Pottery 1960s to Present" includes more than 180 marks and 60 featured artists. Each artist's biography includes a mark, a pictured piece and this year's price.

Learn about Robert Arneson, Jack Eugene Earl, Henry Takemoto and others. Recognize the newest pottery when you see it at a flea market or garage sale. Available only from Kovels for $19.95 plus $4.95 postage and handling. Order by phone at 800-303-1996; online at; or mail to Kovels, P.O. Box 22900, Beachwood, OH 44122.