Keep your eyes open for odd antiques - like eye charts

Terry Kovel
This 1880s optician's eye test chart was made by Globe Optical Co. of Boston and was for sale in a Massachusetts antiques shop for $2,200. It's painted wood with a metal lamp visor and has a linen scroll with rows of letters in graduated sizes.

There doesn't seem to be any type of antique that isn't sold at auctions, flea markets or shops. We were surprised years ago at a flea market when a dealer was offering a wooden artificial leg. It was sold an hour after we saw it. He said it went to a woman who wanted to make a statue, and she had wondered if he had any more.

We have seen many sets of false eyes sold, samples of what surgeons would use to replace a missing eye. And bottles of cures too strange to describe.This is a 19th-century optician's eye test chart made of black painted wood from Andrew Spindler Antiques & Design, a shop in Essex, Massachusetts. It has a metal lamp visor and a linen scroll with letters of different sizes. It was purchased at an antiques show in New York City about 18 years ago for about $1,800. It has since been rewired and the scroll restored, and it was priced at $2,200.

Keep your eyes open at antiques shops and you may find another eye test chart. It will certainly be a rare antique. Wonder what the prescribed glasses looked like? Lots of collectors can show you their favorite odd antique. Sometimes those are the most fun.

       * * * 

Q. I have my mother's autograph book from when she was in high school. She recently passed away at the age of 95. In this book are the signatures of Katharine Hepburn, Johnny Weissmuller and a few other famous people. What is the value of these signatures? 

A. Autographs of famous people in entertainment, sports or politics sell at auctions that specialize in autographs. Several things determine the value of an autograph, including the fame of the person signing it, rarity, condition and authenticity. Autographs in an album generally don't sell for as much as those on a letter, important document or photograph. Look online to find auctions that sell autographs. Value of your autographs, about $25 to $50 each. 

       * * * 

Q. My daughter has several pieces of Franciscan Apple pattern dinnerware. We'd like to know what the difference is between the American and English backstamp. It appears all her pieces are marked before 1950, maybe 1940. She needs to sell these, so where would we go to find a buyer? 

A. Franciscan is a trademark first used by Gladding, McBean and Company of Los Angeles, California. Apple pattern dinnerware was introduced in 1940 and became one of the company's best-selling patterns. Franciscan became part of Interpace in 1962 and was sold to Josiah Wedgwood & Sons in 1979. The California plant closed, and production moved to England. After changes in ownership, production moved to China in 2004. The backstamp helps date the piece. Apple pattern dishes were made in the United States from 1940 to 1979 and in England from 1979 to 2004. Dinnerware is hard to sell. You can contact a matching service like Replacements Ltd., but you will have to pack and ship the dishes, and you will get about half of what they sell them for because they have to make a profit too. It's easier to try to sell the dishes at a local consignment shop, or just donate them to a charity and take the tax deduction.

       * * * 

Q. I have 11 Imperial Glass Whirling Star Marigold Iridescent punch cups and have no idea how to price them. Can you help?

A. Imperial's Whirling Star pattern in Marigold was only made in punch sets. The compete set, including the punch bowl, base and 12 cups, sells for about $300-$450. A set with the punch bowl and six cups was offered for sale for $95. Whirling Star punch cups in other colors sell for about $5 or $6. The set has been reproduced.

       * * * 

Q. I inherited two hanging Hummel rings, about 5 1/2 inches in diameter. One has a baby boy's face looking to the right at a figural bee. He's marked "Goebel, W. Germany." The other is a baby girl with an orange bow in her hair. She's looking left at a bee and is marked with a bee above the letter "V" over "Goebel, W. Germany." How old are they and what is their value? Are they safe to hang in a child's room or bathroom?

A. These are Hummel's Ba-Bee Rings, which were first made by the W. Goebel Porcelain Factory of Oeslau (now Rodental), Germany, in 1935. The early rings are rare, but they were made for several years after that. The marks on your rings show they were made in the 1970s. The bee and letter "V" over "Goebel, W. Germany" is known as the "vee over gee" or "last bee" mark. It was used from 1972 until 1979, when the "missing bee" mark was introduced. They are safe to hang in a child's room as long as they are out of reach so the child can't chew on them. Value of your rings, about $30.

       * * * 

Q. How much is a barometer signed "J. Mangiacavalli, 1859, England" worth? It has a thermometer and hygrometer. The barometer is broken and doesn't work. 

A. Barometers measure changes in atmospheric pressure to forecast the weather. The thermometer measures the temperature, and the hygrometer measures relative humidity. Antique barometers with elaborate wooden cases and brass trim are the most desirable. If the barometer is broken and can't be fixed, it isn't worth anything. 

       * * * 

TIP: Look for vintage light fixtures and lamps at flea markets and thrift stores. Paint or polishing can often restore them.

       * * * 

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.

       * * * 


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. 

Roasted peanut warmer, Ko-Pak-Ta, children, dancing, jumping, sunset, trees, 17 inches, $120.

Automobilia, tractor seat, cast iron, American Harrow Co., c. 1880, 14 x 15 1/2 inches, $145.

Copper, figurine, lobster, jointed limbs, hammered plates, signed, Japan, 7 1/2 inches, $550.

Fan, silver, folding, black lacquer, figures, royal household, decoupage, 9 x 16 inches, $600.

Indian, moccasins, Plateau, beaded, diamonds, hide, sawtooth edging, blue, red, c. 1910, 9 inches, $650.

Model, steamboat, Robert E. Lee, miniature passengers, wood, platform, glass case, 8 1/2 x 24 inches, $1,910.

Sailor's valentine, seashells, flowers, triangles, oval, walnut shadowbox frame, 1900s, 16 x 19 inches, $2,640.

Scepter, jade, phoenix, immortal, wilderness, deer, dragon, crouching, cicada, 15 inches, $6,500.

Political button, George Washington inauguration, "Long live the president," ringed star, brass, $7,500.

Patent cabinet desk, compartments, drawers, pullout writing surface, postal drawers, letter drop box, carved gallery, 59 x 58 inches, $13,860.

       * * * 

Kovels' "A Diary: How to Sell, Settle and Profit from a Collector's Estate," is a step by step guide on what to do when settling an estate; from gathering legal papers to dividing antiques among heirs and selling everything else -- even the house.

It also includes how to identify popular collectibles and tips on where and how to sell furniture, jewelry, dishes, figurines, record albums, bikes and even clothes. We explain the advantages of a house sale, auction, selling to a dealer or donating to a charity.

Learn about how to handle the special problems of security and theft. Plus, a free current supplement with useful websites, auctions lists and other current information. Available only from Kovels for $19.95 plus $4.95 postage and handling. Order by phone at 800-303-1996; online at; or write to Kovels, P.O. Box 22900, Beachwood, OH 44122.