20th century interest in antique arts of native people means higher prices

Terry Kovel
This 9 1/2-inch-tall carved bust made of black argillite sold for more than twice its estimate at $18,750. It depicts a European trader.

A Rago auction catalog called a large carved bust made of black stone a "Haida Argillite carving" and then explained the meaning of the word "argillite." Antiques can be made by people, companies or methods with unfamiliar names, but this time the auction house realized that bidders needed help.

Argillite is a fine-grained black silt stone found in only one spot, the Slatechuck Creek on Haida Gwaii, also called the Queen Charlotte Islands, in the Pacific Ocean off the northwest coast of British Columbia, Canada. The Haida, a North American native culture, were the original people living on the islands. They have been making carvings of wood and argillite since about 1800. Pipes used with tobacco have been found that were made from 1810 to 1840. The location of the quarry is a secret and only the Haida are permitted to use the stone.

Today, Haida carvers make and sell carved argillite jewelry and decorations — "tourist art" made to be sold to visitors. Both the Haida and European cultures are depicted. Many pieces are amusing. A carving of one piece as large as a bust is unusual and valuable because the stone breaks easily. The bust of a man, made about 1840s to 1850s, sold for $18,750. Twentieth-century interest in the antique arts of native peoples has led to higher prices. 

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Q. I picked up two "Star Wars" kids' soaps in their original boxes at a yard sale this past weekend. One is Darth Vader and the other Gamorrean Guard. They are dated 1981. What are they worth?

A. The movie "Star Wars" opened in 1977. Sequels were released in 1980 and 1983 and prequels in 1999, 2002 and 2005. "Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker" is scheduled to open in December 2019. "Star Wars" soap, bubble bath and shampoo were made by Omni Cosmetics. The soap sells online for about $10.

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Q. I have a man's ring that my grandfather, who emigrated from Sicily in 1912, gave to my father who gave it to me. I am the "end of the line" and would like to have a sense of its history before I decide what to do with it. It's gold, shaped like a buckle and has an onyx shield with a small diamond. Inside is the mark "OB 10K." I'm hoping you might be able to guide me as to its history and possible value. 

A. The "OB" mark on your ring indicates it was made by Ostby & Barton Co., a jewelry firm started in 1879 by Engelhart Ostby and Nathan Barton in Providence, Rhode Island. Ostby was a goldsmith who came to the U.S. from Norway. The company became one of the largest makers of gold rings in the U.S. In 1906, Ostby and his daughter, Helen, went to Europe to view the newest designs by European jewelers and to buy gemstones. They set sail for home in April 1912 on the R.M.S. Titanic. Englehart Ostby was one of the 1,500 who perished. Helen was able to board a lifeboat and survived. She and her brother Harold carried on the business, which operated until the 1950s. Helen died in 1978. Collectors search for pieces of O & B jewelry partly because of Engelhart's newsworthy death and partly because of the quality of the jewelry. Prices depend on the value of the stones, the gold and the design. Your ring is worth $200 to $300.

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Q. I have a small Satsuma teacup with a peacock and flower decoration. The band at the top is red with gold trim. The mark on the bottom has an eagle and "Satsuma/Expressly Produced For/Heritage Mint Ltd. L.A. CA./Japan." Can you give me a value for insurance purposes?

A. Heritage Mint Ltd. is a consumer products distributor that started in California in 1976. Your "modern" Satsuma peacock teacup was made in Japan in the 1970s. It is usually found in a set of four that sells for about $20 or in a set with a teapot and four cups for about $50.

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Q. My grandmother gave me a presidential pencil set some years ago. Each pencil has the name and image of one of the presidents, from George Washington through John F. Kennedy, and the years each served in office. The pencils were never sharpened, the erasers never used. They are still in the box they came in, marked from Blue Bonnet margarine. Are there collectors for such things and what would the set be worth?

A. This presidential pencil set was a "special election-time offer" available for $1 and the end flap from a package of Blue Bonnet margarine. It was made by Pencil-Crafts Sales Co. of Hoboken, New Jersey, in 1960. The set included presidents from Washington to Eisenhower and another pencil that could be turned to show either Kennedy or Nixon, indicating it was made before the November 1960 presidential election. The company also sold the set, including a booklet of facts about the presidents, through mail order for $1.98. Sets like yours, in the original box, sell online for about $30.

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TIP: Never display a stuffed trophy in bright sunlight. Feathers and hair become stiff and brittle, and colors fade.

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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. 

Canton dish, pavilions, boats, bridges, arches, houses, blue, white, oval, 10 1/2 x 8 1/2 inches, $70.

Kewpie doll, black, side-eyes, red lips, jointed arms, incised, Rose O'Neill, 6 inches, $210.

Inkwell, silver, Baltimore rose, repousse, glass insert, 2 inches, $240.

Advertising sign, Stolz Premium beer, extra pale, extra fine flavor, white and yellow text, beer bottle, gray ground, 8 x 12 inches, $330.

Leica Camera, 50-mm Elmar lens, IIIa, black, leather case, 1938, $420.

Maitland Smith basin, swan heads, acanthus leaves, shaped base, gilt, faux green marble, resin, 19 x 27 inches, $570.

Chanel clutch, fabric, black, white, logo printed in two directions, envelope shape, flap, 5 x 7 1/2 inches, $840.

Disneyana Mickey Mouse toy, unicycle, wide yellow tire, yellow shoes, cloth pants, wind-up, 5 1/2 inches, $960.

Mechanical bank, clown on a globe, cast iron, J. & E. Stevens Co., c. 1890, 8 1/2 inches, $1,680.

Millefiori panel, Murano glass, central element, gondola, signed Giacomo Franchini, 1 1/2 x 1 3/4 inches, $2,280.

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