Old iron toys still delight collectors

Terry Kovel
This toy tourist bus was made about 1910 by the Kenton Hardware Co. in Ohio. Not all of the passengers were part of the original toy, but suitable replacements had been found. It is a rare toy, so rare it auctioned for a little over $1,000.

Buses were used for transportation as early as the 1820s, long before the modern motor was invented. They had horse-power – live horses pulled the bus. By the 1830s, buses were powered by steam, and in 1882, the first electric bus was introduced. 

But the toy bus made after 1895 often resembled tourist buses used in a few large cities. It had a motor. The tourist bus had seats inside and out; if the weather was nice, riders could climb the stairs to go up to the top seats where tall buildings could be admired. There was no cover for the top. 

The Kenton Hardware Co in Kenton, Ohio, made many small cast iron household items such as bookends, doorstops, small figures, ashtrays, cooking utensils and toys. A double-decker tourist bus was made in about 1900, followed by a second version in 1910. An orange one sold for $1,020 at a Bertoia auction in spite of seven replacement figures with old paint.

Many old iron toys have been copied; original toys should have a smooth, not bumpy, bottom. The seams between the molded parts must be tight and jointed with slotted screws. And most old toys have the maker's name impressed in the mold. 

       * * *

Q: I have a beautiful vase that belonged to my grandmother. She died in 1944, so I assume the vase is very old. It has large pink roses on it with tints of green and yellow. The bottom is marked "Belleek" over what looks like a twisted snake and the word "Willets" underneath. What can you tell me about it? 

A: This mark was used by Willets Manufacturing Co., a company in business in Trenton, New Jersey, from 1879 until about 1912. The twisted snake forms the letter "W." Willets made porcelain, semi-porcelain, graniteware and majolica, but is best known for its belleek, which was made from 1887 until at least 1909. Its successor, New Jersey China Pottery Co., made belleek marked with the Willets name until c.1914. Willets belleek vases that are about 10 inches tall sell for $150 to $250.

       * * *

Q: I have a hardback copy of the book "Big Red" by Jim Kjelgaard, illustrated by Bob Kuhn and published by Grosset & Dunlap. The copyright date is 1945. It was one of the first books given to me when I was a kid. I think it's at least 61 years old. The book is in fair to good condition. Is it worth preserving or should I let my four grandchildren read it? 

A: The book "Big Red" was first published by Holiday House in 1945 and originally sold for $2. Grosset & Dunlap was one of several companies that published reprints. The book is still in print and more than a million copies have been sold. It was made into a movie produced by Walt Disney Studios in 1962. Value depends on rarity, condition and the dust jacket. First edition copies sell for high prices, but you don't have the first edition which was published by Holiday House. Hardcover copies of "Big Red" sell from $5 to about $47. If your book is only in fair condition, the value is at the low end. You should let your grandchildren enjoy reading it. 

       * * *

Q: I wrote to you a few years ago about some baseball coins I got when I was young, about 12 years old. They were offered by Junket Brand (Salada Tea). You said a 1962 Yogi Berra coin sold for $45 and a 1962 Roberto Clemente coin for $90 at that time. Have prices changed? How can I go about selling theses coins? 

A: The coins picturing baseball players were included in boxes of Salada Tea and Junket Pudding Mix in 1962 and 1963. The 1962 coins had paper images in a round plastic holder. The 1963 coins had metal holders. Price depends on rarity, condition and the popularity of the player. Mickey Mantle, Willie Mays, Roberto Clemente and other major stars are the most popular. Baseball coins that sell for the highest prices have usually been authenticated and rated by a company like Professional Sports Authenticator and are encased in a plastic holder showing the rating. Coins sell for as little as $2 and as much as $1,500, depending on condition and rarity. To sell yours, you should talk to a company that has had sales that included the coins and know their value.

       * * *

 Q: Where can I sell paintings and sculptures from the Nelson Rockefeller Art Collection? Rockefeller produced limited edition reproductions of works by famous artists. My late husband was one of the investors in the Minneapolis retail store that sold pieces from the collection. When the store closed in the early 1980s after Rockefeller's death, the investors divided the contents among themselves. I have several paintings and sculptures. Some of the prints and paintings have "The Nelson Rockefeller" certificate on the back. 

A: Nelson Rockefeller announced in 1978 that he had obtained the rights to reproduce 124 works of art from his private collection. Reproductions were sold through a catalog and in a limited number of retail stores at prices ranging from $35 to $7,500. The artists or their heirs were paid royalties or 5% of the retail price and had some say in the quality of the reproduction. Although some of the bronze statues have sold at auction for a few thousand dollars, most reproductions don't sell well. The bad news is these limited editions, created about 1980, were heavily advertised and sold for more than most reproductions. Today they are very hard to sell. You may find it's best to give them to a charity sale and get the tax deduction for a charitable gift. 

       * * *

TIP: Don't drag heavy furniture. Get some slider disks ahead of time and be ready when they are needed. The disks can be found at most hardware or big box stores.

       * * *

Terry Kovel and Kim Kovel answer reader's questions sent to the column. Send a letter with one question describing the size, material (glass, pottery) and what you know about the item. Include only two pictures, the object and a closeup of any marks or damage. Questions that are answered will appear in Kovels Publications. Write to Kovels, (Name of this newspaper), King Features Syndicate, 628 Virginia Dr., Orlando, FL 32803 or email us at

       * * *


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. 

Fiesta, sugar & creamer, shaped tray with tab handles, periwinkle blue, concentric rings at neck, sugar has lid with tapered finial, post-1986, tray 10 inches, $40.

Toy, seal, plush, ride on, metal base with four spoked wheels, cast iron hoop handle, Steiff, 15 x 31 inches, $120.

Staffordshire, platter, blind boy & mother in garden setting, pottery, blue transfer underglaze, c.1850, 15 x 20 inches, $250.

Doorstop, dog, Spaniel, seated, column & star decoration around base, pottery, Rockingham glaze, East Liverpool, Ohio, 1800s, 11 3/4 x 7 1/2 inches, $375.

Toy, chest, wooden, Federal, walnut, pine, four drawers with pulls, fluted stiles, Tennessee, salesman's sample, 1820s, 9 1/2 x 9 3/4 x 5 inches, $565.

Sampler, alphabets, birds, flowers, Victorine Leonore Bonnegent, December 9, 1800, Bernay, Parish School of Sewing, August 12, 1808, silk & cotton on linen, frame, France, 12 x 13 inches, $1,065.

Furniture, bookcase, Limbert, Arts & Crafts, oak, overhanging top with backsplash, two doors, glass panels, shelves, splayed legs, marked, 57 x 48 inches, $1,230.

Handel, lamp, ceiling fixture, 3-light, hanging, suspended from chains, bronze, painted domed glass shades, signed, 14 x 18 inches, $2,500.

Glass-contemporary, vessel, Seaform, clear, pink & white wavy bands, black lip wrap, Dale Chihuly, 1981, 9 3/4 x 10 x 8 inches, $3,250.

Poster, Beatles concert, Candlestick Park, August 29, 1966, Here Come the Beatles, psychedelic design, yin yang circle with U.S. & British flags, Wes Wilson, paper, 24 x 17 inches, $7,190.