Glass-covered labels coveted by apothecaries

Terry Kovel
Silly as it may seem, milk glass can be one of many colors. It is an opaque glass first used in the 1800s and now prized in collections of barber bottles of the Victorian era. This 10 1/2-inch-high milk glass barber bottle with a colorful label under glass sold for $200.

 Glass bottles were expensive packages for alcoholic drinks and other liquids, including many beauty products, by the late 1700s. But makers liked to give products a permanent label, not just a pasted, handwritten or printed paper label. So bottles were made with a thin layer of glass that was heated to cover the label and adhere it to the bottle permanently. Other less decorative bottles were made with the product name captured in the mold. 

A label under glass couldn't fall off, get damaged or become illegible, so they were favored by apothecaries, the drug stores of the past. Many of these glass-covered labels were handwritten with the Latin names of medicines using fancy style gold-leafed letters.

Glass Works Auctions featured milk glass barber bottles in an auction that included this American circa 1880-1900 barber bottle. It has a shaker top and a label under glass with the name "W.L. Doremus, Bay Rum" surrounding the head of a girl in a colorful bonnet. Highest bid, $222.

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Q: I was given a three-piece 1850s bedroom suite by a friend just before he passed away. He told me it was from Germany and that it was shipped around the southern tip of South America via schooner ship. It was bound for California just as the gold rush was beginning.

Part of the story is that it was in the San Francisco Opera House onstage during the 1906 earthquake. Enrico Caruso was due to perform in the opera "Carmen." I was wondering if you could assist me in selling the suite as I have no one to leave it to that would know the importance and value of what they had, and I would hate to see it just trashed. It's in good shape considering how old it is and how many times it has probably been moved.

A: It's a good story, but you would need to have some proof that it was part of the stage set for "Carmen." The opening performance of the opera by New York's Metropolitan Opera was held April 17, the night before the earthquake rocked San Francisco. Enrico Caruso was one of the stars of the production. The furniture has to be seen to be given a value. Without provenance, the set is worth the same as any other bedroom furniture from that era. Old bedroom furniture that is fair quality and out of style doesn't sell for much.

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Q: Why do we say dinner dishes are made of china?  

A: The story was part of my junior high school history lessons. Marco Polo brought "china" (a green colored pot) back from his explorations of China in 1260. Europe had only heavy pottery dishes, and "china," the porcelain made in China, was lightweight, white, translucent and "fit for a queen." It was one of the things that encouraged the king and queen of Spain to give Christopher Columbus money for his explorations in 1492. 

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Q: I was given a cast-iron, horse-drawn beer wagon toy many years ago by a good friend from Germany. The wagon is 14 inches long and there are four horses, each about 5 inches long. The words "Schultz Beer & Ale" are written on both sides of the wagon. It's not marked. It's filled with wooden barrels. I'd like to know the approximate age, value and maker if possible.   

A: This toy often shows up for sale online. Sellers say it's a reproduction, possibly made in the 1980s. There are no markings to give a clue to the maker, and we haven't seen the original, or vintage, toy if it's a reproduction. The toy has been made with different color wagons, with different company names on the sides, and different numbers of horses. Some have a passenger and a dog, as well as a driver. Value for the beer wagon with four horses, depending on condition, is about $50.

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Q: I inherited a set of International's "Spring Glory" sterling silver flatware 14 years ago. There are 12 five-piece place settings and several serving pieces. I showed it to a dealer last year who valued it at $1,000. I need to know its current value. 

A: International Silver Company made "Spring Glory" flatware from 1942 to 1996. Sterling silver flatware was a popular wedding present years ago. It's not as popular today and, although the price of silver has gone up in the past year, sets of silver are hard to sell.

It's important to know if the value you were given is what the dealer thought they could sell the silver for or what they would pay you for it. You can check prices for "Spring Glory" silver flatware prices on silver matching services listed online. Replacements Ltd. lists a five-piece place setting of "Spring Glory" for $210 to $230. Matching services also buy silver flatware but will pay you a percentage of what they sell it for since they have to make a profit.

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TIP: Three-dimensional valentines and valentines with movable parts tend to be worth more than other valentines.

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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. Write to Kovels, (Name of this newspaper), King Features Syndicate, 628 Virginia Dr., Orlando, FL 32803 or email us at

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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.

Paper, valentine, mechanical, Rain or Shine, You Are Still My Valentine, boy in tan jumper, girl in blue and white checked pinafore, boy hands girl flowers as their eyes move back and forth, easel back, 1930s, 8 x 6 1/2 inches, $20.

Toy, Rocking Beauty, stylized rocking horse, bent plywood, red knob handle, G. Caranica, Creative Playthings, 1960s, 19 x 25 inches, $115.

Lamp, electric, three cone-shaped adjustable metal shades, metal pole with disc base, Lightolier, 62 inches, $260.

Indian basket with lid, Cherokee, woven, split oak and river cane, natural dyes, stripes, squared base, oval rim, bent wood handle, 1960s, 16 x 17 x 9 1/2 inches, $345.

Pair of Libbey glass candlesticks, cut cup, tapered air twist stem, low wafer knop, spread ray cut foot, marked, American Brilliant Period, 8 inches, pair, $460.

Van Briggle Pottery Angel Vase, Ming Blue glaze, three figural draped women clinging to sides, swollen top, tapered base, spread foot, incised mark, Craig Stevenson, AA Van Briggle, Colorado Springs, 13 x 9 1/2 inches, $750.

Furniture, footstool, hippopotamus shape, stitched leather upholstery, 18 x 31 inches, $985.

Folk art figure, Snow Owl with Rabbit Prey, wood, carved, painted white, glass eyes, stepped stand, signed, Casey Edwards, 29 x 12 inches, $1,375.

Fireplace, screen, iron, rectangular, cutout silhouette of man on horse jumping fence, stylized openwork tree and bushes, mesh, spread penny feet, J. Barton Benson, Abington, Penn., 34 x 37 inches, $2,060.

Doll, Bebe Brevete, bisque shoulder head, blond mohair wig, kid body, gusseted joints, pink silk and lace dress, bonnet, marked, Bru Jne & Cie, Paris, 21 inches, $3,385.