COLUMNISTS

Antique toys provide glimpse back into time

Terry Kovel
Bing of Nuremberg, Germany, is one of the most famous toy companies of the late 1800s to early 1900s. They made this miniature factory, which may have been an educational model or a children's toy.

Antique toys can give us a glimpse into the time they were made. Even if they are not exact models, we can get ideas of the cars people drove, how they dressed and furnished their homes and what professions they had or pastimes they enjoyed.

If antique toys teach us about the past, they taught the children who played with them about the future. Toy cars, trains, farm tools, dolls and dollhouses prepared children for their adult responsibilities. 

This miniature tin factory was made by Gebruder Bing (Bing Brothers), a German company that was making metal toys by the 1880s. It became one of the largest toy manufacturers in the world and is famous for its toy vehicles (cars, trains and boats) and steam engines. This toy factory, which sold for $4,864 at Morphy Auctions, may have been an educational model to train factory workers, a more serious purpose than that of a typical tin toy.

Question: I saw what looked like a miniature wooden dresser in an antiques store. It looked old. They were asking $80. Why was miniature furniture made? 

Answer: Miniature furniture, particularly from the early 1700s to the 1850s, were made as sample pieces by cabinetmakers. These replicas were produced on a scale of 1/4 inch to 1 foot. Other miniatures were made for dollhouses. Common pieces were chairs, desks, dressers, tables, footstools, bookcases and beds. Some of the bookshelves included tiny replicas of books. Salesman's samples are very collectible and often sell for more than most regular-size furniture today. It sounds like your antique store find was priced well!

Q: I have an old German Handwerck doll that belonged to my mother. The doll is 29 inches tall and the markings say "109-15 DEP." There are more markings on the doll's backside, but they are hard to read. I'd like to sell it. Can you tell me its value? 

A: Handwerck dolls were made about 1876 to 1932 in Waltershausen, Germany. The number "109" refers to the doll's mold number. DEP is an abbreviation for Deponirt, a registered design in Germany. Bisque head Handwerck dolls similar to yours have recently sold for $75 to $195.

Q: I'd like to know how best to take care of a Bradley & Hubbard lamp that has been in my family for over 100 years. The base is very large and heavy. It has a reverse-painted umbrella shade and is from about 1910. 

A: Bradley & Hubbard was founded in 1854 by Nathaniel Bradley, his brother, William, and his brother-in-law, Walter Hubbard. The company made clocks, sewing machines and other products. Kerosene lamps were made beginning in the 1860s.

The company was reorganized as Bradley and Hubbard Manufacturing Co. in 1875. It became a division of the Charles Parker Co. in 1940. Production of Bradley & Hubbard lamps ceased in the early 1950s. Lamps with reverse-painted glass shades should be kept away from sunlight and heat, which can damage the colors. Don't use a lightbulb that's too hot. Reverse-painted glass should never be washed, just dusted. Use a clean, soft cloth, and don't apply too much pressure. It could scratch the glass or cause it to crack.

Q: I recently read the book "A Midwife's Tale: The Life of Martha Ballard based on Her Diary, 1785-1812." At one point, the book quotes a line from the diary mentioning "Dolly and Sally have washt, scourd my puter and washt the Kitchen"[sic]. I thought pewter was soft and scouring would damage it. Is that right? 

A: Yes, pewter is soft, and collectors today do not recommend scouring it. But in the past, up to the 20th century, people used their pewter pieces for cooking, serving and tableware. Homemakers liked it clean and shining. Scouring would have removed any sticky food or residue and made the metal shine.

Pewter was cleaned with wood ashes, sand or the Equisetum hyemale plant, also known as "horsetail," "scouring rush" or "pewter plant." Today, collectors keep pewter for its decorative value, not its use. An antique look is especially desirable, so heavy cleaning, which would remove its patina, is not recommended. Wash pewter by hand, not in the dishwasher.

We suggest using a commercial pewter polish (not one made for a different metal!), mild soap and water or an ammonia-based glass cleaner. Commercial scouring powder is too harsh for pewter. If necessary, a mild abrasive can help remove tarnish. "Rotten stone," a polish made from finely powdered limestone, is considered safe for pewter.

The Pewter Society (www.pewtersociety.org/) suggests removing oxidation with fine emery paper. Polish your pewter only once or twice a year. If it is an Arts and Crafts piece with its original finish, we recommend not polishing it at all.

TIP: Put a vinyl record back in its sleeve. It will collect dust if left on the turntable.

Terry Kovel and Kim Kovel answer readers' 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 collectorsgallery@kovels.com.

CURRENT PRICES

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. 

Lunch box, Marvel Comics, Spider-Man and Hulk on front, Captain America on back, blue trim, Thermos, metal, Aladdin, c. 1980, 7 ¾ x 4 x 7 inches, $65. 

Battery dispenser, Ray-O-Vac, "Light When You Need It," large flashlight over city at night, 10 cents, "Buy Spares That Stay Fresh," red body, four troughs, tin, 15 ½ x 10 ¾ inches, $95. 

Clock, folk art, tower shape, wood, house shape case, bird perched on roof, leather clock face, battery operated, signed, dated, Daniel Hale, 1987, 25 inches, $125. 

Movie poster, "North By Northwest," Cary Grant, Eva Marie Saint, James Mason, black and white image, "The Master of Suspense weaves his greatest tale!" Alfred Hitchcock, 1959, 41 x 27 inches, $190. 

Bohemian glass lustres, amber overlay, etched leafy vines, spear shaped hanging prisms, 13 inches, pair, $235. 

Pottery vase, luster glaze, Hispano-Moresque style, blue and copper leaves, scrolling vines, pierced handles, globular body, flared neck and base, 23 ¾ inches, $320. 

Chair, lounge, Kofod Larsen, walnut frame, upholstered, gray wool, seat cushion, open arms, stretcher base, foil tag, Selig, Denmark, 39 x 34 x 34 ½ inches, $875. 

Pair of tole buckets, black ground, flower bouquet, gilt scrolls on reverse, gilt borders, ring handles, Victorian, c. 1860, 7 ¼ inches, pair, $900. 

Claret jug, cut glass, moon shape, radial design, silver gilt mounts, handle, oval foot, husks, diaper work, gadroon borders, Andre Aucoc, Paris, France, late 19th century, 10 ½ inches, pair, $1,025. 

Clock, thermometer, Louis XV style, kingwood, gilt bronze mounts, scrolling leaves, round clock dial, signed "Gille L'Aine A Paris," mercury thermometer above with spiral base, signed "par Ronquetti," 44 ½ x 13 ¼ inches, $1,280.