Collectors clearly see value in optician trade sign

Terry Kovel

With its simple shapes, copper frame and red glass panels, this might look like a hanging sculpture in a modern abstract style. It's really an optician's trade sign from the late 19th century. 

Antique trade signs are especially desirable when they double as folk art. This optician's sign, shaped like a pair of red lenses in a metal frame, could be an interesting, if expensive, decoration.

Antique signs, advertising and medical paraphernalia are popular collectibles. Some collectors seek them out for their historical significance or subject matter. Others consider them works of art. Signs that sell as folk art tend to bring higher prices at auction. 

This one sold for $1,625 at Cowan's Auctions for more than twice the estimated value! The buyer might have had an interest in optometry or simply liked the look of the piece.  

Question: I'm sending you a photo of a pink serving bowl that belonged to my mother. I remember her using it on many happy occasions, and it's still in perfect condition. The bowl is 12-inches wide and 2 ½-inches tall. It has an unusual base with handles that look like leaves. There are no markings that I can see. Can you tell me who made it and if it has any value?

Answer: Your mother's mottled pink bowl is the Tuscany pattern made by the Roseville Pottery Company in 1927. Marks were not printed directly on this pattern. A sticker was placed on the bottom instead. Roseville Pottery was one of the largest American art pottery makers through the 1950s. Pedestal bowls and vases with this pattern have recently sold for $75 to $115.

Q: My parents bought this Coca-Cola clock at an estate sale in California in the 1970s. It has always been in their basement, and it still works. Can you tell me anything about the clock and if it has any value? 

A: Coca-Cola items are popular collectibles. "Things go better with Coke" was an advertising slogan that the Coca-Cola Company began using in 1963. It became one of its most popular taglines. Your photos show this slogan and the raised red button with "Drink Coca-Cola." Plastic advertising wall clocks like yours were made in the 1960s. They have recently sold for $75 to $215.

Q: My husband and I were employees of the Borden Milk plant in Youngstown, Ohio, in the 1970s. We have an 8-ounce drinking cup with the "Elsie the Cow" logo on the cup. The cup is white, and the lettering is blue. We also have a 12-ounce drinking glass and eight 8-ounce glasses with the Elsie logo. Are these collectible? What are they worth? 

A: The Borden company has been in business for more than 160 years. Gail Borden and his partner started the company after Borden was granted a patent for his process for condensing milk in 1856. The company was named the New York Condensed Milk Company until 1919, when it became the Borden Company.

It was the world's largest dairy operator by the late 1980s. Income fell in the '90s, and the company was sold in 1995. It was sold again in 2009, and the name became Borden Dairy.

Elsie the Cow first appeared in ads in 1936. Her image was also used on milk bottle caps. The first live cow dubbed "Elsie" appeared in Borden's exhibit at the 1939 World's Fair. She outdrew every other exhibit at the Fair.

Elsie's image has appeared on bottles, glasses, cups, clocks, lamps, figurines, playing cards and many other items. Glasses and cups sell for about $7 to $10. You will find cups offered for sale at higher asking prices, but they often sell for $10 or less.

Q: It made me very happy when I found a picture of a Sevres urn in your Kovels' Antiques & Collectibles Price Guide that sold for $1,750. I have a Sevres urn that looks like the one in the book, but the lid on mine has been repaired. The mark is hard to read but looks like it has an "A" in the center. How will this affect the value? I have an antique dealer who is interested in my urn.

A: It should also make you happy to know the Sevres-style urn you saw in the Kovels' 2020 Price Guide also had some restoration and touch-up. Quality of the repairs and authentic marks will increase its value. Sevres marks are some of the most forged marks in antiques, and many reproductions were made in the 19th century. Get a second opinion from someone other than the interested dealer. The dealer must make a profit and will pay you a percentage of what it can be sold for.

TIP: Do not drip-dry your glasses. The water evaporates and leaves minerals behind on the glass. Eventually a film forms.

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. Be sure your name and return address are included. 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. 

Textile, bag, red, yellow and black stripes, geometric borders, woven, attached cowrie shells, Northern India, c. 1900, 21 x 20 inches, $60.

Furniture, chair, art nouveau style, walnut, carved crest rail, scrolls, floral swag, baluster shaped spindles, upholstered seat, arms, 33 ½ x 27 x 21 inches, $130.

Rosenthal, vase, porcelain, cobalt blue, silver overlay, flowers, lattice on neck, shoulders, flared rim, 17 inches, $190.

Art glass vase, pale pink, wide mouth, short tapered stem, clear base with pink threading, Laurie Thal, 7 ½ inches, $225.

Teddy bear, mohair, ochre, white patch paws, brown googly eyes, stitched nose, hand sewn, c. 1920, 22 inches, $250.

Furniture, cabinet, Victorian, burl mahogany veneer, column shape, white marble top, interior shelf, 31 x 16 ¼ inches, pair, $430.

Wristwatch, LeCoultre, bumper, round case, champagne dial, gold Arabic numerals and indices, seconds hand, 18K gold bezel, black leather strap, $815.

Jewelry, chatelaine, pierced waist clip, Pan mask, putti, scrolls, eight chains, pillbox, pin cushion, pencil, pocket knife, scissor holder, perfume bottle, thimble holder, pocket watch, silver, England, c. 1889, 8 inches, $940.

Textile, tapestry, Tree of Life, birds, leafy plants, shaded blue ground, multicolor, woven, midcentury, 76 x 51 inches, $1,875.

Advertising, bin, Rio Coffee, barrel shape, hinged lid, red ground, black lettering and bands, 19th century, 24 x 19 inches, $2,125.