Kovels Antiques & Collecting: Week of April 20, 2015

Ever see an antique top hat covered with old wallpaper? This 8-inch-high top hat is lined with an 1814 newspaper that mentions the nominee for governor of Massachusetts. Perhaps it was worn at a political party. But although the hat was well cared for during the past 200 years, its use remains a mystery.

BEACHWOOD, Ohio – Odd, unidentified or unusual collectibles make every antiques show and shop more fun. How do you use a dog treadmill? Did the dealer say it was an elephant catcher? Is that strange crock really an 1850 chicken feeder? And what is the use for an oversized cardboard top hat covered in wallpaper?

Don Olson, a Rochester, N.Y., folk-art dealer, just sold an early 19th-century top hat. The 8-inch-high hat seemed a bit large to wear. It was well-made with yellow-and-green wallpaper that pictured leaves. The pattern was carefully matched. The inside was lined with newspaper, dated 1814, that reported on an auction of cannons and a nominee for governor. The hat was in excellent condition. It didn’t seem to have been worn much. Old wallpaper-covered hatboxes are valued antiques and many are in museum collections. But this is the first hat we’ve seen. It’s 200 years old and in great condition.

Well-made unique folk art sells quickly. Look carefully at some of the strange things you might find in your ancestor’s attic. There could be a valuable treasure or an important piece of forgotten history.

Q: I have a thimble that reads “Massasoit Coffee.” There is a small star after the word “coffee.” Can you tell me something about collecting thimbles and which ones are considered of more value?

A: Massasoit Coffee was produced by Chas. E. Brown & Co. of Springfield, Mass., in the early 1900s. Thimbles have been made for more than 1,000 years and are a popular collectible today. Thimbles by known makers sell for the most money. Some collectors specialize in a particular type of thimble, like advertising, commemorative, political, souvenir, floral, scenic, cities or states, or by material. Thimbles have been made in aluminum, brass, gold, pewter, plastic, porcelain, silver, wood and other materials. Some have a maker’s mark on the band or inside the cap. Thimbles made in the late 19th century or later may be marked with the size. Advertising thimbles were made beginning in the 1800s. Early advertising thimbles were made of brass, silver or aluminum. Later, they were made of plastic. There is an international club for thimble collectors, Thimble Collectors International, ThimbleCollectors.com.

Q: I have an old French country-style chair with the label “Barnard & Simonds Co., Grand Rapids, Mich.” It’s fruitwood with a caned back and padded seat. I’m tempted to refinish it, but I’m told that to keep value in a piece of furniture you shouldn’t. Can you help me decide by telling me about the company and the value of the chair?

A: Barnard & Simonds Co. was founded in Rochester, N.Y. in 1898. The company made reproductions of American- and English country-style upholstered furniture and novelties. In 1959, it moved to Grand Rapids, Mich., where it merged with Michigan Furniture Shops and Stratford Shops. The company was bought by Baker Furniture in 1967 and the Barnard & Simonds name was discontinued by 1971. Your chair probably was made in the 1960s and is worth about $50, so have fun refinishing it and make it gorgeous.

Q: I’ve seen articles about the increasing value of old radios. I have a large number of old radio vacuum tubes. Is there a market for them?

A: People who repair old radios need old radio tubes. You should contact someone in your area who repairs old radios to see if they are interested in buying the tubes or search online for restorers of vintage radios.

Q: My wooden chest was given to my stepfather by his son when he served in World War II. It has a label that reads “Golden Dragon Co., Wood Carved Factory, Chest Factory Goods and Furniture, etc. Broadway, Shanghai.” It’s about 32 inches long, 16 inches wide and 16 inches high. The top and sides are covered with all-over carvings of people and scenery. It has an Asian-looking lock. Does this have any value?

A: Several companies in Shanghai, China, made carved wooden furniture in the 20th century. Many pieces were exported to the West. Carved wooden chests were often bought by tourists and brought back to the United States. Most 20th-century Chinese carved chests sell for about $300 to $400 because of their decorative value.

Q: How can a person find out ahead of time what auction houses are selling so they can get their item included? For instance, when I got your newsletter I was surprised and dismayed to see that an auction of toy stoves had been held. I have a salesman’s sample Engman-Matthews stove that my great-grandfather used to have. I have a snapshot of him standing next to a real stove. Had I known this auction was “going to happen,” I would have contacted the auction house. So how does a person get this information?

A: If you have something you want to sell, you should contact an auction house that sells similar items. They will let you know when they are having a sale that can include it. The auction house starts working on the catalog months before the sale. Be sure you are aware of the terms of the sale, including seller’s costs, and what happens if your item doesn’t sell.

Tip: If buying a vintage fountain pen, examine it carefully. Look for extra holes in the cap that indicate a missing clip and signs of glue near the clip or trim. And run your fingernail around the cap lip to check for cracks or chips.

Take advantage of a free listing for your group to announce events or to find antique shows, national meetings and other events. Go to the Calendar at Kovels.com to find, publicize and plan your antiquing trips.

Terry Kovel and Kim Kovel answer questions sent to the column. By sending a letter with a question, you give full permission for use in the column or any other Kovel forum. Names, addresses or email addresses will not be published. We cannot guarantee the return of photographs, but if a stamped envelope is included, we will try. The amount of mail makes personal answers or appraisals impossible. Write to Kovels, Auction Central News, King Features Syndicate, 300 W. 57th St., New York, NY 10019.


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.

  • Bitters bottle, Doyle’s Hop, 1872, amber, square, circa 1860, 9 1/2 inches, $35.
  • Mantel surround, Renaissance-style, oak, carved, dolphin shape-brass handles, circa 1880, 62 x 67 inches, $295.
  • Lalique glass hood ornament, eagle’s head, frosted feathers, polished tips, signed, 4 1/2 inches, $300.
  • Dollhouse, three-story, Victorian, porch, painted, blue roof, Gottschalk, Germany, circa 1890, 17 x 9 3/4 inches, $460.
  • Steuben glass, vase, acid cut back, goblet shape, footed, green geometric flowers, textured alabaster, 6 inches, $575.
  • Sterling-silver teapot, Art Deco, oval, footed, swan neck spout, fluting, domed lid, Miyata, 7 x 10 1/4 inches, $575.
  • World War II poster, “Books are Weapons in the War of Ideas, Books Cannot be Killed,” S. Border, 1942, 28 x 20 inches, $1,410.
  • Bunny Spice tin, allspice, white rabbit, color lithograph, cardboard, metal top, 2 1/2 x 2 1/4 inches, $1,670.
  • Binoculars, tortoiseshell, gilt bronze, Carpenter & Westley, England, 1835-1914, 5 x 4 inches, $2,705.
  • Mirror, George III, giltwood, leaf carved frame, beaded border, divided panes, circa 1790, 39 x 27 inches, $3,750.

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