Houses were decorated with special Christmas objects long before special dinner plates were made for the holiday. There are at least five states that claim they had the first American Christmas tree: Pennsylvania (1747), Massachusetts (1832), Illinois (1833) and Ohio (1838). The first glass ornaments were imported in the 1860s; the first tree lights were used in 1882. Large platters decorated with turkeys were made by the 1880s and probably were used for Christmas as well as Thanksgiving dinner. Special Danish plates with a Christmas scene made to hold Christmas cookies were made each year after 1895 by the Bing and Grondahl factory and after 1908 by the Royal Copenhagen factory. But the first set of Christmas dinnerware did not appear until 1938, when Spode made a special set that featured a picture of packages under a Christmas tree. (The first suggestion for the design showed a tree with packages ON it, but the design was changed for the American market.) The Spode pattern is still popular. Since the 1950s, hundreds of special dishes have been made for the holiday season. There are many collectors who want not only Christmas trees and ornaments, lights and stands, but also anything that is part of the Christmas season. Special salt and pepper shakers, cake stands, punch bowls, vases, cookie jars, cookie cutters and even a small eggbeater shaped like an egg-person wearing a Santa hat can help with Christmas dinner. Look for new Christmas items that are not traditional ornaments, trees or toys. It is the unusual that will gain most in value in years to come.
Q: I have a round board with movable letters that go on a track around it. Is it a game? How old is it?
A: You probably have a spelling board or alphabet board, an early educational toy. They were usually round, but rectangular boards were also made. The letters move on a track and slide into place to spell words. Spelling boards were popular in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Early spelling boards were made of wood, while later boards were cardboard. Wooden boards sell for over $100; cardboard spelling boards usually sell for less and may be bought for just a few dollars.
Q: My mother left me her collection of Barclay metal Christmas figurines. They’re the kind that people use to create a winter scene on a mantel or tabletop. The set includes Santas, ice skaters, skiers, children, benches, horses and a one-horse open sleigh with two seated passengers. When was Barclay in business and where? What kind of metal are the figurines made of? What are they worth? And can I restore them if I never want to sell them? The paint has peeled on some, and the legs of some of the horses are broken.
A: Barclay Manufacturing Co. was founded in West Hoboken, N.J., in 1924. By the late 1930s, it was the largest manufacturer of toy soldiers in the United States. Your “civilian” figurines were made between 1935 and 1942. The metal used was an alloy of lead and antimony. Barclay stopped toy production in 1942 so it could do defense work, but returned to toy-making after the war until it closed in 1971. Single figures originally sold for a nickel apiece. Today your figurines are worth $10 to $200 each, depending on their condition and what they are (the Santa designed to sit in a sleigh is the most valuable). You certainly have more freedom to do restoration work if you plan never to sell your figurines, but you don’t know what your heirs will want to do someday. So if some figurines are in bad shape, have them restored by a professional.
Q: I have a metal Popeye lunch box with a thermos bottle from 1964. Can you tell me what it’s worth?
A: The 1964 box features Popeye, Olive Oyl, Wimpy and Swee’ Pea on the boat, the S.S. Popeye, while Brutus flounders in the water, chased by a shark. The reverse side pictures Brutus in a wheelbarrow pushed by Popeye as a truant officer to Olive Oyl’s schoolhouse. It was made by King Seeley Thermos of Freeport, Ill. The graphics were designed by Wally Wood, one of EC Comics’ top artists in the 1950s. He occasionally freelanced for lunch-box manufacturers. If your lunch box and thermos are both in excellent condition, the set is worth $200 to $300.
Q: I am hoping you can tell me something about a glass vase I just found. It’s blood red, well made and signed “M.M.A.” It looks Italian to me.
A: M.M.A. is the mark used for reproductions sold at the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s gift shop. The famous museum in New York City often sells reproductions of pieces in its collection or those on display. The museum contracts with glassmakers all over the world, so we can’t tell you where your reproduction vase was made.
Tip: Don’t use window cleaner to wipe off picture frames and mirror frames. It may remove the gilding.
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- Christmas tree ornament, “Baby’s 1st Christmas,” Hallmark Keepsake, box, 1984, 3 inches, $35.
- McDonald’s advertising dexterity puzzle, Archie McDonald character says “Let’s Go to McDonald’s,” 2 BB-size balls roll into McDonald’s eyes, 1964, 1 5/16 inches, $50.
- Shirley Temple soap, figural, white crinoline dress with red bow at waist, blond curly hair, designed by Lester Gaba for Kerk Guild, 3 3/4 x 5 3/4 x 2 inches, $125.
- Carnival glass bowl, Stag & Holly pattern, blue, footed, marigold iridescent finish, c. 1900, 10 inches, $175.
- Santa candy container, figural, composition face, cotton beard, felt suit, white fur trim, hollow boots lift to access candy, 1930s, 10 inches, $190.
- Mickey Mouse toy telephone, red pressed steel, cardboard Mickey figure attached, N.N. Hill Brass Co., c. 1934, 4 1/2 x 8 x 4 inches, $265.
- I Dream of Jeannie doll, hollow hard plastic body, vinyl arms, rooted hair, sleep eyes, red-and-pink outfit, headpiece with veil, Libby, 1966, 20 inches, $310.
- Daisy Targeteer BB pistol, with targets and 2 tubes of shot, pistol marked “Daisy No. 118 Target Special,” 1939, box, 4 1/2 inches, $345.
- Disney Studio Christmas card, 1931, “Yoo Hoo!” and snow-covered house on front, “A Merry Christmas & Happy New Year” inside, caroling Disney characters, $2,875.
- French carved marble mantel, Louis XVI style, side supports modeled as paneled console brackets, serpentine apron, stylized scallop and shell, 42 x 50 inches, $4,080.
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