Kovels – Antiques & Collecting: Week of Nov. 29, 2010

This majolica helmet pitcher made by Wedgwood in 1872 holds a surprise. Just flip the picture so the top is at the bottom and you will see a Roman helmet. The topsy-turvy sold for $4,800 at Brunk Auctions of Asheville, N.C.

This majolica helmet pitcher made by Wedgwood in 1872 holds a surprise. Just flip the picture so the top is at the bottom and you will see a Roman helmet. The topsy-turvy sold for $4,800 at Brunk Auctions of Asheville, N.C.

“Topsy-turvy” designs, sometimes called “upside-down” or “two-faced portraits,” were a clever idea that found favor in the 1870s and later. Plates, cups, pitchers, advertising mirrors, advertising cards, vases, comic strips and even books could be made that way. A topsy-turvy is a design that looks correct if it’s right-side up or upside-down. Some children’s books were made so two different stories could be read, one right-side up and the other upside-down. The picture on each page is an optical illusion that looked like one thing in one direction and another in the other direction. So an elephant head looking over a fence becomes an ostrich in front of the fence. A picture of a frowning woman could be seen as a laughing man by just revolving the page. “Topsys and Turvys,” two 1893 books by Peter Newell, are still popular and still in print. Another type of upside-down design was created by those who made ceramics. A famous cup made in the mid-1800s looks like a fluted cup with an elaborate handle until it is turned upside down and becomes a swan. A British majolica helmet pitcher made in the 1870s looks like an ordinary pitcher until it is turned bottom up and becomes a Roman soldier’s helmet. Designs like these delight collectors. Look carefully at unfamiliar decorations and shapes. You may find a topsy-turvy for your collection.

Q: I have an upright piano that my parents purchased, either new or used, around 1915. The inscription on the front panel above the keyboard says, “Hensel, E.G. Harrington & Co., Makers, New York.” I would appreciate any information you can give me about the piano.

A: E.G. Harrington & Co. was founded in 1871. After 1900 it was affiliated with Hardman, Peck & Co., which built pianos under several different names, including “Harrington” and “Hensel.” Aeolian bought Hardman Peck in the 1930s. Harrington pianos were built until 1960. To determine the year your piano was made, you need to find its serial number. It may be inside the piano or on the back of the case. Since your piano dates to about 1915, the serial number should have five digits. Once you find the number, you can look it up in the Pierce Piano Atlas (www.pianoatlas.com) or the Bluebook of Pianos (www.bluebookofpianos.com).

Q: My son found an empty glass jar that looks like a honeycomb. It has the hexagonal markings that indicate the small honey storage cells in a large square on the side of the bottle. The top seems to have had a screw-on cap. Any idea how old it is?

A: The honeycomb jar design dates from the early 1930s. Variations were made for many years. They ran in size from 2 1/2 to 7 inches tall. Some even say “Honeycomb jar-honey” near the top. The jars, of course, were filled with honey and sold in stores. Researchers have found that Lake Shore, an Illinois company, packed honey and honey-related products in the bottles for many years. The company used a round bottle with raised squares, probably representing a beehive, in the 1980s.

Q: I’m looking for instructions for the board game “Countdown to Space,” made by E.S. Lowe in the 1960s. I have a game complete with pieces but missing the instructions. How would I find the instructions?

A: Rules for some games are available on the Association of Game & Puzzle Collectors website, www.AGPC.org. The rules for your game are not posted, but the website may be able to give you some clues about where to look. Search online for other sites that offer instructions for games or tips on how to find them. If you find someone who has the complete game, you may be able to get a photocopy of the instructions. The E.S. Lowe Toy and Game Co. was founded by toy salesman Edwin S. Lowe in about 1929. Your game, “Countdown to Space,” was introduced in 1967. It is based on the Apollo moon mission. Milton Bradley Co. bought out E.S. Lowe in 1973.

Q: I have a brass Social Security card that belonged to my great-grandfather. It’s dated 1935 and may be one of the first cards issued. Could you shed some light on this?

A: The Social Security Act was passed in 1935, but the first Social Security cards were not issued until November 1936. Numbers were assigned and cards typed up at more than 1,000 post offices. A low number on the card doesn’t mean it was one of the first, since the first three numbers are based on the state or area where the card was issued, with states in New England having the lowest numbers. It’s not possible to know who got the first Social Security card, since they were processed at several different post offices at the same time. When the first batch of records was processed in Washington, the record of John D. Sweeney Jr. of New Rochelle, N.Y., was taken off the top. Newspapers stated that he was issued the first card, but he was just the holder of the first record pulled. He never received any money from Social Security because he died in 1974 before reaching retirement age. Social Security cards today are made of banknote paper. Metal and plastic Social Security cards have been made as more durable alternatives, but they are not “official.” There have been at least 34 versions of the design on Social Security cards. The earliest versions had a seal in the middle of the card. The date of issue was on the card, but since no cards were issued before 1936, the date on your card is not the date of issue. Your great-grandfather’s card suggests it may be a “fantasy” version.

Tip: To clean silver, gold or diamond jewelry, soak it in a glass of vodka overnight. But remember, discard the vodka after using it; don’t drink it.

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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.

  • Felix the Cat wooden figure, jointed, name on chest, leather ears and tail, Pat Sullivan copyright, Schoenhut, 4 1/2 inches, $115.
  • Talking Ken doll, blue eyes, reddish-brown eyebrows and molded hair with sideburns, “Hi, I’m Ken. Let’s go to the big game tonight,” Mattel, 1968, 10 inches, $135.
  • Pendleton blanket, geometric designs, bright yellow, green and red on brown ground, circa 1920, 60 x 70 inches, $150.
  • Veteran Brand Peanut Butter pail, image of trademark Civil War officer on both sides, navy blue and white, 3 1/2 x 3 3/4 inches, $250.
  • Liniment bottle, embossed “Jack Johnson’s Own Liniment, Vielek Mfg. Co., Pittsburgh, Pa.,” molded, circa 1910, 6 1/2 inches, $275.
  • Ludwig Von Drake cookie jar, ceramic, red felt tongue, square black hat, glasses on nose, 1961 Disney copyright, American Bisque, 9 inches, $295.
  • Victorian bride’s basket, ruffled rim, shaded amber to rose, gold scrolling, silver-plated holder, three cherubs holding base, 11 inches, $430.
  • Silver-plated epergne, three arms with winged horses, four openwork fruit, floral and scroll bowls, gadrooned borders, shell feet, Mappin & Webb, England, 17 x 16 x 16 1/2 inches, $520.
  • Chinese export bowl, rose mandarin, scene of soldiers and court officials in courtyard, border of couple in garden, 1880s, 14 1/2 inches, $1,380.
  • Tester bed, Southern walnut, flared molded tester, paneled headboard, crest rail, acorn finials, vase-turned legs, circa 1825, 106 x 74 x 51 inches, $3,585.

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