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Archive for Sunday, July 28, 2002

Mission furniture continues to attract collectors

July 28, 2002

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At the end of the 19th century, designers were searching for something new. The Victorian era had produced elaborate furniture with inlay, ormolu trim, painted decorations and carvings. Chairs were upholstered with formal fabrics and trimmed with tassels and braid.

A simpler look was needed.

Gustav Stickley was one of the first American designers to make functional, sturdy, simple furniture. Many pieces were made of oak that was colored or "fumed" to a dark color. The pieces had very straight lines and little decoration. The prominent mortise and tenon joints were made to add some variety to the otherwise plain pieces.

The result was furniture that came to be called Mission or Arts and Crafts. It became so popular that it was copied by many imitators, who cheapened the construction and changed the designs. The style was out of fashion by 1915.

Collectors rediscovered Mission in the 1980s. Mission is now so popular that it has been recreated by many good furniture companies. Collectors also search for Arts and Crafts metalwork, embroidered textiles, lamps and art pottery.

Original pieces made by Gustav Stickley are expensive. Modern reproductions and originals by lesser makers are still at low prices. The accessories, especially the embroidered textiles, are often bargains.

Several years ago, we purchased a building in Iowa and found an old advertising sign upstairs. The sign is made of a sheet of color-lithographed paper glued to a wooden board. The picture is of a black man wearing a fishing hat, a blue-checked shirt and tan overalls. The words above him read "Wear the Gotzian Shoe." What's so unusual about the sign is that the man's mouth moves. A spring device on the back can be wound up to alternate the mouth from a smile to a frown. Have you ever seen a sign like this?

No, we never have. If it's a genuine old piece of advertising, it's valuable. We can tell you that the Gotzian Warehouse and Wholesale Shoe Store was in a landmark building that's still standing at the corner of Fifth and Wacouta streets in St. Paul, Minn. The building, completed in 1885, was designed by Cass Gilbert. He is better known as the architect of the Minnesota State Capitol. If your sign is genuine, it could date from around the turn of the 20th century.

While digging in my back yard, I unearthed an old bottle. It is greenish-blue and just under 7 inches tall. It has an unusual metal stopper that fits in a thick, rounded top. There's a horseshoe embossed on the front of the bottle with the words "Hayes Brothers, Trade Mark Registered, Chicago, Ill." On the back near the bottom, the words "This bottle is never sold" are embossed above the initials "A.G.W."

You found a soda bottle with a Hutchinson stopper. Hayes Bros. was a bottling company founded in Chicago in 1871. Hutchinson stoppers were patented about 1880. Blob-top bottles, like yours, were at their peak of production from about 1885 to 1910. "A.G.W." stands for the bottle manufacturer, American Glass Works, of Pittsburgh. That firm sold bottles to several Illinois bottlers. The embossed phrase about not selling the bottle was supposed to prevent people from refilling and reselling it. That was a common problem for early bottle manufacturers. The warning phrase was in common use between about 1905 and 1920. Your bottle sells for about $75.

Can you help me date a few pieces of English china? They are white, with wide borders of roses and green leaves. The mark on the bottom of each piece includes a crown, the printed words "Royal Albert" and "England" in capital letters, and the words "Bone China" in a style that looks handwritten. Under all of this, there's a "Reg. No. 828288" and the words "Needle Point" in red.

The English registry number dates the introduction of your china's pattern, Needle Point, to 1938. But the style of the mark shows that your dishes were manufactured after World War II. The dishes were made by Thomas C. Wild & Sons, a pottery that started working in the Staffordshire district of England around 1894. Royal Albert was a trade name used by the pottery until 1970, when the company's name was changed to Royal Albert Ltd. Royal Doulton now owns the trade name and continues to make many of its traditional patterns. The Needle Point pattern is not made today. You can buy pieces in the pattern from replacement services.

We have a cast-iron elephant bank that was given to my father-in-law around 1905. The elephant is gray with a gold-painted blanket and seat on his back. The elephant's trunk moves up slightly when a coin is inserted in the slot on his back. Can you tell us anything about it?

Your mechanical bank is one of three similar elephant banks patented in 1905 by the A.C. Williams Co. of Ravenna, Ohio. The banks do not have as "sophisticated" a mechanism as the mechanical banks of the late 1800s. Your bank is not rare, but if it is in excellent condition and has not been repainted, it could sell for more than $100.

Tip

Allergic to dust and dust mites? Put old stuffed animals in a sealed plastic bag, then put the bag in the freezer for 24 hours. The temperature will kill the dust mites and the eggs.

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