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Archive for Sunday, July 27, 2003

Kitschy items make popular collectibles

July 27, 2003

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"Kitsch" is a word that refers to anything in strange, almost pretentious bad taste. A musical comedy about Hitler, a metal figure of a nude woman with a clock set in her belly, a small ceramic baby sitting on a potty or a black velvet painting of Elvis are all collectible kitsch today.

The humor of something in such nonmainstream taste has led to a special field of collecting. Perhaps souvenirs are the easiest pieces of kitsch to find. The orange plastic pitcher shaped like a huge orange, the false-teeth holder shaped like a fat man and labeled "chopper hopper," the carved-coconut monkey head, and the hula-girl lamp with moving hips and grass skirt are selling at flea markets. But notice that earlier examples -- like bisque "bathing beauties" and small figurines of lounging Victorian ladies in period underwear -- are no longer considered in poor taste and are selling for high prices at flea markets. Chairs made of antlers or cattle horns, once considered in very bad taste, are now bringing hundreds of dollars at auctions. Hawaiian shirts, lady-head planters and even replicas of Lucy, the elephant-shaped hotel near Atlantic City, are now saved as examples of lifestyles of the past. Even unusual pairs of salt and pepper shakers that resemble hugging animals or the Empire State Building and Statue of Liberty are part of someone's collection.

Remember, tastes change. The Victorian and Mission styles of the past, considered ugly and in poor taste before 1950, are now displayed in art museums. Enjoy the humor and memories of your collectibles. Buy and live with what you like, not what is considered "good taste" by others.

My mother bought a child's rocker at an antiques shop in 1967. She gave it to my daughter. The rocker is just over 20 inches tall and 18 inches wide. The seat and back are made of one piece of curved plywood that's perforated with a pattern of small, round holes. On the back of the chair is a faded stamp: "Ga--er's, Patented May -1, 1872."

The clue to the maker of your chair is the perforated design. Gardner & Co. of New York City and Glen Gardner, N.J., manufactured chairs, settees and benches with perforated seats and backs. Most of the furniture was in the Eastlake style, with square angles and turned spindles. The company was founded by five brothers. One of them, George Gardner, was granted a patent on May 21, 1872, for a three-ply veneer chair seat. At the time, wicker was growing in popularity. The Gardner Co.'s perforated plywood chairs were meant to be as attractive as wicker but stronger and less expensive. Gardner & Co. made furniture from about 1870 to 1888.

Can you give me information about a set of dishes that my mother bought at least 50 years ago? The pottery dishes are cream-colored with large hand-painted leaves and two red flowers -- one a large, open one and the other a small, closed bud. The mark on the bottom includes a few illegible words and this phrase: "By Rio, Hand Painted Under Glaze, Stetson China Co."

The words you can't read are "Lincoln, Ill." That's where the Stetson China Co. was located from 1946 to 1966. Stetson produced both ceramic and Melmac (a brand of hard plastic) dinnerware. Some of the ceramic dishes, like yours, were hand-painted using standard design outlines. Others were decorated with decals. Toward the end of its production years, Stetson sold nearly all of its wares to a Chicago brokerage firm. That firm sold the dishes to grocery and furniture stores, which used the dishes as premiums. "Rio" was Stetson's name for the shape of your dishes, which were probably made in the 1950s. The pattern of your dishes is "Meadow Rose." A single dinner plate retails for about $20.

We have a tin lithographed music box marked "J. Chein & Co., Made in U.S.A." It is 9 1/2 inches high with a base that's 7 1/2 inches wide by 4 3/4 inches deep. It's shaped like a Gothic church window, with a peak at the top. The design is of the inside of a church, with a large pipe organ at the center. The box plays music when you crank the handle on the side. Can you tell me its age and value? It looks like no one ever played with it.

This kitsch lamp is a ceramic hula dancer from the 1950s. Her
rotating hips, fringed skirt and colorful glaze added up to a bid
of almost $550 at a David Rago auction of expensive '50s
furnishings.

This kitsch lamp is a ceramic hula dancer from the 1950s. Her rotating hips, fringed skirt and colorful glaze added up to a bid of almost $550 at a David Rago auction of expensive '50s furnishings.

Julius Chein founded his toy company in Manhattan in 1903. He had arrived there from Russia 10 years earlier. The company stopped making toys in the 1970s. Chein tin toys are popular. Your church organ was manufactured from the 1930s until the late 1950s. If you have the toy and its original box, it's worth more than $150.

Tip

Put about 15 inches of plastic 'popcorn' in the bottom of your tall-case clock cabinet. The weights sometimes fall, damaging the bottom boards, and this will solve the problem before it happens.

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