Archive for Sunday, October 19, 2003

Demand low for plastic furniture

October 19, 2003


By Ralph and Terry Kovel

The bargain area in furniture today, according to some experts, is plastic.

The extreme modern furniture of the past half-century included many pieces made of acrylic or colored plastic. The material permits unusual forms, but it can be burned or scarred and is difficult, if not impossible, to restore. Most chairs were molded into a shape that's comfortable, but upholstery was necessary for a soft feel.

A few auction houses today sell plastic pieces by designers like Verner Panton, Joe Colombo, Ettore Sottsass or Gaetano Pesce. Most of these designs were made for Italian firms. Plastic can include Bakelite, Lucite, fiberglass, polyester and vinyl. Many pieces are selling for surprisingly low prices: less than $200 for a table, $600 for a chair. So if you like bright red, cobalt blue, orange or yellow, buy a piece of plastic furniture while demand is low.

I inherited a 12-inch ceramic figurine from my uncle. It's an Art Nouveau-style figure of a nude woman holding a green cloak with her left arm and a gold-colored ball in her right hand. My uncle told me it used to be a finial on a banister in a New York City brownstone, and it has a series of screw holes in the base. The blue mark on the bottom is an "S" with a sideways "X" over it. Can you tell me who made the figurine and how old it is?

The mark you describe was used after 1905 by the AW Fr. Kister porcelain factory of Scheibe-Alsbach, Thuringia, Germany. The company, which dates back to 1846, was nationalized in 1972 but returned to private ownership in 1990. Your figurine was probably made in the early 1900s, when the Art Nouveau style was popular.

My black, cast-iron toy stove was a gift to my mother about 1911, when she was 10 years old. It has six burners, a warming cupboard with two doors, two teapot shelves, a reservoir with a lid, a side hearth and a chimney with damper vents. The oven door and side-grate door open. All four sides have decorative embossing, with the word "Jupiter" embossed diagonally across the oven door. My mother told me a fire could be built in the stove, making it actually work.

You have a very nice toy oven. It is known in collecting circles as the "Jupiter" oven because the manufacturer is not known. A stove just like yours, but without the side hearth, sold for more than $1,300 at a recent auction. Early toy stoves, as well as miniature stoves that were promotional items or salesman samples, are not common. They attract attention from both doll and stove collectors.

My mother bought two bright-red insulators at a yard sale. We have read that they are very hard to find. Could you please tell us what they're worth? They are both marked "Whitall Tatum, No. 1, Made in USA."

Small glass knobs called insulators were first used in the mid-1840s to insulate telegraph wires mounted on poles. Later, both electric and telephone companies used glass insulators. They were manufactured by dozens of glass companies for more than 100 years. Whitall, Tatum & Co. of Millville, N.J., didn't start producing insulators until 1922. People started collecting insulators about 25 years ago. Whitall Tatum No. 1 insulators sell for a few dollars each. The bright-red color of yours is a concern, however. It is not a color that is known to have been used for Whitall insulators. It is possible that your insulators were originally amber and have been "cooked" to change their color. If so, their value to collectors is low.

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.¢ Christian Dior perfume bottle, Poison, metal and glass, bracelet shape, black painted with green spots, signed, original box, 4 inches, $110.¢ Mickey Mouse ashtray, figural, ceramic, pie-eyed Mickey playing the saxophone, made in Japan, 1930, 2 7/8 x 4 7/8 x 3 inches, $130.¢ Blue and Scarlet Cut Plug Tobacco lunchbox, tin, bail handle, Booker Tobacco Co., 4 1/2 x 6 1/2 x 5 inches, $605.¢ Mattel P.J. doll, twist 'n' turn, eyelashes, bendable legs, silver gift set, boxed, $770.¢ Parker No. 200 store coffee mill, red, wheel embossed "The Cha's Parker Co., Meriden, Conn., USA," patented March 9, 1897, $840.¢ Bohemian glass decanter, amber cut to clear, etched grapevines, stopper, 1890, 9 inches, $1,200.¢ Barney Google candy container, facing right, left foot on barrel, embossed, midnight-blue threaded closure, slotted for bank, King Features, copyright 1923, 4 x 3 inches, $1,325.¢ Biedermeier cherrywood square center table, figured top with fruitwood inlaid banding, frieze fitted with one drawer, cabriole legs, $1,495.

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