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Archive for Thursday, August 18, 2005

Whimsical garden ornaments can fetch top dollar

August 18, 2005

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Dancing frogs might be an unusual idea for a garden ornament, but it was just one of many eye-catching garden pieces made by the Weller Pottery in the 1930s. The Ohio art pottery made all sorts of vases, mugs, figurines and jardinieres. Garden figures included ducks, gnomes, a banjo-playing frog, children, squirrels, turtles and even fish fountains. Many, like the dancing frogs, were covered with a blotchy green glaze called Coppertone. Collectors like both the large ornaments and the Coppertone pieces that featured frogs, waterlilies or turtles. There is even a Coppertone frog sprinkler. Prices for the smaller pieces can be $200 or more. Large pieces sell for more than $1,000.

Q: About 35 years ago, my husband was stationed in London. While we were there, we bought an old oak roll-top desk in wonderful condition. The word "Cutler" is stamped on the front. We have been told that the desk was made by the Cutler Desk Co. of Buffalo, N.Y. Can you tell us more?

A: Abner Cutler started a cabinet-making business in Buffalo in 1829. By the middle of the 19th century, he had been granted seven patents covering various features of his company's most popular piece of furniture, the roll-top desk. This doesn't mean that Cutler invented the roll-top desk, but he did make several design improvements. Cutler's company manufactured roll-top desks for decades. Yours would have to be seen in person to determine its age and value. Most c. 1900 oak roll-top desks in excellent condition sell for $1,500 to $4,000.

Q: In August 1963, my employer, the chairman of the Democratic Party in my county, gave me a miniature California license plate embossed "JFK 464." It was to be one of the political items promoting John Kennedy's re-election campaign in 1964. It was never used, of course, because Kennedy was assassinated in November 1963. The license plate is 4 inches long by 2 1/4 inches high. It's black with gold letters, just like California plates of that time. I have never seen another Kennedy collectible like mine. What is it worth?

A: Yours is not the only miniature California JFK license plate in existence. There are a few in the hands of collectors. The plate doesn't sell for much more than a few dollars, but it's an interesting collectible. Don't throw it away.

Q: My German grandparents moved from Alsace, France, to New Orleans in 1848. They left my parents a plate that's a mystery, and now that I'm 87 I'd like to solve it. The plate is 7 1/2 inches in diameter with a blue-and-white floral transfer border and a black-and-white transfer decoration in the center picturing six female angels on stands labeled with the names, in French, of six European countries. Above the angels there's an owl yanking a man's beard with its talons while two human hands pull on the owl's wings. The French phrase "Du cote de la barbe est la toute puissance" is printed on the back of the plate, along with a factory mark of three intertwined crescents. I can make out the name D. Johnston in the mark, but the other words are illegible.


Among the largest and most expensive of Weller's garden ornaments is this pair of dancing frogs. The 16 1/2-inch-high Coppertone frogs sold recently at Rago Arts and Auction Center in Lambertville, N.J., for $8,225.

Among the largest and most expensive of Weller's garden ornaments is this pair of dancing frogs. The 16 1/2-inch-high Coppertone frogs sold recently at Rago Arts and Auction Center in Lambertville, N.J., for $8,225.

A: We can solve some of the mystery. Your plate was manufactured by David Johnston & Co. of Bordeaux, France, probably between 1834 and 1845. Johnston, born in Bordeaux of British parents, founded his pottery in 1834, became mayor of Bordeaux in 1838 and sold his factory to his technical director, Jules Vieillard, in 1845. Vieillard continued to use the triple-crescent mark, however, so it's possible that your plate was made after 1845. The French phrase is a line from "The School for Wives," a 1662 satirical play by the French playwright Moliere. Roughly, the phrase translates as "The side of the beard is all-powerful." The character who speaks this line in the play is saying that men hold power over women, but the play goes on to show the character's belief to be false. As for the central decoration on your plate, the beard is connected to the Moliere quotation, and the fact that the owl (often a symbol of wisdom) is pulling on the beard while human hands are pulling on its wings could symbolize the constant struggle between men and women or among the European countries symbolized by the angels. Even if the plate remains something of a mystery, it could sell for more than $200.

Q: I'm in my 80s and have a clear, pressed-glass pitcher that was a wedding gift to my grandmother. It's decorated, front and back, with a squirrel framed by tree limbs. Can you identify the maker and tell me the pitcher's value?

A: You have a piece of rare pressed glass in the pattern known as "Squirrel in Bower." Some reference books say that the maker and date of production are unknown. Others say the pattern was manufactured in the 1870s by Portland Glass Works of Portland, Maine. No matter who made your pitcher, it's at least 125 years old and could sell for about $1,500 if it's in excellent condition.

Current prices

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.

¢ Victorian braided-hair choker, gold-filled fittings and agate pendant, other side is bust of classical warrior, 13 1/2 inches, $260.

¢ Pepsi-Cola thermometer, reverse-painted mirror, nude lady pointing to sky, 1930s, 18 x 8 inches, $280.

¢ Mickey Mouse Magazine No. 5, Donald Duck on cover, February 1936, Western Publishing, 8 x 11 inches, $550.

¢ Rose Canton porcelain punch bowl, raised blue enamel floral exterior, polychrome borders of flowers, fruits and butterflies, 15 3/4 inches, $1,175.

¢ Civil War holster with ink identification, made for a Colt .36-caliber police pistol, reads "Capt. J. Nelson, Comp. H.E.B.S. Regt., Dec. 1861," 13 1/2 inches, $115.

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