Novel sewing instruments make popular collectibles

Sewing was a talent required of every woman before the 20th century. A major part of the week was spent weaving, cutting and stitching linens and clothing for the entire family. Countless women and helpful husbands invented dozens of sewing tools to make the job easier. Some things – like thimbles, needles and scissors – remain unchanged. Other things – like an emery to sharpen needles or a buttonhook to fasten shoe buttons – are not needed today. Some tools are still useful but have changed in shape, so old ones are often unrecognized. A “sewing bird” is a clamp that hooks to a table and is topped with a small second clamp, often shaped like a bird, that holds fabric taut. Small, shaped pieces of bone, shell or wood were used to wind up lengths of thread. Two types of sewing tools – tape measures and spool holders – are especially popular with today’s collectors. Early tape measures worked much like those made today – the cloth tape was wound inside a metal container. By the end of the 1800s, novelty tape measures were popular and came in many shapes, from boats and pigs to teapots and cartoon figures. In the 20th century, they were popular advertising giveaways made in unusual shapes and printed with company names. Spool holders can be found in many shapes and sizes, and all types were designed to display the full spools of thread so colors could be found easily. Most common are the reel types, with several tiers of shelves holding spools on posts. Creative sorts added pincushions, scissors holders, drawers and even thimble holders to the spool stand.

Q: About 15 years ago, I bought an English plate at a garage sale. The printed mark on the bottom is a vertical arm with a clenched fist holding a compass rose. The words around the mark read “Green & Clay, Trademark, England.” There’s also a registry number, 93754. How old is the plate, and what do you know about the maker?

A: Green & Clay was in business in Longton, Staffordshire, England, from 1888 to 1891. The registry number on your plate dates the design to 1888, but the plate might have been made later.

Q: The word “Goodrich” is on the cabinet of my antique sewing machine. No one I have talked to has ever heard of a Goodrich sewing machine. It still works and is marked with patent dates that range from 1889 to 1896. Please help.

The Shakers, a religious sect that settled in the United States, believed in simplicity. This turned-wood spool holder with a pincushion is 6 inches high.

A: The H.B. Goodrich Sewing Machine Co. of Chicago made sewing machines marked “Goodrich” between about 1880 and 1896. Another Chicago firm, Foley & Williams Manufacturing Co., took over production of Goodrich machines in 1896 and continued making them until about 1920. Foley & Williams was succeeded by a third company, Goodrich Sewing Machine Co., which continued making Goodrich machines until about 1935. Your Goodrich machine, with an 1896 patent date, could have been made by H.B. Goodrich or Foley & Williams.

Q: I recently purchased a 6-foot Mission Oak grandfather clock with a pressed or carved wooden dial showing two monks drinking. The pendulum is short, and below that there’s a glass door enclosing a cabinet with a glass rack above and a four-bottle Lazy Susan below. The clock’s works are marked “Gilbert,” and the case has a barely readable sticker on the back that reads “Made in Cin., Ohio, by the Shop of the Crafters.” What can you tell me?

A: The Shop of the Crafters was founded by Oscar Onken (1858-1948) in 1904. Onken, a successful Cincinnati retailer and manufacturer of picture frames, moldings and mirrors, attended the St. Louis World’s Fair that year and admired the Arts & Crafts furniture displayed by European designers. He hired one of them, Paul Horti, to design furniture for his new business. The Shop of the Crafters, which stayed in business until 1920, made furniture and tall-case and wall clocks. Your dual-purpose clock tells time and is also a handy rec-room bar. It’s worth close to $1,000.

Q: I’m 86 and my family wants me to sell some of my collectibles. Among my things is a vase made from a World War I artillery shell. It’s decorated with embossed stemmed flowers. Is it worth anything?

A: Your decorated shell casing is a piece of “trench art.” It’s a type of folk art made by soldiers, particularly during the two world wars. Prices vary depending on size, condition and the quality of the workmanship. Most vases sell for $50 to $150.

Q: What can you tell me about the McCoy pottery planter my grandmother left me? I remember it from my childhood, nearly 60 years ago. The planter is a double container 10 1/2 inches long. The two green containers are shaped like tulip blossoms and sit on a darker green base that is shaped like large leaves. There’s a molded yellow bird with black trim mounted on the front of the planter. The bottom is marked “McCoy, Made in USA.”

A: McCoy introduced your “double cache pot” planter in 1949. It was also made with yellow flower blossoms. McCoy was in business in Roseville, Ohio, from 1910 to 1990. Your planter sells for $20 to $40 today.


Check wooden antiques for insect damage and infestation. Isolate the piece until you have chemically treated it to remove the insects.

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.

¢ “The In-Laws” movie poster, starring Peter Falk and Alan Arkin, 1979, 27 x 41 inches, $15.

¢ Plastic breadbox, pink with printed black antique stove on front, Lustro Ware, 1950s, 10 x 7 inches, $60.

¢ Hunting-license button, celluloid, Minnesota, nonresident, 1927, 1 3/4 inches, $95.

¢ Duncan & Miller candy dish, cover, Sylvan pattern, leaf shape, crystal, 8 inches, $140.

¢ Mattel Tippee Toes doll, with yellow horse, battery-operated, 1967, $155.

¢ Wrought-iron waffle iron, tooled designs, including a man on horseback and marked “1804,” 30 1/2 inches, $260.

¢ Stoneware crock, cobalt-blue flowers, ear handles, F.B. Norton, Mass., 1870, 1 gal., $275.

¢ Foxy Grandpa roly-poly toy, papier-mache, 1900s, 9 1/2 inches, $485.

¢ Danish cabinet, rosewood, four drawers, cutout pulls, hairpin-shaped legs, floor stretcher, 1960s, 39 x 18 x 26 inches, $750.

¢ Star Cough Drop tin, pug dog on sides, green ground, Kenyon Potter & Co., 7 x 6 x 4 1/2 inches, $1,650.