Sometimes furniture from another era is a mystery. Would you know how to use a 4-foot-high rectangular wooden box with inlay and carvings and a door in the front that flips down? Not unless you are still using a coal stove for heat and keep the extra coal in the box. Would you realize that a small table with a chair attached at the side could be a telephone table, popular in the 1930s? And what would you do with a 4-foot-high carved pedestal topped by a shelf that was tilted? It certainly couldn't hold a potted plant. Keep it as a decoration, but realize that it's probably a speaker's podium made to hold an open book so it can be read easily. There are many antiques that seem mysterious because we no longer have a need for them. Bed steps needed to climb up into beds with several thick mattresses are now used as end tables. Poles with fire screens that kept the hot flames of the fireplace away from your face are now just decorations standing in the corner of a room. And desk sets with blotters, pen holders and boxes with small sections for stamps are admired today for their decoration, not their usefulness. Future generations will probably by confused by smoking stands with huge ashtrays or a desk with a pull-out shelf for a typewriter. We even hear under-30 collectors asking about the use of a slide rule or milk can. What are we using today that will go out of style and no longer be needed because of computers, DVDs or new methods of cooking, heating and lighting the home? Whatever it is, we predict there will be collectors who will want to use the "relics" in a new way so they can keep the past alive.
Q: We own three stoneware crocks we think date from about 1910. They're all marked with a large wing-shaped stamp and the words "Red Wing Union Stoneware, Red Wing, Minn." in a large oval under the wing. The largest crock is also marked "6" and "Ice Water"; it has a small hole for a spigot. The other two are marked with a number -- "4" on one and "2" on the other. There are no handles on the crocks.
A: The Red Wing Union Stoneware Co. was in business in Red Wing, Minn., from 1906 to 1936, when it became Red Wing Potteries, Inc. (which closed in 1967). The wing trademark was used starting about 1909. The numbers on your crocks tell their sizes -- they hold 2, 4 and 6 gallons. The way your crocks are marked indicates that they date from about 1910 to 1915. So you're right about their age. A single crock the age and size of yours generally sells for $50 or more.
Q: We have a Windsor chair with a label on the bottom that reads, "The Liberty Furnishings, Joseph McHugh and Co., 42nd Street West at 5th Ave., Popular Shop Trade Marks Registered." I am curious about the chair.
A: Joseph P. McHugh (1854-1916) opened his furnishings business, "The Popular Shop," in New York City in 1878. The shop moved to 42nd Street in 1884. His company was among the first in the United States to manufacture and popularize Mission style. He later sold Colonial Revival furniture, including Windsor chairs. Today the company, named J.S. McHugh, Inc., sells furnishings to schools, libraries, hospitals and recreational facilities.
Q: About 35 years ago, my mother gave me a clear, round, pressed-glass platter with raised sides. The design in the center of the tray is a scene of a two-wheeled cart being pulled over railroad tracks by a mule. There's a train heading down the tracks and the riders in the cart are raising two umbrellas or sticks to urge the mule over the tracks. Can you identify the pattern and tell me what it's worth?
A: You have a water tray in a pattern nicknamed "Balky Mule." Water trays like yours were made in two sizes, 9 1/2 and 12 1/4 inches. The Balky Mule trays are part of a pattern called "Currier and Ives," supposedly because the scene on the water tray was based on the Darktown series of prints by Currier and Ives. Every other piece in the pattern is decorated with an overall series of circles and starbursts. The pattern was made from about 1889 to 1898 by the Bellaire Goblet Co. of Findlay, Ohio. Today a 12 1/4-inch tray in excellent condition sells for $50 to $60.
Q: I have an old suitcase made by Hartmann. Can you tell me something about the maker?
A: Hartmann is one of the oldest luggage manufacturers in the United States. The company was founded by Joseph S. Hartmann in Milwaukee in 1877. In the early years, the company made leather-covered wood steamer trunks. As modes of travel changed, the size and design of luggage changed. The Hartmann family ran the business until 1955. The company moved to Lebanon, Tenn., in 1959. Hartmann is now owned by Clarion Capital Partners. Hartmann luggage has been carried by presidents, movie stars, sports heroes and even Agent 007. James Bond carried a Hartmann suitcase in the novel, "Live and Let Die."
Tip: Dust Christmas ornaments after removing them from the tree. Do not store them covered with dust. Wrap each ornament individually in paper.
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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.
Bengal Gin advertising display, recessed area holds bottle, figural tiger, yellow and white stripes, chalkware, 1950s, 6 x 9 inches, $65.
Die-cut steamship baggage tag, celluloid, brass rivet, Oriental S.S. Co., "The Pride of the Pacific," view of flag through life preserver, 1940s, $170.
Baltimore Colts wool stadium blanket, navy and white, 100 percent virgin wool, Pendleton, 1950s, 40 x 60 inches, $175.
Kewpie china tea set, white ground, rose-colored Kewpies, "copyright Rose O'Neill Wilson," c. 1910, 10 pieces, $300.
General Electric refrigerator, top-mounted condenser, 1930s, 64 x 29 x 23 inches, $550.
Madame Alexander Snow White doll, plastic socket head, blue sleep eyes, 1952, 15 inches, $610.
Wedgwood plaque, six dancing classical female figures in relief, matte green ground, 1880s, marked, 6 x 18 inches, $545.
Libbey bud vase, Amberina, optic ribbed, signed, 1917, 9 inches, $935.
Shaker weaver's chair, maple and oak, two slats, tape seat, Mt. Lebanon, c. 1835, 42 inches, $1,325.
Silver salts, round, three paw feet, beaded borders, glass liners, Hester Bateman, 1785, 2 1/2 x 2 1/2 inches, pair, $1,480.