Valentine's Day is a celebration that dates back to Feb. 14, 270, when a priest named Valentinus was executed in Rome for supporting Christian martyrs. According to legend, Valentinus, while in jail, befriended his jailer's blind daughter and miraculously restored her sight. Before he died, he sent the girl a note signed "from your Valentine." Feb. 15 was already the pagan feast of Lupercalia, a raucous celebration where a young Roman man chose his mate for the holiday by drawing her name from a box. But years later, when the Church tried to stop this pagan celebration, it changed Lupercalia to St. Valentine's Day, a holiday for lovers to exchange tokens and notes.
Although today most people send paper or e-mail valentines, there have been many other ways to express sentiment on Valentine's Day. Victorian jewelry sent secret messages - stones set into a pin or bracelet were arranged by the first letter of a gem's name. So a line of a ruby, emerald, garnet, amethyst, ruby and diamond spelled "regard." A piece of jewelry shaped like a snake with its tail in its mouth meant "eternal love." A heart-shaped piece of jewelry or a locket holding the giver's hair expressed love.
There were many superstitions connected with Valentine's Day in past centuries. If a girl pinned a bay leaf to her pillow or ate the white of a hard-boiled egg before she went to sleep, she would dream of her true love. A visit to a graveyard on Valentine Eve or running 12 times around the church while singing a special song guaranteed that your lover would appear. Some early customs are no longer part of our celebration. In the days before the postal service, the valentine was attached to an apple or orange and thrown in the window of an eligible girl's room. In some parts of England, children went door to door "valentining" (singing love songs). But today, almost all of us send a valentine card. In America, the custom started with handmade cards in the 18th century and continued with commercial cards that were first introduced by Esther Howland of Worcester, Mass., in 1847.
Q: Please tell me how to treat an antique cherry chest of drawers that shows signs of bugs. I found finely ground-up bits of wood on the floor under the chest.
A: Your chest might have been attacked by powder-post beetles. Clues are tiny pinholes in the wood and powdery sawdust around the holes. Move the chest into isolation, perhaps the garage, so the beetles cannot move to other furniture. Then treat the piece with a professional-grade insecticide, following the instructions closely. The ones we're familiar with cannot be applied to finished wood, but can be used inside the drawers and underneath the chest. You also might be able to use a crevice aerosol spray. Don't ignore the problem. If necessary, hire a professional.
Q: I have an old Columbia tricycle with a metal label that reads "Boycycle, Steinfeld Bros." I can't find any information about it.
A: Columbia bikes date back to 1877, when Albert Pope founded his Pope Manufacturing Co. in Boston. Pope started making tricycles in 1883. The Boycycle, marketed by Steinfeld Bros. of New York City, is a large "sidewalk" tricycle that probably dates from the 1920s or perhaps a little earlier. We have seen them sell for $125 to $325, depending on condition.
Q: I have a sterling-silver, pocket-size match safe with an engraved design of a hunter and his dog in a field. There are several manufacturer's marks on the inside edge. Perhaps the hunter is Teddy Roosevelt? Does that increase its value?
A: If Roosevelt's name isn't on the match safe, the figure is a generic hunter. But silver match safes decorated with hunting themes are desirable collectibles. Pocket match safes provided a safe way to carry matches before the introduction of safety matches in about 1920. Most match safes were made of metal, including silver. You might be able to identify the company that made yours by researching the silver marks. Your match safe could sell for $75 or more.
Q: For more than 60 years, my family has owned a multicolored bird-shaped pottery pitcher. The pitcher is decorated with black, red, yellow, green and blue swirls. The beak is bright red outlined in black. It's 9 1/2 inches tall and marked with a half-circle surrounding a star, the letter "T" and a wing. Above and below are the words, "Hand-painted, Ditmar Urbach, Made in Czechoslovakia." Have you heard of the maker?
A: The Ditmar Urbach factory was founded in 1919 when two Czechoslovakian companies, Urbach Brothers and Rudolph Ditmar's Heirs, merged. The mark on your pitcher was used between 1920 and 1945. Czechoslovakian bird pitchers in bright colors are prized by collectors. We see them sell for $50 and up.
Never store an old textile in a plastic bag, cardboard box or wooden trunk. A possible reaction between the textile and the container can weaken the fabric.
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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.
¢ Depression-glass relish dish, Anniversary pattern, four sections, gold trim, metal holder, 11 inches, $75.
¢ Cast-iron doorstop, Dutch couple kissing, Hubley No. 332, 4 3/4 x 4 1/2 inches, $225.
¢ Pebbles and Bamm-Bamm lunchbox, vinyl, 1978, 3 1/2 x 7 1/4 x 8 3/4 inches, $240.
¢ Meissen mug, two panels, gold scrolling, orange background with summer flowers, cherubs in woodland scene, 1800s, 3 3/8 inches, $330.
¢ Sterling-silver serving spoon and fork, Love Disarmed pattern, Reed and Barton, 10 1/2 inches, $600.
¢ Valentine greeting card, handmade, heavy paper, six hearts, tulips, starflower center, love verses, c. 1820, 10 x 12 inches, $710.
¢ Advertising sign, hanging, Post Toasties, boy and girl in period dress on swing, girl feeding him cereal with fingers, die-cut cardboard, 30 inches, $880.
¢ Bride's whitework quilt, central star design, quilting with pineapple and feather design, swag and tassel borders, 1920s, 73 x 80 inches, $2,645.