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Archive for Sunday, March 22, 2009

Smoking collectibles a hot commodity

March 22, 2009

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Smoking was an important part of the life of a well-to-do gentleman in the 19th century.

A cigar after dinner was routine. Smoking paraphernalia was created not only to be useful but also to show off wealth. Collectors today still search for all kinds of tobacco-related items, although smoking has lost favor. Pipes, ashtrays, cigar holders, lighters, cigarette or cigar cases, cigarette or cigar boxes, cigarette dispensers and smoking stands are collected. Some collectors want commercial packaging and advertising, including cigar box labels and wooden boxes, packs of matches, cigar bands, cigarettes packs, trade cards for tobacco products, cut-out newspaper and magazine ads, large posters and other store ads, and store cigar lighters and cabinets.

Many items sell for under $50, but some “tobacciana” collectibles are very expensive. Chrome, plastic, glass or porcelain match and cigarette urns, jewel-studded gold or silver cigarette cases, sterling cigarette boxes for the table and bronze ashtrays by famous makers sell to collectors of fine arts.

One unusual piece from about 1860 is a silver cigar lighter and holder made by Tiffany & Co. The top part is an urn-shaped cigar lighter held by two figures of Hercules. Below that is a pierced tray made to hold cigars. Chains, embossed heads and other decorations make the 10 1/2-inch-high lighter an impressive table ornament. It was a gift to New York banker Charles Christmas from his partner, August Belmont, who became chairman of the Democratic National Committee in 1860. Probably because it is a “crossover” collectible wanted by buyers of four types of collections — tobacco, political, unusual silver and work by Tiffany & Co. — it sold for $13,750 at a Sotheby’s auction.

Q: Can you give me some information about an old chair I own? The tag on the bottom says it was made by the Royal Furniture Mfg. Co. of Gardner, Mass.

A: We can tell you your chair is not an antique. Royal Furniture Mfg. Co. was founded in 1934. It’s a small manufacturing firm still in business on Main Street in Gardner. The company makes wooden household furniture.

Q: I own a pair of oval “butterfly mirrors.” They’re mounted in double wooden frames attached to each other on a decorative wrought-iron hinge. Each mirror can pivot up and down and side to side. I have learned the mirrors were patented in 1868 by a black American inventor named Samuel Scottron. I mounted the mirrors in the corner of a room. Are they rare?

A: Samuel Scottron (1843-1905) patented several inventions, including your mirrors. Scottron was in the Union Army during the Civil War, then opened a barbershop in Springfield, Mass. His double adjustable mirrors were invented so his customers could examine their haircuts from every angle. A customer could also view a reflection of his reflection, giving him an idea of what he looked like in real life — rather than as a reversed “mirror image.” The mirrors originally were sold mounted on a floor-standing cast-iron support so the mirrors could be swiveled much farther than when they’re mounted in the corner of a room. A complete and restored Scottron mirror is on display at the Campbell House Museum in St. Louis. Scottron’s mirrors sold well in the late 1800s, but that doesn’t mean they’re not rare today. We have never seen one. By the way, Samuel Scottron is the maternal grandfather of Lena Horne, the famous singer and actress.

Q: I have two smooth milk glass lightning rod balls decorated with hand-painted orange flowers and green leaves and trim. Is that kind of decoration unusual?

A: By the middle of the 19th century, many farmers were attaching decorative glass balls to the lightning rods they mounted on their barns. Today collectors like these “lightning rod balls.” White milk glass balls are the most common. But it is very unusual to find any decorated with hand-painting. Perhaps someone in the farmer’s family had an artistic bent.

Q: My Rookwood vase has a hole drilled in the bottom. It seems to have been done at the factory because the edges of the hole and the bottom of the vase are covered with the same glaze. Does this lower the value of the vase?

A: In the 1930s, lamps were often made from vases, figurines and other objects. The piece was put on a small wooden stand, then a hole was drilled through the wood and, if possible, into the vase or object. A hollow rod went through the vase to hold the light bulb and the cord. Lamps with colored pottery vases used as the base were especially popular. Some companies made special vases that were drilled at the factory. But even though the hole was made at the factory, your vase is worth less than the identical Rookwood vase without the hole. Pottery companies also used figurines to make lamps. Figurines couldn’t be drilled, so the lamp was made with a small stand that held the figurine and a tall rod that went over the figurine and held the light bulb. The cord went into the base and out again to be plugged in the wall. Lamps are still made this way.

Tip: Never store an old painting on canvas flat and face up on a floor. The paint may crack at the stretcher. A pet may step on it. Store it upright.

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