Country-store collectibles still are selling well if they’re large, colorful and have unusual graphics or wording. Huge signs made of paper, tin or enamel and giant floor-size coffee grinders are wanted by collectors and decorators. Also popular are cabinets kept on store shelves or counters in the early 1900s that feature a door with a lithographed tin front. Diamond Dyes cabinets were made with at least six different fronts that picture young children, washer women or fairies. Inside were small sections that held paper packets of dye. Humphrey’s, a company that made many types of homeopathic and veterinary medicines, used cabinets picturing a horse’s head or a woman with a lion. A Putnam Dyes cabinet shows a Revolutionary war hero, Gen. Israel Putnam, trying to escape from a group of British redcoats on horseback. Less popular with collectors are cabinets with tin fronts that list the medicines inside. Recently a Dr. Lesure’s Famous Remedies Veterinarian cabinet was sold by Morphy Auctions of Denver, Pa. It pictures a horse’s head looking through a hole in a wall. The great graphic helped push the price to over $4,000, four times the presale estimate.
Q: I collect the marbleized pottery made by Niloak Pottery of Benton, Ark. I have been told the colors of the clay are natural, taken from local clay banks. But I have also been told the color was added. Which is true?
A: The clay beds found near Benton are of several colors — red, cream, brown, gray and beige. But when the clays are heated, the color burns out. So Bullet Hyten, Niloak’s owner, decided to add color. Cobalt oxide was added to make blue, ferric oxide for red, chromic oxide for gray. He also developed and patented a method of firing the pieces, because each type of clay required a slightly different temperature. Marbleized Niloak was made from 1910 to 1946.
Q: I have an old dower chest with a lid marked “Original Roos Mfg. Co., Chicago, Illinois, Est. 1871.” Can you tell me anything about it?
A: We receive many questions about Roos chests. It appears that there were two different Roos furniture companies in Chicago. The firms were probably related, perhaps by just two generations, because each was headed by a man named Edward Roos. Your chest was made by the older company, which by the 1880s was manufacturing cabinets, tables, curtain poles and cornices. The second company, Ed Roos Co. of Forest Park, concentrated on making chests and was in business from 1916 to 1951.
Q: I have a toy typewriter that my sister had when she was a little girl about 70 years ago. It has a round dial with numbers and letters on it and the words “Dial Typewriter.” In the center of the dial, the letters “MAR” are on top of two crossed bars. The letters and numbers are also printed on the flat “keyboard.” We would like to find out about the manufacturer of this toy typewriter and if it has any value.
A: The two “bars” are the letter “X,” which is part of the Louis Marx and Co. logo. Your toy typewriter was made by Marx in the 1930s. The typewriter was first advertised in a 1933 Sears catalog. It sold for $1.39. Value today: about $25 to $50.
Q: I have some vintage bronze bookends that are very dark. Should I clean them?
A: No. The bookends could be bronze, but it’s more likely they’re bronze-coated white metal. The color was mechanically applied, and if you clean them the result will be a white-colored pair of bookends of very little value. Collectors want original finish on bronze, brass and painted metal, a cleaned finish on silver and silver-plated pieces, and they differ on the question of cleaning aluminum or pewter. To retain investment value, don’t clean.
Q: Am I the only person who collects plastic take-apart keychain puzzles? I need information on who made them when and what they’re worth.
A: The Internet has made it easier to find collectors with a specialized interest. Several sites can found by searching for “keychain history.” The sites include photos, prices and collectors’ suggestions concerning makers, value and history. A few puzzles have been identified and dated because of their packaging or markings. Almost none found today still have the original paper that explained the solution. Most have even lost the keychain, but the loop or hole for the chain is enough identification. It is thought by some that the first plastic take-apart keychain puzzle was sold at the 1939 World’s Fair. It was shaped like the Trylon and Perisphere, the fair’s logo. Puzzle keychains were among the hundreds of Schmoo items sold after the character was introduced in the Li’l Abner comic strip in 1948. A 1952 puzzle shaped like a spaceship was made by Champion Plastics Corp. of New York. We have seen lists of makers that include Lionel (man on a motorcycle), Kawada of Japan (bowling pin and large ball) and Lucky Pup (A Toy-Trix toy). Prices for keychain puzzles, with or without a chain, are $5 to $50 — or a quarter at a yard sale.