Figurines were the “photographs” of the 18th and 19th centuries. Well-known politicians, royalty, sports figures, actors, writers, religious subjects and newsworthy criminals, places and events were the inspiration for the figurines. They were made to sell, so the figurines had to depict something that would add decorative value to a home. But the potters had few sources to use when making a portrait — just a few prints, paintings and sometimes statues. Staffordshire potters wanted to tap the American market by selling figurines of American politicians. George Washington was a popular subject, and both standing figures and busts of Washington were made. But since no English potter had ever seen the first U.S. president, some potters wound up labeling figurines of Benjamin Franklin as George Washington. William Shakespeare and John Milton were famous British writers seldom shown in widely distributed prints, but a large statue of Shakespeare stands in Westminster Abbey, and a smaller one of Milton is owned by the York Castle Museum. So several Staffordshire potteries made 12-inch copies of the statues that could be displayed on a fireplace mantel. And, of course, displaying the statues suggested that the owners were well-read.
Q: My mother gave me a pressed-glass plate that has a frosted center embossed with a picture of a man on horseback spearing a lion. The scalloped edges have alternating panels of oak leaves and diamonds. It’s signed “Jacobus.” It’s approximately 11 1/2 inches in diameter. I’d like to know more about it and its value.
A: Your plate was made by Gillinder & Sons of Philadelphia, which was founded by William Gillinder in 1861. It’s part of the Classic pattern designed by P.J. Jacobus (1844-1910). There were five plates in this pattern. The others pictured the 1884 U.S. presidential and vice presidential candidates, Democrats Grover Cleveland and Thomas A. Hendricks and Republicans James G. Blaine and John A. Logan. Value: under $100.
Q: Can you tell me if there is a market for vinyl records from the 1940s and ’50s? I have two albums’ full.
A: Most records made before the 1940s were made with a hard shellac surface, so they usually broke if dropped. By 1946, unbreakable vinyl records were being sold commercially. Companies began phasing out the production of phonograph records after compact discs became available in 1982. There has been renewed interest in vinyl recordings in the past few years because they produce a fuller sound than digital recordings, which don’t capture every tone. Some companies are even making new vinyl records. Most old records sell for less than $20, but an early rare recording by Elvis Presley might sell for several hundred dollars. Elvis Presley’s first recording for Sun Record Co. in 1954, “That’s All Right” and “Blue Moon of Kentucky,” recently sold for $896.
Q: I have a collection of swanky swigs with various decorations. Most of them are in good shape, but some of them are cloudy. I’ve tried soaking them with denture cleaner and scrubbing the outside gently with liquid dish detergent, to no avail. Do you have any other suggestions for getting the glass clear again?
A: It depends on what caused the glasses to become cloudy. Hard water can cause calcium deposits to build up on the glass and make it cloudy. Filling the glasses with warm water and adding a denture tablet usually clears it up. Other solutions include soaking the glasses in a mixture of hot water and a cup of white vinegar, or washing them in a dishwasher with a cup of vinegar poured in the bottom of the dishwasher. You also can try using a cleaner meant for shower doors. If none of these solutions works, your glasses probably are permanently etched. Sometimes this happens if the water is too soft and too much detergent is used. This condition can’t be cured.
Q: I have a mahjong set that I’d like to know more about. The cabinet holding the drawers of tiles is elaborately carved on all four sides and the top. I’ve been assured that the tiles are real ivory and bamboo. I’ve had the set for about 65 years. Can you tell me anything about its origin or value?
A: The game of mahjong is based on a card game played in China in the late 1800s. The game became popular in the United States in the 1920s. Early sets were imported from China. Tiles were made of ivory, bone or wood. Some sets came in intricately carved rosewood boxes, while others were packed in cardboard boxes. Sets made in the United States during the 1930s usually have Bakelite or plastic tiles.
Joseph Park Babcock, a Standard Oil Co. civil engineer, often is credited with bringing the game to the United States after he saw it being played when he was sent to Suzhou, China, in 1912. One of the names the Chinese used for the game was “ma que,” which means “sparrow.” Babcock trademarked the name “Mah-Jongg” and published a book of game rules in 1920. Several manufacturers made their own versions of the game but had to use other names for it. Babcock assigned his rights to the name to Parker Brothers in 1924. Mahjong is still played in the U.S., but the version played now is different from the version played in the 1920s, according to the National Mah-Jongg League.