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Archive for Sunday, June 24, 2012

Kovel’s Antiques: Uncle Sam an enduring symbol of America

June 24, 2012

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Many figures have been used through the years to represent America.

The earliest was the Indian Queen, who was the European symbol for North America from about 1570 to 1776. The attractive American Indian woman was represented in figurines and textiles. In 1776 her looks changed to a younger Indian Queen, who remained popular until about 1815.

There was also Miss Liberty, a woman who wore the French cap that represented liberty, and Miss Columbia, similar to Miss Liberty but wearing a tiara and standing near a flag and eagle.

They are both seen in paintings as early as the 1770s, but Miss Liberty soon lost favor.

Columbia remained a symbol into the 1860s, when she lost out to Uncle Sam. He was invented in 1812 and is the most important and enduring representative of the United States.

Legend says that during the War of 1812, Samuel Wilson, a meatpacker, stamped meat packages for soldiers with the letters “U.S.” for United States. Folks joked that the meat came from “Uncle Sam,” and soon the tall, thin man with white hair and beard, top hat and striped pants was created and seen in political cartoons, ads, packaging and even toys. He is still a favorite.

My mother has a Little Red Riding Hood mechanical bank. It has Grandma in bed and Little Red Riding Hood sitting on the bed. If you pull the lever, Grandma’s head comes up and reveals the Big Bad Wolf’s face underneath. It you put a penny in, Red Riding Hood’s head tilts back as if she is startled.

The bank is marked “Red Riding Hood” on the side just below her skirt. On the bottom, below Grandma’s head, are the words “Bits and Pieces.” The paint and condition are excellent. We would like to know if it’s a reproduction or an antique and what its value is.

The antique Little Red Riding Hood mechanical bank does not have a maker’s mark but is thought to have been made by W.S. Reed Toy Co., which was founded by William Reed in Leominister, Mass., in 1876. The company was known for its wooden toys.

Reed made three different mechanical banks in the 1880s: Old Lady in the Shoe (patented in 1883), Girl in Victorian Chair and Little Red Riding Hood. The Little Red Riding Hood bank came in three variations, with a blue, green or yellow bedspread.

The company became Whitney-Reed Co. in 1898. Your bank is marked “Bits and Pieces,” the name of a company in Lawrenceburg, Ind., that sells reproduction mechanical banks, puzzles and other gift items.

The original banks sells for more than $30,000. Bits and Pieces sells reproduction banks for about $25 to $35, but the Red Riding Hood bank is no longer listed on the company’s website.

—Terry Kovel answers as many questions as possible through the column. By sending a letter with a question, you give full permission for use in the column or any other Kovel forum. Names, addresses or email addresses will not be published. We cannot guarantee the return of any photograph, but if a s

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