Archive for Sunday, March 25, 2012

Kovel’s Antiques: Even animals can harness celebrity value

March 25, 2012


History becomes more interesting if you learn about it through objects and stories. It’s the “rest of the story” that adds to the fun.

A large pail that once held Dan Patch Roasted Coffee auctioned recently for $2,035. The bright-red can features a horse and rider in a harness race. The can is colorful, 11.5 inches tall and very decorative, but the price was boosted by the history it represents.

Dan Patch was a brown horse, a pacer, born in Indiana in 1896. He broke the world’s record for a harness race in 1906, and it took 32 years for another horse to go faster. He never lost a race.

He was a celebrity, and coffee wasn’t the only product named for him. Cars, washing machines and cigars bore his name, and so did popular toys. Crowds followed his appearances and as many as 100,000 people went to see the horse, which, according to reports, “radiated charisma.” Dan Patch received fan mail and gifts while making as much as $1 million in a year.

He retired from racing in 1909 and died in 1916. He remained a star for many years after his death, partly because his world record was not broken until 1938. Streets named Dan Patch still exist. Dan Patch Stadium is at a high school in Savage, Minn., where the horse lived after he was purchased by a Minnesotan in 1902.

An annual Dan Patch Day festival is celebrated in his hometown of Oxford, Ind., and another annual Dan Patch Day is held in Savage.

Books have been written about him, a movie was made about his life in 1949 and he’s mentioned in a song from the 1957 Broadway musical, “The Music Man.” But Dan Patch Ground Coffee was named for the horse well before the days of movies and television. You can still find Dan Patch memorabilia in Savage, Minn., today. Go to the Savage Depot Coffee Shop, the Razors Edge Barber Shop or the local library.

I inherited two antique Mettlach steins that were appraised six years ago for $1,700 each. I have been trying to sell them online and locally for less than that, but I have gotten no takers. Some dealers have made insulting remarks about my pricing. What’s going on?

Some Mettlach steins in mint condition can sell for $1,700 or even more, but many sell for a lot less. Price depends on the rarity of a particular stein. In addition, you’re dealing with a niche market and may not be reaching interested buyers. Try contacting a national auction house that focuses on steins. You will find several online.

My grandmother, who was born in 1886, left her favorite rocking chair to me. She lived in Chippewa Falls, Wis., and the chair is labeled “Webster Mfg. Co., Superior, Wis.” The chair is oak and has a pressed design in the back’s crest above six turned spindles. What can you tell me?

Webster Manufacturing Co. of Superior, Wis., was making chairs by the 1890s. In its early years, it was called the Webster Chair Co. By 1915 it was a major American chair manufacturer and had opened a factory in at least one other city. It appears to have gone out of business during the Depression. Pressed oak chairs like yours were especially popular in the late 19th century, so it is likely your chair dates from that period. Depending on its condition, it would sell for $100 or more.

I have an item called a “motion teaser.” It includes five heavy silver balls about an inch in diameter. Each is attached to a string and the strings are attached to a wooden frame. You swing one ball so it touches the next one and then they all swing back and forth. However, it stops in about a minute. Aren’t they supposed to keep swinging back and forth by themselves? Every once in a while, I see one of these in an old movie and the balls keep swinging back and forth indefinitely. Am I doing something wrong? I don’t see what the big deal is if you have to start it every other minute. Someone gave me this. I think this it’s from the 1970s or ’80s.

Your toy was invented in 1967 by Simon Prebble, an English actor, and is known as “Newton’s Cradle” because it demonstrates one of Isaac Newton’s laws of motion: “For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction.” When you pull the first ball back and release it so that it swings and hits the row of balls, the energy is transferred through the line of balls to the ball on the other end, causing it to swing out at approximately the same distance and back to hit the stationary balls. If you pull two balls out, two balls will swing out from the opposite end. It’s not a perpetual motion machine, because some momentum and energy are lost with each hit due to friction. The length of time it will keep going is based partly on how well it’s built. Toys like this were made under several names and in different sizes. They always have an odd number of balls, usually five or seven. Someone has even made Newton’s Cradle using 15-pound bowling balls hung from 20-foot cables.

Tip: An unglazed rim on the bottom of a plate usually indicates it was made before 1850.


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