Rare depressor brings in a tongue-wagging $14,100

Do you recognize this 5-1/8-inch silver piece made by Paul Revere? It's a tongue depressor with a fiddle-coffin handle. It auctioned in 2008 at Skinner in Boston for 4,100. Could that be a record price for a tongue depressor?

“What’s-its” are fun, but were rarely made by great artists.

Paul Revere, the famous horseback rider who warned that “the British are coming,” made this odd silver piece stamped with his name.

There was an economic depression before the American Revolution, so although Revere was a successful silversmith and goldsmith, he also earned money to support his wife and eight children as a copper-plate engraver who made illustrations for books, songs, menus and magazines. And he was also a dentist, political activist and soldier.

After the Revolution, Revere was a hardware store owner and importer, and was active in charity work. He also owned a copper rolling mill and a foundry that made cannons, bells and other large objects. The unusual silver object stamped with his name probably was made between 1768 and 1775, when he was a dentist. He cleaned teeth and made false teeth carved from walrus ivory or animal teeth.

The mystery object, a tongue depressor, may have been used by Revere in his dentistry practice. It sold for $14,100 at a Skinner auction in Revere’s hometown of Boston.

Q: My old wooden school desk has a lift-up lid and iron legs that could be bolted to the floor. It is the combination kind that was put in rows in a schoolroom. The desk was made with a flip-down seat for the student in front. That means unless there is some way to remodel the desk and remove the chair, it’s not very useful as a desk. Any suggestions?

A: Combination desks were being used in schools by the late 1890s. Some are still in use today. They were first made by the Grand Rapids School Furniture Co., founded in 1886. By 1899, the company had merged with 18 others to form the American Seating Co. of New York City. The earliest desks had cast-iron legs. In 1911, American Seating started using tubular steel for legs. Later improvements included adjustable height, swivel seats and a base that was not bolted to the floor. All of these features were in use by 1921 on the “Universal” chair. After World War II, chairs were made using new materials like plywood and plastic. The company is still in business. We have seen old desks like yours in children’s rooms. The flip seat serves as a book storage area, and a separate small chair is used with the desk.

Q: Please tell me what my 9-inch Griswold cast-iron skillet is worth. It belonged to my mother, who died a few years ago at the age of 97. The marks on the bottom include “No. 6,” the word “Griswold” in a circled cross above “Erie, Pa.” and the number 699. I don’t want my kids selling the skillet for $1 at a garage sale.

A: Skillets and other cast-iron cookware made by the Griswold Manufacturing Co. are collectible. Tell your children not to sell the skillet for $1. Griswold made cookware from the late 1800s until the 1950s. Skillets came in various sizes and styles. Yours, the No. 6 skillet, made using Griswold’s pattern No. 699, sells for $15 to $20.

Q: How is a spoon holder used?

A: A spoon holder looks like a vase. The spoons are put in the vase with the stems up. At a buffet dinner or when coffee or tea is served at the table from a large pot, the spoon holder and spoons are near the creamer and sugar bowl. Spoon holders, also called spooners or spoon trays, became popular after the Civil War. They were usually glass or silver. In later years, the spoon holder and spoons were passed around the table. They were out of style and no longer used by the early 1900s. Buffet dinners, introduced just before World War I and extremely popular by the late 1940s, brought back the idea. Some practical housewives used small vases or old spooners to hold silverware near the stacked plates on the buffet table.

Q: My Art Deco lamp is shaped like a nude woman. It is made of metal and glass. The name “Frankart” is on the bottom. Where and when was it made?

A: Frankart Inc. was in business in New York City from 1921 into the 1940s. It made mass-produced lamps, ashtrays, bookends and vases. Most designs featured a slim, nude, Art Deco woman made of green- or bronze-finished britannia metal or aluminum. The owner and chief designer for the company was Arthur von Frankenberg. The nude figures were the most popular, but the company also made golfers, cowgirls and animals. When Frankart went out of business, its molds were sold for scrap. Several other companies made pieces similar to Frankart’s. Although collectors often call all green nude-woman lamps by the name “Frankart,” a lamp must be marked with the Frankart name and patent number to be authentic. A Frankart lamp with original finish can sell for more than $1,000.

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