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Published November 19, 2010, 12:00 AM

Kovels Antiques: Diversity reigns with collectible candy containers

All types of candy containers are popular collectibles – everything from tin boxes to papier-mache figures to figural glass containers.

By: Terry Kovel, INFORUM

All types of candy containers are popular collectibles – everything from tin boxes to papier-mache figures to figural glass containers.

The containers were made in shapes that attracted children almost as much as the candy did. The containers were used as toys or ornaments long after the candy was gone. Glass candy containers were first made in the late 1800s. Pressed-glass figural bottles could be made and sold for very little money.

Many brands of candy were made in small, round pieces that looked like sugar-coated pills and could be easily poured into a container shaped like a bottle. A strong, watertight holder was needed. Some were a bit educational, like bottles shaped like trains or planes or the Liberty Bell (for the 1876 U.S. centennial). Some were familiar comic figures, like Felix the Cat, while others were historic, like Admiral Dewey. Toys, including dollhouse furniture or even little houses, were children’s favorites.

Papier-mache figural candy containers were made in quantity in the l930s in Germany. Unfortunately, many modern fantasy containers have been made, so collectors must study old ones to avoid fakes.

Q: About 32 years ago, I purchased a used Colonial-style cherry dining room suite. It includes a drop-leaf table with two additional leaves, a large buffet and an open hutch. It was made by the Empire Furniture Co. of Johnson City, Tenn. What year, I don’t know, but the style makes me think it’s from the 1940s or ’50s. Is there a market for a suite like mine?

A: Used furniture in excellent condition can be sold to someone looking for a well-made set who doesn’t want to pay retail for a new set. Colonial styles have come and gone a few times during the 20th century, but chances are your set is from the 1940s. Empire Furniture was founded in Johnson City in 1894 and remained in business for close to 100 years. Advertise your furniture locally to get the best price. It’s easier to sell furniture to buyers who live near you.

Q: My green McCoy vase looks blemish-free, but recently I put water in it for a flower arrangement and later saw that the water was seeping through the bottom. Should I try to have it re-glazed? I’ve had it a long time but never put water in it before.

A: The vase leaks because the glaze doesn’t completely cover the bottom. You may be able to fix the leak by sealing the bottom with paraffin. First make sure the inside of the vase is clean and dry. Then pour in a little melted paraffin and swirl it around until it completely covers the bottom of the vase. Let it cool and harden completely before attempting to put water in the vase. As an extra precaution, it’s always best to put a saucer under a vase to prevent leaks from ruining the finish on your table.

Q: I have an old-fashioned high-heel shoe made of light-blue glass, 6 inches long and 3 inches high. The glass has a cut design. Inside the shoe it says, “Made by John E. Kemple Glassworks, Kenova, W.Va.” Can you tell me something about it?

A: Kemple Glassworks was founded in 1945 by John E. Kemple and his wife, Geraldine, in East Palestine, Ohio. When the building burned down in 1956, the company moved to Kenova, W.Va.

Kemple made glass from old molds bought from other companies. Kemple owned more than 1,000 molds, including some that were made in the late 1800s. The company closed in 1970 when John died. The molds were sold to Wheaton Industries and are now in the Museum of American Glass at Wheaton Village in Millville, N.J. Your glass shoe is a copy or reissue of a Victorian glass shoe. Value: $25 to $50.

Q: My father collected bottles, especially patent-medicine bottles. He said that some of these “medicines,” made before the Food and Drug laws of today, actually killed people. If the bottles held poisons, is it safe to store them in the house?

A: There are several reasons to be careful when you’re handling old bottles and containers. One famous pottery jug was made with uranium to radiate water – a health drink in its day. It is dangerous to be near these jugs for a long time because they are still radioactive. Bottles that held poison, bug killer and other toxic liquids were usually identified by special shapes or labels. Once thoroughly cleaned, they are safe to display. But wear rubber gloves and do the cleaning in a well-ventilated room. Any container with remnants of old medicine or liquid also should be carefully cleaned or treated as toxic trash.

A little-known story of an epidemic of “jake leg” illustrates the problem. Jamaican ginger extract, a 19th-century patent medicine with high alcohol content, was sold by bootleggers during Prohibition. In February 1930, the first case of jake leg was noticed: the patient, hospitalized, could not walk properly. His legs “flapped” and he couldn’t point his toes up.

About 40,000 people developed the problem in 1930 and 1931 before it was discovered that a pair of Boston bootleggers were fooling government agents by doctoring Jamaican ginger with a plasticizer used to make lacquer and airplane finishes. They marked their product as “medicine.” The jake leg epidemic was one of the factors that led to the 1938 Federal Food, Drug and Cosmetic act that required product testing.

For more information about antiques and collectibles and free price information, visit Kovel’s website,

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