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Published December 10, 2010, 12:00 AM

Kovels Antiques: Antique censers come in variety of unique styles

A “censer” sometimes can be found at an antique shop, but the word can be confusing. It has nothing to do with a “censor,” the person who decides what is acceptable to be published in books or shown on television. A vintage censer is an old container used for burning incense.

By: Terry Kovel, INFORUM

A “censer” sometimes can be found at an antique shop, but the word can be confusing. It has nothing to do with a “censor,” the person who decides what is acceptable to be published in books or shown on television. A vintage censer is an old container used for burning incense.

It can be made of pottery, porcelain, bronze, iron or another material that will not burn. Some censers were used at home. A home censer was heated with glowing charcoal that ignited the incense. The aromatic smoke fumigated clothes and other fabrics and killed insects. But a censer is most often used in a church or temple for religious ceremonies. The earliest censers date back to the second century B.C. Collectors can find censers in several traditional shapes – a mountain, a perforated box or cylinder or a bulbous vase. Many are suspended on chains.

A Japanese censer with a mark used from 1868 to 1912 was offered for sale at a Leland Little auction this year. The decorations and pale yellow crackled glaze are typical of what collectors call “Satsuma ware.” The decorative 12-inch-high censer with a pierced lid, handles and feet was valued at $3,000 to $5,000.

Q: I bought an album of Victorian calling cards at a flea market. I would like to know more about the history and tradition of calling cards.

A: Long before people sent “friend requests” on Facebook, social contacts were made by leaving a calling card or visiting card at the home of the person you wanted to visit. Visiting cards were first used in China in the 15th century. They were used by French royalty in the 17th century and by the well-to-do in Europe in the early 19th century. Early cards were hand-lettered with just the name and title of the owner, and possibly the days or hours they were “at home.” Women’s cards were slightly larger than men’s cards. Special messages could be conveyed by folding down a corner of the card. Folding the top left meant the card was delivered by the person wanting to visit, not by a servant. A top-right fold meant “congratulations,” a bottom-right sent condolences, and bottom-left signaled “farewell.”

Calling cards were popular in the United States during Victorian times and often were collected and pasted into scrapbooks. They were larger than earlier cards and often featured colorful flowers, fancy borders, attached scraps and fringes.

There were strict rules of etiquette concerning calling cards. If the person who received a card wanted to receive the visitor, he sent his own card back. If the person leaving the card didn’t get a card back, it meant the person called on didn’t want to see her. (Something like having your “friend request” ignored on Facebook.)

Q: We live in a rural area in Arizona and have found more than 200 Arizona license plates from 1930. Some have a “P” for pneumatic and “S” for solid tires. What are these worth?

A: Common license plates usually sell for about $10 apiece or less. Yours are old enough to have more value. Vanity plates, license plates with a series of letters or numbers that spell something are also worth more.

The Automobile License Plate Collectors Association, an organization for collectors, holds meets throughout the country and hosts an annual convention. For more information, check the association’s website,

Q: I have a Janssen Organo from the 1930s or ‘40s, I think. It has radio tubes for the organ controls, but also plays as a piano without them. I haven’t been able to find out anything about it. Can you help?

A: The Janssen Piano Co. was founded by Webb Janssen in New York City in 1901. The company was bought by C.G. Conn in 1964. It was sold to Charles R. Walter in 1970, and the company’s name became Walter Piano Co. Pianos were made with the Janssen name until 1976. The Organo was made in the 1950s. One was offered for sale recently for $350.

Current prices

Current prices are recorded from antiques shows, flea markets, sales and auctions throughout the United States. Prices vary in different locations because of local economic conditions.

  • Yves Saint Laurent silk scarf, white polka dots on red background, square border of red, white, green and navy blue, 1960s, 31 by 31 inches, $75.
  • Raggedy Ann and Andy dolls, porcelain heads, hands and feet, stuffed cloth bodies, fabric outfits, yarn hair, Bobbs-Merrill copyright, Ideal, 1978, 16 inches, pair, box, $115.
  • Sanitary Hair Nets store display box, hinged lid, image of “The Kaybee Girl,” titled “Hair Nets 10 cents Each,” Kunstadter Bros., Chicago, 1890s, 7 by 9 by 2 inches, $120.
  • Sterling-silver berry spoon, shell bowl, Lily pattern, Whiting Mfg. Co., 1902, 9Z, inches, $130.
  • Ray-Ban Outdoorsman Sport sunglasses, aviator style, gold-plated frames, original leather pouch, 1960s, $175.

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

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 Kovel forum. We cannot guarantee the return of any photograph, but if a stamped envelope is included, we will try. The volume of mail makes personal answers or appraisals impossible. Write to Kovel, The Forum of Fargo-Moorhead, King Features Syndicate, 300 W. 57th St., New York, NY 10019.