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Published February 18, 2011, 12:00 AM

Kovels Antiques: Alphabet plates often included strange images

Opinions change with time. Throughout the past 40 years, it has become popular to “think green.” But our ancestors had to hunt for food and killed buffalo, deer and passenger pigeons, making some species endangered and others extinct.

By: Terry Kovel, INFORUM

Opinions change with time. Throughout the past 40 years, it has become popular to “think green.” But our ancestors had to hunt for food and killed buffalo, deer and passenger pigeons, making some species endangered and others extinct.

It was proper to kill animals, throw garbage out into the backyard without composting it or play with the mercury from a broken thermometer (which today we know is dangerous).

Toys reflected scenes of everyday life, so it is not surprising to find an antique child’s plate with what we consider a frightening decoration. Some small plates were made with the letters of the alphabet embossed on the border. These alphabet plates were popular from the 1780s to the 1860s. The letters taught a child to read, and the center design usually included a nursery rhyme, proverb or wise saying.

Some plates pictured a mother or father doing everyday jobs like cooking or sewing or farming. Alphabet plates were made of pottery, porcelain, glass or metal and sometimes came with matching mugs.

One early-19th-century English plate that recently auctioned caused comment among the bidders. The transfer-decorated Staffordshire plate pictures hunters in a canoe surrounded by swimming seals. The hunters are beating the seals to death with clubs so they can sell the fur. Canada banned hunting baby harp seals in the water in 1984, and Russia banned killing baby seals in 2009. Before various countries’ bans, hunting killed many baby seals and lowered the seal population, but the bans have brought seal herds back to a larger size.

Q: Twenty years ago, I bought two antique Windsor chairs from a friend for $1,500. A dealer recently appraised them for $1,250 each. I have been unable to find any information about the cabinetmaker. His mark is machine-carved on both chairs and reads “John M. Bair, Hanover, Penna.”

A: The machine-carved marks indicate that your chairs are not antiques. Bair’s Cabinet Shop, the name of John M. Bair’s business, operated from 1933 to 1964 in Hanover and later Abbottstown, Pa. So your chair dates to Bair’s early years in Hanover. Bair’s made high-quality reproductions of antique furniture, especially Colonial Revival furniture. So your chairs date from the 1930s at the earliest. They’re not antique, but that doesn’t mean they’re not well-made chairs worth the price you paid or more.

Q: I have a painting on tin of a black woman and a blond girl making a gelatin salad. In the bottom right corner it’s signed “Harry Roseland” and dated 1901. Can you help me determine the value of this painting?

A: Harry Herman Roseland (c. 1867-1950) was an American painter. He is known for his paintings of people in turn-of-the-20th-century settings. Your picture was used in an ad for Knox Gelatine. Prints were given to customers as premiums, tin signs with the image hung in grocery stores; and the original painting may have hung in the corporate offices. Charles B. Knox invented a gelatin powder in 1890 and founded the Charles B. Knox Gelatine Co. in Johnstown, N.Y., in 1896. Knox is now part of Kraft Foods. You have a print, not an original painting. A copy of your print in mint condition and framed sold online for $427 a few years ago.

Q: I have several records marked “Vogue.” The records have a picture printed right on the vinyl. I’d like to know something about them. Are they valuable?

A: Vogue picture records were made by Sav-Way Industries of Detroit from May 1946 to April 1947. Each record has a picture on both sides, sometimes signed by the artist. The records’ pictures were applied to an aluminum core and then covered with vinyl. Then the grooves were stamped into the vinyl. Most of the records were 10-inch 78 rpm, but some 12-inch 78 rpm records were also made. The first Vogue picture record was “Basin Street Blues” with “Sugar Blues” on the flip side. More than 70 different Vogue picture records were made. Sav-Way Industries claimed it was making 500,000 records a month in early 1947, but the company went bankrupt a few months later. It is still fairly easy to find Vogue picture records for sale. Most sell for $10 to $50.

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.

  • Mister Whiskers and the Wrigleybottom Jewel Robbery game, “A Crazy Crime Game,” 250 cards, 46 colored counters, booklet, Milton Bradley, 1937, 7 by 5 inches, $30.

  • American Tourister “Tiara” train case, white vinyl exterior, ice-blue quilted brocade lining, padded handle, four plastic feet, 13½ by 8½ by 8½ inches, $70.

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.