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Published March 25, 2011, 12:00 AM

Kovels Antiques: Magical old toy also helped kids learn alphabet

Educational toys are not a new idea. A rare 19th century “Yankee Schoolmaster” toy was offered in a recent auction.

By: Terry Kovel, INFORUM

Educational toys are not a new idea. A rare 19th century “Yankee Schoolmaster” toy was offered in a recent auction.

The toy was patented in 1884. Push a lever on the 10½-inch-tall toy and the mechanism makes the man blink his eyes while the alphabet showing on his chest moves to the next letter. One hand is behind his round body, and the other points to the next letter. The castings for the toy and the painted finish show the excellent quality of the manufacturer’s work.

It must have been mysterious for a toddler to see each new letter, and perhaps it did help teach the alphabet. The toy is extremely rare; only a few are known to exist today. It sold last year at a James Julia auction in Fairfield, Maine.

Q: Should vintage clothing or linens be washed in soap or detergent? I’ve heard you can use Fels-Naptha to remove stains.

A: Detergents were invented in the 1940s, but people still like to use soap for vintage cloth since detergents include chemicals and other synthetic ingredients. Soap is made of natural materials, including oil and lye or another alkaline solution, but it can leave scum in hard water and can cause a fabric to become gray or yellowish if not completely rinsed. Lazarus Fels, founder of Fels and Co., began making soap in 1861. Fels-Naptha was introduced in 1893 when naptha, a solvent, was added to the formula. It can be used to remove stains made by chocolate, grass, makeup, perspiration, oil or grease. There are some other uses for real Fels-Naptha. If you walk into a patch of poison ivy, wash your clothes with Fels-Naptha to get rid of the poisonous residue. Users claim it can also be used to get rid of aphids on plants, fleas and ticks on dogs, and worms on trees.

Q: I have an antique phonograph that belonged to my grandparents. It has the words “Columbia Grafonola” above a circle with two notes in it and the words “Made in U.S.A., Type E.2” below. It still works, and I get a kick out of winding it up and playing one of my grandmother’s old records. I would like to know how much it is worth.

A: The Columbia Phonograph Co. was established in New York in 1889. The president of the company bought American Graphophone Co. in 1893. American Graphophone Co. manufactured phonographs in Bridgeport, Conn., and Columbia sold them. The Grafonola was introduced in 1907. The trademark with the notes and the name “Columbia” above it was first used in 1923. The Columbia wasn’t as popular as some other brands, and collectors are not as eager to own the old ones. Value: $100-$300.

Q: I have a bronze paperweight of a long-eared hound dog sleeping on a pedestal. It is signed “L.F. Nock” and is about 2 by 3 by 2 inches. Can you give me any information about the maker?

A: Leo F. Nock was born in the United States in 1875. Not much is known about him except that he worked for the Roman Bronze Works in New York City and was known for his animal sculptures. Roman Bronze Works was a well-known bronze foundry founded in 1897. It did work for Tiffany Studios and moved to Tiffany’s factory in Corona, N.Y., in 1927. The foundry was in business until the late 1980s.

Q: I have a gold-tone circular pin decorated with cultured pearls. I would like to know more about it. It’s in the original box with a label that says “Krementz Jewelry.” It came with a pamphlet on how to care for the pin, how it was made and a guarantee. Is Krementz still in business?

A: George Krementz and his cousin, Julius Lebkuecher, founded Krementz & Co. in Newark, N.J., in about 1866. By the turn of the 20th century, the company was the largest manufacturer of men’s detachable collar buttons in the world. Other jewelry for men also was made. Women’s jewelry was first made in about 1920. The company gave a lifetime guarantee on all its jewelry and carried replacement parts for its old jewelry. Krementz & Co. was run by family members until 1997. The Colibri Group bought the company name and fulfilled Krementz guarantees until Krementz closed in 2009.

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

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