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Published April 15, 2011, 12:00 AM

Kovels Antiques: Unusual articles of furniture often uncomfortable

Should a chair be a “conversation piece” or be comfortable? Twentieth-century designers’ chairs can be either, but they’re rarely both.

By: Terry Kovel, INFORUM

Should a chair be a “conversation piece” or be comfortable? Twentieth-century designers’ chairs can be either, but they’re rarely both.

A chair that looks like a huge cupped hand is hard to ignore or forget. It often is pictured but not identified. Pedro Friedeberg (b. 1936), an Italian-born designer from Mexico, is an architect, painter and designer of furniture and “useless objects.” His “Hand” chairs were first made in the 1980s and still are in production. His work sells for high prices to today’s collectors.

Want an imaginative clock? Friedeberg made one with protruding hands that substitute for numerals. He cleverly made the hands with one, two, three, four or five fingers pointing up, then for numbers six to 12, he created hands with six fingers, seven fingers, etc. Another of his designs is the 1980s “Mariposa” (Butterfly) chair. A large, colorful mahogany butterfly is the seat, another is the back. It too is very out of the ordinary and lumpy, but it’s comfortable.

A new young group of collectors searches for the work of designers from the 1930s to 2000 and often pays very high prices. Works by famous designers have gone up in value while much of the collecting market has gone down.

Q: I have a bright red plastic biscuit cutter that says “For Bisquicks” on the handle and “Bonnyware” on the side. I still use it to make baking powder biscuits. It was my mother’s. Any idea how old it is?

A: We have been told that Bonny Ware plastic was made by Reynolds Spring Co. of Jackson, Mich., but we are not sure. The company is not on any of our lists of manufacturers of plastic kitchen wares. Bisquick became a brand name in 1931 and still is on the market. We are sure the cutter was meant to be used to make baking powder biscuits using Bisquick, probably about 1960. The added “s” may have been a way to avoid suggesting the makers of Bisquick endorsed the product. Hundreds of biscuit cutters, salt-and-pepper sets and other bright plastic pieces marked “Bonny Ware” are for sale on the Internet for prices as low as $5, but no one seems to know who made them. Can anyone help?

Q: I have some old blue-and-white plates from China. I was told they are called “Canton” or “Nanking” because of the pattern. What is the difference?

A: Canton and Nanking are both patterns of dishes made in China from the late 1700s to the early 1900s. Both are named for cities in China where the dishes were thought to have been made, but we now know that Nanking was the port used to ship the dishes. Both patterns are blue and white, and both have a scene with a landscape, building, bridge and trees. Nanking has a “spear and post” border and often has some gold trim. Canton has a “rain and cloud” border. There is sometimes a person on the bridge on a Nanking plate, but never on a Canton plate. Nanking is a better-quality product with crisp decorations and extra gold trim. Both Canton and Nanking dishes were made for the American market and after 1891 were marked “China” or “Made in China.” Some dishes have an “orange peel glaze.” This is caused by using too thick a glaze and should not affect the price. In the 1950s, collectors could find dishes for a few dollars each and often assembled a full dinner service for a family. Today both Nanking and Canton are classed as “Chinese Export china” and bring much higher prices – $150 for a Nanking plate and $350 for a 9-inch Canton bowl.

Q: I just found a bottle of Bols creme de menthe at the back of my grandfather’s liquor cabinet. The label says 1868. Inside the bottle is a ballerina who spins while music plays. How much is this old bottle worth?

A: Your bottle was not made in 1868. That was the year Bols was taken over by new management. The musical bottle was sold from 1957 to 1980. The Dutch company sold several different types of liqueur, including creme de menthe, in the bottle. It is a very common bottle worth about $20. The bottles are offered online for about $60 with the original box down to $10 for a worn bottle.

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.