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Published April 22, 2011, 12:00 AM

Kovels Antiques: Ayer’s items remain popular with collectors

Deceptive advertising has been a problem for centuries. The “cures” of Victorian times were promoted with posters, trade cards, almanacs, recipe books, calendars and other testimonials.

By: Terry Kovel, INFORUM

Deceptive advertising has been a problem for centuries. The “cures” of Victorian times were promoted with posters, trade cards, almanacs, recipe books, calendars and other testimonials.

One of the prominent makers of cures, remedies and hair and skin products was James C. Ayer & Co. From 1838 to 1841, Ayer worked in an apothecary shop in Connecticut. He learned the business and studied the Harvard College-suggested curriculum for chemistry. He also studied medicine with a doctor. He bought the drugstore, sold his own remedies and eventually owned multiple stores, factories and other investments that made him a wealthy man. He died in 1878. The business stayed in his family for eight years and then was sold to Sterling Products.

One of Ayer’s famous products was Ayer’s Hair Vigor. It was advertised as a “coloring and dressing” for hair that prevents and cures hair loss and “restores gray hair to its natural vitality and color.” Restoring was really dying, but this was just a tiny exaggeration compared with the claims for other Ayer’s products. One said it restored your health after a malaria attack. Another promised a “youthful appearance.” An Ayer’s hair product was still for sale in the 1930s. The colorful Ayer’s bottles, posters and printed material with unusual graphics are popular with today’s collectors.

Q: In 1980, I paid $500 for a hand-carved and inlaid coffee table that was a floor sample in an interior design company’s Cincinnati showroom. The name “John Widdicomb” is stamped on the underside of the tabletop. Can you tell me what the table’s market value is today?

A: John Widdicomb Co. was in business in Grand Rapids, Mich., from 1897 until 2002, when the company closed and its name was sold to L. & J.G. Stickley Inc. of Manlius, N.Y. Stickley now sells a “John Widdicomb Collection” of traditional pieces. John Widdicomb Co. was known for its high-end designs, which might include your table. Pieces were marked in various ways through the years, but the simple mark “John Widdicomb” was used from the mid-1950s until the mid-1970s. If your table is in good shape, it could sell for $500 or more.

Q: I have a pair of matching vases that I bought in an antiques shop in England in 1956. They are 8 inches tall and have gold lettering on the bottom. Some of the letters are worn off, but it includes “J. Kent, Ye Olde Fo... Ware, Fenton, England.” Can you tell me who made these vases and how old they are?

A: Your vases were made by James Kent, who worked at the Old Foley Pottery in Fenton, England. The pottery was established at Longton, England, in 1897 by James Aloysius Kent (1864-1953) and five of his workmen. The words “Old Foley Pottery” were used after 1955. The company was in business until about 1989, but the name “James Kent” is now being used by another company in Fenton. Your pair of vases could sell for $250 to $300.

Q: We have a quilt that has been handed down in our family. It’s made of 36 small flannel flags of countries around the world surrounding a larger 48-star American flag. I think the small flags, each about 5 by 8 inches, were some kind of product premium. Can you tell me more?

A: Little national flags made of flannel were tobacco inserts first used in 1912. It was in July of that year that the American flag started to be made with 48 stars – and it stayed that way until Alaska was admitted to the Union in 1959. Collectors often refer to the flannel tobacco premiums as “blankets.” The flags were either wrapped around the tobacco package or inserted in a little envelope inside the package. They came in several sizes and were intended to be used for sewing into bedspreads and pillowcases.

So it’s not surprising that one of your relatives used them to make a quilt. Collectors of old tobacco inserts want unsewn single flags. But some collectors like quilts made from the flags. We have seen quilts like yours sell for as little as $10 and as much as $650. Price depends on condition, size and where the quilt is offered for sale.

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.

  • Airplane whistle, makes a sirenlike whirl, propeller twirls, red and yellow plastic, 1950s, 4 by 3 1/2 inches, $30.

  • Pinocchio lunch pail, round, tin, removable lid, carrying handle, red, Pinocchio on lid, Geppetto, Jiminy, Figaro all around, Walt Disney Productions, 1940, 6 1/2 by 5 inches, $150.

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. Writ to Kovel, The Forum of Fargo-Moorhead, King Features Syndicate, 300 W. 57th St., New York, NY 10019.