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Published June 24, 2011, 12:00 AM

Kovels Antiques: Phrenology inkwells make fun collectibles

Phrenology, the study of the shape of the skull, supposedly could tell the shape of your brain and information about your behavior. The “science” became popular about 1810, years after it was developed by German doctor Franz Joseph Gali, in 1796. It remained popular until about 1840 as a way to understand personality and to help with decisions when hiring employees or choosing a spouse.

By: Terry Kovel, INFORUM

Phrenology, the study of the shape of the skull, supposedly could tell the shape of your brain and information about your behavior. The “science” became popular about 1810, years after it was developed by German doctor Franz Joseph Gali, in 1796. It remained popular until about 1840 as a way to understand personality and to help with decisions when hiring employees or choosing a spouse.

It is now considered a pseudoscience and ignored by the medical profession. Doctors today use brain scans that show areas where feelings of anger, sadness, fear or information-processing originate. So technology seems to have vindicated part of the theory of phrenology: It was right about areas of the brain but wrong about the skull identifying the locations.

You can still buy the icon of the phrenologist, a head marked with the various regions of the brain and the emotions controlled there. Both new and old paper charts and decorative 3-D pottery heads are available. A pair of old phrenology-head inkwells sold for $1,750 at Doyle New York in April. Each bald head was marked with the phrenologist’s map and held a small inkwell in front of the neck.

The inkwells often were kept on a doctor’s desk in the 19th century. If you like the look of the inkwell, be careful where you buy one. New ones are available for as little as $30 and are almost exact copies of old ones. New or old, they are great conversation pieces.


Q: My 90-year-old aunt recently gave me her old Bye-Lo baby doll. The back of the doll’s head is marked “copr. Grace S. Putnam, Made in Germany.” Please fill me in on this doll’s history.

A: California-born Grace Storey Putnam (1877-1947) was divorced and trying to earn some money when she started designing doll’s heads. In 1922, she copyrighted (“copr”) a plaster doll’s head designed to look like the head of a 3-day-old infant. Within a couple of years, the doll, called “Bye-Lo Baby,” went into production with a stock cloth body. Later, a cloth body designed by Putnam was used, and other dolls were all bisque or all composition. The first doll’s heads were bisque and made in Germany. Later heads were composition, wood, vinyl, wax or celluloid and were made in Germany or the United States. The doll was distributed by Putnam’s sole licensee, George Borgfeldt & Co., a New York importer. Bye-Lo Babies were on the market until 1952. The dolls came in several sizes, and the value of yours depends on its size, condition, age and head and body types. Some Bye-Lo Babies sell for well over $1,000, others go for prices in the hundreds.


Q: I have a lamp with a leaded-glass shade on a tree-trunk-shaped bronze base. I was told that it was made by a Cincinnati company, but it looks a lot like a Tiffany lamp. It is 16 inches high and is not marked. Was there a company in Cincinnati making leaded glass lamps, or is my history wrong?

A: There was a company called Cincinnati Artistic Wrought Iron Co., which was opened around 1910. The company used very colorful glass and its lamps were similar to Tiffany’s, but they weren’t quite as well-made. Bronze tree-trunk bases also were used by this company, an idea used earlier by Tiffany. A Tiffany lamp probably would be signed, but we have not seen a signature on a Cincinnati Artistic Wrought Iron Co. lamp. Still, your lamp could sell at a retail price as high as $7,000.


Q: My daughter was given a soup tureen and underplate by an English relative. The mark on the pieces was used by the Old Hall Earthenware Co. of Staffordshire, England. From what we could gather on the Internet, the pattern is a Christopher Dresser design. But the photo we found online is a red pattern, and my daughter’s set is green. Can you explain?

A: Old Hall Earthenware Co. operated at Old Hall Pottery in Hanley, Staffordshire, England, from 1861 to 1886. After that, the company’s name was changed to Old Hall Porcelain Works. Christopher Dresser (1834-1904), born in Scotland, is considered Britain’s first “industrial designer.” He designed ceramics for various English potteries, but is best-known for his metalwork designs, some of which are still in production. In 1884, Dresser designed a few different dinnerware patterns for Old Hall. It is not unusual for a pottery to manufacture patterns in different colors. Whatever the pattern, the soup tureen and underplate are valuable and would sell for at least $500 if they’re in excellent condition.


Q: In 1945, when I was just 10 years old, my dad gave me more than 200 Nestle’s Picture Stamp Album colored stamps. Each one is about 2½ by 1½ inches. My dad died just five years later, so I have no idea how he collected them. The pictures on the front of each stamp are identified on the back as “Wonders of the World” and, for example, “Plants,” “Spiders,” “Bridges,” etc. It also reads that they were “Printed in England.” How old are they, and what are they worth?

A: Nestle’s, which can trace its history back to the 1860s, inserted its Wonders of the World stamps inside the wrappings of its chocolate bars. The stamps were a product promotion that ran from about 1929 into the early 1950s. There were at least six series of Nestle’s “Wonders of the World” stamps, and the stamps in each series could be glued into albums printed for that purpose. Full albums sell online for about $5 to $10. Many other products were advertised with picture stamps during the mid-1900s. Collecting the stamps was a popular hobby.


Tip

Paper must “breathe.” Don’t keep it in a sealed package. It will eventually become moldy.


For more information about antiques and collectibles and free price information, visit Kovel’s website, www.kovels.com

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.

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