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Published September 09, 2011, 12:00 AM

Kovels Antiques: Old sundials draw big bucks from collectors

Sundials are not just garden ornaments. They can tell time if set up properly. They have been made for centuries, and collectors search for the flat type called “equatorial” or “equinoctial” sundials by experts, and other types like those made to hang on a wall or those that are spherical or cone-shaped.

By: By Terry Kovel, INFORUM

Sundials are not just garden ornaments. They can tell time if set up properly. They have been made for centuries, and collectors search for the flat type called “equatorial” or “equinoctial” sundials by experts, and other types like those made to hang on a wall or those that are spherical or cone-shaped.

The age, maker, shape and decoration all determine the price. Usually 17th- and 18th-century signed brass sundials are best. There are two important parts to a sundial. The “plate,” which usually is a round, flat disk marked with numbers, and the “gnomon,” the piece that casts the shadow on the plate.

Most modern sundials come with directions for installation. It is determined by the latitude, the North Star and some adjustments to find due north. There are websites that list complete directions. Many sundials sold in gift shops today make no attempt to be used as anything but ornaments and cannot be set accurately.

A very small handheld sundial made in the mid-18th century by Andreas Volger of Augsburg, Germany, was auctioned in 2010 by Skinner’s in Boston. It has an octagonal base and engraved Roman numerals, Latin words and city names. It sold for $450. Look for garden antiques that can stay outside, like a large brass sundial, but wipe the brass with a thin coating of wax for added protection from snow and rain.

Q: I have read about dangerous jugs made of radioactive clay. I collect stoneware jugs. What should I worry about?

A: When radium was discovered, many thought it had curative qualities. So some quack medicine potions and medical devices were made using radium. One of the most popular and the one most often a problem today is the “Revigorator jug.” Although it was made in the 19th century, it is shaped like an atomic energy plant cooling tower. There is a spigot near the bottom of the jug and printed information on the sides. The jug was made with radioactive material, and even today the jugs are radioactive. They should be tested with a Geiger counter if kept on display. The inside is more dangerous than the outside, so do not put your hand inside. And although the instructions say to fill the jug with water you can drink during the day, that’s a danger to your health. It probably is best not to display a Revigorator. To get rid of it, you should ask how your city handles toxic waste. Other jugs and bottles may contain remnants of dangerous poisons, so be very careful about leaving them open or even saving the contents.

Q: I collect stuffed-cloth advertising dolls. What are the most important dolls to look for?

A: Every collector has favorites. I like the early Aunt Jemima family of four, Kellogg’s Rice Krispies Snap, Crackle and Pop and Goldilocks and the Three Bears, Campbell Soup’s Campbell Kids and the Pillsbury Doughboy. More recent dolls include those made for fast-food restaurants, like McDonald’s Ronald McDonald and Hamburglar, and Burger King’s King.

Q: When was fake bamboo furniture popular? I have a dresser that has drawer edges made of wooden dowels painted to look like bamboo. Round, carved and painted, bamboo-shaped posts at the edges serve as trim and feet.

A: Everything Asian, especially Japanese, was considered elegant, mysterious and high-fashion in the days of the Aesthetic Movement, from the 1870s to 1900. In Britain, bamboo and faux-bamboo furniture was popular for summer homes. The idea spread to the United States, and R.J. Horner Co. of New York City was the best-known of the furniture makers that popularized the style. The U.S. Centennial in 1876 mounted some Japanese exhibits that sent American designers of pottery, furniture and other decorative arts in a new direction. The American furniture on display was made of wooden faux bamboo because these pieces were stronger and would last longer than anything made with real bamboo. In Britain, real bamboo often was used. Today, 19th-century bamboo pieces are again popular and more difficult to find, but they’re still priced lower than top-quality new furniture.

Q: When I was married in 1952, I picked out Hallcraft dinnerware in the Bouquet pattern by Eva Zeisel. I’m now 91 years old. The store I bought the set from is not in existence anymore. I’m wondering if the dishes have any value. They were used only two or three times.

A: Eva Zeisel has designed products for many different companies in the United States and Europe. Her pieces are sought by collectors around the world. She was born in Budapest, Hungary, in 1906, and moved to the United States in 1938. She designed dinnerware patterns on two shapes under the Hallcraft label for Hall China Co. Bouquet was designed in 1952 on the Tomorrow’s Classic shape, which featured some innovative serving pieces in unusual shapes. A Bouquet bread-and-butter plate sold for 65 cents in 1952, and sells for $7.99 today. A 71-inch platter that originally sold for $3.70 sells for $55.99 today. Salt-and-pepper shakers that sold for $1.05 each sell today for $69.95 a pair. It is an easy pattern to sell, but you should use your china and enjoy the pretty pattern. What are you waiting for?


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

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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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