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Published September 30, 2011, 12:00 AM

Kovels Antiques: Sought-after antiques stem from hardships

Antique collectors who do research know that important companies grow from small companies with very talented founders who solved both personal and business problems.

By: By Terry Kovel, INFORUM

Antique collectors who do research know that important companies grow from small companies with very talented founders who solved both personal and business problems.

It is well-known that Josiah Wedgwood, the 18th-century potter, was refused a job in the family business because he was disabled. But he worked hard, developed special glazes and shapes, and eventually went into the business and made it famous and financially successful.

Richard and Betty James spent $500 to start making Slinky toys in the 1940s. Betty had six children and little business experience when her husband left her in 1960 to join a religious group in Bolivia. She ran the business, became CEO of the company, developed new products and made Slinky one of the most successful toys of the 20th century.

Appolonia Margarete Steiff, born in 1847 and crippled by polio as a child, used a wheelchair for the rest of her life. She went to school, took sewing classes and learned to operate a sewing machine backwards with her stronger arm. She made some elephant-shaped pincushions as a gift for friends and then to sell to others. She realized they were being used as toys, so she started making large toy elephants. The company grew with her ideas and designs, and by 1893 she was issuing a catalog. Many relatives joined the company and helped it become the huge Steiff toy company still working today. Margarete made hundreds of different animal toys, even some based on the imaginary characters of comics and movies.

Felix the Cat was a cartoon character in a 1919 short film called “Feline Follies.” He soon became the star of a King Features comic strip and a TV cartoon series, and was made into toys. A Steiff Felix toy was made in 1927. He had a white face, not a black one, and did not sell well. Today, as a very rare Steiff toy, he is worth more than $4,000.

Q: I have several Dunbar furniture pieces made by Edward Wormley. They were originally done in a blond finish called “bleached mahogany.” My parents had two of the pieces refinished in a dark shade using Dunbar stains. I am debating restaining the other pieces. I have seen redone Wormley in high-end shops. The old finish has a brittle yellow quality caused by nitrocellulose lacquer. Is it OK to remove the lacquer? Will it destroy the value?

A: If the refinishing is well done and closely resembles the dark finish used by Dunbar, it probably will not be a problem. Fifties furniture like yours was made in quantity and is bought today for its decorative value. If the lacquer is discolored, it would be a plus to remove it. Don’t sand it, because you will remove some of the wood, and this would lower the value. Fifty years from now, Wormley’s designs may not be as easy to find, and your refinishing may be questioned. But are you treating the furniture as something to enjoy, not as museum pieces.


To clean an old coffee grinder, grind white rice through the mill. When the rice appears to be clean, the grinder is clean enough to use.

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.

- Duncan & Miller glass wine goblet, Lily of the Valley cutting, c. 1955, 2 ounces, 5¾ inches, $25.

- Aluminum mugs, handled, purple, red, gold, pink, turquoise and yellow, Color Craft of Indiana, 1950s, holds 16 ounces, 5 5/16x3Z, inches, 6 pieces, $65.

- Effanbee Lovums doll, composition, open mouth, teeth, white handkerchief-linen baby dress, 1928, 15 inches, $200.

- E.T. toy, battery-operated, talks, mouth moves, finger lights up, box, 1980s, mint in box, 15 inches, $255.

- Thelma Deutsch giraffe pin, silver-tone metal, studded with square-cut and aqua-colored rhinestones, oval plaque on back, 1970s, 3¾x2¾ inches, $290.

- Silk parasol, carved ivory folding handle, ivory silk satin, ivory silk lining, pinked and scalloped edges, brass fittings, flowers carved in handle, black silk tassel, 1860s, $325.

- Solidiform grease can, lithographed tin, yellow, black photos of four people riding in touring car, fisherman in boat, Blade & Co., Portland, Me., 5x4¼ inches, $350.

- New England Windsor armchair, bow-back, green paint, applied arms, nine spindles, 18th century, 38 inches, $585.

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

Kovel answers as many questions as possible through the column. We cannot guarantee the return of any photograph, but if a stamped envelope is included, we will try. Write to Kovel, The Forum of Fargo-Moorhead, King Features Syndicate, 300 W. 57th St., New York, NY 10019.