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Published October 21, 2011, 12:00 AM

Kovels Antiques: Political pieces highly collectible

Politics is in the news every day, and we’re reminding collectors that buttons, signs, medallions, bandannas and even canes were made for past election campaigns. They are a collector’s challenge.

By: By Terry Kovel, INFORUM

Politics is in the news every day, and we’re reminding collectors that buttons, signs, medallions, bandannas and even canes were made for past election campaigns. They are a collector’s challenge.

Prices for some old and rare political collectibles are high at auctions, but many items can be found for less at house sales or hidden in your own drawers or attic. Some old political collectibles have slogans or pictures from long-forgotten campaigns.

A recent catalog for a campaign-button auction pictured these examples: a button with the words “If we ever needed him, we need him now” (Dwight Eisenhower, 1952, $18), an 1896 bug-shaped pin that represented the Gold Bug for William McKinley ($720) and the Silver Bug for William Jennings Bryan ($48), and a round button with a yellow felt border shaped like petals that was the sunflower emblem used by Alf Landon in 1936 ($10). Figural buttons often tell a hidden political story. A bar pin shaped like a broom with a small donkey hanging from the handle was auctioned by Hake’s Americana and Collectibles of York, Pa., for $113. The broom symbolized the Democrats’ promise to sweep Republicans out of power in the 1932 election. The donkey was and still is the symbol of the Democrats. There may be unrecognized treasures in your house. Prices for political memorabilia usually go up during a presidential election year.


Q: Several years ago, I bought some dishes in a thrift store when I needed extra plates and platters for a themed dinner party. I noticed that all 51 pieces were signed “M.A. Hadley.” I discovered that this pattern is called “Hot Brown Fleck” and that Mary Alice Hadley won a good-design award for it from the Museum of Modern Art in 1952. Can you tell me more about Ms. Hadley and my dishes?

A: Mary Alice Hadley (1911-1965) decorated a set of dishes for use on her family’s boat in 1939. Her friends liked the dishes so much that they asked her to make some for them. She bought the dishes, hand-decorated them and had them glazed and fired at Louisville Pottery Co. of Louisville, Ky. In 1940, Mary and her husband, George, rented space at Louisville Pottery and hired a few decorators to hand-paint china. Hadley Pottery Co., which the venture had been named, moved to a building the Hadleys bought in Louisville in 1944. They built their first kiln later that year and began firing their own pottery. “Hot Brown Fleck,” introduced in 1952, is no longer being made because the brown clay it was made from is no longer available. After Mary Alice died, George continued in the business until it was sold in 1979. The company is still in business.


Q: I have a small chest with a metal tray-like top and seven drawers. We received it from a family member who lived in Florida. The cabinet is 28½ inches high. The drawers are 6½ inches deep. I’m not sure what it was used for.

A: This type of chest is called a “semainier.” The name comes from the French word “semaine,” which means “week.” There is one drawer for each day of the week, and the chest was meant to hold a week’s supply of lingerie or other clothing. Semainiers were popular during Victorian times. Many semainiers have a marble top. Yours may originally have had a piece of marble set in the metal frame.


Q: I’d like to know more about a cylindrical slide rule I own. It’s in its original storage box, which is 24 inches long by 6½ inches square. There are several names and dates on the slide rule and box. The slide rule is labeled “Thatcher’s Calculating Instrument” and has a cylinder that moves freely inside an envelope of 20 bars. It’s marked “Patented by Edwin Thatcher, C.E. Nov. 1st, 1881. Divided by W.F. Stanley, London, 1882. Made by Keuffel & Esser Co., New York.” The model number 4012 and the serial number 2498 are imprinted on the base.

A: The cylindrical slide rule was invented by Edwin Thacher, a civil engineer from Pittsburgh. W.F. Stanley, who divided the scales, spelled Thacher’s name wrong on the original plates. “Thatcher” continued to be marked on the slide rule after Keuffel & Esser Co. took over production in 1897. Model 4012 was introduced in 1900. Keuffel & Esser made three variations of this slide rule between 1891 and 1952. The serial number on your slide rule indicates that it probably was made before 1915. Value: about $500 to $700.


Q: I own a Little Black Sambo marionette that’s dated 1938. I also have its original red-and-white box with a drawing of a stage and two marionettes on the cover. The box reads, “Marionette by Kopy-Kat.” Value?

A: Kopy-Kat marionettes were made by Wilson Inc. of Detroit. The marionettes were packaged as pairs in an “educational” kit so they could be assembled, painted and dressed by the buyer. Little Black Sambo was a popular literary character, and toys based on the character are wanted by collectors of black memorabilia. If your marionette and its box are in excellent condition, they could sell for $250 or more.

Tip

If your old cast-iron pan without a wooden handle is dirty, clean it in a self-cleaning oven.


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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