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Published December 09, 2011, 12:00 AM

Kovels Antiques: Chestnuts have been eaten since prehistoric times

A Chinese porcelain “chestnut basket” recently was offered for sale at a Virginia auction. We looked at the basket, which appears to be a bowl and underplate, and wondered if the reticulated (cut-out) areas were simply decorative or if they were important because the bowl held chestnuts.

By: By Terry Kovel, INFORUM

A Chinese porcelain “chestnut basket” recently was offered for sale at a Virginia auction. We looked at the basket, which appears to be a bowl and underplate, and wondered if the reticulated (cut-out) areas were simply decorative or if they were important because the bowl held chestnuts.

The chestnuts served in the Chinese porcelain basket must have been roasted and peeled, then eaten like any nut. The slotted bowl allowed the escape of steam from the hot chestnuts.

Chestnuts have been eaten since prehistoric times. During the 18th and 19th centuries, Americans used ground chestnuts as bread flour and a substitute for potatoes. Today, chestnuts become particularly popular in the winter, when they are added to turkey stuffing or simply roasted, shelled and eaten. But they also can be used to make salads, “meat” loaf and hummus, and they can be mixed with maple syrup to create a French dish called “marron glace.”

Chestnuts are now available at grocery stores or online with or without their hard outer shells. Modern bowls specially made to serve hot chestnuts don’t seem to be available. When you search online, you find lots of bowls made from the wood of chestnut trees.

Some trees in America were introduced by Europeans, but there are also native varieties, including the American chestnut. Unfortunately, an Asian chestnut tree planted in New York in 1904 spread a fungus that killed most of the American chestnuts. Today, gardeners plant decorative Chinese chestnut trees that have pink, not white, flowers and little fruit. Most chestnuts that are cooked today are imported from Japan, China, Spain and Italy.

Q: Years ago, we rescued a wreck of a Victorian sofa from an old barn down the road from where we live. The frame appears to be oak, and the scrolled arms on each side recline. We had the wood refinished and the sofa reupholstered. What do you think it’s worth?

A: The Victorians of the late 19th century loved to design multipurpose furniture. One or both of the arms on your sofa could be lowered to make a chaise lounge or a daybed. In general, refinished Victorian sofas in good shape sell for $500 or more.

Q: Our family has owned a small, clear, glass dog figurine for decades. My dad picked it up when he came upon a truck wreck in West Virginia. Boxes and boxes of these dogs had fallen out of the truck, and nearly all of the figures were broken. The dog is 3 inches high by 1 7/8 inches wide and 2 5/8 inches deep. The figure is hollow and the bottom is open. The dog is in a sitting position with his ears down. Any idea what it was used for, and what it’s worth today?

A: Your glass dog originally was a candy container. It was sold in the mid 1950s filled with candy sealed inside by a paper bottom glued to the base’s rim. The original paper closures were printed in blue with the words: “Poochie, contains pure and wholesome candy. Remove paper and Poochie becomes a good paperweight or a cute what-not ... American Creations, Inc., New York, N.Y.” Others were made in pink or green glass, some with color flashing. The identical glass dog, but painted brown and filled with bath salts, was sold by a New York cosmetics firm. Without the sealed bottom, however, your doggie would sell for only about $5.

Q: My mother still has the old GE “Heat ‘n Serve Baby Dish” in its original box. She used it to heat up my baby food back in the mid-1970s. What’s it worth today?

A: General Electric introduced its plastic three-part Heat ‘n Serve Baby Dish in the 1960s and continued to market it into the late 1970s. It can be found with different decal decorations and different box designs. We have seen dishes in original boxes sell for $15 to $25.


Commercial false-teeth cleaners are good to use to remove scum from the inside of old glass bottles.

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.

- Jackie Cooper “Our Gang” pencil box, image of Jackie on lid, tin, 12 pencils, Wallace Pencil Co., 1930s, 2 by 7 inches, $35.

- Corday Toujours Moi perfume bottle, cut glass stopper, original box, 1930s, ½ ounce, $125.

- Madame Alexander Sweet Tears Doll gift set, doll and accessories attached inside original window box, nightgown, booties, dress, jacket and hat, 1965, 9-inch doll, $140.

- Brush “Squirrel on Log” cookie jar, squirrel holds mallet ready to strike walnut, green base, 10½ by 10½ inches, $165.

- Moser vase, yellow cased glass, cut & engraved, flowers and leaf design, c. 1900, 11½ inches, $175.

- Pieced quilt, Sunshine and Shadows diamond pattern, navy border, pink, white, powder blue, yellow and beige, circa 1940, 78 by 92 inches, $525.

- George III-style barrel-back armchair, embossed leather with brass nail-head trim, turned legs, 1850s, $535.

- Victorian leather women’s boots, lace-up, dark brown uppers, black lowers, high heels, circa 1886, 10 inches, $550.

- William IV sterling-silver christening cup, tapered reeded body, scroll handle, circa 1832, 3 1/16 inches, $595.

- Whirlgig, two blacksmiths making horseshoes, one at forge heating shoes and one working at anvil, 1920s, 15 by 21 by 23 inches, $900.

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

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