18th century sundials small enough to carry around

A small sundial by Michael Butterfield of Paris brought a big price at a Massachusetts auction recently. The unusual octagonal silver antique sold for $3,198. Cowles Syndicate photo

BY TERRY AND
KIM KOVEL
Kovels’ Antiques and Collecting

The sundial is a very early tool used to tell time. It is said that the earliest sundials were made in 1500 B.C., and variations were made in following centuries by Greeks, Chinese and Romans. But the portable sundial carried on trips during the 18th century was needed only until railroads – not clocks – were popular. The sundial, if positioned and read properly, gave more accurate time than a clock. Pocket sundials were very popular in the 18th and 19th centuries in Europe and America. A surprising number are sold to collectors each year as ornaments or historic relics, or as interesting and attractive conversation pieces. Auctions of scientific instruments sell sundials. A recent Skinner sale in Boston had brass or silver examples, many from the 17th and 18th centuries. They were made by hand with engraved lines and letters, and an inset compass. The gnomon, the upright piece that casts the shadow, was made so it could fit into the case that held the rest of the sundial. A silver octagonal plate with lines, numerals and a hinged gnomon was kept in a felt-lined leather case. The 2-3/4-inch French late-17th century antique sold for $3,198, including the buyer’s premium.

Q I have a very old dresser or commode set that is in good shape except it’s missing several of the drawer handles. I believe they are silver, and they are very ornate. Is there a good place I could look for matching pieces, or is there a place I can get some made?

A There are many places that sell replacement hardware. You can find them online, or you can look for ads for replacement hardware in antiques publications. You also may be able to find similar hardware at antiques shows or flea markets. If you don’t find an exact match, you can replace all the hardware with hardware appropriate to the period. Be sure the replacement hardware needs holes where the original holes are.

Q I have a milk glass dish that looks like those with a hen top, but this one has an animal. It is marked “Pat’d Aug 6, 1889.” Does the date tell who made it and suggest price today?

A The patent date tells the maker is Atterbury Glass Co. of Pittsburgh. It closed in 1903. Does the animal have red glass eyes? The red eyes were used on the most expensive Atterbury animals. Many companies made milk glass, and milk-glass dishes with animal or bird lids were available. Atterbury is one of the best. In 2000, the dish was worth $175 to $200. Today milk glass is not as popular with collectors, and your dish is worth only $100 to $150.

Q I have a purple cow figurine with a small sticker on the bottom. Some of the words are worn off, but I can read “Freeman McFarlin, El Monte, California.” The cow is 4 inches long and about 4 inches high. What is it worth?

A Freeman McFarlin Potteries was in business in California from 1951 to 1980. Gerald McFarlin had a pottery in El Monte for several years before Maynard Anthony Freeman joined him in 1951. Freeman designed some of the whimsical animal figurines that also were made into salt-and-pepper shakers, sugars and creamers, and other items. The animals he designed are incised with his signature, “Anthony.” Later, the company opened a factory in San Marcos, California. In 1980, International Foods bought Freeman McFarlin and the El Monte factory was closed. The San Marcos factory was sold to Hagen Renaker, which continued to operate it until 1986. The purple cow figurine sells for about $15.

Q I have some old 10-inch Duke Ellington and Benny Goodman records from the 1940s that I would like to sell. I know there are collector books for old stamps and coins, but are there any resources to help value old records?

A People collect all kinds of old records because of their interest in a particular type of music, a particular artist or a particular music label. Most old best-selling records were pressed by the millions and are worth very little unless they are notable for some reason – an autographed jacket, a short run pressing, or an obscure title or artist. Buyers of old records usually look for records made before 1950 and after 1970 in new or nearly new condition, with the original paper sleeves or jackets. Your old 10-inch records probably are “seventy-eights,” with one song that lasts about three minutes on each side. They are shellac, made before the era of long-playing vinyl records, and are not very desirable to collectors. There are websites that buy records and have very specific lists for what they want and what they don’t want. Big Band music is popular, but those records still only sell for about $2. Your local library also might have price guides for old records, such as Standard Catalog of American Records 1950-1990, 9th edition, or Goldmine Record Album Price Guide, 8th edition, both by Dave Thompson.

Tip: All types of lights – sunlight, fluorescent light and/or electric and LED lights – will harm paper.

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