1890s figure lets Uncle Sam hold your mail

The U.S. has been represented by Columbia, Brother Jonathan, Liberty and others, but the most famous is Uncle Sam. This wooden Uncle Sam sold for over $500 at an auction in Maine. Cowles Syndicate photo

BY TERRY AND KIM KOVEL
Kovels’ Antiques and Collecting

Uncle Sam wearing a blue tailcoat with stars, red striped pants, a red striped top hat and sporting a beard and goatee is not the first symbol for the United States, but probably is the best known today. Columbia was the first symbol, starting in 1738. She remained popular until the 1920s, but was not as favored as Brother Jonathan and Uncle Sam. Legend says Uncle Sam was the result of the initials “U.S.” on kegs of meat inspected by Samuel Wilson during the War of 1812. When asked what the initials meant, he gave his nickname “Uncle Sam.” But the Uncle Sam known today was created first by cartoonist Thomas Nast, who drew a tall, young man with a beard wearing the top hat, striped pants and waistcoat. Similar Uncle Sams were used in many ways, even as an 1886 mechanical bank. The Uncle Sam figure made to hold a mailbox outdoors was made as early as the 1890s, but the most famous Uncle Sam was created in 1916 for a recruiting poster by James Montgomery Flagg. The figure is pointing and saying “I Want You.” Hundreds of homemade wooden Uncle Sam mailboxes have been made since World War I ended. This Uncle Sam figure is made of flat-shaped boards, but he is missing the tray for mail. He was sold by James Julia Auctions for $533.

Q I found 10 unused World War I postcards. The title of one of the postcards is “Les Americains au Camp d’Auvours.” I’ve spent hours online and can’t find anything similar. Are they worth anything?

A A military camp has been located at Champagne, France, since the 1870s. Allied troops used the camp as a rear base during World War I. A series of postcards was made picturing American troops at the camp and most sell online for under $5. To find out more, go to a postcard show or antiques show and talk to a postcard dealer.

Q My father had a side job cleaning out houses. On one job, he removed a few dozen navigation charts for the eastern U.S. coastline. Many were uninteresting and had handwritten notes from use, but I kept one. It was a detail of “Coast Chart No. 120, New York Bay and Harbor” by the U.S. Coast Guard Geodetic Survey, Henry S. Pritchett Superintendent, published in 1900. It’s been stored flat on acid-free paper in a glare-resistant frame. I would love to know if it’s worth anything.

A Coast charts were created by the Coast Survey, a small agency that operated under the U.S. Treasury Department beginning in the early 1800s, to chart the coastal waters of the U.S. Coast charts came into more immediate importance during the Civil War. Henry S. Pritchett (1857-1939) was a mathematician and astronomer who worked as the Superintendent of the U.S. Coast and Geodetic Survey from 1897 to 1900. He became President of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. During Pritchett’s administration, a major reorganization of the Survey took place and it became a major part of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. You should take your chart to an auction house that specializes in antique maps and navigational charts. An 1880 version of the same territory by the U.S. Coast Survey has sold for $900.

Q I have two Pan Am Take Off credit cards from the mid-70s. Both still are sealed in their original envelopes and one is still sealed in the mailing envelope. What do you think they are worth?

A Pan Am (officially Pan American World Airways) was in business from 1927 to 1991. The first Pan Am Take Off credit cards were issued in 1970. Yellow cards were issued to men, and green cards were issued to women. Unmarried women were not able to get credit without a male cosigner until the Equal Credit Opportunity Act was passed in 1974. It’s hard to set a price for your cards. They would appeal to credit card collectors and collectors of airline memorabilia. Airline memorabilia includes china, glassware, flatware, maps, menus, blankets, crew badges and almost anything else used on an airplane. There are even collectors of air-sickness bags. You might find collectors at advertising shows.

Q I have several baseball cards made by the Ted Williams Card Co. in 1993 and 1994. Most of them picture retired players. What are they worth?

A The Ted Williams Card Co. was founded in 1992 by Ted Williams’ son, John-Henry Williams, and Brian Interland, hoping to promote interest in Ted Williams memorabilia and to cash in on the boom in baseball-card collecting. Ted Williams (1918-2002) played for the Boston Red Sox from 1939 to 1960, with time out for service as a Naval aviator in World War II and the Korean War. The baseball card sets included pictures of players in the former Negro Leagues and in women’s baseball leagues, as well as future stars in minor leagues. The company wasn’t authorized to produce cards of current players and could only include two current players in each set. The sets included a letter of authenticity. Interest in baseball-card collecting was at its peak in the 1980s and early 1990s. Billions of cards were produced each year. By 1994, the year the World Series was canceled because of the baseball strike, interest in baseball cards began to decline. Online sites sell individual cards made by the Ted Williams Card Co. from 15 cents to about $12.

Tip: Old Burmese glass will fluoresce yellow-green under a black light. Recent reproductions will not.

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