Unique and unusual items sell quickly at auctions

Unique or unusual items sell quickly at shows and auctions. So this weather vane featuring a copper tennis racquet got bids up to the winning $1,815 at a Maine auction. Cowles Syndicate photo

Kovels’ Antiques and Collecting

Tennis started in the 12th century and was played without a racquet. The ball was hit with the hand. It was not until the 16th century that the game was called “tennis” and players used a racquet. By the 1960s, important tennis matches were open to both amateurs and professionals, and winning players got a large amount of money as a prize. But there are many collectibles from early tennis events as well as equipment from the past 100 years. Since about 1870, some steins, vases, plates and even figurines pictured players and other tennis scenes. Old balls and racquets, even appropriate tennis clothing, are wanted. One of the most unusual tennis items sold this year is a pre-1950s tennis-racquet weather vane. It was made of copper and included copper-wire racquet strings. The racquet was attached to a mounting rod with a tennis-ball top. The weather vane recently sold at a James Julia auction for $1,815. It probably will be installed near a tennis court.

Q My wife and I bought a blanket chest at an auction. It’s made of cedar planks and has steel wheels. It measures 26 by 50 inches. It doesn’t have any markings. I was told it came from an old basement here in Cookeville, Tennessee.

A Your chest looks like it was made from Tennessee Red Cedar. Cedar chests were designed to store linens and woolens, and the aromatic cedar oil repels moths. They were popular graduation or wedding gifts, and many have been handed down through generations. While there are no markings on your chest, there were a few manufacturers of Tennessee Red Cedar chests in the Chattanooga area. One of them was the Tennessee Red Cedar and Novelty Co. It was listed in the Chattanooga business directory from the 1920s through the 1950s. The company was started by a man who worked for the Tennessee Coffin and Casket Co. Another was Roos Manufacturing Co., which operated from the 1870s through the 1920s. And a third was the Tennessee Furniture Co., which made a “Cavalier” line of cedar chests. All of the companies made chests with casters. Your chest probably was made in the 1930s, and it’s worth about $250.

Q I have a tiny bisque doll, which is about four inches tall. It has molded hair, painted brown eyes and rope joints. Marked on the back is “Sarah S. Putnam, Germany.” I’d like to know who this is and the age of the doll. It is in perfect condition.

A Your doll was designed by Grace (not Sarah) S. Putnam. Born in California, Grace Storey Putnam (1877-1947) was divorced and trying to earn some money when she started designing dolls’ heads. In 1922, she copyrighted a wax doll’s head designed to look like the head of a three-day-old infant. Within a couple of years, the doll, called “Bye-Lo Baby,” went into production, distributed by George Borgfeldt & Co., a New York importer. The first dolls’ heads were bisque and made in Germany. Bodies were cloth, made by the K & K Toy Co., a subsidiary of Borgfeldt, which also assembled them. They came in several sizes. Later, heads were composition, wood, vinyl, wax or celluloid, made in Germany or the U.S. Other dolls were all bisque, all composition or a comb. They were sold until 1952. Your doll’s value depends on size, condition, age, and head and body type. Your doll was made sometime after 1925 and is worth about $200.

Q I have a lovely gutta-percha hand mirror and am looking for information as to how to care for it. I can see a change in color (turning to a beige) in areas and think it might be drying out. I don’t know if that’s correct, but it needs help and I would like to preserve it. Should I be using some kind of oil to nourish it?

A Gutta-percha is made from sap from trees found primarily in Malaysia. It was molded and used to make toilet articles, canes, golf balls, knife handles, picture frames, and other items in the 19th century. Daguerreotypes often were framed in molded black cases that were mistakenly called gutta-percha. The cases were made of a black mixture of wood and shellac. Today gutta-percha is used by dentists, who use it to fill root canals. Gutta-percha deteriorates when exposed to sunlight and can change color. Don’t use oil to “nourish” it. Some oils will dissolve gutta-percha.

Q Can you give me guidance on this creamer that is shaped like a red devil? It’s marked Royal Bayreuth with a lion holding a shield.

A Royal Bayreuth made some of Germany’s most famous – and fun -antique porcelain. Royal Bayreuth is the name Americans use for porcelain that has been made since 1794 at the Royal Privileged Porcelain Factory in Tettau, Bavaria, Germany. It is the oldest porcelain factory in Bavaria still in operation. The company made jars, pitchers and teapots shaped like fruits, leaves, flowers, animals and people, as well as dinnerware sets, vases and decorative plates and bowls. Your 4 1/2-inch-high red-glazed devil creamer was made between 1900 and 1915 and examples have sold at auction over the past five years from $90 to $325.

Tip: Acorn by Georg Jensen, Audubon by Tiffany & Co. and Francis I by Reed & Barton still are very popular sterling-silver flatware patterns wanted by new brides.

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