ANTIQUES: `Lover’s eye’ jewelry can fetch high prices

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Unfaithful spouses have been around since the beginning of time, and they’ve always been a source of gossip. Today there are all sorts of electronic ways to spread gossip, but an earlier method that’s very difficult for us to understand is 18th-century “lover’s eye” jewelry. Adultery back then could lead to losing your right to be king. Less-prominent lovers might be faced with a duel and death. So why advertise an affair? Perhaps it was a way to brag — or perhaps some of the stories about this jewelry are myths.

In 1785, future King George IV and an older Catholic widow with whom he was romantically involved were united in a secret mock marriage. They knew he could not become king with a Catholic wife. So the story goes that the “almost king” commissioned special jewelry — two gem-encrusted brooches, each with a portrait of the other’s eyes. The lovers were sure no one else could identify their eyes. The brooches soon became stylish and many couples were wearing lover’s eye jewelry. Pins, rings, bracelets, pendants and necklaces were made. By the 1790s, special “mourning eye” jewelry was being made using portraits of the eyes of dead spouses or lovers. Eventually the pins were exchanged between mothers and daughters, sisters and close friends, but the fad was almost over by the 1830s.

Antique eye jewelry sells for high prices today. A 1¾-inch brooch with a portrait of two blue eyes set in an oval frame edged with a coiled gold serpent sold for $2,280 at a December 2012 Skinner auction in Boston. But beware. Many fakes have been made by removing the center of a brooch and inserting a new picture of an eye. Even old gems and original goldsmith-made mountings have been used to make fantasy pieces. Experts say you can detect a fake. Genuine antique lover’s eyes were painted on ivory and covered with a piece of crystal. The eye or eyes should be the proper size for the space. Look for details like an eyebrow and shadows near the eye that suggest a portrait made from life, not a quick copy.

Q: I found an interesting object at a local yard sale. It’s a miniature Empire State Building with a thermometer in the front. It’s 6¼ inches tall and is made of plated metal with a golden patina. I paid $1 for it. Is it worth more than that?

A: Lots of souvenirs have been made of the Empire State Building since it was built in 1931. It was the world’s tallest building for decades. Your souvenir thermometer was made in the mid-20th century. Souvenirs like yours usually sell online for $10 to $20, so you got a good deal.

Q: I have a ceramic vase that resembles some made by Canuck Pottery. It’s kind of freeform and rough looking. Someone told me it might be Beachcomber Ware. It’s marked “St. John, Canada.” Can you help me identify the maker?

A: It’s not possible to positively identify your vase without seeing it and the mark on the bottom. Canuck Pottery was located in St. John, New Brunswick, from 1938 until about 1964. The pottery moved to Labelle, Quebec, after a fire at the St. John site. Beachcomber Ware was made in about 1958. Canuck Pottery went out of business in the 1970s. Show it to a local antiques dealer.

Q: I have a pewter ice-cream mold in the shape of a ship. It’s marked “E and Co. N.Y. 1222” on the side. Is this valuable? Can I use it?

A: The mark was used by Eppelsheimer & Co. of New York City. The company was in business from 1880 to 1947. It was one of the major U.S. producers of pewter molds for ice cream and chocolate. Eppelsheimer sold molds to confectioners, ice-cream companies and other retailers. The number marked on the mold is its catalog number. When the company closed, the dies for the molds were sold. Another American company has been making tin molds from the old dies since the 1980s. Old pewter molds may contain lead and should only be used for display, since they might contaminate food. The value of pewter molds ranges from $50 to $100.

Q: We have an “invalid rolling cart” made by Colson Corp. of Elyria, Ohio. Our school was going to put it in a dumpster. Can you tell us how old it is and what it’s worth?

A: Colson started out as Fay Manufacturing, makers of the Fairy Tricycle, in 1885. There have been several changes in ownership and corporate name since then. By 1903, Fred Colson was one of the owners of the company, then called Worthington Manufacturing Co. The company made tricycles, wheelchairs, invalid chairs, carts and more. In 1917 it became Colson Co. and manufactured wheeled equipment for hospitals and industry. The company’s name was changed to the name on your cart, Colson Corp., in 1933. Colson was bought by Sentinel Capital Partners in 2012 and is still in business. Your cart, made after 1933, is not old enough to be antique, but it’s unusual. It would be hard to sell but might interest a historical society.

Q: My plastic-and-metal Mickey Mouse tea set is in its original box and has never been opened. It has four plates, four cups and saucers, four sets of flatware and a teapot. The box is labeled “Wolverine Toys, Division of Spang, Inc., Walt Disney Product.” I paid $50 for the set a few years ago at a Midwestern antiques shop. What is the set worth today?

A: Your Disneyana tea set was made after 1968, the year Wolverine Toy Co. of Pittsburgh was purchased by Spang Industries of Butler, Pa. The company moved operations to Arkansas in 1971. Disney tea sets, even plastic ones made in the 1970s, are wanted by collectors. Yours could sell today for $100 to $150.

Q: I’m considering buying an oak roll-top desk made by Grand Rapids Desk Co. It had been painted black but has been restored to its original oak finish. The hardware is not original, except for the lock that’s marked “1887, Grand Rapids Desk Co.” The desk is 41 inches high, 40 inches wide and 18 inches deep. The asking price is $600. Is that too much?

A: So many furniture companies were based in Grand Rapids, Mich., by the 1920s that the city was called “The Furniture Capital of America.” It also has been called “Furniture City” because it has been a center of furniture-making since the late 1800s. The Grand Rapids Desk Co. was founded in Grand Rapids in 1893. It moved to Muskegon, Mich., in 1898 after a factory fire, and desks made after 1898 list Muskegon as the city of manufacture. The company changed owners a few times before closing in 1931. A retail price of $600 is fair for a roll-top desk in good condition. Some sell for more.

Q: Many years ago, I was given a battery-operated toy monkey holding a cymbal in each hand. When it’s turned on, the monkey claps the cymbals together, and when it’s tapped on the head, it stops clapping and makes a squealing noise. Then it goes back to clapping the cymbals again. It’s about 10 inches high. How old is it and is it worth anything?

A: Your cymbal-playing monkey was made in Japan from the 1950s into the ’70s by a company named “C-K.” The toy is called “Musical Jolly Chimp.” It was a popular toy and similar versions were made by other companies. The cymbal-playing monkey even appeared in the movie “Toy Story 3.” The value of your toy is $150 to $300, depending on its condition. The original box adds value.

Tip

Wrapped wicker furniture should be repaired as soon as possible. Rewrap the wicker and glue the end with white glue.

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