Folk art can bring big paydays for lucky owners

Farm Forum

Folk art is unique and often is both useful and humorous. At a Cowan’s auction in late 2012, an example of these traits was seen in a mirror offered for sale. The 19th-century mirror’s pine frame was carved to look like a man, with his head at the top, shoe-clad feet at the bottom and hands held up near his neck. One hand holds five fingers up, the other just two. The artist seems to be referring to the seven years of bad luck that awaits anyone who breaks a mirror. Or perhaps it was a gift for a seventh anniversary or just a suggestion of the lucky number seven. It was good luck for the seller. The mirror, only 17 inches high, was estimated at $1,000 to $1,500. It sold after a bidding battle for $5,700.

Q I am thinking about remodeling my home office and am agonizing over replacing my old desk and chair. I bought the very heavy desk about 20 years ago from an elderly couple. It was made by the Imperial Desk Co. of Evansville, Ind. It has a few nicks, but it’s in very good shape. The chair was made by Domore Chair Co. of Elkhart, Ind. I had it reupholstered about 18 years ago. It has a cast-metal frame and also is heavy. Are the desk and chair valuable antiques I should keep? And if so, is it OK to use them?

A Your desk and chair are not valuable antiques. But they are good, solid pieces of office furniture. Depending on their style and condition, the desk might sell for about $350 and the chair for about $200. Base your decision on how useful the pieces are and if you like their “look.”

Q I recently found what I thought was a very unique item at a yard sale. It’s a ceramic pig with many tiny holes on its back. It took me all weekend to figure out what it is. I think it’s an hors d’oeuvres server because the holes are just the right size to it hold toothpicks. Is it unique and valuable?

A Toothpick holders in the shape of animals became popular in the 1950s. Hedgehogs and porcupines probably were the first animal shapes made, since inserted toothpicks look like the animal’s quills. After that, cats, dogs, pigs and other animals were made in pottery, wood, plastic, silver and other metals. They are fun to use at a party, but most aren’t worth more than $20 to $25. Toothpick holders made of silver are worth more.

Q We have an 8-inch gold-rimmed plate with a painting of a large hotel on it. At the bottom of the plate is the phrase, “New West Baden Springs Hotel, West Baden, Ind., The Carlsbad of America.” It’s marked on the back, “Hand Painted, the Jonroth Studios, Germany.” We don’t know how old it is, but my mother is 93 years old, and she recalls that her mother bought it on one of the family’s trips to West Baden when she was a little girl. Can you tell us its approximate age and value?

A The “new” West Baden Springs Hotel was built in 1902, after the original hotel burned down. It was advertised as “The Eighth Wonder of the World” because it’s main circular building is topped by the world’s largest dome. It was called “The Carlsbad of America” because of nearby mineral springs, similar to those in Carlsbad, Germany. Jonroth Studios was a name used by an American importing company, John H. Roth & Co. The company was founded in 1909 and imported china from Germany, Japan and England. Your plate probably was made in the 1920s and is worth about $30.

Q I have a lithograph published by Associated American Artists. I’ve seen some sell for thousands of dollars. Can you tell me something about this group?

A During the Depression, most people couldn’t afford fine art, so Reeves Lewenthal founded Associated American Artists in 1934 to provide art for the middle class. He hired well-known American artists, including Thomas Hart Benton and Grant Wood, to make lithographs, which were reproduced and sold in department stores. Later, the art was sold in the Associated American Artists gallery in New York City and by mail order. Watercolors, oil paintings and other works, including home furnishings and accessories, were also sold. Prints originally sold for $5 unframed and $7 framed. Today, some sell for hundreds or even thousands of dollars, depending on the artist.

Q My father was always buying stocks and bonds. When he died, I inherited two certificates for 100 shares of stock in Cobalt Silver Queen Ltd. They are dated Dec. 12, 1908. Can you tell me anything about this company, and what the value of these certificates might be?

A Cobalt Silver Queen Ltd. was organized in 1906 in Cobalt, Ontario, Canada. Silver was discovered in the area in 1903, and by 1905 prospectors and mining companies were rushing to the area to stake claims. Cobalt Silver Queen mined silver and cobalt. Stock in the company was offered for $1.50 per share in 1908. By the 1930s, most of the mines had closed. Stock certificates for companies that are no longer in business may be redeemable (ask your library for help) or collectible. Collectors look for certificates with historical value, elaborate engraved designs, interesting graphics or the signature of a well-known person. The hobby of collecting old stock and bond certificates is called “scripophily.” Certificates are bought and sold online as well as at auctions.

Tip: Never touch the surface of a watercolor or drawing. Lift unframed paper by the corners.

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