Limited edition art pieces raise the stakes at auction

Farm Forum

A 7-1/2-foot-high safety pin that looks like a modern sculpture actually is a floor lamp made in 1975 by modern artist Yonel Lebovici (1937-1998). In the 1960s, he started making very unusual lamps and other items inspired by everyday objects. His marketing ideas were unusual for an artist at the time. He made a limited number of each creation, which means he was among the first to sell “limited editions.” He was ahead of the huge popularity of limited-edition plates, figurines and other collectibles. In the late 1960s, machine-made plates and figurines often were limited to the number made in one year. Collectors paid more for those no longer made. In the 1990s, limited editions lost favor and prices fell. But to own “the-only-one-made” art piece by a known artist gives extra prestige to a collector, and prices are high. Work by an important artist limited to about 20 examples also entices collectors to pay higher prices. Lebovici was influenced by everyday household items, fish and perpetual motion. He created cordless lamps using the then-new low voltage technology. The large safety-pin lamp, from an edition of 10, auctioned for $37,500 at Sotheby’s in 2012.

Q I’m wondering what my Marx-a-Serve Electric Table Tennis game is worth. I don’t have the original box or instructions, but I have all the game pieces – the battery-operated base unit and nets, four ping-pong balls and two rackets. The base unit shoots out a ball and the player hits the ball back into the net. The ball then falls back into the machine for continued use.

A Your game, with its original box, sold online recently for $32. Without the box, it would sell for less – perhaps $20 if the mechanism still works.

Q Our grandmother left us an inkstand that has been in the family for more than 80 years. It’s in the shape of a stag’s head with long antlers that form a pen rest. The words “Niagara Falls” are on the top of the stag’s head. A pressed glass inkwell sits right behind the head on a base that looks like a pile of leaves and acorns. The antlers are 5 1/2 inches high, and the inkstand is about 6 by 4 1/2 inches. What can you tell us?

A Your inkstand is a well-known American design that dates from the early 1900s. We have seen it without any notation on the stag’s head, but it was probably sold as a souvenir at many tourist sites. The head, base and antlers have been made in various colors and metals. Your inkstand, depending on its condition, could sell for more than $100.

Q My husband inherited a French mantel clock from his father. It’s made of what looks like black marble with bronze columns and is shaped like a Greek building. Its face is porcelain. The mark on the back is a circle with the words “Medaille d’Argent” and “Vincenti & Cie 1855.” The clock is 16 1/2 inches tall by 15 1/2 inches wide and 6 1/4 inches deep. It’s very heavy. Please tell us how to figure out how old it is and what it’s worth.

A Vincenti & Cie (Vincenti & Co.) was a Paris clockmaker founded before 1834 by Jean Vincenti. It went out of business in about 1870. The mark on your clock indicates that the company won a silver medal (medaille d’argent) at the 1855 Universal Exposition in Paris – which means your clock was made after 1855. Vincenti & Cie clocks sell for a wide range of prices, from the low hundreds into the tens of thousands. An expert has to look at your clock in person and can estimate its age by its works. The clockcase and weight make us think it could be quite valuable if it works or can be easily made to work.

Q I inherited a plate from my aunt, who was an antiques dealer in the 1940s and ’50s. The plate is octagonal and has an allover chintz pattern of flowers, leaves and berries. The bottom of the plate has a printed mark with a crown over the words “Crown Ducal Ware, England.” Can you tell me how old the plate is? Is it valuable?

A The trade name “Crown Ducal” was first used in 1916 by A.G. Richardson and Co. of Tunstall, England. The mark on your plate was used beginning in about 1925. The company began working in Tunstall in 1915 and in nearby Cobridge in 1934. A.G. Richardson was bought by Wedgwood in 1974. Chintz-pattern dishes have fallen in price throughout the past few years. Your plate is worth about $50.

Q I inherited some TWA airline memorabilia from an uncle who worked for Trans World Airlines years ago. I have a box of TWA playing cards, carryon bags, silverware, booties, etc. Are any of these items worth anything? How should I go about selling them?

A There are collectors of airline memorabilia. You can find some of them by contacting one of the clubs for collectors, like the World Airline Historical Society. The club website ( lists collector shows in the United States. If you find one near you, you can go to the show, meet collectors, see what things like yours are selling for and possibly find a buyer.

Tip: After you come back from a flea market or show where you examined merchandise, be sure to wash your hands. You could have handled something oily or dusty that left traces on your hands. When you unpack, wash your hands again to be sure all contaminants from the wrappings are gone. Gently clean any of your new purchases. And think about the weather when you’re shopping. A change from very hot or very cold to room temperature can damage antiques. Try not to keep purchases in your trunk for very long.

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