In past centuries night stands could double as commodes

Farm Forum

A small table next to the bed is necessary today to hold a lamp, cellphone, clock and perhaps a book, eyeglasses and tissues. But in past centuries the table might have held a candlestick with a handle to carry to the bedroom for light. It also had to store items that acted as the toilets of the day. The potty, a large round but squat bowl, served as the toilet seat. A large, tall bowl with a cover was used to hold waste until morning. Covered sections of the table held and hid everything, so the bedside “table” really was a commode. But only the wealthy and royalty had such luxurious equipment. Most people had an outhouse near the back of the yard. The flush toilet is older than most people think. Leonardo da Vinci designed a flush toilet, but it was never made and people thought the idea was as ridiculous as another one of his ideas, the airplane. The first flushing toilet was made by Sir John Harrington for the Queen of England in 1596. It was improved in 1775 by Alexander Cummings, and soon the “water closet” made of porcelain was installed in homes in a special room. Although they’re no longer needed, antique commodes still sell well and are used as bedside tables with storage for books. They can be found in many styles. The drawer-table combination is useful and copies ignore original use.

Q I have a battery-operated toy called “McGregor.” It’s an old man wearing a plaid coat and tam, smoking a cigar and holding a cane. It’s in the original box, which reads “Rosko Toys with Imagination.” I would like to know how old it is and what it’s worth.

A This is a well-known toy made in Japan by TN Nomura in the 1960s and imported by Rosko, an import company in Tokyo active in the 1950s and ’60s. McGregor stands up, “smokes” his cigar, exhales smoke through his mouth, sits down, takes another puff, closes his eyes and exhales through his nose. The end of the cigar lights up when he puts the cigar in his mouth. Replicas are being made. The value of your toy is about $150.

Q When I was a patient at the University of Michigan Hospital in Ann Arbor in 1970, I met one of Jimmy Hoffa’s “lieutenants.” We became friends and when he found out I was a truck driver and a member of the Teamsters Union, he gave me a gold-filled Zippo pocket lighter. It has a small plaque on the front with the Teamsters logo and the words, “A gift from James R. Hoffa,” with Hoffa’s signature. The lighter is pretty banged up because I was a smoker and showed off the lighter as often as possible. What’s my lighter worth today?

A Jimmy Hoffa, born in Indiana in 1913, became an organizer for the International Brotherhood of Teamsters in 1932. He was the union’s president from 1958 to 1971, but was convicted of racketeering in 1964 and was sent to prison in 1967. As part of a plea agreement, he was released in 1971, nine years early, but was barred from taking part in union activities. He disappeared outside a suburban Detroit restaurant in 1975 and was declared dead in 1983. His body has never been found. Your lighter was one of many that the union had made as gifts, so it’s not rare and it was never used by Hoffa himself. But it’s collectible and would probably sell for more than $60.

Q I have a clear blue glass object 6 inches long and shaped like a bowling pin. It was given to me by my mother-in-law about 60 years ago. She called it a “sock darner.” If it’s meant for something else, I’d like to know. I’d also like to know its value.

A A sock darner is a tool that used to be found in most homes. It was designed to put inside a sock to help repair holes. It provided a solid rounded surface that held the sock firmly so holes could be sewn with tight and even stitches that blended in with the rest of the sock. Also called darning eggs, they were made of glass or wood. Most glass sock darners were whimsies that were made at the end of the day by glass workers for their own use, though production darners also were made. They can be found made of all kinds of glass-aqua, nailsea, spatter, peachblow and aurene. A blown-glass sock darner like yours sells for $60 to about $150. Gold or blue aurene sock darners by Steuben can sell for $400.

Q I have a heavy metal belt buckle with a raised picture of a flying turkey and the words “Wild Turkey” in big letters on the front. Underneath that in smaller letters it reads, “101 proof (8) eight years old.” On the back it reads, “TM Reproduced by Arrangement with Austin Nichols New York, New York – 1974 Bergamot Brass Works.” Is it worth anything?

A Your buckle was made in 1974 as a promotional item for the Austin Nichols Distillery for its Wild Turkey brand of bourbon. The buckle was made by Bergamot Brass Works, founded in Fox River Grove, Ill., in 1970. The company later moved to Lake Geneva, Wis., and then to Darien, Wis., in 1974. Its first products were belt buckles and hair ornaments. Later it made buttons, lapel pins, money clips, paperweights, plaques and more. Bergamot also patented a belt buckle with a bottle opener on the back. Your buckle is often found for sale online. Value: About $10.

Tip: When moving a chest of drawers or a cabinet with doors a long distance, tape the drawers and doors shut with masking tape, or tie them shut with rope.

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