Many antique bellows have attractive folk art decorations

Farm Forum

In past centuries, fireplace tools consisted of a poker and tongs to rearrange burning logs, a small shovel to remove ashes, perhaps a whisk broom to sweep up leftover fuel and ashes, and a bellows to encourage flames to burn brighter. The fireplace was the main heating source for small houses before 1900, so a bellows to coax a flame from a dying fire was important. Early bellows probably were a bag made from the skin of a small animal and a piece of metal, usually brass, to direct the gust of air created by squeezing the bellows. Later examples had stiff wooden boards and leather sides. Nails rust, and leather and wood dry out, crack and have to be replaced, so most of the antique bellows found today are repaired or made in the 19th century. Many were hand-decorated, and some even had wooden sides carved by cabinet makers. Most new and many old bellows sell for under $100, but in April 2014, an unusual 1800s bellows with original leather painted to look like a man’s face had a bid of $2,700 at a Showtime auction.

Q I inherited a framed painting that hung in my grandfather’s living room since at least the 1920s. It’s a painting of a gondola with a few passengers and a standing gondolier. But they’re not riding on a canal; instead, they’re floating down what appears to be an underground cave. The painting is signed “M. Gianni” in the lower left corner.

A Here are a few things to do to learn more about your painting: First, make sure it really is a painting and not a print. If you can’t tell, take it to an expert in your area. Then check online artist databases. You can find some information online, but you can learn more if you go to your local library and ask someone there to help you search databases that the library subscribes to. “M. Gianni” may be an Italian artist named Maria Gianni, who was born in the 19th century but worked into the 20th. She painted using watercolors and gouache. If you have an original painting, its value depends on its condition and size. Some Maria Gianni paintings have auctioned for prices in the low hundreds, but others have topped $1,000.

Q I have a 6-foot-tall cardboard cutout of Elvis Presley wearing his black leather outfit. I’ve had it for 20 years. What is it worth?

A Life-size cardboard cutouts of Elvis still are being made and sell for about $20-$30 today.

Q I bought some green frosted pressed-glass dishes at an estate sale. They are clear glass on the inside and frosted green-blue on the outside. The frosting looks green from the front and bluish from the back. The plates have “KIG Indonesia” in raised letters on the surface on the outer edge. Can you tell me anything about them? Are they safe to eat from?

A Most frosted glass dishes are safe to use. Frosted glass is made by acid-etching or sandblasting clear glass. Since the “inside” of your dishes are clear and are the surface the food touches, you can be sure they are OK. “KIG” stands for Kedaung Industrial Group, which was founded in Jakarta, Indonesia, by Agus Nursalim in 1969. The company started out making glass and tableware for Indonesia but was soon exporting goods throughout the world. Eventually the Kedaung Industrial Group included more than 30 companies that made glassware, enamel cookware, ceramic housewares, stainless-steel flatware, glass blocks, ceramic tiles and other products. It claimed to be one of the world’s largest manufacturers of glass, and had retail stores in several cities. The company also made reproduction early-American glass. In the United States, products were sold at Walmart and other stores.

Q We have an oak hanging map cabinet that’s 51 inches wide by 21 inches high. It holds seven large pull-down canvas maps printed by W. & A.K. Johnston of Edinburgh, Scotland. They include maps of Asia, Africa, Europe, North and South America, the United States and a couple of the two hemispheres. The maps of Europe show the Austro-Hungarian Empire and the Russian Empire, not the Soviet Union. The map of Africa is barely recognizable. There’s a large country in the center of the continent labeled “Congo Free State.” How old are the maps, and what is the full cabinet worth?

A Look for a copyright date on the maps to date them more precisely. They predate World War I, which ended the Austro Hungarian Empire and saw the formation of the Soviet Union. The Congo Free State existed from 1885 to 1908, so the maps can more precisely be dated as pre-1908. William Johnston (1802-1888) and Alexander Keith Johnston (1804-1871) were partners in a printing business that they founded in Edinburgh in 1826. Alexander became a respected geographer, and the brothers’ firm eventually printed and sold maps, atlases, guidebooks and globes. Some very old maps can sell for millions. Your maps, designed for educational purposes, are not worth that much, but your cabinet and maps could sell for hundreds of dollars if the maps are in excellent condition.

Tip: When rewiring an old Arts and Crafts lamp, use fabric-covered wire that looks very much like the silk-wrapped cord used at the turn of the 20th century.

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