Carved cigar store Indians fetch a hefty price among collectors

Farm Forum

Is an old barber pole or carved cigar store Indian worth as much as an oil painting of the same age? Some collectors today think so. One bidder paid $42,550 for a well-documented Indian maiden cigar store figure at a 2014 antiques auction. The hand-carved figure was pictured in the 1970s book, “Treasury of American Design,” which discusses a 1935 WPA project. Jobs were scarce during the Depression and the project gave jobs to artists who created watercolors of important American folk art. These original pictures can be viewed at the National Gallery of Art. You can see them online at (search for “Index of American Design”). The wooden Indian was the accepted sign in front of a tobacco shop by the 1840s, but it was almost gone by 1900, replaced by flat signs with store names. The term “cigar store Indian” today includes all the wooden or metal figures used as store signs in the past. Most of them did represent American Indians and were dressed in traditional feathers and robes. Many held tobacco leaves. The record price for a Santa Claus figure, set at Sotheby’s in January 2014, is $875,000. The Santa Claus figure was made in 1926 by Samuel A. Robb, who also carved American Indians. Even if a figure is a clown, dandy, Turk, soldier, young girl, Chinese man, Scotsman, Santa Claus or anyone else, all are referred to as “cigar store Indians.”

Q I was given a platter with a painted turkey in the center and a pink and green flower border. The platter is round, 2 inches high and 15 1/2 inches in diameter. It’s marked with a green backstamp that reads “The Cowell & Hubbard Co., Cleveland, O” inside a shield-shaped cartouche. Can you tell me more about my platter and what it’s worth?

A Your turkey platter was sold by Cowell & Hubbard, but it wasn’t made by that company. The Cowell & Hubbard Co. was founded in Cleveland in 1861 and was once Cleveland’s oldest and most prestigious jewelry store. It sold a variety of luxury goods – jewelry, fine silver, china dishes, cut glass, clocks, lamps and engraved stationery. Cowell & Hubbard contracted with some of the best American and European ceramics manufacturers, such as Lenox in the United States; Haviland and Ahrenfeldt in Limoges, France; Cauldon, Minton, Wedgwood and Royal Worcester in England; and Rosenthal of Germany to buy dinnerware and decorative items that were sold exclusively by the store. Factories often printed the names or marks of retailers as part of a backstamp with and without the maker’s own mark. It’s not clear who made your platter, but it was probably made in the 1930s and is worth about $75 to $100, thanks to the turkey and every family’s need for a Thanksgiving platter.

Q We have a copy of the Nov. 23, 1936, issue of Life magazine. That’s Vol. 1, No. 1. There is a picture of the Fort Peck Dam in Montana on the cover. It measures 8 1/2 by 6 1/2 inches and is in excellent condition. Is this a real original or a souvenir copy? It doesn’t say “copy” on it anywhere. What would it be worth to a collector?

A You have a replica of the first issue of Life magazine. It’s an exact but smaller replica of the full-size issue. The Fort Peck Dam was built on the Missouri River as part of Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal projects. The cover photo was taken by Margaret Bourke-White. Life was published weekly until 1972. It was revived as a weekly newspaper supplement from 2004 to 2007. Full-size first editions of Life can sell for over $100, but online sellers offer the smaller replica for $10 to $15.

Q I own a pine double-bed headboard and double dresser with mirror. A label in a drawer says “Hand Burnished Pine by Shockey.” Could you give me a value?

A Your two-piece bedroom set was made by Franklin Shockey Co. of Lexington, N.C. The furniture company opened in 1941 and appears to have operated into the early 1960s. Shockey made a line of mid-century modern pine furniture that collectors hunt for today. If your set is in the mid-century modern style and in good condition, you might get as much as $1,000.

Q My husband and I knew the sculptor Edward Marshall Boehm and his wife when he was studying porcelain manufacturing in the 1950s. His earliest figurines were dogs and farm animals, made before he began creating the beautiful birds for which he became famous. I have a black and white Boehm cocker spaniel. What is it worth?

A Edward Marshall Boehm (1913-1969) was a veterinarian’s assistant from 1945 until 1949. He made most of his dog figures between 1949 and the late 1950s. He opened a porcelain studio in his home in Trenton, N.J., in 1950 and began experimenting with different glazes. His wife, Helen, promoted the business and marketed the figurines. Boehm made cocker spaniels in several colors and in two sizes. An early version, with the dog’s head turned slightly to the right, was made between 1951 and 1957. Two hundred black and white cocker spaniels were made. Value of your figurine: $200 to $300.

Tip: Be careful when you’re eating at your Thanksgiving dining-room table. The hardest stains to remove from a tablecloth – or a blouse – are gravy and Merlot wine.

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