The rise of the industrial designer

Farm Forum

Many artists don’t create just pictures or sculptures. They make furniture, jewelry, dinnerware or even kitchen tools and toys. In the 1920s and ‘30s, there was a new title for these multi-talented artists: industrial designer. They redesigned existing large machines like trains or trucks, and small household goods like telephones and clocks. The result was better-looking objects that were less expensive to make. Collectors today may not have space in their homes for the largest industrial machines, but they can find examples of smaller decorative items by these famous men. A few designers to look for are Russel Wright (dinnerware, furniture, aluminum); Henry Teague (Kodak camera); Henry Dreyfuss (telephone); Lurelle Guild, (aluminumware, vacuum cleaner); Viktor Schreckengost (Cowan pottery, pedal cars, dinnerware); and Bjorn Wiinblad (posters, furniture, dinnerware, tapestries, an animated film). At a summer Rago auction, in Lambertville, N.J., a 1970s Wiinblad table and six matching chairs sold for $1,875. The black lacquered pieces had a different colorful modern design on each chair back and table top. They are large examples of Wiinblad’s talent. But his ashtrays and dishes, decorated with drawings of round-faced people in pseudo 19th-century clothes and often surrounded by vines, floral wreaths and trees, can be found online and in shops for less than $50.

Q I have a platter and a pitcher that my grandfather brought back from England at the end of World War I. They both have “Alhambra” stamped on the back with what looks like a flying crown just about it. My father told me the trim is 24-carat gold. I never had the pieces appraised because I did not know who to ask. Can you help?

A The “Alhambra” pattern was made by several different porcelain manufacturers, mostly in Austria, in the late 1890s to early 1900s. Alhambra decoration was inspired by Moorish designs of Grenada, Spain, and consists of geometric patterns ornamented with scrolls and gold trim. (Gold leaf is made in a wide range of colors and karats. Leaf made from 100 percent gold is 24 karat, so it’s entirely likely the trim on your pieces is 24K.) Pieces were often decorated by one company on blanks bought from other companies. Your platter and pitcher are worth $150 to $300 apiece.

Q I found four vintage baseball cards glued to the bottom of a dresser that I bought at an estate sale. The players are “Pete” Appleton, “Line Drive” Nelson, “Hank” Greenberg and “Red” Kress. I’m not a collector. Are they worth anything?

A Your baseball cards are part of the 1940 set by Play Ball and issued by Gum, Inc., a Philadelphia company that made Blony bubble gum. It was the largest bubble-gum producer in the United States. Play Ball baseball cards were included with the gum from 1929 to 1941. The 1940 set included 240 different cards. In 1948 Gum, Inc. became Bowman, which was bought by Topps Chewing Gum in 1956. Your cards are of little value because they were glued to the dresser and are in poor condition. Cards for Appleton, Kress and Nelson are worth about $5, if in poor condition. Hank Greenberg’s card is worth more because he’s in the Hall of Fame. It’s worth about $30 in good condition and half that in poor condition.

Q Several years ago my father-in-law gave me a No. 55 Stanley Patent Universal Plane Set, made for making wood molding by hand. It’s complete in the original box with all the plane parts and cutting blades. Does it have any value? I’d like to donate it to a woodwork museum in Florida, where I live.

A The Stanley No. 55 plane was made from 1897 to 1963. It has an adjustable body made of nickel-plated cast iron and a rosewood handle and fences. It came with 55 standard cutters, which fit into four boxes. From 1909 to 1956 Stanley also made 41 special cutters, which fit into four boxes. These are hard to find today and are worth more than the standard cutters. Boxes were made of oak or chestnut with slide lids from 1893 to 1910 and of softwood, tin or pasteboard after 1910. Stanley’s No. 55 plane still is used by some woodworkers, while others collect old tools. Your No. 55 Stanley Patent Universal Plane Set with four boxes of cutters has sold for $595 in recent years. You might be able to sell it at a tool show. Contact the Midwest Tool Collector’s Association ( for information about tool meets in your area.

Tip: Never use mending tape or transparent tape on a book. It will eventually permanently damage the paper. Even Post-its eventually will leave a spot.

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