Handmade tramp art trumps mass-produced goods

Tim and Kim Kovel
Cowles Syndicate

The most heartfelt things are made by hand. This picture frame can surround a loved one with colorful hearts. It's an example of American folk art known as "tramp art."

Tramp art emerged after the Civil War and continued its popularity through the Great Depression. Frames were made from reclaimed wood, usually cigar boxes or shipping crates, and carved with everyday tools like penknives.

Tramp artists made all kinds of items, from small decorative boxes or picture frames to functional pieces of furniture. As a form of folk art, there are no strict rules or established patterns, but the most famous pieces are made with chip or notched carving and are not painted.

This tramp art picture frame was carved and painted by hand. It sold for $315 at a Pook & Pook auction.

This frame, which brought $315 at a Pook & Pook auction, is unusual. The characteristic notches can be seen around the circles in the corners and on the exposed ends of the wood pieces, but the frame also features smooth-edged hearts painted red and yellow.

Question: I have a wooden peach basket. It has wire handles and a craft paper liner with cutouts. It is in very good condition but has some wear on the paper near the handles. I was told that old peach baskets are very valuable and sought after because they were used as hoops when basketball was invented. Can you verify this and tell me if mine is valuable?

Answer: Basketball was created in 1891 by Dr. James Naismith in Springfield, Massachusetts. Two peach baskets were attached to opposite ends of the gym balcony's railings, and points were scored by tossing a soccer ball into one of the peach baskets. The baskets still had their bottoms. The game was stopped each time a score was made so that the balls could be removed from the basket. A janitor used a ladder after every score to retrieve the ball. Eventually, the bottom was removed. The original peach baskets used in 1891 are among the "lost treasures" of sports collectibles and could be worth $100,000. Vintage fruit baskets like yours sell for $18 to $60.

Q: I was given a box of old perfume bottles. One has dark blue glass, and the label reads "Evening in Paris." The cap and label are silver. Can you tell me about this perfume and are the bottles valuable?

A: The French cosmetics company Bourjois made "Evening in Paris" (Soir De Paris) in 1928. It was one of the most popular fragrances sold in the United States through World War II. The perfume was discontinued in 1969. Perfumer Ernest Beaux created the fragrance for Bourjois. He is also known for creating "Chanel No. 5." The cobalt blue bottles of "Evening in Paris" are collectibles. A set of four empty bottles like yours recently sold for $59.

Q: I bought a Marlboro Wild West black denim jacket about 50 years ago, and I wonder if it has any value. There is a black and white picture of the Marlboro man on the back and "Marlboro Wild West" written in red on his shoulder. The jacket has never been worn or washed and is in perfect condition. What is it worth?

A: The Marlboro Man, who portrayed a rugged cowboy, was used in Marlboro cigarette ads from 1955 to 1999. When Marlboro cigarettes were first made by Philip Morris & Co. in 1924, they were meant to appeal to women, who first began to smoke in public in the 1920s. The first slogan was "Mild as May," and women were pictured in the advertisements. Beginning in the 1950s, Marlboro cigarettes were sold with filters, making them seem even more like a woman's cigarette. An advertising campaign was planned, featuring cowboys, construction workers and other strong male figures. The cowboy was the first figure presented and was so successful that no other figures followed. Sales increased, and the Marlboro Man cowboy became a cultural icon. The denim jackets were made in Canada in the 1980s or 1990s. They sell for $35 to $125.

Q: We have a box of National Lampoon magazines in our basement from the 1970s. Other than sentimental value, are they worth anything?

A: National Lampoon was a humor magazine that ran for 28 years, from 1970 to 1998. It was started by Harvard graduates and Harvard Lampoon alumni Doug Kenney, Henry Beard and Robert Hoffman. The magazine's first issue was dated April 1970. It started as a spinoff from the Harvard Lampoon. National Lampoon magazine was at the height of its popularity and critical acclaim in the 1970s. Its covers routinely caused controversy. The most famous was the January 1973 cover:  a worried-looking dog with a gun against its head and the caption, "If You Don't Buy This Magazine, We'll Kill This Dog." The magazine published fewer issues in the 1990s. By the time of its last issue in November 1998, it had published only one issue a year for three straight years. Depending on condition, issues are selling mostly for under $10.

TIP: To remove a glass stopper stuck in a narrow-necked perfume bottle or decanter, put the bottle in warm water, then gradually add hot water and gently try to loosen the stopper.

Terry Kovel and Kim Kovel answer readers' questions sent to the column. Send a letter with one question describing the size, material (glass, pottery) and what you know about the item. Include only two pictures, the object and a closeup of any marks or damage. Be sure your name and return address are included. By sending a question, you give full permission for use in any Kovel product. Names, addresses or email addresses will not be published. We do not guarantee the return of photographs, but if a stamped envelope is included, we will try. Questions that are answered will appear in Kovels Publications. Write to Kovels, (Name of this newspaper), King Features Syndicate, 628 Virginia Dr., Orlando, FL 32803 or email us at collectorsgallery@kovels.com.