Iconic clay whistle plays a timeless tune

Terry Kovel and Kim Kovel
Cowles Syndicate
People have made ceramic whistles shaped like birds for hundreds of years. This one is a piece of American redware made in the 1800s.

People have been captivated by bird songs for centuries. At some point, clever artisans realized that whistles could not only imitate birds, but they could also be made to look like birds. 

Ceramic bird-shaped whistles have been made for hundreds of years all over the world. Examples dating to about 1000 A.D. have been found in Central America. Were they made as bird calls? Musical instruments? Toys? 

The whistle depicted in this article, which sold for $2,006 at Conestoga Auction Co., was made in 19th-century Pennsylvania of redware clay. Today, inexpensive mass-produced bird-shaped whistles are made of ceramics, metal or plastic. The 20th century Italian company Alessi put a red whistling bird on the spout of a stainless steel tea kettle, creating an icon of modern design. 

Question: I bought a beautiful cobalt blue bottle at a house sale for $10. It is 7 1/2 inches tall and has a clipper ship embossed on one side with the word "Franklin" underneath, and an eagle holding arrows with "TWD" underneath the eagle. Did I get a bargain? 

Answer: Early bottles (before 1800), historic flasks, free-blown bottles and early 19th-century decorative decanters are rated just like any fine early glass. Age, rarity, color, quality, condition and appearance are the important factors. There are several flasks being sold online as a "Cobalt Blue Vintage Embossed Franklin TWD Clipper Ship, Eagle Bottle Flask." It's impossible to tell without looking at it to see if yours is old. But it does look like you got a bargain. What appears to be the same bottle is selling for $20 to $30.

Q: My twin boys were each given restored vintage tractors. They were too difficult to pedal and were only used once. They've been hanging in my garage for decades. Are they worth anything? They're red and have "Murray Trac" decals. 

A: Metal farm toys have recently experienced renewed interest by collectors. Major farm equipment manufacturers made replicas of their models as toys for children in the paint colors associated with their companies. The condition and level of detail on the toys affect the value. Pedal tractors have recently sold from $90 to $3,500. There are collectors who will buy the tractors in any condition for usable parts.

Q: My father was a writer, and I just was tempted to buy a light blue Sears "Tutor" typewriter in its original case for $35 that reminded me of his typewriter. Are typewriters collectible? 

A: Yes, they are very popular collectibles right now. People love the "retro" way of writing and maybe seeing a typewriter reminds them of their parents or grandparents. Christopher Sholes, an American mechanical engineer born in 1819, is credited with inventing the first practical modern typewriter in 1866. Five years later, after dozens of experiments, Sholes and his associates produced a model like today's typewriters. The Sholes' typewriter keys jammed easily. To solve the problem, he and an associate split up keys for letters commonly used together to slow down typing. This became today's standard "QWERTY" keyboard. I hope you bought that Sears typewriter. I have seen exact same ones being sold for $180 and higher.

Q: In my grandparents' basement, I recently found an old iron. My grandma had attached a tag, labeling it a European box iron from 1900. What can you tell me about it? 

A: Box irons have handles and pointed fronts. They were shaped like the electric and steam irons used today. They had shallow boxes and had fitted "slugs" or "heaters," slabs of metal that were heated in the fire and inserted into the base. By the turn of the 20th century, irons were heated by liquid gas, alcohol, gasoline or electricity. Unfortunately, some of the liquid-fueled irons blew up. The electric iron was patented in 1882 but was not in general use until about 1915. Your iron is an interesting historical piece and is worth about $70 in good condition.

Q: I used to love visiting my favorite aunt's house and looking at all her treasures. I loved the "porcelain ladies" she collected. When she passed away, I inherited my favorite. I know she is a Royal Doulton lady from 1965. She has a blue dress with stars on the skirt and a ruffled white collar. Can you tell me a little about my figurine? 

A: The Royal Doulton figurines made by Doulton and Co. after 1902 were made to sell in gift shops. Most of the figurines were sentimental, lovable, beautiful ladies from a more romantic century. You have a 1965 Royal Doulton "Fragrance" figurine, HN 2334. Royal Doulton ladies were so popular in the 1960s to 1980s that they are still easy to find. They usually sell for about $35.

TIP: Clean aluminum pans with silver polishing cream. It's good for the new aluminum wheels on your car, too.

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, King Features Syndicate, 628 Virginia Dr., Orlando, FL 32803 or email us at collectorsgallery@kovels.com.