Antique andirons make for spooky Halloween décor

Terry and Kim Kovel
Cowles Syndicate

Shining red and yellow eyes peer from the dancing shadows. This could be a scene from a haunted forest or a cozy living room fireplace.

Whooo's ready for Halloween? These shadowy owl andirons have glass marble eyes to catch the light of a fire.

A cast iron figure of an owl perched on a twisted branch decorates each of these andirons, which sold as a pair for $660 at Morphy Auctions. They use the fire to their advantage with colored glass marbles that catch the light for eyes. Appropriately, they are marked "Bright Eyes" on the reverse.

Andirons have been used for hundreds of years to hold the logs off the fireplace floor, allowing for air circulation and letting the fire burn brighter. They are also decorative, with styles changing over time. Animal and bird figures became popular by the 19th century.

Owls have been used in art and decoration since ancient times. Their big, bright eyes and ability to see at night make them a symbol of wisdom. But being nocturnal, not to mention their eerie calls, means they are also associated with darkness and bad luck. Of course, around Halloween, when it's time to be scary, a sign of bad luck can be a good thing!

Question: I have an unusual fork with one wide tine on the left side and two narrower tines. It's marked "Wm. A. Rogers SXR" and "Pat Apr 17 06." What was it used for?

Answer: You have a pastry fork. It was used to eat pie or cake. There were many silver companies named "Rogers," including at least eight using some form of the name "William Rogers." Wm. A. Rogers Ltd. was started by a shopkeeper in New York in the 1890s. The company began making silver plated flatware in 1894. Oneida Silversmiths bought the company in 1929. The letters "SXR" indicate the fork was plated with an extra layer of silver. The patent date is probably the date the pattern was patented.

Q: My sister bought a pitcher and washbasin at an estate sale on the East Coast. The pitcher is 12 inches tall and the basin is 16 inches in diameter. It's marked "Royal Foley Ware, J. Kent, Semi porcelain, England." Can you tell us the value of this set?

A: James Kent founded his company at Old Foley Pottery in Longton, Staffordshire County, England, in 1897. Kent's sons joined the business. It became James Kent Ltd. in 1913. The pottery was run by members of the Kent family until 1981. Ownership changed several times after that. Old Foley Pottery was demolished in 2006, and the company closed about 2008. The mark on your wash set indicates it was made between 1897 and the 1920s. Pitcher and basin sets sell for about $75 to $150.

Q: I have a Wheaties box with the image of Jackie Robinson in excellent condition. Can you tell me if it is worth anything?

A: The cereal Wheaties, called the "Breakfast of Champions," was created in 1921 because of an accidental spill of a wheat bran mixture onto a hot stove by a Minnesota clinician working for the Washburn Crosby Co., later General Mills. A clever marketing strategy instituted by company president James Ford Bell had Wheaties being promoted as a healthy breakfast option through its association with athletics. Athletes have been featured on the cereal's iconic orange cardboard boxes since 1934, when New York Yankees first baseman Lou Gehrig was featured. Wheaties put Jackie Robinson (1919-1972) on the box in 1996 to commemorate when he broke the baseball color line and started at first base for the Brooklyn Dodgers on April 15, 1947. At latest count, more than 850 athletes have been on the box, including nearly 100 Olympic medalists. Prices depend on the box and whether it is a commemorative edition, but generally are less than $50.

Q: I found the strangest tea set in my father's attic. It must be for children because the pieces are small. The background is white with an old lady holding a baby, a jester, and a frog smoking a pipe printed in red. The border and flowers are red, too. Most pieces have "Punch" printed on the bottom. There are 16 pieces, and all are in great condition. Can you tell me anything about the set and its possible value?

A: The tea set is a children's set made by Charles Allerton & Sons, Staffordshire, England, in the late 19th century. The figures you describe are the famous slapstick puppets, Punch and Judy and their baby. The Punch character originated in 16th-century Italy. A routine comedy performance usually ends with another puppet (often his wife, Judy) the target of a hit by Punch's "slapstick." Slapstick also began in 16th-century Italy when two thin pieces of wood were slapped together to make a loud exaggerated slapping sound during comedy shows. The puppets have been popular for about 350 years. Tea sets like yours have recently sold for $110 to $160.

TIP: Early (18th-century) glass is thinner than later glass. Early mirrors reflect a darker image than new mirrors.

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