The Devil never folds on this colorful pitcher

Terry and Kim Kovel
Cowles Syndicate

Playing cards provide innocent amusement: a game with friends, a magic trick to entertain a child, a round of solitaire to pass some time alone. So what's a devil doing here?

Can you resist anything but temptation? Buyers couldn't resist this Royal Bayreuth pitcher with a devil and playing cards.

This novelty pitcher made by Royal Bayreuth about 1930 has a body that looks like it's made of playing cards and has a smiling devil figure for a handle. It sold for $250 at a Potter & Potter auction.

In the past, playing cards were seen as sinful, whether they were associated with gambling, divination or merely idle frivolity. (Do those friendly games, magic tricks or solitaire sessions sound less innocent now?) Many of their earliest mentions in European history come from bans on them.

In 1890, Mrs. John King Van Rensselaer published a book on the history of playing cards called The Devil's Picture-Books, after a Puritan name for cards. According to one anecdote in the book, Columbus's sailors brought decks of cards with them on their voyage across the Atlantic Ocean, but threw them overboard out of superstitious fear during bad weather. After the ships landed safely, the crew made themselves new cards out of tree leaves. Later, even the Puritans approved of some card games if they had educational themes. Seeing playing cards as a sin doesn't eliminate their appeal. In some cases, it may even contribute.

Question: I have seen different types of maple furniture, like "bird's-eye maple," "tiger maple" and others. What are the differences? Do they come from different varieties of trees? Do they affect the value or quality of the furniture?

Answer: Maple is a strong, sturdy wood that is popular for furniture. Figured maple has naturally occurring variations in its grain pattern. The cause for these variations is not known, but environmental factors like climate, soil type, disease and injury to the tree may contribute. Bird's-eye maple and tiger maple are two types of these patterns. Others include spalted and quilted maple. Tiger maple is also known as curly maple. Figuring does not mean a lower quality wood; in fact, figured maple is especially desirable for decorative pieces like furniture, crafts and musical instruments. Since the 19th century, inexpensive woods and other materials have been painted to imitate grain patterns, and naturally patterned wood adds to the value of a piece.

Q: In the early 1980s, a nurse in Qatar gave me this coffee set as a gift for supplying medical supplies to their hospital. I was told that it came from Anwar Sadat's palace. It has been a treasure of mine and is in excellent condition. It's very heavy and made of brass. It has etched flowers with vines, and calligraphy on the bottom. I've never used it for coffee and keep it polished. Can you tell me anything about this type of coffee set?

A: Your coffee set features a traditional Arabic coffeepot called a dallah. Sets like yours are used for celebrations and social functions and are symbols of hospitality in the Middle East. Dallahs are used on coins and watermarks for currency. In Doha, Qatar, there's a giant dallah sculpture that's regarded as a welcoming sign to visitors, extending hospitality with a cup of qahwa (coffee beans boiled with spices, often cardamom). The coffee is served in small handleless cups and may have a zarf (a metal holder) so you can comfortably hold the hot drink. The sets can be made from many types of metal and are made from 24-carat gold for royalty. Paperwork confirming its provenance (history) would be needed to prove any connection to Egypt's Anwar Sadat. It could be very valuable if it belonged to Sadat.

Q: How do I find out what Hummel figurines and plates are worth? Thank you and have a great day!

A: The German F.W. Goebel factory began making Hummel figurines in 1935 using the art of Berta Hummel (Sister Maria Innocentia) aka M.I. Hummel. The figurines attracted collectors but didn't get international attention until after World War II. American soldiers were stationed in Germany after the war and would send the little figurines home as gifts. Early Hummels are in the greatest demand.

For information on the value of your Hummels, go to or reach out through the Hummel collectors' Facebook group (

TIP: Don't use the popular aluminum foil and baking soda system to clean antique silver. It leaves the silver with an undesirable tin-looking color.