It's beautiful, it plays music, it dispenses cigarettes. In the 1950s, what's not to love?

Terry and Kim Kovel
Cowles Syndicate
This musical cigarette dispenser dates to the 1950s. Smoking was fashionable at the time; the link between smoking and lung cancer had not yet been proven.

Some collectibles aren't what they seem at first glance. This green enameled piece that sold for $252 at Morphy Auctions looks like a covered jar. A closer look at the finial, shaped like a seated cherub or putto playing a stringed instrument, suggests its true purpose. It's really a music box that plays two tunes.

That's not all it is: Wind it up and the panels open, revealing a silver toned pocket behind each panel. The pockets were originally meant to hold cigarettes. It's a music box and a cigarette dispenser!

It's well-known that smoking was much more common in the first half of the 20th century before its links to lung cancer had been determined. Smoking is less popular today, but smoking paraphernalia and tobacciana are collectible. Ashtrays, especially with advertising, are popular and often inexpensive. Collectors of advertising and packaging look for antique tobacco tins. Lighters have their own category in Kovels' price guide. Smoking stands appear in antique furniture collections.

Some collectors may repurpose their smoking collectibles by using ashtrays as ring dishes, cigarette cases as credit card holders or smoking stands as plant stands. This cigarette dispenser's decorations and multiple functions could make it part of a collection of tobacciana, enamels or music boxes.

Question: My mother left me her Pfaff sewing machine, which she bought in 1925 as part of her trousseau. It's a heavy, treadle type machine. It came across the ocean on the ship my family took when we came to the United States. I don't know what it's worth or what to do with it. I thought of donating it to a fabric shop to be used as a curiosity.

Answer: Georg Michael Pfaff (1823-1893) made musical instruments. He made his first sewing machine by hand in 1862. Sewing machines continued to be handmade for several years. The first machines were made to sew leather shoes. Pfaff opened a shop in London in 1885. By 1910 the company had made a million sewing machines. Programmable computer-operated machines were made beginning in 1983. Pfaff was sold in 1999. It is now part of DAP Industrial AG. Old treadle machines sell for about $100. Those with ornate decorations and gold trim sell for more. Donating an old machine is easier than trying to sell it. Try a local historical museum.

Q: My mother gave me several sets of antique teacups and saucers she found at an estate sale two years ago. I've bought about five more sets since then and haven't paid more than $5 for any of them. I've been able to validate the authenticity of all of them except one. It's marked "Hand Painted" above the initials "T.P." in a diamond shape. Below that it says "Nippon." Can you tell me if the mark is authentic?

A: Goods imported into the United States had to be marked with the country of origin after the McKinley Tariff Act was passed in 1890. Some manufacturers didn't want to use the word "Japan" because Japanese goods were often thought to be inferior, so they used "Nippon," the Japanese word for "Japan." Beginning in 1921, the United States required the word "Japan" instead of "Nippon" on goods imported from Japan. Many different Japanese companies used the word "Nippon" in their marks. You can find pieces online with the "T.P., Nippon" mark like yours. The maker is unknown but that does not mean it's not made in Japan.

Q: My father was an official of a Merchant Marine union. The seamen would often bring back gifts, such as rugs, from overseas. I have several rugs in different colors and sizes. I have no idea of their country of origin or value. How can I find out something about them and their value?

A: An expert on rugs would have to see the rugs to determine their value. It may not be possible to determine the country or origin unless there is something unique in the design or technique that identifies them. Contact stores in your area that sell authentic Oriental rugs to see if they can help. If you have a friend who has old Oriental rugs, they may be able to tell you who to contact.

Q: How much is a toy Fisher-Price School Days Desk worth? It has a carrying handle, chalkboard top, a pullout tray with plastic letters with magnets on them, a place to store extra letters and numbers, and a space at the bottom that holds cardboard stencils with cutout words on them. It's been well used, but it still has all the letters and stencils. The number "176" is on the side of the desk.

A: Fisher-Price made School Days Desk number 176 in 1972. The chalkboard is made of steel so the letters and numbers will stick to it. It originally came with a box of chalk and an eraser. Old sets in good condition with all the letters, numbers and cards sell for $50 or more. Sets missing a few letters can sell for about $25, if in good condition. Missing letters sell online for $2 or $3 apiece.

TIP: To loosen a rusted metal part on a toy, try soaking it in cola.

Terry Kovel and Kim Kovel answer readers' questions sent to the column. Send a letter with one question describing the size, material (glass, pottery, etc.), 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