The first whirligig was made as early as 500 B.C.

Terry And Kim Kovel
Kovel’s Antiques And Collecting

What is a whirligig? Some move on a windy day like pinwheels. Some are moving toys, for example a man chopping wood. Many are moving garden pieces such as people chopping wood or waving a flag. The experts say there four types of whirligigs. The first were made as early as 500 B.C. by American Indians. These were made from a bone and a strip of leather. A modern version of the whirligig has a button that spins with string. A large button with holes can be made to spin so fast that it makes a noise, and these are called buzzers or bullroarers. A more complicated whirligig is the Chinese bamboo-copter or dragon butterfly that was made in China by 400 B.C. These are pictured in some early tapestries. The most often seen whirligig is the wind-driven pinwheel. Folk-art collectors like the homemade whirligigs that show a hen pecking, a soldier fighting or a woman waving her arms. Or the ones with two men sawing wood. These became very popular in the 1880s to 1900, and they are still being made. They are one of the newest types of folk art to become popular with collectors, and prices have been rising. Some sold for over $1,000, even though they were very crude. A 26-inch-high primitive carved and painted wood and iron whirligig with a blond woman waving both arms while standing next to a red, white and blue ball sold for $308 at a Skinner auction. The paint was worn, the arms and legs were stiff, and there was little motion, but it did look like it was homemade.

Q I have a big box of Hagen-Renaker figurines that are 50 to 60 years old. Do you know if they have any value?

A Hagen-Renaker was started by John and Maxine Renaker in 1946. Maxine’s father, Ole Hagen, helped them build their first factory that year in Monrovia, California. Several thousand different models of pottery animal figures were made in the Designers Workshop line from the early 1950s to mid-1980s. Wild animals, farm animals, cats, dogs and other domestic animals were made. Horses are the most popular and sell for the highest prices, some for over $1,000. Some figures have been reissued. Most horses sell for $10 to $200, depending on size and the number made. The company moved to San Dimas, California, in 1965 and is family owned. Specialty-size figures have been made since the 1990s. The figurines sell at several online sites. The company’s website ( has a list and pictures of figurines, and gives information on buying and selling.

Q I have a J.H. Cutter bottle similar to the bottle pictured on your website that sold for over $300 a few years ago. Mine isn’t a clear amber color like the one pictured on your site, unless it’s held up to the light. It has an iridescent color down one side with shades of blue-green and orange, maybe from something that was stored in it. I found it near the Boston seaport. Any information would be greatly appreciated.

A The color of a bottle affects the price. Bottles in rare or desirable colors sell for more than those in other colors. “Amber” can include honey amber, olive amber, orange amber, deep tobacco amber and other shades. Sun turns glass lavender or dirty brownish beige. Iridescence on the outside can come from being in water; on the inside it might be from contact with food. It takes an expert to tell the difference and determine the value of the bottle.

Q I’d like to know if my McCoy Aunt Jemima cookie jar is real or a reproduction. She has a red bandana on her head and is wearing a white dress with a red towel hanging from her waist. The colors are faded. I think the jar is bisque. Did McCoy ever make a bisque cookie jar?

A McCoy made “Mammy” or “Aunt Jemima” cookie jars like yours from 1944 to 1957. Some were plain white, and some had trim in other colors. Thousands of cookie jars like yours were made, and they also have been reproduced. The original jars were painted after firing and colors are usually faded or have flaked off. Colors on reproduction jars were glazed and then fired, so they remain bright. Value is about $150 if original.

Q I bought a storage auction, and it had a few Disney collectible pieces. I gave one or two to a friend, but the rest I want to sell. I’m not sure where or how to start, and how to determine the value of them. Where should I begin?

A Mickey Mouse first appeared in 1928, and collectors have been in love with Disney and Disney items ever since. Disneyana includes anything made or licensed by the Walt Disney Co., original drawings and cels, things modeled after Disney characters, and souvenirs from Disneyland and Disney World. Prices can vary from a few dollars to several thousand. Look for an auction house that specializes in Disney collectibles or has had recent sales of Disney items to see what sells for high prices. Lower-priced items sell through dealers online. All antiques and collectibles that are sold were bought somewhere. Offer your collection via pictures, letters and calls to see if you have anything that would appeal to their customers.

TIP: Don’t try to restore, repaint, clean or touch up colored metal bookends. It will lower the value to remove any of the paint or to cover it with new paint.

Whirligigs scare the birds for a while, then birds seem to realize the moving parts are not dangerous, and they will eat birdseed on the ground nearby. But they do scare wild rabbits.