"Figural bottles" made it easy to find the product on the grocery shelf

Terry And Kim Kovel
Kovel’s Antiques And Collecting

“Figural bottles” are just what you would imagine — bottles shaped like living creatures or familiar objects. The earliest American clear glass figurals were made in the 1860s. In 1866, Dr. Fisch packaged his bitters medicine in, what else, a fish-shaped bottle. Brown’s Celebrated Indian Herb Bitters was sold in a bottle shaped like a standing Indian woman, from about 1868 to 1875. Dr. Bell’s Tonic was sold in a dark amber figural bell-shaped bottle in about 1875. Probably the best-known antique figural was used by E.G. Booz from about 1858 to 1870. It is an amber log cabin with the name Booz embossed on the top. Since 1931 several reproductions have been made. Booz sold whiskey in the bottles; many taverns had them on their shelves and customers asked for “Booz,” the word still used in bars for whiskey.

Generic figurals were popular bottles in the late 1800s and early 1900s. Probably the best known are violin, pig or fish bottles, all still being made. Some vintage glass bottles that copy a trademark, such as a Butterworth syrup bottle shaped like Mrs. Butterworth or the man representing Poland Springs water made it easy to find the product on the grocery shelf.

Figurals helped make Avon — originally called the California Perfume Company in 1886, changing its name in 1929 — to become a successful cosmetics company with fancy packaging and home sales. There was a collecting frenzy from the 1960s to 1980s for the empty, no-longer-made figural bottles. Unfortunately, empty bottles were stolen from the bottle factory and sold to collectors as rare, increasing the supply and lowering both prices and collector interest.

But many other companies had unusual old figurals that still sell for high prices. This very rare 7-inch bottle shaped like a Prussian military helmet was made about 1890 of dark amber glass with a wooden spike and a partial German label. It sold in an online auction by Glass Works Auctions of East Greenville, Pennsylvania, for $780.

Q I’m interested in selling a set comprised of a pitcher and four steins marked “Hand Painted Japan” with the letter “K” on three flower petals. Can you help me identify the marking on the bottom?

A Several Japanese porcelain makers used marks that included cherry blossoms or similar flowers. The letter “K” may stand for the name of the porcelain factory that made the set, or it may be the mark of the decorating shop. It’s not possible to identify the maker. Your set was made for export to the United States, which required the country or origin on objects imported into the United States beginning in 1891. The word “Nippon” was used for Japan until 1921. Your set was made between 1921 and 1940, when production ceased during World War II.

Q I have an antique ironing board with a National Washboard label on it. What is its value if I refinish it? Or is it better to keep it as is?

A The National Washboard Company was incorporated in Chicago in 1903 and eventually had plants in Saginaw, Michigan, and Memphis, Tennessee. The company’s ironing boards and washboards were sold through Sears, Roebuck and Montgomery Ward mail-order catalogs. National Washboard became a division of Wabash Screen Door Co. in 1907 and continued in business until the 1970s. Collectors usually want items that are original, not refinished. Don’t refinish the ironing board unless it’s in poor condition. Vintage ironing boards made by National Washboard sell for very low prices. There are a few ironing board collectors. Most ironing boards are bought to use as a table or bar at a party at home. It can be folded flat and easily stored. Some are even used for ironing!

Q How can I find the value of old prints of the Hopi, Pueblos and Zuni peoples? The pictures are from expeditions in the Southwest made from about 1899 to 1905 by Adam Clark Vroman and several other photographers. They worked together and processed each other’s plates. I bought 20 of these prints from the grandson of one of the photographers in 1987. He made the prints from the original glass plates. Each print is 16 by 20 inches and is matted and framed. How can I estimate value so I can sell them?

A Vroman’s photos are platinotype prints, meaning platinum was used in the printing process, not gelatin silver prints. Platinotype prints didn’t have to be developed in a darkroom. Most platinotype prints were made between 1880 and the 1930s, when platinum became too expensive to use. Some of Vroman’s platinotype prints sold at auction for over $1,000 several years ago, but they were smaller than the ones you have, ranging from 3 by 5 inches to 8 by 6 inches. If your photos weren’t taken by Vroman, but by another photographer on the expedition, they might be worth less, and if they were developed in the 1980s, they are probably not platinotypes. Contact an auction that specializes in selling photographs to see if they can give you an idea of what you can expect to get if you sell them.

TIP: Check the prongs on your diamond and precious stone rings. They do wear down and the stones loosen.