Whirligigs function as garden ornaments, indicate wind direction

Kovel’s Antiques and Collecting

Whirligigs were invented centuries ago. They are both toys and tools, indicators of wind direction and the weather.

Sources disagree on where the first were made; it was probably in China about 400 B.C. or by Native Americans about 550 B.C.

The whirligig must have a spinning part and a base, and many were made in fanciful shapes. The oldest known pictures of a whirligig were in tapestries made in medieval times.

There are many names and many shapes of whirligigs. Old sources call them pinwheels, gee-haws, whirlyjigs or whirlys. Vintage examples have waving arms, flags, angels’ wings, a man chopping wood, horses running and much more. They are also popular children’s toys or garden ornaments.

A political whirligig was sold by Garth’s Auctions in Ohio a few years ago. It is a figure of President Theodore Roosevelt with a top hat and monocle riding on a penny farthing cycle. Roosevelt served from 1901 to 1909, so it must have been made after 1901. He is holding a red counterbalance vane that turns the bike with the wind. The handmade whirligig sold at Garth’s for $865.

Question: I believe I have a pair of Apache wedding moccasins. Apache Indians killed my great-grandfather in Bisbee, Arizona, in 1885. He was the deputy sheriff. His gravestone reads, “Killed by Apache Indians.” I’d like to find the appropriate museum or collector that would be interested in them.

Answer: Indian moccasins can sell for several hundred dollars. Value depends on decoration, rarity and condition. Any information you have about the moccasins and how they were obtained adds provenance. Several museums, including some in Arizona, have collections of Native American items. Search the internet to find them. Those near the area where your great-grandfather lived might be interested in the connection to the local legend. If you want to sell the moccasins, look for an auction house that sells Indian items. They can give you an idea of their value and sell them for you. Be sure to ask what their commission and other charges are.

Q: I have an 1863 card game that is like a geography game, with facts about countries all over the world, but I don’t know its name and the box top is missing. I haven’t been able to find out anything about it. I also have an 1890 game called “Finneybusters,” which I can’t find any info about. If you know anything about these or where I could look, please let me know.

A: The Association for Games & Puzzles International may be able to help you. According to the organization’s website (gamesandpuzzles.org), it is devoted to the collection and preservation of games and puzzles, and it conducts research on games and puzzles and the companies that made them. Members include researchers, historians, authors, game designers and manufacturers, collectors and others interested in games and puzzles. Collectors like board games with cartoonish drawings or that picture current (old) events.

Q: I inherited my father’s old manual Underwood typewriter. I remember him and my mother using this typewriter when I was very little. I’m 75 so it has to be at least 70 years old. The model number is S5547159-14. It’s a little dusty, but otherwise in good condition. What is it worth?

A: The Underwood Typewriter Company was founded by John T. Underwood in 1895. Headquarters were in New York City. The factory moved to Hartford, Connecticut, in 1901. At one time, it was the world’s largest manufacturer of typewriters. Millions of Underwood typewriters were made. Olivetti bought a controlling interest in Underwood in 1959 and the rest of the company in 1963. The name became Underwood-Olivet. Production of Underwood typewriters stopped in the U.S. in the 1960s, but typewriters with the Underwood name were made in Spain until the 1980s. There has been a resurgence in interest in typewriters. The number on your typewriter indicates it was made shortly after January 1942. In good, usable condition, it’s worth about $100 to $300 depending on condition and appearance.

Q: Do I need an appraisal to sell an old oil painting?

A: No, you don’t want an appraisal, you want an opinion. Take the art or a clear picture of the art, including the back, bottom and any signatures, to an antiques shop or auction house to see if it is of interest. There are two possibilities. A gallery may think the picture is the type they can sell and put it in a gallery to wait for a customer. Or an auction house will suggest an appropriate selling price and charge you a commission to sell it.

TIP: Don’t store ceramic dishes or figurines for long periods of time in old newspaper wrappings. The ink can make indelible stains on china.

This folk art whirligig shows President Theodore Roosevelt riding a cycle while holding a red paddle that catches the wind. It sold at auction for hundreds of dollars.