Unsigned, vintage ceramics can be identified at auction

Kovel’s Antiques and Collecting

There were many small potteries making stoneware and other ceramics for use in the kitchen, bedroom or farm. Most utensils made in America by the 1800s were made with thick pottery sides in simple shapes with almost no decoration.

The most expensive examples collected today have a design or name on the crock to trace for the age and maker. But unsigned pieces are often identified when sold at auctions. That takes an expert; a family legend is not enough.

Conestoga Auction Company often sells antique and vintage stoneware. Is the side curved or straight? Is there a shaped rim? Is the interior glazed in the same color as the outside or is the inside different? Are there quirks in the shaping of the bottom? These clues can be recognized from a picture, but contact the auction and ask how they knew the maker of the unsigned piece.

This crock is similar to others attributed to Shenfelder Pottery of Reading, Pennsylvania. It has an impressed mark of the numeral “1” inside a coggle wheel circle. It has a blue hand-painted leafy branch on the outside. “Daniel Peter Shenfelder Reading Pa.” is a known mark. The Conestoga catalog said it was “attributed,” not definitely identified, but the auction house is close to the pottery building and has sold many stoneware utensils. This crock sold for $170 after ten bids.

Question: Can you tell me what a vintage plastic Coca-Cola cigarette lighter shaped like a bottle of Coke is worth? It’s about 2 1/2-inch long. It’s been in my family as long as I can remember, and I’m 77 years old. The “bottle” comes apart in the middle to reveal the sparking mechanism and the bottom is the snuffer.

Answer: This vintage Coca-Cola cigarette lighter was made in the 1950s. The contour fluted shape is a replica of the pre-1955, 6 1/2-ounce Coca-Cola bottle. It usually sells online for $10 to $20.

Q: I have four Windsor sack back and knuckles armchairs. I’d like to know their value. Should I have them refinished or leave as is? They are in fairly good shape. Carved or burned into the bottom it reads “Nichols & Stone Co., Gardner, Ma.”

A: This company traces its history to 1762, when Charles and Marcus Nichols founded Nichols Brothers Chair Manufactory in Westminster, Massachusetts. Chairs were made in workshops until 1857, when the company opened its first furniture factory. Charles bought out his brother in 1894 and went into partnership with Reuben Stone. The company became Nichols & Stone and moved to Gardner, Massachusetts. Chairs, tables and beds were made. The company closed in 2008. Find out how much it would cost to refinish the chairs. If you’re using the chairs, it might be worth it, but if you plan to sell them, let the buyer decide whether or not to refinish them. You might not make enough money on the sale to cover the cost of refinishing them.

Q: I have a sizable collection of Snowbabies. They are displayed, and I have the boxes all packed away. I’ve always been told to keep the original box for value purposes. Is this true for something as mass-produced as Snowbabies? I’ll keep the boxes if it will help the value in the future, but if it isn’t necessary, I’d like to free up the space.

A: Snowbabies, white bisque figurines of young children playing, have been made by Department 56 since 1986. They look similar to the original Snow Babies made of unglazed clay covered with crushed bisque “snowflakes” that were made in Germany beginning in 1864. Some Department 56 Snowbabies are retired each year. The molds are broken and new figurines are introduced. The original box adds value, especially if the box has good graphics. You can find suggested retail prices for retired Snowbabies on the company’s website retiredproducts.department56.com.

Q: How can I tell new from old milk glass?

A: Antique bottles have become collectors’ items, especially those made in rare colors. Less-expensive bottles with secure closures were used by the 1930s. Milk glass bottles with attractive women’s portraits as the label-under-glass were often the decorations in a Victorian barber shop. Modern copies have been made. Old milk glass is opaque and may be pure white, pale green, robin’s-egg blue, pink or black. Milk glass was not used for dinner plates but was used for doorknobs, lamps, vases and knickknacks like salt and peppers. They even made reusable figural milk glass store containers for mustard. When buying, look at milk glass carefully. Old glass is smooth and often marked with a shape or pattern number. There are many vintage and new copies that sell for very low prices.

TIP: Use protector pads on the bottom of furniture feet. Replace them periodically when they become dirty or very flat.

This one gallon stoneware crock has the impressed mark of Daniel Shenfelder pottery, proving it was made about 1870 in Pennsylvania.