Betty lamp one of the earliest portable light sources

Farm Forum

Think how difficult it was before 1800, when you had to have light to work at night and there were only candles or several kinds of oil lamps. By the 1850s, it was easier. There were kerosene lamps, gas lamps and finally electric lamps. 

Today, we get a hint of what that was like when the electricity goes out and we must find a flashlight or candle to use until repair crews fix the power. Many collectors and campers who want light use old types of lighting like lanterns when there is no electricity. 

The Betty lamp is one of the earliest portable light sources. It usually is made of brass or iron. The bottom layer is a pan that shapes to a point: the spout. A second pan is on top to hold the wick, usually a twisted piece of fabric placed in the spout to soak up some fuel. The wick is lit to produce a flame. The lamp also has a hook so it can be hung on a wall. Sometimes they have a third layer: a cover to keep bugs out.

Antique Betty lamps are sold in many auctions for $40 to about $150. There are even modern versions with the same design to be used today. A wrought iron, copper and brass Betty lamp sold at a recent Hess auction for $2,000 after 21 bids. It was made by craftsman Peter Derr of Pennsylvania (1793-1868), making it a prize for a collector. A new, reproduced Betty lamp sells for about $40 to $100.

Question: How much is a 1930s to '40s Ramsey-Alton Oak Craft Mission-style cabinet, in good condition with original hardware, worth? 

Answer: The Ramsey-Alton Manufacturing Co. was in business in Portland, Michigan, from 1905 to 1915. Oak Craft is the company's line of Mission style furniture. The pieces don't sell for high prices today. Similar cabinets in good condition sell for $200 to $400.

Q: My parents bought a beautiful green blown-glass vase in Colonial Williamsburg. Did early glassblowers make vases like that? What was the glassblowing industry like in Colonial America?

A: Glassblowing is one of the oldest glassmaking techniques. Glassmaking was one of the first industries in Colonial America. Early American glass was handblown. Finished pieces would have a pontil mark, which is a rough spot from the pontil, or punty rod, that held the molten glass while it was shaped with tools. Any decorations would have been added by hand after the piece was blown and shaped, making it even more expensive. Molded blown glass was not made in America until the late 1700s. The emergence of the three-piece mold and especially the mechanical press in the 1820s made glass much less expensive to produce. Antique glass usually is unmarked, so it is easy to copy. Well-documented provenance is the best way to authenticate an antique piece.

Q: Seeing recent sales of vintage video games reminds me of playing them with my brother when we were kids. I think the oldest game system we had was our parents' Intellivision. Would that be worth a lot today?

A: The Intellivision (short for "intelligent television") was made by Mattel, released in 1979 and discontinued in 1990. It was the first video game system with a 16-bit microprocessor. It was a serious competitor to the Atari 2600, which launched in 1977. The Intellivision was advertised as having better graphics and sound than other systems at the time, but it had a smaller games library. An Intellivision game system and collection of games sold for about $65 at auction in 2021. Parts have sold online for less. Individual games tend to sell for about $10, but rare cartridges in the original packaging can sell for over $100. They are not getting prices as high as more familiar systems and games, like Nintendo's Super Mario Bros.

Q: We have a set of 12 Lenox dinner plates, each depicting a different sailing ship. They are gold-rimmed and marked with the name of the ship and a description. Eight plates depict a Challenge Cup and year, and four are Cup Defenders. They have the Lenox mark and "J. McD. & S. Co." What is this mark? Are the plates valuable? 

A: Sets of plates picturing yachts sailing in the America's Cup races were made by Lenox in different versions and sold by several companies in the 1930s. The mark with the initials on your plates was used by Jones, McDuffee & Stratton Co., a dealer and distributor in Boston that began working under that name in 1871. By 1910, it was the largest wholesaler and retailer of china and glassware in the U.S. The company sold commemorative plates for Lenox and other companies until about 1960. The border, signature or provenance can add value. Some sets have sold at auction for over $1,000. 

TIP: Never put gold or platinum-trimmed dishes in the microwave. The metallic trim will spark and may damage the oven and burn the dishes.

Terry Kovel and Kim Kovel answer readers' questions sent to the column. Send a letter with one question describing the size, material (glass, pottery) 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, (Name of this newspaper), King Features Syndicate, 628 Virginia Dr., Orlando, FL 32803 or email us at