Royally exquisite ink stands popular in Victorian collections

Terry and Kim Kovel
Cowles Syndicate

Brass inlaid inkstands were not a rarity in Victorian times. This one recently sold for $188 at New Orleans Auction Galleries. It features a brass handle, two compartments for ink pots and a stamp box in the center. Its most unusual feature isn't immediately obvious in a picture: If you turn it upside down, you can see a nearly intact paper label on the base. The original paper label adds value to an antique. It also provides useful information, often more than just a mark.

This brass inlaid inkstand was made in Victorian London. A label on its base provides insight into its history.

A label can tell you the name and possibly the address of the maker or retailer. This inkstand was made by "L. Leuchars, Writing & Dressing Case Maker," located at "38 Picadilly, London." The label mentions the maker also made "Ink Stands, Chess Men, Tea Chests" and "Work Boxes," and it includes a crest with a crown showing a royal warrant "To Her Majesty and the Royal Family." An online search for "L. Leuchars" brought up Lucy Leuchars, the widow of James Leuchars, who took over his business. Later, when their son joined the business, it was called "Leuchars & Son." The royal warrant was issued in 1837, the first year of Queen Victoria's reign.

Q: I have many Barbie dolls and collectibles, Ertl metal tractors that were my husband's and airplane banks that I'd like to sell. None of my great-grandchildren seem to be interested. Do you have a price list that tells what I might be able to sell them for? I could use the money.

A: Old toys sell at house sales, estate sales and garage sales. The price you can get depends on rarity and condition. Parents buy them for their children to play with and may even buy the toy if it's in worn "used" condition if the price is right. Adult collectors look for vintage Barbie dolls, banks and farm toys in good condition. Prices for toys are listed in our latest price book, Kovels' Antiques & Collectibles Price List 2023. You can also check eBay and other online sources to see what toys like yours have sold for. Be sure to check "Sold" prices, not asking prices. Barbie dolls sell for $12 or less to a few hundred dollars or more. Barbie's clothing and accessories sell for a variety of prices. Ertl tractors in used condition sell for $25 or less. Some in good condition sell for $60 to a few hundred dollars. A 1920's aluminum "Spirit of Saving" airplane bank commemorating Lindbergh's flight sold for $480 recently. It was in near mint condition.

Q: I have five porcelain ramekins and underplates marked "I.G. Dillon Co., Wheeling, West Virginia." They also have a mark with a conjoined "WV" surrounded by what looks like wheat. I'd like information on the age and maker.

A: I.G. Dillon was a jeweler who partnered with W.A. Turner to establish Turner & Dillon in Wheeling, West Virginia, in 1875. Dillon became the sole owner in 1880 and changed the name of the business to I.G. Dillon Co. It became I.G. Dillon & Co. in 1887. By 1890 it was the largest jewelry company in West Virginia. It sold jewelry, clocks, watches, silver and pottery made by other companies. The conjoined "WV" mark was used by the Ohio Valley China Company in Wheeling. It started as the West Virginia China Company in 1887. It became Ohio Valley China Company in 1891. The company made porcelain tableware, hotel ware and artistic wares. It was in business until at least 1893.

Q: I have a copper mechanical scene of a woman and man seesawing to the tune of "Happy Days Are Here Again." There is a small house, fence, flowers and umbrella. It's 10 inches long and 5 1/2 inches high and is in excellent condition. Stickers on the bottom say "Item No. 23890, Happy Days," "Not a Toys (wrong spelling) for decoration only" and "Do not overwind, Made in China." Is it worth anything?

A: The song "Happy Days Are Here Again" was written in 1929 and used in a 1930 movie. It was also a campaign song used in Franklin D. Roosevelt's 1932 presidential campaign. The copper sheet metal scene with two people on a seesaw is one of several mechanical musical scenes made of sheet copper in China and imported into the United States. It's not as old as the song. It was probably made in the late 1900s or later. This scene sells online for $25 to $45. A smaller version with the tune "It's a Small World" sells for about $20 to $25.

Q: I found an unopened box of 24 cans of King Oscar Brisling sardines in a cupboard while cleaning out my parents' house. They were given to my father 15 years ago and never opened. Are the sardines still safe to eat?

A: If the cans have been stored properly and not exposed to temperature extremes or moisture, the sardines should be safe to eat for about five years from the date of purchase. The quality and taste might not be as good as it was originally. Fifteen years is too long. Don't eat the sardines you found. You can use them to fertilize the plants in your garden if the fish were packed in water, not oil. Add the contents of one can of sardines to the hole before planting a new plant. Sprinkle some used coffee grounds on top to discourage animals from digging up the sardines and to absorb the fish odor. The fish and coffee grounds add nutrients to the soil.

TIP: The longer the cylinder on an old music box, the higher the price.

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, Farm Forum, King Features Syndicate, 628 Virginia Dr., Orlando, FL 32803 or email us at