Prices for antiques are based on beauty, desirability, historic importance and appeal. Recently, an elephant-shaped inkwell was offered for sale at an auction. The black elephant with a gilt metal covering was made in the 19th century. This inkwell, which was on President Ulysses S. Grant's desk in the White House, might have inspired the Republican Party to choose an elephant as its symbol. The first time the elephant was seen as a symbol of the Republican Party was in an 1874 cartoon by Thomas Nast. The famous inkwell was auctioned for $26,050.
Q. I own a stoneware bottle that was found 60 feet underground by a crew working on the Milwaukee sewer system. The bottle is brown with a wide, dark-blue ring below its neck. Stamped on the front is an emblem and the words, "C.H. Gipfel, Milwaukee." How old is the bottle, and what is it worth?
A. David Gipfel founded Gipfel's Union Brewery in Milwaukee in 1843. Charles, David's son, took over the brewery in 1849 and became one of Milwaukee's wealthiest brewers. His brewery closed in 1892. Stoneware quart bottles were used for beer until the 1890s. Many of these bottles were imported from England, but there were potteries in Wisconsin that made the same kind of bottle. If your bottle is in very good condition, it would sell for about $100.
Q. Have you ever heard of "whale-end shelves"?
A. The term is not in common use among collectors. Whale-end shelves are book or display shelves with plain, straight shelves and tall, shapely ends. The end pieces holding the shelves look like the silhouette of a whale. The larger part of the end, which stands on the floor when the shelves are upright, is in the shape of a whale's head. The middle of the end is narrower, like a whale's tapering body. And the top of the end extends out, like a whale's tail. Whale-end shelves probably originated in New England coastal areas during the early 19th century. You can find them in mahogany, walnut and painted poplar or pine. It's a good idea to place them against a wall. They can tip over easily.
Q. My aunt gave me a green glass water decanter 40 years ago. She had already had it for years. The glass is frosted, and the decanter has rings around the body and a green glass stopper. The bottom is embossed "Frigidaire." Can you tell me who made it and what it's worth?
A. Your decanter is a piece of Depression glass refrigerator ware. It was made by Hocking Glass Co. of Lancaster, Ohio, sometime between 1928 and 1937. In 1937, Hocking merged with Anchor Cap Corp. to form Anchor-Hocking Glass Corp. Anchor-Hocking is now owned by Libbey, Inc. Hocking sold refrigerator ware to different refrigerator manufacturers. The wares were marked with the appliance manufacturer's name. That's why "Frigidaire" is embossed on the bottom of your decanter. Your decanter, which was also made in clear green glass, sells for $50 to $55.
Q. I read a story last summer about Alfred M. Butts, the man who invented the Scrabble game. I was wondering what an early-1950s edition of the game is worth.
A. A 1953 Selchow & amp; Righter edition with wooden tiles sells for about $50. Although that was the first year Selchow & amp; Righter made the game, it was not the year the game was invented. Butts (1899-1993) sold 84 copies of his version of the game, called Lexiko, in 1933-34. He made the games in his living room because he couldn't find a manufacturer. By the late '30s, he had added more features to the game, including a board and had renamed the game Criss-Cross Words. A man named James Brunot offered to be Butts' partner in 1947. Brunot christened the game Scrabble, tinkered with the rules and saw sales slowly climb. Selchow & amp; Righter became involved when orders went well beyond what Brunot could produce. Then in 1953, the game's popularity spread across the country, and sales exploded. Scrabble is one of the 10 most-popular American board games of all time.
Q. How was a Chinese brush pot used? I have a vaselike bamboo pot with incised leaves on the side as decorations. I am told it is an old brush pot.
A. The brush pot was made to hold small brushes made from the hair of a deer, fox, goat or wolf, or from rat's whiskers. These were used to do Chinese calligraphy and drawings. Only scholars or artists used such brushes and owned the bitong, or brush pot. The brush pot could be made from bamboo, like yours; from woods with interesting grains or markings, like burl or elmwood; or from roots. Many different types of porcelain, as well as ivory, iron, jade, bronze, silver, rock crystal and glass were also used to make brush pots.
Tip: If you discover a cache of very dirty antiques and you are not dressed in work clothes, make yourself a temporary cover-up from a plastic garbage bag.
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