To ease moves, cupboards came in pieces

Ever wonder how large, tall pieces of furniture were moved in and out of the small doorways in 18th-century homes? Beginning about 1740, corner cupboards were very popular storage pieces. Some were built into the room by carpenters so they never had to be moved. Instead of a rectangular piece of furniture, the corner piece was triangular in the back so it fit into a corner with no wasted space.

Through the years, many of these built-ins have been removed, given new backs and sold. Most old corner cupboards were made by a cabinetmaker to be moved from house to house. The cupboard was made in two pieces. The top section usually had glass cabinet doors covering several shelves. The silver or dishes inside were arranged to be admired. The bottom section had two wooden cabinet doors that covered shelves for stored pieces that were useful but not meant to be seen by guests. Sometimes the bottom section also had a top drawer unit that held silverware and small items. Small plain or bracket-shaped feet were at the bottom to keep the cupboard off the damp floor when the house was cleaned.

If you look carefully at a two-part cabinet, you can see a molding or ridge on the bottom part designed to keep the top part in the right position. It was easy to move the cabinet out of the room. Two strong men had to lift the top glass-door section and carry it out. Then they carried the lower section. Each piece could be moved sideways through the door. Height was not a problem. By 1800 the corner cupboard was no longer used in stylish homes.

Today, any early corner cupboard sells for thousands of dollars. The best are the two-part examples made by skilled cabinetmakers.

Q: Can I use baking soda and a piece of aluminum foil in a glass pan full of hot water to remove tarnish from silver?

A: Although using aluminum foil to help remove tarnish from silver is often suggested, it is not a good method. The silver will usually turn a dull gray and the oxidation that blackens the lines in the pattern will be gone. We have heard many explanations of how this silver-cleaning method works. It removes tarnish from the silver and deposits it on the aluminum foil through a chemical action. Antique silver keeps its patina best if polished with a good commercial polish and hard work.

Q: I have a tea set that came over on the Mayflower in 1620. It belonged to William Bradford, who is one of my ancestors. Does anyone have an idea of what it might be worth?

A: We are sure the tea set did not come over on the Mayflower. The ship was small, crowded and filled with tools and supplies necessary to help make a life in a wild country. Tea did not become popular in England until the 1700s, and it was very expensive. How could someone in the Plymouth Colony get tea? This is just one of many myths we hear regularly.

A violin marked "Antonio Stradivarius, Made in Germany" is not old -- and Stradivari was Italian. An old hatchet did not belong to George Washington, because the entire story of the cherry tree was made up years after he died. When researching the history of an antique, stop to think about old customs, the history of inventions and the lifestyles of the past. Stories often get attached to the wrong piece of memorabilia, which is years younger and less valuable than a family claims.

Q: A few years back, I inherited a Babe Ruth baseball card from my father. It's from Goudey's 1930s Sport Kings series. I am having trouble finding the value of this card. Can you help?

A: The Goudey Gum Co. of Boston issued its Sport King series in 1933. The 48 cards in the set are silk-screened and feature not just Hall of Fame baseball players, but also well-known skiers, wrestlers, tennis players, ice skaters and other athletes of the time.

If your Babe Ruth card is genuine and in excellent condition, it could sell for a few thousand dollars. But first you have to hire a grading service that will look at your card closely, determine that it's real and judge its condition. Then, if you want to sell it, you should probably use an auction house that specializes in sports memorabilia.

Q: I still have the 14-inch soldier doll I was holding in an early 1940s snapshot of me when I was a young child. The back of the doll's head is marked "Effanbee, Skippy, P.L. Crosby." What can you tell me about my doll?

A: The Effanbee Doll Co. dates back to 1910, when Bernard Fleischaker and Hugo Baum started making dolls in Atlantic City, N.J. The company's name is a play on the initials of the men's last names (F and B). Effanbee is still in business and is based in Hurley, N.Y.

Effanbee's Skippy composition doll was introduced in 1928. He was based on a cartoon character created in 1919 by Percy L. Crosby. Skippy didn't start wearing soldier or sailor uniforms until 1943. Today your 1940s doll in his original clothes could sell for more than $400.

Q: I bought a Chinese teakwood blanket chest at auction in the 1980s. The original sales receipt came with it, showing that it had been purchased from South China & Co. in Hong Kong in 1955. The chest and a set of four teakwood nesting tables then cost $85. The chest is 40 inches tall by 40 inches wide by 19 inches deep. All of its original brass hardware is intact. What do you think it's worth today?

A: South China & Co. opened in Hong Kong in 1948 and trades in all sorts of Chinese merchandise. Your chest would sell today for $300 to $500.

Tip: Having trouble removing a ring that's too tight? Spray it with liquid window cleaner. It lubricates and cleans the ring at the same time.

Terry Kovel's column is syndicated by King Features. Write to: Kovels, (Las Vegas Review-Journal), King Features Syndicate, 888 Seventh Ave., New York, NY 10019.