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Alterations hide commode’s purpose, decrease value

Special types of furniture are made for special needs. The telephone table — a small table with an attached chair — was made for people who wanted a comfortable spot to talk on the phone. The 18th-century writing-arm Windsor chair was made for the man who wanted a special place to sit while he worked. The dressing table was made with a mirror, drawers and compartments to hold cosmetics and toilet articles.

Municipal water plants that sent running water into the house were not common in the United States until the 20th century. That meant that instead of flush toilets, people used just a large bowl known as a potty or “thunder mug.”

The well-to-do sometimes had furniture made to conceal the bowl or to make it easier to use. These special pieces of furniture are not popular with collectors today, so they are sometimes altered to hide their original purpose.

Large wooden chairs were made with holes in the seat above a low shelf that held the bowl. Today, the seat with the hole might be replaced or upholstered. Sometimes a bedside commode was made that looked like a small table but had a cupboard space or drawer that hid the potty.

Today, the bowl is removed along with any signs it was there. The resulting pieces have been altered and restored so much, they are of lower value than they would be in original condition. Examine furniture carefully, especially from the bottom, to find signs of changes, such as extra nail holes or unusual patterns of darkening wood.

Q: Our Danish grandmother left us a plate that is a mystery to us. It’s stamped “P. Ipsen Eneret” on the back. The scene of trees and a cottage on the front appears to be hand-painted.

A: Your plate was made at a factory in Copenhagen, the largest city and capital of Denmark. The factory, P. Ipsens Enke, was founded in 1843 by Rasmus Peter Ipsen of Bornholm, Denmark. The mark on your plate dates it to between 1871 and 1917. The Ipsen factory closed in 1955.

Q: I inherited an antique table lamp from my grandparents. It has a bronze-colored decorative base and a reverse-painted art-glass shade mounted in a metal frame. The metal is pierced and molded to look like a landscape of trees and a house. The glass behind it is painted in different colors to create the land and sky of the landscape. The base is imprinted “Royal Art Glass Co.” Can you tell me something about the manufacturer?

A: Royal Art Glass Co. was in business in New York City in the early 1900s — possibly as late as the mid-1920s. The company was known for making table lamps like yours, with shades of reverse-painted glass mounted in pierced metal. These lamps are very collectible if they’re in excellent condition. But they shouldn’t be plugged in until an electrician has checked the wiring and replaced the cord.

The most expensive lamps from this era were made by Tiffany, Pairpoint or Handel. Still, yours could sell for $500 or more if it’s in great shape.

Q: What is “pawn silver jewelry?” It looks like it was made by Native Americans.

A: Native American jewelry is popular with collectors. Some of the best is the older jewelry. These heavy silver necklaces, belts and bracelets sometimes were pawned at the reservation trading posts when Native Americans needed money quickly. Pieces that were not redeemed after four months could be sold to the public.

Some of the best pieces that 1950s collectors found were “pawn jewelry” and even had the pawn tickets still attached. Today the pawned pieces usually are sold without the tickets.

Q: I purchased a mint-in-the-box Sonja Henie composition doll for $795. Now I see that her head is unmarked and her body is marked “Wendy Ann, Mme. Alexander, New York.” She does have a Sonja Henie wrist tag. Is she authentic?

A: Don’t panic. If your doll is 13 1/2 inches tall and fully jointed, and if her face matches the distinctive dimpled face of the Sonja Henie dolls, your doll is genuine and you paid a fair price. Only Madame Alexander had rights to make Sonja Henie dolls.

Henie (1912-1969), from Oslo, Norway, won the Olympic gold medal in figure skating in 1928, 1932 and 1936 and went on to become a major movie star.

Madame Alexander’s Sonja Henie dolls were made from 1939 to 1951 in eight different sizes with different marks on the heads and bodies. The smallest is 7 inches tall and the largest, 21 inches. The 13 1/2-inch doll, made in 1939, has an unmarked head and a back marked “Wendy Ann,” like yours. Other Sonja Henie dolls had Sonja Henie marks or were completely unmarked.

Ralph and 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. For more information visit www.Kovels.com.

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