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Cats’ characteristics changed with artist’s mental state

Surveys show that pictures of cats are more popular than pictures of dogs or horses. So it is not surprising that ceramic cats are popular with collectors.

A famous illustrator of the 1880s named Louis Wain created popular scenes of anthropomorphic kittens and cats. The cats did human things like walk on their hind legs, dress up in human clothes or play games like golf. But Wain became mentally ill, and soon his cats became strange and even threatening. They had huge eyes, wild fur or square robotlike shapes.

If you took an abnormal psychology course in the 1950s, you might have been shown pictures of the early sweet, cuddly kittens and the later frightening, malicious cats. It was suggested that Wain’s schizophrenia became more serious as the cats became less lovable.

Today that theory is in doubt, but his many disturbing pictures and figurines of cats remain popular with collectors. Recently one of Wain’s futuristic cat figures sold for $6,100. His early illustrations and pictures on postcards sell for $5 to $100 each.

Q: A metal tag on the bottom of my wooden side table says it was made by Brandt Furniture of Hagerstown, Md. The top is octagonal and the four legs are convex — they curve outward from the top, then in again near the floor. Can you tell me when it was made and what it’s worth?

A: Brandt was originally in business in Hagerstown from 1901 to 1985. (A small group of former employees bought the company and reopened it in 1986; that company still is in business.)

The nontraditional style of your table’s legs indicates it probably was not made early in the 20th century. Its value also depends on condition. If it’s in great shape, you might get $100 or more for it.

Terry Kovel’s column is syndicated by King Features. Write to: Kovels, (Las Vegas Review-Journal), King Features Syndicate, 300 W. 57th St., New York, NY 10019.

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