An army travels on its stomach, according to the old saying, and Napoleon knew it. He offered a prize to the first person who developed a new method of preserving food. Nicholas Appert won the prize, 12,000 francs, in 1809 when he submitted his method of “food in glass bottles.”
The idea spread, and by the 1860s, canning in tin cans was a booming business. Housewives couldn’t make tin cans, but they could preserve food in glass jars. And many did until after the 1940s, when frozen foods and home freezers were available. It was easier to freeze extra corn from the garden than to seal it in glass jars.
But until then, canning jars (also called fruit jars) were so important that starting in the 1860s, there were hundreds of patented improvements in the shape of the jars and with their seals and closures. Since embossed lettering is found on most jars, it is possible to learn the maker and age of most canning jars.
Q: I paid $180 for a mahogany chair at a tag sale. A carved semihuman face is on the chair’s back. The label on the bottom reads, “Stomps Burkhardt Co., Chairs of Quality, Ohio.” What can you tell me about the maker?
A: Chairs with carved faces like the one on your chair back are now called “North Wind” chairs. Collectors have decided the face depicts the god of the North Wind.
The Stomps Burkhardt Co. of Dayton, Ohio, was in business from 1890 to 1928. But the company’s history dates back to 1859, when Gustave Stomps (1827-1890), a German immigrant, founded the furniture company in Dayton.
Q: My family has owned a short, fancy, sterling-silver candlestick for generations. The bottom of the candlestick, 53/4 inches in diameter, is marked “Sterling, Geo. C. Shreve & Co.” We’re interested in learning its history and value.
A: Half-brothers George C. and Samuel Shreve founded a jewelry business in San Francisco in 1852. Another brother, Benjamin Shreve, was a partner in the famous Boston jewelry company, Shreve, Crump & Low.
The San Francisco business became Geo. C. Shreve & Co. after Samuel died in the late 1850s. It remained a retail store until 1881, when George Shreve opened a jewelry-making factory. Two years later, he also took up silversmithing. After George died in 1893, the business was renamed Shreve & Co. So your candlestick’s mark dates it between 1883 and 1893. It could be worth $500 to $1,000.
Q: I have a painted bisque nodder just under 4 inches tall. It’s a man wearing a white derby hat and shirt, a red vest, and blue pants and jacket. He’s smoking a pipe and his head bobs when you pull a string in his back. He’s marked, “Moon Mullins, Germany.” What can you tell me?
A: “Moon Mullins” was the title of a newspaper comic strip introduced in the Chicago Tribune in 1923. Moon Mullins also was the name of one of the strip’s main characters. The strip was created by Frank Willard, who died in 1958, but the strip continued with different artists until 1991.
Your nodder dates from the 1930s and was one of several Moon Mullins toys and novelties made during that decade. It’s worth about $75.
Q: We own an old china ashtray, 5 inches square, with angled and indented corners where cigarettes can rest. There’s a colored painting in the middle showing three men at a card table waiting for a fourth, whose empty chair is at one side of the table. Words on the top and bottom edges of the ashtray say, “The Pedro Play” and “Where is the fourth man?” The whole thing is a mystery to me. Help.
A: If you hold the ashtray up to a bright light, you’ll see the fourth man sitting in the “empty” chair. Your ashtray has a lithophane bottom. A lithophane is a picture made by casting clay in layers of various thicknesses. A picture of light and shadow shows up when you hold a lithophane up to light.
Lithophanes were most often used as panels for lampshades, but they can be found at the bottom of teacups and coffee cups, too.
Your ashtray probably was made about a century ago. We have seen one like it sell for just over $50.
Q: Please comment on the meaning of the word “vintage” when it’s used by a dealer to describe items. I find many of the items are fairly new.
A: There’s no rule about the meaning of “vintage.” Many dealers and collectors customarily use “antique” to describe something 100 years old or more. “Collectibles” are about 25 to 100 years old. “Vintage” is a catchall word that means “not brand-new.”
Sellers often describe an item as “vintage” if they don’t know how old the item is but figure it was made at least a decade ago.
Tip: Don’t hang valuable old clothing on hangers. This puts a strain on the shoulders. Store clothing flat or folded on a shelf.
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.