Last year a poster titled “Houdini, Europe: Eclipsing Sensation,” showing Houdini in hand restraints, sold for a record $78,000. It was one of many magic items recently bought by collectors. There is renewed interested in anything related to a magician or a magic show, including trick locks, cards, handcuffs, scarves, top hats, photographs of magicians, books about magic and larger props like the box used when sawing a woman in half.
A rare magic item is the magician’s table. It is built with hidden compartments, sliding shelves, boxes and other special devices that help with the tricks. Red Baron’s Antiques auctioned a unique magician’s table this past fall. The front is red and decorated with a rabbit in a hat and playing cards. It’s a conversation piece that sold to a collector or perhaps to an amateur magician.
If you ever find some old magic tricks or props, especially any that were used by a known magician, take the time to research the value. It is determined by the fame of the owner and the rarity of the piece. Long ago we were offered a magician’s desk that would tumble into a pile of wood when the proper knob was turned. We lived in an apartment and needed storage space, not an ornament. We still regret not buying it.
Q: I own an embossed picture of a little boy wearing a big hat and holding a bag of golf clubs. The picture is 8 inches by 10 inches and is titled “Mother’s Caddie.” To the right of the boy’s feet are the words, “copyright 1905 by Woodward & Tiernan Printing Co., St. Louis.” The back of the picture reads, “Mothers Oats are the Oats for Me” and “Compliments of Mothers Oats, Akron, Ohio.” Can you tell me about the picture?
A: Your picture was a premium for Mothers Oats (or Mother’s Oats), a brand owned by the Great Western Cereal Co. of Akron from 1901 until 1911. Quaker Oats bought Great Western in 1911 and continues to sell some products under the Mother’s brand name.
Woodward & Tiernan was a lithography company in business from 1882 to 1928. Quaker Oats was one of the first cereal companies to become interested in product premiums — both prizes packed in cereal boxes and premiums like your picture, which were mailed to people who sent in cereal box tops or coupons. It is considered an advertising collectible by buyers, so the price is about $150, more than the value of a nonadvertising picture.
Q: I have a flat silver box with a hinged lid that looks like a calling card case but is too small to hold cards. It could fit in a pocket. On the outside of the box is a fancy raised design and some colored enameling. It has a blurred mark that seems to be “SM & Co.” Any suggestions?
A: You probably have a match safe. In England it’s called a vesta.
Early matches were not safety matches and they could combust at any time, even in a pocket. So smokers carried stick matches in a small container with a lid, shaped to fit in a pocket.
Sampson Mordan & Co. was a silver company in London in the 19th century when this type of match safe was popular. The company closed in 1941.
Q: I am looking for information on the R.J. Horner Furniture Co. I inherited several pieces of bedroom furniture labeled with that name. The label reads, “R.J. Horner & Co., Furniture Makers, 61-63-65 West 23d St., N.Y.” Can the furniture be dated by the label?
A: Your bedroom furniture was made between 1886 and about 1914. Robert J. Horner opened a furniture shop on West 23rd Street in New York City in 1886. At first the store sold furniture it manufactured itself, but later it also sold imported furniture. In 1914 or ’15, R.J. Horner merged with another furniture company owned by George C. Flint. The new firm was called Flint & Horner. It grew into a large retail store.
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.