Ultimate fans relish toy versions of favorite TV heroes

Toys based on popular television heroes sell well, but often a number of years after the TV show has aired the meaning of the toy has been forgotten. At a Morphy auction in December, a Japanese tin wind-up Superhero Ultraman toy with the original box sold for $500. The 9-inch toy was made by Bullmark of Japan. It has a vinyl head with tin arms and body. Like the TV hero, Ultraman is red and silver with bright green eyes.

Ultraman is a Japanese live-action science-fiction character first seen in a 28-part Japanese TV series in 1966. Ultraman regularly saves the Earth while using his “spacium beam” fired from his crossed arms and many of his other rays and powers. He is 130 feet tall and weighs 35,000 tons but can stay in the Earth’s atmosphere for only three minutes. He battles assorted monsters trying to destroy the Earth.

More than 5,000 different Ultraman products have been licensed. The show was created by Eiji Tsuburaya, who also worked on the Godzilla projects in 1954. Fans in Japan and the United States can tell you every monster, every character and every type of fight in “Ultraman” shows. And they search for all sorts of memorabilia, just like “Star Trek” fans.

There are now at least 16 Ultraman series, plus 19 movies. The show seems destined to continue with new series, so Ultraman collectibles should be more in demand each year.

Q: I collect soap wrappers, the paper wrapped around bars of soap. I have hundreds of different ones, including many in the small sizes found in hotels. Do you know when the first wrapped soap was sold? I have some going back to 1914.

A: Soap was made in large blocks in the 18th century. The storekeeper cut off a lump for a customer. In about 1830, someone decided to make 1-pound blocks and wrap them so there was a convenient supply of soap available at the store for each customer. Soon other manufacturers copied the idea and some printed their name on the wrappers.

Proctor & Gamble soaps like Ivory, Babbitt’s soaps, Pears soap and Fairy soap are among the early, well-advertised bar soaps.

Q: I have a bottle that probably had a cork stopper. On the bottom are the embossed words, “Federal law prohibits the resale or reuse of this bottle.” The bottom is inverted approximately 2 inches into itself, so it held less liquid than a bottle with a flat bottom. What could it have held?

A: In 1933 Prohibition was repealed and it was again legal to sell bottled alcoholic beverages. The law also required wording prohibiting reuse of the bottle to be sure that only the original, approved contents were inside. This protected the health of users and also made sure all required taxes were paid.

The indent in the bottom of the bottle is called a “push-up” or “kick-up.” It was created to help strengthen the glass base of the bottle.

Q: I have a roll-top desk that belonged to my grandfather. It is marked “Cutler & Son, Buffalo, N.Y.” Can you tell me anything about the maker?

A: Abner Cutler worked as a cabinetmaker in Buffalo beginning in the late 1820s. By the 1850s, he was working on improvements to the roll-top desk and was granted seven patents related to the rolling top’s mechanism.

Cutler’s company was known as Cutler & Son by the 1870s and displayed some desks at the 1876 Philadelphia Centennial Exhibition. By the early 1900s, the firm’s name had changed to the Cutler Desk Co. It was sold in 1930 to the Sikes Chair Co., also of Buffalo.

A 19th-century Cutler roll-top desk can be valuable. We have seen them sell for up to $4,000.

Q: I have an old match holder with a striker. On the bottom in a circle is the word “Deponirt.” I have heard it was a licensing method used in Europe up to 1849. Can you give me some good information?

A: “Deponirt” is a German word used in the same way as the word “depose” in French or “eneret” in Danish. It is similar to our words “patent” or “registered design” and is sometimes abbreviated “dep.”

Your match holder with a striker could not date back to 1849. Early matches were made with phosphorus and could ignite unexpectedly, so were carried in a closed metal match safe. Match holders were used for later types of matches and were not in general use until the end of the 1890s.

Q: I have a pitcher that is signed “Anna Van Briggle” but not with the double A’s usually found on Van Briggle pottery. Any suggestions?

A: Anne Van Briggle was Artus Van Briggle’s wife and worked with him at the Van Briggle Pottery from 1902 until his death in 1904. She continued to work at the pottery until 1912. In 1955, the firm came out with a new line of pottery with a glossy glaze and named it “Anna Van Briggle.” The line was made until 1968.

Q: I am hoping you can tell me who made my antique vase. It’s marked “JM Austria.”

A: Your vase probably was made at the Johann Maresch pottery company or its successor, the Ferdinand Maresch factory. Both firms used the JM mark.

The factory operated in Aussig, Bohemia (now Usti nad Labem, Czech Republic), from 1841 until the 1940s. Aussig was in Austria-Hungary until the end of World War I, when the borders moved and Czechoslovakia was created. So your vase was made well before 1920.

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.

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