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Value of collectible depends on emotion, too

A 1950s battery-operated tin toy sold recently for $390. It wasn’t working, was missing parts and wasn’t marked with a maker’s name. But it was colorful and attractive, and when working it showed a baseball player swinging a bat.

Bidders knew it was in poor condition, but it had original paint and parts. It represented the “great American game,” and those who like baseball liked the toy. It was a good size — 4 by 6 by 7 inches — to display on a shelf. The pictures on the side of the toy showed more ballplayers in bright colors. It was even marked “Champion All Stars,” and the player was wearing a Giants uniform.

A nostalgic fan who went to the 1961 All-Star game in San Francisco hosted by the Giants might have wanted the toy. If it had been working, made by an important maker and had all its parts, it could have sold for $800 even if it was less than 60 years old. If it had been a perfect tin toy showing a man drinking, it might have sold for less than $100. Value depends on emotion and supply as well as condition and age. If no one wants your old, pristine toy, it won’t sell.

Q: A car commercial recently mentioned that the first bathtub in the White House was installed for President Millard Fillmore (1850-1853). I thought that was a myth. When was a bathtub put in the White House?

A: The President Fillmore tub tale is a fiction created by journalist H.L. Mencken in 1917. It was copied in all sorts of reference books and newspapers, and it still fools people today.

The most accurate information seems to be that President Andrew Jackson had a tub installed in 1831 that used water pumped by hand through iron pipes. Tubs were installed later in other rooms, but it was not until 1902, during the administration of Theodore Roosevelt, that modern plumbing was available in most of the White House.

Indoor plumbing and bathtubs were not used in most homes until the 1920s.

Q: My mother enjoyed refinishing antique furniture. For our wedding in 1951, she gave us a commode marked “Chittenden & Eastman, Manufacturers of Furniture, Burlington, Iowa.” What can you tell us about the commode’s age and maker?

A: Chittenden & Eastman’s history goes back to 1866, but the Burlington company did not start manufacturing furniture until about 1890. In the 1920s, the company made a lot of reproduction furniture — furniture in early-American styles.

A commode is a cabinet designed to hold a wash basin and water pitcher on the top and a chamber pot behind the cabinet door. It’s not a furniture form commonly made from the 1920s on, so your commode might date from as early as the 1890s.

Chittenden & Eastman eventually became Eastman House and concentrated on making mattresses.

Q: I am painting the utility room where I do laundry. I want to decorate with old laundry-related things like irons and signs. Any suggestions?

A: Many old laundry items are unfamiliar today. Ceramic sprinkler bottles, used to dampen clothes before ironing, come in many figural shapes. Most common is a Chinese man because in the early 1900s most commercial laundries were run by Chinese.

Hundreds of types of irons can be found. Oldest are the wooden “smoothing boards,” flat paddles that were rubbed over sheets. Many are examples of folk art, with painted decorations that include flowers, initials and a date.

Iron trivets were made that attached to early irons. These look good hanging on a wall. Large items include old wooden washtubs with wringers that took the water out of wet clothes, copper tubs used to boil clothes and flat wooden stretchers shaped to hold knee-high socks.

Small collectibles include clothespins, found in many shapes, and bluing paddles. Signs, boxes and other advertising pieces also are interesting.

Tip: Protect the finish on your furniture. Put felt pads on the bottoms of lamps and other ornaments on tabletops. If you like vases of fresh flowers, buy custom-cut pieces of glass to protect the tops of tables and chests.

Ralph and Terry Kovel’s column is syndicated by King Features. Write to: Kovels, (Las Vegas Review-Journal and Sun), King Features Syndicate, 888 Seventh Ave., New York, NY 10019.

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