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Serious fans seek unusual silver pieces

Saturday, August 27, 2005

For centuries, smooth, polished silver was the metal favored for luxurious serving pieces. That changed by the mid-1870s, when Art Nouveau and Arts and Crafts metalsmiths, searching for a new look, began to make unusual and expensive pieces with a hammered surface that left marks, indicating that the piece was hand-wrought. The important Gorham Co. of Providence, R.I., made many hammered pieces as well as conventional silver pieces in older styles. Often the bowls had added 3-D raised decorations of silver, bronze or copper. Gilt was added to the interior, handles and decorations. Japanese designs inspired many of the pieces. By the 1880s, Gorham was producing a line of handmade copper pieces finished with a reddish-brown, natural copper color. Some silver decorations were added to the outside. By the 1890s, a new handmade line called Martel & eacute; became popular. Martel & eacute; was made of high-grade silver, and its designs were decidedly Art Nouveau, with twisting vines, leaves and other flowing shapes. Collectors ignored all of these Gorham pieces when Art Deco designs became popular in the 1920s. It was not until the 1980s that the unusual pieces were again noticed by serious collectors - and prices began to rise.
Q. My family has owned an antique oak library table for many years. The mark on the bottom of one of its two drawers is "Louis F. Nonnast, Chicago, Ill." Can you tell us anything about the maker?
A. Louis Frederick Nonnast immigrated to Chicago from Germany in 1865, when he was 17 years old. By 1878 he was making tables and hall stands in a Chicago factory that he shared with several other cabinetmakers. He had his own factory by 1889, and by the turn of the century the factory employed 150 people. Nonnast produced tables of all kinds, from library tables to dining-room extension tables. The company became Louis F. Nonnast & amp; Sons in 1914. So, your table was made between 1899 and 1914.
Q. I bought an Art Nouveau pottery pitcher at a church sale a few years ago. The 9-inch pitcher is glazed iridescent dark purple and red with stemmed flower buds in relief. The handle is a big, stylized stem ending in two large leaves that form the top of the pitcher and its spout. The pitcher has no imperfections. The mark is a circle enclosing a building with five steeples and the words "Zsolnay" and "Pecs." What can you tell me?
A. Vilmos Zsolnay founded his pottery in Pecs, Hungary, in 1853. It is still in operation. The Zsolnay factory used the five-tower mark starting about 1878. The towers symbolize the five medieval churches in Pecs. During the 1890s, Zsolnay moved away from traditional Hungarian designs and began producing pieces in the Art Nouveau style. These are the most popular with today's collectors. Your pitcher could sell for more than $500.
Q. My great-aunt gave me a Felix the Cat toy that belonged to her son, who was killed when his plane was shot down in World War II. He died long before I was born. The toy is an 8-inch black-and-white wooden figure of Felix with his name written in white capital letters across his chest. Thick strands of elastic connect the doll's pear-shaped body to his head and to his jointed arms, legs and tail. His ears are leather, but one of them has worn off. I have treasured this toy for decades, and it's priceless to me, but I wonder what it's worth.
A. Check the bottom of Felix's right foot. If it's marked "Felix, copyright 1922-1924 by Pat Sullivan," it's a 1920s Schoenhut toy. Sullivan owned the animation studio that introduced Felix to movie audiences in 1919. Sullivan's head animator, Otto Messmer, created Felix. Sullivan licensed the character, and many early merchandised items were produced. A. Schoenhut & amp; Co., founded in Philadelphia in 1872, made toy pianos and manufactured wooden dolls and toys from 1911 until 1930. In mint condition, an 8-inch Schoenhut Felix sells for close to $500. Your figure with a missing ear could still sell for more than $100.
Q. I have a 13-inch Butterick Junior Miss mannequin and the dress pattern that came with the doll. The set is in its original box. I received it for Christmas sometime in the 1940s. It cost 98 cents at the time. What is it worth today?
A. Educational Crafts, a New York City company, made your Butterick set in 1944. McCall and Simplicity also sold miniature mannequins in children's sewing kits during the 1940s. Girls were encouraged, especially during wartime, to learn how to sew clothing from scraps of fabric. If you have the complete Butterick boxed set, including mannequin, base, booklet, fabric and pattern, it could sell for more than $200. In 1953, the Ideal Toy Co. made another mannequin sewing set for Butterick.
If you patch a teddy bear with fabric that's similar to its original fabric, the value will remain the same. "Loved-condition" teddy bears sell for good prices.
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