Laws govern buying, selling some antique jewelry

Published Sunday, November 14, 1999

Some types of antique jewelry will probably never be made again. The endangered species laws of 1988 have made some ivory, coral and tortoiseshell pieces unlawful and unpopular. Reef coral and deep-sea coral are now protected by law, but a small amount is still available from special sources. In the United States, ivory from Asian elephants is protected, but some African elephant ivory can still be sold, and fossil mammoth ivory found in Alaska is legally sold. Tortoiseshell from the hawksbill sea turtle and six other turtle species is also protected by law. Pieces with old tortoiseshell inlay may still be illegal to sell.

It is legal to buy or sell any jewelry that is more than 100 years old and that has not been altered or repaired with modern materials. Treat your old jewelry with care. Remember that there are laws against buying or selling some ivory, coral or tortoiseshell jewelry that is less than 100 years old.

Q: At a shop in New York, I saw a small table that appeared to be made of tree branches and a piece of a tree trunk. It was actually made of concrete that was carved to look like a tree. The price tag was $1,500. The shop owner told me that the table was over 100 years old. Could it be that old?

A: Garden furniture made from molded or hand-modeled concrete or pottery, carved to look like tree branches, was probably first made about 1880 in Italy. The style is sometimes called "faux bois" (meaning "false wood"). Pieces were one-of-a-kind and were often done by workmen after their regular hours. In the Midwest, sewer pipe was often reworked into tree-trunk vases or furniture.


Q: What is a skating lantern?

A: A "skating lantern" is a type of oil lamp with a bail handle at the top. The lantern could be carried or attached to a belt or clothing. Some skating lanterns had glass globes, and some had metal covers with holes. The lamps date from the late 1800s and early 1900s.


Q: Can you tell me anything about the history of spittoons? Was there an inventor? When were they first made? Were they made in several styles? Why are they not used today?

A: European explorers of the late-15th and 16th centuries learned about tobacco from inhabitants of the Western Hemisphere. Most American Indians smoked tobacco using pipes, and that was the method Europeans first tried. By the 18th century, many Europeans were using snuff, but Americans disliked that form of tobacco. Tobacco chewing was popular with some Indian tribes, and by the early 1800s, many Americans were trying it. Spittoons were invented by someone unknown -- probably a late-18th-century metalworker or potter from either America or England. They were eventually made across the United States and could be found in homes and public buildings. One kind of spittoon has a high, open, funnel-shaped top (some collectors call this a cuspidor). Others have concave tops. The popularity of mass-produced cigarettes by 1900 led to the decline of chewing tobacco and spittoons. However, spittoons are still being made.


Q: I hear that people are collecting the metal lunch boxes we used to take to school. What is my Super Heroes lunch box worth? I also have its original Thermos. Both are marked "1976 Marvel Comics."

A: The most valuable children's metal lunch boxes date from the 1950s and early '60s. They picture early TV characters, like Hopalong Cassidy or Howdy Doody. Your box, from the 1970s, is valued at about $50. The matching thermos is worth about $25. The first lithographed metal children's lunch boxes were made by Aladdin Industries in 1950. By 1988, metal boxes were no longer being produced. Recently, reproductions have appeared.


Q: I read a new book about plastic toys that says the Rubik's Cube was introduced in the 1960s. I remember buying a Rubik's Cube when it first became available, sometime in the early '80s. Was it already 20 years old then?

A: Erno Rubik, a lecturer on interior design at the Academy of Applied Arts and Crafts in Budapest, Hungary, created the first working prototype of his classic toy cube puzzle in 1974. The same year, Rubik drafted a patent application for his toy. It was three years before the toy was mass-produced by a Hungarian manufacturer. And it was another three years before it was introduced at toy fairs in London, Paris, Nuremberg and New York City. By the spring of 1980, Rubik's Cubes were being marketed in the United States by the Ideal Toy Corp.

Tip: Do not put an alabaster figure or vase outside. It is softer than marble and will eventually fall apart if exposed to rain.


Current prices are recorded from antique shows, flea markets, sales and auctions throughout the United States. Prices vary in different locations because of local economic conditions.

Bozo the Clown frame tray puzzle, Bozo training lion at circus, 1965, copyright Whitman No. 4516, 11 1/2 x 14 1/2 inches, $10.

Action bank, "Welcome Back Kotter," Barbarino and Horshack, windup, by Fleetwood, 1975, $55.

Hall teapot, Nautilus, yellow and gold, $75.

Silk handkerchief of 39-star U.S. flag, in a Department of State USA official business envelope postmarked June 3, 1890, silk-screened, 19 1/4 x 18 3/4 inches, $105.

Redware Turk's head food mold, swirled design, brown glaze on orange ground, labeled "John W. Bell, Waynesboro, PA.," 8 x 4 inches, $495.

Victor Talking Machine Co. crank Victrola, VV-IV-271195E, labeled with gold transfer, "Sold by Julius & March/York, Pa.," $120

Pilsener Brewing, Cleveland, Ohio, lighted beer sign, "P.O.C., Pilsener Beer," plastic, 1950s, 11 1/2 x 9 inches, $175.

Kestner German bisque doll, Hilda, domed bisque socket head, painted blond baby hair, brown sleep eyes, open mouth, 1914, 14 inches, $2,600.

Tea table, tilt-top, Santo Domingo mahogany, 2-board top, turned column, tripod base with carved knees and ball-and-claw feet, attributed to Newport, R.I., 27 1/2 x 33 1/2 inches, $8,250.


(EDITOR'S NOTE: Ralph and Terry Kovel of Cleveland are experts on antiques and collectibles. The Kovels welcome letters and answer as many as possible through the column. By sending a letter, you give full permission for its use in the column or any other Kovel forum. The volume of mail makes personal answers or appraisals impossible. The Kovels cannot guarantee return of any photograph. For more information, include a self-addressed, stamped (55 cents) envelope, and the Kovels will send you a listing of helpful books and publications. Write to Kovels, Log Cabin Democrat, King Features Syndicate, 235 E. 45th St., New York, N.Y. 10017.)

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