From a popular design to commonplace

Sometimes a designer becomes very popular with a new design, sells his products, becomes wealthy and then his designs become commonplace, and he eventually goes bankrupt.

That is the sad story of Warren McArthur, a talented designer of the 1930s who was among the first to make aluminum furniture. McArthur (1885-1961) was born in Chicago and grew up in a house designed by Frank Lloyd Wright. He went to Cornell to study mechanical engineering, and by 1914, he had filed for 10 patents for lamp designs. He moved to Phoenix and, with his brother, owned car dealerships, a radio station and built the Arizona Biltmore. He also patented a useful adapter for a car radiator. All were successful.

In 1929, he moved to Los Angeles and started a metal furniture business. He improved the manufacturing process with his inventions, including an aluminum that didn’t tarnish and a way to permanently color the metal. The brightly colored metal furniture was popular in Hollywood, and was featured in movie theaters and stars’ homes. During the Depression in the 1930s, McArthur moved to New York City, and he moved to Connecticut two years later. His company made airplane seats during World War II, but went bankrupt in 1948. McArthur died in 1961.

Q: I have a 22-piece chocolate set in excellent condition. It’s marked with an “R,” “Bavaria, Germany” and “warranted 18 carat gold.” Each plate has a 1-inch border of gold, the cups are gold and the pitcher with lid is gold. Does the gold trim make it very valuable?

A: The gold trim does not mean it’s very valuable. The words “18 carat gold” indicate the alloy used for the gold trim is 75 percent gold, but there is very little gold used on the porcelain. A chocolate set should have a pot, creamer, sugar, six small plates and six cups and saucers. It would sell for less than $50.

Q: Is an empty Chicken Cock Bourbon whiskey bottle of any value? It has a red metal screw lid, front and back labels and an Indiana tax label. The bottle is embossed with chickens and the name. Its condition is good.

A: Chicken Cock Whiskey originally was distilled in 1856 in Paris, Ky. It became a popular brand in the late 1800s. During prohibition, Chicken Cock had to move its production to Canada. It was smuggled into the U.S. inside tin cans that were opened with a key. Chicken Cock was a popular whiskey in Prohibition-era speakeasies like the Cotton Club in New York City. Jazz great Duke Ellington wrote about Chicken Cock in his memoirs, referring to it as the “brand that was served in a tin can.” After Prohibition, the brand was trademarked by American Medicinal Spirits Company, but in the 1950s, a fire in the distillery meant the end of production. A few years ago, the brand was revived, and Chicken Cock-blended whiskies are now being made in Charleston, S.C., and sold in metal cans. Your Chicken Cock pint flask is worth about $20.

Q: I have heard that some antiques and vintage items are dangerous to own. Is this true? I am afraid to use my orange Fiesta dishes because friends say they were made with uranium and are radioactive.

A: Yes, some antique medicines, cosmetics and other objects can be dangerous or even fatal. Most vintage or antique things you buy at shops or shows have been cleaned or checked for dangerous things. Some are mercury (barometers), flammable materials (stove polish that explodes when heated), arsenic (cleanser for complexion), opium (medicine to relieve pain), morphine (to sooth teething babies), alcohol (a high percentage in bitters, medicines, etc.) and, of course, anything in a bumpy poison bottle or a bottle labeled poison. Uranium was used in the clay or glaze of some items before the strict food and drug laws were passed in the U.S., but some countries still use glazes that are not safe. Your orange dishes are safe to use. If you find forgotten drugstore stock, clean it carefully in a well-ventilated area. Empty all medicine bottles; children may try to drink something.


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

— Biscuit tin, embossed with blueberries and leaves, square canister, serpentine corners, beaded border, hinged lid, c. 1905, 7 x 7 inches, $25.

— Chintz pottery, cheese keeper, ivory with flower clusters & gilt trim, scalloped dish, dome lid with ball finial, Erphila, 4 x 7 inches, $50.

— Mechanical bank, Uncle Sam standing on platform, eagle, lever lowers arm and drops coin into bag, cast iron, paint, c. 1910, $175.

— Strawberry serving set, sugar and creamer, oval tray with inset holders for jugs, strawberry leaf design, G. Jones, c. 1880, 14 inches, $360.

— Lap guitar, steel, wood with inlaid mother of pearl dots, 29 frets, tube amplifier and speaker, case, Kay, 33 x 10 inches, $635.

— Trinket box, round, faux tortoiseshell, copper lid with embossed scene of the Siege De La Bastille, 2 x 3 inches, $870.

— Ice cream parlor chair, bentwood with stenciled seat, double loop open back, splay legs, Kohn-Mundus, late 1800s, 34 inches, $1,005.

— WWI poster, recruitment, Montreal Canada, Kitchener’s army, “Are you one of Kitchener’s own?”, frame, 1918, 28 x 42 inches, $2,740.

— Corner cabinet, carved walnut, seated court jesters, arched glass panel door, shelf, spindle gallery crest and finials, 1800s, 106 x 55 inches, $4,850.