The oddest antiques are sometimes the most fun

There doesn’t seem to be any type of antique that isn’t sold at auctions, flea markets or shops. We were surprised years ago at a flea market when a dealer was offering a wooden artificial leg. It was sold an hour after we saw it. He said it went to a woman who wanted to make a statue, and she had wondered if he had any more.

We have seen many sets of false eyes sold, samples of what surgeons would use to replace a missing eye. And bottles of cures too strange to describe. This is a 19th-century optician’s eye test chart made of black painted wood from Andrew Spindler Antiques & Design, a shop in Essex, Mass.

It has a metal lamp visor and a linen scroll with letters of different sizes. It was purchased at an antiques show in New York City about 18 years ago for about $1,800. It has since been rewired and the scroll restored, and it was priced at $2,200. Keep your eyes open at antiques shops, and you may find another eye test chart. It will certainly be a rare antique. Wonder what the prescribed glasses looked like? Lots of collectors can show you their favorite odd antique. Sometimes those are the most fun.

Q. I have my mother’s autograph book from when she was in high school. She recently passed away at the age of 95. In this book are the signatures of Katharine Hepburn, Johnny Weissmuller and a few other famous people. What is the value of these signatures?

A. Autographs of famous people in entertainment, sports or politics sell at auctions that specialize in autographs. Several things determine the value of an autograph, including the fame of the person signing it, rarity, condition and authenticity. Autographs in an album generally don’t sell for as much as those on a letter, important document or photograph. Look online to find auctions that sell autographs. Value of your autographs, about $25 to $50 each.

Q. I have 11 Imperial Glass Whirling Star Marigold Iridescent punch cups and have no idea how to price them. Can you help?

A. Imperial’s Whirling Star pattern in Marigold was only made in punch sets. The compete set, including the punch bowl, base and 12 cups, sells for about $300-$450. A set with the punch bowl and six cups was offered for sale for $95. Whirling Star punch cups in other colors sell for about $5 or $6. The set has been reproduced.

Q. I inherited two hanging Hummel rings, about 5 1/2 inches in diameter. One has a baby boy’s face looking to the right at a figural bee. He’s marked “Goebel, W. Germany.” The other is a baby girl with an orange bow in her hair. She’s looking left at a bee and is marked with a bee above the letter “V” over “Goebel, W. Germany.” How old are they and what is their value? Are they safe to hang in a child’s room or bathroom?

A. These are Hummel’s Ba-Bee Rings, which were first made by the W. Goebel Porcelain Factory of Oeslau (now Rodental), Germany, in 1935. The early rings are rare, but they were made for several years after that. The marks on your rings show they were made in the 1970s. The bee and letter “V” over “Goebel, W. Germany” is known as the “vee over gee” or “last bee” mark. It was used from 1972 until 1979, when the “missing bee” mark was introduced. They are safe to hang in a child’s room as long as they are out of reach so the child can’t chew on them. Value of your rings, about $30.

Q. How much is a barometer signed “J. Mangiacavalli, 1859, England” worth? It has a thermometer and hygrometer. The barometer is broken and doesn’t work.

A. Barometers measure changes in atmospheric pressure to forecast the weather. The thermometer measures the temperature, and the hygrometer measures relative humidity. Antique barometers with elaborate wooden cases and brass trim are the most desirable. If the barometer is broken and can’t be fixed, it isn’t worth anything.


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.

– Roasted peanut warmer, Ko-Pak-Ta, children, dancing, jumping, sunset, trees, 17 inches, $120.

– Automobilia, tractor seat, cast iron, American Harrow Co., c. 1880, 14 x 15 1/2 inches, $145.

– Copper, figurine, lobster, jointed limbs, hammered plates, signed, Japan, 7 1/2 inches, $550.

– Fan, silver, folding, black lacquer, figures, royal household, decoupage, 9 x 16 inches, $600.

– Indian, moccasins, Plateau, beaded, diamonds, hide, sawtooth edging, blue, red, c. 1910, 9 inches, $650.

– Model, steamboat, Robert E. Lee, miniature passengers, wood, platform, glass case, 8 1/2 x 24 inches, $1,910.

– Sailor’s valentine, seashells, flowers, triangles, oval, walnut shadowbox frame, 1900s, 16 x 19 inches, $2,640.

– Scepter, jade, phoenix, immortal, wilderness, deer, dragon, crouching, cicada, 15 inches, $6,500.

– Political button, George Washington inauguration, “Long live the president,” ringed star, brass, $7,500.

– Patent cabinet desk, compartments, drawers, pullout writing surface, postal drawers, letter drop box, carved gallery, 59 x 58 inches, $13,860.


Today's breaking news and more in your inbox

I'm interested in (please check all that apply)