Antique napkin rings are used today as part of the new "green" movement. The cloth napkin used at dinner, if almost clean, can be carefully folded, rolled up and saved in the napkin ring. It saves soap, water and the energy needed to launder it after each meal.
The idea is not new. It probably started in 19th-century France. Plain wood, porcelain or metal rings were used in the 1800s, but the figural napkin ring was the height of fashion from 1869 to about 1900.
At first, porcelain rings were decorated with colored glazes or the silver was engraved with a name or design. But technology made it possible to plate a pewter-like metal and make an inexpensive napkin ring that looked like expensive sterling silver examples.
Today, it is the silver-plated figural ring that attracts the collector and the high prices. Hundreds of designs were made by silver-plate manufacturers in America. They are like small sculptures.
Realistic figures of people, animals, birds, plants or mythological and literary characters often in scenes with familiar objects held the rings. Kate Greenaway-type boys and girls are among the favorites. Sometimes a horse or donkey was designed to pull the napkin ring in a cart. Some figural rings also included a bud vase to hold flowers or even a bell to ring for a servant.
A recent auction featured a Kate Greenaway-type boy sitting in a chair and reading a book. To add to the value, there also was a girl standing behind the chair. And another price plus was a maker's mark for Simpson, Hall, Miller & Co. It was no surprise when the auction price was $889.
Be careful if you want to buy figural rings. Many copies have been made in recent years.
Q: I have five figurines that are at least 50 years old and have paper labels that read "Josef Original California." Do they have any value or are they just plaster?
A: Josef Originals was started by Muriel Joseph Georges, who began designing and making ceramic figurines in the basement of her home in California in 1945. When Muriel ordered labels for her figurines they came back with "Joseph" misspelled as "Josef," and that became part of the company name. Production moved to Japan in 1962. The company was sold in 1982. The new owner continued to make Josef Originals figurines designed by Muriel until 1985, when the company was sold again. The figurines are no longer being made. Those made in California are worth more than the later ones made in Japan. The value of your figurines is $15 to $55.
Tin trolley toy
Q: I found some old tin toys in my grandmother's attic. There is a trolley that reads "City Passenger Car" on the side. It's pulled by two tin horses that need some repair. I always asked to see it when I was a child, and "see" was all that was allowed! Are these worth anything?
A: Old tin toys sell for high prices. A horse-drawn City Passenger Car trolley attributed to Hull and Stafford, a Connecticut company in business from the 1860s to the 1880s, sold at auction recently for more than $3,000. Your trolley will be worth less because it needs repair, but can still sell for several hundred dollars or more. If you plan to sell, contact one of the major auction houses that specialize in toys or a local store that sells old toys and other antiques.
Q: I'd like to sell our Hall Type Writer. It's in a wooden case and has a plate that reads "Manufactured for National Typewriter Co." and serial number 8648. It doesn't have the traditional typewriter letter keys. What is it worth?
A: You have an index typewriter. The letters are selected from the index on the front of the machine and a stylus is used to push through the hole to print the letters. The first index typewriter was invented by Thomas Hall of New York, in 1881. Hall moved his company to Salem, Mass., in 1887, and to Boston in 1889. Your typewriter is the Boston model, made by the National Typewriter Co. in Boston from 1889 to the 1890s. The Boston model was the last of the Hall typewriters. Hall typewriters have sold for $500 to $1,500. The oldest Hall typewriters sell for the most money.
Q: I have my grandmother's plate marked with initials "T.V." inside a bell and "France" underneath it. Who made it and how old is it? I want to tell my daughter the plate's history.
A: This mark was used by Tressemanes & Vogt of Limoges, France, from 1891 to 1907. Gustave Vogt and Emilien Tressemanes started the company in 1883. It was bought by Reynaud in 1919.
George Zee cabinet
Q: I have a George Zee cabinet that's missing the metal tag on the back. Does this affect the value? What do you think it's worth?
A: George Zee & Co. was in business in Hong Kong from the 1960s until 1997. The company used different metal tags to label its furniture. One of the tags lists the company as "Kiln Dried Art Carved Manufacturers." The company made heavily carved teak and camphor wood furniture. Later, furniture made by other manufacturers was sold under the George Zee name. A George Zee heavily carved cocktail cabinet with lift top sold at auction for $500 a few months ago. Other cabinets have sold for only about $100. The quality and intricacy of the carving affect the price but an original metal name tag would give extra provenance and add to value.
Tiffany tea infuser
Q: I have a tea infuser marked on the edge "Tiffany and Co 20085 Makers 25884 Sterling B25 1008 7K." What is it worth?
A: Tiffany & Co. tea infusers sell for about $100. The company started in 1837 when Charles Lewis Tiffany and John B. Young opened a "stationery and fancy goods" store. The company began making silver hollowware in 1851 and was the first American company to adopt the British silver standard, 0.925 parts of silver out of 1,000 parts. It became famous for its silver hollowware and flatware and also for jewelry. When Charles Lewis Tiffany died in 1902, his son Louis Comfort Tiffany became the company's first art director. He started his own business and made stained glass, lamps and many types of art glass.
Tip: Consider the signature on glass before buying. Acid etched marks can be added. So can signatures. Be sure the mark seems appropriate.
Terry and Kim Kovel will answer as many letters from readers as possible through the column only. For return of a photograph, include a self-addressed, stamped (55 cents) envelope. Write to: The Kovels, c/o King Features Syndicate, 300 W. 57th St., New York, NY 10019. The website is kovels.com.
Prices are from shows nationwide.
Basket, Quinault Indian, basket, coiled, red and green design, flared bottom, about 1950, 11 inches, $70.
Riviera pottery, butter, cover, cobalt blue, 1/2 pound, $130.
Beatles, bracelet, celluloid portraits, metal, about 1965, 6 inches, $140.
Cradle, Chippendale, oak, hooded, raised panels, finial post, about 1790, 31 by 38 inches, $230.
Barometer, stick, thermometer, Georgian, burlwood, silver dial, narrow throat, Scotland, 1800s, 36 inches, $590.
Stoneware churn, white glaze, cobalt-blue banding, Globe Pottery, Crooksville, Ohio, 1902, 20 inches, $960.
Advertising sign, Red Crown Gas, center crown, porcelain, paddle shape, two-sided, 14 by 17 inches, $1,140.
Silver tea kettle, stand, sterling, repoussé scroll, flowers, bird mask spout, 1855, 17 inches, $2,204.
Bohemian glass vase, slender trumpet shape, ruby color, scroll, scallop foot, about 1900, 22 inches, pair, $4,750.
Shirley Temple costume, Captain January, sailor pants, middy blouse, anchor, eagle, zipper, black tie, white poplin, 1936, $9,520.