Every profession has its special language and collecting is no exception.

Collectors have to learn the descriptive words used in auction catalogs and ads such as "attributed to," "mint in the box," "enhanced" or "pyro."

"Mint in the box" usually refers to a toy that was put away in the original box. So both the box and toy are in mint (perfect) condition.

"Enhanced" is a jewelry or glass term that means the quality or color of the material has been improved by radiation, heating or other methods.

"Pyro" is short for pyroglaze, used after the mid-1930s. Soda bottles often are identified with words or pictures written with this mixture.

"Attributed to" means the painting, sculpture, vase or other artwork may be the work of an artist, but is unsigned. The seller can't be positive if it was made by a famous English pottery like Minton or a designer like Christopher Dresser, but it looks like it was.

Auction catalogs have a page of definitions, explaining why captions say things are "painted by," "attributed to," "from the school of," "replaced," "restored" or "in the style of."

Another list explains the differences in ways to bid, rules of shipping and extra charges like "buyers' premiums." These terms help to avoid misunderstandings and legal problems. Read the front and back parts of catalogs or online listings before you bid, or use an auction to sell your collection.

Art deco table

Q: During the 1980s, I purchased a funky art deco style vanity table, 60 inches high by 58 inches wide. It's burled walnut, deeply curved with outswept ends and a large semicircular mirror. The bottom is tapered and sits on a sloping rectangular base. There are four short off-center drawers and one has a label that reads "Joerns Brothers, Wisconsin." It's time to part with it, so could you tell me what I could get for my hip vanity?

A: Joerns Brothers Furniture was founded in 1889 in St. Paul, Minn., by three brothers, Charles, Paul and Frederick Joerns. The company relocated to Sheboygan, Wis., in 1905. In 1927, a fire caused the company to relocate to Stevens Point, Wis. The company made elegant and elaborate bedroom sets but struggled in the 1950s. The company changed its focus and started to make college dormitory furniture and then hospital beds, cabinets and lifts, which is its specialty today. The company has been called Joerns Healthcare since 1983. Your vanity was made about 1930 and could sell for about $450 if it's in good condition.

Lincoln Logs set

Q: I have Lincoln Logs set No. 3C in the original cylindrical cardboard container with tin lid. The set originally contained 129 pieces, but a few pieces are missing. The box reads "Made by Playskool" and has two patent dates, 1,351,086 and 2,012,160. What are these patents for? What is the set worth?

A: U.S. Patent 1,351,086 was granted to architect and toy designer John Lloyd Wright of Chicago in 1920 for his design of a "toy cabin construction" set made of notched "logs." He was the son of architect Frank Lloyd Wright. The sets were sold by John Wright's company, the Red Square Co., in 1918. (A red square was a mark used by his father.) The company name later became the John Lloyd Wright Toy Co. The name "Lincoln Logs" was registered in 1923.

The other patent was granted in 1935 to James B. Forbes of Chicago and assigned to John Lloyd Wright Inc., for the invention of a method of constructing the gable ends of a peaked roof. Playskool bought John Lloyd Wright Inc. in 1943. Milton Bradley obtained the rights to Lincoln Logs in 1968 and Hasbro obtained the rights in 1984. Lincoln Logs are now sold by K'Nex. Your set was made between 1943 and 1968. The original box adds value, but the set won't sell for a lot of money because it's incomplete. Value is $50 to $75.

Lady Justice statue

Q: Our historical society has a copper repoussé statue of Lady Justice holding a sword in one hand and balance scales in the other. The statue is about 8 feet tall and is in excellent condition. It was originally installed on top of the County Courthouse in 1909. When the courthouse was torn down, the statue was preserved by the historical society. I know there are statues like this on courthouses in many parts of the country, but I haven't been able to determine their origin. What can you tell me about them?

A: Lady Justice is one of the most common statues displayed on courthouses. It's sometimes called Themis, an ancient Greek goddess. "Blind Justice," a similar figure wearing a blindfold, was made beginning in the 1700s. These statues have been made by various sculptors since early Greek and Roman times, so unless the statue has a maker's mark, it's impossible to tell who made it.

Sale strategy

Q: We're organizing personal items to assess if they can be sold on a website. The items range from a collection of Hermes scarves and Chanel and other high-end purses to antique and vintage stemware and glass items collected over a 50-year span. We don't know where to begin.

A: Look for websites and online shops that sell things similar to yours to get an idea of their value. Places that sell things also buy them. But remember, shop owners have to make money on the sale, too, so you can expect to get about half to one-third of what they can sell the items for. Things that are worth more than $500 could sell at an auction. If you consign something to an auction, be sure you know what the seller's commission is and what other costs are involved.

Posset pot

Q: What is a posset pot?

A: Posset is a hot drink that was popular in Britain from the 15th through the 19th centuries. It's also a puddinglike dessert that is made today. The drink typically included curdled milk and wine, ale and spices. That was topped with layers of spicy custard and foam. Posset pots were made of porcelain, silver or other material and have a handle and a short spout.

The top layers of the posset were eaten with a spoon and the bottom layer drunk through the spout of the pot. Posset was thought to be a cure for colds or fevers and was also drunk as a toast at weddings. It's even mentioned in Shakespeare's "Hamlet."


Q: I inherited a mid-19th-century melodeon about 50 years ago. The woman who had it knew nothing about it. The cabinet is in pristine condition and the instrument itself in perfect working condition. It's marked "B. Shoninger, New Haven, Conn." How old is it and what is it worth?

A: Bernard Shoninger founded B. Shoninger & Co. in 1850. The company made melodeons, pianos and organs. The melodeon was invented by Jeramiah Carhart in 1835. He wanted to make an instrument with a softer sound than a reed organ. His sons took over the business in 1898 and only pianos were made after that. The company went out of business in 1929 but Shoninger pianos continued to be made by National Piano Corp. of New York until the 1960s. Melodeons are hard to sell because few people play them. Prices are in the low hundreds of dollars.

Tip: A way to date a poster: Black and one other color were used on lithographed packaging in the 1890s but four-color lithography was not used until about 1930.

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 www.kovels.com.

current prices

Prices are from shows nationwide.

Ice cream maker, hand crank, steel frame, wood bucket, handles, silver paint, Ward Way, about 1913, 12-quart, 24 inches, $45.

Rattan chair, back and seat upholstered cushions, wing sides, arms, 1900s, 33 inches, $105.

Mount Joye decanter, white flower, enameled, gilt, cranberry glass, stopper, 10 by 3 1/4 inches, $240.

Sundial, Zodiac signs, Ye Are Born Under a Good Star, cast bronze, Louis F. Rogot, 1917, 12 inches, $490.

Stick barometer, thermometer, oak case, mercury, F. Westley, London, about 1820, 36 inches, $625.

Radio, Fada, Catalin, 1000 bullet, burgundy, butterscotch, Bakelite, about 1940, 14 1/2 inches, $720.

Toy, boy fishing, on cart, cast iron, bell, N.N. Hill Brass Co., 8 inches, $1,005.

Currier & Ives print, Some of the Right Sort, campers, cabin, dogs, frame, 25 by 33 inches, $1,020.

Chinese export platter, Famille Rose, passion flower, rock garden, rectangular, about 1755, 14 1/2 inches, $1,320.

Sampler, pictorial, verse, biblical, Fraternal symbols, floral border, Mary Scott, Lurenckirk, silk on linen, frame, 1835, 19 by 20 inches, $2,400.

Whirligig, policeman, blue, white paint, aluminum, wood stand, about 1920, 7 1/2 inches, $2,455.