Odd, unidentified or unusual collectibles make every antiques show and shop more fun.

How do you use a dog treadmill? Did the dealer say it was an elephant catcher? Is that strange crock really an 1850 chicken feeder? And what is the use for an oversized cardboard top hat covered in wallpaper?

Don Olson, a Rochester, N.Y., folk-art dealer, just sold an early 19th-century top hat. The 8-inch-high hat seemed a bit large to wear. It was well-made with yellow-and-green wallpaper that pictured leaves. The pattern was carefully matched. The inside was lined with newspaper, dated 1814, that reported on an auction of cannons and a nominee for governor. The hat was in excellent condition. It didn't seem to have been worn much.

Old wallpaper-covered hatboxes are valued antiques and many are in museum collections. But this is the first hat we've seen. It's 200 years old and in great condition.

Well-made unique folk art sells quickly. Look carefully at some of the strange things you might find in your ancestor's attic. There could be a valuable treasure or an important piece of forgotten history.

Radio vacuum tubes

Q: I've seen articles about the increasing value of old radios. I have a large number of old radio vacuum tubes. Is there a market for them?

A: People who repair old radios need old radio tubes. You should contact someone in your area who repairs old radios to see if they are interested in buying the tubes or search online for restorers of vintage radios.

When to refinish

Q: I have an old French country-style chair with the label "Barnard & Simonds Co., Grand Rapids, Mich." It's fruitwood with a caned back and padded seat. I'm tempted to refinish it, but I'm told that to keep value in a piece of furniture you shouldn't. Can you help me decide by telling me about the company and the value of the chair?

A: Barnard & Simonds Co. was founded in Rochester, N.Y., in 1898. The company made reproductions of American- and English country-style upholstered furniture and novelties. In 1959, it moved to Grand Rapids, Mich., where it merged with Michigan Furniture Shops and Stratford Shops. The company was bought by Baker Furniture in 1967 and the Barnard & Simonds name was discontinued by 1971. Your chair probably was made in the 1960s and is worth about $50, so have fun refinishing it.

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.

Bitters bottle, Doyle's Hop, 1872, amber, square, about 1860, 9 1/2 inches, $35.

Mantel surround, Renaissance-style, oak, carved, dolphin shape-brass handles, about 1880, 62 by 67 inches, $295.

Lalique glass hood ornament, eagle's head, frosted feathers, polished tips, signed, 4 1/2 inches, $300.

Dollhouse, three-story, Victorian, porch, painted, blue roof, Gottschalk, Germany, about 1890, 17 by 9 3/4 inches, $460.

Steuben glass, vase, acid cut back, goblet shape, footed, green geometric flowers, textured alabaster, 6 inches, $575.

Sterling-silver teapot, Art Deco, oval, footed, swan neck spout, fluting, domed lid, Miyata, 7 by 10 1/4 inches, $575.

Crown Milano vase, multicolor flowers, white, pink ground, pulled ear handles, Colonial ware, marked, 9 3/4 inches, $1,060.

Queen Anne chair, walnut, carved shell crest, slip seat, Philadelphia, c. 1780, 38 x 18 inches, $1,875.

Bunny Spice tin, allspice, white rabbit, color lithograph, cardboard, metal top, 2 1/2 by 2 1/4 inches, $1,670.

Binoculars, tortoise shell, gilt bronze, Carpenter & Westley, England, 1835-1914, 5 by 4 inches, $2,705.

Mirror, George III, giltwood, leaf carved frame, beaded border, divided panes, about 1790, 39 by 27 inches, $3,750.