Early weather vanes of the 1800s often had a cow, horse or eagle. The most famous American weather vane is the grasshopper that topped Faneuil Hall in Boston in 1742. But as more manufacturers started making decorative outdoor iron furniture, unexpected figures appeared in rooftop weather vanes. Indians, angels, Columbia, the Statue of Liberty and soldiers were popular. So were birds — roosters, pheasants, ducks and peacocks — fish, and even a dragon.
By the end of the 19th century, a weather vane often had a dual purpose. It indicated the direction of the wind and identified the use of the building from a rooftop pole. There were fire pumpers with horse and firemen, locomotives and streetcars with motormen. There was less need for weather vanes in the 1900s, but they still were popular rooftop decorations.
In 1923, Yankee Stadium had a baseball bat weather vane, while a famous grocery store chain used an arrow with "A&P" marked on the feathers. The Howard Johnson chain's weather vanes had a boy, chef, dog, lantern and lamplighter on the appropriate restaurants, motor lodges and combinations of buildings, and Colonel Sanders was on the roof of many Kentucky Fried Chicken stops.
Weather vanes of all ages are very popular with collectors. Early folk-art examples bring thousands of dollars each, and more modern trademark examples sell for $500 to $800. But beware: Many modern copies have been made.
A copper girl playing tennis (known as Victorian Love) topped an early 20th-century weather vane that sold for $6,000. A zinc 1920s vane with the same figure, but 6 inches shorter, sold for about $3,000. A recent copy of the girl made of copper with a patina sells for $1,595.
Q: I have a desk that I believe is called a "Boston Spinet." It has one long drawer and a top that folds back to reveal a fitted interior. The manufacturer's label on the bottom of the drawer reads "H.E. Shaw Furniture Company, Grand Rapids, Michigan." It's quite faded on the back and sides from sun exposure. I think it would be better if it was refinished, but my daughter feels it shouldn't be refinished. If it's not a valuable piece, it would be more useful and beautiful if refinished. What is your opinion and idea of its value?
A: H.E. Shaw Furniture Co. was in business in Grand Rapids, Mich., from 1919 to 1933. The company made Colonial and European Revival desks, secretaries and dining room furniture. Because of the sun damage, your desk is worth only about $200 to $300. If you plan to keep it, you should refinish it and enjoy it. A desk in good refinished condition is worth more in dollars than a faded, ugly desk.
Q: I have a figurine, 4 inches tall, of a rabbit in a ruffled blue apron. It is holding a Jell-O salad on a plate. A banner on the bottom reads, "A Jell-O salad makes a meal." I would appreciate any information about its history and value.
A: Jell-O was born in 1897, when Pearle Bixby Waite, a carpenter and medicine maker in LeRoy, N.Y., trademarked a gelatin dessert. He and his wife, May, added lemon, orange, raspberry or strawberry flavors to granulated gelatin and sugar and named the product Jell-O. In 1899, Waite sold the product and name for $450 to Orator Woodward's Genessee Pure Food Co. He changed the company name to Jell-O Co. by 1923. Housewives liked it and it sold well. In 1925, the company was sold for $67 million to Postum Cereal Co., one of the first mergers that led to General Foods Corp.
Jell-O was aggressively advertised in newspapers, radio and television. By the 1950s, cookbooks and women's magazines were filled with recipes for Jell-O relishes, salads and entrees as well as desserts. General Foods had figurines based on their advertising to give away to their top 3,000 dealers.
The figurines were made by Sebastian Miniatures of Marblehead, Mass. Your 1954 figurine was made to go with a print ad featuring a similar rabbit and read, "When I'm eating Jell-O I wish I were a rabbit, because then I could enjoy my favorite vegetables in a glamorous Jell-O Salad!" The figurine sells for $200 to $400 and is among the most valuable Jell-O collectibles.
Shirley Temple doll
Q: During a decluttering binge, I found my old Shirley Temple doll from 1934 or '36. She's in good condition. All of her curls are intact, no crazing on her body, but her blue eyes are cloudy. Her blue accordion pleated dress, petticoat and panties have yellowing. Shoes, socks and pink satin bows are fine. Would gently soaking the dress in a mild detergent be a no-no? I would like to give it to my granddaughter. What is the doll worth?
A: Vintage doll clothing is very delicate. Your doll's dress is organdy. If it has mildew, brush it off and air it in the sunlight. You can't do much about yellowing. It can be soaked in a solution of one tablespoon of mild detergent per gallon of water, but the accordion pleating may be compromised. Do not wring. It can cause wrinkles.
The Ideal Novelty and Toy Co., later called Ideal Toy Corp., introduced Shirley Temple dolls in late 1934 and they were a huge hit. By 1935, Ideal had copyrighted the dolls and made them in seven sizes ranging from 11 to 27 inches.
All 1930s Shirley Temple dolls are made of composition, a mixture of sawdust, glue and sometimes cornstarch, flour or resin. Your doll was made in 1935, wears a costume from the movie "Curly Top" and is found in two sizes, 13 and 16 inches. Your doll probably is worth about $225 to $350. If you have the original box or Shirley Temple button that came on the dress, the doll could sell for $1,000 or more.
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.
Prices are from shows nationwide.
Purse, lipstick red, lizard, fold-over closure, cream leather interior, zipper, pouch pockets, mirror, coin purse, handle, Corina, 1960s, 8 by 8 3/4 inches, $60.
Pay telephone, wall mount, receiver, automatic, old chrome, push button, 5, 10 and 15 cents, $300.
Inkstand, two gilt bronze bell shape wells, dome covers, eagle finial, Napoleon III bust, onyx base, 9 by 16 inches, $315.
Tiffany glass bowl, gold iridescent, lobed, paneled, Favrile, about 1920, 3 by 9 3/4 inches, $325.
Sterling-silver bowl, repoussé grapevines, branch rim, footed, Black, Starr & Frost, 1900, 9 by 4 inches, $640.
Baseball photograph, panoramic, Cleveland Indians, 1922, 8 1/2 by 28 inches, $665.
Weather vane, eagle, spread wings, copper, gilt paint, about 1890, 18 by 32 inches, $720.
Staffordshire cider jug, commemorative, "Glorious Defeat of the French Fleet, The Flowing Cann," creamware, black transfer, everted spout, handle, about 1800, 9 1/2 inches, $860.
Book rack, L. & J.G. Stickley, oak, open, slat sides, 42 by 21 inches, $865.
Silver tazza, grape pattern, flared rim, grape cluster pendants, swirl stem, Georg Jensen, Denmark, 11 inches, $4,560.