Some antiques are so rare and strange that they are classed as "what's its" by collectors. Sometimes they are also so interesting they can sell for high prices.
This year, two auction houses offered "Victorian glass parlor fountains" — items that were "what's its" to most collectors. A few years ago, only 12 examples were known.
Researchers have discovered that the fountains were patented by Joseph Storer in 1871. A metal stand holds a basin at the top, and underneath it a pair of glass globes attached to a hollow metal rod could swing back and forth.
Water was put in the upper basin and forced down into the globes and a series of tubes, then up again as an 8-inch water spout or fountain. The globes moved up and down and the guests were delighted with the unusual centerpiece.
The fountains, about 20 inches high, were held in a frame made by James Tufts of Boston, a silver-plate manufacturer. The invention was called a "perpetual fountain" or "automatic fountain."
A fancy ruby glass fountain with etched designs sold originally for $50 — very expensive for a Victorian table decoration.
Q: I have a Hoody's peanut butter pail with a red lid. The pail pictures children on a teeter-totter. It's in very good condition. What can you tell me about when it was made and the company that made it?
A: A.C. Hoodenpyle, a Dutch immigrant whose nickname was "Hoody," began selling roasted peanuts in 1913. He opened a store in Oregon and began selling peanut butter under the name "Hoody's Famous Peanut Butter." The red 1-pound peanut butter tins pictured a girl and a boy in 1920s-era clothes on a seesaw that was balanced on a big peanut shell with the words "Hoody's Goodies" on it. Tins had either a plain tin lid or a red slip lid. After Hoodenpyle died, Valentine Brown bought the company. Harvest Manor Farms, a snack food company in El Paso, Texas, bought the company in 1994. The brand name is still used. The tins are rare and the graphics are popular with collectors. A tin with a red lid is worth $400 or more.
Q: We still own the bookcase my husband's mother bought for him in the 1940s, when he was a child. It was made by the Gunn Furniture Co. of Grand Rapids, Mich. Can you tell us something about the bookcase's history?
A: Gunn Furniture Co.' s history can be traced back to 1874, when William S. Gunn started selling furniture at his Grand Rapids hardware store. In 1890 he incorporated his own manufacturing firm, the Gunn Folding Bed Co. Because the popularity of folding beds was waning fast, three years later he changed his company's name to the Gunn Furniture Co. and started making desks, bookcases, files and other office furniture. The woods he used included walnut, oak and mahogany. The firm was sold in 1953 to Bergsma Brothers, Inc., also of Grand Rapids. Bergsma Brothers closed in 1985.
Q: I have a Titian Ware Royal Ivory plate by Adams that says Adams was established in 1657. Your Web site mentions that the firm was founded in 1769. Can you tell me why the date is different?
A: Several members of the Adams family operated potteries in the Staffordshire district of England. The earliest pottery operated by a member of the family was Brick House Works, established in Burslem in 1657 by Robert Adams and his son, John. William Adams & Sons was established in 1769 and operated the Greengates Works in Tunstall. The 1657 date was added to the William Adams mark in 1896 even though the date refers to a different but related Adams company. Adams became part of the Wedgwood Group in 1966 and some Adams designs continued to be made with the Adams backstamp. The Greengates Works closed in 1992.
Q: I am interested in learning the year my old brass NCR cash register was made and what it's worth. It's a Model 356G. The first patent date is May 23, 1893, and the last is Aug. 30, 1910. The serial number is 1283080.
A: National Cash Register Co., which dates back to 1884, made your cash register in 1913. You can check serial numbers of all NCR cash registers at the Dayton History Web site, DaytonHistory.org. An NCR Model 356G cash register sold recently for $950.