Children love the circus, so what better toy than a model circus parade. In the late 19th century, the tradition of circus parades began. Toy replicas of circus wagons, animals and performers were made by many toy companies, including Schoenhut, Kenton Hardware, Arcade, Kingsbury and Hubley. The Hubley circus, made from 1906 to 1919, even had an iron "Royal Circus" calliope wagon that carried a music- making machine. It came in several sizes. In October, a 16-inch-long calliope with horses, in mint condition with the box, was offered for sale. The original price in 1915 was $5.98. It auctioned for $19,000.
Q: I bought a Goebel Beatles figurine from a friend several years ago and am looking for something to compare it to. It is marked "Bull 307" and has a three-line Goebel mark. Others I have seen are painted; this one is all white. Can you help with any information?
A: A set of Beatles figurines inspired by the movie "Yellow Submarine" was issued in 1968 by the Goebel Porcelain Co. of Germany, famous for its Hummel figurines. It is thought that Goebel had some trouble with the colors its artists were using and stopped production after about 100 sets were made. Some of the sets were given away, and the rest were never released for sale, making them the rarest of all Beatles memorabilia. A few sets have sold at auction for between $15,000 (in 2000) and $18,000 (in 2002). Single figurines of Ringo Starr and George Harrison have sold for $800 to $2,700. Goebel reissued the Beatles figurines in a limited edition of 1,968 sets to celebrate the 40th anniversary of the release of the movie. They are identical to the originals and come in a display box with stand. They sell for about $1,000 a set.
Q: I have some ceramic molds that look like my modern tin Jell-O molds. When did they start making Jell-O?
A: Your early ceramic molds were used for gelatin desserts or salads. Beginning in the 14th century, molds were served at elaborate parties. Charles Knox developed granulated gelatin in 1894, and in 1897 Jell-O was created. Victorians thought elaborate molds should be served at every dinner party. Molds made of metal, particularly copper, were used. Molded foods went out of style in the first half of the 20th century, but in the 1950s molds came back. Layers of colored Jell-O or salads made with lime or lemon Jell-O and shredded cabbage were perfect for buffet dinners, the newest way to entertain. Old and new molds are still easy to find and use.
Q: I was told there was a solar lamp in the 18th century. Did it really run on sunlight?
A: The "solar lamp" was invented in the 1840s, but it was not like what we call a solar lamp today. The 19th-century solar lamp burned whale oil, olive oil or, most commonly, lard. It had a unique burner and a reflector that sent a draft against the flame, which made a narrow, very bright flame. There were English deflectors similar to solar lamp deflectors, so some think the solar lamp was invented by the English. But in the United States, solar lamps were made by Cornelius & Co. and Archer, Warner, Miskey and Co., both Philadelphia firms that operated from the 1840s to the 1860s. Solar lamps were being sold in Canada by 1847.
Q: My oak rocking chair was purchased at an estate sale in 1956. The label on the bottom says "Taylor's Comfortable Rockers, Rocker Specialists, The Taylor Chair Co., Bedford, Ohio." What can you tell me about this company?
A: The Taylor Chair Co. is said to be the oldest furniture maker in the Unites States. It traces its origins to 1816, when Benjamin Fitch began making chairs in Bedford, Ohio. His son-in-law, William O. Taylor, began managing the business in the 1840s. The name of the company was changed to the Taylor Chair Co. in 1885. The firm manufactured more than 100 different styles of chairs in the early 1900s. Tables, sofas and other types of furniture were added to the company's production lines in the 1950s and '60s. The company still is in business in Bedford.
Tip: Washing your hands is good for your health and that of your collections. Grease and dirt can stain pieces and permanently lower their value. You can't always wash your hands in the middle of a flea market, but you can take wipes along to use.