For the past few years, auctions of Chinese antiques have attracted many bidders and high bids. The auctions have included many items not recognized by American bidders.
A recent auction sold a “Chinese polychrome-decorated inkcake” for more than $1,000. I had to do some research. An inkstick or inkcake is a piece of solid ink that might be a mixture of soot and animal glue made from egg whites, fish skin or animal hides. Its scent was enhanced with cloves or sandalwood or other natural products. Other types of inkcakes were made of burnt material, plant dyes or minerals. The mixture was kneaded and pressed into a carved mold to dry. The inkcake had to be ground on an inkstone with some water. The ink could be mixed to be thick or thin. An ink brush was dipped into the ink and then used to write or draw on paper. Early examples date back to the 12th century B.C. New ones are in stores now.
The auction’s inkcake dated from the mid-1700s. The colored raised decoration on one side pictured a landscape with a temple, table, sculpture and candle. The other side was decorated with a colored dragon in the sea, a mark and an inscription. The inkcake was stored in a carved wooden box that was 4 7/8 inches high, 3 1/8 inches wide and 7/8inch deep. Inkcakes, as well as inkstones, inkbrushes and paper, are highly regarded as symbols of culture.
Q: I have an unusual chest that I would like to sell. It has many small drawers. On the inside of one it reads, “The Practical Glove Holder, Patented October 7, 1897, A.N. Russell & Sons, Canadian Patent August 7, 1897.”
A: A.N. Russell & Sons was founded in Ilion, N.Y., in about 1883 by Albert N. Russell. The company made cabinets for gloves, ribbons and thread, as well as umbrella holders. The ribbon and glove cabinets were its most popular items. It later made bronze- and aluminum-framed museum cases until the business closed down in 1932. In 2007 an A.N. Russell & Sons ribbon cabinet in very good condition sold for $1,300 at auction.
Q: I have a cookie jar that looks just like the Shawnee Smiley pig cookie jars, but it’s not marked “Shawnee” or “Smiley.” The only mark on the bottom is “USA.” It has red flowers and a red kerchief. Is it real or a reproduction?
A: Shawnee Pottery Co. of Zanesville, Ohio, began making these cookie jars in 1942. At first they were called “Smiling Pig.” There were many versions. The earliest ones were cold-painted or plain and had a triangular rim. Later jars had round openings and were hand-painted or decorated with decals. Decorations included apples, clover, flowers, plums, shamrocks or strawberries and different-colored kerchiefs. Some were marked “Pat. Smiley USA” or “Shawnee Smiley 60,” but many are just marked “USA.” When the company went out of business in 1961, the molds were sold to Terrace Ceramics, which made the cookie jars in plain white without decorations. There are also many fake Smiley Pig cookie jars on the market. Price of a genuine Smiley pig jar is determined by condition and decoration and ranges from $140 to $250.
Q: I inherited my grandfather’s collection of more than 600 cigar bands. They are in an old scrapbook. Only a small corner of each band is glued onto the page. There are pages that have cigar bands picturing every president from George Washington to Teddy Roosevelt. Are they of any value?
A: Collecting cigar bands was a popular hobby in the early 1900s. Cigar manufacturers used the bands to keep cigars from unrolling and to identify and advertise their brands. Some bands made in the early 1900s were printed with real gold gilt. Single bands as well as sets of bands like your U.S. presidents were made. Collectors used to look for sets that interested them or for particularly beautiful designs. As with most paper collectibles, pasting or gluing them into an album or book lowers their value — unless they can be safely removed without damaging the paper. There are few cigar-band collectors today, but there are many collectors of cigar memorabilia. Look for dealers or auctions that sell cigar-box labels, cigar cutters and other tobacciana.
Q: I have an old advertising sign that reads, “Blue Buckle Work Garments, Strong for Work, Overalls, Pants, Shirts.” It is 13 inches long and 4 1/2 inches tall with blue letters and a blue border on a white background. It is metal with enamel paint. In the corner is written, “Balto. Enamel & Nov. Co., Balto. & 200 Fifth Ave., N.Y.” Is it of any value?
A: Blue Buckle Overalls were made by Jobbers OverAll Co., a firm founded in Blackstone, Va., before 1910. It later moved to Lynchburg, Va. In 1920 the company claimed to be the world’s largest overall manufacturer, but it went bankrupt in 1921 and was taken over by Old Dominion Garment Co. of Dallas. Old Dominion continued to make Blue Buckle work garments. The manufacturer of your sign, Baltimore Enamel & Novelty Co., was founded in 1898 as the Baltimore Enamel Co. It made signs and, in 1903, manufactured America’s first official license plates — for Massachusetts. Before then, car owners made their own license plates. The Blue Buckle sign is worth about $50.