Hats are not as popular today as they were years ago, so there are fewer hat shops and fewer people making special hats fitted to a particular buyer. But in the 19th and early 20th centuries, milliners were found in every city and town. A hat was designed and created with the help of a "milliner's head." The milliner shaped, cut, pinned and fashioned the hat on the head. Then the finished hat was displayed in the shop. A life-size head made of soft wood or papier-mache was used. Sometimes the top of the head was made of padded cloth so it was easier to pin the hat to the head.
If you plan to buy an old milliner's head, be sure to look for pinholes. There probably will be flaking or damaged paint, too. Early ones were painted, but by the 1850s some were made with printed eyes and mouths pasted in place. The hairstyle also helps date the head. Folk-art collectors like these heads, so they're pricey. An early one could cost $1,500, and a 20th-century example $500 or more, depending on condition.
Q: I have a six-piece dresser set of Val St. Lambert's uranium glass from the 1890s. Since it has uranium in it, is it safe?
A:Uranium glass was first made in the 1800s by adding uranium dioxide to melted glass. The uranium gives the glass its bright yellow-green color and makes it fluoresce under ultraviolet light. Most uranium glass contains only a small amount of uranium, although older glass may contain as much as 25 percent uranium. The amount of uranium in the glass will set off a Geiger counter, but it is not considered unsafe to use. Production of uranium glass ceased during World War II, when uranium was not available for non-governmental use. Small amounts of uranium are available today, and some uranium glass is being made.
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Q:I have a toy pot-belly stove that my husband bought about 30 years ago. It is embossed "Grey Iron Casting Co., Mt. Joy, Pa." The stove is about 13 inches high and has a piece to open the top and another to stir the ashes. I would love to know if it's worth anything.
A: Grey Iron Casting Co. is best-known as a manufacturer of cast-iron soldiers and other toys. The company was in business from the late 1800s until the mid-1900s. Grey Iron made toys, banks, hardware, tools and other iron products. It was sold in 1967, and the name was changed to Donsco Inc. in 1974. Your stove is worth about $100.
Tip: Do not wrap ceramics, wood, marble or other porous materials in old newspapers. The ink used for print eventually will stain the pieces. Newsprint is high-acid paper and can discolor other materials, especially other paper, over time. Recycled paper usually is bad for storage, too, but some photocopy paper is acid-free and good for archival storage. Cardboard boxes, plastic boxes and many folders, scrapbooks and plastic sleeves can damage old paper items, including autographs, photographs and baseball cards.