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Kovels - Antiques & Collecting: Week of Dec. 6, 2010

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Written by Terry Kovel   
Monday, 06 December 2010 08:05
This 12-inch-high Satsuma censer is decorated with flowers. The pierced lid that allows smoke from burning incense to escape is the clue to identifying its use.

A censer sometimes can be found at an antique shop, but the word can be confusing. It has nothing to do with a censor, the person who decides what is acceptable to be published in books or shown on television. A vintage censer is an old container used for burning incense. It can be made of pottery, porcelain, bronze, iron or another material that will not burn. Some censers were used at home. A home censer was heated with glowing charcoal that ignited the incense. The aromatic smoke fumigated clothes and other fabrics and killed insects. But a censer is most often used in a church or temple for religious ceremonies. The earliest censers date back to the second century B.C. Collectors can find censers in several traditional shapes — a mountain, a perforated box or cylinder or a bulbous vase. Many are suspended on chains. A Japanese censer with a mark used from 1868 to 1912 was offered for sale at a Leland Little auction this year. The decorations and pale yellow crackled glaze are typical of what collectors call Satsuma ware. The decorative 12-inch-high censer with a pierced lid, handles and feet was valued at $3,000 to $5,000.

Q: I bought an album of Victorian calling cards at a flea market. I would like to know more about the history and tradition of calling cards.

A: Long before people sent "friend requests" on Facebook, social contacts were made by leaving a calling card or visiting card at the home of the person you wanted to visit. Visiting cards were first used in China in the 15th century. They were used by French royalty in the 17th century and by the well-to-do in Europe in the early 19th century. Early cards were hand-lettered with just the name and title of the owner, and possibly the days or hours they were "at home." Women's cards were slightly larger than men's cards. Special messages could be conveyed by folding down a corner of the card. Folding the top left meant the card was delivered by the person wanting to visit, not by a servant. A top-right fold meant "congratulations," a bottom-right sent condolences and bottom-left signaled "farewell." Calling cards were popular in the United States during Victorian times and often were collected and pasted into scrapbooks. They were larger than earlier cards and often featured colorful flowers, fancy borders, attached scraps and fringes. There were strict rules of etiquette concerning calling cards. If the person who received a card wanted to receive the visitor, he sent his own card back. If the person leaving the card didn't get a card back, it meant the person called on didn't want to see her. (Something like having your "friend request" ignored on Facebook.)

Q: We live in a rural area in Arizona and have found more than 200 Arizona license plates from 1930. Some have a "P" for pneumatic and "S" for solid tires. What are these worth?

A: Common license plates usually sell for about $10 apiece or less. Yours are old enough to have more value. Vanity plates, license plates with a series of letters or numbers that spell something, are also worth more. The Automobile License Plate Collectors Association, an organization for collectors, holds meets throughout the country and hosts an annual convention. For more information, check the association's website,

Q: I have a Janssen Organo from the 1930s or ‘40s, I think. It has radio tubes for the organ controls, but also plays as a piano without them. I haven't been able to find out anything about it. Can you help?

A: Webb Janssen founded the Janssen Piano Co. in 1901 in New York City. The company was bought by C.G. Conn in 1964. It was sold to Charles R. Walter in 1970, and the company's name became Walter Piano Co. Pianos were made with the Janssen name until 1976. The Organo was made in the 1950s. One was offered for sale recently for $350.

Q: Can you give us some information on an old horse-drawn ice saw we acquired a few years back? We don't know anything about it, how old it is or what it is worth. It has no markings on it that we can see. It has a wooden case that you can put the saw in when it's not in use. The saw is about 65 inches long and 43 inches tall from the floor to the top of the handle. The blades are 11 inches long.

A: Ice harvesting was a big industry in the 19th and early 20th centuries. Blocks of ice were usually cut from local rivers and lakes in January and February when the ice was 10 to 12 inches thick. First the ice was scored with a horse-drawn marking plow, and then it was cut with a horse-drawn ice saw or ice plow like yours. The ice saw has larger teeth than the marking saw. After harvesting, blocks of ice were stored at an icehouse and covered with sawdust to keep them cool throughout the rest of the year. Ice harvesting declined with the development of refrigeration and ice-making in the 1920s. You might find a similar ice saw at a tool show or farm auction.

Tip: To get a glass stopper out of a decanter or perfume bottle, try pouring a little glycerin around the neck of the bottle. Wait a few hours, then try to remove it. Repeat until the stopper is loose. Glycerin can be found in drugstores.

Terry Kovel answers as many questions as possible through the column. By sending a letter with a question, you give full permission for use in the column or any other Kovel forum. Names, addresses or e-mail addresses will not be published. We cannot guarantee the return of any photograph, but if a stamped envelope is included, we will try. The volume of mail makes personal answers or appraisals impossible. Write to Kovels, Auction Central News, King Features Syndicate, 300 W. 57th St., New York, NY 10019.

Need more information about collectibles? Find it at, our website for collectors. Check prices there, too. More than 700,000 are listed, and viewing them is free. You also can sign up to read our weekly Kovels Komments. It includes the latest news, tips and questions and is delivered by e-mail, free, if you register. offers extra collector's information and lists of publications, clubs, appraisers, auction houses, people who sell parts or repair antiques and much more. You can subscribe to Kovels on Antiques and Collectibles, our monthly newsletter filled with prices, facts and color photos. adds to the information in our newspaper column and helps you find useful sources needed by collectors.


Current prices are recorded from antiques shows, flea markets, sales and auctions throughout the United States. Prices vary in different locations because of local economic conditions.

  • Yves Saint Laurent silk scarf, white polka dots on red ground, square border of red, white, green and navy blue, 1960s, 31 x 31 inches, $75.
  • Raggedy Ann and Andy dolls, porcelain heads, hands and feet, stuffed cloth bodies, fabric outfits, yarn hair, Bobbs-Merrill copyright, Ideal, 1978, 16 inches, pair, box, $115.
  • Sanitary Hair Nets store display box, hinged lid, image of "The Kaybee Girl," titled "Hair Nets 10 cents Each," Kunstadter Bros., Chicago, 1890s, 7 x 9 x 2 inches, $120.
  • Sterling-silver berry spoon, shell bowl, Lily pattern, Whiting Mfg. Co., 1902, 9 1/8 inches, $130.
  • Ray-Ban Outdoorsman Sport sunglasses, aviator style, gold-plated frames, original leather pouch, 1960s, $175.
  • Marx Brothers "Love Happy" movie poster, Harpo, Groucho and Chico on cover with bathing beauties, 1949, 27 x 41 inches, $250.
  • Magic Bank building mechanical bank, cast iron, red, white and blue building, door opens, cashier appears with tray, coin is deposited, 1873 & 1876 patent dates, J.&E. Stevens, 5 x 5 1/2 inches, $505.
  • Chair-table, pine, red paint, cut nail construction, circular top with battens tilting over chair base, lidded seat, open interior, 1800s, 28 x 48 inches, $575.
  • Late Neoclassical mirror, rosewood, ogee frame surrounded by gilt moldings, circa 1830, 35 x 23 3/4 inches, $800.
  • Moser cameo glass vase, clear with lilac cameo design, elephant surrounded by palm trees, cut panels and notches around lip, circa 1912, 12 inches, $1,150.

Just published. The best book to own if you want to buy, sell or collect. The new Kovels' Antiques & Collectibles Price Guide, 2011, 43rd edition, is your most accurate source for current prices. This large-size paperback has more than 2,600 color photographs and 42,000 up-to-date prices for more than 775 categories of antiques and collectibles. You'll also find hundreds of factory histories and marks and a report on the record prices of the year, plus helpful sidebars and tips about buying, selling, collecting and preserving your treasures. Available online at; by phone at 800-303-1996; at your bookstore or send $27.95 plus $4.95 postage to Price Book, Box 22900, Beachwood, OH 44122.

© 2010 by Cowles Syndicate Inc.

Last Updated on Monday, 06 December 2010 08:33

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