Tuesday, April 30, 2019

Salt & Pepper Shakers

              One collectible item is really a pair. If you have ever had a meal at someone’s home, or at a restaurant, and let’s face it, who has not, you are bound to see a couple of pieces usually in the middle of the table. They usually look similar, but one has an “S” on it, the other a “P”.

                Okay, so I’ve given it away. Yes, they are salt and pepper shakers.    
                Before I continue, please, before you use either one of them, look to see what you are using. Don’t be like my father did several years ago, and then wondered why his food tasted unusual. I don’t actually know the full story as to why salt and pepper were made a pair, but I do know their history.

                Before there were salt and pepper shakers as we have come to know them, people in the Victorian period placed their salt in open cellars. The salt came in rock form, and had to be chipped off to be put on food. Seems like a lot of work to have salt on your salad. It sure is much easier to have the waiter help you or just do it yourself.

                The early salt shakers actually were salt mills. They had a piece inside the shaker that was used to break the salt into pieces. When salt production became more sophisticated, the pieces used to break the salt were no longer needed. As modern ceramics became popular in the 1940s, salt and pepper shakers took off. There were made of various designs and shapes. The market for the shakers steadily increased as the ability to make the shaker increased.

                Today, shakers are made in a variety of materials, including metal, ceramics, glass, wood, and plastics.

                Collectors are impressed with shakers. But it was not until the advent of ceramics that shakers became more accessible, and unique. As shakers became more varied, the more shaker collectors there are. In addition, the internet has allowed more collectors to be aware of shakers for sale.

                Generally, salt and pepper shakers are relatively inexpensive to collect. Of course. There are some shakers that are very expensive, depending on their rarity, condition, and desirability. Most shaker sets can be bought for between $5 and $50, but other sets can sell for several thousand dollars.
              There are some collectors who collect vintage salt and pepper shaker sets because of the memories they bring back while they were growing up. As with other types of collectibles, shaker sets will most likely appreciate in value. The set that are common, and mass produced, will not appreciate much, but hold on to the vintage sets and the ones that are unique in design.

                Shaker sets can vary greatly in value. For example, a pair of American silver gilt and glass salt and pepper shakers made around 1960 were sold around $350. Shaker sets of celebrities have also been auctioned. In 2010, there were 23 shakers owned by Lucille Ball that went for $598.

                A pair of painted bisque salt and pepper shaker from around 1920, depicting a prancing black man and woman sold for $717, while a pair of American silver novelty salt and pepper shakers from 1879 were sold at a Heritage Auction in 2008 for $1195.

                Naturally, the older and more ornate, the more valuable the shakers will be. A pair of Steuben Glass Works blue aurene salt and pepper shakers from 1912-1922 were sold for $2400 at auction. It really must take a collector who really is excited about the items to purchase a salt and pepper shaker set for that much money. Of course, each collector’s reasons for buying any item is different.

                But I must say that spending over $6000 on a salt and pepper shaker set is a bit much. Well, that is what happened in a 2013 Heritage auction. A pair of Tiffany Japanese hand-hammered silver and mixed metal salt and pepper shakers from 1878-1891 were sold for $6875. That’s right. Almost $7000 for a pair of shakers. At least they were in good condition with only light surface scratching and nicks. I’m sure that the buyer had a good reason to spend nearly $7000 on a shaker set.

                My wife would have probably kicked me out of the house.

Monday, April 22, 2019

Model Trains

               Many people are familiar with the saying that “the difference between men and boys is the cost of their toys”. That is probably a very true statement.
                In fact, I am a model train collector, and I admire other peoples’ train sets when I have the opportunity to see them. Believe me, some toy trains can be very expensive, and others are more reasonable. However, how much a person spends on their model trains, and how elaborate they want it to be, will largely depend on, literally, how many bells and whistles they want their toys to have.
                But even though you see toy and model trains now across the world, and of course, a company such as Lionel is universally known, it is interesting to know how the hobby started. Collectors have been interested as well.
                Well, there have actually been model trains for as long as there have been railways, as some of the early locomotive models were made as promotional tools for the early trains. Of course, there were not as sophisticated as today’s model, but they served their purpose.
                In Europe, in the Victorian period, there were model trains that were not only for the commoner but for the wealthy and royalty as well. Ironically, the trains were mostly made in Germany.
                However, the watershed event in model train history was in 1891 when Marklin developed a complete system of trains. Marklin introduced a series of standard track gauges. The new system allowed model train collectors flexibility to build sets. Markets in various countries were also established.
                In the United States electric trains were being devised, and from the late 1890s, they were available to the model train fan. In fact, the U.S. manufactures Ives and Lionel clashed before Lionel and American Flyer became the dominant U.S. manufactures especially from the 1920s forward. The Marx Company also had a share of the market.
                The popularity of model trains was high in the 1920s and 1930s. There were now modelers’ magazines, which emphasized home construction and ways to improve your train layout no matter what gauge train you had. In the United States, Lionel train sets were given as gifts. Some of these packaged sets have been passed down from one generation to another. They are worth thousands of dollars if they are in good running condition and if the original box is still in good shape. Of course, companies such as Lionel emphasized that model train collecting was a family hobby, and that people of all ages can enjoy it.
                Model railroading was popular, especially with HO scale trains, although smaller gauges often were used in areas that did not have a lot of room.
                Production slowed during World War II, but surged in the 1950s, and model trains were mass produced.
                However, as real trains began losing their dominant transporting role to cars and airplanes, the model trains were losing popularity as well. Model trains began to lose their appeal to children.
                Model trains were mainly for the adults and collectors. They are still very much alive. The emphasis is on trains for the adult modeler, as well as on the collector, and for children.
                With all the trains that have been produced there are plenty of opportunities for the collector to enjoy not only vintage trains from the past but new productions as well.
                For example, a Lionel Mickey Mouse circus train set from 1935 sold for nearly $10,000 at a 2014 auction. Not only were train collectors attracted to the set but Mickey Mouse collectors as well. A very rare Wilkins floor train from circa 1900 sold for $11,000, while a Hubley elevated railway, a rare American clockwork toy, sold for $18,000.
                American Flyer trains from the late 1920s are always in demand. One of the sets, the President’s Special are expensive, and, depending of condition, can cost upwards of $20,000 or more. Another American Flyer set, the Mayflower, is even rare, but are rarely available.

Friday, April 19, 2019

Comic Books!

              If you are like most of us who read newspapers or watch television, you may every so often hear about a comic book that sold for thousands of dollars. Maybe for even hundreds of thousands of dollars.
                Yes, you heard right.  A flimsy periodical selling for all that money? You bet. Possibly you asked your mom or dad about what happened to your comics. Most likely their answer was that they threw them away. Why would they throw them out?  The simple reason is that they were taking up room, they were not being read, and that they were not worth anything.  And they would be right most of the time.  But there are always exceptions.
                Allow me to point out a few of the most valuable comic books of all time. If you had any of these you might want to stop reading.
                Let’s start with the comic that comes to mind to most people when they think of the most valuable comics.  I am referring to Action Comics No. 1, which came out in June 1938. It is valuable because it is the first appearance of Superman. Yes, the superhero that the two Cleveland high school pals, Joe Shuster and Jerry Siegel, had sent to various magazines and newspapers, but were continually rejected. It is ironical that only the last ten pages of Action Comics No. 1 is devoted to Superman. But the editors of the new magazine Action Comics needed a cover and thought they would give it a try.  There is no exact number as to how many copies still exist, but probably fewer than a hundred. Of course, many of those copies are not in good condition, as they might have tape on them, staples, even thumbtacks holes.  There could even be tears.
                One company that grades comics, Comics Guaranty Company (CGC), separates the comics it grades into restored and non-restored copies. Of course, the non-restored ones are worth more, and CGC will designate them with a light blue label. A lavender label means that the copy is in restored condition.  Even a torn off front cover is valuable, possibly even upwards of $100,000.  The record sale of an Action Comics No. 1 is $3.2 million. You got it. A comic that your parents could have bought in 1938 for a dime has sold for a few million dollars. 
                Okay, how about a few other comics that are worth a king’s ransom?
                Detective Comics No. 27 was distributed in May 1939. That comic was the first appearance of Batman.  The highest sale price of Detective Comics No. 27 is $2.1 million.  Not too shabby for a ten cent purchase. 
                All-Star Comics No. 8 came out a couple years later in December 1941. The United States was just getting involved in World War II. This time the superhero was a woman. Yes, All-Star Comics No. 8 featured the first appearance of Wonder Woman. Now the country had both men and women heroes to admire. The highest sale of an All-Star Comics No. 8 was $936,000. 
                Other valuable comics include Batman No. 1, which were distributed in April 1940.  It featured the first appearance of the Joker and Catwoman. 
                Superman No. 1, which came out in June 1939, was the first solo Superman comic. It has sold for more than a half million dollars. Another valuable comic is Flash Comics No. 1 from June 1940. It featured the first appearance of The Flash. Sensation Comics No. 1, from January 1942 included the second appearance of Wonder Woman, but the first cover of her. 
                Captain America Comics No. 1 from 1941, Wonder Woman No. 1 from 1942, and Whiz Comics No. 1 from 1940, are also high on the list.  The Whiz Comics No. 1 displayed the first appearance of Captain Marvel.
                Keep in mind that in the cases of the most valuable comics, they are great investments. But you will not find them in stores or at garage sales and flea markets. Auction houses such as Heritage Auctions, Mile High Comics, and EBay are noted for handling high-end comics.
                It is a safe bet that any Superman and Spider-Man comic will appreciate. And remember that not all vintage comic books are valuable. They need to be of some significance to be valuable, such as the first appearance of Captain America or the first appearance of the Green Lantern in the All-American Comics No. 16.
                Go look in some old boxes in your house and see if you can find some age-old treasure trove of comics. Who knows, you might be surprised.  It is worth a try. 

Friday, April 12, 2019


           “Got a light?”

            Oh, how famous that expression is, although it is not as common today as in the past.

            But most people are well aware of what a BIC is. BIC, by the way, is the largest lighter manufacturer in the world. It claims to sell about 1.9 billion lighters a year. That’s billion, not million.

            Actually, lighters are so common that we take them for granted. But it is amazing that you can merely press a button and you can get a light. Presto! Lighters have been around for about two hundred years.

            The first lighter was created by a German chemist Johann Dobereiner, and called “Dobereiner’s Lamp”. His lighter used the highly explosive hydrogen, not butane. It was a table lighter and was really a status symbol.

            Most smokers used matches until the flint lighter became popular. By 1908, the flint lighter was small enough to fit inside a pocket.

            Lighters became increasingly more popular during World War I, as they were used by soldiers to find their way in the dark. However, often the flare of matches gave away soldiers’ positions, and many lives were lost.

            By the 1920s, the flare issue was solved and smoking became extremely popular, as did lighters. Flint wheel lighters were mass produced. Soon, the Zippo Company began making lighters, as did Ronson. With more companies in the market, the cost of lighters fell. Soon, other companies such as Dunhill, St. Dupont, and Colibir were in the mix as well.

            It was in the 1930s that Ronson started using butane as a fuel, instead of naphtha which was being used. Flint would still continue to be used, but was later replaced by the piezoelectric spark. In the 1940s and 1950s high profile Hollywood celebrities, as well as athletes, became endorser for cigarettes. As a result, the popularity of lighters increased.

            And with BIC claiming that their sales are well over a billion a year, it seems that lighters are not going away anytime soon.

            Of course, collectors became involved. If you were a smoker, and used lighters yourself, you would undoubtable consider collecting vintage lighters yourself. Naturally, if you had disposed of the lighters you had once used you would probably be upset for doing so. But now you could try to find your type of lighters at auction, even if you now had to pay several times the original cost. That’s a hard lesson to learn. But you would not have known that lighters would become such a collectible item. Some lighters were meant to be disposable, and that is what you did when you were younger.

            And vintage lighters have become popular auction items, and have sold for a great deal of money, especially if they had been owned by a high profile person. A few sales of lighters will prove that point.

            For example, John Wayne used a Zippo lighter. In fact, his lighter with “Duke” engraved on one side was sold at auction. The selling price? Over $3700. At auction time it was not n working condition, but most collectors would not use it anyway.

            The same holds true for the lighter owned and used by President Kennedy. The lighter had the initials of both President Kennedy and the First Lady. It sold for $3800.

            A lighter that Frank Sinatra gave as a gift in 1967 sold for over $4000. His name was engraved on the lighter. As he had just recently gotten divorced from actress Mia Farrow, her name was not on it.       
            A David Webb enamel gold lighter sold for over $4000 as well. That lighter was 18 carat gold and extremely desirable.

            Of course, lighters owned by high profile people are coveted by not only lighter collectors but by presidential collectors, as in the case with the Kennedy lighter, and pop culture collectors, as in the case of the lighters owned by John Wayne and Frank Sinatra

            Lighters display very well, they are very lightweight, and can be very colorful.

Tuesday, April 2, 2019

The Jukebox

             Have you ever gone to a 50s diner, seen someone standing next to a record machine and drop a coin into the machine? All of a sudden there is a record such as Rock Around the Clock, or The Lion Sleeps Tonight, or To Know Him Is to Love Him blaring in the background. Any song by Elvis or Dion and the Belmonts would be fine, too.

                These machines, called jukeboxes, are not very common these days, but were extremely popular even 50 years ago.

                These coin-operated music boxes actually got their start in the 1890s. Louis Glass and William Arnold invented the nickel-in-the-slot phonograph in 1890, the first of which was an Edison Class M Electric Phonograph. Early machines had the capability to receive a coin, which unlocked the mechanism, which enables the listener to turn a crank and hear a musical selection. Many of the machines were equipped with listening tubes, allowing the operator to choose which record was to be played. In 1928, Justus Seeburg combined an electrostatic loudspeaker with a record player that was coin operated, and gave the listener a choice of eight records.

                In 1940 the term jukebox came into use in the United States. It was devised from the term “juke joint” which was from the Gullah word meaning disorderly or rowdy.

                In 1950, the Seeburg Corporation introduced an all 45 rpm vinyl record jukebox, enabling the 45 rpm record to be the primary jukebox media in the second half of the 20th century.

                Jukeboxes were most popular in the 1940s, 50s, until the mid-60s, by the mid-40s, about three-fourths of American-produced records went into jukeboxes. Various types of music went into jukeboxes, including rock ‘n’ roll, classical, opera, and even swing music. Many manufactures produced jukeboxes, including Seeburg, Wurlitzer, Crosley, and “Rock-Ola”. Ironically, the brand name “Rock-Ola” is from the name of the company founder, David Rockola.

                Of course, jukeboxes are popular among collectors of fine furniture, but also of record machines, their making jukeboxes a natural crossover item.

                Jukeboxes can be very ornate, which will definitely effect the price.

                A 1972 classic disco ere Seeburg jukebox went for $1625 in a 2014 Heritage auction. A 1957 Seeburg sold for $13,000.

                At auction, the Wurlitzers and the Rock-Olas have done very well. Many of those jukeboxes are very well lit and can hold scores of records. One of the historic Wurlitzer “Bubbler” jukebox from 1948 was sold for $17,500. Generally speaking, the “bubbler” is regarded as the most popular jukebox of its kind. The one that sold at auction was still operational, a factor that increased its appeal.

                An extremely rare Rock-Ola Commando Model 1420 jukebox was auctioned for $19,000 in 2012.

                Several years ago my family purchased a Wurlitzer jukebox. It still plays to this day, and we use it at parties and other get togethers. However, shortly after installing it, we discovered a problem which we have never corrected. Once you place the, lets say, 45s into the machine, and then label the record, it is very cumbersome to take out the record and use it for other purposes. For the most part, once the record is in the machine it is easier just to leave it in the jukebox. Therefore, if you wanted to have that 45 record for other purposes, you would either have to remove the record from the machine, or unfortunately, buy another record.

                On my jukebox there is a slot to put a coin and select a record. I jokingly tell my friends that it would be nice of them to put some money into the machine to help defray some of the cost. Nobody has done so yet. Anyway, these machines are very well made, and play very good music. They are very colorful, and are certainly an addition to any room or den where you just want to hear fine music.

Friday, March 22, 2019

Record Players

               Ask anyone under the age of 30 if they have ever heard records being played from a record player and you might get a blank stare. Okay, you might want to give them the benefit of the doubt, and use names such as “turntables”, “record changers” or “decks”, but the reaction will probably be the same. So, what about these so-called “record players”?

                Well, record players, and by the way, they used to be called gramophones or phonographs, were first invented in the 1870s. Not surprisingly, the inventor of the machine was none other than Thomas Edison. The same man from Menlo Park, California who invented the light bulb as we know it, invented the phonograph. Americans of all ages don’t really know how thankful they should be to him. Edison invented it in 1877, in which he learned heavily on research done more than twenty years earlier by Edouard Leon Scott de Martinville. Soon after Edison’s invention, none other than Alexander Graham Bell improved on the phonograph. Yes, that same Alexander Graham Bell who invented the telephone. These inventors sure have a way of spreading the wealth around!

                By the late 19th century, the phonograph, or gramophone, had become widely accepted across the country, and improvements on the machine were common. This invention would change how sound and music were perceived. In the past music had to be heard at a live performance, and obviously, was not easily accessible. With the new device, a record player, a person could listen to his favorite music wherever and whenever he wanted. A real beneficiary of the record player was the producer of the music, as well as everyone else involved in its production.

                The word itself “phonograph” was first used, but various names have been used through the years since the Edison days. For the record, so to speak, Edison record onto a tinfoil sheet wrapped around a cylinder through an up-down motion of the stylus. In 1889, however, Emile Berliner developed a disc coated with a compound of beeswax and benzine to record sound through a spiral motion of the stylus. That design worked better.

                By the end of the 19th century almost all major American cities had “phonograph parlors”, where a person could listen to music from a machine similar to a modern day jukebox. In 1890 a process was invented to make duplicate, mass-produced copies of a phonograph record, which allowed the “phonograph parlors” to thrive.

                However, it was in 1940 that vinyl was introduced as the recording material, allowing for more room for recording. For example, a long play vinyl record could contain an entire symphony. By the 1960s almost all American households had record players.

                The record player was used widely until the 1980s when the eight-track player, and the less expensive cassette player were introduced. The record player was on its way out. Soon, the adoption of CDs as a way to record music was developed, which was a further blow to the record player.

                However, record players are still used today despite the popularity of digital music. To some, record players offer greater fidelity and sound quality.

                Of course, to collectors, record players have never gone away.

                Just a few examples to prove that point. In a 2008 Heritage Auction, a vintage Victor photograph, owned by the gospel singer J.D. Sumner, dated 1902, sold for nearly $900.

                An Elvis Presley “Autograph Model” Portable Manual Record Player from 1956 was sold at auction for $1625.

                However, in July 2012 a vintage Beatles record player from 1964, one of only 5000 produced went for $4000. This Beatles phonograph was in working order, and has a picture of the group on the top and inside lid. It is indeed a rarity today and a real nice addition to any Beatles collection.

                Even though, record players are not in many households today, but they have served an important role in American history.

Tuesday, March 19, 2019

Baseball Is Here

  “For its one, two, three strikes, you’re out, at the old ball game.”
                Every fan young and old knows the verses of “Take Me Out to the Ball Game” written by Jack Norworth. 

                Come to Peoria, Arizona, and Padres fans can almost touch their local heroes at Spring Training.  Wait until April rolls around, and you can see those same athletes at Petco Park. 

                And for local sports followers, baseball at Petco is all they have left professionally.  The Chargers have become integrated in Los Angeles culture, leaving the Padres as the only major sports team in our beautiful San Diego. 

                Despite being cellar dwellers for many of the fifty years they have existed as a franchise, the Padres faithful should take some solace to know that championship teams are possible, as in 1984 and 1998.  It is too bad that the Friars played great opponents in the World Series.  First it was Detroit in 1984, and then the New York Yankees in 1998.  That Yankees team is always in the discussion of the greatest teams of all time.

                And the Padres have had their share of quality players through the years, led by Tony Gwynn and Trevor Hoffman.  But there was also Dave Winfield, Randy Jones, and many others.  Remember Steve Garvey, Rollie Fingers, Nate Colbert, and Goose Gossage?  And who can forget Jon Kruk, Andy Hawkins, Garry Templeton, and even my former neighbor Craig Lefferts. 

                Of course, with Hall of Fame players comes valuable memorabilia.  So look to see if you might have some of the following items in your attic, den, or man cave. You might be in for a pleasant surprise or two.  But let me warn you first.  A Tony Gwynn signed baseball is not worth much.  It’s the old supply and demand concept.  Gwynn, bless his heart, signed too many to make a signed ball worth more than about thirty or forty dollars.  If you pay more than that at a charity event, you are basically donating to the charity. 

                However, a 1984 San Diego jersey of Steve Garvey went for nearly $3,000 at auction.  Garvey played for the Padres from 1983-1987, and hit probably the most famous home run in the club’s history, the homer in the 1984 playoff series against the Chicago Cubs. 

                A 1979 Padres road jersey of Ozzie Smith sold for nearly $6,000 at auction.  Smith played from 1978 – 1981 in San Diego, and was then traded to St. Louis for Garry Templeton.  Smith was known as “The Wizard of Oz” when he was with the Cardinals, and became a Hall of Famer.  I will always remember him for making the greatest fielding play I ever saw in a 1978 game against Atlanta. 

                A Randy Jones 1976 Padres signed jersey sold for nearly $2000 at auction. He was with San Diego from 1973-1980, with his two best years being 1975 and 1976.  You may have kept a 1976 Sports Illustrated with Jones on the cover.

                Of course, a Tony Gwynn game-used jersey is auctioned every so often. A 1998 Gwynn jersey was auctioned for nearly $700.  You might ask yourself why it would not sell for more. The answer is that he played his entire career from 1982-2001 with the Padres and he had plenty of jerseys. Supply and demand.  His Topps 1983 rookie card sells for around $80.

                Gwynn’s 1989 Silver Bat award went for nearly $20,000.  He won eight of them, as he led the National League in hitting eight times. 

                A 1996 Padres team signed ball sold for a few hundred dollars, while an original artwork from 2001 of Dave Winfield went for about $700.

                Now lets not forget the old San Diego Padres of the Pacific Coast League (PCL) which had a team from 1936-1968.  There were baseball cards of players from that league as well.   An eleven card collection from 1950 of the Padres, distributed by Hage’s Dairy, went for more than $1,200. 

                A good time to get autographs is at Spring Training games.  But if you approach a player, please be courteous, and respectful, and say thanks.