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. 

Thursday, March 14, 2019

Pinball Machines

                If you are like many Americans, and for that matter, most people around the world, you have spent many a day at the local arcade. There you have been challenged by the many machines surrounding you, but especially by the pinball machines.

                As popular as pinball machines are today, it probably has never crossed your mind when and how they were first developed.

                Well, think no longer.

                Pinball machines were said to have first gotten jumpstarted in the 19th century. A table, called a Bagatelle Table was used, which resembled a pool table. Players would try to hit balls with cue sticks, into pockets or slots surrounded by nails and pins.    

                That was followed by a device called a “ball shooter”, which was invented by Montague Redgrave, and was based on a steel spring. Games based on the spring were played in the United States and France. Soon, money was exchanged for balls, and if a player scored high enough, he or she would be given food, drinks, or tobacco.

                The first coin-operated pinball machine was called “Whiffle Board”. It was invented by Automatic Industries in 1931. Shortly thereafter, a game called “Ballyhoo” was invented by Raymond Maloney, who later started the Bally Manufacturing Company. It is believed that the word “pinball” was used because all of the machines at the time had holes and pins in them. Batteries were added to the machines in 1933, and in 1939, a “clock” counter scoring mechanism was introduced, as well as chime, bell, and buzzer sounds.

                Pinball machines were very popular in the 1930s, as the masses of people in the United States needed some type of low cost entertainment to help them through the Depression years.

                Chicago was the center of pinball manufacturing in the 1930s. At one time there were more than 145 companies manufacturing pinball machines in the United States, but the number declined significantly, and by the 1940s only a dozen or so remained.

                After World War II, pinball machines soared in popularity. In fact, the period between 1948 and 1958 was referred to as the “Golden Age” of pinball. The popularity was due in part to the invention of flippers in 1947 by the D. Gottlieb Company. The game “Humpty Dumpty” was the first pinball machine game with flippers.

                In the mid-1940s some America cities outlawed pinball, calling it a game of “chance”, not skill. However, that was changed after World War II ended. The advent of flippers on such games as “Spot Bowler” and “Triple Action” increased the popularity of pinball machines during the “Golden Age”.

                In the late 1980s Williams and Bally merged to become the dominant manufacturer. The Bally Company produced some of the most popular games ever produced, including Medieval Madness, Theatre of Magic, Monster Bash, and Tales of the Arabian Nights. However, their most popular game of all is the Addams Family.

                Since the early 2000s, there has been only one major designer and manufacturer, Stern Pinball.

                Despite the lack of competition, pinball machines are coveted by high-profile celebrities, as well as baby boomers and executives. Personal home game rooms will often have pinball machines.

                Of course, collectors have not forgotten about pinball machines. Not by a long shot. And most collectors don’t care if the machines are in working condition when they acquire them, because they can be repaired.

                But recent auction sales include the following, an Alice in Wonderland pinball machine from 1948 made by Gottlieb was sold at auction for $3500 in 2014.

                A Beatles pinball machine from 1966 was sold at auction in 2008 for slightly more than $4000. That would be a unique item for any Beatles fan. An Indiana Jones machine from 1993 went for $5500, and a Bally Safe Cracker pinball machine from 1996 sold for $7000.

                Pinball machines are still very popular nowadays.

                But playing pinball on Sundays in Ocean City, New Jersey is still illegal.

Tuesday, March 12, 2019


                 Anyone, who can remember, before the time that the Internet existed might recall names such as Royal, Remington, and Underwood. Throw in IBM as well, and you might catch on to the machine I am thinking about.

                The typewriter. Yes, to all the young people today there was an instrument called the typewriter. I can tell you firsthand that authors who did not write longhand used a typewriter. At first there were only manual machines, then they were electric. To have an IBM Selectric was state of the art.

                But who came up with the brilliant idea to begin with? Actually, the machine is not as old as you might think.

                In 1714 an Englishman Henry Mill applied for a patent for a “machine or method for the impressing or transcribing of letters singly or progressively one after another”. Evidently, nothing ever materialized from the patent, because the first typewriting machine that was said to have worked was built in 1808 by the Italian Pellegrino Turri for a blind friend.

                Numerous inventors attempted to perfect the machine in the 19th century, including a Danish pastor Rasmus Malling-Hansen’s “writing ball”. In the U.S. the first typewriter was manufactured by Sholes & Glidden in 1874. This typewriter typed only in capital letters, but did introduce the QWERTY keyboard, which is still used today.

                The Sholes & Glidden typewriter was only minimally successful, but was followed by the Remington. The Remington soon became dominant in the field. Soon thereafter the Underwood became prominent as well. Its most popular model was the Underwood #5, which was produced by the millions, and used in businesses, and some homes, across the U.S., and the world. Typewriters, no matter the model, looked similar, with the QWERTY keyboard, the one shift key, the four banks of keys, the frontstroke, and the ribbon.

                As with most new machines when they are first introduced, the costs are generally much higher than what they are later. Such was the case with the typewriter, which sold for approximately $100 in the 19th century. Taking into account inflation, that was a tremendous amount of money. Of course, the machine was a novelty at the time, and served a useful function. The wealthy were willing to pay for the new machine, and of course, be one of the first to ever use it. Times never change.

                Naturally, prices became lower as typewriters were mass produced. Soon they were affordable for the average business and family.

                As an aside note, trivia buffs will be interested in knowing that the first electric typewriter was the Blickensderfer. Also, George Anderson of Memphis patented the typewriter ribbon in 1886. And Pellegrino Turri, who manufactured the first useable typewriter in 1784, also invented carbon paper in 1808.

                Collectors, too, have not missed out on typewriters. Sometimes they even use the machines that they buy at auction.

                In 2013, an IBM electric typewriter was sold at a Heritage Auction for $3250. That would seem like a lot of money for an electric typewriter from the 1960s, except for one small detail. The typewriter was owned by Elvis Presley.

                As mentioned, many authors typed their books. The Underwood manual (portable) typewriter that Tennessee Williams used for Summer and Smoke, as well as for Cat on a Hat Tin Roof, was auctioned for nearly $4500.

                The Smith-Corona electric typewriter, from the 1970s that was used by Orson Welles went for over $9000.

                However, one of the most famous typewriters was sold at auction for $12,000. Needless to say it has to be a high-profile person, and it certainly was. It was the Royal Quiet Deluxe typewriter used by none other than the famed journalist Edward R. Murrow. In fact, attached to the typewriter itself is a plaque which read “For Outstanding service in reporting the first year of the Second World War for the American people”. There is also a picture of Murrow with the typewriter. What great provenance!

                By the way, the first author to submit a typewriter manuscript to his publisher was Mark Twain.

Thursday, March 7, 2019

Tin Signs


                 As strange as it may sound, advertising signs actually date back to ancient times. There are ancient paintings on the walls of shops in Pompeii. Later, there were signs that hung outside shops of blacksmiths, shoemakers, and other tradesman.

                But it was right around the beginning of the 1800s that signs first appeared in the United States, and at first were hand-painted or made from paper. However, since most food products came in tin-plated containers, tin soon became a popular means to advertise around 1875, as machine could trim and stamp sheets of tin. As tin was a tough material, it could be used for signs, which were painted, stenciled, and lithographed. It also could survive the weather.

                Although expensive to make, lithographed tin signs were used to sell all types of products, such as gasoline, beer, tobacco, as well as food. If a sign used tin lithograph, it created colorful imagery, such as a company’s logo which could be stamped into the tin and stand out.

                The center for tin signs was, in all places, Coshocton, Ohio. It was there that in 1875 Jasper Freemont Meek founded the Tuscarora Advertising Company. He made novelty advertisements on book bags, as well as horse blankets. Another Coshocton resident, H.D. Beach, made advertising products such as yard sticks, pencils, and shoe horns, at his Standard Advertising Company. In fact, the tin signs that the Tuscarora and Standard Companies, produced are some of the most sought after tin signs today. Finally, in 1901 they merged as the Meek and Beach Company. Meek would soon leave, and started his own company, H.D. Beach Company. Meek then renamed his company the American Art Works.

                Tin signs would hit their peak in the 1920’s, and were succeeded by porcelain enamel signs. These porcelain signs came to the United States from Europe in 1890. The signs were less expensive to produce, and did not rust as easily.

                World War II put a halt to both tin signs, and by the time the war was over, plastic and steel were now being used in most signs.

                Tin signs can still be seen, but they are more costly. Die-cut tin signs are sought by collectors.

                It is important that if a person is looking to buy a tin sign, that he looks for any evidence of rust, which greatly diminishes the tin’s value. As with many other types of collectibles, if the condition seems too good, it probably is.

                A tin sign’s value will depend on its condition, as well as how used it is, and how much rust it has. Vintage styling, as well as the distinctive subject matters, have made tin signs very desirable to homeowners as well as collectors.

                However, it must be noted that some vintage tin signs can be quite expensive. A few examples will suffice.

                A circa 1905 handmade tin sign with wooden framework stamped “Beeman’s Pepsin Gum” sold at auction for $14,500.

                A very rare Coca-Cola embossed tin sign from 1899 fetched $20,000 in a 2012 auction. This tin sign is what is classified as a crossover, as it is desired by both collectors of tin signs and also Coca-Cola items.

                However, in a 2013 auction, an extremely rare Campbell’s Soup tin sign sold for $45,000, and in a 2011 auction, a 1900 Hilda Clark tin sign of Coca-Cola went for $47,500. This Coca-Cola sign is one of the most desirable tin advertising signs of all time. It rarely comes up for auction, and when it does, the price is high.

                Tin signs have become a part of Americana, and very desirable among collectors. However, if you are looking for the authentic tin signs, and not a reproduction, make sure that you do your due diligence to ensure that you will not be disappointed later. Vintage tin signs surely are collector pieces that add charm to wherever they are placed.

Tuesday, March 5, 2019

            Have you ever heard the expression about “putting your hand in the cookie jar”? Of course, that expression has been used for years, and refers to someone being caught doing something that they probably should not have done. But if you think about the saying, you might wonder about why the words cookie jar were used, and not, for example, refrigerator, or even teapot. 

            Well, actually cookie jars have always been very popular, and in the United States, it has been common for households to have cookie jars in the kitchen. When kids (or adults) were invited for dinner, it was frowned upon to take a cookie from the cookie jar before eating the meal, and then ruining your appetite.

            But it gets you thinking about where cookie jars came from?

            Actually, cookie jars can be traced to 18th century England. They were then thought of as “biscuit jars”. “Biscuits” was a term that was used to mean a small tea cake or scone. That would be called a cookie in America. Once these “biscuits” were heated, they needed to be stored in a place that kept them fresh. The biscuits, or cookies, found their way to the United States, and by the 1800s cookie jars could be found on store and bakery counters, filled with cookies.

            Home-baking in the United States became more popular in the “Great Depression” era, and, in an effort to save money, did their own home-baking rather than go to a bakery. Therefore, more cookie storage containers were needed, and more were made.

            In 1929, the Brush Pottery Company of Zanesville, Ohio, made what is believed to be the first ceramic cookie jar. This jar, called the Kolorkraft #344, was green with the word “Cookies” on the front. When this jar became popular, other pottery industries sprang up.

            Early cookie jars were very simple and had little or no decorations. However, it was not long before marketing departments became creative and added decorations to jars. Soon, jars had figures of people, fruits, vegetables, and even animal designs on the front. Almost all houses had cookie jars.

            The “golden age” of American cookie jars was thought to be from 1940 to 1970. During those years cookie jar sales exploded. Among the leaders cookie jar manufacturer were McCoy Potteries and American Bisque, both of Williamstown, West Virginia.

            It was due to this tremendous output of cookie jars in the mid-1900s that led to collectors being keenly interested in collecting them. Many of the jars that were produced were very short-lived, and therefore, are very scarce. Conversely, other jars are very common even today, and allows collectors to purchase them more affordably. Although the common ones are not as valuable as some of the vintage jars, many of them are very colorful and unique, and are great conversational pieces. Many of the vintage jars are even displayed in kitchens today.

            But as mentioned, cookie jars are popular among collectors. Of course, prices of cookie jars vary greatly.

            For example, a Kirk Alyn’s “Superman in Phone Booth” cookie jar from 1978 went for slightly over $300 in a Heritage auction.

            An “Earthrise” cookie jar from 1970 went for over $800. Besides being very unique, it was from the personal collection of Astronaut Vance Brand. Undoubtedly, that added to the value of that particular jar.

            An extremely unique cookie jar was that of Roy Rogers and his horse. The jar was signed by Rogers at the base along with the words “Happy Trails”. It went for $900 at auction and would have gone higher except that it had been cracked and needed to be repaired.

            As for more expensive collectible cookie jars, a very rare McCoy “red” squirrel cookie jar sold at auction for $4000. This jar is regarded by same as the most sought after classic cookie jar. Another McCoy jar, this one of a train went for $6100. This jar is in two shades of blue gloss, and has white smoke. There are only known to be 6 train engine jars with smoke.

            But even a more valuable cookie jar was the one of a cow’s head that went for a remarkable $18,000 at auction. This one was from around 1900 and was displayed on butcher counters.

            It is amazing what collectors will spend on items that they really want. With vintage cookie jars it is very possible that collectors are reminded of items that they had seen, or that their family had even owned.

            But please, if you ever see a vintage cookie jar, be careful that you do not get your hand caught in it.

Friday, March 1, 2019

Bisque Dolls


Have you ever walked into an antique store and been amazed at the dolls that look so real? I know I have. Some of the dolls take you back to the old times. The time of the fashions of the period. The dolls are so lifelike that you stare at them wondering how they can be so real.

                Well, many of those vintage dolls are actually “bisque dolls”. They are often called porcelain dolls. They were commonly made in the late 1860s, and were unglazed porcelain. In the 1860s, several French doll firms created the first unglazed porcelain dolls. These porcelain, or termed bisque dolls allowed for a more realistic skin tone. They are still made even today. But since they are so breakable and expensive, they are not made for play dolls. Thus, the bisque dolls are only made today for collectors.

                But, in the 1860s when they were first made, the bisque dolls were very popular, until the early 1900s. Then in the 1980s they become more popular once more, as collectors were attracted to the realistic features of the dolls.

                A doll is considered bisque if the head is made of bisque. However, bisque is heavy, and only small dolls were known to be made entirely of bisque. Small bisque dolls were often called “penny dolls”.

                Throughout history literally thousands of companies have manufactured bisque dolls. Most of them first began in France, but many then started in the Thuringa region of Germany in the late 1800s. It was not until the early 1900s when bisque dolls were first made in the United States. Today, most dolls are made in, you guessed it, China.

                You would be shocked at the cost of some of the dolls. They go from just a few dollars to over $200,000. Most of the dolls today are in the $20 to $500 range. It all depends on the materials used, as well as how unique the doll is.

                As you can expect, collecting dolls is extremely popular. Many doll collectors have had to decide whether to collect dolls made of bisque or of high quality vinyl. Some collectors will have dolls made of both.

                Many doll companies will make dolls made of both vinyl and bisque. Some will only make one or the other, as is the case with the Marie Osmond Company. It only makes bisque dolls.

                Bisque dolls can be broken more easily than vinyl dolls, but can last for centuries. Bisque doll collectors should be able to decide if a particular doll is more valuable than another. Often, the way the doll’s face is painted will determine the value. But the quality of the bisque is important as well. The bisque should not have too many black flecks or pin holes. Also, the bisque should not be chalky or heavy.

                A bisque doll that is well-painted should have finely detailed painted eyelashes and eyebrows, well-defined lips, and cheek blush that is not too blotchy.

                Bisque dolls fall into three types, adult fashion dolls, baby dolls, and character dolls. Character dolls depict a certain costume or personality.

                Of course, collectors are captivated by bisque dolls. They are often passed from generation to generation, and are a treasured heirloom.

                When bisque dolls ae auctioned, prices can vary. Take these prices for example.

                A pair of Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt vintage dolls were auctioned for just under $500, while a pair of Georgene Averill Bisque Bonnie babe dolls from 1926 went for $900. Bisque dolls have gone for much higher amounts as well. A black bebe doll went for $47,500, while an extremely rare French bisque doll by Albert Marque was auctioned for an astounding $150,000.

                Doll collectors are one of the largest groups of collectors. Most bisque doll collectors are women, and they are very much aware of what make up a valuable doll. They just need to remember to put the dolls in display cases where they are out of harm’s way.