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By Terry Kovel, Published June 04 2010

Once-common milliner’s heads now sought-after

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 nongovernmental use. Small amounts of uranium are available today, and some uranium glass is being made.


Q: I have a toy pot-belly stove that my husband bought about 30 years ago. It is embossed with “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.


Q: I have an armless rocking chair that was my great-grandmother’s. She passed away more than 20 years ago, at 100 years old. The chair has a label on the bottom that reads “Cochran Chair Company, Cochran, Indiana.” Can you tell me anything about it?

A: There is very little information about the Cochran Chair Co. It seems to have been in business from 1879 until 1983, but was no longer family-owned after the early 1970s. The label on your chair reads “Cochran, Indiana,” which means it was made before 1900. Cochran labels reading “Aurora, Indiana,” indicate the furniture was made after 1900. While your chair may have great sentimental value, it probably is worth less than $150.


Q: I have a calendar clock that belonged to my great-grandfather. It has been handed down throughout the years to the youngest child in the family. The clock was patented March 18, 1879, by Southern Calendar Clock Co. of St. Louis. It has two dials, one with the numbers of the hours and one with the numbers of the days of the month. The word “Fashion” is written in gilt letters between the two dials. Can you tell me the approximate value of my antique clock?

A: The Southern Calendar Clock Co. was founded in 1875 by three brothers, Henry Harrison, Lucius L. and Wallace W. Culver. The movements for the company’s Fashion calendar clocks were made by the Seth Thomas Clock Co. of Thomaston, Conn., and the calendars were made by Randall Andrews. The company advertised that the Fashion clock would run for 100 years.

Southern Calendar Clock Co. closed temporarily in 1889 but reopened for a short time in the 1890s. A clock like yours sold for $1,770 a few years ago.


For more information about antiques and collectibles and free price information, visit Kovel’s website, www.kovels.com

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 Kovel forum. 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 Kovel, The Forum of Fargo-Moorhead, King Features Syndicate, 300 W. 57th St., New York, NY 10019.