« Continue Browsing

e-mail article Print     e-mail article E-mail

By Terry Kovel, Published July 13 2012

Kovels Antiques: Victorian-era ads featured veggies acting as humans

Fresh vegetables were part of the diet of the Victorian household during the warm, growing months. But stored root vegetables and home- canned food were used on snowy days.

Advertisers knew that imaginary vegetables acting like humans were as popular a fantasy as fairies, elves, brownies, pixies and gnomes. Few color pictures were available. Magazines and newspapers were printed in black and white. But in the 1880s, retail stores advertised with colored trade cards, about 6 inches by 2½ inches, that were saved and often put in scrapbooks.

There were many different anthropomorphic fruit and vegetable cards. Humanized veggies were pictured not only in the U.S. but also in England, Germany, France and Italy. The comic figures with human bodies often had names, Mr. Prune, The Baldwin Twins (apple heads) or Mr. Pumpkin. And there often was a funny caption, like two strawberry heads asking “What are you doing in my bed?”

The trade cards are not the only place for veggie people. Vegetable people postcards came next, about 1900. Figural salt and pepper shakers, children’s books, decorated plates and even small figurines were popular in the early 1900s. Now that eating fresh food is a national goal, veggie people are being noticed by collectors. And maybe they will encourage the family to eat their fruit and vegetables. Trade cards can be $10 to $25 each, postcards a little less. Many salt-shaker sets sell for less than $40.


Q: About 25 years ago, I bought a kitchen table with one leaf and four chairs at a used-furniture store in Connecticut. On one end of the table, there’s a label that says “Dinah Cook Furniture” around the image of a black woman wearing a kerchief on her head. Can you tell me when the set was made and who made it?

A: “Dinah Cook Furniture” was a trademark used by the Western Chair Co. of Chicago. The trademark may have been used to appeal to black customers during the great migration of black Americans from the South to Northern cities. If so, the set probably dates from the 1920s or ’30s.

Q: I have a 1937 Philadelphia Athletics scorecard that’s in mint condition. It’s really more like a program because it’s a six-page booklet that’s 10¾ inches high by 6½, inches wide. The inside of the booklet includes a team photo and roster, a schedule of home games, a list of the pitchers and catchers for all the teams in the American and National leagues, a photo of Chubby Dean with his facsimile autograph, the prices of refreshments and a lot of interesting ads. What is it worth?

A: Reproductions of your scorecard have been made, so the first thing to do is to make sure it’s an original. If it’s an original, you can try selling it online or to a dealer who sells sports memorabilia. Expect to get about $35-$45 for it. The Philadelphia Athletics, an American League team founded in 1901, became the Kansas City Athletics in 1955, then moved to California in 1968 and became the Oakland Athletics.

Q: I have two small rubber toy motorcycles that belonged to a cousin, born about 1930. One is red with green wheels; the other is green with red wheels. Both have Auburn printed on the rear wheel and a rider who appears to be a policeman. What can you tell me about them?

A: The Auburn Rubber Co. was founded in Auburn, Ind., in 1913. It started out as the Double Fabric Tire Corp., a manufacturer of tires. In the 1920s the company was reorganized and the name changed to the Auburn Rubber Co. Auburn began making rubber toy soldiers in 1935 and eventually became a major producer of rubber toys. Toy soldiers, cars, trucks, airplanes, boats, tractors, building blocks and many other rubber toys were made. The faces and details on the toys were hand painted. The toys were inexpensive and sold in dime stores. Sears, Roebuck catalogs sold a line of Auburn rubber toys under the brand name Happy Time. Toy rubber motorcycles were made in several colors in the 1940s and ’50s. Auburn began making vinyl toys in 1954. The company was sold in 1960 and went bankrupt in 1969. Rubber toys can warp or become dry and brittle if they are not stored properly. They should be kept where it is cool. Value of your toy motorcycle, about $25 to $35.

Q: What is the difference between an “antique” and a “collectible”? And what does the word “vintage” mean? I figure you’re the expert and can help me understand.

A: Different people, even different experts, define these words differently. Most collectors accept the U.S. Customs Service’s 1930 definition of an “antique” as something of value that’s 100 or more years old. In 1993 the U.S. Customs Modernization Act added that if the “essential character” of a piece has been changed or more than half of it has been repaired or restored, it’s no longer considered an antique. A “collectible” is therefore something of value (to someone) that’s less than 100 years old. The term “vintage” is wishy-washy. It’s often used to describe clothing your grandmother – or even your mother – wore or furniture in your childhood bedroom. We usually use the word “vintage” to describe something of value that’s more than 50 years old and “collectible” to refer to anything under 50. But there are no hard and fast rules.


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.