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By Terry Kovel, Published September 28 2012

Kovels Antiques: Collectors fight over unusual furniture pieces

Sometimes an unusual piece of furniture is offered for sale, and many collectors fight over it. A “Dr. Byrne’s Medical Examination Chair” was offered by Skinner Auctioneers of Boston.

The odd chair was clearly labeled with its name and the maker, S. Betz & Co. of Chicago. The red-painted steel chair also was marked on the footrests with the maker’s name and the words “Model 1901 Prof. A.H. Ferguson.” The chair has levers to adjust the back, footrest and height, and it can be flattened to use as a table with stirrups. It is about 56 inches high.

Nineteenth-century medical chairs are not often sold. This one brought $475. Would you buy a 1930 permanent-wave machine with a chair hood and dangling cords? Would you put a 1940s washing machine in your living room near a wall of polished steel school lockers? Few pieces of furniture representing technology (rather than decorative arts) have survived, but all of the ones we mentioned have sold at recent auctions.


Q: My child-size green lusterware tea set is decorated with white and pink flower blossoms. The set includes four cups and 3¼-inch-diameter saucers, a 3½-inch teapot, and a sugar and creamer. Some of the pieces are marked “Made in Japan.” There’s not a chip anywhere. Age and value?

A: Many lusterware children’s tea sets were made in Japan during the 1930s. Your set was probably made then, or perhaps as early as the late 1920s. Your set is a small one, without plates. It would sell for about $35 to $50.

Q: I have an original Woodstock poster in mint condition. What is it worth?

A: The famous Woodstock Music and Art Fair was held near White Lake, N.Y., in 1969. The festival is considered one of the most important moments in American music history.

The best-known Woodstock poster was designed by Arnold Skolnick and came in two sizes, 18 by 24 inches and 32 by 24 inches. It was printed on either heavy cardstock or very thin paper, and features a white dove perched on the neck of a guitar on a red background.

The true “original” poster was designed by David Edward Byrd and shows a nude woman surrounded by cupids and flowers. When the location of the festival was changed, Byrd was on vacation and unreachable, so Skolnick was commissioned to create the new poster.

Woodstock memorabilia are popular collectibles. An original Byrd poster in excellent condition recently auctioned for $468. The Skolnick version in near-mint condition sold for $1,156. But beware. Many reproductions exist.

Q: We bought an elaborately decorated silk robe while on a trip to Japan years ago. What is the best way to display this? Is it better to hang it up or to frame it?

A: If the robe is in good condition and not too heavy, it can be hung on a hanger. The Textile Museum recommends wrapping a wooden hanger in polyester quilt batting to support the shoulders. Cover the padding with washed muslin. If you are hanging it in a closet, you should cover it with washed muslin to protect it from dust. Archival storage items can be purchased at closet shops. Don’t display the robe where it will be exposed to sunlight or fluorescent light. Even incandescent lighting can cause fading over time. Extreme heat or cold also can damage textiles. If the robe is framed, special UV-filtering glass and acid-free materials should be used.

Q: I have an old Grover & Baker sewing machine. It has all of the original pieces and works well. What is it worth?

A: Grover & Baker Sewing Machine Co. of Boston was founded in the mid-19th century by tailors William O. Grover and William E. Baker. The company is known for inventing and patenting technology that revolutionized the modern sewing machine. Its inventions included the first portable sewing machine and fabric-feed systems. In 1875 the company merged with the Domestic Sewing Machine Co., and the Grover & Baker brand ceased to exist. Grover & Baker sewing machines are popular with collectors. In 2004 a Grover & Baker sewing machine sold for $1,397 at auction.

Q: I own a canceled check from Mae West’s personal account at California Bank in Hollywood. The check, in the amount of $25, is signed by West and dated Dec. 24, 1945. How much would it sell for?

A: Mae West, originally named Mary Jane West, was an American actress, screenwriter and playwright. She was born in 1893 in Brooklyn, N.Y. West started her career as a playwright and actress on Broadway. Her plays proved controversial and received mixed critical reception, but they were well-attended.

In 1932 she was offered a contract with Paramount Pictures and made her debut in the film “Night After Night” with George Raft. West went on to star in many films, including “I’m No Angel” with Cary Grant.

She stayed in show business for decades and has been named by the American Film Institute as the 15th-greatest female star in American cinema history. One of her signed checks drawn on the same bank recently auctioned for $96.


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.