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By Terry Kovel, Published November 02 2012

Kovels Antiques: Halloween pottery popular then and now

Halloween decorations today include jack-o-lanterns, black cats, spiders, bats, ghosts, vampires, witches and other spooky, scary things. But in past years, many of these creatures were not threatening.

In the early days of Rookwood Pottery, an art pottery in Cincinnati (1880-1960), several decorators included bats, spiders and spider webs in the hand-painted scenes on vases and bowls. Maria Longworth Nichols, Albert Robert Valentien, Laura Fry, Matthew Daly and Josephine Zettel were decorators who made similar pieces featuring bats and spiders in the late 1800s.

They marked pieces with their initials as well as the word “Rookwood.” Their designs were influenced by the Japanese pottery shown at the 1876 World’s Fair in Philadelphia. Spider designs continued to be popular until as late as 1946, when Kay Ley created a vase covered in spiders and spider webs.

Bats and spiders were not part of Halloween decorations until the 1920s and did not become popular features of collectibles until the 1970s. Today we might not choose a flower vase for the dinner table that included “bugs,” but in Victorian times the little creatures were considered lucky, not frightening.


Q: I found a 1950s election item of unopened cigarettes with a picture of Eisenhower and the words “I Like Ike” on the front. On the back it says “Eisenhower for President.” Is it worth anything?

A: Cigarette packs for Dwight D. Eisenhower, the Republican candidate, and Adlai Stevenson, the Democratic candidate, were made by the Tobacco Blending Corp. of Louisville, Ky., during the 1952 presidential campaign. The packs were displayed on store counters, and the number of packs sold for each candidate was thought to predict the outcome of the election. It was an early “straw poll.” The sales of these two packages matched the actual presidential vote count better than political commentators’ predictions. The Smithsonian Institution includes the two packs in its collection of political memorabilia. Full packs can bring $30 to $45 today.

Q: I have a printed piece of paper granting power to members of the “Know Nothing” party of Oneida County, N.Y. I would like to know the document’s value.

A: The Know Nothing Party was active in U.S. politics during the 1840s and 1850s. The party’s beliefs were anti-immigrant and anti-Catholic. Party members resented competition for jobs from immigrants and wanted to ban immigrants from holding government jobs. When asked about their beliefs, party members said, “I know nothing.” The Know Nothings adopted “American Party” as their official name in 1854 and won several elections. In 1856 Millard Fillmore, U.S. president from 1850 to 1853 as a member of the Whig Party, ran as the American Party candidate. He finished last. Disagreement over slavery ultimately destroyed the American Party, and by the 1860s it was gone. Memorabilia from the party is rare. If your document is original, it could be valuable. Any auction house that sells political memorabilia would be interested in taking a look at it. A Know Nothing Flag recently sold for $42,300 at auction.

Q: Can you tell me something about my folding advertising card for Blackwell Durham Smoking Tobacco? When it is unfolded, you can see the face of Ulysses S. Grant. When it’s folded, the bottom half of Grant’s face is covered by half of another portrait so it looks like another person’s face. The verse under this second portrait is: “Come all you true born Democrats, you hardy hearts of oak, who know a thing when it is good and Blackwell’s Durham Smoke. Gaze on this face and you will see your presidential nominee, the sage and statesman S.J.T.” The verse under Grant’s portrait is: “And all you good Republicans will surely be enchanted when you behold the visage here and take the fact for Granted that he will win, if he will be Your Presidential nominee, the soldier hero U.S.G.” Another verse includes an ad for the tobacco, saying it “suits every taste, no matter what, Republican or Democrat.” Who is S.J.T.? When would this card have been made?

A: You have a famous metamorphic advertising card. It dates from 1876, the year Samuel J. Tilden (S.J.T.) was the Democratic Party’s nominee for U.S. president. Ulysses S. Grant was just finishing his second term in office, and there was some talk of his running for a third term. The card must have been printed before the Republican nomination went to Rutherford B. Hayes. Cards that combined advertising and political messages were popular from about 1875 to 1920. They are now considered “cross-collectibles”wanted by collectors of political memorabilia and by collectors of antique advertising.


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.