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By Terry Kovel, Published November 23 2012

Kovels Antiques: Tobacco jars sought after, but many fakes

The first U.S. Surgeon General warning on tobacco products was required in 1964.

Tobacco was labeled as bad for your health. Americans were soon using fewer tobacco products, such as cigarettes, pipe tobacco, snuff, chewing tobacco and cigars.

In the late Victorian era, use of snuff lost favor, and tobacco was used mainly for pipes. Tobacco is a dried leaf, and it crumbles easily, so it’s kept in a container that could used as a humidor.

By the mid-19th century, many pottery jars were being made in Germany in amusing shapes. Few were made in the United States.

Animals, human heads, historic figures and obvious shapes like barrels were popular. By the 1930s, most potteries were making more-formal and less-colorful jars.

Collectors search for ornamental examples, especially those made of majolica or another colorful ceramic or by well-known factories. Tobacco jars range from 6 to 13 inches tall. They sometimes are confused with cookie jars. But a jar-humidor has a section with a hole inside the lid that held a moist sponge. And a tobacco jar lid opens at half the height of the jar. A cookie jar has a lid that opens near the top.

Tobacco jars, especially the full figures of a person or animal, sell for $500 to more than $1,000. Beware. There are many fakes.

Q: We recently bought a French provincial-style sideboard from a friend of ours and would like to learn something about the maker. There is a plastic label inside one of the drawers that reads “Made by John-Widdicomb Co., Designed by Ralph H. Widdicomb, Grand Rapids.”

A: There were two furniture companies in Grand Rapids, Mich., with the name Widdicomb. George Widdicomb emigrated from England in 1858 and opened a cabinet shop. His four sons joined the business, which became Widdicomb Furniture Co., in 1873. George’s son John left the company in 1893 and established a business making fireplace mantels and woodwork. John’s company became John Widdicomb Co. in 1897. John Widdicomb Co. gradually acquired several other furniture companies. In 1970, it bought the name Widdicomb Furniture Co., which had been inactive for several years. John’s nephew, Ralph H. Widdicombe (who used the original spelling of the family’s last name), was the chief designer for the John Widdicomb Co. until 1951. His French provincial designs were introduced in 1924. L. & J.G. Stickley of Manlius, N.Y., bought the brand name and assets of John Widdicomb Co. in 2002. Stickley now manufactures a line of very expensive John Widdicomb furniture.

Q: My old Wheaties box is intact and has eight sports cards printed on it, including football players Otto Graham and Johnny Lujack and baseball star Stan Musial. Can you tell me when the box was originally sold and what it’s worth? And where should I try to sell it?

A: Your old cereal box was on store shelves in 1952. Boxes were sold that year with a total of 60 different trading cards of 30 athletes. The athletes were shown in both portrait and action poses, and the images are in Wheaties colors – blue and white on an orange background. You were smart never to cut the cards. An uncut box is more valuable than the eight cut cards printed on the box. Depending on the identity of the other athletes pictured on your box, the box could sell for more than $100, perhaps a lot more. Your box is a crossover collectible, but it would be worth more to a sports collector than to an advertising or cereal-box collector. You probably would get the best price by selling it at an auction that specializes in sports memorabilia.

Q: We own a 6-foot-tall cigar-store Indian made of either wood or some kind of composite. It weighs nearly 200 pounds. He is slightly stylized, with closed arms and legs. We paid $800 for it at auction about 20 years ago. There are no marks or words on it at all, but we know it was used in window displays at a Joseph Horne department store in Pennsylvania. The chain closed in 1994. What is the figure worth? We would like to sell it.

A: Your unmarked cigar-store figure could be sold at an auction of antique and vintage advertising. We suspect it would sell for roughly what you paid for it because it was probably made for Horne’s in the middle of the 1900s and never sat in front of a real cigar store. The most valuable figures date from the late 19th or early 20th century and are realistic, with arms and legs posed away from the body. And many old ones are clearly labeled with the name and even the address of a cigar store.

Q: In 1996 I paid $12 for a 5-inch Donald Duck figural mug at an antiques mall. The mug is in the shape of Donald’s head. The base is blue, the same color as the rim around the top of the mug. It’s marked with a copyright symbol and the words “Walt Disney Prods., Japan.” I’d like to know the mug’s age and value.

A: Walt Disney ceramic dishes were made in Japan before and after World War II, but your mug dates from after the war. The mark dates it anywhere from the 1950s to the early 1980s. It would sell today for roughly what you paid for it 16 years ago.

Tip

Put a wide-angle viewer in a solid outside door so you can see who is there before opening the door.