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Kim and Terry Kovel, Published January 24 2014

Kovels: Fortune tellers have been popular for years

In the United States, many 20th-century amusement parks had fortune teller machines that enticed customers. Put a coin (or, in later years, a dollar bill) in the slot, and the life-size figure in the glass-fronted booth nodded and moved mouth, hands and even eyes while giving you a card telling your future.

The most famous fortune teller machine is the 100-year-old Zoltar, the exotic figure featured in the movie “Big.” He turned a boy into a grown-up Tom Hanks.

But many machines featured female gypsy fortune tellers dressed in appropriate clothes. The most famous of these is Esmeralda, a machine that has been made by several manufacturers, many of them unknown, since the early 1900s. An Esmeralda even sits on Main Street in Disneyland. She moves, hands out a fortune card, and then winks.

The rarest fortune-telling machine known today was discovered in a restaurant in Virginia City, Mont., about seven years ago. It’s about 100 years old and speaks in a 100-year-old voice when a coin is inserted. The machine is said to be worth more than $2 million. Vintage fortune teller machines sell for thousands of dollars. New ones are being made today and can cost $9,000 or more.

Q: I was given a child’s rocking chair more than 40 years ago. I would like to know more about it. It’s stamped “Gardner’s Patent, May 21, 1872.” It is wood with brass tacks and has holes in the seat in a pattern of a star in a circle. Can you tell me something about the maker, age and value?

A: Gardner & Co. was in business from 1863 to 1888 in Clarksville (now Glen Gardner), N.J. The company made several types of plywood chairs. George Gardner held the patent for a plywood seat made of a layer of canvas and three layers of veneer running in opposite directions. The value of your child’s rocking chair is $150 to $200.

Q: I have eight place settings of Stangl Pottery’s Thistle pattern dishes, plus serving pieces. Can you tell me how old they are and what they’re worth?

A: Stangl Pottery of Flemington and Trenton, N.J., was originally named Fulper Pottery. The name of the pottery was changed to Stangl Pottery in 1929, three years after Johann Stangl became president of the company. The pottery was sold in 1972 and closed in 1978. Stangl made Thistle pattern from 1951 to 1967. Your set probably is worth about half of what similar new sets sell for today.

Q: I have an Aladdin lamp that has been in our family for generations. The knob on the burner is marked “Mantle Lamp Co., Nu-Type, Model B, Aladdin, patents pending, Made in U.S.A., Chicago, Ill.” It has a green glass shade with a landscape design on it. I’d like to know more about it and how old it is.

A: The Mantle Lamp Co. of America was founded by Victor Johnson in 1908. The company trademarked the name “Aladdin” that same year. In 1926, Johnson bought a glass factory and began manufacturing glass lamps, shades and chimneys. His lamps were sold by traveling salesmen.

Although electricity was common in cities, there were still many rural homes without it, and kerosene lamps continued to sell well. Nu-Type burners were first made in 1932. Model B burners were introduced in 1933 and were made until 1955.

The Mantle Lamp Co. merged with Aladdin Industries, a subsidiary, in 1949. The lamp division was sold to a group of investors in 1999 and became the Aladdin Mantle Lamp Co., which still is in business in Clarksville, Tenn. Your lamp was made between 1933 and 1949, when the company merged with Aladdin Industries and moved to Tennessee. Aladdin Knights of the Mystic Light is a club for collectors of Aladdin lamps. The club’s website, AladdinKnights.org, can give you more information about Aladdin lamps.

Q: Would you please tell me the value of a plastic model set of a Borax 20-Mule Team? We have an unassembled one we mailed away for when we were kids in the mid-1960s. The wagons are light blue and the animals black. There’s also a paper insert that explains the history of the 20-Mule Team.

A: Unassembled sets like yours sell for about $20. They aren’t rare. Apparently, a lot of kids mailed away for the sets and never put them together. The cleaning brand named 20 Mule Team Borax dates back to 1891 for the teams of 18 mules and two horses that pulled wagons of borax (sodium borate) out of California’s Death Valley in the 1880s. Today, the brand is owned by Dial.

Q: My father served in the British army in World War I. I have his camera and case in excellent condition. Please tell me what the camera is worth and any other information you might have.

A: The value of an old camera depends on the maker. You can find information by searching online or by going to your local library. If you don’t know the model number of your camera, look at photos of vintage cameras by that maker and try to find one like it. If you check values online, remember that the asking price may be higher than what the camera eventually sells for.

Tip: Do not wrap or store scrapbooks in anything made of PVC rigid or flexible plastic.

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


Kim and Terry Kovel answer 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 other Kovel forum. We cannot guarantee the return of photographs, but if a stamped envelope is included, we will try. The amount of mail makes personal answers or appraisals impossible. Write to Kovels, The Forum of Fargo-Moorhead, King Features Syndicate, 300 W. 57th St., New York, NY 10019.