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Kim and Terry Kovel, Published February 13 2014

Kovels: Valentine’s cards have a long history

The history of valentines can be traced back to St. Valentine, who died a martyr. A feast was named for him by the Catholic Church in the year 496. Other historical or legendary sources to the holiday mention two other men named Valentine, a suggestion that the holiday descended from a Roman fertility fest, and references to the Duke of Orleans’ letter in the 15th century that is considered the first valentine.

Then in the 14th century, Geoffrey Chaucer wrote the first mention of love and Valentine’s Day. The oldest surviving valentine dates from 1477.

Now skip forward to the modern holiday and verifiable facts. By 1797, valentine cards were being homemade of paper, ribbons and lace. In 1874, Esther Howland (1824-1904) of Worcester, Mass., was the first American to make valentines to sell commercially.

Soon valentines, some of them comic, were being mass-produced by companies in the style of the day, although handmade folk art cards remained popular.

Very lacey, fancy valentines were favored by the 1880s. “Vinegar Valentines” with insulting verses, also known as “Penny Dreadfuls,” were popular by 1900.

And from 1900 to 1930, postcards, pop-ups and mechanical valentines were fashionable. The 1930s to 1980s saw sets of printed cards to be cut out and given to each child in a classroom. And by 1975, there were cards that could play music. Save any clever cards you get this year and start a collection of old ones. Good examples still can be found.

Q: I inherited my grandmother’s doll-size rocking chair, which has been in our family for years. It’s made of a dark wood and is just 16 inches high. The back and seat are made of one continuous piece of thin wood attached to the frame with brass tacks. The back has a punched-hole design that includes the word “Pet” in capital letters and the letter “Y.” The seat has a punched square with a star in a circle inside it. Can you tell me who made this chair and how old it is?

A: Your chair was made by Gardner & Co., which was founded in Clarksville, N.J., in 1863. Gardner was granted several patents for improvements to chair seats and frames. Chairs with perforated plywood seats were made in full size, child size and doll size. The “Pet” chair also was made in a non-rocking version. The company was in business until about 1888, when the factory burned down. Your chair was made between 1871 and 1888. The value of your doll-size chair is $100 to $125.

Q: Back in the early 1940s, my in-laws received two prints of hummingbirds as a wedding gift. They left the prints to us and I would like to learn more about them. The words on the back of each print are in French, but I can translate some of the words. They include the names of the pictured birds (one is a bearded hummingbird and the other has a forked tail) and the name of the publisher, Arthus-Bertrand. What can you tell us about the prints?

A: Arthus-Bertrand, which still is in business in Paris, was founded by Claude Arthus-Bertrand in 1803. Today it sells all sorts of jewelry, medals and decorations. Back in the early 1830s, however, Arthus-Bertrand published a book titled “The Natural History of Hummingbirds,” by Rene Primevere Lesson, a French ornithologist and naturalist. The book included engraved prints of hummingbirds. The book’s prints are identified on the bottom of each page, not on the back like your prints. So it is likely your prints are later copies of the prints in the book.

Q: I have a Simmons Wonder ice-cream maker that has been in my family for years. It makes one cup of ice cream. In 1924, when my mother was 6 years old, she was run over by a Model T and was in a body cast for a few weeks. During her recovery, her grandmother made ice cream for her in this ice-cream maker. Can you tell me anything about it?

A: Edward Simmons was a hardware salesman who started his own wholesale hardware company in St. Louis in 1872. The company was incorporated as Simmons Hardware Co. in 1874. Simmons sold thousands of tools and hardware items through catalog sales and was the first to issue catalogs with color photos.

Wonder was one of the lines carried by the company. Its best-known brand was Keen Kutter, a name still in use. Simmons Hardware was bought by A.F. Shapleigh Hardware Co. in 1940. The value of your ice-cream maker is about $200.

Q: I recently found my grandfather’s old autograph book. He was good friends with the comedians Lou Costello and Bud Abbott. The book includes their autographs as well as those of several sports figures, including Babe Ruth, Jack Dempsey, Jimmy Braddock, Joe DiMaggio and several others. I think some of them go back to the early 1920s. What do you think these are worth?

A: The value of an autograph depends on how famous the person is and how rare the autograph is. If the celebrity or sports star rarely signed autographs, they will be harder to find today and worth more.

Autographs can sell for only a few dollars or for hundreds of dollars or more. A Babe Ruth autograph sold at auction recently for more than $1,000. Autographs of famous sports stars appeal to collectors of sports memorabilia as well as to autograph collectors.

If you are thinking of selling your grandfather’s autograph book, you should contact auction houses that specialize in autographs or sports memorabilia to learn more about pricing.

Tip: The edges of a cut glass piece should be of even thickness, and smooth rims should be polished if the piece has not been repaired by grinding off any damaged section.

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.