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Kim and Terry Kovel, Published March 28 2014

Kovels: Ugly antique jars often tell interesting stories

‘Ugly jar’ is just one of the names for an antique memory jar – and it often is an accurate description.

But a homemade memory jar is of interest because it tells a story.

The jars can be any shape, but the most popular with collectors today are jars made from 19th-century jugs or bottles. The jug or bottle was covered with a sticky material. It could be plaster, clay, putty or mortar. New ones are often covered with modern epoxy glue.

The creator placed small objects like stones, buttons, broken glass, small figurines, watch parts, jewelry, doll heads, coins or even framed daguerreotypes in the plaster.

Since the original idea of a memory jug is said to have started in Africa and related to water spirits, shells have long been popular. Traditionally the shells are broken to release the spirit of the deceased who inspired the jug.

Today the jugs are considered folk art and sell for $50 to $300 at shows, but a few exceptional antique examples have brought up to $3,000.

Most jugs can be dated by examining the things stuck in the plaster. Campaign buttons, coins and toy parts often suggest a date, but remember that new jugs can be made using old parts. A small percentage of old or new jugs are finished with a coat of gold paint or lacquer. Many are pictured online. They may be called forget-me-not jugs, memory vessels, whatnot jars or even by the French name “pique assiette.”

Q: I’m thinking of selling an old Steinway upright piano and I’d like to give the buyer as much information as possible. It says “Pat Nov 21 1893” with the serial number “79386” inside the flip-down panel. On the right side there is a gold stamp with gold “coins” that read “Piano manufacturers to H.M. the Queen of England, H.R. Highness the Prince of Wales and H.R. Highness the Princess of Wales.” What can you tell me about my piano?

A: Steinway & Co. was founded in New York City by Henry E. Steinway, a German immigrant. He was born Heinrich Steinweg and changed his name when he immigrated in 1850. He and his sons began making pianos under the Steinway & Co. name in 1853. The Nov. 21, 1893, patent is for “improvements in string-frames for upright pianos,” and was granted to Henry Ziegler, a member of the Steinway family.

The gold “coins” show that the company held royal warrants, which meant that they made pianos for members of the royal family. Queen Victoria granted the first royal warrant to the company in 1890. The serial number indicates that your piano was made in 1893. Steinway was bought by Paulson & Co. in September 2013.

Q: My ceramic mantel clock is about 15 inches high and 13 inches across at the base. It has an ornate shape and is painted in vivid pink, yellow, green and white with large flowers and greenery. There is gilt trim around the dial, which has Roman numerals. The clock chimes and is key-wound. The back opens up.

The clock is marked “Ansonia Clock Co., New York, USA, Patent June 14, 1881” and also “Royal” above a crown over a shield with “FAM” and “1755” inside it and the words “Bonn, Germany” beneath it. What can you tell me about this clock and its value?

A: Ansonia Clock Co. was in business in southeastern Connecticut from 1850 to 1929. Royal Bonn is the trade name used on pottery made by Franz Anton Mehlem. He operated a pottery in Bonn, Germany, beginning in 1836. The number “1755” is the first year a pottery operated on the site.

Villeroy & Boch bought the pottery in 1921, but it closed in 1931. The mark on your clock was used from 1890 to 1920 for clocks with Ansonia works and Royal Bonn cases. There are many Ansonia Royal Bonn clocks available. They sell for $500 to $750, depending on condition and the quality of the case and decoration.

Q: I have a great number of toys from three generations. My mother was born in 1899, I was born in 1926 and my daughter was born in 1964. The toys were stored in an unoccupied basement apartment.

Unfortunately, one of the apartment’s concrete walls leaked, the hot water heater leaked and the basement carpets got soaked. The toys include three large furnished wooden dollhouses, many dolls, doll clothing, games and other toys made of wood, metal or cloth. Most have a musty smell. Is there a way to eliminate the odors?

A: Special products that kill mold and mildew or prevent them from forming are available at hardware and home improvement stores. Move the toys into a dry room. Wash surfaces that smell moldy with a mild detergent solution. If that doesn’t get rid of the odor, try using vinegar, water with a little chlorine bleach in it, or a commercial product meant to kill mold.

Doll clothes and other textiles should be washed and dried in the normal way. Stuffed toys should be laundered and dried in a dryer at low temperature or dried in the sun. Sunlight helps remove the smell. Store the toys in a dry place that is not exposed to temperature extremes. Basements, attics and garages do not make good storage places for anything of value.

Tip: Never leave a note outside explaining that you are not at home.

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.