Q & A with Harry Rinker: Abe Lincoln’s Dresser, $5 Error Note, Pedal Batmobile
QUESTION: My grandfather stored furniture for a family who lost their farm during the Great Depression. They moved back to Illinois to be with their family. When they returned, they gave my grandfather his choice of one of the pieces as payment. Even though it was covered in three layers of paint, he chose a dresser. He painstakingly refinished it and gave it to his daughter (my mother) when she married. I acquired it 20 years ago when my mother passed away. It has traveled from Illinois to Missouri to Tucson and now resides in Montana. The dresser has a flat top featuring a scalloped top edge with a rectangular cartouche featuring a filigree swan’s neck top in the center. The vertical mirror is held in place by two half-length, flat brackets. The flat dresser surface is recessed between a single drawer on the left and right. Three full-size, graduated drawers with round wooden knobs are housed in a rectangular body raised from the floor by castors. The bottom of one of the drawers reads: “A. LINCOLN/ SANGAMON CO. / ILL / MAY 4, 1852.” Is it possible that this dresser actually belonged to Abraham Lincoln?
–NJ, Bozman, Mont., via e-mail
ANSWER: The illustrations that accompanied your e-mail, especially the architectural details of the piece and the writing on the drawer bottom, provided all the information necessary to answer your question. A warning is necessary before proceeding. It is often better not to question a family story. The truth may destroy the story. This is one of those cases.
Given that “Rinker on Collectibles” focuses on objects made after 1920 (preferably after 1945), it may surprise some that I am answering this question, especially since the design style dates the dresser to the late 19th century. The date when the inscription was added to the bottom of the drawer and how it came to be put there is what makes this a 20th-century question.
Authenticating an object requires the story associated with it be validated. All aspects of the story associated must be consistent. Any discrepancy negates the whole.
Abraham Lincoln did live in Sangamon County, Illinois. He represented the county in the Illinois legislature, was instrumental in having its county seat Springfield named capital of the state of Illinois, and represented the region in the United Sates House of Representatives. The location and date is correct.
The dresser is a transition piece featuring Renaissance Revival and Eastlake (Reformed Gothic) design elements. The Renaissance Revival design style arrived in America in the early 1850s. It reached its zenith during and immediately following the Civil War. Although the Eastlake (Reformed Gothic) design style had its origins in England in the late 1850s, it did not arrive on the American scene until the 1870s. Your dresser was part of a three-piece bedroom suite (bed, dresser and wash stand) made in the late 1870s or 1880s. When dating any piece of furniture, the most recent rather than the earliest design elements determine the age. The incised decoration and the machined dovetail joints of the drawers indicate a last quarter of the 19th century origin.
The style of the printed letters featured on the bottom of the drawer indicates they were added in the early to mid-20th century. It was a common practice from the 1910s through the 1950s for antiques dealers to enhance the value of pieces by adding information on the bottom of drawers and case interiors suggesting a much earlier origin for the piece. Occasionally, this enhancement indicated the piece belonged to a famous person. Dealers were accepted as experts; buyers did not question what they were told.
Whether deliberately done or just the whimsical prank of a prior owner, the true story of when the false information was added to the bottom of the drawer has been lost in time. Your dresser has a value between $375 and $425. If you find someone foolish enough to believe the writing on the bottom of the drawer is period, add another zero to your asking price, if selling.
QUESTION: I own a $5 dollar bill that contains a number of vertical ink smears on the back. Is it worth more than its face value?
– JJ, Shenandoah, Pa, via e-mail
ANSWER: You have an error note. George Cuhaj’s (editor) “Standard Catalog United States Paper Money,” 28th Edition (Iola, WI: KP [Krause Publications, an imprint of F+W Media], 2009) contains a chapter entitled “Error Notes,” written by Fredrick and Doris Bart which states:
“Paper money is produced at Bureau of Engraving and Printing (BEP) in Washington, D.C. with a satellite facility in Fort Worth, Texas. Federal Reserve Notes are printed via the dry intaglio method and finished on the currency overprinting and processing equipment (COPE) . . . With literally billions of notes produced on an annual basis, it becomes impossible for even experienced inspectors within the BEP to catch every mistake . . .”
Federal banknotes are printed in a three-step process. The back is printed first. The second printing is the face. The seal numbers and seals are added in the third printing.
The Barts identify 20 different errors—blank back; double denomination (face of one value, back of another); cutting error; faulty alignment; gutter or interior folds; ink smears; insufficient inking; inverted back; inverted overprints (serial number, treasury seal and other information printed upside down on the face); misaligned overprints; missing overprints; missing second printing; mismatched serial numbers; multiple errors; multiple printings; obstructed printings; offset printings (the ink from one side bleeds through to the other); overprinting (serial number, treasury seal, and other information printed on the wrong side); printed or exterior folds; and, stuck digits (clogging of number wheel). Gutter or interior fold, ink smears and misaligned overprint are the most commonly found errors. An ink smears bill lists at $10 in fine condition and $25 in extremely fine condition. Gutter or interior fold and misaligned overprint bills book at $30 in fine condition and $40 in extremely fine condition. A double denomination bill—one of the scarcest errors—is valued at $17,500 in fine and $25,000 in extremely fine condition.
Cuhaj grades a note in fine condition when it “shows considerable circulation, with many folds, creases and wrinkling. Paper is not excessively dirty but may have some softness.” A note in extremely fine condition is a “very attractive note, with light handling. May have a maximum of three light folds or one strong crease.”
Beware of fakes. Numbers can be removed and altered. Cutting errors can be created by purposely incorrectly cutting a full sheet of notes. Bogus mistake notes have flooded the Internet.
QUESTION: I own a 1966/1967 Batman Batmobile pedal car. I rode it when I was 4 to 6 years old. The pedals powered the front wheel. A joy stick turned the back wheels allowing the car to be steered. I have tried to find information about my Batmobile pedal car, but have been unsuccessful. Can you help?
– RW, via e-mail
ANSWER: “Batman,” a television series based on the DC comic book superhero, premiered on the American Broadcasting Company on Jan. 12, 1966. The series starred Adam West as Batman and Burt Ward as Robin. Burgess Meredith guest starred as The Penguin, Cesar Romero as The Joker, and Julie Newmar (seasons one and two) and Eartha Kitt (season three) as Catwoman. The series ran for 120 episodes, the last of which aired on March 14, 1968. The show continues in syndication.
The Golden Age of television licensing reached its zenith by the mid-1960s. The Batman license proved extremely popular. More than one hundred licenses were issued. Marx received a license for a Batmobile Rider, powered by a spring tension motor that was activated when the child pushed the car backwards and then released a handle to propel the car forward.
If the following auction listing information is correct, Mattel received a license for a front wheel pedal car. On Aug., 28, 2006, Semple & Associates of Williamsburg, Ohio, sold a “1966 Mattel ‘Batmobile’ pedal car” as part of its Pedal and Vintage Toys auction. A picture is available by doing a Google search for “Batmobile +Pedal Car +Mattel +1966.” Look for the Proxibid.com listing. The car sold for $250. WorthPoint.com also includes this information, but you have to be a member to obtain the price.
In studying the picture, I have questions about the decorating scheme. The pedal car background color is a light blue (not black or dark blue). The word “Jet” appears on the front fin and the two plane images appear more like fighter jets of the era than the Batplane. There are no standard Batman logos. My concern is that the piece may have been repainted with a different body theme.
Unfortunately, no pictures accompanied your e-mail. Hence, I assume you own the Mattel toy as opposed to the Marx Batmobile Rider. If your pedal car has a body scheme that features Batman motifs, its value, depending on condition, will be higher.
Rinker Enterprises and Harry L. Rinker are on the Internet. Check out his Web site.
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“Sell, Keep Or Toss? How To Downsize A Home, Settle An Estate, And Appraise Personal Property” (House of Collectibles, an imprint of the Random House Information Group), Harry’s latest book, is available at your favorite bookstore and via Harry’s Web site: http://www.harryrinker.com.
Harry L. Rinker welcomes questions from readers about collectibles, those mass-produced items from the 20th century. Selected queries will be answered on this site. Harry cannot provide personal answers. Photos and other material submitted cannot be returned. Send your questions to: Rinker on Collectibles, 22 Stillwater Circle, Brookfield, CT 06804. You can e-mail your questions to firstname.lastname@example.org. Only e-mails containing a full name and mailing address will be considered. Please indicate that these are questions for WorthPoint.
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