Q & A with Harry Rinker: Chip Hilton Books, First Lady Dolls, Poole Pottery

QUESTION: I have a collection of Chip Hilton books which I acquired during the 1950s and early 1960s. Do they have any value?

– S, Reading, Pa.

ANSWER: Although I grew up in the late 1940s/early 1950s, I was unfamiliar with the Chip Hilton juvenile book series until I researched them. I cut my reading teeth on earlier juvenile series by the likes of Horatio Alger, titles which I acquired when collecting scrap newspaper. I also was academic rather than sports inclined. By the time I graduated from high school in 1959, I qualified as a nerd, a 1950s slang term that reached its zenith at the time.

TRIVIA QUIZ: How did “nerd” originate?

Harry RinkerClair Bee (1896-1983) issued a series of 24 juvenile sports novels, 23 published by Grosset & Dunlap between 1948 and 1965, and “Fiery Fullback” (#24), published by Broadman & Holman, a Nashville publisher specializing in religious titles, in 2002. Bee, a college basketball coach, was inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame in 1968. The series focused primarily on three sports—baseball, basketball, and football. In 1997 the NCAA introduced the Chip Hilton Player of the Year Award in Division I men’s basketball, awarded to a player who demonstrates outstanding character, humility, integrity, leadership, talent and sportsmanship on and off the court.

The character William “Chip” Hilton was a star athlete for the Valley Falls High Big Reds or State University Statesmen who constantly persuaded his teammate or teammates to overcome some psychological issue and play to his/their potential, the end result usually being yet another championship. Chip, devoid of a love interest, hung out with his friends Biggie, Fireball, Speed, and Soapy.

Two to three non-sport subplots also were incorporated in each story. These ranged from Chip’s boss falling ill to the social issues involved in an African-American joining the basketball team (Hoop Crazy #6).

Interest in the Chip Hilton series lessened during the 1960s, the result of television and the rising cost of the books. Whereas 14 titles were publishing in the 1950s, only six were published in the 1960s. Because of their limited press runs, these later titles command premium prices.

The first six books in the series were issued in a red, smooth texture binding with a dust jacket. The first six were reissued and joined issues #7 through #19 in a rougher tweed binding and dust jackets. Eventually, the full series of 23 titles was issued with picture covers and no dust jackets.

Broadman & Holman republished the series in paperback in 1998. Bee’s children updated the manuscripts. Chip now watches ESPN, reads Sport Illustrated and uses a computer. His friends now include African American, Asian and Hispanic characters. A religious content also has been added. Series purists do not find these changes appealing.

Chip Hilton series books appear regularly on eBay and other Internet sale sites. Prices range from $1 to $2 to asking prices in the low hundreds for “Hungry Hurler” (#23). Most books sell between $15 and $30. Earlier editions with dust jackets command higher prices than the picture cover edition. The secondary resale market for Broadman & Holman titles is weak.

If you decide to sell your collection, sell it as a set. Make the buyer take the lesser titles to get the better titles.

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QUESTION: I own the first six dolls in Madame Alexander’s “First Ladies Series.” What is their value?

– EE, Southampton, Pa.

ANSWER: Madame Beatrice Alexander (March 9, 1895-October 3, 1990) and her husband Phillip Behrman founded the Alexander Doll Company in 1923. Maurice Alexander, Beatrice’s father, is credited with starting the first doll hospital in the United States.

In the 1930s the company made high-quality composition dolls with a strong emphasis on well-made costumes. Beginning in 1948, the company switched from composition to hard plastic. The 1950s is considered the Alexander Doll Company’s golden age. Having created the Dionne Quintuplet dolls in 1937, the company offered a Queen Elizabeth doll in 1953. The Fashion Academy awarded Madame Alexander a gold medal in 1951, 1952, 1953 and 1954 for her costume designs. Cissette, Cissy, and the 8-inch Wendy were introduced.

When Madame Alexander turned 90 in 1985, she assumed an advisory role in the company. Private investors bought the Alexander Doll Company in 1988. The company’s showrooms remained at 615 West 131st Street, New York. The Kaizen Breakthrough Partnership LP, acquired the company in 1995. It continues to introduce new dolls. Click here to visit its Web site for more information.

The Alexander Doll Company issued the first six dolls in the “First Ladies” series during the 1976 Bicentennial celebration. The Smithsonian’s First Ladies inaugural gown collection inspired the dolls’ costumes.

In order to be considered complete, the doll must be in its period box and have all the literature that accompanied it. Fifty plus “First Ladies” dolls are offered for sale on eBay in the course of a month. Prices realized range from $15 to around $50. Asking prices in excess of $75 go largely unanswered. Because of the Bicentennial craze, the production level for the first series appears to have exceeded that of later series. As a result, the first six dolls are common and sell for less than many of the other dolls. Prices range between $15 and $20.

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QUESTION: I purchased a Poole Pottery vase at a garage sale for $1. It measures 6 5/8 inches high and has a round body ending in a tapered, ridged foot that resembles the threads of an old Ball fruit jar. The motif is a row of abstract trees. Poole Pottery seems to be coming into its own. Was this a wise purchase?

– I.A., Fergus, Ontario, Canada, via e-mail

ANSWER: Brand name, whether manufacturer or industrial designer, is a factor in determining what is and is not collectible in the 21st century. Global interest is another. While Poole Pottery is broadly known among Canadian and English collectors, its recognition in the United States is limited to advanced Modernist collectors.

Ask A WorthologistAlthough Poole Pottery, located in Poole, Dorset, England, began in 1873, it is best known for its Art Deco and Post-World War II studio pieces and patterns. In the post-1950s, Leslie Elsden, Tony Morris, and Guy Sydenham were among the chief designers. Carol Cutler, Diana Davies, Ann Godfrey, Ros Sommerfeld and Carolyn, Julia and Laura Wills were among the leading decorators.

Poole produced three basic types of ware: (1) mass-produced studio pieces, (2) dinnerware (Traditional and Twintone are the two most popular patterns) and (3) mass-production household wares. I looked at more than a dozen Web sites offering Poole Pottery studio pieces. I found nothing comparable to your vase. This leads to the conclusion that it is a mass-production household item. As such, its collectible value is limited.

Since the mass-produced Poole Pottery studio pieces start around $50 and can easily range in the hundreds, mass-produced Poole Pottery pieces with abstract Modernist designs are going to find an audience. Your $1 was wisely spent, provided you are willing to hang on to the piece for a decade or two. The vase has a $5 to $10 future, possibly more if the pattern designer is identified and the piece is illustrated in a reference book.

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QUESTION: I have a Fisher Price music box/teaching clock from the mid-1960s. What can you tell me about it?

– AG, via e-mail

ANSWER: Fisher Price’s #997 Music Box Tick-Tock Clock was made between 1962 and 1967. The music box played Henry C. Work’s “Grandfather’s Clock,” a popular 1876 folk song, against a “tick-tock” sound as the hands go around. The child also can move the hands manually.

There are two variations of the clock. The 1962-1963 clock had a yellow plastic carry handle on the top. The 1964-1967 version has a red plastic carry handle. There are other subtle variations, but the handle color is the quickest way to determine the difference. Both variations measured 10 ½ inches high, 6 ½ inches wide, and 3 inches deep.

The #997 clock was replaced by the #998 clock in 1968.

As with so many other collectibles, asking prices from Internet sale sites are considerably higher than those found on Internet auction sites. Asking prices on direct sale sites varied from $28 to $55. An example sold on eBay for $7. Listings with an opening bid request of $9.55 and a Buy-it-Now price of $15 failed to attract buyers.

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TRIVIA QUIZ ANSWER: Dr. Seuss’s “If I Ran a Zoo” (1950) had Gerald McGrew claiming he would collect “a Nerkle, a Nerd, and a Seersucker too.” A 1951 Newsweek article reported nerd was a synonym for “drip” or “square” in Detroit.

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Rinker Enterprises and Harry L. Rinker are on the Internet. Check out his Web site.

You can listen and participate in Harry’s antiques-and-collectibles radio call-in show “Whatcha Got?” on Sunday mornings between 8 a.m. and 10 a.m. Eastern Time. It streams live on the Genesis Communications Network.

“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 harrylrinker@aol.com. Only e-mails containing a full name and mailing address will be considered. Please indicate that these are questions for WorthPoint.

Copyright © Rinker Enterprises, Inc. 2010

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