Q & A with Harry Rinker: Early Calculator, Game Plates, Colt Commemorative Set

QUESTION: My family owns a Monroe Model LA5-160 S/N 526556 calculator. What can you tell me about it?

– JG, via e-mail

ANSWER: Frank Baldwin and Jay R. Monroe founded the Monroe Calculating Machine Company in 1911/1912. Baldwin, an architect and prolific inventor, patented a pinwheel calculator in 1872-73. The Monroe mechanism is based upon his 1908 patent. Monroe was a businessman. The first business calculators had limited functionality. Early pinwheel mechanisms allowed for division and multiplication, but were cumbersome. Monroe recognized that Baldwin’s pinwheel advances allowed increased accuracy and speed.

The company acquired an Orange, N.J., building formerly occupied by the Pike Adding Machine Company. The Monroe “High Speed Adding Calculator” appeared on the market in 1914. Chief engineers Edgar Phinney and George Chase continued to develop the machine.

The Model LA5-160 S/N526556 featured stepped drum, semi-automatic technology and 8 keyboard, 8 counter, and 16 accumulator digits. It was introduced in the late 1940s and manufactured at the company’s plants in Orange and Amsterdam, Holland. The Amsterdam plant was built as part of the post-World War II Marshall Plan.

Thanks to technological advances, old calculators like the Monroe Model LA5-160 have no reuse value. Collecting interest in the United States is limited. There is only a small cadre of business machine collectors and museums. Because of its popularity, those who want a Monroe Model LA5-160, most likely have one. The European market, especially in Germany, for old business machines is much stronger. Auction Team Köln, a leading auctioneer of old office equipment, maintains an American office for the purposes of acquiring consignments for sale in Germany.

Conversation value is your calculator’s primary value. As such, a decorator who is looking for a decorative/display piece for a business office would pay between $25 and $40. If sold at auction, the chance of your calculator realizing more than $25 is slim. In the incredibly optimistic world of eBay sellers, one individual listed a Model LA5-160 with a $79.99 “buy it now” price. It did not sell. Surprise, surprise!

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QUESTION: I inherited a set of four dinner plates from my mother. One plate features a picture of a fish. The other three have bird designs. All four utilize the same scalloped edge blank. Gold gilding appears along portions of the edge. The backstamp consists of a red crown resting on the top of an ornate letter “S” with “GERMANY” in the middle. What can you tell me about my plates?

– PJ, via e-mail

ANSWER: Game plates and sets were popular dinnerware serving pieces during the last quarter of the 19th century and first 15 years of the 20th century. A game set consisted of a serving platter, eight to 12 serving plates, and a sauce or gravy boat. The serving plates were often decorated in pairs. Game sets came in three varieties—game, fish and fowl.

According to Robert E. Röntgen’s “Marks on German, Bohemian, and Austrian Porcelain: 1710 to the Present, Updated & Revised Edition” (Schiffer Books, 1997), the mark you described was used by K. Steinmann of Tiefenfurth, Germany, a porcelain manufacturer, between approximately 1900 and 1932. Tiefenfurth, located in Silesia, became part of Poland following World War II. The town’s name was changed to Parowa. Several ceramic manufacturers were located in Tiefenfurth. K. Steinmann Porzellanfabrik was founded in 1868 and remained in business through 1938. The firm specialized in the manufacture of household, table, and decorative porcelain, as well as decorating porcelain for other firms.

Thus far, the news is good. However, it is time for caveats. Reproduction game plates, many featuring backstamps of German and Austrian manufacturers, flooded into the American market in the 1970s and 1980s. The plates had full-color decals and scalloped edges with gilt highlight.

Your plates may be reproductions. I have three primary concerns. First, the blank has more a post-1945 than pre-1915 appearance. Second, survival of one fish and three fowl plates with the same backstamp is disconcerting. If period, these fish and fowl plates came from two separate services. Third, based on my analysis of the pictures that accompanied your e-mail, the images appear to be flat in tone.

Examine your plates carefully. Pre-1915 game sets were hand decorated. Check for brush strokes. Rub your hand over the plate to see if you feel a slightly raised surface in the painted area. Using a loupe, examine the images. If they break up into tiny dots, they are definitely reproductions.

The gold gilding provides another clue. If it is shiny, the plates are reproductions. Older gilding will mellow (dull) over time.

Wear provides another clue. If the plates look new, they are most likely reproductions. Game sets were used. Older plates should show some evidence of use. Hold the plates in your hand and move them up and down allowing light to rake and bounce off their surface. Evidence of knife cuts and/or scratches is a good thing.

If your plates are reproductions, their value is between $5 and $8. However, if your plates are period (dating pre-1915), their value is between $25 and $35. A decade ago, the period plates’ value would have been $50 plus. Tastes change. These plates have little appeal to younger collectors.

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QUESTION: I own a Colt Nevada commemorative set. The set consists of two guns, a single action Army chambered in 45LC and a Peacemaker chambered in 22LR. I have the presentation box and accompanying paperwork. I purchased the set in the mid-1960s for $360. What is it worth today?

– S, Harrisburg, Pa.

ANSWER: A commemorative firearm is a limited edition of an historic gun(s) issued to commemorate/celebrate a historical event or anniversary of a person, group of individuals, or organization and sold in a presentation case. Such issues often have special serial numbers, finishes, engravings and etching, and/or other features. Most are bought for their potential collecting value as opposed to being used for shooting. Firing a commemorative seriously impacts its secondary market value.

Commemorative weapons are not to be confused with limited edition weapons, even though both editions are issued in limited numbers. Limited edition weapons do not commemorate anything and are bought primarily for shooting purposes. Further, while commemorative edition weapons are sold at a premium price, limited edition weapons are priced at or near the standard model.

Marlin began the commemorative edition fad in 1960 when it issued a 90th Anniversary Edition of its Model 39A. Colt quickly followed with its Colt No. 4 derringer that was inscribed, finished, and cased to commemorate Geneseo’s 125th anniversary.

In researching your Nevada set, I found Colt issued different sets. The first featured the two weapons; the second and more desirable set included a pair of extra engraved cylinders.

I found a listing on gunsinternational.com for the first generation Nevada set. The set had been fired. The seller was asking $2,495. It has not sold. Cabelas.com has a “like new” first generation set listed at $1,999.99. It also has not sold. A second generation Nevada set did sell on coltforum.com for $2,500, plus shipping and insurance. An identical set is listed on collectorsfirearms.com at $2,495.

Commemorative firearms are speculative investments. The vast majority sell for less than their initial purchase price. However, some firearms, such as your Nevada commemorative set, have appreciated in value.

Forget book value. Real value is the amount that results in an actual sale. If you wanted to sell your Nevada set and asked $750, it would sell quickly. If you pushed the figure to $1,000, the sale might take several months. If you asked $1,500, it will take a year or more. If you sell the set for more than $1,500, you truly have “the luck of the draw.”

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QUESTION: I own a five-gallon George Washington Bicentennial crock. The white-glazed cylinder body contains a stamped mark featuring an oval head and shoulder portrait of George Washington above which is “200th Anniversary” and beneath which is “1732-1932.” A keystone with “5” in the middle is beneath the dates. I found the piece in the cellar of my parent’s estate. What is its value?

– DD, via e-mail

ANSWER: A George Washington Bicentennial Commission was appointed to oversee the nationwide celebration. The official dates of the Bicentennial were February 22 to Thanksgiving, 1932. In 1932, the United States postal service issued a series of 12 stamps ranging in value from a ½ cent to 10 cents featuring different head and shoulder images of Washington. John Philip Sousa wrote a march in honor of the event.

TRIVIA QUIZ: Besides the ½-cent stamp, what was the other odd denomination that allowed the series of Washington stamps to expand to 12?

While a major event in its time, the Washington Bicentennial Celebration is largely forgotten. I occasionally find Washington Bicentennial souvenir items in my travels, most modestly priced.

The keystone marking on your crock suggests a Pfaltzgraff origin. I served as executive director of the Historical Society of York County (Pa.) from late 1972 through mid-1977. York was home to Pfaltzgraff. If I encountered one of these crocks, I do not remember it.

One can count the number of Washington Bicentennial collectors on two hands, possibly even one. However, there are hundreds of stoneware collectors to whom the commemorative nature of this crock would appeal.

A conservative value is between $125 and $150. I suspect it would bring more if offered at auction.

TRIVIA QUIZ ANSWER: 1½ cents.

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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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