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Q & A with Harry Rinker: J. C. Deagan Brass Chimes, G.A.R. Stoneware Mini Canteen

by Harry Rinker (07/12/10).

QUESTION: I own a set of 10 J. C. Deagan chimes that belonged to St. Mary’s Catholic Church in Keokuk, Iowa. The church was built in 1868 and torn down around 1985. My dad obtained the chimes and they have remained in the family. The longest chime measures 67 ½ inches and is a C note. The shortest is 38 inches and is a D note. The brass pipes are stamped: “J. C. DEAGAN, INC. / MADE IN U.S.A.” I also have the electronic keyboard and striker mechanism. Do these chimes have any value? I would hate to sell them for the brass alone.

– PS, Aurora, Colo., via e-mail

Harry RinkerANSWER: John Calhoun Deagan (1853-1934), a professional clarinetist, founded the J. C. Deagan Company in 1880. Originally located in St. Louis, Deagan moved to Chicago shortly after the beginning of the 20th century. The J. C. Deagan building at 1770 W. Berteau Avenue, was built around 1912.

Deagan is credited with establishing A (440 Hz) as the standard pitch for orchestra tuning. The Deagan Company made marimba, xylophones and other tube instruments. Deagan entered the tubular tower bells market around 1916, about the same time it acquired U.S. Tubular of Methuen, Mass. The Deagan trademark is now part of Yamaha.

In researching your chime set, I was not able to determine if you owned a set of tubular tower bells or orchestral tubular bells. The Tower Bells Web site notes: “Large tubular bells, cast from approximately the same material as conventional tower bells or drawn (extruded) from similar metal, have been used to make tower music or to serve as bells for tower clocks. The largest such tubes weigh hundreds of pounds. Such bells are not to be confused with orchestral bells (often found in pipe organs) nor with the smaller tubular bells found in some longcase (‘grandfather’) clocks, even though some manufacturers might have supplied all of these markets.”

The Web site has a link to a chronological list of installed sets of Deagan tubular tower bells. I checked the list twice and did not find any installation in Keokuk, Iowa. As a researcher, one learns never to accept any list as complete. Further, St. Mary’s may have acquired the chime set on the secondary market. The Web site also lists three firms who offer repair restoration services for Deagan instruments.

The brass scrap value for your set of chimes is less than $50. Their collector/parts value is far above this. To confirm my conclusion, I spoke with Gilberto Serna, owner of Century Mallet Instrument Service (773.248.7733; century@centurymallet.com). Century Mallet is located on the second floor of the old J. C. Deagan building. Mr. Serna indicated he would pay in excess of $250 to acquire your chime set.

Beware of falling into the “if he is willing to pay this much, how much is the next person willing to pay” trap. The old trade adage “the first twenty dollars is the easiest and the last twenty dollars is the hardest to obtain” applies. When the buyers’ market is limited, the first offer is often the best.

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QUESTION: I have a “G.A.R.” stoneware mini-canteen. It is embossed “COMPLIMENTS AUG. WENTZ POST NO. 1 / DAVENPORT, IOWA” on the obverse and “26TH ANNUAL ENCAMPMENT / DEPT OF IOWA / G.A.R. / JUNE / 12-13-14 / 1900” on the reverse. “Kinricks Crocery (sic.) Co., Davenport, Iowa” is impressed in the bottom edge. It measures 3 inches in diameter, not including the spout. What is its value?

– PK, Dunnellon, Fla.

ANSWER: Benjamin F. Stephenson of Decatur, Ill., founded the Grand Army of the Republic on April 6, 1866. Membership was open to veterans who served in the Union Army, Marine Corps, Navy or Revenue Cutter Service between April 12, 1861 and April 9, 1865. The Grand Army of the Republic membership exceeded 400,000 veterans at its peak in 1890.

The organization structure consisted of a national leadership council, departments (state-level organizations) and posts (local chapters). Many of the posts were named after local heroes. An annual encampment occurred on the Department level supervised by the Department Commander and his officers. The encampments usually lasted for several days and included formal banquets and memorial events.

The 1900 Davenport Encampment was the second time the city hosted the Iowa G.A.R. Encampment. The first visit was in 1884. The 1900 Encampment took place at Camp McClellan, the site at which many of the Iowa volunteers were mustered into service.

The first Iowa G.A.R. posts were organized in 1874. The organization struggled at first. By 1900, there were 434 posts scattered throughout Iowa. Membership totaled 14,730. As in the national organization, Iowa G.A.R. membership peaked in 1890. Age was beginning to take its toll.

The Davenport Times reported on the event. Thanks to a transcription by Elaine Rathmann, you can read about the event online.

The most commonly found G.A.R. souvenirs from national and regional encampments are badges, medals, programs and other paper ephemera, and pins. Your stoneware canteen is unusual. However, it is not one-of-a-kind. My best guess is that several thousand were made and distributed. Further, it is the type of item that is most likely to be saved and passed down from generation to generation.

An example was sold by Cowan’s Auctions at its December 2007 Western & Historic Americana sale. It brought $460, which included a 15-percent buyer’s penalty.

The 150th anniversary of the Civil War is fast approaching. Prices for Civil War era memorabilia, including G.A.R. items, are beginning to escalate. Prices should peak between mid-2014 and mid-2015. If you want to achieve maximum value for your item, this is the time to sell.

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QUESTION: My uncle worked for a railroad company. He died at age 100. Among his possessions was ¾-inch slice of railroad rail, possibly used as a paperweight. “John Brown Sheffield” is written across the top. “1869 Atlas Steel” appears on the side. Have you ever heard of anything like this?

– GR, Lehigh Valley, via e-mail

ANSWER: Sir John Brown (Dec. 6, 1816-Dec. 27-1896) was a British industrialist, one of whose many claims to fame was as a manufacturer of steel railroad rails. Brown founded John Brown & Company, Sheffield, to manufacture steel files in 1844. Constantly reinventing his company’s focus, Brown specialized in the manufacture of railroad conical spring buffers. Brown opened his Atlas Works located in Brightside in 1856. He introduced the Bessemer process. By the early 1860s, John Brown was one of the leading manufacturers of railroad rails. By the mid-1860s, the company became the largest manufacturer of armor plate. Brown resigned from the company in 1871. A series of failed business ventures left him impoverished by the time of his death.

Ask A WorthologistThanks to Bill McKelvey, Jr., a friend and fellow canal and trolley car historian, I have several examples of canal and trolley car rail in my collection. Railroad rail/track is collected. Most samples range from between one-half and three-quarters of an inch in thickness. There is no standard rule. Less serious collectors use them as bookends, doorstops and paperweights.

Provenance is the issue. Few pieces are marked. Unless they have salvaged the piece of rail that is cut up or know the person who did, collectors take a skeptical approach to provenance. Here rests the problem. The link to your uncle is not sufficient provenance to authenticate the piece. If nothing else, the first question someone is going to ask is: How did the piece of railroad track get from England to the United States?

Your railroad track has two values. Its curiosity value is between $15 and $20. Its historic value is $50-plus. All you need to do is find a buyer who believes.

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QUESTION: I have a 1948 Methodist hymnal published by the Hope Publishing Company. Inside is a label indicating it belonged to the Methodist Sunday School of Tamaqua, Pa. Is it worth anything?

– BC, Lehigh Valley, Pa.

ANSWER: It has no value to a Baptist, Catholic, Lutheran, Presbyterian or Unitarian. Your only hope is a Methodist. While there must be collectors of church hymnals, I never encountered one. Further, assuming such collectors exist, every collector who wants a copy of a 1948 Methodist hymnal probably has one.

The music and words remain valid. It might be fun to compare some of the lyrics in a modern Methodist hymnal to those in the 1948 edition. I strongly suspect many have been corrected politically and socially to reflect modern thought.

Keep the hymnal and enjoy it. If you do not want it, offer it to the local Methodist minister. If he does not want it, junk it.

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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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One Response to “Q & A with Harry Rinker: J. C. Deagan Brass Chimes, G.A.R. Stoneware Mini Canteen”

  1. Richard Brown says:

    As a distant relation of Sir John Brown, I’m interested in the sample from the Atlas Works. GR from Lehigh Valley can you get in touch?

    Richard Brown

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