Q & A with Harry Rinker: Milk Biscuit Crate, Art Deco Glass Vase, Slush Metal Statue

QUESTION: I have an old “Milk Biscuit” crate that measures 14 inches by 14 inches by 24 inches long. Printed in large type on an ancient paper is a full-size label/advertisement that reads: “C. Stolzenbach and Son Cakes and Crackers, Zanesville, OH.” The label features an illustration of a cracker factory—a building with dozens of windows and smokestacks. In the foreground, teams of horses pull carts, one of which is apparently loaded with the same kind of box. Although the paper label is fragile and brittle, the box still is sturdy. I am interested in learning the history of Stolzenbach and Son and the value of the crate.

– BS, Fresno, Ohio

ANSWER: Readers of this column know that I am a big fan of reference librarians. Add Thomas A. Barker, assistant reference librarian at the John McIntre Library (Zanesville, Ohio), part of the Muskingum Library System, to my list. A call and follow-up e-mail resulted in my receiving photocopies of three newspaper articles written in 1954 by Norris Schneider about C. Stolzenbach and Son.
Conrad Stolzenbach, born in Homburg, Germany, on May 8, 1836, bought a small bakery in Zanesville, Ohio, in 1858. His business prospered during the Civil War when he provided hardtack (a biscuit made from flour, water, and some salt) to the Union Army. By the early 1870s, the company added ginger and lemon snaps to its line of products. Stolzenbach continued to expand, building a new three-story bakery building in 1875. William R. Baker, who married Louisa Stolzenbach in 1883, joined the company, serving first as its sales manager and later general manager. When a fire destroyed the plant in early August 1889, it was quickly rebuilt. The company’s product line included: “Royal, Columbia, French home-made and square bread. His brands of crackers were crisp butter, Columbia butter cream, Star butter, Farina, Lunch biscuit, Eureka milk, White Lily, and assorted meal crackers, graham and oyster crackers.”

[Milk Biscuit: A milk biscuit is made with milk rather than water.]

Charles H. Stolzenbach, Conrad’s son, joined the company in 1877, beginning his work as a scrap boy. Charles became a partner in the firm in 1883. In 1890 Conrad organized the United States Baking Company and sold his plant to the new conglomerate. The new organization continued to produce product under the Stolzenbach and Son brand. Charles left the company in 1890 to work for the Elliott Bakery in Columbus. United States Baking became part of National Biscuit in 1898. Once again, the Stolzenbach and Son brand name was preserved. Conrad Stolzenbach died in 1912.

Based on the above, your crate most likely dates from the turn of the 20th century. The label’s brittleness is being caused by the acid leeching from the wood into the paper. If you wish to preserve the label, it needs to be removed and treated by a paper conservator, a process likely to cost several hundred dollars. Once done and an acid-free backing applied, it can be reattached to the crate.

Your crate has multiple values: $45 to an advertising label collector, $75 to a decorator, and $100 to a local Zanesville collector. A milk biscuit collector, provided you can find one, might pay more.

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QUESTION: I own a glass vase that measures 15 inches tall, 5 ½ inches across the top, and 5 ¾ inches across the bottom. The marbleized, orange-colored, slight squat body bulges out in the center and has multiple vertical rows, each with four bubble protrusions. The glass surface is covered by a steel overlay consisting of a top (just below the lip of the vase) and bottom collar to which is connecting an alternating pattern (first and third in one row, second and fourth in the next) of rectangular black and white vertical motif units (the top one a two-step motif reminiscent of the top of an Art Deco building; the second a one-step motif, the third a square-sided rectangle, and the fourth a reverse repeat of the top motif). The glass is 3/8in thick. The piece weighs 17 ½ pounds. What do I have?

– GC, Jerseyville, Ill.

ANSWER: The Polaroid (I was unaware they were still making film for the camera) picture of the vase that accompanied your letter indicated you most likely have a piece of Art Deco Czechoslovakian glass dating from the mid-1920s through the early 1930s.

Bold orange was one of the favorite colors of the Art Deco era. The black and white vertical lines of the metal section, plus the stepped (pyramid) shape of the metal pieces, are other strong Art Deco motifs.

Although American glass manufacturers were capable of producing products of this nature, the vast majority came from Europe, primarily Czechoslovakia. The size and design has a European “feel.”

There is another possibility. The piece may be the product of an independent glass studio. The workmanship to create the piece and its design appears to prohibit mass production.

The thickness of the glass concerns me. Most 1920s Czech glass is thin. However, there are always exceptions to general rules in the antiques and collectibles business.

Send a series of photographs to the Corning Museum of Glass, Corning, N.Y., and ask their glass experts to weigh in on the origin of your piece. Make certain to include photographs of the bottom of the piece and details of the steel work.

Based solely on my evaluation from the single photograph, $100 appears to be a conservative value. Determining a final value for your vase depends on the information provided by the Corning experts.

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QUESTION: I have an iron or copper statue of what appears to be a cavalry officer riding a horse. There are no markings on it. It was in my father’s basement for years. I do not know where he acquired it. I think it might be General Custer. Is this possible? What is its value?

– CR, via e-mail

ANSWER: Although your statue was made in the late 19th or early 20th century, it is not General Custer. The picture attached to your e-mail allowed me to identify the rider as a Corsican/Italian/Swiss-type cavalier dressed in early to mid-19th century garb.

Inspirational statues whose themes glorified the romance of the cavalier, man’s and woman’s conquest of nature, the family, and knighthood and sainthood were a common fixture in hallways and parlors of turn of the 20th century homes. They were designed to inspire noble thoughts and the imagination.

Most were slush metal castings. The Web site www.intota.com defines slush casting as: “A metal casting process in which a hollow casting is made without using a core by rotating the metal alloy inside the mold; when a solid layer of metal forms on the interior of the hollow mold, the remaining molten metal is poured off, leaving a hollow casting.” In the case of these turn of the century statues, slush casting allowed the production of a statue that was light in weight, featured a high-degree of detail in the casting, and was durable and inexpensive.

If your statue had been a figure of General Custer, the saddle and uniform would have matched that found in illustrations of the General’s last stand. Further, the front feet of the horse would have been raised off the ground. Equestrian statue tradition dictates that if an officer survived a war unscathed, the horse has both feet on the ground. If the office was wounded, one foot front foot is raised. If the officer was killed, the two front feet are raised.

In order to create a stronger sense of value, many of these statues were given a thin bronze or silver coating. These coatings mellow over time. Further, if the statue was dusted vigorously or cleaned with a polish, this thin layer disappeared and portions of the slush (base) metal showed through.

Many of these statues were enhanced with accessory pieces, ranging from reins for a horse (which are missing from your statue) or weapons (bow and arrows, spear, or firearm). These accoutrements are often lost over time.

Collector interest in these inspirational/romantic slush metal castings is minimal. First, if damaged, they are impossible to repair without inflicting further damage. Attempting to solder a break will melt the surrounding metal. Second, the cost of recoating is prohibitive. Finally, the themes no longer inspire young collectors.

Your statue’s primary value is family, an emotional value that is difficult to quantify. Your father’s keeping it in basement storage provides a hint. The statue’s conversation value is between $60 and $75. If displayed, it is hard to ignore.

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QUESTION: This ceramic tile bracelet, which I believe is Egyptian, was purchased in the Middle East around 1945. The tiles appear to tell a story, and there is a manufacturer’s symbol engraved on the clasp. Is the origin correct, and what is its worth?

– S.T., New York

ANSWER: Although your bracelet may have been purchased in Egypt, the motif suggests a possible Persian (Iraq/Iran) or Indian origin. You need to find a person familiar with Arabic script to translate the mark on the clasp.

If the bracelet tells a story, I failed to locate any information about it. My guess is that the individual tiles are scenic and not related in story one to another.

Are you certain the titles are ceramic? Most bracelets of this type feature animal bone panels. Look at the bracelet under a 10-power loupe. If you see dark spots and/or streaks, these are blood capillary tracks.

In the period immediately following World War II, American G.I.s and government employees working in the Middle East brought back many similar examples of this type of bracelet. This inexpensive costume bracelet has an exotic appeal, thus making it the perfect gift for girlfriends, wives, sisters, mothers, etc.

The value of your bracelet is between $35 and $45.

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

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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.

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