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Q & A with Harry Rinker: Smoking on Air Force One, Punt Gun, Austin Production

by Harry Rinker (05/18/11).

QUESTION: I have a pack of Air Force One cigarettes and matching matchbook. What are they worth?

– G, Bethlehem, Pa.

ANSWER: President John F. Kennedy began the practice of providing guests aboard Air Force One with a pack of “Air Force One” cigarettes upon request. The custom continued through the presidency of Ronald Reagan. Visitors aboard Nixon’s “The Spirit of 76” Air Force One found a presidential matchbook in every ashtray. Most individuals kept the cigarettes and matches rather than use them.

There are dozens of versions of the cigarettes. In the beginning, a pack of cigarettes had a plain black and gold presidential shield card placed under the cellophane. Leading American tobacco manufacturers provided the cigarettes. Hence, the brand varied. Camel, Lark, Pall Mall, and Viceroy were among the brands used. Brown & Williamson Tobacco Company’s king-size cigarettes had a slip case. First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy preferred L&M cigarettes but disliked its pack presentation.

Packs from the 1970s and 1980s featured the presidential seal on a blue ground. Philip Morris made a plastic pack featuring an embossed gold seal. Some designs contained a bottom banner reading “AIR FORCE ONE.” Similar presidential cigarette packs can be found with “Welcome to Camp David,” “Welcome Aboard Marine One,” and other presidential locations.

The gifting of cigarettes ended in May 1988. However, the issuing of presidential matchbooks continued.

[Author’s Aside: Air Force One souvenirs are not limited to cigarettes and matchbooks. Visitors also “sticky fingered” ashtrays, the book about the history of the plane, card decks, golf balls, napkins, seat cards and towels. Air Force One jackets and other non-flight souvenirs also are available.]

Age, presidency and presentation determine the value of Air Force One cigarettes and matchbooks. WorthPoint lists a 1960s pack of cigarettes that sold in 2007 for $45. EBay has a “Buy it Now” listing of $71 for an Air Force One cigarette pack. At the same time, there are several ongoing auctions for Air Force One cigarette packs with opening bid requests under $10. None have received a response. A box of 50 Air Force One matchbooks sold for $89, less than $2 per pack, on eBay.

Realistically, cigarette pack values range from $8 to $15 for packs from the 1980s to $30 to $40 for earlier packs. Matchbook values range from $3 to $8 with earlier examples bringing the highest price.

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QUESTION: I own a punt gun with a percussion cap firing mechanism. There are no maker’s marks. The diameter of the bore is bigger than a quarter. I have no history on the piece. What information can you provide?

– R, Weavertown, Pa.

ANSWER: Commercial hunters supplying meat to butchers and restaurants and feathers to hat makers used swivel or punt guns, muzzle loading jumbo shotguns measuring five feet or more in barrel length, to shoot large quantities of game. A single shot could kill as many as 50 birds.

Because of their size and recoil, these guns were often mounted on punts, small flat-bottomed hunting boats with a square bow, which were maneuvered into place in shallow waters by the hunter using a pole or oars. Hunters often worked in groups as large as 10. When fired, the punt boat was propelled backward several inches.

Punt guns fall into two categories: (1) those made by a gun manufacturer, primarily in England, and (2) those assembled by a local hunter using custom-made barrels and commercial firing mechanisms. The barrels often contain no markings. Bore diameters often exceeded 2 inches (51 cm). A typical load contained over a pound of shot.

Most states outlawed the use of punt guns by the last quarter of the 19th century. The 1900 Lacey Act prohibited the transportation of wild game across state lines, seriously impacting commercial hunting. By 1918, a series of federal laws outlawed the practice. The use of punt guns with a bore of less than 1 ¾ inches is still permitted within the United Kingdom.

Because of the great diversity in quality, determining the secondary market value for punt guns is difficult. Most surviving punt guns are in museums, especially those featuring duck hunting exhibits. Collector demand is not strong due to the novelty aspect of the weapon.

A dealer in Florida has an 1890 2-gauge punt gun listed for $17,500 on gunsamerica.com. Much to my surprise, a second dealer sold a John Dickson 4 bore punt gun that was listed at $49,500. The exact amount at which the gun sold is not revealed. I strongly suspect it was not the asking price.

Since you provided only minimal information about your weapon, it is difficult to assign a specific value. Given its unknown origin and assuming it was made by a hunter using some commercial parts and in rough (unrestored) condition, its minimum curiosity value is between $1,500 and $2,000.

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QUESTION: What are your thoughts about the secondary market for products made by Austin Production?

– TB, via e-mail

ANSWER: The abundance of conflicting information creates a challenged when doing research on the Internet. This proved to be the case in trying to establish the history of Austin Production.

Several URLs indicate Austin Production, also known as Austin Sculpture, is or was located in Holbrook, N.Y. The business reportedly began as a family business in Brooklyn, N.Y. and grew into a worldwide sales/importer of contemporary and reproduction garden and home statuary made in cold-cast resin or Durastone.

A BusinessWeek URL listing indicates the business is located in Ronkonkoma, N.Y. and was founded in 1953. The website listing of austin-allaboutyourhome.com is blank. Yet, another URL listing business histories notes Austin Productions was incorporated in 1978 in California, but the incorporation is not active.

Austin Production pieces appear for sale on eBay and numerous garden sites. Based on the products, Austin Production is/was a wholesaler of inexpensive to semi-expensive mass-produced statuary designed primarily for decorative use in the garden and home.

It is improbable that anyone will collect Austin Production as a specialized collecting category in the near, intermediate or long-term future. However, it is possible that some of its products, such as menorahs, will be part of specialized theme collections.

The secondary market value for Austin Production pieces is driven by reuse, primarily decorative. Using the “cheaper than new” principle, resale value is between 10 and 25 cents of the original purchase value. A secondary market value above initial cost is a dream rather than reality.

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QUESTION: I own two Lipton teapots, one red and one blue. I recently saw one for sale for $40 in an antiques mall. Is this price accurate?

– M, Beloit, Wis.

ANSWER: In the 1930s, the Hall China Company of East Liverpool, Ohio made a teapot, creamer and sugar set as a Lipton Tea giveaway premium. Hall also made premium giveaways for General Electric, Hotpoint, Montgomery Ward and Westinghouse at the same time.

The Lipton sets were manufactured in six colors: (1) black; (2) blue, medium; (3) green, dark; (4) green, light olive; (5) maroon (burgundy); and (6) yellow (butterscotch). Pearl China produced a limited number of bright red teapots by re-glazing yellow teapots. Chances are strong your “red” teapot is maroon.

Lipton teapots sell on eBay between $15 and $20. In the field and at Internet store fronts, prices are higher, somewhere between $35 and $45 for the teapot is a standard field price. One optimistic Internet store front seller is asking $69.96 for a yellow teapot. It is likely to remain in inventory for an extended period.

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Rinker Enterprises and Harry L. Rinker are on the Internet. Check out Harry’s 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..

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. Send your questions to: Rinker on Collectibles, 5955 Mill Pond Court SE, Kentwood, MI 49512. 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. 2011

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