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Q & A with Harry Rinker: WWII Japanese Flags, Turtle Mountain Pottery

by Harry Rinker (05/03/10).

QUESTION: In cleaning out the home of my husband’s great uncle, we discovered two WWII Japanese cloth flags. The first flag, which measures 64 inches x 97 inches, features a large red ball in the center. It is machine stitched and has creases from folding, a few small holes, and minor yellowing. The second flag, which measures 64 inches by 104 inches, is in the rising sun pattern, a red ball in the center from which red rays emanate. It is hand stitched. Both flags are made from heavy, scratchy linen and have a rope running through them for attaching. I searched online but was not able to establish a resale value. A dealer, who purchased a large 1960s United States flag for $5 at our garage sale has offered us $100 for the pair. He seemed far too eager to pay this amount. Are the flags worth more?

– JH, Emmaus, Pa., via e-mail

Harry RinkerANSWER: Garage/yard sales are for objects that still have reuse and which you are willing to sell for a nickel to dime of their initial cost. Garage/yard sales are not the best sale venue for antiques and collectibles.

The flags appear to be World War II souvenirs. However, you need additional provenance, especially given the wealth of reproductions. Some were manufactured immediately after the war ended and sold to those GIs who were not at the battlefront but still wanted a battlefront souvenir. Hopefully, you still have access to your husband’s great uncle’s material. Look for anything associated with his World War II service—enlistment papers, pictures, uniform parts and accessories, a list of places where he served, letters and discharge papers. Adding this information to the flags will enhance their value.

Second World War Japanese flags are not as desirable to collectors as German Wehrmacht (military) and German National Socialist (the Nazi political party) World War II flags and banners. My Internet research suggests your flags have a value between $125 and $150 each.

A dealer has to triple his money to stay in business. Hence, the dealer’s offer of $100 for the pair is fair, but not overly generous. You can do much better by offering the flags for sale on Craigslist or eBay. While both prohibit the sale of German National Socialist material, they do allow the sale of most Japanese World War II items.

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QUESTION: During a recent auction, I examined a round, squat 4 ¾-inch bowl featuring two four-petal floral designs on its side. It appeared to be amateur “Indian style” pottery. The piece was marked on the bottom “Turtle Mt. / Indian Pottery / Joan Decoteau.” In addition, there was an incised design of two round mountaintops with a turtle above one of them. A friend—OK a rival—bought it for a ridiculously low price. He listed it on eBay. It sold for $1,584.69 plus shipping and handling. I know that North Dakota pottery is highly collected. But, since I did not see “School of Mines” in the marking, I passed. What did I miss?

– IA, Toronto, Canada, via e-mail

ANSWER: Knowledge is power in the antiques and collectibles field. Likewise, a little knowledge is a dangerous thing. Collectors classify ceramics made at the North Dakota University School of Mines as American Art Pottery. You are correct in your assumption that “School of Mines” pieces are highly prized. The concept “if there is one, there is another” applies. Other North Dakota potteries included Dickinson Clay Products Company, WPA project wares, Wahpeton Pottery Company (Rosemeade) and, of course, Turtle Mountain.

Mrs. Carey (Cobert) Grant, a graduate of the University of North Dakota Ceramics Department, was an arts and handicrafts instructor at the Belcourt School on the Turtle Mountain Indian Reservation. Miss Margaret Cable of the University of North Dakota developed a course that encouraged school students to make handcrafted pottery utilizing the techniques of the Southwestern Indians. Mrs. Grant was a disciple of Miss Cable.

The first pottery pieces were produced at Turtle Mountain in 1936. In 1937, adults on the reservation were taught to make ceramic pieces. The clay used came from a ditch near the school. Firing was done using cow dung. Many pieces were burnished, not glazed, resulting in a red or black polished glossy look.

All pieces were hand molded. No pottery wheel was used. Early pieces also included “Belcourt, N.D.” in the mark. Potters included Nora Azure, Belle Rose Decoteau, Frances Decoteau, Joan Decoteau and Emma Parisien. Products ranged from plates and bowls to candle holders and wall plaques. Production ceased in the early 1940s, possibly 1942.

A secondary question underlies your primary question. When should I take a risk and buy even if I do not know? The first is when a piece is marked, especially by a maker. Collectors pay an information premium. A second consideration is aesthetics. When a piece is glorious, an absolute knockout, take the risk even if it is not marked. Alas, the Turtle Mountain bowl has little to no aesthetic quality. Finally, if a piece appeals to a small but competitive local market, take a chance.

How much should you have risked? Knowing only that a strong interest in North Dakota pottery exists, one or two bid jumps above $100 is reasonable. If your rival had more knowledge than you, he would have persisted until he won. If not, he would have dropped out, considering the risk too great.

You did not make one mistake—riding the bidding with him assuming he knew. This happens to me when I bid at an auction. When attendees see me bid, they assume I know more than they. As a result, they bid against me. When I realize this is happening, I bid the object above its actual value and then suddenly stop. The winner often has a surprised look on his/her face. Imagine their surprise when they find they bid way too much. “There are no friends at an auction” is a lesson well learned.

I cannot resist commenting on the $1,584.69 price paid for the piece. There is no way to justify this price aesthetically. It is based on a small, select historical and/or specialized portion of the art pottery market and scarcity. Do not make the mistake and assume Turtle Mountain pieces are rare. Examples enter the market from time to time.

One can most likely count on one hand the number of collectors who are willing to pay this price. When one or two go to the great hunting ground in the sky, the chance of long-term market value collapse is extremely high. Consider this if you encounter another piece of Turtle Mountain pottery for sale. Thinking conservatively saves money and reduces risk.

Finally, do not be jealous. Congratulate your rival on his find. Your time will come.

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QUESTION: I own a Spartus No. 4 folding camera. It is in its period box and has the instruction book that accompanied it. What is its value?

– LS, Nazareth, Pa, via e-mail

ANSWER: Information about the Spartus Camera Company is scarce. The Utility Manufacturing Company, located in New York City, was founded in the late 1930s. Spartus Camera Company purchased Utility Manufacturing in the early 1940s and moved it to Chicago. Harold Rubin, a Spartus employee, purchased the company in 1951, naming it Harold Manufacturing. Jack Galter, the former president of Spartus, created Galter Products. Harold Manufacturing and Galter Products ceased operations in the 1960s.

Although Spartus changed hands, its brand name continued. For example, the 1939 Utility Manufacturing’s Regal Flash camera later become the Falcon Press Flash, the Galter Press Flash, and Spartus Press Flash.

Spartus models include the Cinex, 116, 116/616, 120, 620 and Rocket (box cameras), 35 F & 34, 4 (folding), Co-flash, Full-Vue, Junior, Press Flash, Rocket, Spartaflex, Super-R-1, Vanguard and Vest Pocket (folding). Collector interest in Spartus cameras, except for the Press Flash and vest pocket cameras, is minimal. Values for these two cameras fall within the $10 to $15 range. Given this, the value for your Spartus No. 4 folding camera in its period box is between $5 and $8.

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QUESTION: I have a conical-tapered glass bottle/decanter that features hand-painted geese in flight on its base. The birds are done in a bluish tone. The bottom of the bottle reads: “Federal Law forbids the sale or reuse of this bottle 55-64 D334-5 0.” I believe the bottle originally held some type of liquor. Is it illegal for me to sell?

– BJ, Sarasota, Fla.., via e-mail

Ask A WorthologistANSWER: The Web site bottlebooks.com provides this information about the marking on the bottom of your bottle: “. . . This was required to be placed on all American Whiskey bottles after the end of prohibition. The requirement lasted until 1964 . . .

“Beginning January 1, 1935, Federal regulations pertaining to the marking of liquor bottles were to be strictly enforced [by] the Alcohol Tax Unit, Internal Revenue Bureau. John H. Flynn, acting district supervisor at that time was directed by the Secretary of the Treasury to enforce [these regulations], the rule had been more or less in suspension for some time.

“The new regulations were designed to protect the government’s liquor revenue. As well as ‘provide that manufacturers of liquor bottles must possess a government permit and that they must sell exclusively to distillers, rectifier or wholesalers.’

“Import[ant] to today’s bottle collectors, they were required ‘to blow into each bottle the permit number, the year and symbol of the purchase and the words: The Federal law prohibits the sale or reuse of this bottle.’

“The new rules also dictated all such bottles must be destroyed when empty. No[t] only were American companies required to do this but the regulations apply to bottles manufactured in other countries for import to the United States . . .”

Your bottle/decanter was made in 1964, just as the marking requirement was being lifted. The color scheme of the geese further supports this date of origin.

This decanter would have served as a home back-bar item. It is highly likely a user would have glassware and other accessories with a similar theme.

There is no problem selling your bottle/decanter. However, keep your expectations low. Any amount over $5 makes you a winner.

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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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4 Responses to “Q & A with Harry Rinker: WWII Japanese Flags, Turtle Mountain Pottery”

  1. Shannon McCall says:

    My grandfather found in a cave on Iwo Jima during WWII a small round metal cylinders that when unscrewed turns into 2 candle holders….Can you tell me anything about them..I could see no markings…I think they are peuter?!?!
    Thanks,
    Shannon McCall
    155 Rice Road
    Vass, NC 28394

  2. stefanie says:

    My father passed down a japanese “rising sun” flag that he got in Iwo Jima there is japanese writing on it. its in a fram with no glass or plastic covering it. i want to try and keep it in good condition. i’ve done research trying to find info on preserving and storing old flags and havent found much. i was wondering if anyone could give me tips or direct me to someone who could help. if you have any info you can give me please contact me at lehua_koontz@hotmail.com

    • Maggie Turnipseed Maggie Turnipseed says:

      Hi Stefanie,
      You need to go to a local Custom Framing Shop and discuss having your flags framed using Archival products. The materials that directly contact your flags are of the greatest importance. Using non-archival (acidic) or inappropriate materials to adhere or support the flags can result in unnecessary damage. The frame shop will be able to best tell you how to conserve the flags. Framing your flags is not a do-it-yourself project.

  3. My Grandfather handed us down a couple flags as well, I wonder if they’re worth anything? I need to see if I can find a place that can preserve them locally. Great article though, Harry.

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